The joy of field trips…

Retrieved from Johnston’s Schools website

I came home tonight after watching a killer last set in my daughter’s volleyball game (please do not ask a whole lot of questions about the first four sets, ‘cause that score was kind of private) to which I heard the following anguished cry from Youngest not even five minutes after lighting the home fires:

“Mooooooooommmmmm….(heave, heave, sob, sob)…..I just….(sobbing) burned down my house on Minecraft…accidentally. And it was my favoritest house ever. And I just had made it…..(sobbing).”

It’s interesting how these funny little things follow me around- just begging for me to write about them. We were at the dentist today about a permanent tooth that Daughter had broken two weekends ago on a Saturday afternoon. How do you tell the inquiring dentist that your child broke said tooth playing “Abduct the Baby” with her little sister? It’s just not the normal excuse. And just for the record, the dentist did ask. (I was very vague). I mentioned this all to a friend at the store and she said that her child had also had a similar catastrophe, only to another part of the body while straddling the black bin in their driveway, singing at the top of her lungs.

I could just totally relate- neither one of us thought either occurrence was less than normal. But I guess the average person does not live this way.

So what this story is REALLY about is our school field trip today. Wow, just wow. Where do I begin…? For the record, the above stories were just my warm-up.

How does one frame a blog article about a field trip adventure in which a bus full of three kindergarten classes of children ages 4-5 is pulled off the road for an hour and a half because its crisis exits are screaming “Emergency! Emergency!” in a language all their own? How do you even start discussing bathroom issues? Or temporary bushes with prickles that can serve as the restroom when all else fails? Thank goodness for Kleenex.

All I have to say is this: to those passer-bys that saw a woman jumping up and down, touching her derriere, rubbing her belly and then doing scissors jumps/jumping jacks, you try entertaining 35 youngsters for an hour and a half on the side of the road. I dare you. It’s a game called Simon Says and kids love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Okay, seriously. I am just so thankful for the neighbors who saw me (obscurely, I swear) hiding in the bush with one Little Person and then kindly offered their “facilities” to the rest of the kiddos on the bus. Thank you. Words cannot express… I am sure I looked like a wild woman because at the time I was also trying to protect said child from the dog that kept barking at us from across the road. I was sincerely concerned for everyone’s safety, not the least of which was my own.

Back to the woman across the road. She was simply the best. And what she did was humbling, it was simply just too kind. (Now that I think about it, were we doing them a favor by removing ourselves from the bushes on the sides of their road?) At any rate, that woman deserves a Good Neighbor/Good Citizen award- she was amazing. Simply above and beyond amazing. She turned her television on, offered us her washroom (which we paraded in steadily for the better part of an hour, boots, dirt and all) along with water to drink from her kitchen faucet. And she trusted us enough that she left and drove off with all of us still on her lawn. I mean, really: where but the country would this ever happen. We then continued to enjoy the property, playing numerous games of Duck, Duck Goose and the afore-mentioned Simon Says until the Department of Transportation showed up in all their glory after having got lost a time or two on the back-roads of P.E.I. and generously fixed the bus

It was a time. A TIME I say. I sure had fun.

Needless to say, I had planned a full slate of activities for the day. I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I had invited a professional chef to come into the school and bake apple pies with each of my students as a surprise for their parents. Boo hoo, ’cause that unfortunately never happened. But then again: the apples were not ‘all there’, shall we say, by the end of the day anyway (became the snack); even if they had been, cooking pies in a half of an hour would have been even an absolute miracle even for her and she’s one of the most amazing chefs I know.

So, it’s been a slice. A slice of every kind of apple I know, including Honeycrisp (which the bus driver ended up finding and picking for me after I had run all over the orchard looking for them during my five minute break (or I could call it my ‘break your neck’ as that’s my kind of luck), I spent my time aimlessly running around the orchard only to find these beauties were growing in the row marked “Jona Gold”. So that’s how they keep ‘em a secret. Who knew.

Can’t wait for the next field trip.

About these ads

On stress…

It’s soon bell time and we’re getting ready.

Along with the congested hallways full of lively kids, that bus pass stuck to her locker is quite possibly one of the first things she sees as I open the classroom door to the busy hallway.  That piece of white paper folded and stuck on with a strip of masking tape, the numbers to a different bus marked out in blue-ballpoint pen. I nearly forget the fact of its existence in the end-of-day rush. For it’s time to get ready for home- coats, shoes and backpacks stand by at the ready. All but this One Little are eager for the last ritual of another busy school day.

She’s definitely not up for it today- doesn’t want to do it and makes that point plain to me, arms folded across her chest. I coax and plead, but to no avail. I can feel frustration settle in even as I hear in my voice what resembles annoyance. All I want her to do is put on her coat and shoes so that I can take the students to the bus. She alone refuses, standing in the doorway to our classroom. Not budging. I watch her finally zip up the coat part way, only to zip it down again, leaving it flapping open- and all while I watch on helplessly.

I turn so she cannot see the look on my face, expressing my exasperation in another direction.  My colleague offers quiet suggestions while I compose myself.

We finally get the coat and shoes on, but the former remains unzipped. I decide to pick my battles. As we head to the bus with a few minutes to spare, another predicament emerges. That bus pass which I had not taken into account is all of a sudden the focal point of our attention. She doesn’t want to go on the new bus- as a different driver awaits, this unfamiliar face being the very last straw for both her and me. She hides behind me as I turn like a dog chasing its tail. As I move, so does she. We dance this awkward two-step until I stop and look her in the eye:

“Are you afraid of going on a different bus?” I ask.

She nods her head and grunts a little affirmative. I finally understand, but am left still to deal with the very real predicament of her balking in the parking lot. We are nowhere near her bus. I look around and wonder who I can get for help. Each child I ask, Little One shakes her head ‘no’ to and then pulls away, shrinking in behind me as if to disappear from sight. I have no idea how this is all going to end.  No idea what options are left at my disposal. Finally, support arrives in the form of a Big Friend from the bus.  We are all relieved and tell her so. She offers to take my Little One’s hand and walks her to the bus.

My Little One acquiesces. Offer received. I breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve overcome one hurdle. And that’s all I need for today.

*****************

The very next day, another Little Guy finds out that there is a change in his bus driver as well, and he too is almost paralyzed with fear. He forgets where to place his shoes in our familiar cubby, eyes glazed over as he loses himself in worry. I walk him to his bus and while I stand at the foot of the bus step, I look over to see him sitting there in the front row, tears welling up in his eyes. He is so fearful he cannot even process the lively banter around him. I call him to come to me, and I wrap my arms around him with the warmth of my embrace. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t protocol- as far as I am concerned, it’s the only human thing I can think to do right now.

******************

And so it goes.

I talk to a teacher in the hallway on a more personal level about the stress of an evening earlier on in the week at the Gard house, and we both laugh at the absurdity of the stories we tell. But underneath the laughter is a strain of forced notes and flattened chords. We are pushing ourselves to do more, be more.  Make more. “That speaks of the stress everyone is under in the system,” another colleague listening in wisely offers.

It’s everywhere… and rampant. Stress. We all feel it and it takes but a moment for the seed of contention to conceive and develop. Stress. I see it in children’s eyes, in their faces. Stress. Fear of the unknown, of new situations. Of failure. I see it in my colleagues eyes too at the end of another busy day. I hear it in my own Four Dear Ones banter with me at the start of the day- from angst over misplaced items, to bigger worries and fears that are becoming more and more unexpressed.

I feel it in my gut: it’s why I walk our country road each and every day.  I have to- my body and mind demand it.

I don’t like all this stress- it’s eating us alive.

*************

It’s a new day, and I determine to make this one an opportunity for possibility. I run into problems before we even break for lunch- a Little One balking again at the instructions for a game she is playing with friends. This time, instead of feeling immediate annoyance, I try to put myself into Her shoes and I ask questions that enable her to express her fears and concerns. Instead of trying to understand it through my experience, I try to see it through her’s. And what I see first is a child who is afraid.   But then I start to see something else- a glimpse, really. Of a child who, with the right supports, has every possibility to learn to overcome.  Who has the tools within her to let stress go and embrace the joy of living.

I hold her hand and we walk hand in hand. And I feel it.

The stress is gone.  Here comes the joy…

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…”

*******************

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.”

*******************

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.”

******************

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.

Believe

They showed up one morning. Could have been any morning, really. And there they were. Bright eyes, smiling. Hello, Mrs. Gard and then the pause. Waiting for my response. Their faces searching mine for that encouraging smile.

Do I believe in them?

He fell asleep every single day in my history class. The room was dark and calming, a glow from the overhead bulb the only light. His long hours at the fish plant gave him little time to sleep. Little time to be the teenager he should have been.  Little time to care about facts and dates.

Did I believe in him then?

The boy and his mother walk the halls. It’s his first day of school ever, coming up this Thursday. There are fears and worries, but mostly just excitement. Everything is new and inviting. School is cool when you’re four.

Do I believe in him?

Do I believe… in them?

Teachers: we have children who will walk into our lives, into our halls and into our classrooms in the days ahead. They will have stories and experiences, expectations and worries- hopes and fears. They will have dreams. Dreams they believe in.

Do I believe in them?

We have children coming who will challenge our patience, try our tolerance, question our leading, test our resolve. Children coming who will make us laugh and make us cry. And some who will make us want to shelter them with everything we’ve got. These children- they will work their way into our hearts. Will work their way into our world. We will come to love them like our very own. We will teach them, listen to them, care for them, nurture them, inspire them, learn from them, hope for them. And when we have to, we will fight for them.

And all because we believe in them. Because we care.

Do you believe?

Do you believe in them?

For if you do, they will believe in themselves too. They will believe they can.

And because they can, they will:

Learn.

Grow.

Understand.

Discover.           

Mature.

Develop.

Into the amazing, creative human beings they were meant to be. And they too will inspire and encourage others to believe in themselves. To believe that they too CAN.  And all this because YOU believed. Because we as teachers believed in them.

Believe.

Because that’s one small step we teachers can take to make the incredible happen.

What I Want To Teach This Year

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

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

Gives me time to think.

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

I’m the teacher.

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

How to love, not how to hate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 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.

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.