We sit together on the back porch, knitting, crocheting, sewing and talking. We let the sun warm us and comment on how fast the snow is melting. We drink a beer.
We talk about our children, our parents, our spouses, our pets, our work. We talk about hospital schedules and school schedules, nurses and teachers. We cannot know what will come, though we know it will not be easy. Soon there will be a puppy. Soon there will be a birthday. Soon she will start a new treatment and maybe it will work. If it’s in Toronto, maybe N can stay here & I will drive him to school or maybe he can stay there and they can walk him. But for now, we don’t know the new protocol and there is nothing we can do.
There is nothing any of us can do. So we knit, crochet, sew and talk, marveling at the unexpected warmth and hoping it lasts.
He’s stayed up too late, reading, for several nights, even though we’ve turned off his light and told him to go to sleep (he reads by the nightlight if the book is “so good I can’t help it”), so this was entirely his fault.
And yet… something was different this morning. When we sat on the couch to talk, he burrowed into my lap and cried. Today the world was too much for him. Tears rolled down his cheeks until he drifted off to sleep; I held him for as long as I could.
I woke him gently. I had to go to work. We struck a deal: go outside; play the math game; call at least one grandma. Grandmas understand.
And I let him stay home. Because even though we are trying to make things feel normal, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and we are all tired. Some days it’s ok to crawl back into bed, stay home from school and call your grandma.
I do not, in fact, know what he thinks, but I keep my head still and say nothing.
“They need to be teaching kids, you know, how to invest and how to balance your checkbook.”
These, I think, are wildly different skills, but ok. Sure. Good things to teach. I risk a slight nod of my head.
Thus encouraged, he continues, “And kids should have to take Phys Ed right through grade 12. When I was in high school it was only grade 9, but that’s not enough. They need to learn to be active.” I continue to listen attentively. “And then, if they taught, you know, how to cook and, like, nutrition. That would be perfect. I mean, think of how much that would save our society on health care.”
He has more ideas, but at this point I am distracted by two things. First, I’m imagining the absolute chaos that would come from trying to install kitchens in every school. Didn’t we just finish taking those out? How much would this cost? And I’m already down a rabbit hole thinking about allergies & religious food accommodations, not to mention the kids who are vegetarian, vegan or… the possibilities are endless. Maybe we could have a vegan class? Or a celiac class? How would that work? What could we teach them to cook? Who would teach these courses? And what of the the gym space for all that Phys Ed? We would need a lot of gym space… Second, I am distracted because he is scraping the plaque off my teeth with a very sharp tool – and he is still talking.
When he pauses both activities, I tell him that the Ministry of Education added financial literacy to the math curriculum this year. He is delighted. “In what grades?” he wants to know. Um… all? at least through grade 8? I don’t know – I’m an English teacher for Heaven’s sake. Will his grade 7 son learn financial literacy during this school year? I wait for a pause in the scraping and gently remind him that we are teaching in a pandemic. He has chosen to have his children completely virtual. The teachers didn’t even get the new curriculum until the end of June. In a pandemic. With no PD. Maybe he could go gentle on his expectations for this year? He agrees that this seems reasonable.
He’s using the floss now and talking about the housing market. Safer topic for me, and I let my mind wander again as I consider just how much people expect of teachers. This hygienist is, I suspect, a really good father. He loves his children and wants the best for them. But… wow… school has become so much more than reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Clearly, he believes that we should be educating the whole child; so do I, though I think we mean it in different ways.
I think about all the students I have taught this year, children I have never seen without a mask on; children I have never sat with, shoulder-to-shoulder, to talk about their writing or discuss a book. I imagine the fun of taking them outside, of cooking with them… I’d let someone else teach the financial literacy part… we could go camping…
But then I’m back in the dentist’s chair and I’m an English teacher and it’s still a pandemic. At least my teeth are clean.
I had a grumpy day. First of all, this is supposed to be March Break & it is not. I reserve the right to be fussy about this all week. Both boys woke up grumpy and whiny. I woke up grumpy, too, so I couldn’t even say anything. We ran out of eggs for breakfast. It was colder than I expected outside. I nearly missed an important meeting. It was just one of those days.
I planned to write before I went to school, but I ended up helping with a last-minute assignment for *someone’s* grade 7 class. I planned to write when I got to work, but I had a meeting that I nearly forgot. Then I got sidetracked. Then… well, I stayed grumpy, so I didn’t write.
I took my daily walk, but my heel hurt for the beginning of it. Still, the walk was the right choice: I started to ungrump.
When I got home, I called some friends and used words that would have made my grandmother blush. That actually helped a little. I went to EduKnit Night via zoom – always a good choice – and crocheted a little. I snuggled with my kids. That helped, too. Hera came to love me up – or at least to love up my laptop – while I wrote. And, finally, I realized that I wasn’t grumpy anymore, just tired. So I posted this and went to bed. Tomorrow will be better.
Naturally, today of all days I needed to be at work a bit early – the day after the time change, the day that the temperature dipped significantly, the day that *should* have been the beginning of March Break but isn’t. And a Monday to boot. No wonder I ran out of the house with books spilling out of my bags, a half-steeped cup of tea & my jacket only partly zipped. I managed to get my fingertips around the door handle to open the car and, mercifully, got everything into the car without dropping anything. I’ll take any Monday miracles I can get, I thought as I slid into the driver’s seat – so cold! – and turned on the car. Please warm up fast, please warm up fast.
My husband drove last, so I started punching buttons to get things back to my settings: heat on, rear defrost on, radio… Whoa! Just as I was about to choose aux instead of fm – because I’m a podcast person in the mornings and Andre’s a radio person almost all the time – a voice came through the speakers.
What was this? A deep voice, quick, confident… what station were we on? It didn’t quite sound like CBC, but it didn’t not sound like CBC. I shook my head, glanced again at the console, and realized I was streaming a podcast from my phone. But what podcast? I didn’t quite recognize the voice. When I realized that somehow my phone had decided to play one of my student’s podcasts, I actually laughed out loud. He sounded so good! Here he was talking about Zen Buddhism and Japanese society and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being – and he sounded for all the world like the real deal.
What a delight, to realize just how good the podcast was – so good, in fact, that I listened to student podcasts almost all the way to work. I’ve even downloaded a few to listen to on the way home. These kids… even in the middle of a pandemic, even when I ask them to go out of their comfort zone and try new forms, think in new ways… even then, they amaze me.
A student podcast – who would have thought? There’s a morning miracle that I can’t wait to repeat.
This month’s poetry prompts on EthicalELA have blown open my writing brain. I think it’s the combination of the book that Dr. Kimberly Johnson chose for mentor texts – Nicole Stellon O’Donnell’s You are no longer in trouble and Kim’s gentle guidance on form (which I find comforting when I’m writing poetry). This, of course, makes me think about what I can take into the classroom: perhaps some of my students will also appreciate some structure, a gentle form to help them corral their wilder thoughts right now. I am inspired to offer that during our writing time this week. Until then, here’s a slice of memory as a pantoum.
In the playroom for my sister
You no longer need to hide with me behind the old blue armchair where we hold each other so tight our memories mix as the storm blows through.
With me behind the old blue armchair, our words create worlds where little girls reign until the storm blows through, until we can come out and play again.
Our words create worlds where little girls reign, your emotions are mine, mine yours until we can come out and play again I hold your fear.
Your emotions are mine, mine yours. We hold each other so tight our memories mix. I hold your fear. You no longer need to hide.
Every month I peek at EthicalELA‘s Open Write prompts. Often, I try one or two. Sometimes I share. Trying my hand at poetry – even when many of my poems end up being only for me – has changed my attitude towards poetry. I liked it before, sure, but now… well, now I think I might be starting to get it.
Today, Dr. Kimberly Johnson chose a mentor text from You are No Longer in Trouble by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell and encouraged writers to share a vivid memory story with words & images, possibly in a prose poem. Well, I’ve never officially written a prose poem before, but I’ve got lots of memories, so I gave it a try. It’s not really a poem, I don’t think, but it’s poem-ish.
**** Someone – maybe Stacy – whispered the word first: snow. Eyes shifted. Heads swiveled. Then someone cried “Snow!” and old Mrs. Rish’s quavering voice could no longer keep us in our seats. 24 bodies tumbled towards the windows and flattened their fingertips against the frigid glass. But Mrs Rish believed that magic could not co-exist with mathematics: “Children! Sit down! You have all seen it snow before!” Spell-broken, children trudged back towards their desks, but I was frozen in place.
My teacher melted. “Oh yes. That’s right. Everyone but Mandy, back to their seats.”
For one day in fifth grade, fractals were my math and magic.
In January, in a fit of – what? frustration? overwhelm? a desire to make someone somewhere happy?I wrote to the authors of the books my 12th graders were reading & thanked them. I explained that during yet another lockdown, yet another round of remote learning, the students were finding interest and pleasure in their novels. Then, I took a leap and invited each author to my class to talk with us, if they ever had the time. To my astonishment, Lawrence Hill, the author of The Book of Negroes (known as Someone Knows My Name in the US and Australia), The Illegal and Any Known Blood, among others, wrote back and said yes. (I wrote about this here.)
Hill’s virtual visit was a highlight of this year – heck, of many years! – not least because my students prepared well and led the entire visit by asking thoughtful questions. Hill himself was a delightful guest: he took each student seriously, writing notes as they spoke, addressing them directly by name and engaging them in thoughtful discussion. I think we all left that class feeling a little more connected, a little more like a part of a larger community of discourse.
That should have been enough. The story should be that I sent a note & something wonderful happened, but it turns out there’s more. This quarter (ugh) I have a new group of students who are reading many of the same books. I don’t quite have the nerve to ask Lawrence Hill to visit us again, but many of the students I’m teaching now know many of the students I taught last quarter, and they know he visited. I’ve also shared my decision to write & the results as an example of the power of writing – and the idea that it’s ok to fail. After all, only one author wrote back – but what would have happened if I hadn’t written at all? Consider it evidence, I told them, that writing well really can make a difference. This new group nodded politely, but between the masks and the screens, I couldn’t tell if they believed me. Too often what they hear is that the teacher’s words matter, not theirs.
This week, they’ve been working on understanding the context of their novels. How does the author’s biography influence their writing? How does understanding context help a reader understand the text in a different way? Heady stuff, but after their initial nerves, many of them got deeply involved in their research. So I shouldn’t have been surprised – though I was! – when two different students mentioned that they had emailed the author of their novel. Nevermind that Lawrence Hill and Ruth Ozeki are big names with plenty of awards and whatnot, each student had a burning question and decided it was worth asking. And then did it.
As a class, we’ll get to the essay in a week, and I’m not a bit worried about it. My students have begun to see themselves as people worthy of participating in discourse, as people whose have questions worth asking. That’s really all I need to know.
(Though, it would be fun if one of them got a response.)
It was obviously something I ate. I mean, usually I’m as inoffensive as the next person, but last night as I was marking student infographics, I knew something was not quite right. Still, I told myself that I was probably imagining that it was worse than it really was. I was wrong.
While our family snuggled together to watch a show, it happened again, and this time there was no pretending: one of my children turned and grimaced, “MOM! That’s disgusting! SOOOO stinky.” He waved his hand in front of his nose and disentangled himself from my legs. The other child got a whiff and added, “Yeah, silent but deadly. Gross.”
Surely, I told myself, this would – ahem – pass quickly. Surely in the morning all would be well and I would proceed to school smelling practically of flowers.
Alas, morning brought no relief. My body was clearly expressing its disapproval of yesterday’s food choices. I tried to control the emissions, but I was stuck with stink.
There is no worse fate for a school teacher: you can call it flatulence or passing gas or breaking wind, but one way or another, enthusiastically stinky farts are a classroom problem, and not one I usually face. As a former Southerner (though maybe never quite a Southern belle), I was already horrified. This, my friends, is not ladylike. I quickly opened a search engine and typed “How to stop stinky f…” Google filled in the rest. There was plenty of advice, and I took some comfort in knowing that I was not alone, but there was no quick solution. I was going to have to make it through this disaster as best as I could.
I made a plan. First, while our school is just as poorly ventilated as any other school, we were expecting unusually nice weather. I could open the windows – and both classroom doors – under the guise of Covid prevention. Then, though the students’ desks are nowhere near two metres apart, *I* am two metres from them. Distance = dilution. Finally, I could use masks to my advantage. I reasoned that they would surely, um, mask the smell. This was a dilemma I could deal with.
And I did. By the time the first hour ended my tummy had settled and the danger had, well, passed. Still, I think I’ll be extra careful about dinner tonight. Wouldn’t you?
By Tom LeGrand, a bona fide candidate for the title of World's Worst Pastor. I went from Pastor to Professor to Pastor to working in a Pizza kitchen. How's that for the reverse of "career advancement?"