On beginning readers as well as lifelong ones…

I was blessed to have grown up in a household of books and I am sure my mother read to me from the womb. While I cannot remember the first time or first times I was read to as a child, I can remember the moment that I learned to read independently. That moment was life-changing for me- unforgettable.
I was five or six years old, half way through kindergarten, and at the time, we were on vacation at my grandparents house. I was alone in the upstairs bedroom passing the time, and for whatever reason, I had a book that I was looking at- which in one moment I wasn’t reading for message and content- and in the next moment, I was. It was like I went from darkness to light. I still remember running downstairs to tell my family that I could read. Still remember the excitement and pride and absolute wonder at it all.

Today, my kindergarten students got their very first guided reading books to take home with them for homework. I brought the books out and told them what we were going to do- that we were going to read some books together- with them reading alongside me independently. And one Little Guy piped up, “But I can’t read yet!” I assured him that he most certainly could, and that they had been reading for quite some time (that is, reading our morning message, sight words, word work, letters, words in Big Books, environmental print, etc.). But I got what he was saying. This time, it was different. They had an actual book in hand and it was their job to do the reading- not mine. We got started and within minutes, the students were noticing words and letters and pictures…and low and behold: they were reading!

They were READING.

We read the book through three times together on our classroom rug, and they read it on their own twice. And the pride that we all felt was palpable. I could hardly contain it myself! Thankfully, a colleague dropped by to relieve one of the educational assistants for a break, and I was able to nab her and share with her this most transformative of moments. I was bouncing, I was so excited.
I can only imagine those students tonight as they read to their moms and dads and significant others in their lives- reading school books out loud for the very first time. To me, it is a milestone up there with walking and talking. I would like to think today is the first day of the rest of their lives spent as lifelong readers. I hope that they always find joy in reading- joy as I saw on their faces today.

It never fails to move me to watch a child read for the very first time.

The joy of field trips…

Retrieved from Johnston’s Schools website

I came home tonight after watching a killer last set in my daughter’s volleyball game (please do not ask a whole lot of questions about the first four sets, ‘cause that score was kind of private) to which I heard the following anguished cry from Youngest not even five minutes after lighting the home fires:

“Mooooooooommmmmm….(heave, heave, sob, sob)…..I just….(sobbing) burned down my house on Minecraft…accidentally. And it was my favoritest house ever. And I just had made it…..(sobbing).”

It’s interesting how these funny little things follow me around- just begging for me to write about them. We were at the dentist today about a permanent tooth that Daughter had broken two weekends ago on a Saturday afternoon. How do you tell the inquiring dentist that your child broke said tooth playing “Abduct the Baby” with her little sister? It’s just not the normal excuse. And just for the record, the dentist did ask. (I was very vague). I mentioned this all to a friend at the store and she said that her child had also had a similar catastrophe, only to another part of the body while straddling the black bin in their driveway, singing at the top of her lungs.

I could just totally relate- neither one of us thought either occurrence was less than normal. But I guess the average person does not live this way.

So what this story is REALLY about is our school field trip today. Wow, just wow. Where do I begin…? For the record, the above stories were just my warm-up.

How does one frame a blog article about a field trip adventure in which a bus full of three kindergarten classes of children ages 4-5 is pulled off the road for an hour and a half because its crisis exits are screaming “Emergency! Emergency!” in a language all their own? How do you even start discussing bathroom issues? Or temporary bushes with prickles that can serve as the restroom when all else fails? Thank goodness for Kleenex.

All I have to say is this: to those passer-bys that saw a woman jumping up and down, touching her derriere, rubbing her belly and then doing scissors jumps/jumping jacks, you try entertaining 35 youngsters for an hour and a half on the side of the road. I dare you. It’s a game called Simon Says and kids love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Okay, seriously. I am just so thankful for the neighbors who saw me (obscurely, I swear) hiding in the bush with one Little Person and then kindly offered their “facilities” to the rest of the kiddos on the bus. Thank you. Words cannot express… I am sure I looked like a wild woman because at the time I was also trying to protect said child from the dog that kept barking at us from across the road. I was sincerely concerned for everyone’s safety, not the least of which was my own.

Back to the woman across the road. She was simply the best. And what she did was humbling, it was simply just too kind. (Now that I think about it, were we doing them a favor by removing ourselves from the bushes on the sides of their road?) At any rate, that woman deserves a Good Neighbor/Good Citizen award- she was amazing. Simply above and beyond amazing. She turned her television on, offered us her washroom (which we paraded in steadily for the better part of an hour, boots, dirt and all) along with water to drink from her kitchen faucet. And she trusted us enough that she left and drove off with all of us still on her lawn. I mean, really: where but the country would this ever happen. We then continued to enjoy the property, playing numerous games of Duck, Duck Goose and the afore-mentioned Simon Says until the Department of Transportation showed up in all their glory after having got lost a time or two on the back-roads of P.E.I. and generously fixed the bus

It was a time. A TIME I say. I sure had fun.

Needless to say, I had planned a full slate of activities for the day. I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I had invited a professional chef to come into the school and bake apple pies with each of my students as a surprise for their parents. Boo hoo, ’cause that unfortunately never happened. But then again: the apples were not ‘all there’, shall we say, by the end of the day anyway (became the snack); even if they had been, cooking pies in a half of an hour would have been even an absolute miracle even for her and she’s one of the most amazing chefs I know.

So, it’s been a slice. A slice of every kind of apple I know, including Honeycrisp (which the bus driver ended up finding and picking for me after I had run all over the orchard looking for them during my five minute break (or I could call it my ‘break your neck’ as that’s my kind of luck), I spent my time aimlessly running around the orchard only to find these beauties were growing in the row marked “Jona Gold”. So that’s how they keep ’em a secret. Who knew.

Can’t wait for the next field trip.

Dear Parents

Dear Parents,

The last days of summer are already upon us. Where did the time go? School supplies have been purchased and tucked away, ‘first-day-back’ clothes folded and lain out on dressers in anticipation of the big day. Lunchbox items stocked up in the pantry. New sneakers, new lunch bags, new backpacks, new schedules. Newness. Everything just seems new and fresh when school arrives again in the fall. And while all this freshness and novelty can seem exciting, I am sure that the newly formed jitters and fidgety butterflies which already are surfacing in both little and big tummies can at times be an unwelcome addition to the arrival of fall.

{Disclosure: don’t tell anyone… but even teachers get butterflies. :)}

With all those little anxieties and worries at the front of my mind, I want you to know, Mom: I am going to do my best to watch over your precious child while they are in my care. I’ve got your back, Dad. Your child is in good hands. I am going to be there for your child this year- you have my word. Because while these children I have been given are in my class, they are my kids. They are my little brood. I will be there to help them find their way, learn the ropes, discover new and exciting things as well as to watch them develop and grow.

Your child is already special to me.

Let me assure you- we will make this time spent at school worthwhile. For I believe these little bodies and souls are full of possibility. Full of potential. And I want you to know that I see this- I know this to be true within my heart. I know that your child is a capable, gifted, clever little person with a unique personality, mind and body. Your child is special. I want you to know that I will recognize this in your child- it will be my mission. And I will work on your behalf so that your son or daughter never forgets what you have taught them from the very start: how precious and valued they truly are.

My role in their life this year will in no way undermine your most important role as their first and most influential teacher. I have said before and I will say it again:

You are the very best teacher your child can come to know. You have taught your child well — taught them about life and love and joy and sorrow. Taught them to be honest and kind. Taught them to be thoughtful and generous. Taught them to care for others. You have taught them. And my hope is that your life continues to be the living textbook that your child reads the most avidly. May it be among the most inspiring books they ever open!

As a teacher, I view the children in my class- indeed, in our school, as if they were my very own. Your child is my child while under my watch. I take that responsibility seriously- much the same as I do raising my own four children. There is a trust in passing one’s child over to another adult- a trust based on mutual understanding. The understanding is this: you give me your most precious treasure to look after all day long, and I will care for your treasure while they are in my care.

I will be there for them.

So when you place your precious loved one on the bus in the morning or drop them off at my classroom door, I want you to know that I do not take this responsibility I’ve been given lightly. And might I add- when those dear ones are returned to you again, when those precious children arrive home at the end of the day, I won’t stop caring. They are still in my heart. They are still on my mind. They are important to me. And they will always have a place in my heart. Please never forget: I will strive to care for your child this year in the best ways I know how.

Tenderly.
Gently.
Lovingly.
Compassionately.
Truthfully.
Deliberately.
Relevantly.
Patiently.

Parents, thank you for trusting me with this responsibility; it is my honor and privilege to be your child’s teacher this year. May it be for us all a year of wonder, nurture and discovery.

On Being a Learner

Teacher. One who influences another in their growth and development as a multi-faceted person. That we can be influential in this endeavor is an amazing bonus. Those teachers with influence are said to be difference makers. And it doesn’t take a B.Ed to be one either.

I have been thinking about that word ‘teacher’ for a while now, wondering what a teacher really is. Who a teacher is. What they do. And how one goes about becoming one. How one becomes influential as one. How a teacher can really make a difference. And in thinking about such, I think I might have found a few answers to my many questions today. And by that I mean, I was taught a few things by a few students of mine today. They- that is MY STUDENTS: they are, and continue to be, some of my greatest teachers.

Here’s why.

It is our very last day of regular classes, and I am reviewing. I am trying to use the last moments of kindergarten to the maximum of my ability. We do our morning routine, three poems and two books. This, all accomplished before first snack of the day. And then, after recess I start in on the math lesson.

It’s going along terrifically.

When from out of nowhere, I hear the fateful words: “I’m bored.” As in, this math lesson you are teaching me, Mrs.G., it is boooooring. I am a little thrown off by this. This word: boring. I really haven’t heard this word a whole lot this year as we keep a pretty frantic pace here in KA all the live long day. There really is no time to be bored in kindergarten, tbh. In fact, I rarely hear those words. But today, they ring loud and clear.

Booooring.

“This is boring,” he says again, shrugging his shoulders meaningfully in my direction. I explain calmly that we are playing games- that this should be FUN. F.U.N. To no avail. He is not convinced, and he shows me with every fibre of his being. This is NOT fun.

So there.

Meanwhile, I focus my attention on another student who is struggling with these fun games I have planned. I patiently explain to her what I am looking for, but after several failed attempts at making myself clear- along with a bored student or two waiting in the wings and the one I am working with nearly in tears: I can feel frustration also rising in me. This isn’t working out as I planned it. As I thought it would.

This lesson isn’t flying. (The fun and games are now over…)

Sometimes, it is in humility that we learn our greatest lessons. It is when we are humbled to the point of being brought down low – taken down to a place where our ego can’t get the credit any longer. It is then that we find what we’ve been looking for. When we find answers to our bigger questions.

But sometimes it takes time to become aware of this important realization. It takes going through the waters to find dry land.

I wish I could say that I stopped the lesson immediately and switched gears- I didn’t. I kept plodding on. And I did so until something broke. And it was that moment of brokenness that made me realize- I am not here to fix problems, to make everything perfect. I am not here to help children reach perfection, to push them farther than they are ready to go: I am here to support them in their journey and walk beside them as they travel. I am here to learn from them- learn what it is to be a beginning learner. What that feels like to be a five-year old learner- what it feels like to be tired, frustrated, hungry and sad. What it feels like to be bored. And then, I am here to figure out how those emotions affect the person each of my students bring with them to class each and every day. So that they can learn better.

And so that I can learn better too.

That is, so that I can learn to be a better listener, a better empathizer, a better caregiver. So that I can learn when to nudge and when to pull back. So that I can learn when I need to support and when I need to release. So that I can learn how to accept and let go the things I cannot change. But also learn how to graciously and lovingly embrace the things I can.

This afternoon, I made a purposeful, intentional and deliberate decision: to be mindful of my students. To attend to them as they talked and played. To allow them to be themselves. And I found that in focusing my energy on my own learning, I was a happier teacher in that time frame then when I was trying so hard to accomplish my goals and outcomes. I was more at peace.

This isn’t to say that we can’t be focused and organized, doing what it is that needs to be done- but it is a cautionary warning. We must not let our individual agendas stand in the way of our all important learning. Learning which often happens when we are least expecting it to occur.

At least, that’s the way it has been for me today. Unexpected nuggets of wisdom from the little blessings in my life.

And I am still learning.

On Practical Jokes and Spilt Milk

I was inside my classroom during afternoon centers recently when I heard a quiet knock on my door. I opened the door, looked around, and then seeing no one, turned and shut the door. This happened twice. The second time, I looked out and asked a class at the fountain if there had been anyone in that classroom knocking at my door. The teacher standing with her class assured me there had not been anyone in her class, but she knowingly looked at me and then another little guy from a different class standing at the back of the line-up, his face giving him away with the slightest formation of a guilty grin. I smiled, turned around and went back into my classroom, confident that the person who had knocked on my door would go on his merry way, feeling no further need to exercise his impulsive desires on my classroom door.

At the end of the day, the teacher who had observed this little exchange came up to me wearing a sheepish expression. “I hope you know that it was not one of my students who knocked on your door,” she said looking half apologetic. Surprised, I assured her I was most definitely not bothered by a little knock on the door- that it would take more than that to upset my emotions. But she still continued to assure me that she would be extra vigilant in making sure that none of her students would ever bother my teaching in such a way, all the while making sure I understood it wasn’t her student who had pulled the practical joke.

While I appreciated the sentiments and also realize that there are times when practical jokes such as this one can be disruptive to the flow of a lesson or instruction format, the two little knocks on my door were minor disruptions at the most. The entire exchange took about three minutes. Tops. If this student’s impulsive knocking at my door became enough to push my buttons enough to upset me, and seemingly cause anxiety for both myself and others around me, then the question begs to be asked: is it time to maybe chillax a bit and stop sweating the smallest of issues? Because truly there are worse things in the world to get upset over than a minor inconvenience in one’s day such as a couple knocks at the door while one makes their way to the fountain might be.

I wonder how much energy we could save ourselves if we only chose to resist getting upset about minor issues. Things that don’t really matter all that much. Like knocks on doors, small frustrations, little bumps in the road. Spilt milk. What might happen if we were to just let those things go- and not let them bother us quite so much?


Today, I was just about to plow into a beautiful plate of breakfast, compliments of our amazing breakfast program at Bloomfield, when a student in my room upset the contents of her chocolate milk, leaving it to spread out in a circle formation all over her desk and then subsequently drip onto the floor. My immediate reaction was to feel annoyed. It was an inconvenience. I was also in the midst of another interaction with a teacher at the time, so there were actually three things underway at once. My immediate reaction was also to internally blow steam through my ears. It’s frustrating when things like this happen. Instead, I began to calmly wipe up the milk, while finishing the exchange going on with my colleague after which, I then ate my coldish eggs and pancakes.

Was it inconvenient? Yes. Did I have to put myself on hold? Yes. Was my first reaction patient, calm repose? No. But that’s okay. I am working on it- and the first step is to understand the issue. And that issue is the need to step back, relax and breath. Let the negative emotions flow away and realize that this too will pass.

And it did. The feelings of frustration passed. They always do. And I am finding that the more I practice this fine art of letting go, the better I am at it. At least for today, anyway. But that’s all I am truly accountable for.

Right now.

Interrupting the Flow

I teach kindergarten. Which is to say I teach precious, innocent, lively four and five year olds. And you would not believe how much these children at this tender age KNEW about the horrific tragedy of the past few days in Moncton, N.B. They knew so much: the killer’s name, how many R.C.M.P. officers died, how many were wounded, where the killer had been, what he said when he’d been caught.

They also had a few facts that sounded a little strange as well; since our power was off at home this morning (and never came on prior to school), I was unable to verify whether these “other” stories were fact or fiction. But overall, I was actually blown away with what they knew. And with this new knowledge they’d acquired, there was definitely a feeling of heightened tension in the air: tension visible in spite of the fact that things are now considered safe for us all in light of the capture of the killer. Safe for us now in spite of our physical and emotional distant proximity from the actual scene of the horror.

Since the chatter started as soon as they came in the classroom, I began asking the children to save their questions until we could all be together on our communal gathering spot, our worn, blue rug. The less informal chitchat, the better in these situations. When we did finally broach the topic, there were equal expressions of relief and sadness for the fallout. These expressions came out when we talked about how we were feeling, something we always do at the start of a brand new school day, today’s routine being no different than any other morning. And as we talked, several children expressed deep grief for the fallen heroes, the three men who died in action two evenings ago.

I was so touched by their sensitivity.

And as I watched the concern wash across their faces, I was reminded yet again how important it is to create positive connections with those in authority beginning even at this very young age.  Especially at this critical point in their lives- the beginning of their formal education. The opinions we form of those in uniform who work for our benefit begin when we are young matter.  And they can be far-reaching. These days are both impressionable and significant. And as such, I use every opportunity I can find to make local police officers and firefighters visible to my young students. Thankfully, this has been made easier with the fact that for the last number of years, students in my class have had a parent who is a Member. Or at the very least, a close connection to one. The visibility of those in uniform to my students has been pivotal in making permanent positive associations with police officers and the like.

Like many young children their age, my students think R.C.M.P. are like superheroes.  Capable of preforming amazing feats that defy ordinary human capabilities.  I guess you could say they are not too far off the mark with that one.  The R.C.M.P. officers I know are pretty amazing people.  And the events of the past few days only confirm this fact for me.

But in spite of my students awe and wonder, it’s still hard to know what to say to young children when scary things happen so close to home. My students had family members and friends in the cordoned off area where the search had been conducted. I wanted to say something to counter the fear and paranoia. So that the lasting impression wasn’t “what if this ever happened again” but rather “how then, shall we now live?”.

In the split second in which I was trying to form my words, thinking on the spot with wondering little faces turned towards me , I remembered a blog article I had read recently by Glennon Melton at Momastery in which she talked about how we can counter the negativity and evil we come in contact with in our daily lives. This is what she said:

I’ve learned that we cannot change the fact that fear will be released into the world again and again- but we DO have the power to convert that fear into love. As it flows into us, we must CHANGE it before we allow it to flow back out to others. We must interrupt the flow. We have that power. And that’s my favorite kind of conversion – Fear to Love.

Isn’t that powerful?

We can reverse the flow.

And it can begin right now, even in the shadow of the past nights horrors. Even in the light of the coming sadness for families who will grieve their losses. Even in spite of the fact that innocence has been lost. In spite of great tragedy. We can reverse the flow.

So here’s what I said. I told the children we were no longer going to focus on the details of the event that would weigh us down. We were going to turn our sadness into appreciation. Into gratitude. We were going to reverse the flow of fear into an outpouring of love. And we would do this by first making sure that if we saw a police officer or R.C.M.P. member this weekend out and about, we would take the time to thank them. And tell them how much we appreciate their service.

Just a very simple, basic way to start the process of interrupting and reversing the flow.

Everywhere- from one tip of Canada to the other, I am hearing stories of people interrupting the flow. People who are reaching out to officers and thanking them in restaurants and other public places. People leaving flowers and chocolates and baked goods at police stations the Maritimes over. People covering social media and news print with thank-you ads and words of appreciation. One little guy somewhere apparently even drew a picture for an officer and handed it to him, bringing a wave of emotion to that officer who then shared it with staff members back at the station.

All this done in a concerted effort to interrupt the flow and set it on a new directional course, thus bringing good from evil. Making joy out of great sorrow. Incredible stuff.  So profound, yet so very simple and natural when it comes to actually doing it.

Although interruptions don’t always return us to where we began, they do ensure that someone SOMEWHERE will be changed because of them. Kindness has that power to influence perspectives. And if even one of the young children I learn alongside is positively affected towards greater appreciation and a lifetime of respect towards our men and women in uniform, then that one life was worth the work of initiating the INTERRUPTION process.

That one life, that one little soul: they were worth the time and effort it took to positively influence them. It’s the power of one. It starts small, but the ripple effect is tremendous and far-reaching.

May we never forget that we have the ability to interrupt the flow.

On Being Gentle…

Truth be told, we are all often with people who express deeply felt emotions- strong feelings, irritation. About stuff that bothers them.

Actually, I am that person at times- the person that feels strongly about the way things are going. About what is happening around me. Of course, this is life. We live, we love, we get annoyed. That’s just the way it goes. Take for instance, when I am driving into a parking lot full of occupied spaces. And I am just about to pull into the ONE EMPTY SPOT left in the entire block… when someone sees it at the same time and zooms in ahead of me, taking a spot clearly earmarked for Your’sTruly. That’s just…annoying. Worthy of blowing off a little steam.

Am I right?

Or, how about this. You are attending your child’s concert. You arrive predictable late. You are sitting at the back of the auditorium because the only other spot to sit in is the lobby. In front of you, mothers and fathers hold up cameras a mile high to capture their youngster’s five minutes of fame, thus blocking your view of your own child’s five minutes. Isn’t that just enough to make your nervous system want to blow a blood vessel?

What about this scenario? Little Junior is sitting with his family there in front of you/beside you/directly behind you, and all you can hear in said performance is Junior screeching for COOKIES/CRACKERS/TOYS/WHAAAAAAAATEVER. It’s all so frustrating. Maddening. Irritating. You just want to take Junior and…well, you just want to pull your eardrums out and sit on them.

And then some.

Even as I type out these words, my two youngest are fighting about whose seat should be the closest to the screen. Youngest was there first, so she feels it is her chosen birthright. And she is not going to go down gently (no matter how many times she’s thrown up today with her little stomach virus). Next in Line is reminding her repeatedly that she is being unfair. And she is bellowing about it. Loudly.

It’s all enough to make a mother flush her brain down the toilet and call it a night.

Life is aggravating sometimes. And since life includes PEOPLE, well then: people are exasperating some times.

They try our patience, test our nerves, ruffle our feathers. They step on our toes, infringe our rights, rain on our parade.

People can take your Very Last Nerve and make a number of it. Wringing the life out of that poor little fellow. (The nerve, that is.) Believe me I know. I lost that last nerve a year ago. Bless His Little Heart.

But now that I am forty, I have decided: getting in a dither about everything that happens to me or against me (or even about me) is just not worth it. It is not worth wasting my time on, nor is it even necessary. It’s just not that big of a deal.

Here’s the thing.

Now that I am forty, I have decided there must be a few tricks of the trade to be learned. And I have come to realize that there is always another way around everything that irritates, annoys and bothers me. There is always another way to re-direct our attention so that what we feel is less influenced by our emotions and irritants and more swayed by our heart.

So what I’ve decided to do at forty is this: gradually begin to give myself permission to be gentle. Gentle to myself and those around me. Gentle in my responses. And less inclined to make a mountain out of every molehill. Because life is just too short to fight everything as if it were a raging battle. Life is just too short.

So. The next time I am at a yard sale, and I am JUST ABOUT TO PICK UP THE FIND OF MY LIFE: but someone else reaches out and yanks it away first. I am just going to smile sweetly, breathe slowly and count to ten (envisioning cotton candy and pink roses); and then I will think to myself, “That person needed that ____ more than I did.” End of story. Or, if I am at my daughter’ Grade 6 graduation in a month’s time, and someone holds up their camera/ I-pad/cell phone in front of my view, effectively blocking me from seeing my daughter as she beams with pride, I think I just might try getting up and walking to a better vantage point. Or craning my neck/adjusting my position, whichever works better. Just to be a peacemaker. Just to be creative. Just to save my stomach from developing an ulcer. Just to save my sanity.

Or if my kids start fighting in the van, at the table, in the family room, outside, inside, upside-down. You get the picture. So, when they DO fight…I am going to try to model for them through the events I am involved with in my own little life: to try not to sweat the small stuff.

I know what you are thinking. Haha. But I mean it. I am going to really try this (…just after the movie night is over in my family room where my children are defiantly eating chips on the couch…, I promise…). This is going to take practice, but I plan on starting small. Small steps eventually add up to much ground covered.

So, now that I am forty, I am more interested in attempting:
*Creative solutions than I am in pursuing my own personal rights
*Using my imagination than I am in making a case of everything
*Calming my nervous system rather than jacking it up
*Influencing my children to be peaceful rather than swaying them to be confrontational
*Thinking outside the box rather than staying inside that small box and festering.
*Being aware of my reactions. Which is certainly an all- important first step in the right direction. Even for a forty-year old.

And I want to always keep at the forefront, so that I never fail to remember this fundamental,crucial fact: others find me quite annoying too, by times. So what would I want from them?

Gracious, gentle understanding. The balm that soothes a thousand irritations.

Where We Are Headed… Thoughts on Teaching in the 21st Century

“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” (bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p.13)

 

I am swabbing spots all over his chest with a Polysporin-covered Q-tip. Just moments before, he had come to me complaining of itchiness. His chest- sweltered with raw, open infected sores instigated by mosquito bites. A day prior, I had sent him home. The itchiness had been getting to him by mid-afternoon, and without anything to treat the infected spots, the two of us were at an impasse. So, his mother had come to retrieve her boy and mend his angst. As they were leaving, I looked at her and said, “Send along some ointment tomorrow, and I will do this for you.” I realized that this was a minor inconvenience for a busy mother- to pick up an otherwise well-child and take him home simply to apply medication. So, I offered to do it for her, so long as I had her permission and the medicated cream.

Later that evening, the mother wrote me a short message, and in a few simple lines, she conveyed to me her appreciation for my offer to act as nurse for her son. It was apparent that this was not something she would have expected from me, his teacher.

I thought to myself, as I read her short note: “I wouldn’t do anything less than care for this boy’s needs in the ways that he requires caring for: I love this child. I am his teacher. That’s what I do.”

But I wonder: even as my heart is calling me to care for my students in the very ways I care for my own four dear ones at home, is this what I can do realistically? As more and more of my time is being eaten up by demands that are outside my control?

A day later, I sat beside a dear friend in the front seat of her SUV, and I looked her in the eye when I lamented, “Perhaps I would renew my joy in teaching if I was able to simply care for my students, and worry less about all the other junk.”

The junk. That’s what is getting to me. Which is to say, the stuff that is weighing me down.

Junk/ Stuff. The stress over meeting outcomes and curricular goals. The stress over covering the curriculum. The stress over benchmarks. Stress in keeping records, both formal and otherwise. The stress in dealing with other stressed colleagues and students. The stress in planning and readying my classroom after hours, late into the night. The stress by way of new systems of monitoring and assessment brought on by our school boards. The stress in dealing with behaviours. The stress in dealing with unknowns: unknown diagnoses, unknown future job placements, unknown situations, unknown variables. The stress in participating in meetings and in realizing deadlines and living up to expectations. The stress of being all things to all people. The stress. All combined, these stressors have the effect of making us as teachers feel smothered and disabled in doing what we really want to do: care for the little and big people who face us day in and day out inside the four walls of our schools.

Because teaching is primarily about caring for people. Or it should be.

My work feels less and less sacred all the time. More and more rote and routine. More constrictive and prescriptive. More stressful and demanding than ever before. More top-down controlled. Which is not to say that it was ever easy- it’s just getting harder.

Teaching is a challenging career- and it’s not because of the kids.

It’s challenging because of all the other stuff we teachers have to deal with. And it’s challenging because we have neither the time nor the expertise to be dealing with some of the situations we are dealing with. What we really want to do is get back to basics. Teaching for life-long learning and then cushioning all that educating inside a generous portion of simple, genuine caring. Caring deeply for our students’ minds and the learning that takes place there, even as we care for their tender, fragile hearts and souls. Where the real living takes place.

The other day, I was finishing up my lunch when a colleague offered to take my class for a few minutes so as to allow me a couple extra minutes to eat my lunch. I took him up on his suggestion. As I was going back to my own classroom, I had stopped in the office to collect my mail when I noticed a line of children waiting for the secretary to take them into the staff room and heat up their lunch. Added to this group were others: waiting to use the phone and waiting to see the principal. I could see the anxiety building on the secretary’s face. It is a busy enough job to look after the administration of the day-to-day runnings of an office and school to add to that the role of nurse, cafeteria worker and counselor. I offered to take the students and teach them how to buddy up with a Grade 6 student who knew how to operate the microwave, thus alleviating the secretary of the taxing job of heating up lunches. That I was able to take the time to do this was thanks to my dear colleague who offered to take my own students for a few precious minutes during his own prep time. So that I could then be free to help the secretary.

As I again made my way back to my own classroom, the custodian abruptly stopped me while I was walking by the downstairs girls’ washroom: “Would you look at this!” she exclaimed rather brusquely. I peered into the stall where she was positioned over the toilet. There, floating inside the bowl, was a wrapped sandwich, a granola bar and a juice box. Fully intact.

“This has been happening almost daily,” she grimaced.

“I’ll report it to the principal,” I countered. “We’ll get to the bottom if it all.”

As I again started out, this time to find the principal, I started thinking that this was a problem, with a little time, that could be nipped in the bud. Just by way of a good old-fashioned detective eye.

I started into a classroom, asking if anyone was missing a lunch. Everyone was happily eating away. But the next room I happened upon, the teacher met me at the door and immediately communicated to me that she had a hunch it might be someone in her room. A certain person who had been missing their lunch for the last couple of days.

Sure enough, it was that certain person.

And this discovery made all because I had the time to pursue a problem and find a solution for it.

Time is really of essence. But so is love. When teachers have both time and love, powerful things happen.

Students are cared for in ways that they would otherwise not be cared for.

Students learn things they would otherwise not learn.

Problems are solved which would otherwise not be solved.

Answers are found which would otherwise go unresolved.

Children are happier.

Teachers are less stressed.

It’s a win-win for everyone. An absolute no-brainer.

Unless we allow teachers to get back to the business of doing their sacred work of caring for children and students, in ways that their teacher fore-bearers did back in the day, we will be set on a collision course to derailment.

Derailment of our teachers’ sanity.

Derailment of our students’ achievement, in more ways than just standardized performance testing.

Derailment of our classrooms, which will look less and less like learning environments and more and more like sterile testing laboratories.

Derailment of our very educational system.

We are on a collision course and what is set to collide are the expectations that the Powers to Be have for our schools with the health and well being of our teachers and educators. Something’s got to give.

It always does.

And if I were to surmise what that might be, what’s going to give: from personal experience, I’d have to say it’s going to be our teachers.

Heaven help us. That’s about the only hope we have left.

Why I Don’t Have To Be An Expert

On Friday afternoon, I held a Mother’s Day tea in my classroom for all mothers of my current students. And it was a lovely tea for all those who were able to attend. Most of the moms came, along with one grandmother.

When we got to the part of the program where I told them I would be reading some answers to questions that students gave me about their mothers, I heard an audible groan go up from the moms. Of course, there was concern about what their child might have said about them, things said which could inevitably bring embarrassment to the given mother (no matter how cute or adorable it might sound when I wrote it down- word-for-word with the intentions of reading it aloud).
I assured them, in not so many words, that there was nothing to be said that would make anyone want the floor to open up and swallow them alive. Although some of the answers were pretty cute, along with their amateur use of grammar at this age.

Isn’t it interesting how concerning it can be when we know our children have expressed their thoughts about us to someone else.

Today, I was standing next to another young mother and she and I laughed about the fact that we are always wondering how our kids can come up with such flattering, complimentary professions of love for us in their cards and notes when what we really wonder is if we’ve scarred them for life with our constant bellowing and nagging. Not to mention our cranky monologues.

Yesterday, the day before Mother’s Day no less, I had an absolute meltdown regarding Some Children Of Mine who for three consecutive days in a row have left me “surprises” in the toilet and forgot to send them to the undergods at the septic level. I never intended to blow a blood vessel…it just gradually progressed to that point without any real warning to either me or them. In about five minutes flat, I went from concerned, compassionate caregiver to crazed psychopath.

There we are few of us crying and a few of us screaming. And those not doing either of those two things were considering ways in which to prematurely disable their hearing by first blowing a hole in their eardrums.

It was not my finest moment as a mother.

And I have thought a bit over the last twenty-four hours about my meltdown, along with the fact of the matter that I am still an amateur at this gig, even after fourteen years of practice. I still could use a handy manual or helpful little nanny to step in and intervene on those days where I have just “HAD ENOUGH”. Which leads me to my next level of thinking: that we are not mothers because of what we do, necessarily. But rather- mothers because of who we are. Added to that fact is this little bit of encouragement: we are not expected to be perfect at this mothering gig in order to make an impact. In order to be effective. In order for our children to love us.

Because it’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to still be a work in progress. To be a wrecking ball at times.

And I often fall into the trap of thinking that in order to take something on- something as monumental and life-changing and all-important as mothering, I ought to at least be a bit of an expert before I begin. Don’t we all do this at times? And we later fall prone to believe, as time goes on, that the more we do this work of mothering, the better we ought to get at it. So that when we do fail and make mistakes, as we are so prone to do, we are left baffled. Wondering how anyone could ever think of us as competent, let alone wondering how our children could ever come up with so many descriptive words to use in the acrostic poetry entitled M-O-T-H-E-R. Words like…

Mesmerizing, memorable and meek.
Optimistic, out-going and organized.
Tolerant, trustworthy and terrific.
Happy, honorable and helpful.
Energetic, effervescent and enthusiastic.
Role-model, realistic and responsive.

If it were up to me to write my own Mother’s Day card, here is what I might come up with on any given day:

Meanie
Over-worked
Truthful
Honest
Exhausted
Real

I think there is a bit of truth in both lists, tbh.

Because to be honest, moms don’t have to be perfect so as to be the perfect-fit for their kids. They don’t have to be mesmerizing to the exclusion of once in a while being viewed as a meanie. Nor do they have to be either always organized to the point that they don’t consider themselves a wee bit overworked.

We are mothers after all. Not saints.

We can be tolerant while brutally truthful.
Happy while still being honest and true to what we see as the obvious.
We can be the enthusiastic cheerleaders our children need us to be, while inside feeling absolutely exhausted and unable to put two coherent thoughts together.
Responsive and real.
At one and the same time.

The truth is, we don’t have to have our act together- have our ducks always lined up in a row. Mama, we have permission to mess up. We are not perfect.
But we are perfectly right for the children we’ve been blessed to love.
And that is why they love us anyway. And why we joyfully can carry on in spite of it all.
Happy Mother’s Day, all!

The Art of Appreciation

I was reading a blog the other day that gave kudos to teachers, in support of Teacher Appreciation Week. It talked about the work that teachers do and acknowledged teachers and educational assistants as doing important, worthwhile things, in both academic and other areas, so as to support children and young people in their growth, learning and development. It talked a lot about the little unnoticed things that teachers do, things that often fall below the radar as far as visibility. It was a nice article- it made you feel good to read it.

Particularly if you were a teacher.

And then I scrolled through the comments.

And as I did, I came across some negative feedback- as there so often is- to counter the opinions of the author. Comments placed there so as to undermine the author’s attempts at acknowledging her intended audience: teachers. Comments placed there to whine about why other groups of people hadn’t been thanked. Comments placed there to diminish the efforts of individuals committed to their calling and willing to make sacrifices so as to continue doing so. They were rather hurtful comments to read, whether one was a teacher or not.

I am a teacher. But these comments didn’t irk me because I am a teacher. They irked me because I am a human being. A person with a desire to continually acknowledge the best in people and thus see and commend the value of other human beings in service, whomever those individuals might be. And I do this, quite often, through the art of appreciation. Which is to say: I try to watch others. And whatever they might be doing or saying or being matters to me. So much so, that I try to extend to them, as often as I can, a word of appreciation. Thanks and gratitude. It’s not rocket science- but it is pretty important stuff: actually, it’s how I was taught to be by my own gracious mother. So I continue to do so as often as I can. And it is what I now teach the next generation to do as well- my students and four children as well.

It’s quite easy really. Appreciate people. Tell them once in a while what they mean to you. Carry on and repeat.

Couldn’t be simpler.

But I am finding, at times, that this ability of ours as people, to appreciate others: it is passed over in favor of the all-important critique. It is more trendy to critique someone on their performance, abilities or job and less favorable to find the best about them instead. It is more interesting to find fault. Less interesting to build up. More interesting to point fingers rather than to join hands.

As a result, we are losing much, not the least of which is a dying art. That is, the art of appreciating people and things and ideas. The ability to recognize possibility. Particularly, the potential in another human being and then acknowledge that same person for their endeavours. I think that we as people can never do enough appreciating in this life. And it certainly should never come at the expense of a lost opportunity taken instead to undermine another human being’s worthy attempts at celebrating other human beings for their efforts.

Appreciation matters.

My students had a tea party for their mother’s today. It is my third annual tea party for mothers. I once also threw a pizza party for fathers. It is possibly in the works again for this year. The point of me telling this is because the whole event is organized so that my students can take time to think about and reflect on their parents and the hard work they do at raising them. The important work they do in loving them. And thus come to appreciate them a little more. We spend time thinking about what parents do. How they look after us. How they provide for us. We take time to thank them. We sing songs in praise of them. We prepare things that we know they will like and then we serve them. We let them eat and drink first, for a change. In short, we take time to honor their legacy.

It’s very important work- and not just for five and six years olds. It just might be some of the most significant work I do with my students all year. I take it very seriously.

What I am trying to say here is this: we need to instill in our children, our young people and thus in adults as well, the value of appreciation. The worth of acknowledgment. The importance of telling people what they mean to us. The art of appreciation.

Not because we as receivers of this praise need it so as to shore up our self esteem.
Not because we are needy of accolades.
Not because we can’t function unless we have a set number of compliments.
Not for our egos.

But for our souls. Because quite simply, we matter.

No matter what we do we matter. That’s because people matter.

And because our person matters: our contributions thus matter, our influence matters and our legacy matters.

And when we are told as much, it causes us to want to do the same for another human being, starting a chain of appreciation to begin to form.
One can only imagine what ways this world could change with such a chain. Such a possibility for seeing worth in the world around us.
It is quite simply the power that is the art of appreciation.

And I believe that when we appreciate, there is no end to the possibilities for hope.

It’s just that influential.