Lit Test Prep

Over thirty students signed up for today’s literacy test prep session, but only a desultory handful are actually here. They dot seats around the library, mostly far from one another, some with their heads already on the table. My job is to make sure they feel prepared for tomorrow’s lit test. I suspect we are all more or less equally excited about this.

The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test is a graduation requirement which, like many standardized tests, is touted by some and reviled by others. You can guess where the teachers lie on this scale. For both of the last two years the test was waived because of covid, but now it’s back, and anyone who is not graduating this year must pass it before they receive their diploma. And this time, the test is fully online.

As a result, this test prep session involves almost no literacy: it’s all about how to navigate the electronic test. First, I show the students how to put their Chromebooks into “kiosk mode” so that they will not have access to the internet during the test. Then, we return to “regular” mode and find the practice test. I explain why there is a “Minds On” page on the test and that no, there is nothing to do on this page. I go over the general directions so they will not have to read them tomorrow. I explain how to use the various electronic tools – the line by line reader, the highlighter, the “side by side” view that allows students to see the reading while they answer the questions. I show them how to flag a question they might want to come back to. We practice doing these things. We play with the online highlighter and the underline tool. I show them where to find the word counter for the writing section and where to see how many words they have left. I tell them to try to get close to the maximum number of words. We spend easily 40 minutes simply practicing with the tools.

Kids today are tech savvy, for the most part, but some are savvier than others, especially if by savvy you mean “has regular and effective access to technology both at home and in school.” Or “doesn’t have to overcome a language barrier simply to access the test.” Our school has one of the best school-provided Chromebook-to-student ratios in the school board – and one of the worst for BYOD (bring your own device) because so few students have Ds to B. Offering the literacy test requires gathering Chromebooks from all over the school and using them exclusively for the test for three days. Not only will no other classes have Chromebooks, but we’ve also been asked to plan lessons that involve no wifi – because who knows if our broadband will hold up. We pretend that these preparation challenges are not due to structural inequities. We pretend that the literacy test will not reveal who has computers and internet at home or who only recently arrived in Canada.

Luckily for our prep session, the students perk up once we start playing with the various tools. Everyone likes the side-by-side view. The word counter is daunting but effective. They like being able to flag questions that they’re not sure about and that the test reminds them to double-check those before they move on. This is good.

I offer a few tips because some of the students have never taken a standardized test before: restate the question in your answer; if you’re not sure, make a guess and move on; write simple, clear sentences; think about something positive before you start to stay calm; it’s only a test; you can always try it again.

After this, a few students stick around actually practice the test and ask me questions. There’s only one practice test available in this new format, so I hope it’s good preparation. As I move from table to table, from student to student, I think about the fact that it’s still Eid, that many students just finished fasting, that most of the dates for this test fell during Ramadan. I try to ignore the fact that one of the articles is about the marshmallow test – and that these same students who cannot eat most marshmallows. The students laugh off my observation; they’re used to it.

Tomorrow, they’ll take the test. Some will know how to navigate the interface, how to “do” standardized tests. Some will be ready. Some won’t. Nevertheless, as they leave the library and head back to class, each student says, “Thank you, Miss” and I cross my fingers that we’ve done some good.

The Dilemma

My test is positive. Again. Unquestionably, undeniably positive. Despite my best efforts to prevent it, I have covid. Today is day 8 since my symptoms began and, while I feel much better – only a cough and runny nose linger – my RAT test insists that I am still highly contagious.

I’ve already missed five days of work, so my self isolation period is officially over. According to both Public Health and my employer (the entity, not individual people), it’s time for me to get back to the classroom. Public Health’s official policy is that people can go back five days from the date their symptoms started if their symptoms have been improving for 24 hours and they don’t have a fever. This is me: fever is gone, symptoms are improving. My employer offers five days of “quarantine” leave, but after that I am using my sick leave. I am an employee, and I am supposed to work. Did I mention that I am still testing positive for a disease that may be more transmissible than measles and which, while it can be mild, can cause unknown amounts of long term damage to vital organs?

Nevertheless, the expectation is that I go to school – masked – even though both the tests and the science say that I am contagious and that the mask will not prevent me from infecting others. And I want to go. I’m so eager to return that this morning I even contacted a physician, just to double-check. Her response was unequivocal, “The RAT means you are still contagious. You shouldn’t go to work. Even in an N95 mask. Your students aren’t in the best masks. Just staying 2m away doesn’t prevent others from getting sick. Covid is airborne. I’m sorry.”

Each day that I stay home, the pressure to go in grows. Each day I’m out, the students lose out on effective instruction. Our school board, like so many others, is struggling to find supply teachers (substitutes). My colleagues are stretched thin, covering classes that are not their own; if we’re lucky and the school finds a supply teacher, that person is unlikely to be able to deliver a lesson; increasingly, we cannot find coverage at all and the students have (another) study hall.

But if I go in, I put real people at risk. Real people. People like you or your loved ones. Even as I type, researchers are trying to figure out the complications of covid, and we know they’re more likely if people aren’t vaccinated. Maybe you think that everyone should just get covid and get it over with. Or maybe you think that covid isn’t really that serious. Ok, sure. But what if I go in, coughing, masked and infect your child or your sibling? I don’t know if the students are vaccinated. I do know that one of my students is just out of the hospital. I do know that some of my students have younger siblings who cannot be vaccinated and others have family members who are at risk of complications if they get covid. I know that my friend’s child attends my school. I know, too, that my colleagues have people in their lives who are at risk. Who am I to decide that they should be exposed to covid?

Then, as my father (who is an infectious disease doctor) points out, I am lucky enough that I don’t *have* to go to work. Perhaps instead of being upset that I am still sick, I should be grateful that I am able to protect others. In that case, I can choose to be particularly cautious to protect others who don’t have the same luxury.

While I try to balance all of this, I must continue to plan my classes, even though I am not there to teach. Tomorrow will be day 7 of students following instruction from a screen. They are trying; they know that I, too, am trying. They really are the best. Still, some of them have thrown in the towel. Attendance is dwindling and fewer and fewer assignments come in. I don’t know what they have actually learned or what they need next to support their learning. I really want to be in the classroom.

And yet: I am so much more than simply an employee, merely human capital. I am a friend, a mother, a teacher, a colleague and so much more; much of my identity is wrapped up in caring for others. If I go to work, even though I am “only” coughing, even if I am wearing a N95 mask, even though Public Health says it’s ok and my employer (again, as an entity, not as individual people – my administration is lovely) would prefer that I return, I am denying the human-ness of all the people around me. I am deciding that my choice, my freedom is more important than they are. I can’t do that.

I love my work and my students. I miss them. I want to be there. Precisely for those reasons, I look at my RAT, look hard at those two red lines, and know that I am about to call in sick for tomorrow. After that, I’ll get to work on another lesson plan.

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Who can fail?

I am the parent of a stubborn child., so I wasn’t shocked when he decided not to do his art work for several months during elementary school. I wasn’t pleased, mind you, but I wasn’t shocked: he does not like to be directed in his artistic expression. As you can imagine, in our home we’re pretty alert to school things (I am a teacher, after all), so when I noticed a string of missing assignments, I asked what was going on. He assured me he had it under control. A few days later, the assignments were still missing, so I offered to help. He politely declined.

Since he was in elementary school, I could have insisted he do the work. He would have resisted; we would have fought; there might have been a tantrum. In the end, I suspect that I could have coerced him into doing it. If nothing else, I’m still bigger than he is. But I didn’t. I offered help occasionally but mostly left it up to the child and the teacher.

When report card time came, he reminded me that his Art mark wasn’t going to be very good because he hadn’t done his work. I assured him that I remembered. Then, as I opened his report card, he said it again. We looked. It was bad. His lip quivered, his eyes filled, and suddenly he was crying in my arms. It feels awful to get a terrible mark, even when you’re little. It hurts, even when you are expecting it – even when you deserve it.

I held onto him for a few minutes, stroking his hair and whispering, “I know, I know.” Eventually he calmed down, and the discussion that ensued was hard. I pointed out that the mark didn’t tell us who he was, but that he *chose* this: he had decided not to do the work and this was the result of that decision. We talked about how it felt worse than he expected, how it had been easy to decide not to do the work but much harder to experience the impact of that decision. We talked about how next time maybe he would remember this terrible feeling and choose to do his work.

He hasn’t missed an assignment since then.

Today, I worked with an inspiring dedicated group of educators from my school board. On paper, we’re working preparing for “destreaming” beginning next year (all grade 9 students will be in one level for all courses – no advanced or remedial or high or low or anything: just school). What we’re really doing is reimagining school. Research shows that streaming students is racist and upholds the status quo, but just throwing them all into one class and hoping things work out isn’t going to fix this. We need to undo generations of racist policy and systems. We need to rethink. We need to do better.

This work is hard, even for those of us dedicated to equity. We are trying to envision learning that is radically student centred in a system that is not designed for students. More than that, the system expects a product as the result of our precious PD days: we need to create something that will help teachers throughout our system do this work day in and day out. Hint: lessons and unit plans aren’t going to be enough.

When I’m with my colleagues, imagining school, we dream big, but this also leads to a lot of questions for everyone involved. Today, I left our meetings thinking about some of the students I’ve taught over the years, and thinking about my son. Sometimes, it feels like the only way a student would ever fail in a system like this is if we, the teachers, fail. After all, in this new vision, the teacher’s role involves really knowing their students, really finding out what drives them. But I wonder. Is there space in this reimagined school for a student to say no? I’ve taught students who didn’t yet have a “why” and who didn’t want to do the work. Students like my son sometimes need to test the boundaries to ask if we will hold firm in our belief that they can do good work. And some students have been failed by a system that places them in a situation where they simply do not yet have the skills to succeed. Can they fail?

Look, I know that failure can feel devastating, and I’m all too aware that most children won’t experience the type of support I was able to give my child. But… I have taught students who see no purpose in school, students who hand in no work at all, students who don’t attend most days. I have had students do this even when I have wanted to know them, tried to know them, reached out to them. I have had students who do not trust me because, well, I’m me and I’m not who they need. I have even had students fail and return the next year, knowing that the failure proved my belief that they were capable of more.

I guess I’m just wondering, in a radically student-centred system, how do we make space for students who want to say no? Who gets to fail? Who do we fail if the answer is “no one”?

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.

Fill the gaps #SOL22 24/31

Curtain rises on a workshop. A person wearing a suit is fiddling with a mannequin that looks like a young teenager. The mannequin is holding an open book in its hands. The manager moves various parts of the mannequin, leans in as if to listen, and shakes their head.

MGR: Hey, Potts! I’ve got another one for you!

POTTS enters stage left. She looks a little harried.

MGR: Oh, good. There you are. I’ve got another one with a glitch. Doesn’t seem to be reading properly. Gonna need you to fill the gaps.

POTTS looks at the mannequin a little sadly.

POTTS: Oh. Ok. Um…. do you know where the gaps are?

MGR: No, but there are definitely gaps.

POTTS: Do we have baseline data?

MGR, scoffing: No.

POTTS, almost timidly: I don’t suppose we can do any testing to see what might be causing the glitch?

MGR laughs loudly.

MGR: You’re a riot – you always ask that. You know we don’t have the money or the personnel for testing. Just fill the gaps. That’s all – nothing to it.

POTTS looks doubtful.

MGR: Oh, and I’m going to need you to fill the gaps and get this model working no later than June. That’s when we report and we’ll need to move this one along. (He pats the mannequin.)

POTTS: June? That’s three months from now. These gaps might have been growing for years. And we don’t know what’s causing them. And most of my training is about improving working models, not…

MGR interrupts: You’ve got a good reputation, Potts. I’m sure you can do it. And guess what? I’ve got a surprise for you.

POTTS eyes the manager warily.

MGR: Look, here’s a tool that’s designed for gap-filling. (MRG hands POTTS an all-purpose tool. She accepts it dubiously.) Just put this one (he pats the mannequin again) near the tool, and the they’ll practically fix themselves. (The MGR pauses and looks at POTTS appraisingly.) Speaking of “them” – this tool is the latest thing – loads of research, so we went ahead and bought a few. The idea is…

MGR trails off because POTTS is shaking her head. Then, MGR barges ahead.

MGR: … so, like I said, it’s the latest thing. It’ll really improve your efficiency, which is good because we’ve found a bunch of these guys who aren’t working quite right. Now the idea is you just use this tool and they’ll fill their own gaps. Should work like a charm – makes it as easy for you to fix ten as one. We’ll bring the others around in a minute.

POTTS: But… I… I just use the tool and the gaps fill? So why am I here? And what if it doesn’t work?

MGR: Oh, it’ll work. You’re here to make sure it works. By June – don’t forget – you need to fill all the gaps by June – but don’t worry, we’ve given you everything you’ll need…

MGR exits as he’s talking, leaving POTTS alone on stage with the mannequin.

Once the MGR is off-stage, POTTS lets her face fall. She approaches the mannequin.

POTTS (hides the tool behind her back): Hi there. It’s nice to meet you. I’d love to get to know you a little. Let’s see who you are before we think about gaps.

The mannequin, who is, of course, a real child, begins to soften and move as though they want to speak with POTTS but as POTTS starts to talk to the child, a line of similar-aged children begins to come on stage. Each one holds a book, like the first child. They form a single file line from the first child to the wings of the stage. POTTS looks at the child, at the children and then at the “miracle” tool she is holding. She starts to cry.

Curtain.

Notes: I hope it is obvious that I in no way think that children are mannequins. And the manager is not based on a particular person. I’m just musing about what it means to try to “close literacy gaps” for a group of students I do not know by using a (research-based) computer program. I find myself swinging between extremely hopeful – what if this works! – and despairing – I’m pretty sure there’s no quick fix for students who struggle with reading as they enter high school, especially when we don’t know what’s causing the problems and I’m not familiar with the program itself. SIGH. I guess I’ll be familiar with it soon enough. Here’s hoping that it works.

Book choice #SOL22 21/31

Sometimes during reading conferences I ask students “How do you choose your next book? How do you decide what to read?” My goal is to determine – and help them determine for themselves – if they are independent readers, people likely to read outside of the classroom. In my experience, people who identify themselves as readers may not know exactly where they get book ideas from, but they can usually answer “what will you read next?” with some ease. If they can’t, they can pretty much always tell me where they’ll get ideas.

While I occasionally go through dry spells, I rarely lack for ideas for my next book – this month’s Slice of Life Challenge alone has already yielded more titles than I could possibly read – though this impossibility won’t stop me from trying. As to how I decide what to read next, the truth is that my next book is often determined by what has come in at the library where my on hold list and my checked out list are in a constant battle for supremacy; I watch, bemused, from a distance as each list grows and shrinks, occasionally cheering on one book or another. Sometimes I let one go in disgust or despair. One way or another, what comes in is often what I read.

Letting the library decide on my next book has its downsides. For example, before March Break, two books came in from my holds list AND a friend loaned me two books. During March Break, I chose my reading poorly: the first book began so slowly that I took all week to finish it. Then, today, the first day after break, three more books came in. And now, I’m staring down this stack of books:

So many books, so little time

Which to choose? One came in remarkably early despite a *long* wait list – and I wasn’t near the top, so this is clearly luck. I won’t be able to renew it, so maybe start there? Or maybe start with the one that I checked out first since it’s due first? Or maybe buck the stifling due date system and read the one that is calling my name for no particular reason?

I have a feeling I know where I’ll go – but just in case I change my mind, I’ll probably need to keep these next to my bed. And then, if someone asks what I’m going to read next, I can pretend that I’m just working my way through the stack.

Make Writing #SOL22 13/31

I suspect that I found Angela Stockman through my knitting and reading (and all around awesome) friend Lisa Noble, though I honestly can no longer remember. I’ve lurked around Angela for a while – reading her emails, checking out her free units. Not only is she incredibly generous and thoughtful, her specific thinking and doing around writing intrigues me to no end.

Lately, I’ve been reading her work on using “loose parts” to teach writing. I find it fascinating, but each time I think about using it in the classroom I balk: I’m just not very spatial, I tell myself; I haven’t tried this myself, I worry, how will I explain it?

Angela writes, “Offer writers a variety of loose parts to build their ideas, responses, and drafts with.” In this phrase alone, I see all the reasons that loose parts fit with my writing pedagogy: play, multimedia thinking, draft, response… still, I couldn’t do it. Once I almost brought in a tray of thingamambobs, but then I didn’t.

On Friday, a student asked to conference with me about her personal narrative. She knew what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t figure out how to tell the story. She could articulate that the beginning was too long, “too much exposition”, but how could she tell the story without the background? She was stumped.

As we brainstormed, I found myself wanting to take scissors to her work – to physically move pieces around and see what might work where, but of course the writing was on the computer and somehow we couldn’t quite *play* with it. Play – PLAY! Of course!

I reached over to my desk and found some loose parts – a few pen caps, some paper clips; some random yarn (I have no idea – don’t ask) and a box of tacks. I plunked them down on the table where we were working. “Ok,” I said, “bear with me. What if these three pen caps were the aunties…”

We named parts, moved them, played around, and she ended up with this structure:

The final essay structure, minus a pen cap.

“This is great!” she said. “I can see exactly how to do it!”

I could, too, so I snapped a photo as the bell rang and thought, loose parts play. Got it.

Next step: figure out how to incorporate this on purpose. I have a feeling I won’t have much trouble with this now.

Many thanks to Angela Stockman, who doesn’t even know me, but who nevertheless just made my teaching better than it was before. Amazing. (And thanks to Lisa, too, for her neverending encouragement.)

Hot tub #SOL22 11/31

“Write about the hot tub,” they say. I’ve done a quick write in front of them, randomly listing childhood memories. Trampoline and Hide-n-Go Seek haven’t piqued their interest in quite the same way as hot tub.

I laugh. “Sadly, there’s not much to say. We had a hot tub in our backyard when I was in high school… nothing really happened there.” I trail off and end up writing about the trampoline after all, shaping the story, modeling various openings, playing with structure.

I don’t tell them that images of the hot tub bubble in the back of my mind. Look: my sisters and I are playing in the warm water, snow on the deck. There: I am 13 and awkward, wearing my bubble gum pink bathing suit, my hair pulled back – the photograph reveals a liminal beauty that I can only now appreciate. Over here: My birthday party, fifteen-year-old girls full of high spirits and loud laughter, though in every photo of the evening our heads are hidden in our arms, as shy away from the very lens we crave. “We’re in our bathing suits!” someone had squealed and the camera was put away.

Was that the night the boys crashed the party? Possibly, but even that phrase implies a wildness we didn’t embody. Maybe I should rewrite it and say, “was that the night that Michael and some friends came over while we were outside and we sort of pretended to scream but mostly chatted?” Or maybe both ways of telling the story are true.

With my sisters in the snow

How disappointed they would be with the truth: “The hot tub story” isn’t really a story, and it isn’t salacious. The hot tub is evenings with family, breath-holding contests with my sisters, a science fair project done with my dad (about the chemicals – the only science fair I ever won. Figures that it was about that hot tub.) I know what my students expected to hear when “hot tub” appeared in my list. Instead it’s moments of connection with my family and friends, moments from a time so distant it seems almost unimaginable now.

On the other hand, the trampoline – now, *that’s* a story.

Observation #SOL22 9/31

“They were all on-task the whole time; they were literally all sharing their stories.”
I try not to blush – can one intentionally not blush? – and say, “Well, we’ve been practicing.”

Today, a colleague from my previous school came to observe and collaborate. (Pause for a moment and cheer for her principal – and mine – for deciding this was important.) I like to think of my classroom as open, and I regularly say that anyone is welcome at any time, but the truth is that most teachers spend most of their career playing to an audience comprised entirely of students, and I am no exception. I wasn’t nervous, exactly, but having a colleague in my room definitely heightens my senses.

Right away, I noticed that my instructions for one activity weren’t as clear as I had hoped. I noticed that I move around the room an awful lot, and that I am very comfortable with students moving, too. I noticed that I am (ridiculously) enthusiastic about student writing, and I recognized that this probably makes it easier for students to share. Mostly, however, I noticed that my students were willing participants in even unfamiliar activities, like stations that asked them to tell their narrative aloud, read examples of narrative essays or write first drafts. The last time they did “stations” was probably elementary school, but they humour me.

As a teacher I am so obviously my own worst critic that even my students (I see you, Leah & Nadiya) have commented that I should be easier on myself, but I knew that today’s class went well. After lunch, my colleague and I debriefed, which is when she pointed out that even at the “talk” table, everyone was on task. I explained that we had practiced this: we have shared stories in pairs and small groups; in class today, I referred to research we’ve already discussed, research which suggests that talk supports writing; we have also practiced providing effective feedback for other people’s stories. Because of my self-criticism, I am teaching some of these skills more effectively than I did last semester.

If I keep writing, I will find the flaws in the lesson – I misjudged the length of the final activity and there were those imperfect directions at the beginning – but I know that no lesson will ever be perfect. Today was pretty darn good, something I can recognize mostly because I saw someone seeing me teach. And I’ve realized that I’m pretty proud of me – which is not something I let myself say very often – so I thought maybe I should share that.

Talking with my colleague today was not only a pleasure but also a moment of reflection and growth for both of us. Think of how much teachers could grow if more schools prioritized time for observations and collaboration. Wouldn’t that be something?

Losting #SOL22 8/31

Near the beginning of each semester, my students write 100 word memoirs (thanks, Kittle & Gallagher). These never fail to knock my socks off, and this year that’s even more true. At my new school, many students have clear memories of coming to Canada, and many of them are continuing to learn English. Combined these lead to some great moments. For example, below, Tung wrote about his first time in a Canadian high school. Pay particular attention to the word “lost” – we’ll come back to that.

Walking through Canadian high school for the first time was like walking, lost, in an old tunnel surrounded by unknown creatures. The low-ceilinged crowded hallway was an ant’s nest of students trying to sprint through the narrow corridor. The thick moss-green bulletproof door had only a small glass cut-out, covered with an English-only poster. This prevented my curious eyes from spying on the Canadian students in the classroom. Everything was beyond my imagination. Each step I took, one rhythm faster my heart beat. What was I getting myself into? Would there be a light at the end of this tunnel? 

Tung, Grade 12
What I was seeing/ What was in my mind

He added pictures – including some pictures of his school at home. It’s much, much brighter and airier than our school and I can safely guess that it has never seen snow.

Watching Tung try to capture the feeling of that first day was fascinating. Some descriptions came easily – he knew he wanted a tunnel and he knew the door needed to be moss-green and bulletproof. Those things never wavered. Other things changed – coming in, getting cut out, changing form. To me, the most interesting thing of all was the word “lost”. He really wanted it to be “losting”.

We chatted in the back corner of the room – the place he’s chosen for now – about this word. Somehow lost just wasn’t quite what he was looking for. He had a sense that losting wasn’t a “real” word, but he wanted the word to be active. He wasn’t simply lost, he was wandering, loose, casting about, feeling the sense of not fitting in, not knowing if he belonged. He was losting.

I couldn’t help but think of my own child, then quite small, crying as his grandmother left after another wonderful visit. He threw himself into her arms and said, “It’s your fault, the goneness.” The goneness. Really, it’s the only word for the feeling.

I told Tung he could keep “losting” – that it made sense to me and described what he was feeling – but English isn’t thoroughly his yet; making mistakes and making new words are still too intertwined to tease one away from the other. Still, I expect that the word exists now. I suspect that someday, probably soon, I will see a student wandering in the hallway with a particular look in their eye, and I will know that they are losting. When I do, I’ll try to help – because the goneness can be overwhelming.

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