Thursday, June 24, 2010

The end of the beginning.

One week ago, I tossed my goofy cap in the air, and went tearing up a university corridor, robes streaming behind me, for the last time.

It was a long haul. And a heavy one. But, it's done.

I'm a Teacher.

Not that I wasn't one before: parents are the ultimate teachers, after all. But, it's interesting how another piece of paper with a bunch of official-looking signatures scribbled all over it becomes IMPORTANT, all of a sudden.

During all of my various teaching engagements this year, however, I am convinced that it was I who learned the most. Anyone who thinks that it is a teacher's job to simply fill up the "empty void" that lies between their students' ears is woefully misguided.

Good teachers teach because they want to learn. We want to learn more about our students, how they process information, and how we can most effectively learn together in a mutually-supportive society. The students-- both the wonderful, and especially the "not-so-wonderful" ones-- helped me to learn more in one year than I have since the birth of my first child (and whoo-nelly, what a year THAT was...)

Among the zillions of things that I could list for you...

-Organized schools are NOT the most important, nor the most effective learning environment for children. HOME is the most important learning environment for every child, and it is the duty of parents and teachers to work together and support children's educational, emotional and psychological development.

-More children do NOT have healthy home environments than do have healthy home environments. Often, it is the families who appear outwardly "perfect" that are the most troubled of all.

-It is therefore impossible to teach well, without becoming emotionally involved. And this is precisely why I love to teach. Sure, it is demanding in every way imaginable... sometimes exhausting to the point of sucking the life out of your very soul... But I'm hooked on the look on kids' faces; that look when you KNOW that the seven or eight hours they spend in your care per day are some of the best times they've had in their whole little lives. That look varies from child to child... and for this reason, it is essential to strive to know your students well. My breakthrough moment with one little girl this year was during a flood of tears, when she was finally able to confess to me that she wasn't doing her homework or paying attention in class because she was simply too exhausted. She shared a small apartment with many aunts, uncles and cousins, and could only sleep in bed when there weren't too many other people in it. This child was fighting for survival, not just her education. The look of relief and trust that flooded her face when I offered to let her put her head down in class, or stay in at recess or lunch to take a little nap, was phenomenal. There were so many other children like this... ones that needed to be provided with food for their breakfasts, lunches or snacks; children who needed warm clothes to protect them against the winter weather, ones who needed medical and psychological treatment... And I worked hard to advocate for them in the very best way I could.

I had so very many profoundly rewarding moments this year. Two of them occurred during my first session of parent-teacher interviews. While teaching grade three before Christmas last year at a wonderfully multicultural public school, it was necessary to recruit three translators to sit in and work with us in several different Chinese dialects, as well as Tamil. These translators were nothing short of magnificent in their personal and professional skills, and one was able to tell me that a smiling and tearful mother who was brand-new to Canada wanted to tell me "... that when you hug my daughter, she says that your arms feel like I am hugging her." I could not have received any higher compliment. Another gentleman, one of my students' grandfathers, shook and kissed my hand as we concluded an interview about how to best help his troubled grandchild.

There were many frustrating times, too, during which I was so grateful for the counsel and assistance of other, more experienced educators: The times when I simply could not connect with parents, to make them understand the importance of taking steps towards developing specialized education plans for their children, who were struggling. The students whose attitudes and behaviors were disturbing and destructive, and one particular "code red" incident. The times when the "red tape" seemed to gum up the whole educational process, and all the cogs and wheels screeched to a halt... sometimes falling off, altogether.

There are some battles that can be fought, and you win. And there are others where you can try all you want, and not succeed. The challenge in that case is to find a way to switch tactics... to try and discover another route to the solution... and never get so discouraged that you give up.

I'm young, but come with life experience behind me. I'm too old to put up with too much crap, but still feisty enough to go after the ideal. I'm MORE than ready to get started, and see where life takes me.

Where I live, however, there are no job vacancies anywhere. I'm looking... I'm marketing... I'm doing my very best to retain trust that there is a greater plan at work, here, and that when the time is right, I will be shown the way that I am meant to go. I'm not a "fatalist". But, I do believe that things in life happen for a reason. We have to do our best to roll with the punches, and be alert enough to pick up on the signals of better opportunities to come.

Then, we have to reach out with both hands...

And go for it.

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