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On the Edge

When I wrote this poem, it was at a time I was unhappy going back into the classroom and teaching. I loved the students and looked forward to being with them. So much had changed in the little school I taught in with change imposed upon us, rather than negotiated with us. In my writing, I am beginning to look at what is essential to the spirit for each of us to flourish. What gives each of us hope? it will be different. What is certain is we each want to have a voice in what we are doing.

When I wrote the poem, I wrote from a negative place. Now, as I look at the image, the tree on the dge of the cliff fourished in its environment, which is rock with little soil. The tree is actually quite old. Our tour guide said about 300 years old. Despite its lack of size, it flourishes and that is what I failed to see in the last two years I taught. It begs the question: “what might I have done differently.” I was not very patient at times. Cornel West tells young people looking for change to be patient. Real, transformative, democratic, and sustainable change takes time and patience.

In being with each student and present to them, I found something other than gave me the impetus to teach for two more years and find ways to cope with the imposed change. One of the challenges I faced was what we did was so different than what other classrooms looked and felt like it was difficult to convince other educators what we did had merit. Teachers teach one grade at a time in isolation with children separated from families, like a workplace. We had a parent in the classroom each day to assist, many of the families knew each other, and I had a multi-grade classroom with 3 or 4 grades together. Children and youth attend school each day and homework is something we assign, because often there is not time to complete everything at school. Students attended our school 40-50% of the time on a set schedule, depending on grade level. I negotiated with parents the extra things to be done at home. Often, they were large culminating projects at the end of a unit. I taught and students learned what was necessary in class and had little homework. I did not teach all subjects in school. Parents taught Math, Health, and some Phys Ed at home. I went on home visits to support their teaching and make sure we were on track. I had no desks in my classroom. We sat at tables usually based on grade level, but, during complementary courses e.g. Art, Food Sciences, Programming, etc., students sat in mixed grade groups.

In short, we were on the margins, the edge of what was perceived as “normal’ school. Today, in the midst of a pandemic that sent children home to learn online, the relationships and support we had in our small community would have helped many families and teachers cope with the sudden and unpredictable change.

With each step,

Closer–

Be bold.

Balance precariously,

Hover over abyss

Be brave.

Instability and stability dancing–

To soundless music;

Be graceful.

Quieting one’s self;

Listening to soul’s–

Be poetic.

Between lines and stanzas–

 Wisdom emerges–

Be patient.

On the edge,

Sisters and brothers–

What calls you with passion?

I try to walk in the neighbourhood each day. When I do, I listen to music. Yesterday, I heard a song by Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, which fit with this poem and how I felt when I wrote it. In talking to one’s younger self, they use words like bold, love, bold, and fear. I use passion, which suggests suffering as a necessary piece to flourishing.

About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and taught for 15 years in a wonderful hybrid school. My dissertation topic and research were how certain teachers experience becoming who teachers. In teaching and leanring, I am a boundary-crosser who understands moving ahead is a leap of faith. Teaching is a calling and vocation to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what calls me next. I am an educator, phenomenologist, scholar, boundary-crosser, published poet, author, parent, grandparent, and spouse.

17 responses »

  1. Glad you wrote this poem at that time in your life and kept it. so important to do so – with new eyes, and also, being able to remember the thoughts and feelings and context. I especially like these lines:

    Between lines and stanzas–

    Wisdom emerges–

    Be patient.

    On the edge,

    Sisters and brothers–

    What calls you with passion?

    Reply
  2. I can’t imagine what kind of school it was or the kind of situation you were in.

    Reply
    • It was a hybrid of face-to-face and home school. Junior high students attended school 1/2 time (elementary 40%). I taught three grades or four depending on the year and taught Social, Science, and Language Arts, plus complementary courses. Parents chose and taught Math, Phys Ed, Health, and some complementary courses plus they were in the classroom as “teachers” about once a month. On days I did not have students, I did home visits to help with Math and bring parents up-to-date on what students were doing at school. Also, I got to see how families lived, which included listening to their original compositions, touring barnyards, seeing their hobbies, etc. It was like Kindergarten spread over 9 years.

      Reply
      • Wow. That must have been so interesting. I never heard of anything like it. Were there other schools like yours, or was it truly one-of-a-kind? How did that idea emerge? What was the need for that kind of school, or was it just an experiment? If you taught in regular schools, how did it compare? I only taught BD kids in high school for awhile and then at the university, but I can’t even imagine what it was like to do what you did. It would make a good book. I’m not sure it would work here but I’m curious about the whole thing. Thank you for taking the time to respond. 🙂 I wonder why they just didn’t go to school? The part about home schooling half the time is so different and I can’t imagine the reason for it. Were their parents home all the time? Didn’t they work? Well, not matter what, it’s another way to look at teaching, that’s for sure. I’m making the assumption that it was in a less busy place than a city like Chicago, because I don’t know if that could work here.

      • It was and remains so for me. It is not a one-of-a-kind in that there are now similar hybrids out there, just not many of them. The idea came from a group of parents from the home school community who approached a principal with the idea. They both saw it as a mutually beneficial arrangement with access to school on one side and support for families on the other side. It was initially a pilot project and I came in as the junior high teacher after about 5 years. There were three of us, three educational assistants, and we did our own administration so to speak.

        I did teach in regular schools, but here is the caveat. I taught in small, rural schools where I got to know the families and supported students in similar ways. The major difference would be in regular school students attended full-time. We could only have a small number of special needs students, but the ones we did have and their families taught me so much about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism Spectrum, processing challenges, etc. We often do not think what parents can offer, but they offered me so much.

        Home schooling is not for every family. Many of these families had a spouse who was a stay-at-home or both parents worked in shifts. For example, in one family the mother was an RN and the dad a university professor, so they traded off as needed. One family, a social worker and MD, traveled the world with their children. I home schooled one of our boys for a year and he loved it. I think you are right that in urban settings it might prove more challenging to home school or have a hybrid model. That does not mean we could not do things differently. Two American educators, James Comer and Deborah Meier, had models that were/are community focused and in urban settings with large minority populations and considerable poverty. I did not start reading them until after I taught in this school and realized how, without knowing it, we had many common features.

        As far as why the reasons vary from a parent at home to learning challenges (not behaviour) to being bullied to … I am involved with a home school group (I teach their children hockey skills) and these were parents were well-equipped to cope with the schools shutting down. I am writing about my experience from that perspective. How do we help parents to meet unexpected challenges? I will write a book.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful experience. We do have different kinds of schools in this area. Many of them cost a fortune and are attended by the rich from other countries, as well as the elites from here. We also used to have a handful of experimental schools, which were wonderful. I do love hearing about the different ways of teaching. Our education system is so outdated and needs to be overhauled in a big way. Bullying is a problem everywhere, but what’s taught needs to be changed and how it’s taught needs to be changed as well. I believe kids need a voice in what they learn. The education system is is filled with systemic inequality.

    As for homeschooling, we can see what parents thought about that from the lockdown. LOLOL Most of the kids graduated on day two. Hahahaha I know it’s not funny but teaching one’s own children isn’t always easy, that’s for sure.

    I’m happy to know you will be writing about your experiences. Thank you again for all the information.

    One more thing…I do not have a teaching degree…I could just handle the BD kids really well, because I loved their brilliance and attitude. Most of the other teachers hated the “bad” kids, who weren’t bad at all. So, what I learned, was that teachers fit in with certain types of students. I didn’t do well with the “honor” students, because I found them too eager to please, rather than to think for themselves, so I was always pushing them to look at what they were supposed to learn and pick it apart. They just wanted to memorize things and get good grades. The BD kids picked everything apart an we had fantastic discussions about EVERYTHING and we all learned so much from each other. If kids are free to be themselves they are amazing. I only worked with special needs kids, in high school, for a day or two. I didn’t belong there. I just fit in with the kids in locked classrooms or those who were considered trouble makers. They were labeled those things because they were a danger to the status quo. They were the artists, the thinkers, the kids who stood up for what they believed in and they were punished for that by a system that want’s obedience. I fit right in with those kids and we got along just fine. But I remember defending them when the other teachers said terrible things about them. I didn’t enjoy teaching at the University that much. It was okay, but adults like to play games a lot of the time and they aren’t very subtle.

    Anyway, you sound as if you found the perfect spot and that’s why it worked for everyone involved. I think that’s the only thing that really does work…when the kids and the teachers fit together. That’s when the Magic happens.

    Reply
    • We fail the students when we label them. Sitting and listening to them is part of the miracle.

      I find at the university level many students think they need to figure out the game and its rules. As well, many instructors continue to treat them as K-12 students, instead of expecting them to walk on their own two feet. In education, it is why little changes.

      We have some elite private schools and now we are allowing charter schools and academies to flourish. They limit who can attend, whereas public schools have to accept each child/youth.

      I did find a place, Even students with “issues’ fit in quite well. Many of the children came from families that wanted their children to learn and feel safe. It worked.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Beauty | Teacher as Transformer

  5. Sounds like you would have been a wonderful teacher and great influence on the students and their families. Teaching programs like that would have helped prepare parents and students for the recent home-schooling they were thrown into quite suddenly in most of our country.

    Teaching has always been a challenge but today locally there are so many regulations that must be followed that it is difficult to have some fun time in the classroom, which is something I always tried to do. My opinion has always been that if the student doesn’t enjoy being in the classroom, they are not going to have an open mind for learning.

    Reply
    • I agree. What we did was not for everyone, but, if we knew who the home school parents and those in this kind of school were in our communities, it might have eased some of the strain.

      After a family registered their son in our school, he went home and told his mom I was the best teacher he ever had because I broke it in The Ballad of Davey Crocket right in the middle of a lesson. His parents had been leery about what we did, but this made a difference and he was great.

      Reply
      • And for reasons like that, students are led to enjoy their education. Singing was a part of my classroom almost daily. We started off the day singing some fun songs to awaken everyone and I even sang their spelling tests. Education needs to be fun.

      • I kept the singing to a minimum. I cannot carry a tune if it has handles, but we played music many days.

  6. I also had a difficult time my last few years of teaching, and like you, it wasn’t because of the students. They were the joy.
    I think your poem speaks a lot of deep strength

    Reply

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