The Life and Calling of a Teacher

It’s snowing.

He and I walk a stretch of icy road, heading down to the bridge below the farm. Blizzard warnings have cancelled school across the Island, so this is our P.E. class for the day. Cabin fever never hurt to act as motivator for a teenager to spend time with their mother.
I ask him the question, and he’s thoughtful in his response.
What is the most important way your teachers can show you they care? Because I want this to be practical- I want this to be real. I really want to hear his answer, if this is going to guide my lived experience.
He responds- the words, not shocking in their revelation: I want them to be understanding- and nice. An answer quick and to the point. He doesn’t mention initially his fine teachers’ collective breadth of knowledge, their expertise. The lessons they’ve taught or the curriculum they’ve unpacked. His answer doesn’t reference the lectures, the assignments and projects.
But he does talk about the relationship. Their ability to care. Words that confirm what I am beginning to understand about caring, compassion and kindness- about transparency and thoughtfulness. Words that confirm to me as a teacher the heart of the matter about teachers and the relationship they have to their students. That is, what really matters to our students is who we are. Not what we do.

It was fall of my Grade 12 year, the year I remember as ‘The Move.’ My father having been relocated in his job as a pastor packed up our meager family possessions and moved his wife and four children minus one over the course of a weekend. It sometimes takes a weekend to unravel a family. And at other times, it just takes a moment.

I alone remained behind, determined that I wouldn’t be leaving all I had known and loved. Sixteen is a brazen age. It’s old enough to know that one couldn’t leave behind their childhood memories. Their home, their life. And it’s old enough to stay behind. But it’s not quite old to know exactly how to pull it all off. My parents in their wisdom allowed me the choice to remain behind so long as I chose to live with a family friend. Someone they trusted. But I was on my own when it came to paying rent and looking after essentials. I agreed to their terms and so it was decided. But the day they pulled out from the driveway of our first family home, moving van loaded up with my childhood toys, my bed and dresser, van full to the brim with my four younger siblings and weeping mother- that is a day that will forever be imprinted on my memory.

I lasted until the following Monday evening when I finally caved, coming to my senses as well as the bittersweet realization that I needed to be with my family. I needed to go home, whatever that meant now. There was a scramble- a gathering of my own small assemblage of life possessions and a drive from one province to another. Which is to say, I found a way to reunite with my family a few days later, as bittersweet as that reunion might have felt in those moments.

That move crushed me- left me feeling as if the bottom had fallen out from my world. And it left me to cope with the difficult task of starting over, starting fresh at a time in one’s life when they should be celebrating the finish line.

I found myself in a brand new school. A strange place to find yourself when you are sixteen, in love and at the pinnacle of your school career. Starting over- it was humbling. Perhaps what I needed, although I wouldn’t have said so then. I went from knowing everyone to knowing no one. From being part of a crowd to feeling outside the crowd. I went from having a presence to feeling invisible. But at the time, I would have readily admitted it was my worst sixteen year old nightmare come true.

Somehow I managed to pull things together enough to make it work. I made a few friends, did well in my courses and tried to keep up on the news from my former school and friendship circle, places and people I identified in my heart as my real home.

There were a few classes in the new school that I did enjoy, especially one taught by a Mr. T. A funny, earnest man, he infused life into the classrooms with his stories, his wealth of knowledge and his love of all things chemistry. And I can’t remember at what point in the semester he called me down to his classroom for a chat, but I will never forget the care and concern in his voice. Somehow, he had seen me there in the back row of his classroom, hiding underneath a veil of resentment, fear and insecurity- angry that my life had been interrupted. And in spite of it all, he made a point of looking past the image so as to connect with me. Letting me know that I had potential- that he saw the best in me at a time in my life when I couldn’t see the best in my circumstances.

Mr. T was unforgettable. Was it the chemistry lessons he delivered? The curriculum outcomes he covered? Was it his vast knowledge and seemingly infinite understanding I remember? What was it exactly that forever etched his impression on my memory?

What I remember now as a teacher myself was his smile. His laughter. And I remember that he saw me.

There are times in our service as teachers when we set aside the act of doing for the sacred work of being. When lessons and lectures, activities and testing are momentarily shelved, playing second fiddle to the art of listening. When caring is the curriculum, and life is the lesson. There are times when we see that our noble profession is more than mere passing on of knowledge. A routine work of filling empty vessels. And those are the times when we see through new eyes- our students. See them as people. As possibility. We see them for the potential they truly are. Those times remind us- it is the care we infuse into our work that makes the difference.

Such is the life and calling of a teacher.

The Dot- It’s What We Leave as a Legacy

She asked me tonight how the blog was doing. And I told her that it was not where I’d like it to be. After its second wind in early August and the contact I’d made with Arianna Huffington, I had been floating high on the hope that things would really fly. Really take off.  Just like they had twice before. So when she asked me tonight how things were going and my answer was a little lacklustre, I guess what I was really thinking was “Writing blogs is hard.  Writing blogs for people to read is hard. It’s too hard, sometimes.  Maybe I’ll never be the writer I want to be.”

Sometimes we just have to speak the words we really feel- not to embrace them.  But to release them.

A bit later on, I stumbled across a little electronic reminder that today is International Dot Day, in celebration of Peter Reynold’s book called The Dot. A book written in celebration of starting small and making one’s mark…one little dot at a time. One little word. One little sentence, one little phrase. One little blog article at a time. And when one starts small, they find that one thing leads to another.  One little blog piece leads to another little blog piece. To another and another. It’s kind of like putting one foot in front of the other.

You just don’t know where you’ll end up.

But you know where you’d like that destination to be.

I’ve always wanted to be an influencer. I’ve always wanted to make my mark on this world. Find my place in this world.  Be somebody.  But at the same time, I have thought to myself: “I don’t have everything all figured out yet…I don’t know everything there is to know about what I want to talk about.” So I found myself starting small. I first wrote vignettes about our life as a family. About my role as a mother, wife and woman.  And in time, I found healing in those words. Found healing in the process.  In the beginning, I wrote solely on the topic of joy.  For I was on a pursuit- a pursuit to find joy. And in letting myself lean into the pain, the sadness- and even the grief at times, I found the release I was searching for.  Found the healing. And I began to start over.

My dot has been this blog.

I want to thank everyone who reads this blog. Most of you have found me through “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” and for the success of that piece, I will forever be a jumbled mix of surprise and gratitude. For anyone who reads anything else you might find here, I offer a simple word of thanks. You have made the Dot I placed in this interweb of technology meaningful and worthwhile for me. My readers sustain me. You are the other half of this equation and I write as much for you as I do for myself.

In celebration of International Dot Day, I want to celebrate the dots we are placing on this world. Celebrate the work we do in our homes- as parents, children, siblings, cousins, friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents and guardians. And celebrate the service we offer up in our places of work- as employees, leaders, followers, doers, visionaries, role models, facilitators, mentors and steady, reliable workers. Paid and unpaid. In our communities, we must never forget to appreciate and recognize the countless volunteers, board members, trustees, committee reps, and more.  All making dots on our community landscape.  And in our world, as people who stand by one another and help one another through both the good and the bad.  Let us celebrate the dots we represent around the globe.

We are all making our mark. Let’s be proud of the dots we leave behind each day as a remembrance of our calling.  Our daily offering to this world of ourselves and our love.  And may we never undermine the importance of the dot our lives represent.

Each Dot is a beautiful mark of impact on this world that only we can make.

What Dads Do

In anticipation of Father’s Day on Sunday, I stumbled across a book which I then read today to my students on the topic of animal dads. The book was a great overview of animal fathers in the wild and how they contribute to their offsprings’ lives. A very interesting read.

Did you know that there is a type of fish (whose name escapes me now) which will hold its babies inside its mouth if enemy approaches and then release them when the danger has passed? “Gross,” said my little kindergartners while “fascinating” was the word which came to mind for me. Animal dads are just an amazing study of responsible parenting at its best.

Some of the ways animal fathers do this work of parenting are ways very much like those seen in human fathers, as both can be seen protecting their young, sheltering them, providing for them and playing with them. Cleaning and feeding them. Watching over them while the mothers are away (which the book referred to as babysitting, but which I would clarify so as to call it simple parenting).

And yes, in a manner of which: there are even some animal dads found giving birth to their young. Okay, maybe that one is a tad bit different than in humankind- although we as mothers certainly wouldn’t be opposed were the marvels of modern science to come up with ‘the plan’. Human dads maybe not so much in favor, but it’s my humble opinion that nature has us beat on that one.

As I was reading this book, I was struck by the varied ways in which animal dads offer their children compassionate, loving care. Care offered in many of the very same ways human fathers the world over tenderly care for their own babies- their beloved boys and girls. So with the inspiration gained from having read this book, and with Father’s Day in mind, I am offering five unique ways in which human dads care for their children, in no uncertain order.

1. Human dads can read to their children. I have found that when dads read to their kids, kids are inclined to read more themselves. As dads are interested in a variety of topics, there is bound to be something that will strike a chord, enabling conversation to therefore flow from the launch pad of a great read. When my own kids were young, their dad would have two on either side and at least one on his lap. I still can conjure up this comforting image in my mind even now, many years later; it brings me joy at the thought of it.
2. Human dads can talk to their children. About stuff that matters, as well as stuff that’s just meant to be for fun. The other night, Husband and Son were out scraping the old paint off the house in preparation for repainting our home this summer. At bedtime prayers, what my son mentioned he was most thankful for that day was the time he had to talk to his dad during their work together outside. I later asked Hubbie what they talked about, and he replied with a bit of perplexity: “Not much.” But what we both decided, after some time of talking it over for a bit ourselves, was this: it isn’t WHAT has been said, it’s that something HAS been said. That’s what matters. And its what will be remembered long after the conversations are over.
3. Human dads can stimulate their children’s thinking. One thing I have appreciated about my children’s father is his quiet, unassuming manner when it comes to challenging my children emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Rather than always leaving them to arrive at their own conclusions about important matters in life, Husband thoughtfully fosters their thinking through carefully designed questions and reflective comments in response. In thinking through issues, the solutions are gained not from imposing standards and expectations that are rigid and exacting, but through providing an example of how one can live their life. And why that example is important to take note of. And from there, allowing time and availability so as to follow through when children are arriving at the answers to their own questions. Making sure that patience and grace are the foundational structures upon which direction is given.
4. Human fathers have the rare opportunity to both create and then leave a legacy for their children. What that legacy becomes remains to be seen through the lasting impression dads leave with their children. Impressions made about what really matters in life, what is worthwhile doing, being and knowing and what is the reason for their own personal existence. All dads provide a legacy, rightly or wrongly, for their children. How their children arrive at the understanding of this legacy is based on the ways in which the father conveys his message. Through his actions, his words and his belief systems. Everyone leaves a legacy for their children, whether they realize this truth or not. So it matters what you believe and how you live out those beliefs: your children are watching you.
5. Human fathers are capable of offering love in deeper ways than one is able to believe that animal dads would be equipped to offer love. There is no doubt that animal dads have a level of commitment and affection for their children: love can be observed the world over, in both human and animals alike. But human fathers have the rare opportunity of showing their offspring unconditional, sacrificial love, a love exhibited by one willing to put himself on the line, if circumstance required that of him. No better example of this can be given than the recent deaths of three fathers in the line of duty, whom one could say were not only acting for the good of all human kind, but also for the good of their own six children they’ve now collectively left behind. Love like this is inspirational.

I will never fully understand the bond that fathers have with their children. Strong as they are between a mother and her children, there is something uniquely special about the father-child relationship. And while it is true that not every father has done the five things I have listed above, the truth of the matter is that most are ABLE to do some of those five, should they so choose. And speaking as a mother, friend and teacher myself, I want to also say this: I appreciate the dads that are emotionally and physically connected to the children I have interacted with over the years. Being a good dad doesn’t mean one must aim for perfection. One would never expect that of mothers, so why then would we expect it of dads? Human perfection itself is a myth, but involvement is a certain possibility. A perfect possibility. Being an involved dad is about as close to perfect in a child’s eyes as they would ever come to expect. And when those kinds of dads take time to read, talk, stimulate, create and love, there is no telling the ways which they will then have of influencing their sons and daughters to being the best people they can be.

Truly the sky’s the limit.