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.

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What I Want To Teach This Year

I fill a bucket with water and soap. Bubbles slowly rise to the surface as the two substances combine into a froth of white foam. There is much to do today and little time to do it all in. I have my classroom sectioned off into centers, so today’s goal is to clean the computer station and the puzzle and games center.

It might look like I am cleaning, but what I am really doing is readying the classroom for the little bodies that will plunge through that door (at the bottom of the stairs- turn right) come Thursday morning of next week. I am readying things. Making sure all is clean, orderly and attractively arranged. It’s slow work, but I like the quiet.

Gives me time to think.

For while I clean shelves and wipe down cupboards, I ready my mind. Clean out the cobwebs, so to speak. I need my head to be in the game, need my thoughts to be organized. Need my mind to be clear. For when all is said and done, it’s not the classroom that houses the potential and possibility to make this year the best one ever for my incoming class: it’s me.

I’m the teacher.

With that in mind, I’ve been reflecting on what I plan to teach this year, along with the usual letters, numbers, reading and writing. And what I want to teach this year is how to love.

How to love, not how to hate.

How to care for one another. Reaching out beyond one’s own familiar world so as to make a difference in the life of another.

How to be compassionate. Showing concern for those going through hard times, displaying empathy for those with struggles and consideration for the needs of others. Above all, living a life marked by gentleness in one’s interactions toward all living things.

How to be grateful. Thankful for what we’ve been given. Appreciative of little gestures and small tokens of thoughtfulness. Pleasure for the gifts of life that are not transitory.

Because what I want to teach this year is the art of loving, not the vanishing pleasure of greed.

How to see that what we’ve been given is enough. Acknowledging that we have a responsibility to share the love, share the blessing. Spread the message of hope.

How to give from the heart, expecting nothing in return. How to live one day at a time.

How to strive for justice and freedom for all even in the midst of everyday living. Not just saying that we do- living it as well.

Yes, what I want to teach this year is love, not apathy.

How to see that indifference is the same as condoning the same behaviors we find offensive in society.

How to acknowledge that one’s lack of interest in speaking out about what they believe to be of value and of worth is weakness.  We need to find strength in our convictions.  Hopeful joy in our abilities.

How to see that one’s boredom and lethargy is the obstacle between self and understanding the world better.

For what I want to teach this year is that love is both the message and the outcome of a life lived well- for one’s own joy as well as for the joy of others. Not denying my place in history, but embracing it.

What we really need is love. It’s what I really need. Because it’s not the world I am trying to change:it’s me. And I know it will happen if I just take it one day at a time.  One sure foot placed securely in front of the other.

And starting with me as the student, that’s what I want to teach this year.

A Life of Intrigue

We were biking tonight, the girls and I.  Previously, I had just finished cleaning up supper when the boys and D. arrived on their own wheels.  It was a night just calling us to the trail- to wind blown hair and rosy cheeks.  To wishes made at sunset. We hopped on and formed a line.  As we pedaled down our road with the setting sun at our backs- heading toward the cousins’ house, I noticed something small and iridescent lying on the ground. Something perfectly formed but completely motionless.

A tiny hummingbird.

It was dark blue- with maybe some green, maybe some red- and it was lying on its side, its straw-like beak just a thin line of black colour. Its eyes were open; as it was on its side, the one eye we saw was like a miniscule black bead. Its wings folded tightly into its abdomen.

It was perfect.

There was no sign of injury. No sign of life either. My girls and I stopped to gaze in admiration at this tiny marvel. How something so small could captivate our attention gives tribute to this marvel of nature. Says something of its benevolent Creator.

I was so intrigued, that as I rode on I started to think more deeply about this little creature. And after a few moments of quiet captivation, my imaginations ran a little wild, as they have a habit of doing. I started to wonder out loud about the life of this tiny bird and question where it came from- thinking about what had happened moments prior to its untimely death and speculating whether or not it frequented the nearby neighbours lovely gardens and bird houses situated quaintly on their veranda. This little bird and its unfortunate demise- a bird known as the smallest of all the types of birds found in the world- was something noteworthy to me. Something worth paying tribute to.

A being worth remembering.

All this has made me wonder further. Such a fragile, delicate bird.  Can it live a life of beautiful intrigue- only to slip into death and still be worth one’s while in remembering?  And if so, how much more then might we as human beings be valued the same? Worth thinking about, wondering over, imagining, pondering, remembering, considering and meditating on? Worth something? Worth the time and effort and patience and deliberation and cost it takes to cultivate a life?

For each sacred life is full of an intrigue all its own- and the stories we tell are never as revealing as the ones we keep in the safety of our hearts. Each life a mystery, a wonder. But still I wonder…are we living our lives as if they were intriguing? Do we really know and understand how incredibly valuable we are? How precious? How important? And are we taking care of these exquisite lives we’ve been given as if we believe this to be true? Believing that our lives are worth caring for as though they were extraordinary?

For that is what they are.

Extraordinary.

We were on our way to the yard sales Saturday morning when our van was halted at the lights on North River Road: a GrandFondo cycling event with approximately 300 riders was ushered through by police escort. In case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with an event of this type (as I was until I Googled it): a GrandFondo is a biking event for riders that is not a race- it is a road course. And one can take a competitive approach or otherwise- depending on the preference.

I watched the first hundred riders or so go by- and they looked like the typical racers you might expect at a serious biking event. But as the next hundred passed by, it became increasingly clear that there were many and varied bikers taking part in this event.  One gentleman in particular caught my attention. He was dressed in a bright red tank top and shorts- no brand names or trendy biking shorts worn as attire. And he had a long flowing mane of silver hair. A striking head of hair.  It truly flowed behind him as he pedaled. I was so surprised and interested in that hair, that before I could think about what was coming out of my mouth, I said to the kids, “Look at that guy!”

I immediately regretted drawing attention to him, feeling somewhat like I had made a spectacle of him to my offspring. But as I began answering their questions about the bikers, I realized something about The Man With Silver Hair in the Red Tank Top. I noticed him because he was intriguing.

And incredibly so.

Like the little hummingbird, he caught my attention. And his presence on that road course Saturday morning gave me pause to wonder and imagine about his own unique life and story- a story that led him to live an intriguing life that unfolded in myriad ways until he was led to cross paths with me. And all because I had arrived at the intersection just a little too late.

Nothing is happenstance. And no one is a mistake.

Live your life as if it was intriguing. For it really is.

 photo credits go to http://www.birdsandblooms.com

Here are ten interesting hummingbird facts and general information about hummingbirds as taken from http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/facts.php :

  • Hummingbirds are the tiniest birds in the world.

 

  • Hummingbirds can flash their bright colors, as well as hide them when needed.

 

  • The bright radiant color on hummingbirds comes from iridescent coloring like on a soap bubble or prism.

 

  • A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.

 

  • Hummingbirds can hear better than humans

 

  • Hummingbirds can see farther than humans.

 

  • Hummingbirds can see ultraviolet light.

 

  • Hummingbirds have little to no sense of smell.

 

  • A hummingbird’s beak is generally shaped like any other bird beak, just longer in proportion to its body.

 

  • Hummingbirds do not drink though their beaks like a straw. They lap up nectar with their tongues.

We See What We Want To See

We see what we want to see.
If we want to see the world in front of our eyes through a lens of hope, it’s ours to choose so.
If we wish to view the people in our world as worthy- deserving of respect and value, we can make that choice too.
If we desire to see the possibility in a situation, we have that ability.
If we would like see our neighbor for the good found within, that is a choice we can make.
If we are watching world events right now and the downward spiral that seems to make the news, we can choose to buy into this mode of thinking or stop the cycle from continuing.
We can see what we want to see.
We can.

I wake to an overcast morning. Grey clouds hang low. Rain threatens. We ease our way into the morning and have a late breakfast of toast, cereal and banana-and-yoghurt before walking to the end of the road and back. As we walk, this idea surfaces in our talk. This idea which involves the opening of our eyes to the world around us- to what is and what we choose to see, those things and people that share our world. That have an inherent value that lies within.

I look around me and notice the people. Notice the animals. Notice the world. I notice how easy it is to forget to notice.

Sometimes we refuse to see. That is our choice to make.
At these times, we end up seeing only what we want to see.

I am rushing through the grocery store. There are line-ups in every queue when I go to check out. I quickly slip into an opening, but see out of the corner of my eye a woman in her later years slowly moving towards my very spot. She leans heavily on the cart for support. I catch her eye and ask, “Was this spot one you were headed for?” She smiles. I move back quickly and offer her my place in the queue. As I am leaving for another check-out, I catch a woman behind me politely apologizing to another whom she has accidentally bumped. And at the cash, the shopper in front of me and the cashier exchange pleasantries while I stand back and wait.

And all the while, I am watching.

A grocery store is a place to see and notice. To watch people. For people buying groceries are usually also people with stories, lives, problems, issues, concerns, heartaches, troubles and joys. These people go about their lives and then randomly convene together in this place- a grocery store. Gathering food to feed their families, obtaining sustenance for life. And while they go about this task, people like me have the unique privilege of seeing these others. Seeing the person that lies within. And seeing the opportunity for compassion, opportunity for kindness. The potential to make a small difference in someone’s day.

Small things often make a big difference. And when we look for the best, we often see it.

We can see each other as obstacles. Or we can see one another as gifts.
And in each every-day, mundane place we find ourselves, in every aspect of life: there is opportunity.

Opportunity to see the beauty in humanity that lies within.
Opportunity to notice the best people have to offer.
Opportunity to see what is- not just what we want to see.

We See What We Want To See

We see what we want to see.
If we want to see the world in front of our eyes through a lens of hope, it’s ours to choose so.
If we wish to view the people in our world as worthy- deserving of respect and value, we can make that choice too.
If we desire to see the possibility in a situation, we have that ability.
If we would like see our neighbor for the good found within, that is a choice we can make.
If we are watching world events right now and the downward spiral that seems to make the news, we can choose to buy into this mode of thinking or stop the cycle from continuing.
We can see what we want to see.
We can.

I wake to an overcast day. Grey clouds hang low. Rain threatens. We ease our way into the morning and have a late breakfast of toast, cereal and banana-and-yoghurt before walking to the end of the road and back. As we walk, this idea surfaces in our talk. This idea which involves the opening of our eyes to the world around us- to what is and what we choose to see, those things and people that share our world. That have an inherent value that lies within.

I look around me and notice the people. Notice the animals. Notice the world. I notice how easy it is to forget to notice.

Sometimes we refuse to see. That is our choice to make.
At these times, we end up seeing only what we want to see.

I am rushing through the grocery store. There are line-ups in every queue when I go to check out. I quickly slip into an opening, but see out of the corner of my eye a woman in her later years slowly moving towards my very spot. She leans heavily on the cart for support. I catch her eye and ask, “Was this spot one you were headed for?” She smiles. I move back quickly and offer her my place in the queue. As I am leaving for another check-out, I catch a woman behind me politely apologizing to another whom she has accidentally bumped. And at the cash, the shopper in front of me and the cashier exchange pleasantries while I stand back and wait.

And all the while, I am watching.

A grocery store is a place to see and notice. To watch people. For people buying groceries are usually also people with stories, lives, problems, issues, concerns, heartaches, troubles and joys. These people go about their lives and then randomly convene together in this place- a grocery store. Gathering food to feed their families, obtaining sustenance for life. And while they go about this task, people like me have the unique privilege of seeing these others. Seeing the person that lies within. And seeing the opportunity for compassion, opportunity for kindness. The potential to make a small difference in someone’s day.

Small things often make a big difference. And when we look for the best, we often see it.

We can see each other as obstacles. Or we can see one another as gifts.
And in each every-day, mundane place we find ourselves, in every aspect of life: there is opportunity.

Opportunity to see the beauty in humanity that lies within.
Opportunity to notice the best people have to offer.
Opportunity to see what is- not just what we want to see.

It Matters That We Remember Our Students

I recently ran into a former professor of mine from my undergrad days at U.P.E.I. I actually had been invited to attend a talk that he was presenting to a small group of people in his home- thus the reason for our paths crossing. As I was re-introduced to him by my friend (after a fourteen year hiatus from studies at the same university where I had first met him), I had already convinced myself that he wouldn’t remember me. After all, the class had been held in an amphitheater-style classroom- I was just a face in the crowd. A number on a spreadsheet.

Why would he remember me?

Why that mattered to me that he remembered me, is an interesting thought. Does it matter that teachers remember their students? As his student, I certainly remembered him- his style of teaching, his topic of interest- even some of the things he had said. But for some strange reason, it mattered to me- in that moment- that he remember me.

As pleasantries were exchanged, he assured me that he did indeed remember me. And he paused to talk to me about my life, work and writing. As we reacquainted, I remember feeling honored that a teacher at the university level would remember a former student from many years prior and thus take the time to talk to that student, me- showing an interest in who I had become.

It mattered that he remembered. It mattered that he was that kind of teacher that remembered. And I am of the opinion that it matters that we care enough for our students to remember them. To remember the essence of who they were when we were a part of their lives.

Can we always remember their names? Regrettably, no. This is a grief of mine. Can we remember all their likes and dislikes? Not likely. All the ins and outs of their lives? The ideas and beliefs they espouse? Their dreams and ambitions? Hardly.

We can’t remember everything, but we can remember something. And that something essentially is that we can remember the person.

It matters that we care enough about our students to remember them, that we care enough to remember the person.

I have students whom I still remember from my student teaching days fifteen years ago. Do I remember everything? Again, this is an unreasonable expectation. I sometimes find myself forgetting details as the years go by. Yes, I forget details at times, but I still remember the person. And I believe I do so in part because I challenged myself to take the time in the classrooms I was blessed to be part of, to be in the moment. To really make what I was doing an experience that I was present for, not just something I put my time into so as to make a buck. So as to do a job, fulfil a mandate or complete a task.

I remember because I made it a priority.

Caring for people requires investment. And when we invest our time- using that same time to open up discussion, opportunity, possibility and conversation, we have more of a chance of remembering. More of a chance of keeping connection. And it’s worth it to ourselves to remember the people who’ve touched our lives, our students. It’s worth it. Because those same students we remember, for better or for worse, are the very reason we do what we do.

They are the reason we are in this profession. The reason we teach.

So in thinking about remembering people who’ve changed my life, I wanted to share with you some students I remember:

That boy in my third grade class who brought his favorite CD in for me to listen to

That girl who loved to figure-skate, whom I drove forty-five minutes to watch practice

That boy in my high school history class who always fell asleep because he had worked at the fish plant until 11:00 p.m. the night before

That boy who I eventually won over- even after I caught him starting a fire in the school gazebo

That girl I wrote a letter to and read to her class after I watch her being bullied

That boy I would have followed to the moon and back after he shared with me what had happened to him that morning before he’d even made it to the bus

That little girl I knew needed extra love- and her parents too

That boy in my tenth grade law class who scribbled words I can’t even describe- whom I knew needed to be read by someone with more authority than me

That girl whom I nominated for a music award

That boy I sang a duet with at the school variety concert

These students I remember, these students I will never forget- for they are blessings in my life, even though I may not have known it at the time. Little graces that I have known along the path. People who have touched my life in this journey of mine as an educator.

True- sometimes my memory fail me. The details become a little fuzzy. The faces might even lose their defining features in my mind. But the person behind that face is forever etched in my heart.

I will always remember these students- their stories of hope, resilience, determination and sheer grit have made me the teacher I am today.

May I never forget the reason for why I chose to be a teacher. For why I am who I am.

It’s because of my students.

When We Care for One Another

My two kiddos are playing a game of catch in the small space that is our camping site. We are sandwiched in between two large R.V.’s causing our own hardtop to dwarf in comparison. As I sit by a dwindling campfire chatting with my parents, I watch the baseball they are throwing inch ever closer to the couple sitting out by their fire pit right next to our site. As luck would have it, the ball bounces and flies past Son rolling along until it hits ‘said camper-neighbors’ fire pit. “Thank goodness that is all that was hit” is my first thought immediately followed up by “get that darn ball out of here.” I am instantly horrified, as I am sure is Son (who hates any attention drawn to himself). I get up and make the immediate suggestion (order) that the kids can move their game somewhere else.

They quickly oblige with nary an argument.

Strangely, the couple laugh the whole incident off. “Let the kids play,” says the gentleman, his wife adding the little tidbit that this reminds her of her own children when they were young. While I am comforted by the fact that no offence has been taken to this close call, I still use my good judgement and gently shoo the kids along. Later, I take them to an area at our campground better suited to throwing around baseballs: a wide, open field. We make it a whole family event and no one is left worse for the wear: emotionally or physically.

On my way back from the latter game (which we ended up playing until it was too dark to see the ball), I am walking back on my own down a darkened road when I hear the excited voices of children on bicycles behind me. It becomes immediately clear that I am about to be overtaken by some fast-riding bikers. I don’t dare turn or make any sudden movement lest I am knocked off my feet. Sure enough: three young boys come right up to my back and one after the other, zoom past me coming within inches of my frame. Not a word is spoken by either them or me, no warnings- nothing, and I am a little shaken as I realize: had I stepped over an inch or so in either direction, somebody would have been seriously hurt.

And that ‘someone’ would not just have been me either.

Teaching kids about care means more than just happy-go-lucky feelings on a summer’s afternoon. It’s not just about living life the PollyAnna way. Why caring and its counterparts- compassion, concern, interest and responsibility matter in everyday life is because people like to be treated as if they matter. As if they are worth the while thinking about and considering.

When children, kids and young people are taught and mentored to look out for other people, treating everyone as if they are someone of value, everyone benefits. Not the least of which- them. Because what goes around, comes around eventually. Besides, people who look out for others are just plain easier to live with, kinder, nicer and more thoughtful. It matters that kids learn to care- because lessons of caring spill into their lives at large, influencing little and big decisions they make each and every moment of the day.

I do not tell these stories to point fingers at others nor to gloat about my own offspring. Actually, I tell these stories to myself as proof that teaching the young to care is of utmost importance to me as an adult. Someday my world will be greatly influenced by the very ones I am educating today. How that world ends up- what it will look like- depends largely on the lessons those same little and big people learned today.

I want to share a story that a reader named Shirley wrote recently on my blog:

I had a favorite teacher, Mrs. Stewart 6th grade. There were so many life lessons that year. The greatest one was probably not really a part of the curriculum. Mrs. Stewart taught us about ice safety especially when it came to skating on lakes & ponds. Not really something most teachers would add to the class day. My neighbors did not receive the same lessons. One day the neighbors whole family went ice skating with my family. The girls skated too close to the area where the geese were swimming. The ice broke under my friend, there were no adults close by. They were on the other side of the pond, at least a football field away. What to do, what to do?! Thank you Mrs. Stewart! That day you saved from friend. It was only because you cared enough to teach us about ice safety and how to react. I laid down on the ice like you taught us, than reached out my arms as far as they would go. My friend stopped going under water and started to climb out of the ice water. You see Mrs. Stewart cared about us as people and taught us life lessons.

I share that particular story to illustrate the following point: teaching kids to care about life and the others who are part of those ‘lives’ actually takes the focus off the individual- the “I” (so that they are not always looking out primarily for ‘number one’) and places that attention and concern on the others who inhabit their world. We are not islands; learning to care about others helps us to realize that we need one another. And at times, we need to put our own interests on the back-burner so as to look after each other. So as to protect one another and care for our neighbor. In the end, learning to care for others can accomplish great things- not the least of which is saving a person from small and great injury.

It has actually even be proven to save lives.