Because They Are Worth It

I am walking down the hall, getting ready to head for home, having arrived at the end of yet another day substituting in the school system. As a new teacher, I am young and eager- believing that I have the world by the tail. Believing that I can really make a difference. As I round the bend in the corridor, making my way towards the stairs, I can hear his angry voice even before I see him. A veteran teacher, yelling at a student. I wonder at all the commotion, but soon find myself right in the midst of the upheaval as the pair- teacher and student- are right in my line of vision. Right in my path.

I immediately feel uncomfortable. This is awkward, listening in on a rant. As I am the only one privy to the exchange, I quickly become aware that the teacher is railing on the student for holding up the school buses. The student looks quietly at his shoes as he scuffles along, even slower now that this altercation has held him up- all while I try to pretend that I am invisible. And yet, the teacher will not let up, not stop the steady stream of verbal abuses that flow freely from his mouth as he expresses his disgust for this student’s tardiness.

There is no mistaking the loathing in this teacher’s voice. I can tell, from these briefest of moments as I awkwardly manoeuvre my way out of the unfolding scene and out of the school: this teacher does not seem to like this boy. His tone, revulsion and absolute disgust indicate such to me, an observer.

I wonder how the boy feels.

Over the years, I have thought about this boy. Thought on this situation as a whole. Wondered what I, an inexperienced, young female teacher should have done. Could have done. But more than this, I have thought about that boy. Wondered whatever became of him.

Wondered.

I wonder, do we ever pause to think about him? That little boy (girl?) that puts us as teachers in a tailspin each and every day. Do we stop to think about what makes him tick? Think about what he cares about? Have we ever stopped to contemplate his developing person, complete with those infuriating boyish ways? I wonder. Do we take time to sensitively consider that boy who drives the teachers mad, makes their hair turn prematurely grey. I wonder if we ever stopped to think about who he really is underneath all the bad words, infuriating manners, cold stares. I wonder, have we ever stopped to really think about him- as an individual? Lingered momentarily to see him for the person he really is inside all that childhood clutter?

I wonder.

Do we know that he collects hockey cards by the dozen? That he loves to watch his Grampie fix stuff in the old back shop? Do we know that he has a subscription to Lego magazine? That he never uses a pattern, his mind too bright for that. Do we know these things?

Do we know how very much he worries about being put on the spot? That he fears being asked questions? Fears being called out each and every day for things he knows he shouldn’t do but can’t help doing anyway? Do we know? Know that he goes home and thinks about his days too- wonders why life has to be so hard.

Do we know?

When I was first expecting our oldest child, I remember wondering what it would be like to be a parent. Wondered what it would be like to have a child, hold a child, feed a child. Raise a child. What would that child look like? Be like? Act like? Would I love them at first sight? Would I be able to do this? My reasons for becoming a parent were varied, but largely I became a mom so that I could open my heart to love another human being. Little did I ever realize how deep that love would grow.

Rewind backwards.

In that same line of thinking, as I sat in the university lecture hall for my first class of the Bachelor of Education program, I remember the professor that day talking to us about our reasons for becoming a teacher. Ideals like making a difference and leaving a legacy were certainly discussed, but I don’t remember any talk about care and love ever being raised as important indicators of teaching excellence. My reasons for becoming a teacher- for choosing the teaching profession were also varied, but largely I became a teacher for more self-serving purposes than those reasons for why I became a mother.

Little did I realize back then that I would one day see caring as the ultimate criterion for how I carried out my life’s work.

The children and young people that come to us each morning with such varied, interesting, colorful lives- complete with behaviour issues, medical concerns, mental and psychological complications, social and emotional hang-ups: these are people. People that someone loves very deeply, somewhere. And yet, when they come to us in the school system, somewhere along the line it has been decided that when educating incoming teachers, we are off the hook when it comes to learning how to care for our students. Caring does not play prominently in the educational configuration of upcoming teachers. We either learn it along the way or we forgo it all together.

Recently, a young teacher confided in me that they were surprised at how much caring was involved in being a teacher:
“They don’t teach you this stuff in the Education Program,” was what the individual said.

And while that might be true, the fact of the matter is that most of our students need to feel a sense of our caring interest and engagement from us as teachers so as to move to the next level, academics. While some students might learn something from a teacher they don’t think likes them, many will not. It’s like anything in life, we are willing to give our best to the ones we believe see that best in us.

Caring counts.

And until we start to see people for who they are- unique, complicated, beautiful human beings, our world is just going to continue to live out the same old problems. People who are unloved as children often become unloving adults. People who are uncared for as children often become uncaring adults. People who experience a deficit of compassion, grace, kindness, mercy and forgiveness as children- while some might overcome the obstacles, many go on to exhibit the same lack of such as adults. We learn from those who model for us. When that example is a good one, the opportunity for success is greater.

Isn’t it time we started seeing everyone for the possibility and potential for good they have as individuals? Especially our children?

We must use the opportunities we’ve been given to care for one another- in spite of our frailties, issues, problems, behaviors and less than savory actions. People are people, and children will be children. But those same children who might drive us senile on any given day (this goes for our own flesh and blood too!) still need to have the best start possible given to them by the teachers entrusted with their care. Teachers who empathically use the opportunities they’ve been given to show those children they are worth it.

Because they are.

Teachers: You Are Better Than You Think You Are

One year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” which went viral the second month after I published it.  Since then, it has been the single most-read item on my blog with hundreds of views each day and over 2 million views to date.  In particular, at key times of the year (August, September and mid-way through the year), it will spike an interest again with the teaching public, with tens of thousands of views on certain days.

I have been perplexed by this phenomenon over the past year because I am really at a loss for why this particular blog post has struck such a chord. And then I happened upon these two articles tonight.  One, about why teachers feel so bad most of the time and the other, a test to take so as to determine whether or not you are a bad teacher, both written by Ellie Herman (a former teacher).  It got me thinking about teachers again- and why teaching matters.

I don’t want to focus solely on the content of either article so as to critique.  But I do want to point out one thing that I think explains the interest in my blog post that went viral: that is, why it continues to be read by teachers one year later.  And I think the answer lies in part within Herman’s two blog posts. According to Herman, teachers are inadequately trained for the classroom realities they face, get little to no support to deal with those realities, and don’t have the resources  to do the job well.  Add to this, the reality that many teachers (both those who are essentially good teachers as well as those who should never have entered the profession- due to Herman’s five criteria) have given up because the odds are stacked against them.

It is a tough gig being a teacher.

Ironically, when I wrote the article about teachers fourteen months ago, I had no intentions of publishing the letter.  It was actually written concerning a real person involved in a real interaction with me, an actual event; so that scenario I portrayed in the letter was between two real-life colleagues.  I had an actual conversation with someone and sent them the letter because I cared about them as a teacher, and I wrote the letter because I wanted to somehow encourage that person in the very same ways I sometimes need encouragement.  More than anything, I wanted to care for the person I was interacting with as a colleague, so as to remind them that I believed in them and that I knew they were doing a better job than they were giving themselves credit for.

I think teachers need this type of encouragement so as to be reminded of how well they are doing.  And it takes sometimes a moment for us to remember to do this for one another- spurring each other on so that we stay the course. That was one reason I wrote the letter- as a means of inspiration.  But even more than this, I wanted to also relay another message- one that has been felt in more general ways by teachers the world over.  That message was this: teachers, you are doing a far better job than you give yourselves credit- so believe in yourselves and the influence you have on your students.  You are good teachers.  Teachers, we are all better than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.

Something I have heard said about students from both the administration level as well as from our provincial teaching federation (P.E.I.T.F.) president is the following: students bring their best selves with them each day to school.  It might not be what WE would deem best- but the reality is, it is THEIR best for that particular day. I have had conversations with administration as well about parents- parents that do things differently than I do as a parent, but who love their children nonetheless.  Parents who bring their best to the table.  And what I have discovered about parents is this: parents tend to bring the best they have to give to their child’s education as well.

Is their best the same as my best or even your best?  Not necessarily- but best is a relative term as long as we are not talking about inflicting harm or injury on another human being in physical, emotional or psychological ways.  What I am trying to say here is that as long as we are aiming to do something productive for our children, what is BEST can differ.

Which brings us around to teachers.

Do teachers bring their best to school each day? Let’s assume that teachers do not meet the five criteria that Herman has established which make for bad teachers (disliking children, consistently uninterested in your subject matter, don’t have a clue what you are teaching, ignoring a large subset of your students most of the time, and who are overall, totally disengaged in teaching).  Teachers who are not consistently any of those five and who also have a desire at all to investigate their practice and think about their identity as a professional are really who form the baseline for me.  If teachers are at that place- caring somewhat about who they are and what they do, then I feel those teachers are bringing their best to the profession.

Now again: that word best, it is a relative word.  When someone talks BEST they start envisioning other buzz phrases: words like charismatic, creative, reform-minded and inspirational.  Words associated with teaching style like: engaging in praxis, integrating technology, differentiating instruction and scaffolding  instruction. But I am not talking about setting a bar for best for either personality or teaching style.  What I am maintaining here is that bringing your BEST SELF to work means bringing the self that cares.

Care is the quality that defines truly great teaching.  And caring is for me the underlying quality that defines a good teacher.

Weighed against that criteria, good teachers are those who do the following:

Good teachers care about themselves- care for their own personal, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

Good teachers care about others- care for people both young and old both children, youth and adults.

Good teachers care about ideas- care about thinking and understanding, knowing and connecting.

Good teachers care about things- classrooms, and books, and lunches and school buses.

Good teachers also care about non-human entities: animals, and plants, eco-systems and habitats.

And good teachers finally care about experiences- what happens at home, in school and some of what happens in between.

Simply put: good teachers care. 

And they tend to care a great deal the longer they exercise that caring muscle.

So when it comes to criteria for defining good and bad teachers, focusing on the fact that most teachers who care enough about ideas and experiences to read an article about teaching are probably good teachers, it almost becomes a waste of time for teachers to ask themselves if they are bad at their job.  We hear enough negativity in the onslaught of media messages to waste too much on this consideration. What we need to be asking as teachers is this: what makes you a great teacher…and how can you find ways to do this again tomorrow?

Then too, ask yourself this: how can I find ways to rise above the imperfect circumstances in which I find myself, the less than ideal situations I find myself in as a teacher and be my best teaching self?  And how can I tap into that reservoir of care that brought me into this profession in the first place?

Teachers, we are better than we think we are.  We just have to remember.

We are a caring profession.  And while we are diverse in scope- each of us bringing different traditions, orientations, philosophies, backgrounds, experiences, personalities, cultures, attitudes and beliefs to the table; what binds us together as a collective is our common care for our students and our profession. We care. And may we never forget how important that quality is in making us great teachers.

Safe Havens and Soft Landings

You know, I have had many people tell me over the years that they could never be a teacher.  Could never do my job. That they don’t have what it takes. That it is too demanding in terms of the behaviors and the complicated issues children present. Too hard on the nerves. Too taxing on the stress levels. Never mind the additional stressful academic responsibilities that come with the job.

Honestly, it isn’t the easiest profession. It isn’t the easiest calling to be drawn to. It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing I’ve ever known. There are many challenging days, many hurdles to jump. Many deep waters to traverse.  There are many moments when I wonder myself. That all because: it is hard being there for people, day in and day out.   Hard staying the course when the ride gets bumpy.  And truth be told, the ride is very treacherous.  And all because there are so many variables.  So many children with so many stories.  For in our classrooms, there are children who have seen things I will never know about in my lifetime. Who have heard things I will never hear. Watched things transpire that I can only envision in my worst nightmares. Who have lived lives in their short years that I will never live.

It isn’t easy being a kid at the best of times. Try being one at the worst of times.

There are days when these same children come into the classroom and they just your push buttons. They try your patience and test your resolve. They act out, cry, push, scream, whine, slap, punch and spit. They holler and run. They pull things off the walls and shove things on the floor. There are days when you just want to give up and walk out the door.

There are certainly days when you wonder why you ever thought teaching was a good idea in the first place.

But sometimes, there are days when everything comes together for you.  When the pieces of the puzzle just FIT. When there is clarity and everything murky is finally clear. Days when something happens and a door is opened, a view is granted into the inner sanctum of a child’s private life. And you see for the very first time why it is, this child is angry. Is hurting. Why it is this child is wounded, frustrated, broken and scared. And all of the moments that happened before- when you thought seriously about pulling out your hair and giving up the fight- those moments are all but forgotten.  All but a memory. Because you’ve just seen a child for who they truly are for the very first time.

Seen that their anger is just a disguise for pain.
Seen that their screaming hollers are sometimes a cry for help.
Seen that the physical aggression they exhibit is sometimes a response to what they know as familiar.
Seen that their hurtful words are just the everyday vernacular of their private world.

And in those moments of clarity, you realize: I am a safe haven. I am a lighthouse- a beacon of hope. I am a soft landing for this child. And I am such so that when they come to school, when they come to my classroom- they know they are loved.  Know that they are protected, accepted, wanted, appreciated, valued, enjoyed, liked and seen. They know they don’t have to be afraid. Don’t have to fear.

Because here…they are safe.

That is all I could ever really hope for as a teacher- to be a safe haven and a soft landing for my students to fall on. A person they know who will be there for them, each day and every day… through all the moments, both shining and otherwise.  There to be a caring, loving presence in their lives.  Unwavering through the storms.

As a teacher, it’s all I ever really needed to be.

{photo retrieved from crislorenzana.wordpress.com}

Dear Teachers (About THESE students, one of whom is my son…)

Dear Teachers,

I am the mother of four beautiful children, all unique and wonderful in their own individual ways. One of my children is an extreme introvert. When I think of him, I often wonder how he might be perceived, might be viewed in connection to his teacher’s perspective. But this blog is not about a teacher’s perspective. It is about a mother’s.

This is my story- a story about being a mother to my son.

When my son first entered school, I lost natural hair color through worry. Stressing about his ride to school (where he was exposed to things like soft porn found in magazines the bigger boys read, exposed to language and stories children in our home would otherwise never have heard), stressing over his day at school (I will never forget the day I picked him up, wet with another boy’s urine: a bully incident which happened during an unsupervised visit to the men’s room), stressing about whether he had someone to talk to on the playground ( I hoped for the best), someone to play with during center time (I had co-ordinated with another mother to protect for this very thing). Stressing about that bus ride back home again (would he lose his hat again to a game of toss?).

Stressing. Because I knew my son. And I knew that school might not be the kindest place for him to grow and flourish.

Add to the outside factors in a school that might influence a child was the fact that my son was an introvert. I don’t know if his initial school experience was typical or not, as he is my only boy and I merely have his one experience to go on.  But, I am starting to wonder, what with all the things that have been shared one with another via social media.  Although the variables might change from child to child, there are certainly some parallels to be found when it comes to the experience of THESE children. Introverts. The ones who just pass through the system largely invisible.

My boy worried himself about school from the get-go.  His first day home from kindergarten, I waited patiently under the old maple tree, picking at the moss growing along the spreading roots.  I watched the bus go by, and then watched as it swung back again, up our side road, dropping my son off at the end of the lane.  And, as eagerly as I chased him down to hear stories about the first of all experiences at school, he equalled my enthusiasm in stridency, storming passed me, eyebrows in a furrow.  Pounding feet against the stone walkway, as he stormed into the house.  It is a memory I will never forget. How I wished we could both sit in the late summer breeze sharing with each other all the wonderful things he’d done, all the magical experiences he’d been part of.  But he had other priorities, other needs. He had some unwinding to do. And school for him wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Grade 1 was even harder.  He clung to my leg for the better part of forty-five minutes that first day.  He was anxious, worried about making friends: scared of being alone and frightened of me leaving.  I held a Little One on my hip and clasped another toddler with my free hand.  Three little bodies stuck to me like crazy glue.  And while I tried to un-peel his little hands, I thought to myself, “There’s got to be a better way.”  It was awkward, and I knew there would be eyebrows raised. My child was the leech and I, his seemingly over-protective parent.  I felt that pressure to let go his hand, even as my mother instinct was telling me, “No!  We’re both not ready for this step.”  And yet, I let his hand slip first, turned and abruptly walked away.  Hoping for the best.

Each year got both easier and harder.  He began to distance himself emotionally from me, no more clinging.  But there were new worries to be had.  There were adaptations to classroom structure to fret over.  Homework routines to make and then stick to.   And the issue of his making and finding friendship to add to the mother lode.  Not to mention the usual childhood rite of on-going bullying to endure, a rite that helped to establish the playground pecking order and the seating arrangement on the bus. Somehow, he found himself on the bottom of that pile-up. Never the ring-leader, often the victim.

Woven into each additional year was the stress of performance anxiety he placed on himself.  He was not a behaviour challenge inside the school setting.  In fact, quite the opposite. His teachers raved about his smarts and his ability to focus. His quiet, calm demeanor.  But, there was something awry that I just couldn’t seem to put my finger on at the time.  It seemed to be the combination of his trying to find his place in this new world of norms, along with trying to please both his peers and the adults around him, along with the very high expectations he placed on himself.  All combined, becoming a triple threat of trouble.   Perhaps the most taxing of all these three was the pressure he placed on himself to stay in tip-top academic shape, as that was often the only area of schooling he was able to truly control, the only thing he felt really positive about in his school experience.

And so, school became difficult.  Tedious.  Even dreaded.

And although my son has succeeded academically (he is now in Grade 9), there are many ways in which I feel he has fallen through the cracks.  Because he is prone to performance anxiety on a personal level, but also because in a more general way, he is an introvert.  And sometimes introverts and school can make for a complicated combination.

Sure, everyone admires your child because they are GOOD. Agreeable and easy and compliant. But you wonder if that same child of yours is just kind of drifting through the years, classroom to classroom- never really known for who they truly are on the inside. Merely acknowledged for the ease at which they have put their teacher. For that is what seems to matter. The ease to which we are placed. When something or someone is easy, we give that thing or person less attention. Less time and thought. It makes perfect sense, to be honest. Why fret about something that isn’t a problem? Yes, it makes perfect sense. Except when it is your child you are talking about.

When it is your child falling through the cracks.

Truth: it is difficult by times to peer inside an introverted child’s world and really understand what that world is like. Difficult to really see that child for the package they are. And unless one is willing to take the time to see the children who are quiet and easy and compliant as needing of equal time and effort to everyone else in the class, one will never understand there is more to them than just a smiling face and quiet demeanor.

These children are equal in importance to everyone else in the room. Does this mean the same treatment? No. It just means that they too deserve their teacher’s time and attention, however that might play out in a given day.

All kids are deserving. And this child of mine is no exception.

Love,

The Mom

Every Student Needs a Champion

Something has been irking me for a while- gnawing away at my soul like it is a bone. Maybe it’s a sense. Certainly it is something I have tried to understand- this sense, this feeling. I have tried to figure out where it is coming from. And I think I wasn’t able to understand it completely until I watched Rita Pierson’s 2013 discussion on Ted Talks about teachers and students. A topic I hold close to my heart.

Watching her- I just knew what it was I believed in my heart.

Have you ever been there? Ever known deep down inside that something is philosophically not resonating but been unable to articulate it? That’s how I have felt about certain school reforms I have seen come and go and then come around again- certain propensities our schools have toward standardized testing and adhering to core curriculum concepts. We focus on the MIND as if that was all that mattered. As if the brain is the only part that made a human worthy. Yes, that’s how I have been feeling: confused about why these and other educational trends to institutionalize schools even more than they already are institutions bother me so much. That is, until today. But I now can see clearly. I know what it is I believe. And that is above all, I believe that for student success to become a reality, every student needs a champion that believes in them as a being- not just a cerebral brain.

Is this earth-shattering news? Something we’ve not heard before? A new revelation?

Not really. We’ve always known that students need someone to appreciate their worth- body, soul and mind. That they need someone to look up to/learn alongside who will fight for them, believe in them, vouch for them and care for them. All of them- not just the academic parts. But I wonder if we were truly to stop and ask ourselves- what is it students need most of all…what would our answer be?

Would it only concern that grey matter in their head?

Do students need most- capable, effective instructors who can deliver the goods- inputting them neatly into the empty receptacle of the brain?

Do students need experts in science? Math? Languages? Art? And music?

Do they need great orators who can entertain with stories and interesting trivia?

Or do they need talented curriculum guides to make study easy and exciting?

Or is it an organized, crafty designer to make the class room inviting and warm that they need?

A content specialist?

A well-educated scholar?

A parent, friend or a magician?

A babysitter?

What, of all these and many other positive and negative teacher attributes, do students then really need so as to find success inside the classroom and beyond? What is the one extrinsic factor that defines clearly the success of a student- the whole student?

It’s simpler than you might think. Students need more than anything teachers that care.

They need teachers that are willing to care enough to be a champion of the students- believing in them against the odds. Students need teachers that care about their intellect- but equally alongside that grey matter that contributes to the whole, students need teachers that care about their emotional development, social development, creative capacity, cognitive understanding and physical ability. Who care about their hearts.

This is not to say that teachers cannot care about the mind. Students need teachers who care enough about them as students to infuse passion into their science programs- their math classes and beyond. Need capable, effective instructors who can live out their calling. Students need teachers who love their content area, but they need even more than this effective teachers who don’t make subject material such a focus that the kids sitting there in front of them fade into the background. Need teachers who don’t make kids play second fiddle to the content. Students need teachers who know the curriculum in such a way that they can make it fit the students’ learning- along with needing teachers who are specialists in their area of interest and thus passionate enough to care that their students learn about the world around them. But do not underestimate that these teachers care only about the mind. These teachers are more than just skill and drill. Their curriculum is the heart.

It’s what students want. What students need most- teachers who care.

Students need teachers that care enough about them to ask questions, offer suggestions, take an interest, get to know them, nudge them, listen to them, move them, inspire them.

And students need teachers who believe in themselves enough to also see that their adult minds are also growing and developing too- because teachers never stop learning. It is our students sometimes that remind us of the importance of curiosity, wonder and imagination.

For within all of the various teacher types, when observed as already being effective and dynamic, there is one more thing they share in common: care. They are all defined by and characterized by the ability to compassionately, empahically care.

And that’s exactly what students need- what they want and remember most about the teachers who teach them.

That they care.

Because teachers who care about their subject, course material and content area also tend to care about what really matters most- the people they teach.  (At least they can and they should!).

What it really comes down to is this: students don’t want teachers to see them as hollow receptacles for knowledge, as empty buckets needing to be filled.  As problems and burdens and inconveniences and annoyances. They want us to see them as human beings. As people with potential and possibility. As capable and able to do the impossible.

And at the end of the day, what students want to see in us their teachers is a man or woman who is their champion.

Because every student deserves a champion.  Every single one of them.

The Thing About Toddlers…

Toddlers, pre-schoolers and kindergartners are so amazingly cute and adorable. Wise and witty. They are funny and insightful and precocious and downright wonderful, really. But when it comes to some things, I just have to shake my head in absolute perplexity. For one thing: why are toddlers/kindergartners/kids so distracted when you want them to do something (like eat their supper); but when they want you to do something, they cannot think about anything else for the next four hours, talking about that one thing INCESSANTLY so that you want to pull every strand of hair from your head and wind it around your ears to form makeshift ear plugs. WHY IS THIS (this unfair reality of life with a toddler)?

For another thing: why do these Delights of our Hearts have such selective hearing… when their young eardrums are at the prime of their life?  It doesn’t seemingly get any better with age, right?  So why in tarnation can’t they hear anything? WHY???  Let’s get real: I know they hear everything, I am positive they do. But I still must say everything at least TEN TIMES so as to get the desired result.  WHY, WHY, WHY???

And why in the name of time do toddlers/kindergarteners/kids up to age 7 know how to ask a bazillion questions at the absolute worst time- to which you have no answer and to which there may BE no answer (but to give them your i-phone and tell them to ask Siri); but when it comes time to pose a question to someone in a formal way, under pressure and on-the-spot, they draw a blank?
WHY IS THAT???? What is up with all this confusion, I ask you? WHAT???!!

The thing about kids and kindergarteners (and toddlers, for that matter) BLESS THEIR PRECIOUS HEARTS is they don’t yet know the rules.  They haven’t learned how to do things formally. They know how to do things informally- when the pressures is off. But when pressed to perform, everything breaks down.

Case in point.

So, we had a meet-the-new-RCMP-liasion PLUS Hallowe’en safety talk the other day in the library.  One month before the big day (don’t ask- it’s just when it was scheduled, okay?). Right off the get-go, one little girl took a quick first-glance at the “6’ plus many other inches” constable and promptly started crying. Shaky start. I don’t think the uniform/gun holster helped matters any, but everyone was really starting to warm up after we got Little Miss moved to the back. Phew. So, we got that all under control and started in on the safety talk.

Everything was going along swimmingly until the question and answer time. We explained that the children could now ask a question- which is to say, it was now OKAY for them to continue waving their hands like flags at a Canada Day celebration (which they had already been doing for the last 15 minutes anyway). So, the first little hand got picked to ask a question and she promptly said, “Don’t run across the road.”

Nice safety rule, but not a question.

So we tried another little waving hand.  Hand was up- that hand was picked…and then this (in a sweet little voice):

“Hold your mother’s hand.”

Okay…this isn’t working.


So, after a few of these more-than-valid insights, I stopped the show and explained what a question was, along with help from my cohort of other kindergarten teachers. We explained ‘who, what, when and where…” Gave examples. And then picked another hand.

“Always look both ways before crossing the road.”

So that was the end of that. No more question and answer with Constable Dave.  No more hand-picking.

Bless that poor man’s heart, I hope he will come back again in time for our Christmas safety lesson.

And in the meanwhile, we’ll be working on the 5 W’s.  Just in time for our next Q & A.

What I’m Learning Today

First, let me share with you some funnies:

Me (reading a Robert Munsch book called Class Clown to my students): “Boys and girls, the teacher in this story tells Leonardo that he can’t THINK anymore—isn’t that crazy!! Teachers can’t say that…”
Little Boy: “Well, I don’t think at school anyway…I only think at home…”

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Little Boy (playing Doctor/patient with me): “Open your mouth.”

Me (with my mouth wide open, tongue hanging out)

Little Boy: “You have two golden teeth. You’re going to die soon.”

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Little Boy (speaking of his parents who are about my age; which is to say- very, very young: “My Dad is older than my Mom. He’s going to die soon.”

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I am a teacher.

I write about love, care and compassion, among other topics of the heart. I teach real people- some of them ‘Littles’ with outrageous personalities and larger than life imaginations. Some of them ‘Olders’ who join in with our class for special times of painting, crafts and reading. I teach children with many abilities, talents, dreams, imaginations, wonders, fears, worries, questions, concerns, passions and joys.  Just like me.  So much like me.  And so, I teach to learn.  To learn about myself and how I relate to the world around me.

And here’s what I am learning about myself through teaching.

  1. You can’t have too much laughter in a day. There is never enough laughter. Never enough joy. We need to smile more, laugh more, find pleasure more in the everyday moments. There are times in my day where I find myself slipping into that all-too-familiar pattern of sense and sensibility. I call it teacher mode. It’s a way of thinking that calls to mind order, organization, structure and routine. And all this is well and good- even necessary. But at times, when I am in this mode of thinking, I find myself feeling a tightness in my center. A feeling of pressure right on my gut. Pulling me inward even as I grasp outward for something to ground me. This feeling is one brought on by stress- brought on by pressure. And there are many, many pressures in my line of work. Outcomes to be met, expectations to be exceeded, guidelines to be followed, programs to be delivered. So much to adhere to and so many rules to follow. It all comes together to a crest inside my inmost being causing me to feel panic, fear and desperation.

Causing me to lose my joy.

So I have taken to reading Robert Munsch in the middle of my day- every day. I love Bob. I once wrote him and he responded back- writing me at least twice. He is a hero of children’s imaginations and my class knows him by name- we look at his picture, name his line of work and talk about his job every day before we read his stories. What Bob has done for me and my kids is make us smile- on more than one occasion. Sometimes, he even makes me laugh. I know one thing for sure- he makes the kids laugh. He’s just that kind of guy.

We can’t ever have enough of this kind of stress-release. We need more laughter, more silly and more release from our uptight, tense and edgy state of being induced by too many mandates and protocols. We all need a little more Munsch in our lives. A little more silly.

  1. You can’t ever have too much love in your heart. There is no reason why teachers cannot love their students. No reason at all. Who dictates the ways of the heart or tells a soul not to love? Our hearts are wide enough, deep enough and capable of enough- why can we not then allow love in freedom to flow?

I am always amazed when students wrap their little arms around my waist and declare their love. I was on duty today and I had a circle of little girls that clung to my hands as I walked around. I could feel their love for me as palpably as I could feel the balmy autumn breezes. If a child can be open to love, why not us too?

The other day, I met a former student of mine in the hallway. I asked him for a hug and he responded with the biggest bear hug I could imagine. Nearly knocking me off of my feet. And while this might seem commonplace for many teachers, for me- knowing the child who gave this hug and knowing their story, it meant so much more than just a gesture. What I felt in that hug was a connection- a bond. Built on layer and layers of shared experiences, trusts and understandings. What this little boy with the absence of speech told me in that moment was this: I love you. And I felt that love with every fibre of my being.

  1. There is not enough time in this world to devote to listening. And by listening, I mean from the heart. I told my students by way of the morning message this morning that they were great listeners. And by that, I meant to inspire them to become more and more the great listeners I know they have the potential to be. Listening to each other, the world and its many voices- but most of all, listening to that voice that speaks to them from within. Listening is a learned art. A valuable asset. Through listening, we can understand ourselves and others around us. We can come to know ourselves better and know others more intimately. And through listening, we can come to find out that as people, we are more alike than different. When we find common ground, we are less likely to find fault with others. Listening is not a passive thing. It is perhaps the strongest thing we might ever choose to do with our minds.
  2. There is always tomorrow. There are days I drop the ball completely. Days that still haunt me for the ignorance I displayed, the callous I showed to those I hold most dear. I am still troubled by past mistakes at times, as we all can be when we choose to focus on the negative. But there is always another day. Always another opportunity. When we fail or disappoint ourselves, we always have tomorrow to try again. This is the grace we’ve been given- the grace of second chances. And when we offer second and third and more chances to others, we show them that grace is full and free. It is wide and open. Just as we desire it to be with our own situation. Just as we need it to be in our own lives. That there is tomorrow is a clear sign of hope. And classrooms without hope are among the most dismal places on earth. May we never forget: there is always room for grace.

At least, that’s what I am learning in my journey today.