What is an EA?

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For those of you who are not in the know of the world of Nova Scotia, right now the province is experiencing some academic turmoil and unrest. You see, after a period of bargaining with the provincial government for better working conditions, more support in schools and more power to teachers to teach, a work-to-rule strike was to be enacted for tomorrow (Monday). This means that teachers would only have to work within the means of their job; none of the extras that this profession is so famously known for doing for their students. Work-to-rule means that the safety of students is still on the forefront, though the excessive hours or duties would not happen. After a series of protests and even a walk-out from High School students in support of their teachers the government announced yesterday that they would be shutting down all public schools for the safety of children. This means that, if teachers did only what they were supposed to do in the first place, students would be unsafe. Equally, other supports could not be trusted to keep students safe.

I am that other support. I am an EPA, a 22-year old EPA and while I think I can safely say that going around as a sub from school-to-school I am definitely one of the youngest by at least a decade. You know what? Nobody cares, if I can do the job I’m welcomed with open arms. You see my long-term goal is to be a teacher and ever since making that decision I decided that any job I took I wanted it to better develop me as someone who will be influencing youth. I want to experience the classroom from all angles before I lead one. In my short time I can honestly tell you that I have discovered more angles than the ones I thought existed and everything that is happening now is upsetting me more than I thought it could.

You see, tomorrow morning I will be going into work. I will be going to school along with my coworkers, EPA’s, teachers, secretaries, etc. There will not be any kids. As much as I joke that weekends are awesome and Fridays are a long time coming I can honestly say I want to do my job…I want to be working with my kids. I had Christmas art all ready to go for the Learning Centre kids and they love doing it every day. I see about 15 kids in and out of the Learning Centre, the youngest from Grade Primary all the way to Grade 5. Their academic level isn’t just reserved for the grade they’re in either. In 1 hour I get to make it interesting. We were going to do, “If Santa was stuck on my chimney I would…”. The next day we were planning on doing more Christmas cards for the nursing home-an idea the kids brought  up all by themselves. On the outside, standing in the cafeteria looking after my charges makes my brain rattle but secretly I love being able to interact with the kids in a more laid back setting. Every Tuesday some older girls who are no longer at the school come back and visit at the end of the day. I love that they come to visit. Also on Tuesdays we have Brownies, I am also a volunteer leader and many of the kids who go there go to the school too.  I’m racking my brain because our Random Acts of Kindness Secret Santa challenge was dependent on them being in school to deliver gifts to each other. I have 2 in my car that I need to sneak into classrooms. So I am also trying to figure that one out. On Thursdays I get to go to a different class to help out because the classes I’m normally with has specials that morning. This is the only time I can think of where I can help that class even though the needs are just as important as others. I know other EPA’s do the same; when they can, they help out wherever they can. Fridays are a special day because we go outside at the end of the day with the Learning Centre kids. I play tag with them or we sit on the swings and talk big life goals. At the end of every day I ask them, “What did you learn today?” and I always reiterate “I don’t want to know what you did, I want to know what you learned.” It’s a way to end the day and that gives it closure. We walk them down to the bus at the end of every day and we stand there with them until a duty teacher comes even though we are done work at 3PM. So it could be 3:05 or 3:15 but don’t think we just up and leave when our clock is done.

Now, let’s talk about the kids. I’m lucky to have started working with kids young in really stressful, high-strung environments to more laid back ones. Every time I think I have hit the jackpot with awesome kids another batch continues to surprise me. I love these kids and I know my coworkers do too. Speaking from personal experience, I have been punched, sworn at, kicked, spat on and should really use a FitBit for the number of times a kid is a runner. Some kids don’t care that I’m 5’1 and not the strongest…if they feel like they need to they can hurt you. That’s the physical side of the job but let’s talk emotional. Part of the reasoning behind volunteering for Girl Guides or working at their summer camp is that I want to know who they are as people before they are students.  You know what? Some of that stuff is scary. It’s scary enough that I have thought very deeply about taking kids home or searching, “How old do I have to be to be a foster parent?” on Google. My fellow coworkers have brought costumes in for kids because they know it won’t happen if they don’t. I’ve also seen them bring in treats or do their hair for Crazy Hair Day. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so stressed about this Random Acts of Kindness thing…I know that it might be the most exciting thing a kid experiences this year. You simply cannot tell a teacher or an EPA or anybody who works in school to “block it out”, I think in order for you to be effective you really can’t. It’s the price you pay for excellence.

Okay, now enough of the daily duties…I want to address what I’ve read so many times in articles about this whole issue. I am not an EA…I am an EPA. The “P” in that name is very important. It stands for “Program”. This means that I should be working with one or two kids who are on an IPP or some sort of behavioural program. More often than not, we are working with more than that because the needs of the classroom far exceed the resources available. I am not an Educational Assistant, which would imply I can work with everybody, even though I do. Often times it is by choice that we do because we recognize that between teachers and few EPAs, the class can be crazy. Technically we’re there to ensure that nothing goes awry but in the short span that I’ve been doing this we learn how to teach too. We take groups of kids into the halls to help them catch up on work or help them better understand material. When there is a spare moment we will run down and cut some stuff out or go to other classes. I am the worst at finding an outfit for the day because if I am dressing for the job, I should be wearing full-out exercise gear every day. In a situation where the government seems to understand what we do I was shocked to find out that not only was our moral standards questioned (supposedly we couldn’t be trusted to keep kids safe while WTR was in effect), the very professional name we’ve been given isn’t even correct. At 22, I am so lucky that my coworkers and those school staff who oversee my job see my abilities and all of our abiltities. We might not be teachers but we have enough intuition to know when a child (whether in our attention or not) is about to lose it, or we know how something is going to affect them. Most importantly, we keep all students safe and protected, physically and emotionally, as best we can. We are doing our best with the small amount of pay we receive and treatment we get from students. I have seen EPA’s take on teaching roles (and yes, I am aware that is far from their responsibilities) when substitutes are overwhelmed by the class that day. Above and beyond is our nature.

I realize I could be a waitress earning twice as much in tips, or even working at the mall. The work an EPA does doesn’t even reflect what we get paid. However, we do it. Like any job there are people who are just bad at it or not good. When you’re working with kids, especially high-needs children, there isn’t a lot of room for that. Sucking at your job could get you in a lot of trouble. So, many EPA’s don’t suck at their job. If they do, they don’t last long. A lot of them are just doing the best they can. When the government says that we could not keep our children safe it’s like saying the flight attendants wouldn’t try to keep passengers safe even when the whole plane is going down. They’re our kids too. It’s part of our job to do that, you can count on that.

Stand behind the teachers, no matter how long this takes. Somebody taught the Minister and somebody taught the Premier. Somebody had to teach you. There is a chance now for you to put your education into good use. Teach your children what you can about what is right and what is easy. Don’t hide the truth about things that will affect them. Their teachers love them and we love them too.

Now, excuse me while I go and try and figure out how to solve all of the weeks problems and make kids still feel the Christmas love even though some pretty Grinchy people have come pretty close to stealing it.

What My Mother Taught Me

bad-moms-trailer_article_story_largeNo, don’t get too excited moms. This isn’t a “share this if you love your mom” type of post. I’m angry. I’m angry about what my mother taught me. Quite frankly the things she taught were quite ridiculous and I cannot imagine why anyone would want to teach their children these things. She is not a good example. I can say that now, at the age of 22 I know everything there is to know about being a parent. Legit. Like, I’m really an expert. She was so wrong. So here is the list.

My mother never bought me things I wanted to have just because

This is a horrible thing to do to your child. They should be allowed to have whatever the new trend is be it the Bass Pro hats, $70.00 eyeliner from Sephora, those segway things you stand on and that catch on fire. I remember in elementary school tamagoutches were this really big deal. And you know what??? They were. EVERY kid in Westmount Charter owned one. Everyone…except for me. They were these toys that had characters on them and you had to feed them and look after them. They made blurting noises and could die if you weren’t glued to them 24/7. You could connect them with others and “visit” each others houses. They were totally the newest social fad especially considering iPhones hadn’t been invented yet. It was horrible. She should have bought me one. Because…for a total of 24 hours I was so disgusted by her choice. For 24 hours I was so unhappy-and that, my friends is simply not okay.

I had to write cards by hand

Whenever I got anything, whether it be a gift, a nice card, a tissue (okay…slight exaggeration), I had to write a “Thank You” card. Not an email, not a text message. Sometimes there was even an accompanying phone call. I groaned and complained about it as I should. Receiving something shouldn’t be so complicated. Children should just receive things and show the bare minimum amount of gratitude with a quick, rehearsed or forced “What do you say?” “Thank you” prior to hastily taking hold of said item and forgetting the amount of effort it might’ve taken to get it. Because, after all, children should stay young forever and have the willy-nilly that childhood brings. For this, I will never forgive her. Writing thank you cards took away my childhood.

My mother invested in experiences I could experience by myself

How awful it is to send an 11-year old on a plane to BC by herself, to be greeted by her cousins at the airport. Terrible! She should’ve accompanied me onto the airplane first and then met me in BC for the hand-off to the cousins. Or even better, she should’ve flown with me. A scared 11-year old in an airport is a horrible experience and it scarred me for life. In fact, it scarred me so much that I learned how much I liked being independent and felt confident in myself because I had just accomplished a very rare, big thing. Any parent knows…independence is only allowed if controlled and manipulated so this is a big no-no. I knew my mother was in the wrong.

What else did she do horribly wrong? I went on my first regatta away from home, with my team and coaches…at the age of 12. A 9 hour road trip away! She should have jumbled her work schedule, planned and organized a family vacation during the regatta at the same location and driven up with me. She shouldn’t have given me my own money to buy groceries, no way. I was too irresponsible and should have had it handed to one of the older athletes to do the shopping for me. Knowing how to buy my own food for a competition was too huge of a risk. What if I had bought something unhealthy? I surely would have thrown up all over the race course and my chances of being the next 12-year old Olympian would have so gone down the drain!

I was scared of my mother

Okay mom, don’t freak out at this one because I couldn’t really think of a catchier headline. The thing is, if I was going to get in trouble I was absolutely terrified. My mother and I had so many differences that we argued a lot. We still do. This shouldn’t be allowed. Daughters and sons should feel like their mother is their best friend who they can go take selfies with and buy bathing suits with. God forbid they want to save their bra shopping for their friends, or share their experiences with people outside the mom zone. Trusting other adults in their lives shouldn’t be allowed because Mom is God. Mom should never get mad at children or be angry with them. They are there to be icons of love and endless laundry folding.

My mother forced me to talk about my problems 

This meant she literally left me alone in the doctor’s office and I had to explain what was wrong with me or why I wasn’t feeling good. In the hospital I had to be the one who talked about my symptoms. It was terrible. I actually had to know what I was talking about. Children shouldn’t have to carry this weight on their shoulders, this pain they feel is already too much and definitely the parent can totally relay what their kid is feeling. I don’t know why my mother put me through that because all that really ended up coming about that was I learned not to fake injuries or illness and I knew about what was normal for my body and what wasn’t.

She went to my concerts and activities but I still had to be the one doing all the talking

I had to introduce her to my coaches and teachers. I had to email or phone my coaches or teachers if I was having trouble. This is so embarrassing. A parent’s responsibility is to pave the way for their children, not turn them into the machines. I didn’t correct a division test once because I got a really bad mark on it and you know what she made me do? Go to the teacher the next morning and explain myself. ALL BY MYSELF. It was the teacher’s fault I didn’t learn it properly, therefore my mother should have barked at the teacher herself. The nerve of her! What she should have done is gone in and wasted 15 minutes of my teacher’s time talking about how I don’t like to underachieve and this mark doesn’t reflect what she thinks I should get. This is so much better because a child who is actually failing or struggling should definitely have their interview time pushed back because I am not happy with how my teacher grades. But noooo…she just had to tell me that I need to work harder. I was working harder!!! You know what this does to a kid? It teaches them that no matter how hard you work you can still fail in the eyes of others but work hard anyways. I think the term is perseverance…and that is definitely a big no-no in this modern parenting age.

I was never allowed to be late for things but could stay later

We had a rule, if you’re not 20 minutes early you’re late. It drove me crazy because especially at parties I was always the first one there. I hated it. I hated having to entertain myself for those 20 minutes. I don’t know why mother would make me be early considering nearly all my friends showed up on time or late. This was a terrible routine because even now in adulthood, I always show up to stuff early. It makes me look too keen and too much like I care about what I’m doing. I don’t like it. Now, she always let me stay later…whether to help out or just because she valued the fact that not everything needs to run on schedule. Good lord, imagine that? Not everything has to run on schedule!

My mother encouraged me to go above and beyond

Okay, so I wasn’t allowed tamagoutches but I was allowed to bake cakes for people’s birthdays and spent hours doing fondant designs for them. If I wanted to run a booth for elephant rescue she always bought me the stuff I needed for that. This is a great example of spoiling a child. Children who express interest in passions that go beyond their own world should simply not be allowed to do something about it. It will make the family look eccentric and progressive. Not to mention bring shame to the family’s name. However, if a child wants to go shopping for her 6th wardrobe she should definitely be allowed because what she wears is a reflection on the family.

Even as a toddler I had to do chores

This one I think everyone can agree with. Children should not do chores, especially toddlers. My mother forced me to carry my bag pack that had my diapers in it. THEN she forced me to put dishes in the dishwasher. THEN as I got older I had to my own laundry. THEN I had to pay for my cellphone bill at 14 years old. THEN I had to make decisions about school.  This is cruelty. Because of this I moved away after graduating and got a job. This is not a good thing. Children should be living with their parents until they feel ready to take on the world.

My mother and I don’t see eye-to-eye most of the time. There are rare moments that we have where we actually do get along really well but most of the time we like what we like. As someone who works with kids in professional and recreational settings, I can tell you that my mother set me up for failure because I now have expectations of kids that hardly any of them are equipped to meet. This is terrible. Rather than dumbing down the material or meeting them at their lowest, I, by instinct, expect a lot from them and push them really hard. This isn’t just academics but character too. If I give something to a kid and they don’t say “thank you” back, I take it away from them. If they don’t answer me in a full sentence I repeat my question. It’s amazing what happens…the kids struggle and struggle and then eventually rise because the bar does not lower. Clearly I’m doing something wrong because I see more and more parents who get upset by this mentality. Ironically, some things never change because it’s usually the parents who are upset beyond 24 hours and as well all know, kids shouldn’t be allowed to be upset.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Giphted Isn’t Better, It’s Different.

Giphted Dethpig.

“Every child is gifted. They just unwrap their packages at different times.”

I read this earlier somewhere and I couldn’t disagree more. However I religiously structure my thoughts by a 24-hour “think-about-it” period where I can let my thoughts materialize before it comes out incredibly ugly. Yet, even with 24+ hours I still managed to find this statement incredibly ridiculous. Tonight though, I have decided that it’s okay to dissect and “unwrap” the inaccuracies of this inspirational quote.

This evening I had the pleasure of working with a very special student. Each week he comes in reluctantly, sets his water bottle down and proceeds to negotiate every ounce of work he has to do while glaring at the clock hoping somehow the hour-long session passes. Who hasn’t worked with a kid like this? Tonight however was different. You see normally his quirky jokes keeps the table laughing (yes, I know, I am an enabler and should nip this poor work ethic in the bud) but tonight had a very different, somber feeling. In the span of about 5 minutes I cracked open more about this kid than I ever learned about him in the last 6 months of working with him: He was being bullied and enough was enough; he is moving schools. What started out as a light-hearted comment about being chased around turned quite dark as the table (2 other students) realized this has been happening ever since he started school and the routine of being chased every lunch was just the beginning of the taunting. Afterward one student looked at me, quite frazzled about the conversation we had just been involved in and said, “What did he do to make them do all of that to him?”. This kid has quirks no doubt but he is genuinely a really good kid and I am glad that the other students picked up on this. He was being bullied because he has an intelligence that no other kid could comprehend. It’s an intelligence you can see when you look at assessments but not necessarily work.

When I was in kindergarten I had a wonderful teacher, Mme. Marilyn, who was the kindest, most gentle person and I will remember her forever. Back in the day when kindergarten was only half-a-day and only half of that day was spent learning while the other half was spent learning life skills (like dreaming, sharing, building) she turned a classroom into a wonder-world where you wanted to listen to her and be there. Every single kid wanted to be there. I am talking about public school here. Each morning we made the alphabet train where we walked around the class as a train and made the letter noises. We had circle time where we talked about how to share and why we share. We quickly traced a letter and made a pattern. Then we played. Her centres were out of this world; I have yet to meet a kindergarten teacher who levels up to her centres. She had the big blocks centre where you built big fortresses and you know what? They were allowed to fall down and make noise. She had a painting station (yes, every day) where you painted whatever you wanted. The best station was her make-believe station where she dedicated each week to a type of scenario: some weeks it was a full on hospital complete with face masks and a bed. Other weeks it was a shop or kitchen or spaceship. Some weeks it turned into just a plain old bedroom. So, boys and girls alike, learned they could be doctors, business owners, stay-at-home parents or astronauts. I loved this teacher because what she taught me was that my ability to make a pattern did not hold priority over my ability to believe I could be a female astronaut beside my kindergarten beau, Robbie.

She was the one. She was the teacher who realized I had to learn to differently to thrive and for 2 years I underwent tests to determine if I could get into the school for gifted learners. I did and in grade 3, after putting up with too much bullying, I permanently moved to my Hogwarts, Westmount Charter School. It was a charter school, not private, so I consider myself very fortunate and am grateful that it was even an option.

I am no expert when it comes to discussing the actual signs of a child who may be gifted or the physiology behind it. I only know what I see and what I am. However this student who had the courage to talk to his table about his bad luck struck a chord with me from day one: He had to be gifted, there was no way he didn’t have some ounce of giftedness in him. This is where people get confused because they assume, if he were gifted, why would he be doing the program that I work at? In true form, being gifted does not mean you have a gift. In fact, it can mean the quite opposite.

Well here it goes:

Children who are gifted can be D students. They can literally flatline all throughout their education and continue to be that way into adulthood. All of us had IPP’s that got reviewed each year. Not until I started working in schools did I realize that IPP’s were not actually across-the-school strategies but reserved for certain kids only. My god what my brain would have done if I knew my IPP was placed in the same folder as the kid who ran into walls.

Gifted children think differently. I am not talking about multiple intelligences or “are you a visual or kinetic learner?” type stuff (although that is a small aspect). I am talking about what they SEE and FEEL. While a typical child sees a visibly correct answer on a test, a gifted child sees more than what’s offered and what they know is usually right. The fact that none of their answers are options bothers them.

Gifted children can be behavioural issues. Ask my parents how many times I went from the most well-written scholar in a room to an 11-year old having a 3-year old tantrum. It’s emotional intelligence that sets giftedness apart from just being smart. Westmount had so many characters like that; kids who cried because their project didn’t look the way they wanted it to; kids who had meltdowns because their grades dropped the slightest; kids who didn’t care at all about paper grades but could recite movies and books word-for-word off by heart. While most schools would chalk that up to “anxiety” or even depression or stress it was simply a characteristic of being gifted. You didn’t miss tests or skip projects but you were taught how to process what you were feeling and how to channel that energy into your work.

Teachers who can teach gifted children usually have psychology degrees because giftedness is something that needs to be learned about not just through experience. There’s things going on in there that experience cannot teach you. Like I said, I am gifted and even I couldn’t tell you why I think or how I think the way I do but boy am I glad somebody did know.

Gifted children have maturity levels beyond their years. This is a very big problem in public school. The best solution that can be offered is that they skip grades and academically this is amazing but socially it is not. I do not know what it’s like being a younger kid in a much older grade in public school but at Westmount I was allowed to be in a grade 9 french class as a grade 6 but they all were gifted too so it all made sense to them. Not all kids in public school have that social grace.

Gifted can mean being an over-achiever or under-achiever or both. The kids who get all A’s in school are not necessarily gifted, it just means they know the material. The gifted children who get A’s in school usually do so by a process of extreme work ethic and literal hyper focus on one aspect at a time. You have to pry them away from their work and they might experience an episode of emotion because they so badly want to know it all perfectly. I was both. I fixated on small imperfections of my work that I was good at: primarily every subject except Math. Night upon night was filled with perfecting projects and assignments. At this school, you hardly saw posters or dioramas. There were much bigger expectations on how you showed your work. For example in Sport Medicine in grade 7 we chose to present our findings on “the bends” by directing, filming and producing a 20-minute long Grey’s Anatomy episode. We achieved a 98% and 2% was lost because one of the teachers thought there wasn’t enough “sound”. Math I avoided like the Black Plague and I was so embarrassed that I wasn’t the “textbook gifted” child who received A’s in everything. In grade 9 math I had a 68%. While I can attribute some of that to just giving up I also attribute it to the fact that that year was the first year I was taught by someone who did not have training or education in gifted education.

This is why I do not believe in the quote above. Because, if every child was gifted then Donald Trump would not have been elected as President.  If every child was gifted then the whole education system would have to have a re-haul because it would fail all of them. Sometimes I wonder how many kids are left rotting in their classrooms because they don’t have a Mme. Marilyn who can sense thought differently. I wonder how many of those kids could have been the ones to know the answer to solving the poverty crisis or how to cure cancer. How many of those kids believe they are stupid because they do not fit in? How many of those kids are told to just write what they’ve been told and not question it? How many of those kids are aware that if they are gifted, the very success of their life will depend on their teachers to notice their giftedness?

Although I paint Westmount as being the Hogwarts school for gifted children, it didn’t come without its  social problems too but they were different social problems. While in public school you might get beat up because you are classified weird or out-spoken or the kid who likes Pokemon, in gifted school you got demoted socially because you got a 70% on a test instead of the preferred, 100% and all the kids liked Pokemon. Gifted kids had the definition of “gifted” wrong too. It’s complicated, I get it.

Being told you’re gifted is not necessarily something to brag about. It can be a burden because few actually understand how emotionally taxing it is. In fact it can be detrimental if not handled in the right way. It’s a one-way ticket to weirdom where you’re either embraced or told you’re too much. You know people will think you’re super smart when actually being gifted has little to do with a grade on paper and more to do with how you perceive the world.When even the smallest aspect of your life is thrown off kilter, any ounce of that “paper intelligence” can be thrown out the window. You’ll be a D student until your home life improves. You’ll be a D student until you stop being bullied. You’ll be a D student until someone realizes you cannot think one way. The students I’ve worked with and seen that have so many characteristics of giftedness are the weirdos and the ones on IEPs. They’re the ones who can speak 3 languages fluently yet can’t make a pattern out of red and blue blocks. They’re the ones who have tantrums on the floor but look at you straight in the eye and talk about the newest X-men movie. They’re 5 years old.

For the sake of the little boy who sat heartbroken at my table today because his quirky intelligence was seen as a peculiarity that must be tormented rather than embraced, I hope teachers learn at least a little bit about what it truly means to be gifted and work with gifted students. Gifted kids aren’t going to unwrap their gifts. It’s not even going to be wrapped. It will appear in your class from day 1 and you are either going to like the gift or not know what to do with it. Until there are publicly funded schools nation-wide that specialize in special education like this, some of the greatest minds could be sitting bored and rudely in the backs of classrooms.

 

PS. The title of my post Giphted Dethpig stems from a school-wide bracelet contest we had. Apparently in our school of 1 000 we all thought it was hilarious that “Giphted” spelled backwards was “Dethpig”. In fact our Principal found it perhaps the most funny and even made it her license plate. The second-place phrase that almost made it was, “I’m not weird. I’m gifted.”

 

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I Can Say This Now

You’re not supposed to write stuff when you’re angry. I preach a 24-hour cool-off period, in fact, I even strive for 48 hours. Why? Because when you’re angry you say things you are going to regret. Some things need to be said though with sweat pouring down your face and blood boiling.

Here it goes:

When you’re a kid you are told to stand up for what you believe in. You are told to do it even if you stand alone. “Be brave” they say, or my favourite, “disrupt the status-quo”. When you became part of a gang of people who made a poor choice (or didn’t do anything at all) you all got yelled at and punished. You were told, “Just because your friends told you to do it doesn’t mean you have to do it. You are your own person.” Obviously this whole “be your own person” stuff is highly glorified because as I’ve learned there are more adults who are part of that gang of do-nothingers than those who should be the role models for disrupting the status-quo. People say, “you have to pick your battles.” Well, I always thought practicing what you preach to your children was the greatest battle you could pursue.

When you truly love your job and what you do, it shows. People feel it, they see it and while you will make many mistakes, your intentions are usually good (with the occasional karma move but don’t tell me you’re perfect). You will come into the business of  kid coaching with different philosophies but 99% of kid coaches are going into it because they think they can make people better. By people, I mean…your children. Many coaches love your kids more than you think. Our job doesn’t end when practice is over. We are connected to them, we want to know how they’re doing in school, home, social life…we want to make sure their outside life is good so that their sport life is even better. We push your kids. Most of us push them outside of sport too. We except them to achieve good marks, be proactive in school, and to balance school and sport equally (this is a learning process we build through tough-love and an endless back of support). We know parents are crazy. I can’t even tell you the number of emails I’ve gotten that start with, “I’m usually never a complainer but…” or “I don’t want to cause trouble but…” I get it, but I’m also not fooled. You are causing trouble but I’ll get over it and find a solution. If not, we can awkwardly co-exist for the next little while. At the end of the day how your kid looks on the field, on the water, on the ice, whatever it might be, it is a reflection of what you and I have supported. Honestly, the F-word goes off in my head a few times when kids do dumb things or parents say dumb things…but my heart breaks when an athlete cries because they didn’t reach their goal. Yours does too. We have to put on a brave face and a mentor face. We have to lay accountability to where it needs to go but in our minds, those tears break our hearts. When a kid quits or leaves the sport, it breaks our hearts because we love the sport. We love sharing it with your children. Coaches are independent people. We can work as a team but we really like what we bring to the table. Coaches drive each other crazy. However, if there is one thing we can all settle on it is that kids are the top priority and the training is the second priority. Kids respond to training that is encouraging yet challenge-driven, varied and that has short-term and long-term results. While we see the long-term, kids like to see the short-term. We try and meet both. I have hardly gotten emails about the training but I get the most emails when it comes to competitions. People have requests for crews, kids have anxieties over race-distances, parents do not know what races their kids are in. Unfortunately we don’t have a curriculum night or a pamphlet to hand out with what they will be doing at a regatta. So we do our best to lead people to the answers or better, empower kids to do it for themselves. For the most part, we end up with “Thank you so much, we appreciate it. If there’s anything we can do for you let us know.”

That final phrase means a lot. It could mean fetching us a coffee before the races begin or it could mean running out to the store to get tape for the numbers midway through. But I’ve also felt the jab of that phrase not once now, but twice. “If there’s anything we can do for you let us know.” I would like to begin…yes. There is something you can do. You can support the platform we stand on and trust that though we are insane, the kids come first. When you are not happy with a decision from the top, you can speak up, in fact, you should speak up. The biggest fear is that speaking up will mean someone will suffer and you are right; kids will often bear the brunt of their parents actions (have you seen Dance Moms recently?). But as much as parents who speak up drive me utterly nuts there is something I truly value: They showed their children that they are their own person. They disrupted the status-quo. Your coaches are at the bottom of the sport scale usually, in terms of both power and money. This is not surprising and it’s a choice we made ourselves because we love the sport and we love your kids. As strong as we may be in our philosophies, our training or our passion, our kids and their families are stronger. Collectively they are the backbone to what makes a sport group exist. I’ve heard people compare families to sheep and they go where the dog pushes them because so long as there is grass, they will listen to the dog. I do not think this is necessarily true but it’s a good way to control the masses. Coaches listen to both and put the “dogs and sheep” on the same level. We work overtime for your kids sports…not even school, guys…sports. We try and make connections so that even the least-skilled of kids still have a reason to show up to practice each day. Each day we are met with the requests of many and the resources of few. We stand up for your kids when you’re not looking. They might be getting taunted by athletes from other teams. We might’ve fetched them water or gave them our own because they couldn’t find you. We stand outside until the very last kid comes in from the run, no matter what the weather. We do whatever we can to make sure a kid can go to practice even if it means taking time out of our day to make it happen. We are stuck between staying authentic and following order. Our efforts are recognized through the kids successes but usually not as individuals. However, despite that, we do it.

“If there’s anything we can do for your let us know.”

There is something you can do. You can speak up and ask questions. Nobody said there had to be a herd mentality. Coaches have been sole farmers for years. When there is something that is not right you owe it to your children to show what you do to make a change. We’ve been trying to empower your children for as long as they’ve been with us. There are no limits to where or who these examples can be.

While the lessons we learned when were kids contradict a large part of what adult-life seems to be about I am a true believer in this: “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.”

We will continue standing even if it means we stand in more than one place, several times,  but where are you falling?

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There’s Got to be Another Way

Today I was brought speechless. For those who know me, speechless is a word that doesn’t pop around too often as I always have something to say. Today during a relocation drill, a little girl was talking to me about the police escorts we had, making sure that the local cars did not run the little school children over.

“My dad doesn’t like cops” she said. I imagined this comment was going somewhere but I also didn’t want to believe it was happening with me there. This little girl just so happened to be Black.

“Why?” I knew why, I hated the fact that I knew why.

“Cause they have guns and he said they don’t like Black people.”

I’ve seen stories all over Facebook about Trump and what seems to be an uprising of American police officers discriminating against Black people. As much as we like to think that Canada is the true north, strong and free, we can get pretty close to some of the extremes of our brother across the border. You just have know where to look. What was I to say to this little girl who stated matter-of-factly about her father?

“That is not true. There are so many good cops in this world who don’t care about the colour of your skin and would help you if you were in trouble. But you never hear about those ones-you only hear about the ones your dad talks about. Those guys are just not very smart people.”

Not terribly inspiring but enough to move the conversation along.

So, I think I grown a lot in terms of my world perspective in the last 4 months. That is not to say that I’ve seen or learned everything but it’s enough that I am starting to feel the fire under my feet that we’re standing around preaching about the world’s horror and yet very little is being done about it at the top and bottom level. Consider this my pledge to the public, one that you must hold me accountable to. I am no professional, I’m not even a teacher. I’m one of those cart-before-the-horse-people, but I’m itching to step foot into a classroom as one. I don’t have hours of educational courses under my belt that give me a step-by-step plan on how to conquer the growing gap between the educated and the uneducated. I do however have the drive because each night I go to bed, the list of children on my mind grows and grows and it makes me angry to know that they may never know freedom in the way many kids do. It might take me 10 years to accomplish their dream but I’m done-I’m sick of waiting for other people to do it. I’m tired of 8-year olds who’ve lost hope in themselves, I’m tired of 8-year olds who see this world as a place to live fearfully in. I’m tired of looking at my twitter feed and watching all the plans that will supposedly help better the situations for minority groups in very traditional ways. You do not need to be a person of a non-caucasian minority to make a difference…you just need to be able to be gutsy, relentless and sightly insane. Also, having a back-up plan in case someone finds you too much is useful too. Ending up without a job would suck.

Education. The whole of the world’s problems lies in the fact that some people receive a shitty education. They learn how to read, they learn how to add and sometimes they do a science experiment turning snow into water. This is not an education. As someone who tired of school very early on and who experienced challenges in school I will be the first to tell you that this was not what I looked forward to every morning. This was going by the book, this was doing a job. It didn’t matter how nice or great the teacher was, it was fundamentally useless and boring in my eyes. Who changed my world between then and now? Mr. Byron.  Who, after swearing that I’d never step foot in a school once free, opened my eyes up about what’s possible?

Mr. Byron did not teach to the lowest of his students. He did not teach to the middle. He taught to the most ambitious. Emotionally he met us where we were at and academically he met us where we should be. He taught us how to throw knives on the first day of school.  He took us biking to teach us about ratios. We had “pet” crickets (though he would never call them that) and played with legos. We went camping to learn about science AND planned our own trips (grocery shopping, budget, EVERYTHING) to learn about mathematics. HE TOOK RISKS. He called you out for making bad choices, he didn’t coddle you or say how great you were each day (and believe me, some kids did need that but it wasn’t his style). We followed a strict regime of discipline and respect and yet he had the most flexibility in his teaching. We stood on desks, worked INDEPENDENTLY outside, played the drums, came up with rap songs, had closed book tests, open book tests, made our own tests, problem based projects, student-led projects. None of it would ever happen again in the rest of my education. Yet, HE changed the world for all of us. The under-achievers, the emotionally disturbed, the timid, the annoying, the over-achievers, perfectionists alike. How? Because in a world where you are taught that it is okay to stand out, there are sure a lot of teachers who are afraid to and they’re our biggest influences. They’ll lose their job, it’s not the goal of the system, it’s too complicated, it’s too time-consuming. It might all be true, Mr. Byron must have been exceptionally crazy, but it worked.

What he taught us was not the numbers or the equations, he taught us the application of all that we were learning. We learned to view the world as an always evolving classroom with numbers popping out of everywhere, words coming off of the walls and possibilities in every step we took. We were hyper-active kids, with over-developed brains (some from birth, some from trauma, some from just nature’s strange ways) and catered to those needs by creating an environment that forced us to give a damn.We viewed our classmates not as temporary friends but team mates (who, occasionally had the power to affect your success so you better treat them right).

Why Mr. Byron in a post like this? Because he is the only teacher I have ever met who has successfully raised generations of seventh-graders to achieve their full potential in an environment that is as untraditional as it gets. UNTRADITIONAL. He was “that” class in the middle of our school. This is the point, if we want children who experience educational challenges, regardless of why, to achieve their ultimate best, why are they still learning in ways that mean nothing to them? I do not want to see children who are bright (and I see it!), thoughtful, caring, just lacking in some social and emotional challenges to be swept away by the world of the trade industry. Some of these people would make exceptional teachers! Lawyers! Social Workers! Police Officers! It is not enough to get them to just “make it” to High School so they can  be in a co-op. The change is now, when they are young and impressionable to change the world for them. They must see what we see in them and we must teach and instruct from THEIR world. I swapped a “cat met a rat sitting on a mat. Oh that silly fat cat” book for a book on wrestlers. The book was disgusting to me, I don’t want to see John Cena’s man boobs. However, what brightness and light it brought to a kid who couldn’t read. Meeting him in his world was the best thing that could have happened that day. Less was he reminded that he is only a B-level book reader but an actual person interested in books that other people his age who could read would be interested in. Could he read it? Probably not. But would he want to try and learn? Of course, he proved it right there. Was it a “just-right” book? Of course not, but how could I expect him to pick a “just-right” book when his life and motivation was the farthest thing from “just-right”.

There is something to be said about the educators who branch off and do their own thing. They each have different goals but they all seem to stem from the same tree. It’s about meeting the kids where they should be and ensuring there is nothing that can stop them from growing on the way up. The only problem is these types of programs are only available to those who can pay for it and our biggest treasures lie in the bottoms of the piles and the bottoms of the barrel who can’t. They’ll float in and out of programs and plans, meet caring teachers and not-so-caring ones. Eventually they’ll be phased out. The lucky few will make it to the co-op. There will be something that remains the same in all of them though. The world they will live in will comprise of what they feel injustice is, it means they may believe their background is the reason for their failure. They may believe it is because of their background they are successful. Either the world will have given them nothing or everything-but either way it will still be, them versus the world. Instead of them versus themselves there will always be that “extra” factor.

I can’t speak for those who are Black. I can however, speak as someone who was told that she would be a great asset to the Educational Diversity of the school system. I do not want to be part of an elevation-of-the-minorities plan. I don’t even want to be that great brown role-model that’s supposed to be everyone’s Aung San Suu Kyi in education. I want to be part of the plan that acknowledges that no matter who you are or where you come from, you deserve to be given high expectations to achieve more than you think you can do and be inspired to get there. You can’t  be motivated to aim high if it’s not fun. Most importantly I want to be part of the plan that emphasizes we are all responsible for each other failures and successes. I’ll stand on a desk, rap a beat, read a thousand John Cena books if I have to. If it means that I stray from my plan to elevate someone to theirs I’ll do it. If it means giving someone a perspective on the world that they haven’t seen yet-I’ll do it.

I never want to have to think about what to say to a little girl who says that her dad thinks cops are bad because they do not like Black people. I do not wish to educate children in a world that is going this way. I want to think about how it will feel when that little girl says, “…but I know it’s not true.” Because, the day I hear that I will know that she was really educated and she is going to become someone greater than the world is ready for. They say teachers are superheroes without capes. This is very true because I do not think you’re really a superhero until you take off your cape and put it onto someone else. However, teachers, future teachers, old teachers…if you do still have a functioning cape, use it to fly from your desk and into the world of risk and the unknown. A lot of students come from there.

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These are the hands of my friends who I was so lucky to meet and be inspired by at the 2015 United Nations Summit for Sport Development and Peace. In a world of millions, to be able to work with these hands was the greatest experience of all.

 

 

How to Tell Asians Apart

I’m going on a slight rant today…also if you’re someone who likes to nit-pick this is probably going to bother you. Equally some of you may not actually understand this struggle and I am sorry for that. However you must know that this happens, a lot.

When you meet me for the first time, I know my brown skin is super interesting and different. However when I tell you that I am Canadian, can we leave it at that? Maybe when I become really good friends with you I will share that I actually was born in Thailand and maybe you’ll get my life story but I promise you it’s not going to happen after knowing you for just 2 minutes.

Why does this bother you so much, Orn? You should be proud of your heritage! People are just interested.

I am not saying I am not proud of my heritage…but how common is it for someone to say, “Where are you from?” “Oh I am from Canada.” “I don’t mean that, like where are you REALLY from. Your white skin is slightly lighter than others I’ve seen so I thought maybe you were Swedish. I get Swedish people and Russian people mixed up all the time.”

I’m not even joking…this is literally almost every single conversation I’ve had with someone new over the past month and we are not talking about Swedish and Russian people. I have openly heard people say, “I get _______mixed up with ________ people all the time.” Okay, even if you do not know the difference, you don’t say that. That would be like me saying all white people look the same and that is simply not true. You say this to your confidants, not the new person you just met seconds ago.

Let’s talk about cultural relevance. Actually, let’s not. Let’s talk about cultural competence. Growing up in school I really didn’t care that in math textbooks there was a lack of Hu-Yungs and Ahmed’s listed as characters in them. Please remember this is my personal opinion and experience, however I found that when a text listed, Sally, David, Lucy and Addisu (who was clearly an ethnic minority) I laughed because if the text was attempting to cater to all backgrounds if anything it just proved a point that a minority is just that: the least represented. I remember my classmates and I laughing because it was so obvious. “There’s our representation in the text. Represent, Addisu!” Am I saying that textbooks should have equal amounts of every race on every page? No. I am saying though that a lot of children laugh because it’s obvious that someone does not match the other and they were intentionally put in there to “balance it out”. We laughed. Maybe that is where things have gone wrong, we were laughing about it rather than seeing it as just another page in a book. Rather than trying to make culturally relevant material, we should be teaching children how to be culturally competent. We should teach that we don’t laugh at different names. We don’t assume people are foreign because their skin is darker. We don’t stereotype races. We don’t use our skin tone as a reason as to why we can or cannot be successful.We do not encourage different treatment of people because of their skin tone. We need to encourage learning about cultures, ALL cultures. The Swedish and Russian cultures, the First Nations and African-American cultures, South Asia and East Asia (and knowing the difference). Heck, let’s learn about freaking Zimbabwe. The only time I ever learned about countries (and by learned, wiki’d a page or two) was when we had Olympic day or “cultural” day and you had to represent one country and wear their clothes. Once we had a unit in school about it but it was only for a grade or two. We are exposed to various cultures every day therefore the study of it shouldn’t limited to a unit. We did math everyday because apparently math is in everything we do…We need to know the histories behind cultures, the triumphs and failures of the countries within them. Maybe then when kids read the textbooks they won’t be looking and laughing at what’s different in the text, they will be looking at what is capable and expected.

There is no perfect equation on how to eradicate stereotyping, racism or prejudice. It is going to happen; we are an intelligent species and as that, we form our own opinions. We felt the need to create names for species of animals and genres for literature so we will create identifications for various cultures of humans too. It is not about teaching children about learning to love all types of people. Children are not born hating people. They’re not born loving people. They are born seeing people and how we communicate cultural differences to them should be more about acknowledging their intelligence and competence than, “Oh, they come from the country where there’s curry and cows everywhere!”. How about, “Oh! They come from India, the country that invented the number system and Zero.” Okay…I realize that was a far stretch that requires some knowledge about the number system, however that’s my point. Yes it’s important to learn about differences in food but what universal success have they brought to the world? Social Studies is supposed to be about connecting us to the world, not just politics and the economy or relevant national events. You will find that every country, culture, race, has brought something good and bad. We never learned this until we were much older and by then the exposure to stereotyping and racism had already happened. It is amazing how much kids are capable of thinking when you expect a high standard of knowledge and inspire them to want to learn it. The problem is, I think, that we think kids are too young to understand these things and we must do things step-by-step rather than have them see the whole picture and analyze it in a way they understand. Critical thinking skills, people, a slowly dying art.

I said in the title I would be telling you How to Tell Asians Apart. I am sorry to disappoint but I’ve decided not to do that. Actually, I was never going to do that. If you’re really curious about someone’s racial background, you need to get to know the person, maybe go for a few coffees or engage in a meaningful conversation or two and then maybe you will learn about where they might come or where their family originated from. Then, out of courtesy, I’m sure they’d love to know a bit about you too. If you’re the lucky person that meets me, you’ll learn very quickly that I know very little about Thailand’s politics, I do not think beauty is an appearance of fair, untanned, porcelain skin,  I do not know how to cook Pad-Thai, nor do I consider it a Thai food and I do not think I am the best nanny-material even though, “Those nannies from Thailand and the Philippines are so good with babies.”

 

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Secret Handshakes

Summer is over and the school year has begun. For me it is a time to buckle down and get several things done at once, every day until the summer. I work at various schools, I teach cello and I teach at a private learning centre for kids who just need a little extra help. I am a student. Some would say I bite off a lot and I do choke a few times but eventually it does get swallowed. At one point, I did coach too on top of all this (but that is a story for a different day). It has been a great joy returning to the school that makes my heart so happy for so many reasons but I also decided to take a leap of faith and plunge into another school too. The position I have is funny because it is completely not suitable for my personality. Ever since I was little I needed a stable, constant environment that I could warm up to and learn routines and be a part of. I am a sub so I go everywhere. Did this give me anxiety? Yes. I can’t tell you the number of times my heart pounds before I walk into a new school. It is even more anxiety-inducing when the school is bigger than the schools I ever went to or the kids are bigger than me. Somehow though I have managed to do it enough to find what I like and don’t like. Getting to witness so many different teaching styles is amazing because like all positions in life, you realize there are people who are exceptional at their role and people who are really bad at it. The more you see the more you know and the more you know the more you can pick out the ones who are just people who teach…not teachers. Being a teacher’s assistant makes you a fly on the wall and receptive to everything. In a classroom that utilizes the help you’re a fly in the classroom and build relationships with the teachers and students. In a classroom that doesn’t, you’re a fly in the corner. Some days I am ecstatic because I’ve fallen in love with elementary and then other days I am reminded that my somewhat sarcastic self belongs in older grades. Regardless, the best education is experience and I am learning more about myself and the teaching world every single day.

What I have learned about working with kids (and am still learning):

  1. The kids who need the most love will show it in the most unloving ways. (I think I found this on Pinterest somewhere when I was having a particular rough day)

Having a cactus personality works well with these kids because you don’t want to like them anymore than they want to like you. I have been spat on, defied, kicked, growled at, cussed at and stared down by 5-year olds. The hardest part was understanding that it is not a personal reflection but a reaction. Sometimes you will break through their wall, sometimes you won’t. However you cannot give up on them, not for a minute, because the keys to their true person might be uncovered in even the smallest moments of the day, in places you least expect. It took me half a year to realize that about some kids and I’ve loved their hearts ever since.

2. Make their day.

I wrote this on our staff expectations daily chore list in the summer because I realized the importance of being someone’s someone. I learned this key from working in the private learning centre. Sometimes it’s about making them feel like something about them is unique and distinct from other kids when it comes to connecting with you. In the Grade 3 class I am in, remembering 25 different handshakes is extremely challenging, especially when you have to remember which ones utilize an Australian accent (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy, snap, snap, clap, dab). It is as simple as saying, “I missed your smile so much” to 25 different handshakes in the doorway.

3. Be silly, be okay with looking ridiculous.

We went and celebrated a Nationals win at the canoe club the other weekend and the end of the night was a giant dance party by the bonfire. I left. I’m sorry but there are two things: a) I don’t dance b) I don’t want to watch my athletes dance, I feel so weird about it.

The secret third: c) When a kid asks you to dance…you do it.

Too often I have seen rigged teachers. You can’t sing, you can’t hum, you can’t move, but you can do the prescribed hand actions that have been directed to you. Nothing else. Isn’t that fun?  I’m not saying there needs to be flexible seating coming out of everyone’s yoo-hoos or big group cheers and dances…but kids have to make it through 12+ years of mandatory education, why not make it different and exciting? To get a kid to eat lunch I turn into a yum-mometer and make beeping noises over top of their various food items to figure out which is the most tasty and lunch-worthy.

4. Sometimes being traditional is good.

I am currently working in an amazing Grade 3 class. The teacher is absolutely a gem. She is older and does teach in a more formal way. However she is so kind and so gentle. They don’t sit in a million different places. They don’t learn something in a million different ways. They don’t have tinker boxes or maker spaces but they do have an environment that is calm and expectational.  The other day she used a record-player to play a read-aloud and taught the kids about antiques which they were so enthralled by. I don’t believe it is because she doesn’t want these new things for them, it is just that the space simply doesn’t support this. Now, being someone who had maker spaces and tinker labs all summer I know how great they can be but I also know that those were cultivated in moderation. We started with one and added them as kids became more and more responsible and the interest built. We could do that because we had the equivalent of three classrooms. There is a place for school and there is a place for summer camp. Knowing how to sit in a chair is an important skill, knowing how to push in your chair every time you leave is simply a good habit. It takes 20 minutes to do agendas because we want to make sure everyone is writing exactly what is to be written properly and no one is left behind. On Day 1, I started writing the agenda for a child to trace  because he had trouble forming letters and by Day 6 he came to me and said, “Look! I wrote almost the whole thing by myself except for the last sentence you did…maybe tomorrow I will be able to write the whole thing!” When was the last time you heard a kid take pride in writing their agenda? This teacher reminds me of Miss Honey from Matilda. She always has time to praise a child and listen to their stories. She has time for them. It’s not about the material things but about what fills your day.

5. I’ve religiously followed this advice from a Disneyland princess my whole life but it means more now than it ever did before: When you’re hugging a child, you can be the last one to let go because you never know how much they need it.

As a cactus human being, cuddles come few and far between but hugs are important to me. I think I watched a YouTube video on a former Disneyland princess talking about their audition processes and stuff and she said that piece of advice on hugs and it just stuck with me. I’ve used it ever since. Walking into the happy school on Friday I could feel the advice sticking on my forehead. There were a lot of hugs from kids I hadn’t seen in three weeks and each one was so special and long. There is a feeling of magic when you go from asking a child if he/she would like a hug so they feel better to them just doing it when they see you. A hug is trust, for a moment in time it is safe. Sometimes people get all antsy when kids hug and cling or hang or climb so you’re holding them, but I think that’s what makes each reunion so cool. They’re all different. Some kids want to hug you from their level because it’s important that they see you from their line of vision. Some kids want to hug you and hang, just to make sure you won’t let go of them. Some kids want to hug you and climb up so you’re holding them so they can get what feels like two hugs at once. Some kids want to hug you, climb up and just stay there and ponder life for a few minutes…because they need it. In a world that will, by nature, teach them the harsh realities and injustice, I don’t believe there is any reason why you would ever deny a person a feeling of safety in a moment of reunion, happiness, sadness or excitement. Disneyland princesses make kids believe in magic, fairytales and reach out to children in split seconds in real life, so clearly she knew what she was talking about.

There is absolutely no mathematical formula for what makes each kid-day a raving success. However there has been a consistency with any exceptional classroom I’ve been in…teachers don’t talk at students, they talk TO them. They are people first, students second. They have a relationship built on a foundation of trust, empathy and connection. No matter who the student is, where they come from or where they’re at, their future is valid. Their future is valued.

Here’s to the educators of everywhere, not just schools, who defy the norm and strive for building good people. Here’s to the children who are untamed, spirit-filled, feisty and fighters…may someone teach you to turn all of that into a power that will change our world.

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It Was Never About the “Could Nots” and “Can’t Haves”

Today marks a temporary end to an experience that has taught me more than coaching ever has. After being in the coaching world for six years, abruptly going back to my summer camp roots seemed like a far stretch. In fact on my first day of work there I sat in the office nearly in tears because I missed what I knew so much. Then slowly but surely everything started to have its reasons. I started to learn again. It started becoming a challenge again. There were things that I had no control over and no knowledge on how to deal with it but I learned, we all did.

The first day I was determined to establish a routine; that’s the first thing they tell you in a lot of kids courses, kids like routines. Kids with challenges like routine. So…here is my beef with routine. Routine is boring. Routine, no offence teachers, is too much like school and at summer camp we cannot be like school. Routine is not realistic. Traffic happens as do MVA’s and sicknesses that throw our lives around. I quickly learned that for some of these kids, life itself was more sporadic and spontaneous than anything I thought I knew. So why on earth would they thrive in an environment not similar to what they’ve only ever known? For a great portion of their day we encouraged them to act in the way they were designed to. This doesn’t mean we thrived on absolutely no schedule or set activities for the day-it just meant that when we promised something, we kept our word and when we said, “you’ll find out later”, we meant it. My routine on the first day did not work. Kids ate faster than I humanly thought was possible and it lessened the eating time by twenty minutes. Kids can get into a lot of stuff in twenty minutes. This was the day I sat in the office and contemplated what I was doing, I liked structure, strictness and a competitive edge and drive my athletes had. I thought to myself, “this is going to be a long summer”. Routine died that day at camp. The secret was having a routine in my head and not telling anybody.

Fast forward to today; I’d like to mention there were no tears shed today because it wasn’t sad to say goodbye. It was celebratory. It was a, “You can do it. You can conquer the world.” The kids who walked in here on the first day were not the same kids that walked out and for the better. We did that. So how did we do that?

First off, I had the most amazing leaders. These young adults grew up with these kids, tutor them and know them, their lives, their quarks, inside and out. Most important, they know how they grow up because they grew up the same way. They were the biggest asset. They saw kids for who they are, not just what papers and people may say about them. They could see the good in them but also knew when to be to-the-point about things that were wrong.  My contribution was the creativity and perhaps the fact that I came in from a different angle. The leaders led them to be good people today and I led them to be good people for tomorrow. Both of them are important. The way we dealt with discipline was not a trip to the supervisors office or in time-out chairs. There is ALWAYS a reason for a reaction, good or bad. So we came at it from a different perspective: let’s be over-the-moon ecstatic for exceptional behaviour and celebrate it. Every time. Every day. Each week. All summer. When there was a problem behaviour we didn’t baby, we didn’t soothe. There were no big speeches about right and wrong, good or bad, I’m calling your parents, sit here and think. There was, “And how are you going to make this better?”. “I don’t know” was accepted because honestly, if you don’t know that what you did was wrong how would you know what to do about it? However “I don’t know” didn’t mean you could walk away. “I don’t know” meant we added “yet” to the end of the sentence and we expected thinking to happen until they came up with the answer.  At some point it was mentioned, “you’re not a bad person, you’re a very good person who just did a really stupid thing.” Did that make sense to them? “I don’t know…yet”.

We did empathy focus. If someone got hurt by someone, either by mistake or on purpose, the “hurter” had to sit with the “hurt” until they felt better. Turns out this was the strangest thing I have witnessed (yes, beats pooping on the floor) because I realized we all needed lessons in empathy. The more the kid was hurt, the longer their buddy had to sit there…ironically saying “Stop being hurt so I can play”  for a bit was the go-to soothing phrase. Eventually though, two things happened: People stopped making drama about their tiny injuries or “He said, she said” because it was awkward having to sit together and figure it out in silence. The perpetrators stopped being perpetrators because it was awkward trying to figure out what to say in order to get them to feel better faster. This worked for both physical and verbal confrontations. I am not saying we expected kids to administer First Aid but we expected kids to acknowledge that we can hurt people both on purpose and by accident however both warrant an apology, empathetic actions and the ability to move forward.

The final piece was what I have decided to call, unstructured structure. What most people don’t know is that while we did majority of projects based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus, we administered it as Problem-Based Learning (oooh…fancy). I also combined it with the way I completed High School as, Self-Directed Learning. This meant that I explained what it was doing (the problem it was solving), what the final product looks like, and a few things I had noticed when I was making it. Other than that, there was no step-by-step, there were no written instructions, there was just a model example and plenty of helping hands. I’d say, “This is what it needs to be able to do, how you do it is up to you. Because of that, it doesn’t need to look like this but following it as a model will help. However, you must do it. No options.” They needed to compile their materials, figure out how much they needed of what, figure out what needed to be done first (because let’s face it, we only had 4 pairs of scissors to go around). I’ll say it again, I had amazing leaders because we made amazing messes. The only challenge to this was that I had two age groups that had vastly different needs but both needed to be stimulating and Pinterest can only go so far. Being creative has its perks. STEM turned into STEAM as we added the art component…HAH. Because apparently when you’re trying to make things simpler you add on an extra focus (that’s Orn logic for you right there). And that’s how “Make Herman Float” was born.

That’s all we did. My title for this post is perhaps confusing for those who haven’t figured out our strategy for how we tackled the summer. Yes, you can say we had amazing things like STEAM, Taekwondo, camp pets, bouncy castles, Olympic day, Pie-Your-Fave-Leader, property wide capture the flag, frog releasing ceremonies but those were just things that happened-the greatness of the summer was not because of those things. It was never about giving them things they didn’t have, it was never about making them be someone they couldn’t be, it was always about meeting them where they were at and then expecting them to be greater. It was about challenging them to be good people because we recognized their goodness daily, it was about allowing them to make their choices but expecting commitment to the result. To do this we had to do those things but it was not because of those things that they left the building as different citizens. Most importantly, it was allowing ourselves and them to develop a bond and a relationship. Some kids needed a leader they could rely on whenever and while some people would say that it shouldn’t happen because it’s not good for their development in a world that is constantly changing…how can you expect spontaneous, sporadic kids to develop their own learning foundations when they don’t have an actual foundation with someone they have chosen to trust? Everybody needs someone they’ve chosen. If we can be that someone, we will be that someone until we can no longer be someone for them. Yes, summer is over, but I truthfully believe that with the attention to character that the leaders have given and the love that we have entrusted and instilled in each kid, there is a foundation if not with all of us, at least some of us. Each kid had a leader that meant something to them. There is the memory of it and I think we all know the power of memories.

In the future I would consider a “Pie-Your-Fave-Kid” activity, but the grocery store would be sold out of Cool Whip🙂

The crystals we are drawn to are more

times than not

the crystals that we need

for healing.

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There are Mothers, then there’s Mommies.

I’ve been up since 5AM and only now am I in my bed, eating Little Caesar’s Pizza, drinking  Smirnoff Ice. The day has been quite the day. It really was not out of this world, I didn’t coach a war canoe to a medal or break any world records but for some reason it was just “quite the day”. Perhaps it was the fact that on this day my job had me hauling 20 children around Superstore looking at the different fruits and with little success, convincing them that they need to eat 4 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I did have success however at the bakery, where their noses pressed right up against the glass staring into the decorated cakes. There was equal success when we named a lobster in the tank in the seafood section, Leona. Suddenly I hear “Mommmmmmmmm!!!!” echoing from across the grocery store. How embarrassing. Didn’t those parents teach that kid to shut-up in the grocery store? “Mommmmmm!!!”, as we move closer and closer to the piercing noise. It has been a running joke within our camp that each of us leaders/supervisor take on a parent role to a group of kids who we call our own. They often come to us when they’re hurt, sad, or just need a little extra love. They also like to pit one another against each other (all in good fun though). They are our cuddles, they are our concern and although we do try and be as playful as possible we do sometimes have to lay down the law in our own special way. When our “sons” and “daughters” don’t show up to camp we are genuinely concerned and for most of the day, a bit saddened that our little buddies aren’t with us. “Mommmmmmm!!!” okay…this voice is sounding shockingly familiar now. Oh my god, I know whose voice this is. It’s my “daughter’s”.

“What do you think you’re doing?!?!?!? Why are you all the way over here????? If you need something use your feet and WALK to me. Are you kidding me right now?”

“I wanted to see if you would come if I called you that, and you did!!!”

In the moment, it was so humiliating, especially when on the civilized walk back I’m stopped by a lovely little woman who says to myself and my brood of 4 (as we have separated from the rest), “My, you have them so well trained”. Yeah k.

I’m a light weight drinker so I will just tell you now that this post has been slightly infused with some 5% alcoholic beverage. The biggest thing I have taken away from this position is how much power you have as “Mom”. To be called “Mom” is an incredible gift and burden in its own right.  After a particularly inspiring day where I talked to one of my children about their life I learned how much we just consider our lives as  what they are even though they are different from the norm. I have two mothers, although I call only one “Mom”. I do not believe that anybody can be Mom. Listening to the stories from these kids of what they consider to be normal Mom things I cannot help but wish and hope that one day, they experience a true Mom.

My mother had me at a young age. The decision to give me up for adoption must have been incredibly difficult. I’ve been told this and sometimes I felt like I was told that to lessen the blow that I was brought into the world when someone else wasn’t ready. My life was changed because someone else wasn’t ready for it. That was my mother and that is as far as that relationship goes.

You are supposed to live with your parents. At the very least, one of them. I don’t care what anybody says about that, we evolved as a species that exists from that single notion. When that doesn’t happen, it changes you. So you call someone else “Mom” if you’re lucky. Or you live with someone who can be like a “Mom” though you may never call her that.

The opinion I hold on Mom and Mothers has changed drastically. For example I don’t think that it is necessarily hard for all mothers to decide whether to give up their children for adoption, though it paints a pretty picture. The truth is, some mothers suck. Some mothers crank out children so fast, the family size box of cheerios still won’t cut it. You do not get to be a part-time parent. You do not get to leave your children in this world to look after themselves when you’re too tired or busy. I look in the faces of children who gleam of ambition and promise but are faded by the sad knowledge that they don’t have a Mom to show them that. They have a mother who made bad decisions.

Now Moms, Moms are heroes. They are the aunts, the cousins, the sisters, the neighbours who take on the role of expanding this ambition and taking a broken heart and piecing it back together. These moms are fierce, protective and would do anything to see their kids smile. They are relentless in their pursuit of parental imperfection and are never short of hugs, kisses or a shoulder to lean on.

Families come in all forms and ways. However the magnitude of a  child born to one woman, yet lays their heart and trust in another and the depth of that privilege are something that should never be lost or taken for granted. Yes, being adopted is a happy ending to a sad story but being called Mom is just as equally gratifying.

Please don’t worry Mom, I won’t be planning on turning my life into a remake of Matilda anytime soon. However I might just reconsider not being so embarrassed if I’m called that in the grocery store again.

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My Heart, Inspired.

Back in the early days of my blogging I seem to recall a moment where I admitted that I would never adopt or foster a kid. I’m not cold-hearted, I just knew me. I knew me at a time when I was a difficult person to live with because I hated being adopted. I knew me at a time when I couldn’t separate my reality from what I always wanted. I wanted a white-picket fence life with a dog and two parents who looked like me. My world was surrounded by diversity yet still had me feeling all alone. Now, I am a visible minority and have never felt so alike. I guess that is what maturity does to you or perhaps, realizing the bigger picture.

In a short summary, for a time, because I knew me, I knew I never wanted to adopt another “me”. I didn’t want the questions that come with having been adopted, I also didn’t want the reality that when I went looking, my biological parents were just a name on a sheet of paper.  I remember the breakdowns and the angry spells. There was madness and frustration in this world that I didn’t get to choose what happened to my future as person in a blended family. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing everything about who I was, unlike others. It was for that reason that I chose and decided (although never had “family” on my mind), that I didn’t want my future children to go through the same thing. Bluntly put, I didn’t want to do deal with it-someone else could.

A lot has changed since then. Somehow no matter how hard I try to avoid it, I attract kids with baggage. I attract mini-me’s. For some reason despite not knowing the answers to every complicated situation I seem to enjoy finding the solution. The other day I became so in depth with what I was doing that I looked up “Requirements to be a Foster Parent”. Didn’t even blink, didn’t even question. My white-picket fence dream life is on a serious overhaul. I thought, this world has so many children. It has so many spoiled, bratty, self-centred children raised by parents who expect the same. It has so many underprivileged, sad, hopeless children raised by parents who live the same. Sometimes the combinations mix and that’s when you get the champion out of the woodwork. But what about those who will never see that “other” side? What about those who are products of their environment to a tee? This includes the spoiled ones but its sadness is equal to its counterpart.

Something I wish people knew more about mini-me’s is this: Sometimes having this back story that is not all picket-fence and doting Grandmas makes you grow up a little faster than those around you. It doesn’t mean we’re incapable of loving or caring, it just means we prioritize. If you met me at first glance you would think I am a dictator of children. The reality is, and I wish this didn’t overtake so much, I was raised to be diligent and obedient (although I stray from this one a little). The way that I am has no time for a child who is wild or goes outside of this. I’m working on it, I promise. But I love the kids who are roughed up, who ask for love in the most unloving ways and those who just are looking for “something” that can’t be bought but has to be instilled. Sometimes I like to think that my style and brain gears more towards them because we expect a lot from each other mutually both of sheer stubbornness but also because we want to see if we’re both strong enough to see it through. Somehow this mentality ends up being characteristics of foster kids. Survival of the bravest. I love brave people but most importantly I love helping people be brave.

Sitting on a pool deck today, many wondered why this little boy came on the field trip even though he can’t swim and hates getting wet. I sat around the pool, legs crossed, ready to supervise the chaos. With a quick gesture of his fingers I find myself the human lazy-boy to a 4-year old who proceeds to size up his hands with mine as he sits on my lap. He is intrigued by the camera on my phone and Pokemon Go. He is captivated by my sparkly watch and gestures that it is 3 o’clock after telling him to look at where the little hand is. He is 4. For a moment he is like any other kid with gadgets and gizmos. Suddenly these things get put down (onto the wet surface I might add…but I’m ruining the moment…sorry). These things get put down and suddenly this little body curls up into a ball and he nuzzles his head into my neck. And we just sit there. In amidst the chaos that is a public, outdoor swimming pool, he chose this moment to steal my heart. I was never meant for the picket fence life. My heart, inspired.

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