It’s not about me #SOL22 30/31

If you read my blog regularly, you might remember that I had a – ahem – challenging class last semester. You might remember because I wrote about that class here and here and here – and that was just the first few weeks. Oh my.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I *liked* the students. They are fun and funny and smart and honest and many other wonderful things, but teaching them all in one classroom for two and half hours (thank you, Covid) was not straightforward. In the end, I did an ok job – not great, but ok.

I thought what I was most worried about was reading and writing skills that had atrophied a little during online learning, but when I reread my blogs, I remember that we were also working on social skills and work habits. It was a lot.

Since then, I’ve talked about this class in two separate PD sessions where teachers and coaches from across schools were planning for “de-streaming.” (Next year, our school board is ending streaming for grade 9 and 10 students in all subjects. This will require a shift in our mindset and our teaching practices.) The first time, a Black educator I didn’t know but who is deeply dedicated to equity, pushed me to redefine what qualifies as success for my students. I bristled; he suggested that for some kids success is “just crossing the school’s threshold.” I’ve done enough work with students damaged by our system to know that he is right, but inside my head I wanted to scream, “That may be enough for you in your position, but once they cross the threshold and they come to class, then success changes – and then *I* have to give them a grade.” I didn’t say that, our breakout room ended, and I let it sit in the back of my mind, where I could come back to worry over it from time to time.

Today, I brought up this class again. I talked about students who refused to read or who did very little work. I was lucky enough to be in a group that allowed me to speak openly. I spoke about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and my fear of what happens when we allow students to move through the system without the skills they need for success. One colleague – an Indigenous teacher and deep thinker – challenged me to think about grapho-centrism and what that means for our students and our culture. This resonated with me because I was recently on a podcast panel where we discussed multimodal essays and the myriad ways that people can express complex critical thinking.

I sat with my colleague’s ideas for a few minutes, but soon I was worrying aloud – again – about how I can help students become literate, be able to write well. At this moment, another colleague – younger than me and also fiercely dedicated to equity – said, “I notice how much you’re using the word I.”

Whoa. She was right. I was centering myself. Oh, sure, my focus was firmly on my students, but it was also on what *I* could do to help them. When I stepped back, I realized that I have now heard from two colleagues – gently, kindly – that I am, perhaps, too much in the centre of my practice, that I might be playing the role, even unintentionally, of “white saviour” – at least in this instance. (Though they never said those words.”

That’s a tough one for me. As a teacher, I want to help – I mean, it’s kind of my job to help. On the other hand, as a white woman who is constantly working towards anti-racism and equity, I know I need to “hold myself in healthy distrust” (Kike Ojo-Thompson). My colleagues’ questioning and observing has me thinking about the ways in which I can re-centre student voice and goals. I don’t know the answers yet, but I know that if I’m talking about a class, and the most common pronoun I use is “I”, then I need to rebalance my thinking because it’s not about me.

It’s good to have such thoughtful observant colleagues. This is how we get better – together.

Letting Go #SOL22 7/31

In the front of the room, Mr. P was talking. Technically, this was “my” class – I was the assigned teacher – but I’d stopped teaching and started functioning as a co-teacher/ support a few days earlier. Now, I was moving about the room, answering quiet questions, checking on student work, when one of the Black students touched my sleeve. I leaned down to hear her question. Without taking her eyes off of Mr. P, she whispered, “Thank you.” I knew exactly what she meant.


One week ago – on day one of this challenge – I wrote about the moment when Mr. P and I decided to team teach a class. And not just any class: we decided to team teach a new interdisciplinary course called “Anti-Black Racism in the Canadian Context.”

Some background: I am an experienced teacher with a permanent contract in our school board, and I am white; he is an experienced teacher who is not yet a permanent teacher in our school board, and he is Black. I grew up in the US; he grew up in Jamaica. Last June, when courses were being assigned, there was only one – ONE – Black teacher in this school, and he was not able to teach this class, so the principal asked me. I’m not Black, but I have been working towards anti-racism; filled with both trepidation and excitement, I said yes. To be honest, I was kind of proud that he thought I could do it.

Over the summer and the first semester, I read a lot, talked a lot, and thought a lot about how I could teach an Anti-Black Racism course to a group of students from many racial backgrounds. I researched and learned. I was determined to do my absolute best. The course began on a frigid February day, and I started by acknowledging my precarious position. No matter what I said or did, I was still a representative of white authority standing at the front of the classroom. Even though I planned to have an inquiry-based course, the structure of our system means that I was still “in charge”. It was uncomfortable, but we could live with discomfort.

And then came Mr. P. He had been hired to cover a position at our school this semester. We started chatting about literacy instruction almost the moment we met. Each of our discussions was better than the last, our pedagogy in synch, our hopes and expectations for students overlapping. He is wildly knowledgeable and wonderfully expressive. Within days, he was popping into the classroom; days after that, he started co-teaching with me. By Friday of last week, he was leading the course, and I had stepped into the background.

I’m pretty opinionated about what constitutes good teaching, but watching what happened when a person with lived experience of racism taught the course was humbling. I have been taught by Black educators, listened to Black colleagues, sought out Black perspectives. I am aware of the need for diverse voices – especially Black voices – in our schools. I knew all of this. But – oh, how I wish you could have been in the room last week when he talked about Bob Marley or recognized a Jamaican poet I had quoted. I wish you could have seen the moment that he addressed the racist coverage of the war in Ukraine. I wish you could have heard him talk about what it was like for him to come to Canada as a Black man. I can teach all sorts of things, but I can’t teach that.

Friday afternoon, the principal came by to tell me that Mr. P was needed in the room where he was originally assigned – a support position: valuable, but flexible enough that he had been able to spend a week in our class. Still, that couldn’t last forever, and I knew what had to happen: I asked the principal to transfer the course into Mr. P’s name. I didn’t know that the change would happen right away, but it did. This morning, with little warning, I said goodbye to that group of students and to the Anti-Black Racism course.

I’m a little heartbroken – if one can be a little heartbroken. I would love to keep teaching the course for many reasons. I think I’m mourning my preparation. I know I’m mourning my own chance to learn from Mr. P. I’m absolutely mourning the students and the connections we were making. I love the classroom, and I will spend the rest of this semester with only one traditional class.

On the other hand, a highly qualified Black teacher is leading a diverse group of students to a new understanding of race and racism while he shares a powerful lived experience. And that is worth celebrating.

Team teaching #SOL22 1/31

I am finishing my third (or thirtieth or three hundredth) meeting of the afternoon when he pops in. He’s been “pushing in” to a class and thinks that maybe he’s stepping on the teacher’s toes just a little bit. I taught that class last semester and was grateful for every extra adult body I could get, but I trust his judgement. Maybe this new, young teacher has things under control; maybe she has a higher tolerance for high jinks; maybe she likes to have some space to teach by herself. Whatever it is, if he thinks he’ll serve the class better by stepping away for awhile, then that’s probably the right move. I, too, am finding that pushing in is complex.

He and I have only talked a handful of times, but we’ve already had several of those discussions that trip along from one topic to the next, our tongues flying and our hands gesturing. I don’t know much about him yet, but I already admire him. Today he senses my fatigue. “How’s that class going?” he asks. I take a deep breath.

I confess that we have finished unit 1 – Foundations – and are moving into a unit on history. I explain that I am drowning in information. I keep thinking of the title of an article I read in grad school: A Little Too Little and a Lot Too Much. I feel wildly uncertain. What is my next step? How can I honour student voice? How can I acknowledge what they know and what I don’t know?

He understands right away, and he points out – gently, politely – that I am too deep in my emotions and too light on academics. I shake my head: No. No. That can’t be it. I am a white woman teaching a course called “Anti-Black Racism in the Canadian Context”; I have to be aware of emotions and student knowledge and… “No,” he is saying, “no.” He can see through me. I am aiming for perfection. He laughs, “It’s just history. I know that teachers can be possessive of their classrooms, but…would you let me come tomorrow? This is my specialty. I am salivating at the thought of teaching this class.”

We talk. More than once each of us prefaces comments with “can I be honest here?” He finds the holes in the anti-racism that I hope permeates my soul but which I sometimes wear like armour. We talk about the dismal truth about the numbers of Black teachers in our board and our province. I tell him that I hope that someday I will not be teaching this class because someone more qualified will teach it. He reminds me that I am good enough even while he reminds me that I will never be enough. I push back, get frustrated and feel seen all at the same time.

We end up planning together – we are both committed to a pedagogy of inquiry – our ideas intertwine and the course takes shape again. When we pause he says, “I am a hugger. Are you a hugger?” and we hug because for now this course – which until today was taught by me, a white woman doing her best – will be team-taught by a white woman and a Black man who have found a way to disrupt the system that put us in separate spaces when we should be together.

Welcome to Day 1 of the annual March Slice of Life Challenge. Come, write with us for 31 days. We would love to meet you!


I am running late to get to my friend’s 40th birthday celebration because, half a block from my house, I turned around to get a mask. I hadn’t been planning to wear a mask outdoors, but there are small groups of people – maskless and decked out with Canadian flags – gathered in clusters on the downtown streets. Lots of them. I did NOT want to mistaken for part of that group, so I ran back in and found my Ruth Bader Ginsberg mask, the one that says “NOT FRAGILE LIKE A FLOWER: FRAGILE LIKE A BOMB.” Now, properly attired and clearly indicating my position in this stand-off, I hurry towards my friend’s house.

The day is cold and sunny with a beautiful high blue sky. The crisp air would redden my cheeks had I not put on my mask. I thrust my gloved hands deep into my pockets and walk. I haven’t walked more than one block to the west of my house in almost three weeks, not since the “protests” began. The people I’m passing do not look like my neighbors. They are, to a person, white, though our neighborhood is home to people of many races. Along with the Canadian flags, they have black flags that say F*** Trudeau – only without the asterix. My neighbors tend to politely step to the side as others pass, making sure to offer each other space so that we can safely walk outdoors without masks. Not these people. On the streets, pickup trucks drive by and honk. The visitors shout and wave back.

Today feels almost like Canada Day, but there’s a nasty undertone. I don’t know if I’m making that up, but my nerves are frayed after three weeks of living blocks away from the “Freedom Convoy.” (I do not actually call them that – what they call freedom is pure selfishness – but aside from “occupiers,” the other words I use are not ones I care to admit to in this blog.) My family and I count ourselves lucky: we could only hear their incessant honking as a background drone, not an earsplitting nightmare; we don’t have their diesel fumes leaking into our living space; we are white, so we are not automatic targets when we go outside; we don’t have a Pride flag displayed, so no one has used our front yard as their toilet. All we have is inconvenience, in the grand scheme of things, plus an ever-present fear that things are going to become violent. Even the cold air feels like tension. Make no mistake: these trucks are weapons, and these people are here for hate, no matter how much they believe they are here for freedom.

Right now I just want to get to my friend’s party. Six of us are planning to sit outside in the freezing cold in camping chairs set up on their backyard skating rink. We will wrap ourselves in blankets, huddle around a tiny outdoor fire, drink hot cider with a splash bourbon and eat chocolate cake. We will last about an hour in this most Canadian of pandemic birthday celebrations. We have not been indoors together in nearly three years because too many germs from too many places make Covid too real of a possibility and we have young kids and grandparents to think about.

These people I am passing think differently. They believe conspiracy theories and that they should get everything they want, regardless of others. They don’t want the vaccine AND they want to participate freely in everything – swim lessons, restaurants, hockey teams, workplaces, all of it. I used to try to be open-minded, or at least curious, about their thinking, but three weeks into this illegal occupation, three weeks into harming businesses and workers and everyday people, three weeks of honking when the politicians they are mad at aren’t even in the city… well, my curiosity has waned.

These people are here for fun. I find myself thinking unkind thoughts about them. Ok, angry thoughts. Ok, rageful thoughts. I call my sister and curse into the phone while she laughs at my surprisingly curse-ridden vitriol. Better to tell her than to tell the people around me. My heart beats faster as I pass some groups. My anger rises as I see white people, maskless, flag-covered, sprawling across benches in the park we use, gathered on corners, insisting to store employees I recognize that they will come in without masks (later today both downtown grocery stores will close because they decide their employees are no longer safe; many restaurants have had to close; people have thrown bricks through the window of an Asian restaurant and set a small fire in an apartment building then tied the doors shut). I walk faster.

I remember Lisa telling her daughter to shoot them the bird and I wonder briefly what she would do if she could see this mess. I tell my sister, who is still patiently listening to me as I try to cross town, about what I am seeing and feeling. And then I spot them: a couple, sitting on a bench on a corner in the middle of the local shopping street. They are taking up a lot of space. On his belly, he’s balanced a box of poutine – classic Canadian street fare. She has a Canadian flag draped around her shoulders. He’s casually letting a pole with a “F#*& Trudeau” flag dangle into the sidewalk in front of me. 

“Disrespectful,” I hiss. “Get out of my city. Get out of my home.”

He starts to yell something back at me, but I am already past him and my sister is talking directly into my ears, “Mandy, this is a bad idea. Keep walking. Don’t engage.” Moments later, she is laughing and so am I. This? This is it? I’m in the middle of a slow-motion insurrection, surrounded by white supremacists using trucks as weapons and my go-to insult is “disrespectful”?

I pull my knitted cap lower over my expertly highlighted blonde hair, wrap myself more tightly in my hand-knitted scarf, and wonder at who I am: a middle class white teacher lady who curses on the phone in secret but can only engage the occupiers like a schoolmarm.


Days later, I am still wondering what more I can do, how much I will risk. Days later, I know that the failure of the “authorities” to protect (white) citizens, to keep us (white people) safe (from white people), to even begin to address this occupation (by white supremacists), has changed me completely. I cannot yet articulate how this will manifest, but I know that my tendency towards moderation has disappeared in the face of this. I am ashamed that only now do I truly understand what others have been saying for years: the police, the authorities are not trustworthy. I believed them, but until now I had not experienced this. Though I already thought that I was past this, I now know that I can no longer be the white moderate who Martin Luther King, Jr decries in Letter from Birmingham Jail: “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is…the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.'”

If I’m going to live up to my RBG mask, I’m going to need some better insults.