Teach Like the School is on Fire

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We are standing there chatting while I hold half a banana in one hand, a piece of sweet bread in the other. I pour a glass of water for myself. As I eat, she casually mentions that she has not yet made it to the gym this school year, her membership standing by idle. I laugh and mention the late night hours I have been keeping, preventing me from winding down at the end of the day: 11:30 p.m. last night (still finding myself at the school), 11:00 p.m. tonight. Same situation. When I left this evening (is almost midnight still considered evening?), the principal’s lights were still on in his office, the glow of his computer screen viewed from the road.

I ask you: what is wrong with these scenarios?

She and I look anxiously at the four binders, two Literacy resources, three or four curriculum documents, folders and who knows what else that we have brought along with us to this meeting- all papers and supplements to our classroom teaching materials that we are expected to follow for two of four or five components of our busy, varied day inside primary classrooms. And she looks on the verge of a panic attack. “I’m not complaining,” she says, “But this is no way to live. Is this what it is going to be, what it’s come to?”

I try to balance everything I have in my possession (the small mountain I am holding with two hands), using my core muscles to offset the weight. I glance from her to the two specialists leading our session. Wondering along with them if this is really what the new reality is going to be. Burnout and exhaustion are on the tip of our tongues.

But then I am hit with a thought. My mind goes back to the five fire drills we have practised over the course of the last five weeks, carried out at a small rural school in the country. I think about the fact that in the moments prior to the drill, all that seems to be important is the lesson I am teaching, the book I am reading, the writing I am directing or the craft I am explaining. What seems so important is what I am doing in those moments before the bell sounds for us to shift gears.

But when that alarm rings and the expectation is that we drop everything and vacate the building, that’s what we do. We leave. We drop everything and exit. There is not one thought given to, “Well, I’ll just finish up this lesson first…”, nor momentary consideration given to “But first, I need to finish this book.”

What in the world? Of course not. No. We drop everything. Because all that matters is the children.

Sometimes as teachers I feel we forget that we have priorities. There are some things more important than others. Curriculum is necessary, but if the house is on fire, that document is not coming with me. Outcomes are necessary but if the room is under threat, I will not give them a moment’s notice. Lesson plans are useful, but if a child’s life is at risk, that carefully laid-out plan for my day would be the last thing on my mind.

They are useful, necessary and beneficial. But they are not my number one concern.

The children are.

Can we ever remember this useful fact: if the school was on fire (the house was on fire), what would really matter? I mean, what would we take with us? Perhaps those things which we could prioritize as important are what we really need to remember are the most necessary for our attention and awareness.

It’s about the kids, not the documents.
It’s about the kids, not the lesson plan.
It’s about the kids, not the curriculum.
It’s about the kids.

Thankfully, the school has not ever been on fire in my time. I would hope and pray it never would be. But sometimes, it is prudent to think: if there ever was an emergency, what would really matter? And on those things of which I have prioritized, I must set my sites and attention.

There is much to be said for good teaching. Many people might think it has to do with how much you know, how much you do. But I choose a different path, follow other voices. And those voices tell me this:

“You don’t teach by knowing, you teach by loving.”— Glennon Melton

And might I add…you don’t teach best by sending yourself into panic attacks because you feel you must read every document that applies to your classroom situation. You don’t teach best by burning yourself out. You don’t teach best by denying yourself pleasure. You don’t teach best by staying at the schoolhouse until past 11:00 p.m. on a regular basis.

We teach best by loving: loving God, loving ourselves, loving our families, loving our students, loving people and in loving and taking pleasure in our work and living. We can know a lot of things, but if we are not loving and teaching as if our world depended on that one pillar, then all the knowledge in the world will never really matter.

Let’s teach as if the school was on fire, placing our sites and aspirations on the people whom we love and care for. They are what really matters most to us when all is said and done.

To Tell My Story

Our life story—varied and diverse as sand grains on a wide-open sea shore. As vastly distinct as one individual crystalline snowflake. As precious as a ring made from the purest 24-karat gold. As valued and prized as a sparkling diamond to a gem-cutter. Our stories are so treasured and cherished to the Father. And in His eyes, our stories are worth telling. Are worth being shared one with another. Story after story after story.

Do we believe this truth?
“My Story”
If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine
— Mike Weaver

Sometimes we err in thinking that no one else could relate to the stories we might tell. These stories, we believe, are too rough, too complicated, too messy and chaotic. We err in thinking sometimes that these stories might be, on the opposite end of the spectrum— too simple, too plain. Nothing fancy. Just boring day-to-day. Or perhaps, we’ve come to think that our story is too full of details that no one would ever understand. They are too exhaustive and too fraught with connections that would derail our lives if those stories ever were told.

What is holding us back from telling our story?

Rachael Freed says, “From a legacy perspective, we tell our stories for ourselves and as a gift to future generations. How does telling our stories benefit us? We need to know and express our own stories. Difficulties arise not because we have a story, perhaps a very sad or painful story, but because we become attached to our stories and make them an essential part of our very selves.”

In sharing our stories, we come to realize, that while unique: we are not alone. While our stories are peculiar and particular to our own situation, they have connection to those around us. Not to take anything away from the uniqueness of the life they represent, but to add dimension and depth to our living because we share it with one another.

Solomon, the wisest human to ever live said in Ecclesiastes, “…there is no new thing under the sun.” No new story, just new people experiencing the stories from different vantage points and seeing with different perspectives. And yet: Jeremiah the prophet was told, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” The life that lives that story- each story that ever HAS been told and that ever WILL be told, is completely and wholly precious. Each life: unique, sacred and set apart for some greater purpose.

What life have you been given to live?
And are you living that life? Are you sharing your story?

If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

I am rushing through an enormous airport; rushing, because I realize that I have precious little time to make connecting flights and then to get through customs. Rushing so as to arrive intact and certified, where I need to be.

I am “that kind of rushing”.

I do not know yet that they have lost my luggage, that it was left behind. Do not know yet that they will be initiating the flight sequence before I arrive at the Gate. I don’t yet know that the loudspeaker will be calling my name as I buckle my shoes in Customs, in a distant part of a vast airport, don’t know that they will be stating that this is my last call to report for a flight I might not make. I don’t yet know that I will have to run for what will feel like miles with bags banging the sides of my legs. I don’t know what it will feel like to have all eyes on me as I am the final passenger to board a small plane headed for a place I have never before visited.

I don’t know all this yet.

But here is what I know.

I know that when I left the plane that brought me from PEI to Toronto, the first person I saw was a man named Gerard Gaudet. And he is husband to a woman named Corrie Gaudet. And Corrie is a woman who encourages me like no other, a woman who builds me up in spirit and in hope. And she, dear Corrie, has told me that she will be praying for me on this trip. That she will pray for me as I am traveling. Her, and many many others. So, when I see Gerard, I remember this, and it is a comfort.

It is a hope.

And perhaps that little physical reminder of ‘God With Us’ is what it took me to get from one end of the airport to the other, I do not know. Might never know.

But this I know for sure: to tell my stories is to share my hope. To tell my stories is to share my faith in life, in love and in living. Yes, to tell my story is to tell of Him.

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

This is NOT sweet talk

I received an interesting comment this week on my blog, with regards to my viral post on what students remember most about teachers:

“This is sweet talk about how important it is to relate to students’ lives. A certain amount of that is important or you can’t reach the students. It is also critical to actually teach in a way that assures students gain the best education possible based on their intelligence. Yes, everyone doesn’t have to be a doctor or an engineer, but some must or our society will suffer immensely. Teachers are not there to make friends of students, but learners. Whether they remember you, is irrelevant.”

To the commentator: I beg to differ, and to also call your bluff.

There are researchers around the globe who are putting forth scientific claims as to why care is vital inside classrooms. It’s not just sweet talk anymore—there is substantial theory and research underway existent to support both my sentiments as well as the premise behind care ethics.

Towards a broader understanding of authority in student-teacher relationships,” is the title of an academic research paper written by Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) on the topic of authority utilized in school discipline, and the paper provides reason for a better understanding of “the student-teacher authority relationship” which is also central to understanding what goes on in classrooms; in particular, the authors of this article show how this idea of authority relates to school discipline (p. 494)

Authors Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) put forward in this research paper that the common approach to discipline that educators have traditionally held to, in that they have interpreted authority with relation to use of power and domination. Thus, the apparent meaning of authority in this view would be one which enables teachers to engage in forceful action (albeit, not necessarily physical) so as to coerce students into doing that behaviour which is desired; if students do not do what is expected, they run the risk of receiving consequences for their actions. This understanding in Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) view has led to a neglect of how teachers can use personal authority to elicit a more authentic, positive response to encouraging desired behaviours, doing so in caring, compassionate ways.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) quote Gewirtz (2000) as saying “that pupils continue to be seen as problems to be managed rather than as individuals capable of making decisions” (p. 497). Although Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) state that there have been positive shifts over the past decades in terms of how schools interpret discipline, doing so in a more positive light than in some previous eras of schooling, there still is a view to discipline that students must remain compliant if they are to avoid the teacher’s use of control to exercise authority. With the agenda of school boards and government departments geared at performance and output, it is no wonder that teachers believe that classroom control of some sort is necessary (at least this is the view of many teachers) if they are to get anything done inside their classrooms, so as to meet district-mandated benchmarks.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) quote Wrong (2002)’s research as being significant in contributing to the theory of authority.

Wrong (2002)’s view to authority is that it differs in terms of how dominating, persuasive, manipulative and forceful it is in manifestation, as well as it differs in terms of the motivation for the individual to submit to the authority (changes which depend on what form of power is being used). Wrong (2002) lists five forms of authority: coercive, legitimate, competent, personal and authority by inducement, and he maintains that each has application to the classroom setting. In particular, Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) take note of what Wrong (2002) says about personal authority, a form of authority based on a student’s compliance to complete teacher-directed tasks/do what is expected, and all because they genuinely like the teacher. This is a form of authority which Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) state “is something which school children are naturally predisposed to recognize and respond to” (p. 504). Thus, the personal qualities of teachers—their caring and compassion, their trustworthiness, their ability to form relationships with their students, their understanding, their patience and respectfulness…all work in tandem to form a teacher’s personal authority inside their classroom with students.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) claim that it is “in personal authority that teachers can find most optimism for their profession” and this because this form of authority lies directly within their means of influence. Teachers CAN decide how they will be when they show up to class each morning.

Will those teachers be fair?
Will they be respectful?
Will they be patient, compassionate, understanding and trustworthy?
Will they find ways in which to care?

If the answer to any of these lies in the affirmative, then the teacher’s ability to establish a positive, healthy presence of authority in the classroom is a hopeful possibility.

Both for the teacher AND the students.

Find love. Hold onto it.

image retrieved from http://www.hortondoors.com

We were walking out behind them as they sauntered along ahead of us, traveling through the automatic sliding hospital doors, into the mid-day sunlight. He was holding her arm with the left hand, her black and white toile purse snugly tucked underneath his right. She had a cane, but he had her. He stopped to look for traffic, gently fielding the view. She stood by his side, a pillar of strength, in spite of her limp. And while it was easy to see that they were certainly on in years, as evidenced by their grey hairs and weathered skin, their love told a story that transcended time. It was timeless, that story.

There was just something about those two that caught my eye.

Dear Daughters, while you are all still so young, with so much of life ahead of you waiting to be discovered, there is still something you must consider in the prime of your youth. Something that must be contemplated and then carefully taken into account. Please don’t get me wrong: I am not there yet, not ready for you to fly the nest. Not ready for the surge of emotion that accompanies young love. For I am still so protective of my babies and their naive innocence. Still so protective of you, my girls, so much so that I need to find just the right words to say this to you now.

Girls, find someone who will cherish you.

Make the love of your life the one who seeks to live his life with you as his love. Don’t settle for halfway, second best, good enough. Set your standards high. Make him reach for you.  Reach back to him, but be sure you are looking at one another eye-to-eye.

Make the love of your life the one who listens to you with his whole heart, with all his love. Don’t tell yourself that this is a negotiable. Believe that you are worth it. See yourself as someone of superb value, someone worth listening to.

And make the love of your life the one who shares with you his love. Shares his dreams and hopes, along with his sorrows and disappointment. Regard yourself as the complementary piece that balances his life. And see that he regards in you the very same ideals.

The wisdom of established love is exquisite. It is a rare and beautiful thing to find that kind of love and keep it until death parts. A rare and beautiful thing to actually cherish that love, even in the living years. These years of life are hard and they will try you. Find first the One who will cherish you above all others, and in doing so, finding love that will last your whole life long will be that much easier.

Find love. Hold onto it. And never let it go.

My wish as your mother is that you Three one day find yourselves standing hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm with the Love of your life. Maybe you will be at the curb supporting yourself with a cane, while he tenderly cradles your purse under one arm. Maybe your story has a different ending. Whatever the outcome, may you always find yourself together.

Holding onto each other.

For Those Moments {When We Think We are Not Enough}

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When I walked up the narrow staircase one week ago today, darkness had already enveloped our country home. It was night-time, around 10:00 p.m. when I knocked on your closed bedroom door, asking if I might come in. You were reading, a bed-side light shining its sheen across the page. The room was awash in a warm glow. You looked up expectantly. I felt such relief at seeing you there. Such a safe place to be— under our roof, where a body knows they are loved unconditionally. Where a body knows that they will be cherished forever.

I sat on the end of your bed and looked at you. Stared unabashedly at amazing you.

And inside my mother’s heart I felt the need to tell you how much you are loved. Felt the need to tell you how much I believe in you: believing that you have much to offer this world, much to give this circle of influence in which you have been placed.

I felt the need to tell you how incredible are the offerings and talents with which you’ve been gifted. Telling you how valued you are to both your father and I— to our whole family. I felt the need to tell you that who you are is enough for anyone, including yourself. You have much to give. Much to put forward to anyone.

I felt the need to tell you. And so I did.

But more than that.

I wanted you to also know that you, Precious You: You are worth so much more than even what we, your parents, think and feel. You are Loved, with an Eternal Love; loved by the One who knows no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions. Who knows no Shadow of Turning, knows no minute fraction of faltering. You are loved eternally. Wholly, purely, completely.

I wanted you to know.

But Child of Mine, there will be some, who will someday, somewhere cause you to consider whether you are enough. There will be voices that will taunt, will jeer. Will question, will doubt. And there will be niggling worries that will grow into all-out, full-blown fears in your mind. There will come a day when you will give ear to the thought that ‘who you are is not enough’.

Not enough for the crowd.
Not enough for the moment.
Not enough for the situation.
Not enough for the requirements.
Not enough for the job.
Not enough for the part.
Quite simply, not enough.

There will be moments, and these moments will come. For they have come for us all, at one time or another.

God says it differently to us:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love… with loving-kindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

There is never a question of whether or not we are enough.
We always were. We always are. And we always will be.

There is nothing that will separate us from that Love.

No crowd’s opinion.
No moment’s worry.
No situational disaster.
No lacking requirements.
No failed attempt nor any missing parts that need be present.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

I left your room that night, tears falling freely. For I am so honored to have been given this opportunity to love you. It is my mission, my heart’s desire to impart to you the knowledge of this love.

A love that will endure for always. And forever ever after that.

Take Heart

He clutches his ‘nearly-the-size-of-him’ backpack tightly to his chest. His shoes, somehow having landed on the wrong feet, stand motionless- flaps to the wind. But thankfully we remembered the bus pass. He holds the tiny stub of paper with the little bit of tape I stuck on for good measure, absently rubbing it against his cheek.

There is fear in his eyes.

He is going on a different bus today, but because he is right now alone, this experience is terrifying to him. It is unthinkable. To get on a vehicle you have never before traveled and trust that it will end up somewhere familiar is beyond his capability right now. All he wants is something sure and someone familiar. Someone recognizable to travel this road with him that will eventually take him toward home.

Don’t we all?

Life is lonely. And so very hard.

We were never promised easy. Never guaranteed a trouble-free road.

That road might look different depending on where you stand, but the road remains the same. Challenged with obstacles, roadblocks, detours, barriers and obstructions of every kind.

{“In this world you will have trouble.” It’s a certainty. A sure thing.}

I stand beside him with my hand on his back. I see the tiny tears welling up in his eyes, and my own heart breaks in two. Breaks into a piece for him and a piece saved for all the others that I will stand alongside in comfort and offer my heart of hope.

I crouch down beside and whisper those very words of hope that I believe. Words that I trust will bring him peace of mind and ease of trouble.

I tell him that his brother is on his way. It won’t be long, they will soon be reunited. We both look toward the door in anticipation. For when that older brother appears, all anxiety will subside. Brothers offer that kind of sustaining optimism sometimes. When they do, it is a powerful thing to behold.

{“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”}

Sometimes we wait for things to come to us. But sometimes we must move towards those things we know are waiting.

We two walk toward the outside door, through it and then up the stairs and towards the classroom buzzing with voices where we know Big Brother patiently waits for his own release.

The lost is found.

{“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”}

We know this world is fraught with tribulation, difficulty, pain and hardship. We are all located somewhere on that continuum of trouble. Where we are located is different depending on the story, depending on the variables. But the outlook is hopeful no matter what the situation.

For He has overcome the world.
And that very fact makes all the difference.

Notice Me

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Come look at me, they cry out. Little voices calling, tiny hands reaching for my own much larger one. Watch me on the money bars, the slide, the firepole. Watch me! Notice Me! See me!

A little one comes up to me, (I know not who she is), but she has a sweet innocent face and the clearest eyes—it is almost that I can see right through to her soul. And she is calling out to me.

Watch me, she says.

I watch.

I follow her little body as it rounds the Jungle Gym, makes its way up the stairs and ends up at the tippy-top of the Fire Pole. She glances over at me to make sure that my eyes are fixed on her. They are indeed. When she is sure that I will not waver in my gaze, she grasps the pole and wraps her little legs around securely. Woosh. She is down in a second and off and running to a new adventure.

To teach is to examine humanity at its rawest, most unadulterated form. Children are a study in innocence and purity. They are authentic and genuine. And what they want more than anything is for us to notice. They want for us to notice them, notice their antics, their comings and goings. To be attentive. To watch and consider their ways. To be mindful. To be aware of what it is they care about.

Children want us to see them.

We all want this, if we were truthful. We want to be seen. We crave recognition. My own child comes home from school today and says in passing that it is easy to get lost in the sea of bodies.

No one can really notice you for all the people, says the Child.

It takes practice to notice people. I have written the following and I stand by these words today:

“We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page five and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.”

We must take time to notice. Our children are pleading for us to do them this one humanitarian service. We must notice them with our whole being, eyes and ears wide open. Watching them not with a gaze of half-hearted interest, but with a whole-hearted, complete understanding of the incredible gift of attentiveness and genuine care with which we’ve been vested.

Noticing takes time and practice. It demands our attention. We must be deliberate and intentional in our practice. But the pay off for our children in investing this service is mind-boggling.

Who can even imagine (can conjure up the images) the gifts that even one child could offer to the world someday…and all because we took the seconds, minutes, hours…took the time:

To really notice.

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