When Teachers Tell Their Stories

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Teachers have powerful stories to share. There are stories of triumphs and stories of failures—stories of everyday authenticity lived out within the trenches. There are stories of heroism, stories of realism. Stories of hope and inspiration. Stories that have been shared with many and stories that have been shared with one. These stories might not be the same—they are as unique as the storytellers that create them, but they are there written on the hearts and embedded in the minds of teachers, many just waiting to be divulged for the very first time.

Narrative inquiry, within the field of qualitative research, is described by Bochner (2000) as being this:
“…stories that create the effect of reality, showing characters embedded in the complexities of lived moments of struggle, resisting the intrusions of chaos, disconnection, fragmentation, marginalization, and incoherence, trying to preserve or restore the continuity and coherence of life’s unity in the face of unexpected blows of fate that call one’s meanings and values into question (Ellis & Bochner in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.744).

Bochner (2000), while admittedly speaking directly about research practice, compels the reader (who may or may not be reading for the purpose of research) to consider the benefits of personal life writing: a genre that “activates subjectivity and compels emotional response” (Ellis & Bochner in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.744). Bochner (2000) asserts that personal stories are those that exist for offering lessons for further conversation, longing “to be used rather than analyzed; to be told and retold rather than theorized and settled…”(Ellis & Bochner in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.744). He makes the case for amplifying personal voices within the social sciences, but I believe that we must take this one step further, expanding the call for evocative personal narratives to be shared by teachers compelled to tell the stories that must be told.

Too often, the busyness of life and the hectic pace in which we as teachers live and carry out our calling, can serve to strip from us the energy it takes to sit down for half an hour and write introspectively, composing reflections and stories about our daily teaching practice. It might be an easy choice to make, at times, when the options are between taking a mental break or applying your mind and attention to further cerebral activity in the form of written composition. We all need ‘down-time’, especially in a profession that requires our bodies and minds, as well as our hearts. But the benefit of taking time to write at the end of a busy day (or in the early hours of the morning) is something we might do well to consider. It might even have the surprising benefit of rejuvenation and refreshment for weary minds. When teachers write reflectively for themselves, it helps to solidify in their own minds what they think and believe.

Enhancing this benefit, when teachers choose to share their views and thinking, opening their inner selves up by extending their ruminations to others, there are further advantages for those involved in reading as well. The community formed around shared interests, common goals, friendly banter, engaged discussion, illuminating thought and insightful opinion spurs others on professionally to be the best they are able to be in the moment in which they are living. Sharing written thoughts with others also serves to encourage and inspire, as documents and written accounts can be re-read again and again when needed most urgently.

In November 2011, I determined that writing as a practice was important for me as a useful exercise in examining my life— so much so, that I committed to writing almost every day. At the time, I was experiencing a fair amount of stress, experiencing a general lack of joy in my life. Suffice it to say: I was feeling rather discontented in both my personal and professional life. I found the writing I was doing in the carved out time slots I made for such throughout the days and evenings gave me pause for reflection regarding those circumstance and events that brought me angst. As I wrote, I felt a weight being lifted, and I would aver that I experienced healing— emotional, if not physical. Writing in this way was therapeutic, beneficial as a process of helping restore my body, mind and soul to a healthy constitution. It was beneficial for me in restoring my joy. As such, writing has been one of the most significant ways I maintain and provide self-care for my weary soul.

Due to a sense of renewed joy, I found the desire from within so as to continue the writing and introspective reflection. As I wrote, I began to share the stories and prose I was creating with those closest to me, my husband, children and immediate family members. Bouyed to carry on, by way of their response to my writing, I decided to start a an on-line journal in the form of a blog in the fall of 2011, where I have been found writing ever since, sharing this writing with a community of readers over 4600 strong. The name “Pursuit of a Joyful Life” was decided based on my desire for more joy in my life—something I felt others might also identify with in their own lives. Having made a decision to daily commitment to writing, along with finding an inner resolve and purpose to continue this endeavor, I embarked on a journey. A blog was now mine to foster and develop.

Unlike university course work or in-school professional development assignments, where the task is ‘reflection-on-demand’, I never feel externally coerced to write my personal blogs. This driving urge to record my thoughts has always been internally situated. I blog purely because I am compelled to write. I write for pleasure and for joy, thus the name for my blog— a title based on my own personal pursuit of a joyful life. Writing has been for me a cathartic process. It is an escape and a diversion— a means of healing and an opportunity. I did not always know I would be a teacher, but I always knew I would be a writer— it just took me time to discover the writer that was waiting within. Thirty-seven years of waiting to discover the words and stories that I held close to my heart, to be precise.

Even with a full-time teaching contract, this act of blogging has been an almost nightly routine I have been keeping to the past four years, writing both when I was feeling inspired as well as when I was not. It is not so much the message as the act that I believe has infused my teaching with hope and purpose. Writing about the funny, the frustrating, the disappointing and the inspiring parts of my profession has served to enable me in understanding the reason for my calling. I am a teacher because I care, and writing about my practice is just one more way to show that care for the educational community of which I am part. While some might say that I am a writer because I love to put words to paper, I know that I am a teacher because I care about people. Writing has been a means of exhibiting this heart-full care, and it is my preferred language of expression within my chosen profession. Writing is not something I do just for myself now, it is something I do for my students, my students’ parents, my colleagues, my professional partners as well as for the general public, sharing with them all what it means for me to be a teacher and carry out my life’s work. As such, writing is one of the most important aspects of my teaching.

To date, I have 510 posts published on my personal blog, with one blog piece receiving notable public acclamation. In December of 2013, I wrote that particular blog post as an encouraging letter to an anonymous teacher, a letter which I later published to my personal blog. Shortly after that, I decided to publish the blog article on the Huffington Post’s (Canadian Edition) on-line newspaper for which I am a regular contributor. Initially, the letter did not receive any interest, garnering few reads on both my blog and the Huffington Post’s online news feed, as recorded by the sidebar statistics for both. I soon forgot about this particular piece and continued writing about other topics and areas of interest. At the end of January 2014, something peculiar happened. I noticed one day that my blog, as featured on the Huffington Post, had a couple hundred views on it. Surprised, I called my husband over to have a look at this peculiar phenomenon, as every minute the stat figures would change to reflect new readers. This was a complete shock and surprise to see, as almost six weeks had transpired since the original piece had gone to press. Little would I have known then that those couple hundred of views would quickly grow to thousands, then to hundreds of thousands and eventually to well over two and a quarter million readers and counting, a little over a year and a half later.

The fact that this one blog piece on the topic of caring within teaching went viral has given me pause for reflection over the past months; reflection done on my writing, the topics of my writing, the focus of my blog and the purpose behind the messages I share. Why do I write? Who am I writing for? What message do I want to convey? And why is it important that I keep writing? In watching my blog following grow within the educational community, I have felt it prudent to provide more space for writing reflectively about teaching and educational issues. My blog continues to be a space where I can express myself freely, a place where I write about a variety of topics, but now with an overall focus on reflective introspection about the important role of care in my teaching practice. Critical theorists like hooks (1994) contend that forms of dialogue, like writing and blogging, can be a means for teachers to challenge a system within which they often feel powerless to question face-to-face. Freire (1970) perhaps laid the foundations for this kind of dialogue to be possible. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire asserts that “it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it…Dialogue is thus an existential necessity” (Freire, 1970, p. 88). I have then felt the inner urging to create a space where I could dialogue on issues that speak to the heart. That place where I passionately dialogue is here, my blog.

My place for pursuing the joy in life.

Truth-telling

It is one of those balmy, beautiful outdoor recess days that you might think would create the reality (or illusion of such) of not a care in the world being felt or expressed. You would expect to see everywhere…children running hither, thither and yon playing tag, catching butterflies, picking daisies. Strains to Pharrell’s Happy theme being piped onto the playground. Unicorns floating lazily in the sky.
Rather, it is a bit of a zoo- and I feel like a chicken running around with my head lopped off, my nerves frazzled and my sanity nearly unattached. All because ‘so-and so’ just did this- and Little Miss just fell off the tire swing and he just said THAT. Can you come quick? Somebody else just got slammed into the soccer nets and somebody ELSE just got into a fight on the playground equipment.
It is not easy, either- trying to figure out the truth of the matter. Not easy at all. Trying to sift through the facts to get to the bottom of the story at hand, particularly when there are three or four or more stories to attend to. Listening to stories and first-hand accounts is almost a full time employment.
But one thing as a duty teacher that I am trying to honor and privilege with my generous ‘doling out of justice’ responses is the following:
Truth matters. And it matters more than what just happened or what will most certainly happen again in five minutes if we don’t establish the facts of the matter and own up to them.
Truth has come under fire lately- because, as it has been contended- who really knows? What is true? What is false? Is there really such a thing? I believe there truly is.
When it comes down to brass tacks, there is always a true account of what occurs- whether we want to admit or deny it or otherwise. Something had to occur so that another something could then follow. Usually, there is a tangled web of facts and information that somehow ties back to what originally went wrong- it has been my job each Monday afternoon, as the teacher on duty, to help my students find their way back to the start of the issue: so as to re-trace the original steps that were taken. In doing so, we collectively arrive back at the beginning where the truth resides: arrive at the truth of the matter somehow, someway.
I honor children who tell the truth. I once had a child steal from me. In questioning him on the matter, he would not own up to the contention, even though I had caught him red-handed. Later on, with some careful questioning and encouragement, he confessed. I told him that I appreciated the truth he had the courage to tell in spite of his fear causing him to withhold that truth from me. I expressed that even though what had happened was not a choice he should have made, his decision to tell the truth was certainly commendable.
Even in the difficulty of the moment, I honored that simple truth he had the courage to tell.
As teachers, we need to encourage our students- our children, to tell the truth; and somehow we must show them that this route is a better way for them to travel. Yes, it is not easy owning up to mistakes. Yes, it is hard to admit that we’ve done wrong. Absolutely, there are greater consequences which eventually await the child or student who has both made a poor choice to act unfavorably, along with lie about it.
But for the child that tells the truth- I personally have a special place in my heart for those young students and learners. This goes against the fabric of our culture and society. These students are swimming against the tide- have come to the realization that truth-telling- as hard as it might be- is more desirable than covering up and hiding beneath a blanket of false pretenses.
And that is about as true as it gets from my vantage point on the elementary school playground.

Why Motherhood Has Impacted my Teaching

Being a Mom has rewarded me in so many ways, particularly in my understanding of things concerning parent-teacher relationships and student-teacher relationships within in a school system. Disclaimer from the get-go: I realize that one does not have to become a parent so as to teach well and make a difference. I would never want that message to be understood because of anything stated (words or ideas) that is to follow. Good teachers come in all forms and packages. I know this with all my heart.

However, having stayed as a teacher without having had kids myself, I personally (knowing my unique personality and tendencies) would have been ‘less than caring‘ in my interactions with children; I know this about myself. In this way, having children was really the answer for me specifically in enlarging my understanding about care relationships within education. I have a friend without children and she is naturally (from probably birth) an absolute saint. She is so kind and sweet and tender-hearted toward children- something that took me years to even begin to master. I had to have four kids and fourteen years of parenting before I started to ‘get it’. And there are still things I am working on and know I never would have quite ‘gotten’ so well, had I not become a mother.

I absolutely salute anyone who works with children- parents, teachers or otherwise. We have much to learn from one another.

But for me—as a Mom, I am able to understand kids as children- not just as students. Each time I walk into a classroom, hallway, playground or corridor- I am reminded that these children I am interacting with are someone elses’ children. They belong to someone. Someone loves these children and these are treasured beings. They are absolutely beloved- cherished and adored by someone. And I hold this knowledge in the forefront of my mind as much as is possible- because I know how I want each of my four precious four to be treated. Just the way I am dealing with the children in my school: with the knowledge that they are someone’s loved child.

As a Mom, I am also able to understand parents as allies- not as the enemy. I am a mom to four fabulous kids. But I am also a teacher to amazing, fabulous kids. Each and every time I walk into my own four children’s world (whether that be a classroom they are situated in, a basketball court, a piano studio, a recital hall, a baseball diamond or a hockey rink)- I understand that this zone of proximity is not my official turf. I am physically outside my comfortable school-based perimeters. Put me in a school, and I am feeling that I am on the inside circle. But place me inside someone elses’ circle of influence, and I suddenly find myself somewhat outside my comfort zone. This is not a bad thing, but it reminds me how I want to be treated when not on my own turf. That is, with respect, dignity, thoughtfulness, justice and kindness. Outsiders wish these things for themselves because they know what it feels like to be on the borders. In the very same way, put me back in my classroom and I suddenly find myself on the inside again- in a comfortable place of respect and influence. But as I was on the outside at some point in time, it is never lost on me what this feels like. To be outside. I hold it again at the forefront of my mind with the greatest of regard. When a parent comes into my educational world, comes into my classroom and meets me on my turf: it is never lost on me what that feels like to be in their shoes. I don’t want to be viewed as the ‘enemy’ when I am outside my comfort zone. Neither do parents. We are all in this together- parents, teachers and otherwise. We need to see one another as allies and partners in purpose.

For we do better when we see each other for whom we truly are: people. We are People- all of us! People who care (albeit in different ways), people who want the best for their children (albeit again-sometimes in different ways) and people who would be willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary so as to do what needs to be done for the benefit of the child. Parents are our greatest allies and we serve not only them but ourselves best when we strive to preserve and grow these relationships.

As a Mom who is also a teacher, here is something else I have been able to understand.  I am able to put the school day in perspective. School is part of life, but it is not all of life. Today, I asked a kindergartener what school was all about. Here’s what he said: ‘playing, eating and some working’. If this isn’t what school really is in kindergarten, then we have a problem Houston.

As a Mom, I have been challenged to act in my classroom as if there were always a parent in the room. Each of my students has a family support system behind them. They all have parents who love them, grandparents who adore them and a family network of aunts and uncles and cousins who are in their life vouching for their best interest. In my classroom, it is never far from my mind that each and every one of my students has a team behind them, working off the record at home and in the community, to support their learning. When I teach my students, interacting with them inside the classroom, I keep at the forefront that someone ‘outside’ loves them. Keeping this principle in my mind has enabled me to consistently act in ways that are loving (besides- if a parent was sitting in my classroom, wouldn’t that be the way I would respond to each child?), act in ways that are fair and just (because again, a parent would insist that this be the standard by which I deal with their child- and so should I), as well as act in ways that are compassionate (because what parent does not want a kind adult dealing with their children?). Added to this would be that I strive to act in ways that are positive and assistive (because every child deserves to learn in the ways they are equipped to learn by best).

Being a mom has grown me, stretched me and enabled me. But being a teacher has also done the same. In both capacities, I am learning that love is the most important foundation on which to build; am also learning that there is always enough love to go around. We always can find more, for each and every one of the students who have been placed in our lives. They are there for a reason. We are in their life for a reason. And much like the saying that emphasizes ‘we don’t often get to choose the children God places in our families’, we also don’t get that privilege as teachers either. You love the ones you’ve been given.

Because just like our own flesh and blood children: our kids at school need consistent caring love from us. And they know when that love is genuine and real. Their responses to us, much like those offered by our own children, are cushioned in the beliefs they have about themselves along with the beliefs they think WE have about them too.

So may all our beliefs as teachers be those that choose to support and uplift- just as an effective mom (or dad) would cherish the God-given brood they were given, so must teachers care for the ones they’ve been given as students too.

I am a both a Mom and a teacher

Last week, I was reading a couple of blogs I follow regularly.  On both blogs, the women who write for them were raising important awareness around standardized testing, accompanied by its pros and cons.  Both women supported a parent’s right to choose whether or not their child should be tested, and in the conversation that followed the discussion, many parents applauded the teachers for investing in their children in spite of the pressures placed on them to raise academic bars for financial school gain.  Many commenters said that they felt people should be thanking teachers for all they do to care for the children in spite of the stress inherent to a system that is often wrapped up in dollars and cents. Systems are often more concerned with gain and profit than they are with people.

But that descriptor doesn’t accurately define any teacher I know.

With this in mind, I tried to think of the last time I wrote a letter of gratitude from a parent’s perspective to teachers.  I write a great deal from a teacher’s perspective, but often don’t allow myself the opportunity to write about educational issues from a parent’s perspective.  Perhaps this is due to the often unwritten rule that being a teacher negates me from any form of open criticism of the system (I could lose my job), any type of public comment that would expose (teachers must honor internal allegiances and loyalties) as well as (apparently) offering up any type of applause (that would come across as if I was patting myself on the back).

Case in point.  Last week, after reading comments on those two blogs, I decided that because I am a parent, and because I was reading parenting-type blogs- along with the fact that I have a vested interest in my children’s education, that I would assume the identity of a ‘parent’ and thus write a letter to teachers on behalf of parents.

I thought I could do so by virtue of the fact that I am a mother to four children, as well as due to the fact that I buy my four kiddos’ school clothes, book bags, lunch-boxes, sneakers, school supplies, coats and boots ALONG WITH…

* being one who attends meetings on their behalf, attends Parent-Teacher interviews and Back-To-School bar-b-q’s

* being one who listens to them and relays important information to their teachers, principal and guidance counselor; who studies with them for tests; who proofreads their papers; who practices with them their music.

*being one who tries to enhance their academic learning, intellectual work done in school, assist in their emotional development, spiritual understanding and gross motor/fine motor development as a partner with their schools

IN OTHER WORDS, by virtue of the fact that I am a mother to four children, I thought I could write a letter to teachers on behalf of parents commending and encouraging teachers for the good work they do each and every day on behalf of my children (and everyone elses’ for that matter, while I was at it!).

Apparently not.

You see, after I wrote ‘said’ letter and published it on my blog, a letter which I thought a wider audience might enjoy reading and receiving a word of encouragement from, I received a fair bit of backlash.  I had taken the blog article and published it on the Huffington Post as an open letter to teachers from parents, and the following comments are some of the feedback I received:

– “interesting. a teacher thanking herself.”

– “teacher thanks herself; now THAT says a lot about what is so wrong…”

– “The source of this “open” letter needs to be told. Otherwise it is just a bit of poorly written propaganda. And plagiarism. Doesn’t that deserve an F?”

– “Lori, how do you feel about the lack of resources for the schools when my taxes are paying for banked sick days so your colleagues can be paid full salary and benefits to stay home, I would say all those volunteer hours are actually paid for whether or not the teacher actually gets it immediately or is simply deferred and paid out under the current system when you cash in.”

– “Lori Gard That’s terrific. However, it (being a teacher who is also a parent?) is not a universal applicable to all teachers.”

So this is what I am thinking.  Parents who are teachers are only apparently allowed to be teachers or parents– but seemingly cannot be both simultaneously.

Which is very hard.

This reminds me of my kindergarten students a few years back who found it very hard to believe that I didn’t sleep at school.  Are adults also having a hard time imagining teachers living and functioning outside the four square walls in which they do their work?  So it seems.  I can be a teacher.  I can be a mom.  But I cannot mix the two.  For if I do, there is some kind of perceptual dissonance that seems to occur.

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding teachers who try to pretend that they might have opinions, thoughts, feelings, questions and concerns about education that fall outside their professional milieu and overlap other areas of their being and person-hood.  And for some reason, when these thoughts and feelings are expressed in a positive way (so as to promote something good), they are not viewed as a pure form of gratitude but are suspect as being plagarism and propaganda.

I am having a really hard time with this.

Dear Teachers (From All the Parents)

Dear Teachers,

It’s April.

We parents are hardly able to clasp the few shards of fading sanity remaining from Spring Break (as they slip nimbly from our hands into the oblivion of another work week). So we can hardly imagine how other adult human beings around the country are faring out. (Can I get a witness?)

Spring this year feels like a continuous week of non-stop Mondays- no thanks to the mountains of shard-like snowdrifts left in our backyards still covering swing-sets, clotheslines and anything else less than six feet in stature. It is no wonder we are all feeling the challenge of the April Blues.  What with the lagging seasonal change, the joys of flooding (spring thaw), the onslaught of standardized testing now in full-gear (provincial assessments), political elections underway (at least in certain areas such as our own P.E.I), along with the general chaos, craziness and confusion of everyday living- added to that joyous of all emotions, end-of-school- year exhaustion- IT’S NO WONDER WE ARE ALL LOSING OUR MARBLES.

We can hardly believe the school year is quickly coming to a close.

And with that in mind, we are sure that you teachers need no reminder why you do this good, good work of teaching and advocating for our children (while we mop ground water out of our basements and pray desperately for sunshine). We know it is innately in you all to CARE and STRIVE for our kiddos. We KNOW you want to be there for our children.

It’s just what you do.

But we also realize that this last mile toward the finish line is a treacherous one. There are numerous pitfalls and potholes in the road. There is the weariness of traveling to contend with. The fatigue of long hours. The arduous work of putting one foot in front of another. The pain of injury and harm that is accrued along the way. This journey is not for the faint of heart. And we are all too aware of the reality that travelers can so easily drop out of the journey when faced with these and other taxing obstacles.

This is the reality of the work you teachers do.

Let me be the first to say: “You can do this, teachers.”

Your journey is long and hard and tough and fraught with hazards and risk, but it is worthwhile. Not looking to the peril, your focus is ever on the children and what they can accomplish. Your eyes are continually on the possibility and potential- not focused on the pitfalls. And you teachers know in your caring hearts that it’s the students that matter- not the test scores or the assessments results or the glowing progress reports. It’s the kids that matter.

And this is a truth you remind us all to remember, each and every time you are working your magic with our children.

We know you believe that the students are why you are there.
Your acts of kindness do not fall by the wayside unnoticed.

Whether it be the extra hours you put in at recess.
The special little things you do to make learning fun.
The hours and hours you spend writing notes and making phone calls.
The little smiles you share when you see your “kids” out and about in the community.
Whether it be the food you so generously share at recess.
Or the special little gifts you buy for them ‘just because’.

We know you do it not for accolades or attention: you do it all because you CARE.

Teachers, you make learning happen all while you under-gird this quest for emotional and academic growth with a spirit of love and concern.  You make magic happen every day in your classrooms- even for small moments, so teachers we want to tell you: we know why you do your work. You do it for our children.

For all you do.
For all you are.
For all you help our children to grow and become.
Thank you.

We can’t ever say enough how much we value your place in our children’s lives.

And one more thing. We know that there is still the very genuine reality that tomorrow is another day with more hurdles to jump, puddles to slosh through and mountains to climb- there is much, much more legwork to be accomplished on your journey. Forty-four days worth of legwork, to be precise.

Hang in there, comrade. We ‘got your back’.
Love,

All The Parents

Let the Children Play

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When he gets frustrated, he uses the puppets to talk out his feelings. We role play, he and I. This is not time for academics, paper and pencil. This is pure, unadulterated imagination. He needs it; oh, how he needs this opportunity to freely play. Unstructured. Liberated from the confines of classroom protocol, even if but for mere moments. He talks to me with his hands, showing me that he needs this time to unwind. To imagine. To portray. And I am listening carefully, reading in between the blurred lines, so as to understand all the reasons why this matters so very much.

A while back, another one used to wander the hallways. He never seemed to have a sense of commitment to any one room, any one place. Flitting here and there, we would find him where he was least expected. Now he spends that time that he formerly used to wander, playing. He pretends that he is a ‘cop’ or a salesman. He makes intricate creations out of chain links. He reads books and plays office. He loves to imagine, and his teachers report that the behaviours that were formerly front and center have vanished. Could it be because of play?

These little people, young learners: they crave the time allotted for play. The boys do especially, but certainly the girls too. Each day, when that time comes- when that hour arrives: they relish it like it is their last supper. When playtime is over, they ask, “It is over so soon? It’s already done?” It seems unbelievable to them that their beloved Centers have now ended- as it appears to them that play only had just begun. That’s how it is with playful learning, how it is with inquiry-based learning: time passes along and you don’t even know where it has gone.
Play is just that subtle and unobtrusive in scope, yet vital and necessary in its impact to really make the difference between children doing well and children doing poorly.

According to Christina Hoff Sommers of Time magazine,

“Prolonged confinement in classrooms diminishes children’s concentration and leads to squirming and restlessness. And boys appear to be more seriously affected by recess deprivation than girls. “Parents should be aware,” warn two university researchers, “that classroom organization may be responsible for their sons’ inattention and fidgeting and that breaks may be a better remedy than Ritalin.”

Angela Hanscom writing for the TimberNook blog says,

“Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.”

According to a document drawn up for the Canadian Council on Learning by Early Childhood Education Program Chair, Par Jane Hewes, play is undervalued and all children’s opportunities for free play are under threat (both for the boys as well as the girls). She says:

In recent years, the trend has been to introduce more content via direct instruction into the practice of early-
childhood professionals. Research demonstrates that this approach, while promising in the short term, does not
sustain long-term benefits and, in fact, has a negative impact on some young children.17 Long uninterrupted
blocks of time for children to play – by themselves and with peers, indoors and outdoors – are becoming increasingly rare.  The developmental literature is clear: play stimulates physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development
in the early years. Children need time, space, materials,and the support of informed parents and thoughtful,
skilled early-childhood educators in order to become “master players.”18 They need time to play for the sake
of playing.

She goes on to add the following:

There are unique and fundamental developmental benefits that derive from spontaneous free
play. The child’s experience of intrinsic motivation in play is fundamental to successful life-long learning. Play is a valid learning experience in and of itself – albeit one that has been difficult to justify and sustain in formal educational settings.

I don’t know the all the reasons for why kids are finding school to be a place they feel lost. But I can imagine that if I were a child, I would probably not be able to get through my day without a diversion of some sort. Some kind of escape that could whisk me away from reality even if only for a moment or two. That’s why teens and adults love social media so much- it is our chance to play. We all need an outlet in our life, and for most of us, we find that relief from the busyness of life and reality through play, whatever ideal that particular form of play conforms to.

After all:

“Young children learn the most important things not by being told but by constructing knowledge for themselves in interaction with the physical world and with other children – and the way they do this is by playing.”
Source: Jones, E., & Reynolds, G. (1992).
The play’s the
thing: Teachers’ roles in children’s play, p. 1

With this in mind, can’t we just let the children play?

Dear Student Who Feels Defeated

To The Student That Feels Defeated,

You are sitting there at a table or a desk- you might be reading, writing or maybe working at something else, depending on the given day. You look up and catch the teacher glancing your way; so you try to show her with your eyes that ‘this just isn’t making any sense’. Try to send her that message. Because it’s just a mystery to you that people understand this stuff. A complete puzzle.

You watch your friends who find it so easy- math, writing, reading, problem-solving, figuring things out. They seem to do everything so effortlessly. But to you, each task just feels like one, long endless riddle- with no apparent solution.
Feels like one long, drawn-out visit to the orthodontist.

Or maybe it’s during gym class that you find things challenging. Maybe it’s music or science or French that throws you off your game. Maybe it’s after-school when you are at basket-ball or soccer or another extra-curricular club that you find yourself not measuring up to the rest of your teammates. Maybe that’s when you start to find your confidence slipping. Maybe that’s when you feel like you can’t compete.

Maybe it’s more to do with fitting in and finding friendship, or it’s that feeling of acceptance in being part of the crowd. That’s what you are missing. Maybe you just feel like you are the odd-one-out left to stand awkwardly watching from the sidelines. The person who never gets a call after school, a text or an invitation to the group chat.

And so you get home at the end of each school day and you sit at the table with a bowl of cereal and a glass of chocolate milk. And you try to make sense of the fact that you feel stupid/unliked/unpopular/incapable- while the rest of the world does not. While the rest of the world just keeps moving on. Understanding everything that you do not, doing everything you can not, and including those people around you of whom you are not- while you’re left standing on the outside.

It feels like everyone else is accomplishing stuff while you watch on helplessly, feeling useless. And while life just continues carrying on, you feel more and more defeated. More and more deflated. Cause it feels like you are the only one falling back, falling behind. Even while everyone else in the world is occupied with ‘getting ahead’- making sense of the world and everything in it. Yet meanwhile, for you- it all just feels so difficult. Life feels so hard.

And you feel so stupid.

Dear Student who feels this way, can I please tell you that you most definitely are not?

Not stupid.
Not dumb.
Not unintelligent.
Not brainless.
Not unloveable.
Not incapable.
Not a failure.

You are not.

True, you are struggling with this hard thing in your life- this mountain that seems to consume you. But one day soon, it will no longer be there. You will have climbed and conquered. And you will then be free to see life another way, from a different vantage point. One day soon you will look behind you and see that this mountain was just a small anthill. Something so small from your position, that it will almost seem insignificant in hindsight. And you will turn your eyes back around after seeing that you made it over, and see that before you is what you were waiting for all along. See that you arrived. That’s the beauty of moving forward.

Because right now, you are in the middle of living out the battle. Life is hard because it is suppose to be sometimes- it’s suppose to be hard at this time and place in your life. And quite honestly, life is hard because there are hard things to go through, hard things to understand, hard things to figure out. But these hard things are making you, shaping you, creating in you: perseverance, resistance, resolve, determination, strength and will power. For in living out the hard stuff, we come to see ourselves in different ways- realizing that the moments when life is at its very hardest are often the moments and the times when we grow and ‘become’ the best. Your time of becoming your best self is right now.

Don’t give up on that vision.

Yes, your hard time might be now. But tomorrow is already on the way, almost here. And just like every time before, you can do this. Just look how far you’ve already come. You can accomplish what you set your heart on. So go ahead- prove it to yourself.

Never forget, I’ve got your back. The rest is in your capable hands.
Never stop believing.
You are capable, you are able.
You are.

Love,
Your Teacher