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Pearls of Grade 3 Wisdom

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I teach a group of Grade 3 French Immersion students English for 40 minutes a week. They are mostly a very sweet and funny group. We’ve been working on poetry, including a poem with a template called “I Am.” The first two words of each line are given, and then they fill in the rest. The results are sometimes predictable, sometimes decidedly un-poetic, sometimes surprisingly insightful.

Here’s an example of one whole “I Am” poem, written by a (very bright) Grade 3 student:

I am brave and curious.

I wonder if I will ever change the world.

I hear babies crying.

I see my friends walking by.

I want to live and hope.

I am brave and curious.

***

I pretend I am my sister.

I feel sad sometimes.

I touch the air that we breathe.

I worry about my family.

I cry because of war.

I am brave and curious.

***

I understand the world we live in.

I say do not change.

I dream about life.

I try to change the world.

I hope for world peace.

I am brave and curious.

Pretty straightforward, but interesting and optimistic, no? I liked it. And here are some other lines that cropped up in various other kids’ poems:

I wonder if Santa is real.

I wonder if I will ever be an artist.

I wonder if I will ever be a mom.

I wonder if the pandas will be OK in China.

I wonder how wonderful my dog drawings are.

I wonder if I am as cute as a baby.

I wonder why Donald Trump won the election.

I hear the phoenix song.

I hear Santa breaking my house and sitting on my house.

I hear Hogwarts.

I hear a tiger roaring in the desert.

I see a leopard catching its prey in the tundra.

I see a kitten fly on my shoulder.

I want people to stop buying palm oil.

I want a credit card.

I pretend to have the cheese touch.

I pretend to ride on a black bear.

I feel proud to be Canadian.

I touch every cat that I have had in my life.

I touch the world flooding.

I touch a glass sphere with memories in it.

I worry that my stuffies will go away.

I worry about Donald Trump.

I worry that Donald Trump will kill me.

I worry about my parents being taken.

I worry I will touch a spider.

I worry about the sun exploding.

I worry that in a few years there will be no orangutans.

I cry because Santa didn’t bring me a present.

I cry about every cat that has passed away.

I understand how to make paper.

I understand bravery and love.

I understand that my iPad makes myself mad.

I understand that paper is made of trees.

I say I believe in Santa.

I say that Santa is real.

I say I believe in God.

I say I can do the armpit fart.

I dream I would meet God.

I dream that my cats will wear little elf costumes on Christmas.

I try to be the best that I can be.

I try not to eat tomatoes.

I hope for hot chocolate at Christmas.

I hope that I will stay young forever.

I hope I will meet Prince William.

I hope I get a red hockey puck.

I am… generous, brave, a youtuber, a lover of soccer-baseball, humorous, lovable, curious, funny, smart, creative, intelligent, part Dutch, super, cool, awesome, helpful, respectful, a cat lover, a small kitten and I can fly, active, nice, happy, and I like bubbles.

***

I felt privileged to read these. They are so honest, and so much more interesting than their “About Me” paragraphs in September. And there’s imagery there that amazes me. Some of their worries seem really deep and scary for Grade 3 – but I remember having similar grand worries at that age. (Some of them still apply.)

And it made me happy that the characteristics they named about themselves in the first and last line were, without exception, full of self-confidence.

Teaching in English is fun.

***


 

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A Little Faith in Humanity from Remembrance Day

Hi, lovely di-hards.

It’s been an emotional week, n’est-ce pas? Right around this time last Tuesday, there was a disbelieving dread building on my Facebook news feed. I could hardly bear to look at the actual stats. My daughter had strep throat; we all slept badly, and felt ill the next day – on so many levels. It was an Armageddon-y gloom.

And though that has not really gone away, there have been things to remind me that humanity is still kinda cool.

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I ran the Remembrance Day assembly last Friday, and as such spent several hours of the preceding Thursday creating an iMovie of my Grade 4 FI class’s collaboratively-written peace poem. Listening to their little-kid voices reading, line by line, words like “It’s friends and family and coming together for love/By calm, planting, and happiness” and “Humans are meant to be free and to walk… give love, help others,” and then all their voices together saying, “And stop war.”… It helped. It was comforting in a deep way.

I think we teachers are in the privileged position of seeing the best and the worst that kids have to offer. We are both jaded and optimistic – sometimes both these things, several times a day.

There had been some worry about behaviour during this assembly, since there were issues with noise level during the last assembly; the kids who were presenting had their feelings hurt by the not-so-focus of their schoolmates. And I have to say, it’s a thing. Many of us teachers are frustrated, constantly having to remind students that you don’t just yap all the time when it’s not your turn.

So for Remembrance Day, when there are usually quite a few community members present, there had been a lot of preparatory discussion in classrooms. The principal issued a reminder before classes came to the gym.

And then the kids blew our minds. They. Were. So. Quiet. Coming in, listening to each presentation, waiting in between… Even the wee kindergarteners. The minute of silence after the Last Post was incredible. A whole sea of kids making almost no sound. (I saw one child trying to distract his classmates with silent silliness, and they just ignored him. I was amazed.)

The last part of the assembly was the playing of “One Day” by Matisyahu. It’s a sad-but-happy song, and most of the kids know and love it, having learned it in Music class last year. When the song began, they were still incredibly quiet, unsure if they should sing, but gradually we could hear their voices joining in and getting stronger – and only with respect. It was this perfect rising tide of youthful hope. I know most of us adults got tears in our eyes at the sound. I couldn’t even look out at the kids, they were so beautiful at that moment.

If you want, try listening yourself, and imagine hundreds of sweet childish voices singing “When negativity surrounds, I know someday it’ll all turn around.”

Makes you think it really will.

***

P.S. I’ve decided I’m going to try NaBloPoMo again, but changing the dates. There was no way the first two weeks of November were going to work, so I’m starting today and will be attempting to post every day through December 15th. See you tomorrow!

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 19: Questions excellentes

Today at school, we talked a little bit about Paris. I showed my Grade 4s and 5s that little boy and his dad – not just because the vocabulary (très, méchant, gentil, fleurs, maison, etc.) is right on point, but because when they see a child, they instinctively relate.

Two days a week, I have a group of only nine Grade 4s for the last period of the day. Often, it’s my favourite group. Grade 4s in Core French class are well-known to be the most excited about it (the novelty is alive), and although this group has a couple of very busy boys, they are also usually sweet and enthusiastic.

When I occasionally put aside the speaking of French in class, it’s usually in order to hear what they have to say about the social issue at hand; usually these moments arise from the French songs we listen to, but today it was the news. Frankly, I was very impressed by their questions and insights, and how most of them really listened and responded to each other. For a lot of it, I was simply listening.

Where did the terrorists come from? What made them so angry? If the parents teach their kids to be angry and to want to kill people, where did they get it? What is the violence for? Is it for fun? Or does someone make them do it?

We talked about racism and prejudices and wrongdoing on different sides, and the cyclical nature of violence. It may sound heavy for Grade 4, but they knew all the worst parts already, and obviously wanted to talk about it.

One of my favourite parts was one little guy, the most overt keener in the group, not quite nine years old yet, who is never afraid to call the other kids on it when they’re being immature. When a couple of kids began to get silly, he said to them, “You’re making a joke out of something that’s really serious. How would you like it if a terrorist came to your home and killed you? That’s what happens to people.” He is such a sharp little guy, with astonishing perspective on things. Makes me wish I could know and teach him when he’s seventeen or twenty-one and really taking on the world.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 2: Perfect Storm

 

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The Full Moon: TEACHERS KNOW.

It’s not just Monday. It’s the Monday after Halloween, a few days off the full moon. The kids had a three-day weekend (Friday PA day). And we just changed the clocks. School was a bit wacko today.

It would figure that – less than 24 hours after I’d mentioned how well the kids were sleeping lately, HA – my daughter woke up at 1:40 needing cuddles and tried to infiltrate our bed, and it took almost an hour to get her back where she should be. And I’d already had trouble getting to sleep (the clock change messes with me too).

I’m grateful for that sleepy 6-week-old golden lab puppy I got to pet, right when I arrived at school. That’ll make your day.

I’m grateful for absolutely beautiful fall weather that didn’t look or feel like November.

I’m grateful for a completely unexpected cooperation and problem-solving between two difficult students, on today of all days, that meant I didn’t have to mediate at all. Amazing.

I’m grateful for my colleagues who understand everything we all go through, who work so hard and really want the best for – and out of – those kids.

And I’m really grateful that our Federation and the provincial government have finally, finally reached a tentative agreement, so we can hope that school life will go back to normal soon.

Oh – and boy, was I grateful for coffee today.

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100 Happy Days – Day 4: Silence

There are two kinds of silence that made me happy on Day 4.

One was in my 5/6 Core French class. They are a class that is, as a group, not great at self-regulation. Many of them have great difficulty stopping themselves from saying whatever they feel like saying, whenever they feel like saying it, in whatever language (i.e. English, not French). And some, it seems, just… never learned basic courtesy. Makes for a sub-optimal classroom environment.

I’ve had a whole system in place designed to curb this kind of noise and distraction, but in spite of having spent a lot of lunch breaks in discussion with certain students, overall behaviour hasn’t improved the way it needs to. It occurred to me that by telling them I will warn them (by name) when I see the kind of behaviour that will get them in trouble, I’m allowing them to relinquish ownership of their conduct.

So I gave them a frank lecture. Since these are 10-and-11-year-olds who do know what’s expected, I said I would take notes on the behaviour I was seeing, without wasting class time to talk about it. At the end of 50 minutes (which is actually ALWAYS less, by the time the kids get to me), if a student has a list of actions that need further discussion, we can take recess time to write out a “good copy” of what happened, for their parents. (Honestly, some kids’ lists would look like this on a bad day, if they were permitted to follow their instincts: “Today I forgot to take my hat off at the beginning of class, talked out when it wasn’t my turn twelve times, tried to argue with classmates/teacher three times, fell out of my chair once, insulted my classmate three times, sprawled on learning carpet as if it were my couch twice, stole my neighbour’s {whatever} twice, and left the classroom before I was dismissed.”)

Anyway. Point is, as I told them my new strategy, you could have heard a pin drop. TOTAL QUIET. Ahh, it was so lovely. Like watching a rare orchid bloom. Balm for my ears.

And THEN. One of my students raised his hand, while his classmate was writing the date on the board, and asked a legitimate question about the word “novembre” (we talk a lot about loanwords and root words in our class) and I answered it, which included me writing the numbers from 1 to 10 in Latin on the board. In case you don’t know, the word for six in Latin is “sex.”

I actually wrote “sex” on the board in front of 29 pre-teens – and they stayed quietThat’s how well my li’l talk worked. It was AMAZING, y’all. (Even if it only lasted for 1.5 periods.)

The other kind of silence is one that makes me happy almost every evening. We are a family with a birthright Quaker (me) as a mama, and although we attend Quaker meeting only sporadically, we do keep the tradition of silent grace before family meals. We hold hands in a circle, and sometimes we close our eyes, and think about the good fortune we have to be together for a good meal… and then we squeeze hands and it’s done.

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This is a dramatization. E is not usually smiling beneficently during silence. AB does do squeeze-shut-eyes like this, though.

AB has enjoyed the hand-holding ever since she was a baby. When she got old enough to say words, she used to order us: “Close de eyes.” And I don’t remember who started the tradition of saying, “I love you, family,” at the end of silence, but now we all say it every time – and my kids are usually the first to pipe up. I know this ritual means a lot to both of them. If they miss it for some reason, they want us to do it again.

It’s pretty much the most cheesily, heartwarmingly wonderful thing ever.

Oh, and speaking of silence… I may put this whole thing on hiatus until my blog is back to being healthy. My IT peeps and I are still working through issues that make blogging extremely annoying and slow, and although I am definitely noticing and enjoying happy things every day, trying to post about them under the circumstances saps that positivity with alarming speed. So… there may be a form of blog silence happening for a while. I hope not, but we’ll see.

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How Far to Bend the Gender

As a girl born between two sisters, I was, in childhood, emphatically girly. I loved unicorns, ballet, pink things, dolls, My Little Ponies. The tendencies of our elder brother didn’t hold much sway with us back then – he was outnumbered – and he seemed happy enough to make his Lego projects and wooden models on his own. I know there was some overlapping of activities, but my strongest memories were dominated by our female sensibilities.

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I remember this one. Yikes.

I’ve learned a lot since having a son. I remember worrying, while pregnant, that I wouldn’t know how to relate to him… and then being glad to discover that when it’s your child, relating is not a problem. Love takes care of it. And fascination, too: everything that interested him automatically interested me, because I wanted to know him completely.

I had already talked to other parents who had discovered that, no matter how gender-neutral you try to make your parenting, most boys love VEHICLES. Diggers, dump trucks, racecars, school buses. We knew E liked cars even before he had any – just the pictures of vehicles in his books thrilled him.

Last year, teaching five different groups of kindergartners, I found that this trend held firm. Boys loved the cars, ramps, robots, dinosaurs, and Lego; girls loved the “babies”, dress-up clothes, dollhouses, beads, and pretend food. Give them things like geometrical shapes, and some boys would use them to role-play “good guys and bad guys”; girls would role-play “mommies and babies”. There was some crossover, and plenty of neutral territory in puzzles, blocks, books, painting, etc… but still. I was surprised at how pronounced these proclivities were, and couldn’t help wondering about the Nature/Nurture proportions in these kids’ preferences.

It’s amazing how early children learn about “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. Whether it’s from parents, kids, or other role models, it makes me uncomfortable – because most children, being so spongy, assimilate these lessons deeply.

At this tender stage, I worry most about the boys. The first year I taught Grade 1, there was a wonderful little boy I wanted to take home with me. He was quiet, sweet, bright, smiling, artistic. At age 6, the trees he drew not only had leaves on them, but the leaves had veins. I remember that on Valentine’s Day, he wore a red shirt and pink pants. He was adorable.

By Grade 2, he had become vocal about his love of princesses. My heart broke one day as the class discussed a story we’d read, and he mentioned Cinderella… and already, I could see other boys in the class exchanging surreptitious smirks, mocking inside their heads: this boy wasn’t following his gender role. (He’s now in Grade 6, in another school. I hope he’s okay.)

My son, with all his love of cars and dinosaurs and Lego and crazy sound effects, has a princess side too.

His Auntie Beth recently gave him a set of lavender fairy wings. He loves them; he even went biking with them on once. They became part of his dragon costume for Halloween.

The first time E had his nails painted, it was at the small home daycare he attends (where peer pressure is low). The girls were doing theirs, and naturally he wanted his done too. Why not? What kid wouldn’t want awesome-coloured fingernails? But M warned me about it tentatively, before I noticed it, because she knows that some parents object to nail polish on a boy. HA. We all loved it, because he was so delighted. Now we do his nails on a fairly regular basis.

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Pretty colours.

He’s always been a little fashionista. Even before he turned two, he would notice my jewelry: “That’s a pretty necklace, Mummy.” He loves to wear his Mardi Gras beads and the hand-made necklace from his Family Camp friend. Once, he put them on and picked up a broom and said, “Mama, look. I’m a princess, sweeping.”

He also does this thing, if you can catch him in the right moment, called “princess dancing”: uplifted arms, swaying steps, poignant little head-tilts… and a childishly seraphic smile. Almost unbearably beautiful.

For now, these aspects of his personality commingle with his more “boyish” tendencies.

His favourite movies are Cars and TinkerBell.

 

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Cars – the relatively wholesome first one.
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TinkerBell – sent to us accidentally by the Disney Movie Club; surprisingly watchable.

 

He has two beloved re-usable bags: one picturing Lightning McQueen, and the other, Disney princesses.

He gets just as excited about butterfly tattoos as firetruck tattoos.

During kids’ gym time at our local YMCA/YWCA, I once saw two staff members lovingly ogling my kid as he rode a mini-Cat tractor with one hand, dragging a doll stroller with the other.

Sometimes he uses his cars to play family-type drama: “These two cars are getting married, and this big car is moving to a new house and the other cars are worried about him.”

I adore his openness, his natural expression of what he loves. I want him to be able to keep ALL of it.

I hurt to think of how soon these parts of his wonderful Self will be drummed out of him. He’s always liked pink, but recently says he doesn’t. He tells me, “Mama, your favourite colours are pink and purple,” because I’m a girl. (I prefer teal, I tell him.)

He’ll be going to JK next September. I don’t want to advise him to do things that will lead to ridicule… but I want him to feel welcome to embrace his whole self. I want him to be him.

I want him to be like my 12-year-old male student who was so confident, he was completely unabashed about being the only boy in his jazz dance class, and sometimes wore a furry pink bedjacket to school just for kicks. I want my son to have that powerful, joyful, unswerving sense of self – and to share it.

That’s what leads to acceptance. So that it’s okay for little boys to go to school with pretty fingernails.

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Those Greedy, Lazy Teachers

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. After that, I wanted to be a novelist.

It didn’t occur to me to want to be a teacher until later. As a homeschooling kid, I didn’t even have teachers other than my mom.

Then I went to public high school, and had many different teachers, including some really amazing ones. It was my senior French teacher who inspired me to consider a career in education. She was (and is, I’m sure) a wonderful, talented person who taught because she loved kids and wanted to engage with them and help them to do better in life. I loved her class.

When I decided I wanted to teach, it wasn’t because I wanted to be rich. (I already knew that teaching is NOT the way to get rich.) Ditto being famous. I wanted to use my languages, to help other people find their love of language, to impart knowledge and connect with young people. To teach. It sounded so rewarding, so community-oriented, so purposeful.

I remember that my awesome French teacher came to my farewell party before I left for France, after I’d finished my degree in French and Spanish at university (which was also inspired in a large part by her). I hadn’t seen her in four years – four years during which Mike Harris had wreaked havoc on Ontario’s education system. She was looking forward to retirement, and she was feeling, for the first time in her decades-long career, disillusioned and sad about teaching. I remember her saying, “It’s different now. The government speaks badly of teachers, so the parents speak badly of teachers, and the kids come to class with that disrespect in their minds. It’s a terrible atmosphere to teach in.”

The same thing has been going on in British Columbia now since 2001 – an agonizing demoralization of educational professionals through consistent bad-mouthing and a gradual stripping of contracts and working conditions.

Now here we are in Ontario, once again, dealing with a provincial government who blabs on about “putting kids first” as they scramble to lay blame for the deficit. (Ask any Ontario public school teacher – this catch-phrase is so hypocritical it makes us want to throw up.) Continue reading “Those Greedy, Lazy Teachers”

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