Everybody’s Fine

The other day I saw something as I scrolled through my instagram about not counting down the days to something being done because eventually you’ll be counting down the days of your life. It was the most motivational and dark post I had seen in a while and I had to take a step back and think about it. I’ve always had jobs where there is a countdown: a countdown to a regatta, a countdown to a test, a countdown to the school year being over…everything is/was a continuous countdown. My latest post up until this one was about how much I like what I do and how much I love the kids I work with. It’s all true. However I feel I must counterbalance the sunshine and rainbows that other post seemed to fart out. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the last few weeks I have come home and just sat exhausted. I can’t speak for other people who try to do this but the gist of the task is to help kids who have learning challenges. We’re not teaching them which perhaps makes it more tricky because sometimes you are walking blindfolded trying to figure out what others want you to do and other times things are planned minute-by-minute and you wonder how to fit it all in. But we do it. This is probably one of the few positions where you really get to build a strong, solid, relationship with a kid because you are their person. Everybody has “their” person. This “person” picks them up for lunch or drops them off. This “person” sees you in the morning or afternoon. This “person” follows the plan. This “person” is lost in the plan. This “person” goes where they’re needed. Their kids ask this “person” the questions even if they do not even know what’s going on. They confide in their “person”. We try to be the “person”. We have to be the “person” for many kids. We are so busy being other people’s “persons” that sometimes it’s like you forget you’re a person too. You don’t have the time. Going with the flow is one thing but being swept by a current is a complete other. This is the challenge every day. The truth is that there are children who need help academically and then there are those who need help socially, emotionally, or just being at school without being some sort of hazard. These children pop up EVERYWHERE. For someone like me who has a really big challenge with change (seriously, I will self admit I am a bit like Sheldon Cooper) watching these kids come and go is like a life-size whack-a-mole game…and you’ve only got one hand to do it with. Here’s the thing about the way that works, we, the “persons” can suck it up and deal with it but it’s kids who suffer from what happens when their “person” is gone. I’ll tell you something, never in my life did I think I would have to grit my teeth and smile when I was asked by a young person “Why don’t I get anybody to help me?” “How come nobody comes in and helps me?” I’ve lived a life where honesty is my number one policy but in this case, honesty would have been heartbreaking. Saying, “there aren’t enough of us to go around” or “I really don’t know”…it’s not motivating and it doesn’t solve anything. The next closest thing I could think of was, “I know it’s frustrating and I am sorry.” What frightens me the most about a kid who realizes the disparity is that for every kid who actually says something, there are at least twice as many who are thinking it. They might not know how to add, but they know when things aren’t adding. Kids seldom advocate for their right to learn. The young ones who do are told “that’s just the way it is”. If they’re older they’re usually in High School and their life path has already been set for them. That scares me: A group of kids who didn’t fit the severity mold to get help but aren’t strong enough to do without and they will go through life believing that they aren’t important. We tell kids they can be anything they want to be if they put their mind to it but WE, the “people”, shape who they are too. If we’re not there shaping, they’re there struggling, struggling, struggling and eventually, settling. That’s a whole group of kids who could have made it. A whole group of kids who could have proven the world wrong about their abilities and they just settled. They aren’t brilliant, they aren’t crappy, they’re just fine. Everybody is just fine.

We are living in a world where it’s okay to just be fine. We go through each day fine. We tell kids they’re fine. We tell ourselves we’re fine. I’ll tell you something, we’ve created a society that’s okay with fine and we’re seeing it unfold now with kids who are said to be fine when they’re not. I’m not okay with fine, I’m not okay with being molded into fine and I’m not okay with molding kids to be just fine. However, if we keep this trend up where education is still the bottom of the barrel as are the people in it and bringing in Tall Ships each summer is the top, this is not going to be a fine situation. I will not be fine with it either. I am not counting down the days until it’s done. I’ve just started counting up.

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Making it Count

Can you believe that when I was a teenager in High School I wanted to be a family lawyer? I never wanted kids and if you asked me to describe my perfect life it would have absolutely nothing to do with what I’m doing now. If you asked me to describe my life at 22 I would say I would be living in a dorm room, finishing my Psychology degree, eating Mr. Noodles, and beginning the process of being the most feared family lawyer of all time. That was my “dream”. I wanted to be a family lawyer because I wanted to shut bad families down. I wanted to remove kids from homes and I wanted to punish people for having too many of them they couldn’t take care of. I wanted to be brutal, but smart. I was working on a Psychology degree and found it thoroughly boring. Now I am sitting here in Starbucks putting the final touches on a final paper that will finish off my History degree. The Arts degree, that when I was 11, was told would be useless and get me nowhere. Being a teacher would mean I would hit a “ceiling” and that I should shoot as high as possible. The voice that spoke that to me would be my inner voice for years. Being a teacher would be the lowest downgrade of my life. I failed things. When I failed at those things it hit me so hard. When I was a kid it was a dream to be veterinarian, then a Sport Physiotherapist because those things made money. Then it was a lawyer. Yet, it was still so unfulfilling. Now I’m sitting here finishing off a useless Arts degree.

In the past year a lot of things have changed. I no longer coach. That passion was whisked from under my feet and I haven’t been able to recover yet. I used to run girls leadership groups, coach competitive groups, attend sport conferences and every single day of my life was dedicated to coaching. Now it’s not. I was a writer for the Female Coaching Network and haven’t written a single thing in a whole year. Coaching was my identity and now it’s weird to say that I work in a school. Sometimes I don’t even say I’m an EPA because some days I still wish I was a coach. The allure of that doesn’t seem as strong. Except it is. I realized that I spent so much time working on people at the height of their life that I forgot there was a whole other world out there of people who haven’t even found it yet. My sole intention of being a family lawyer was to redeem my childhood but then I realized that by the time a kid reached me in the court system they’ve already lost so much. I wanted to focus on building strong kids instead and that starts in the classroom. Except it wouldn’t be that easy because I couldn’t just go to school to be a teacher. I needed a degree first. I think I was swayed away from a Psychology degree mainly because I didn’t ever want to look at a kid and diagnose their brain. I didn’t want to know which part made this part do this etc. I have a learning disability and hated being told I was “special”.  It was a hard fight, fighting against being “special” and not letting it be an obstacle. I just wanted someone to teach me something meaningful in a meaningful way. I remember when I had knee surgery, in the early stages my doctor was mentoring a student and he said, “look at the x-ray but never base everything from it. Diagnose the patient first and what you see first.” I’ve never had a stronger knee. History has always been important to me mainly because I know very little about mine. As you get older you realize how important it is to know about it. So, from there I worked on understanding history with the hope that one day I could share that with others. I’ll be a teacher, one day.

In the last few months I have spent my evenings studying and then frantically planning. Don’t tell me not to do it because I’ve been planning since the day I was born. Everyday I am greeted at the Learning Centre door by a girl who has stolen my heart (but I will be completely honest, most kids steal my heart). I walk into the staffroom to get my coffee and load up one of my many mugs from my mug collection, while listening to the banter of teachers about to start their day. I walk out to the portable classroom where again, I am greeted by some Brownie girls and somehow manage to survive some small-talk (if you know me, you’ll know I am very socially awkward). In the classroom I get to see two other students who I work with, one of them is always smiley, the other smiles with his eyes. We do the daily dish: “What did you do last night? What did you eat? Who were you with?” What’s important here is that we all do it. The four of us. Not just them talking to me but I like it when they know that life sucks as a young adult sometimes too. It’s been equated to a family dinner where everyone is supposed to talk about their day only this way we’re talking about our evenings. We discuss things that are important and social problems. We read. Then we work. We work hard and I usually lose my shit once during that time. “Why is this place a mess? I just cleaned this table up yesterday? Why didn’t you put this away where it belongs, now we have to search every folder to find it!!!!” There’s laughing because Miss Ornmadee losing her shit is like watching a chihuahua bark because they need to go out to pee. There’s recess, then it’s my favourite time of all time. I get all 8 of my kids with me. We do something artsy or scientific or random that usually pisses someone off. Then we just enjoy each other’s company. Or somedays we’re bothered by each other’s company. However I would never remove a single day. The other day we made unicorn frappucinos. Sometimes we do guided painting (Ornmadee loses her shit twice during this time). We dance and we take pictures. I post pictures up because as one of my kids said, “This place is our home” Home has pictures. Home is messy. Home laughs real loudly and there’s crying too. Lunch rolls around and I get to observe a human zoo during feeding time. I question many parenting styles as the results are sitting in front of me snorting yogurt tubes. I get my lunch, usually studying while eating. The afternoon I get to work with my ninth kid who I think enjoys my company but I’m not really sure. Sometimes I can make her laugh, sometimes I really piss her off. She says goodbye before getting on the bus to go home though so it must be ok. Then I make my way back to the Learning Centre for my final 15 minutes of the day. These are the most important minutes of my day. I get to see my fellow EPAs who love each of those kids so dearly, too. We get to try and make their day one last time. I go outside with my older kids to get fresh air. We talk about what we’re doing in the evening and how the rest of the school day went. I get to breathe and not plan anything or run after someone. This day wasn’t a fairytale, it never is. It’s hard and long. We say goodbye. We hug like we’re never seeing each other again. We say goodnight. 8 kids=8 times. Somedays some people need longer hugs than others. During those moments I forget that I was never really a huggy person because then it’s not about me. I go home to study some more or to my second job (where I am basically doing a condensed version of this day in 3 hours). Every once in a while I get to sit here and type stuff like this. I laugh because in the moments of those days I think, “Can this day get any worse” but then I go home and think “I would like to try and do it again”. On the weekends I get to go out, horseback ride, shop, hang out with friends, go to breakfasts…and every weekend I wish how much my nine kids could be part of those days.

10 years ago I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me this is what a typical day would look like for me. Instead, I’m sitting here, honest to Buddha, wondering how I got so lucky. I think about it every single day when I get hugged or smiled at, without fail. How does it just keep getting better and better right when I think it’s already the best day I’ve ever had?

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The writing prompt was, “What is the most important thing (insert anybody’s name here) has taught you?” I think back to wee Ornmadee who hid under the preschool and kindergarten tables because she hated kids.

Thoughts from a Non-Mom

I have never been much older than the kids I’ve worked with as a coach, leader, EPA, whatever…this comes as both a blessing and curse. I love the relationship you can build and the mentorship you can provide because let’s face it, when you were younger there was probably a younger adult who you confided in more than your fifty year-old neighbour. Not dissing the neighbour, I’m sure they’re lovely. It is also curse. You’re almost never prepared for a lot that comes your way and you learn as you go. Nobody takes you seriously because you’re young but you’re old enough to know that it’s not right. Well buckle in, because a few things are not right.

  1. LOOK AT YOUR KID’S PHONES.

Your kids don’t deserve “privacy” or the “right to explore electronics independently”. Until they can understand the Charter of Rights and Freedoms-just no. More specifically, check your kids “friends” account. These are the separate accounts that you have to request to follow and it usually has some dumb name like “sallysfriendsnohaterz”. No, they are not posting nudes. However, a lot of them are making their lives sound incredibly miserable. Or they’re just really self-centred. Or they’re trying to solve their social problems by posting passive aggressive comments on their selfies or photos of their feet. It’s embarrassing.

2. Kids are self-centred and need to be mentored on how to look beyond their own world.

This mostly has to do with the above. I don’t know how more and more kids have more time to filter and critique 50 selfies of the same pose and yet, “Oh, Rachel has a very busy life. She’s in 5 sports this season.” Something’s not adding up. Quality vs. quantity. A kid who spends their evenings looking at themselves in selfies is not a confident kid. They’re incredibly conceited or incredibly insecure. Figure out which one it is and act accordingly.

3. Register kids in less things that serve them, and register them in more things that serve OTHERS.

I have yet to meet a kid who volunteers for something and yet I remember every single one of my friends actively and consistently volunteering for something, whether they were volunteering in dance classes, SPCA, the Mustard Seed, or venturing on their own for something they were passionate about. Guess what? Developing this skill will greatly reduce the problems in bulletin #1 and #2. “But they’re so busy, we have no time.” If it’s important, then you’ll find time.

4.  Teach your kids about where babies come from. Be current and don’t be creepy about it. If you can’t do it, find someone who can and who your kid trusts. Don’t get your neighbour down the street because she happens to be a woman.

No, babies do not come out of belly buttons. Kids are learning earlier and earlier about SOME things, but not all things. And if they do not hear it from you, they will hear it in sporadic, most likely inaccurate ways from someone else. As a coach and as a current wanderer of halls, I’ve heard MANY things. It’s weird what kids say when they think you’re not listening.

5. Your kids aren’t special.

To you they are special. To the rest of the world they are kids. This means A) they don’t get an extra piece of pizza just because they want one B) they’re not going to be babied when they’re rude (because they will be and you know it)  C) they don’t get things they don’t deserve.

6. If you do not have a suggestion or plan on helping alleviate a problem, don’t complain about it.

In other words, make it happen. Do it yourself. Don’t like something? Do something about it.

7. Just because your kids CAN have something, doesn’t mean they should.

They don’t need the light up shoes or the hover boards that light up on fire. Could they work for them? Yes.

8. Stop making every holiday a reason to blow money on kids.

They need your time more than your money (although I know that being a former teenager I would’ve hated this suggestion).

9. Don’t live in the past. At least TRY to appreciate what they value in the present.

Did you know kids are obsessed with these things called musica.ly’s ? Or exercising creativity on vsco ? Or snapchat filters? With moderation, they are not a one way ticket to them becoming prostitutes or having low self-esteems or body image problems. In fact, I’ve seen some pretty shy kids turn out some incredible work where they’re allowed to be creative in a way that matters to them.

10. Kids are still creative but we need to adapt too.

One of the hardest things about growing up was watching friends lose their imaginations. Everything became real and there was no time to imagine things. Kids imagine things all the time but they’re not necessarily going to paint it out, or write it out anymore. It’s in the things they say to you when you’ve nurtured that bond with them to be able to do so.  It’s in the things they post. It’s in the photos they take. It’s less about saying they lack creativity and more about us searching a little deeper to find it.

Goodnight.

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The Power of Food

Feed your kid. Feed them good food. Feed them like Kings and Queens not because you’re spoiling them but because they have a full six hour marathon of a day they are about to run and you know what happens to cars with no fuel? They don’t run (I know, mind blowing right?)

When I was in elementary school we did not have a breakfast program. Then, it emerged and I had a hard time understanding what kind of person would send their kid to school on an empty stomach. I thought, “this breakfast thing is just letting bad parents be lazy and not be parents at all”. This is partially true, there are really bad parents out there and often it’s the ones who don’t think they’re bad at all that are the worst. However there are also really good parents who have, just like everybody else, been given a really crappy hand of cards. They’re shit outta luck. They’re playing a triage scenario to figure out which of their 3 children who they have been left to raise on their own, will be going without breakfast today. We call them bad parents as we scarf down a meal prepared with ingredients from Pete’s Froutique. I don’t want to dwell on the definition of a bad parent though. This isn’t even about the kid who occasionally is just really disorganized and misses breakfast. This isn’t the defiant teenager either. This is about the kid who goes fuel-less daily and only thrives mainly on filthy diesel when the opportunity arises.

Kids who don’t eat aren’t productive. They could be the best behaved kid in the room but they will eventually succumb to their brains being in their stomachs. Lack of concentration and inability to pay attention to their own work will set them behind. As if we need more kids set behind. They are not going to be able to remember information. Since we live in an age where majority of education is ruled by memorization we can see how this becomes a problem. No information retention=poor academic results. We have all heard of the term “hangry” and while we joke about it, I have actually seen this in action in saddest ways possible. “Hangry” is the slang term for being so hungry that you’re angry. It’s used in a jokingly way but the more I’m around the children the more I realize it’s not even a joke at all. In reality, being hungry actually does create aggression issues, and behavioural problems in children. What happens then? You’re the kid who can’t control their temper and nobody wants to be around you. You’re friendless or you’re the kid who’s annoying and disruptive. Being consistently hungry has now opened a pathway for issues even beyond academic struggles. Guess what? Other kids won’t understand that. All they see is a nuisance.

Does this mean you’re responsible for everybody else’s children? No (although “it takes a village” has worked in other cultures beautifully). However, Suzie is telling you that Sally only eats chips for lunch and snack for a reason. She knows she has things that Sally doesn’t have. She’s noticing not every parent is the same.  So rather than talk about the fact that it’s not your problem or concern just remember that not every parent is terrible but whether or not they are, there is only one person who truly suffers at the end of it all. It’s the kid pacing manically in their class because they can’t focus. It’s the kid falling asleep in their chair. These aren’t kids who necessarily need to be locked away. They’re kids who need to be consistently fed and then maybe their day can begin because their tank is full. Schools shouldn’t be responsible for feeding other people’s kids but they do because the effects of not doing it affect the school environment. It affects everybody’s day who has to co-exist with hungry children. Fuel your kids up. Know which kids don’t get fuel and don’t try to ignore it. It’s reality and you cannot be blind to this. Your kids aren’t. Give your kids variety. Give them your best. Somebody in their class isn’t being given their best and they need the support. You’re not their friend who feeds them what they want. You’re the parent who has to give them what they need. If you can make it happen, make it happen. Feed your kids, and then feed some more.

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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.

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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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