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(Extra)Ordinary

Towards the end of my teaching, I found it challenging to stay positive. Administrators, who spent little time talking and listening to what we did, often imposed their arbitrary decisions oblivious to possible consequences. Having said this, and with time to reflect, I did little to bridge differences. I went back to my classroom, shut my door, and taught. In teaching, the extraordinary emerged.

I bracket extra to draw attention to the ordinary. Thich Nhat Hanh writes about how (extra)ordinary emerges, not as a miracle, out of the overlooked and ordinary we experience. I appreciate this more today than I did those last years of teaching. Barry Lopez says the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference, an uncaring attitude towards other humans and objects in our presence. It begs questions: “What calls me? What am I mindful of in my life that needs my fullest attention? Who and what am I a steward of?” Today, this understanding (in)forms me when I encounter challenging moments. For example, struggling to find my way into a higher ed classroom I see this as an opportunity to write and read.

Sometimes. I tend to create negative narratives rather than let each moment live itself fully and be aware of as much as I can be of it. This is hard, but grows easier as I set aside dis-ease. Parker Palmer reminds me, when I do something that is not calling me and I am not responding to the call in a full throated way, I do violence to my life and that of others. He speaks about how we conflate lonliness with solitude. The former is problematic and the latter a paradoxical need alongside a need to live in community and share with others. It is in moments of solitude the (extra)ordinary can emerge from the ordinary

Unlike loneliness,

Alone is (in)different,

Solitude appreciates,

Providing solace.

Gift of silence;

Growing whole–

Energizing spirit–

Ordinary in (extra)ordinary;

(Re)memembering one’s life.

I taught Art the last year. I am no artist. We made, designed, and painted papier mache masks. For some students and me, this signaled the end of our time together. For others, they did not want to do the project, until I said I was going to participate. On our last day, a student said “It is not what you taught we will remember. It is how you taught us we will remember and the lessons of what it means to be a person.” To (re)member is to put things back together, sometimes in partial ways. Between the mask and those words, I put meaning back together about teaching and living life to the fullest.

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.

On some mornings and evenings, I observe the sun rising/setting with the moon in the sky. Several years ago, early in the school year this occured. I began haiku class with poems describing phenomena we often take for granted. I emphasized poetry  often emerges from what is overlooked.

Great poets have a way of lifting extraordinary phenomena into fuller view for us. I modeled this with shared from Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, etc. I try to write poetry in a similar way.

Greeting and adieu

Sharing the sky together,

Guiding one’s journey.

I took this picture as I approached Waterton Lakes National Park enroute to Spokane. It was a beautiful evening with just a wisp of cloud below the rising moon. It was as if Nature decided a needed two guides on my trip.

On many trips, I pass mountains, which, even when I stopped, I did not grasp their majesty. It is as if they have their own language and ways of being.

Clouds surrounding,

Momentarily crowning,

In regal splendour.

I take many pictures of Mount Robson as I drive from Edmonton to parts of British Columbia. Even with clouds, it has a majesty about it.

 

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On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

Albert Einstein

via Albert Einstein

Mrs. Vee offers a quote from Einstein and a headshot. The quote suggests imagination, which is unbounded, is more important than knowledge, which is limited in scope.

Those who educate provide “images for [the] imagination and for forming…memory….to grasp the ‘circumstances’ [we live in] in their infinite variety.” I use the word educate purposely, as each of us learns in settings other than schools. Schools are formal places where a particular agenda is followed.

Over the last few months, I struggled as I transitioned from having taught and wanting to teach. I define myself as a teacher. I taught one term at a small, private, Christian-based university. I applied twice for a tenure track position and have been ignored both times. I think there are multiple things at play and will deal with three. First, others my age are ready to retire. They say things like “I worked to get to this stage.” I understand teaching as a calling, so never worked to get to this stage. Second, it turns out, in the eyes of some, I am the wrong kind of Christian. I am Catholic, yet I am probably, in the eyes of many Catholics, the wrong kind of Catholic. Third, I limited my imagination. I think this is natural. I have not been here before and have few images for imagination. I only knew myself as a teacher, limiting the possibilities of what I could do and who I was still becoming.

The last point is essential. I mentioned this in the last two posts. I have been writing and am invited by others in to collaborate. I can imagine myself as a writer. I don’t know what kind of writer and what other doors it will open up. But, I have been here before.

Kathy reminds me frequently that “when one door closes, another opens.” What I have to recall is I do not know what will happen as I walk through the new door. I can imagine it and, with imagining, new worlds open up and hope exists.

Mount Robson 1 August 2019

This is the front side of Mt. Robson. I have never seen the backside. I can imagine what it might look like based on what I see and what I have read about it. There is a glacier and lake on the mountain. Based on past experience (history), I can imagine sitting on the edge of the lake, like I can imagine sitting and writing the next poem, article, book chapter, a book about teaching in the best little school in the world, etc. I get to imagine my life, so I don’t have to be the right kind of anything for administrators who can only operate in binary terms.

…the little bit of love that I sow now will bear fruits…

via …the little bit of love that I sow now will bear fruits…

Purple Rays shared a beautiful quote from Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who spent his early career as an academic and shifted to L’Arche as a caregiver for disabled adults.

I recently read In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. He wrote not about leadership writ large, but about his leadership during his early years at L’Arche and how much he learned from those he was to give care.

Transitioning from one role to another is always challenging. Nouwen provides insight into the challenges how he shifted away from leadership focused on being “relevant, popular, and powerful” to leadership more aligned with servant and love for others as a shepherd caring for each member of a flock.

How do I serve others? This is an essential question in my life as I transition from teaching in a classroom and to something new and, as yet, undefined. Perhaps, more importantly, it will always remain, at best, ill-defined.

Mountain's Layers

Perhaps, like the mountain, each striation will serve to help me author new stories and embrace the very mystery of the future, based on history and traditions that help me serve and be minful of the needs of others.

 

SOLITUDE

via SOLITUDE

Lara provides wonderful images of her neighbourhood, gardens, and pets. This post is one with a single picture and a Khalil Gibran quote about solitude.

Solitude is not loneliness. Teaching can be a lonely profession often done in solitude, largely away from other adults. I was fortunate. For most of my career, I taught in proximity to other adults and this provided rich conversations and insights for reflection to improve my teaching.

Gibran wrote a poem about children, reminding me students I taught were not my children. My favourite line is “their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.” As a teacher, I only promised I would do my best to prepare students for tomorrow.

In French, the word retirer means to draw back, like an archer. It is in healthy solitude I gather myself, draw back, and find stability in teaching the next generation.

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

     And he said:

     Your children are not your children.

     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

     They come through you but not from you,

     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

     For they have their own thoughts.

     You may house their bodies but not their souls,

     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Where do we find solitude? I find it in Nature, in writing, in reading, in teaching, and in living. It is not a place. It is a relationship to life, others, and things.

DSC00320

Kathy took this picture in Jasper National Park. The roots of the trees form steps and a path up from the water falls we were visiting.

Driftwood

I am back. The retreat was enjoyable and tiring. Although it was called a retreat, it was different in the sense that it involved research, writing, and lots of conversation. I find retreats invigorating. They are not sit, listen, and try taking notes as a speaker blasts through their presentation.

Retreats have a conversational part. Parker Palmer counsels people at his retreats not to take notes. Instead, we spend time writing and conversing how we feel about various prompts. That was a purpose of this retreat. It is the Currere Exchange.

Currere is the etymological root of curriculum, meaning to run the course of one’s life. It is a subjective way of interpreting a planned curriculum in a school. Whether teachers understand it or not, they are doing this continuously. As one of my co-researchers told me we make decisions about what to teach and leave things out we really like.

In a sense, currere is polishing a planned curriculum. It is a multi-faceted and complicated conversation between a person (re)membering their lived-experiences, aspire to a particular way of teaching in the future, and synthesize those two moments into the present. Each moment acts as a curriculum to inform the other, complicating one’s teaching in a dialogic way. Others enter the classroom and add to the complicated nature of the conversation, each adding their curriculum to the dialogue. It is like a piece of driftwood, being polished by the forces it comes in contact with.

My story being polished,

I (re)member and imagine;

Washed up on a new shore,

Who I am reflected anew.

I am a character in my story,

I pause a moment,

Noting lustre and matte,

Interpreting new meanings.

Soaking in the contours of living,

Experiencing new awakenings,

Running the course of my life,

Each new moment polishing me afresh.

Kathy took this picture in Waterton Lakes National Park.

 

It is an issue of private shame

It is an issue of private shame.

The link is not to a poem, but rather to a series of quotes about hunger and the personal shame that comes with it. Politicians use hunger and other social justice issues as talking points and not seeing it as a matter of private and public shame in countries such as Canada and the US with their wealth.

On the left, we have politicians who would subscribe to giving people something. On the right, politicians would blame those who go hungry including the children. Giving people a hand up is important and walking with them is a part of the longer journey. Solving issues such as hunger is community work. It takes neighbours helping each other in those moments of need. Regardless of what we have, we share. Wouldn’t that be a powerful learning in our schools.

Learning is the Thing for You

I told students, when I learned something new, I was going home to tell my wife. I unsure they believed me, but, often, I would go home and tell Kathy what I had learned or a particular frustration from the day. Often, the latter led to learning.

T. H. White, in this excerpt from The Once and Future King, suggests learning is a universal solvent for what ails us at any given moment. It distracts us from worrisome, sad, and fearful things focuses on something right here in the present moment. It occupies our minds, fills our bodies, and feeds the soul of our being.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn… “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss you only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world ways and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured, never fear or distrust, and never dream regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

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