Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thoughts for our students on Remembrance Day

When I was a little girl, I attended Remembrance Day services at my school every year, just like we do.
I found our Remembrance Day services interesting, but mostly they were a way to get variety from being in the classroom all day.
I remember we tried very hard to be quiet during the moment of silence, but I don't think we always stayed as quiet as we could have. In fact, one year, just before the moment of silence, our principal reminded us that we didn’t all need to cough during that time.
Yet in my own little girl way, I did try to take the services seriously. Mostly, however, I was glad that war had only happened long ago and far away.
I was glad to remember and pay tribute to those who’d served in it. But I was also glad it was all over.
There would be no more war in Canada, I thought.
And in our country at that time, in my small town, in my school, in my neighborhood, in my family, there was mostly peace. No war. Only peace.
But as I grew up, I learned what you already know -- that there isn’t peace everywhere in the world.
When I became a teacher and spent a year teaching in a beautiful but difficult country on the other side of the world, I learned what it feels like to live in a place where you can’t count on having peace around your home.
I was never hurt by any of the conflicts there, but I did feel afraid sometimes.
Living there, and seeing how hard it was for the local people during times of conflict, helped me to understand a little of what it’s like for people who live in places where there isn’t always peace.
These days, it seems like there are wars and conflicts in many places around the world.
Sometimes, it seems like there’s conflict in most places.
And I’ve learned enough to know that war hurts everyone around it.
It hurts the armed forces personnel who get hurt or give their lives.
It hurts families who lose their homes or their crops or their jobs.
It hurts children who have to leave their parents in order to move to a safer place.
And it hurts everyone who lives with constant fear, because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them, and because they don’t know whom they can trust.
All the problems that go along with war make me even more grateful I live in Canada.
I’m grateful there are no official wars going on in our country.
One people group isn’t fighting another group of people, at least not officially.
I’m very grateful for my home in Alberta. And I’m grateful for our school.
I feel blessed every day that I get to teach here, to be with you.
Most of the time, we Canadians live in peace. We enjoy freedom and we enjoy safety. Almost every day.
But the incidents in Ottawa, our own capital city,
just a few weeks ago,
when two soldiers were killed simply because they were Canadian soldiers,
keeping the peace in Canada,
reminded me that, even in Canada, we don’t have peace all the time.
as we remember the many soldiers who fought in various wars throughout history,
and the many Canadians who go overseas to help people find peace in other countries--
we also remember Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent,
who died in those senseless attacks in Ottawa just weeks ago.
We’re grateful the Canadian government is planning to make stricter laws,
so they can prevent those kinds of acts from happening again.
But here in Alberta,
in our school,
we are safe.
We’re at peace.
The events in Ottawa have nothing to do with us.
Actually, they do.
The events in Ottawa, when those soldiers died, have important lessons to teach us.
They remind us that making peace, and keeping peace –
building safety in our province, our country, and every other place around the world—
has a lot to do with us.
Peace and safety start with you and me—
here at our school,
here in our neighborhoods
and at home in our families.
When we’re kind to other students,
even kids who don’t seem as cool as we want ourselves to be...
When we accept an invitation for friendship from a classmate,
even if that person isn’t exactly the person we were hoping to be friends with...
When we’re kind to someone who’s younger...
or older...
or from another class...
or from someone who has special needs... 
When we’re kind to someone who has learning challenges,
or who doesn’t always know how to make friends
and sometimes goes about it in the wrong way...
When we speak kindly about others behind their backs,
even if those people don't always speak kindly about us...
When we take time to help each other—
instead of rushing by to play outside --
or instead of making fun because that person can’t do it on their own...
When we say “Good job,” because someone tried hard,
rather than pointing out that they didn’t do things perfectly...
When we stand up to someone who’s being unkind, perhaps acting like a bully,
and when we tell them to STOP...
When we solve our problems in a positive way,
and encourage other people to do the same --
instead of getting people into trouble or paying them back for how they’ve hurt us...
And, surprisingly, even when we think kindly about others,
trying to understand them
instead of putting them down or complaining about them...
When we do those things, you and I are making peace.
We’re building safety.
We’re building peace and safety in our classes.
In our school.
On our playground.
In our neighborhoods.
In our families.
We’re building peace in our relationships.
We're building peace in our hearts.
And we’re building the habits of peace.
As we continue to practice the habits of peace where we are now,
at the age we are now,
we’ll make those habits stronger.
And as we grow,
we’ll take the habits of peace-building to other schools we attend,
to relationships with more and more people--
--here in Alberta,
across Canada---
and for some of us, maybe even around the world.
So today, as we look back and remember, let’s also look forward and remember –
let’s remember the kind of future we want to have.
We do want a life of peace and safety for ourselves, for our families, for our friends.
So let’s keep building a world that has peace and safety in it.
Let’s build it--
one thought,
one word,
one action at a time.
-      Laureen F. Guenther

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The teacher becomes a learner

I took a photography course this summer,
and now I’m becoming a much better photographer.
But at the time, I wasn’t so thrilled about my learning.
The first morning, as I settled into my seat,
it took me only about two minutes
to realize I was the least-experienced photographer in the class –
and that my camera was, by far, the simplest model.
I wondered if I even belonged there.
And, as our teacher dove into explaining camera technology,
I was quickly in over my head.
For most of the two-day course,
I felt a concept or two behind.
The most painful part was the challenge to my self-image --
knowing I was the “weak student”.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling, because, as an adult,
I can focus most of my learning in areas where it’s easy to feel I thrive.
(I haven’t, for instance, taken any engineering classes
or enrolled in graduate level chemistry lately.)
But, despite my lack of confidence,
I persevered,
I improved,
and, when the course was over,
I walked away much smarter – and happier -- than when it began.
This week,
I went back to class again,
this time as a teacher.
Now I’m exploring the strengths and challenges of my own new set of learners.
Some of my children may also struggle to learn –
perhaps for an hour or a day.
Perhaps for a month, perhaps for a year.
Whatever the reason for the struggle,
and no matter how long it lasts,
these are six things I want to remember:
1)    Each student’s equipment is uniquely shaped to accomplish his purposes.
I’d chosen my camera,
so much less complex than my classmates’,
because it fits my purposes;
it takes good-enough pictures, yet is small enough to carry easily.
Each child in my class has also come with his own set of learning equipment.
It’s differently developed than his classmates’,
but is perfectly designed to accomplish his purposes in this world.
Just as my photography instructor didn’t scold me –
or ignore me –
because I hadn’t brought a more sophisticated camera,
I don’t want a struggling child in my class to think I’m disappointed with his equipment.
Nor do I want him to feel he’s less valuable to me, just because his equipment is different.
2)    My children need to have me point out their strengths.
When I felt so humble in that photography class,
I was quick to reassure myself with
I have strengths in other areas.
When one of my children struggles to learn,
I want to help her do the same thing:
to know she has strengths in other areas,
to understand what those strengths are,
and to be able to tell herself so.
I also want her to know that the strengths not listed on her report card
may be just as important as those that are.
3)    My students carry more than I realize -- and their burdens may be heavy.
I had a migraine the whole first day of my class,
and I wasn’t surprised that the pain made it even more difficult to absorb new information.
I was fascinated, though,
that the headache made it very easy to get distracted by thoughts I can usually ignore.
My migraine reminded me how hard it is for children to learn when they don’t feel well –
and, even more, that some of them carry much greater burdens than a day-long headache. Family sorrows.
Money worries.
Playground conflicts.
World-size fears.
I marvel, sometimes,
that a child can even pretend to care about addition facts and capital letters
when he’s afraid someone will say mean things to him at recess,
or worried Mom might not come home tonight.
I aim to know my students’ needs and joys as well as I can,
but I can’t know everything.
For the moments when a child doesn’t listen,
doesn’t try,
and doesn’t seem to care,
I want to let him know I care about him anyway.
And for the times when I just don’t understand,
I will extend grace.
4)    My struggling learners might not want to ask questions.
Although I often needed help in that photography class,
I sometimes had no clue how to phrase my questions.
Other times,
I knew what to ask,
but was too proud to show my teacher and classmates how much I didn’t know.
As I, at my age, had a hard time with that,
I reminded myself how much harder that can be for my children.
When a student struggles to learn, she too may not know how to ask for help,
or she may be too embarrassed to ask.
I want to make our classroom a place where she feels it’s always safe to ask.
More than that,
I want to remember to ask her questions,
specific questions that show me how much she does or doesn’t understand,
and how much I still need to teach her.
5)    My little learners might get tired of trying.
At the moments when I felt most discouraged in that photography course,
I got a bit childish –
I didn’t even want to practice my developing skills.
I almost –
but not quite –
fell into the trap of believing “I’m never going to catch up with my classmates,
so why should I try?”
I could see why a discouraged young learner can easily fall into that trap,
one he doesn’t know is there.
He has not yet learned that persistence is essential –
and that it has benefits.
I want to go beyond encouraging that little learner to try.
In every situation,
I want to show him how to try,
and I want to teach him that trying is worth it.
6)   If I’m a good teacher, I’ll be an adaptable teacher.
Just as my instructor adapted his teaching to help me get the best use from my camera,
I need to choose my words and methods carefully
to help my children get the best learning out of their equipment.
If one of my children struggles,
I want to take time to adapt the content I teach,
and the methods I use to teach it.
I need to understand how she learns,
and I need to teach her in the way she learns.
I may be confident I'm a good teacher,
but if I don’t adapt my teaching to the needs of a struggling child,
I am not a good teacher to her.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Invisible Mothers

This Mother's Day,
we’ll give sweet cards,
make long-distance calls
and buy bunches and bunches of flowers.
Many mothers among us will be honoured and praised and cheered.

They deserve every bit of that, and a whole lot more.

But there are some women among us, also mothers,
who won’t receive cards, or calls, or flowers.

They won’t receive public praise or honor.
No one will stand and call them blessed.

These mothers are invisible.

They are the women who used to be mothers,

but lost their children
-- to death, to marital break-ups, to estrangement, to abduction.

They are the women who gave their hearts and lives to raising one or more children, as best they knew how...

but received rejection in return.

They are the women who tried to become mothers,

but were stymied by infertility, miscarriage, or "failed" adoption....or all three.

They are the women who gave birth before they were ready to become mothers...

and placed their child for adoption,

so their child would have a mother,

and some other woman would have a child.

They are the women who were unexpectedly pregnant and chose to abort their babies...

and have carried secret guilt and sorrow ever since.

They are the women who dreamed, expected, and longed to be married and have children,

but for whom God had other plans.

They are the women who quietly, lovingly, sacrificially mother other people’s children...

as aunts, as big sisters, as teachers, as caregivers, as medical practitioners...

but will never be called “mother”,

and long to hear that they're appreciated anyway.

They are the women who are all around us.

We see them every day.

We admire them.

We laugh with them.

We gladly receive what they do.

But somehow, on Mother’s Day,

we leave them in the shadows.

This Mother’s Day,

let's pray God will open our eyes and our hearts,

to see and to applaud,

the love, the sorrow and the sacrifice

                of all mothers...
even those who are invisible.