A Teacher’s To-Do List

The air has that familiar chill that reminds us fall is nigh. A beautiful maple I noticed just this past week has already turned golden and ruby in color. The gardens are brimming with produce while the sun sets earlier on these late-summer nights. And for those of us in the public school system north of the 49th parallel (metaphorically and physically), school is just around the corner.

School is on my mind.

And if I had to write out my to-do list of what I need to remember this year, it would unfold as follows:

Don’t forget this year to take pleasure in each and every day. Make each school day an adventure of learning, discovery and fun. Start out the morning determined that you will not let impersonal mandates, formal goals and distant rules and protocol rob you of seeing the personal joys found in each new day.  Rob you of seeing the people who have been placed in your path. Welcome your students. Smile at them. Say hello and ask them about their evening. Look into their eyes when they answer- make sure to hold their gaze for those few brief moments that you have their undivided attention.  Listen.  And don’t rush these precious, tender conversations.  Relish the moments, both small and great that define your day.

Show your students you care about them.

Don’t forget this year to enjoy what you are teaching. See the topics, themes, courses and curriculum as the resource they are. Let the resource work for you. Choose to see the opportunity rather than the limitations. Begin each day with the mindset that there is something worthwhile learning and let that mindset transfer to your students. Infuse your classroom with positivity, creativity, possibility, curiosity and hope. Welcome questions- don’t turn them away. Greet the inquisitive mind as a delight and honor the questions that come your way. Each moment that you are given is a gift- hold those brief moments in your hands with care.

Show students that you care about the subjects you teach.

Don’t forget to reach out to the others in your workplace. See the various people that cross your path as blessings, even if that might be in disguise! Treat everyone the exact same way you expect to be treated back- with honor, integrity, compassion, grace and love. Let the golden rule be your guide. Welcome parents, volunteers, visitors and likewise into your school and classroom. Accept the ones you’ve been blessed to call co-workers. And respect each person as the unique individual they are withholding judgment and opinions that are based on unfair, impartial reasoning.

Show people you care.

And never forget to take care of yourself. Look after yourself this year. Be kind to yourself- don’t hold yourself to ridiculous standards. Try not to stress about the little things that no one will remember anyway. Get more rest. Go for walks. Exercise. Recharge. And although it might be unreasonable to ask that you leave your work troubles at your desk, try not to become a slave to your work. Set it all aside at times so as to connect with the people who are really what your work’s all about.  What life’s all about. Determine this year that you will set work aside at times so as to refocus. That you will set work aside to rejuvenate. And when you are ready, determine that you will come back to your work with a renewed frame of mind- ready to give it your best self.

Show YOU that you care.

And above all, let your care for your students, your work and the people in your life be the one thing that defines you as a teacher this year.

 

picture courtesy of thenextfamily.com

And may this year be your best one ever.

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Someone Sees

photo from http://www.theguardian.com

There is a catch in her voice. I can tell by her tone that the tears fall freely down her cheeks. She tells me her Youngest Boy has just flown out this morning at 6:00 a.m. and that she woke in time to stand on her deck and watch the plane circle and fly overhead. Heading for distant places, distant spaces- far, far away.

We marvel at this modern wonder- that a monstrosity of aluminum and steel observed as a speck in the sky can lift a precious Loved One into the air and beyond is at times astonishing to the amateur. That this same Loved One might be oblivious and unaware that his devoted mother stands guard, watching- is equally astounding and noteworthy.

But tell me this: if a plane flies overhead with your child aboard and that same child is unaware that you stand alert and attentive from far below, is this noteworthy? Significant? Is this ordinary happening complete with any meaning?
Does it matter?

Monday morning, Youngest and I travel home from Charlottetown at dinner time and pass by Sister’s house where her two young boys play outside. The youngest boy stands at the foot of the playhouse while his older brother looks down from the loft. I imagine the conversations that are transpiring. I watch for a brief blip of a second after which Youngest and I again remark that it is interesting that these two loved boys are not privy to our watching. They have no idea we are even in the area- for all they know, we are in our own surroundings located the two hour’s drive away. Not breezing by on the highway that runs in front of their house. It is at one and the same time unnerving that we can be watched unawares and yet a strange comfort to know that the people who love us might be watching our comings and goings.

Yes. This has been a week of watching. We watch the world respond to Robin William’s death, the killing of Missouri teen Michael Brown, the killing of John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart. We observe in horror as Sunni militants terrorize and overrun so as to create an Islamic Empire in northern Iraq even as clashes are ongoing along the Gaza Strip. Crisis is still very much the word in other parts of the Middle East, including Libya and Syria. Some have even said that with all that is going on currently, things are more dangerous in that part of the world than they ever have been at any time in the past. These are dangerous times. There is much to watch and much to pray vigilantly for.

Even as these crises of epic proportions are going down in far-flung parts of the world, little wars are being waged here at home. Little battles being fought. A mother’s body struggles to accept her chemo, a child has just been diagnosed with a rare disorder, a new cancer patient has just been delivered the news. A woman struggles to accept her mental illness. A father grapples with dire financial straits. People are lonely, afraid, anxious and hurting, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to state that there is pain in the world.

Life is happening all over the place and one has to wonder- is anybody watching? Who is attending to all this pain and anguish?

photo from http://angelawaite.me/category/environmental-photography/

As I walk the country mile this evening, watching burnished grain blowing gently in the breeze, I consider this notion of watching/being watched. And believing as I do that I am watched over by One whose eye is on the sparrow- whose hand has counted every grain of sand, every hair on my head, I feel a comfort. Comfort in imagining His hand as holding me in the hollow- safe from any harm that was not meant to come my way. Comfort in knowing that I am being kept. Preserved. For such a time as this.

For I am safe even in my freedom to come and go.  To be myself. Even as the storms rage around me, threatening to dismantle and upend.

Last Friday, I was pulling out on a busy stretch of highway in Charlottetown. I had all the children with me and we were heading in town having just left my mom and dad’s house. For whatever reason, a large four-by-four pulled up on the inside shoulder of the road, blocking my view of the highway. Having believed that the coast was clear, I pulled out into oncoming traffic. As I did so, I could see several vehicles barreling straight for my path of entry in the very lane I was pulling into. For a moment, I panicked. And then quickly manovered the van off the road until it was safe to pull out again.

That this happened shook me. I know if I had been hit, it would have been on Son’s side that the impact would have occurred. For several hours afterwards, I could not shake the nagging sensation of ‘what if’. I couldn’t get the visual out of my mind. But after some time had passed, I began to think of the significance of the event. Our vehicle endured a close call. We as occupants in that vehicle were preserved. Had anyone been watching us, they would have been aware of the significance of this feat. The significance of our preservation.

Someone was watching us even as we were unaware.

Someone saw us. And I realize that our safety and protection in this instance, while significant, are not the real story. The story is not necessarily that we were protected (as wonderful as that is), but that we were watched. We were in His view. Someone is out there in very much the same way as Daughter and I were attentive to my nephews on that Monday morning, as my Mom was aware there on her deck and as many of us in the world are holding space for the millions of displaced, disadvantaged, hurting, wounded, suffering people in this world.

This I know: Someone is out there- and He is standing watch. Keeping vigil.  And as He keeps watch, I am held Held in the very hollow of His hand.

Safe, secure and kept.  And all because He’s watching.

 
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Best End of Summer Parent Ever

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I apologize to anyone who is still not on summer vacation.  As well as to anyone reading this who has returned to school.  I am Canadian and our summer vacation starts basically in July.  So forgive me for still holding on to summer until the bitter end.

The other morning, I had Youngest to the Doctor. When it came to the eye/ear exam, the good physician peered into my child’s unshowered/unbathed/unwashed ear and exclaimed: “Oh, good. She has two grains of sand in her ears. All children should have at least some sand in their ears in the summer.”

Huh. I had no idea.

And if that were not reason enough to love summer- c’mon, it is the one time of the year we are awarded brownie points at the doctor’s office for uncleanliness, my child’s pediatrician also had this to say about Daughter’s bruised/scabby legs: “I see someone has been playing outside a lot this summer.”

{Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.}

So I guess that’s a score for Your’s Truly. I might have a child that looks like a prisoner of war/child soldier, but it doesn’t even matter. It’s summer. And the dirty, wounded, scabbed look is all the rage during this optimum time of year.

I am sorry to say this, Dear Girlfriends of mine who are chomping at the bit for school to arrive.  I know you love the routine of September and its glorious, blissful seven-hour school days, but… it is still summer people. It might be August. The days might be longer. The weather changing. The wardrobe needing of a little warmish fall apparel.  The sun moving farther from our northerly parts. But it is still summer. And I will hold to that sentiment until 6:45 a.m. the morning I am scheduled to be back at work. I read Jen Hatmaker’s tribute to being the ‘worst end of summer parent’, and I confess: I am just not ready to get off this train. The caboose may be headed down a crash course to oblivion but I am holding on tight. I will ride it until the bitter end.

What’s not to love about summer, my dear people? The long days, the endless options, the sun. The SUN. I mean, seriously?!  Lest we forget the power outages due to record snowfall/ice storms back in far-away, far-off February/March, the snowsuits, winter boots, frozen car interiors and the like.  Let me remind you: THERE IS NO SNOW IN SUMMER. 

Hello. Best.reason.ever. (to love summer).

But that said, there are so many other reasons to love this fair time of year. Oh, let me count the ways:

1. It is the one time of year I can bar-b-q breakfast, lunch and supper. You think I am kidding. I am not. Well, maybe about breakfast, but that is only because we have a toaster.
2. My kids are tired, whiny, cranky, exhausted- you name it, but I am not even losing  (all of my) marbles. Because it’s summer- and I know that tomorrow there is the very good chance that they will sleep in. And maybe so will I.
3. I can get away with wearing a bathing suit as an outfit (as unpleasant an image as that might conjure up in some of your minds).
4. It is the one time of the year I survive on a steady intake of iced coffee, milkshakes and smoothies as my dairy supplement.
5. Camping. There are not enough words to describe my adoration for camping.  I absolutely adore campgrounds with pools, other peoples’ children (serving as a distraction for my own Four Dear Ones), sewer hook-up, water and electricity. I would sell all I own and take up waterfront residence at KOA Cornwall, PEI in a heartbeat (if it meant never needing to vacuum again).
6. Smores. Best supper alternative ever.
7. Flip-flops.  Slip on, slip off.  Ingenious.
8. Warm, balmy evening air- there are no words to describe this amazing natural wonder.  I love leaving the house in anything less than a parka.
9. Summer relaxation- is there anything like it? Is there anything quite like an evening sitting out by a campground with friends, watching the wood in the fire pit smoulder and burn?  Anything quite like an afternoon spent on the water?  Or a quiet morning whittled away on the porch swing? I should say not. You can take that pleasant memory with you to the cold, frigid days of late January and let it sit there and shiver.
10. Last but not least- water. Water in the summer is paradise. I love looking at it, touching it, drinking it, pouring it over my flowers, boating on it, swimming in it, canoeing over it, diving under it, splashing it on unsuspecting people. I can even tolerate small portions of time spent cleaning with it (particularly if I am at a campground- see #5) Water in summer is at it’s best. Throwing ice at people when the temperature is -26 with the windchill just doesn’t have the same effect.

Look, I understand. We are all burn-out right about now. My children cry over nothing. Nothing! If someone looks at them the wrong way there are noises emanating from them that could break the sound barrier. But I will put up with this minor inconvenience if it means summer will stay.

Keep your piece of mind- I will have my blissful slice of summer lovin’.

The Pursuit of a Joyful Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is hard to understand, to fully comprehend: how someone who brought so much joy to other peoples’ lives could himself be eluded by that same joy and wonder. And yet, here we are on a Tuesday night, grieving the loss of a beautiful life- grief those of us who loved his work feel in some form or fashion.

Another light has been extinguished. You are already greatly missed, Robin Williams.

I just came from a funeral home myself an hour ago- a loving father and husband lain to rest, his family sorrowing the loss. As I slip into the restroom to refresh, I overhear a conversation referring back to another deceased, sharing another room in the funeral parlor adjacent to the one I have come to bid adieu.

“I am so sorry for the loss of your father.”
“He would have been 93,” comes the reply. “He lived a good life, though.”
“Yes, but it is still hard,” says the first woman. “One is never ready to lose parent- it is never time.”

So too it is with the family I have come to give my deepest sympathies. It is never easy to say goodbye to those we love. Emotions strain to find the right words, the right sentiments at times like this. Saying goodbye is never easy.

It is never time.

And as thoughts drift again to the recent death of adored actor Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire- I can’t help but wonder if his greatest legacy was that he lived as a father. His daughter Zelda leaves the following words written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as a lasting tribute to her father’s legacy:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

I write often of care- specifically the care of Significant Others in our lives, and particularly as it concerns children and students. But without an understanding of the role that self-care plays as a first step in the process, we cannot truly understand the impact of care in our lives and in society. I often think of the airline rule to first affix one’s own gas mask before attempting to help one’s dependents. Is this not also true of everyday life at times? If we have not given our own bodies and souls attention and replenishing, are we really of much assistance and benefit to others? We must remember that we cannot run ourselves into the ground, depleting our own resources and ignoring our own needs and requirements to the extreme that we are of no earthly good to anyone else around us. Is it worth our while contributing to the world at large at the extreme expense of losing ourselves? These are tough questions to ask and perhaps the answers will differ depending on who is answering. One thing remains- without care given to ourselves, we eventually run down. We diminish. And the cycle of care cannot be continued without more care invested from either without or within.

Since the only dependable source is from within, that is where our greatest efforts must be concentrated.

Nel Noddings writes about caring for self in terms of meeting the physical, spiritual, occupational, recreational, emotional and intellectual needs of all human beings. If I had to pick one to focus on primarily (acknowledging, of course that the basic needs of the body must be met), it is my beleif that the spiritual needs are the most significant. For without an inner purpose and greater meaning to act as our guide, where are we headed? What direction do we choose? And what benefit is everything else going to be? We must decide what truly matters in this life; for me, I have found purpose, meaning and significance in the person of Jesus Christ.

2000 years ago, I believe that very Person willingly chose to lay down His life for me. And it wasn’t a suicide pact or mental illness that compelled Him to the cross. It was love. And because of that Love, I too am free to love. Free to care. Free to give my life in service to the Call. Free to give my love with generous abandon. Free to live- free to really live.

I am free.

And even though I know that death will one day call, I daily make it a priority to care enough for myself to ensure that when that time comes, I am ready to die. No stone unturned. Living my life as if today might even be my very last (we never can know). Living each moment, each day with joy, passion, wonder and care. Living with a healthy appreciation for the fact that Death is part of life. Even as I focus on living my life to the fullest.

Even as I live this brief expanse of time that we call life with a wild and beautiful pursuit- the pursuit of a joyful life.

Why We Care

She slouches on the vinyl chair next to mine, chewing her lip, twirling her hair. Wrinkles creasing her brow. And as she sits, I wonder.  Is she thinking of what to expect, even as she knows the reason for why we are here? Or is there more to the wonder than mere childlike speculation?

The reason for why we have left the house at such a crazy-early hour to drive for two hours was not, of course, to only sit and wait. We are here for other more pressing concerns. And yet, there is always the fear of the great unknown- especially for a child.

Not to mention of course the apprehension it brings the mother.

The doctor arrives with a bluster of energy and vigour. She immediately puts at ease what was formerly a worry. What was moments ago a source of stress, a source of concern, is now an afterthought in light of this physician’s delightful presence. She just seems to do this work so naturally- without a thought to the magic she has achieved. Weaving a tapestry of compassion through her laid-back banter, silly jokes and thoughtful concern. But then again: doesn’t care always have that gentle way of easing, of lessening the burden? And as the moments tick toward the hour we will spend in this tiny little room, I find my daughter relaxing. Find her unwinding, creased brow giving way to a smile. And all this because a doctor has chosen to spend this hour in this room with us, taking the time needed to care for the person, rather than merely just diagnosing the patient.

If a busy doctor, bound by the relentless expectations and constraints that often define this demanding profession, can make the time to show caring, compassionate concern, so might we do much of the same in the field of education.

It is not a matter of should- it is a matter of how.

How can we invest in the lives of our students in caring, compassionate ways even as the demands around us increase exponentially?

We can and we must, and one way I propose this can be done is through investing in care. That is, making it a priority to value the person that is the student- along with the tandem idea of valuing the people as a whole which comprise our classroom community. Through valuing and giving worth to the human beings that represent the education system in which they are found, we give credence to the humanity of the students. We recognize the person-hood of each boy and girl, man or woman who sit in front of us day after day. And this- all achieved by seeing though the test scores, records and data to the very real hearts and souls of the children and teenagers that we are called to teach. Taking the time to know the story of their lives instead of reducing them to a number and figure on paper. Taking the time to understand the context in which the students we learn alongside- live, work and play. For when this happens, we can fully care for our students in their learning, development and growth even while the system might appear to breath heavy down our necks. After all, if we sacrifice care on the altar of academic standards of excellence, haven’t we lost everything?

Standards mean little if the people that represent them are dehumanized.

Who We Are

It is hard to understand the whys and hows of human relationships. Sometimes these interactions astound and touch my deepest parts for their tremendous propensity to kindness. And yet sometimes they disappoint beyond what mere words can express.

Why are our connections with one another so prone to such wild swings of the pendulum?

For here we are, all just walking around inside our little outward shell, thin veneer- pretending to be brave when we don’t always feel brave. Pretending to be strong when we don’t always feel strong. Putting on our game face even when the game is over. Showing up even when we don’t have the strength to take another step. We are all, I believe, giving this ‘here and now’ our best shot- this moment, this day, this life. We are who we are- cover-ups, disguises, masks and all. Doing what we have to so as to keep our head above water, to stay afloat. And it’s a hard-knock life sometimes. Hard enough trying to get by without having another soul, another Body: push you over. Knock you down. Hard enough trying to be a person living through the day without having another soul, another Body step all over you. Rain on your parade.

Isn’t it high time we gave each other a chance?

Is it so hard to see ourselves, our weakness- as through viewing our brother’s face? So hard to see our own proclivity to sorrow by looking in our sister’s eye?

She orders a coffee and a chicken sandwich for her husband. And all the while, she is given the five-star treatment by the waitress on duty. No request denied, no favor spared. She is Chosen. Somehow, special. But when it comes to him- he who is different, suddenly the mood alters. The temperature drops or so it seems. He who is seen as ‘other’ is disdained, disparaged, despised. She wonders, as she waits for the remainder of her order: why? Why him? Why her? Why such vast discrepancy? Why is she singled out to receive the good and he left to suffer the mockery, the subtle abuse? Why such different treatment when the same blood that courses through her veins, pumps slow and steady through his also?

Are we that blind that we can no longer see each other for who we truly are?

And who are we anyway? Who were we made to be?

We were made to be His Beloved. Loved, cherished, held, treasured. Longed for by the Father and precious in His sight. And when He sees us, He sees the beauty in the workmanship, the exquisite detail in the masterpiece. He sees us for the value and worth and tremendous significance we were designed for.

Each one of us.

And He doesn’t judge us for the fading shell without, that holds us.  Piece by fragile piece.  That damaged armor we wear to protect, we put on so to endure.  Doesn’t judge us for our persona.  Our outward presentation- He just loves us.  Loves us for the lasting treasure we are within.

And because He loves us, we too can love. Wildly, unabashedly, freely- with abandon.

We are free to love each other.

We are Loved.

My Five Wishes for the Upcoming School Year

It’s August. And as it happens to be my holidays, I am knee-deep in summer lovin’. I have paint spatters on my legs from the fresh coat I applied to the veranda this afternoon, a good book waiting for me on the couch and the idea in my head of a glass of iced coffee just waiting for me to drink it. Thoughts of school, teaching and work might be a million miles away from my immediate consciousness.

But are they?

As a teacher, this time of the year is one where my mind drifts to ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’. To possibilities. Summer is the time of year when teachers are finally afforded the TIME in which to breathe, take stock and think about what is yet to come. So while I am not ready to cash in on summer yet, here are a five wishes I have for the upcoming school year, set to start in a few short weeks.

1. I wish for this upcoming school year that we as teachers act on the principle that education be not only about the mind. It be about the person. That is, the whole person. I love what Nel Noddings has to say on the topic:

“…school, like the family, is a multipurpose institution. It cannot concentrate only on academic goals any more than a family can restrict its responsibilities to, say, feeding and housing its children. The single-purpose view is not only morally mistaken, it is practically and technically wrong as well, because schools cannot accomplish their academic goals without attending to the fundamental needs of students for continuity and care” (Noddings, 2005, p. 63).

What Noddings is saying here is that school must function in continuity for the purpose of caring for students as whole persons, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. Students have minds, yes- but they also have souls and bodies which both require care and attention in the course of the day, along with caring for the student’s mind for academic, physical, emotional and relational pursuits. My wish is for educators to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information. The possibilities for growth and development are endless.

2. There is a lot of wasted time in school. Time wasted before school while waiting for all the buses to arrive, time wasted in line-ups, in wait time, in coming and going places. Another wasted time of day is lunch time. Sure, it gets used for eating and sustenance- but wouldn’t it be great if lunch time was an opportunity for growing community, in the very same ways that those families who see it as a priority use it to grow family attachments? What I am talking about, and this is another one of Noddings’ beliefs as well- is the importance of mealtime. Breaking bread in the very real sense of the word. Mealtime is a time to talk and listen, a time to discuss and reflect. A time for sharing and caring. A time when what is said is not evaluated and assessed- but taken at face value and respected. If students were given this opportunity, to sit face-to-face, as might a family eating a meal together, how might that benefit in a positive way the dynamics of social interactions amongst students? We’ll never know until we give it a try.

3. There is very little choice for students in school- very little choice for teachers either. We have all been given the required curriculum and asked to adopt it as our own. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if students and teachers were able to work together to come up with themes and pursuits that might reflect curriculum ideals, using them as springboards for further areas of study and exploration. Using curriculum jazzed up with a healthy dose of imagination, critical thinking and creativity to make these extra-curricular projects work within the existing structure? I think the sky is certainly the limit for those who give it a chance. Who knows what new interests might be sparked for learning amongst students who are currently disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered. The time is now for outside the box thinking and teaching..

4. My wish for teachers and students is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day, standing beside us at our desks, walking along in front of us or behind us in the hallways- each person going and coming in the hustle and bustle: each person is a person. A person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains. They are a person with more than meets the eye. And I wish for all those who find themselves in the educational milieu, that is MY HOPE would be, that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools: the humanity of the students, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, the administration and any visitors that might find themselves walking through the hallways. May we always be known as a People that care. And may that define each and every one of us this year.

5. And as a final note- may we have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to play? Time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to doodle, and draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest and time to work. And may we never forget that learning is a life-time pursuit. We don’t want to burn out the creative fires until the very last embers of life have been snuffed out, when we find ourselves breathing our last. May we always be found learning each and every day of our life- and may it be a joyous, delightful, exciting, inspiring and worthwhile venture.

These five are among my wishes for you all- for we are all learners. And for those of us who call ourselves teachers, staff and students, as we set off in another few short weeks for another voyage, another adventure of learning, wonder and discovery: let’s not forget to take care of each other in the process.

Carry on, comrades!

{You can read this again on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/back-to-school-2014_b_5656507.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living }