Teaching From the Heart

Being a teacher is no easy job. Despite having the summers off and great job security, there often is no constant feelings of success or joy in the classroom. A single day can go from exhausting and futile to creative and enlightening. Parker Palmer is able to articulate the true lives of teachers in his article “The Heart of a Teacher”. He describes the highs and the lows, and looks within the teaching profession to analyse the true work of teaching.

I may not be far into post-secondary education, and I have not even begun to put a dent in the classes in which I will be required to take to become a teacher, but I already know that it is not what I expected. I assumed that I would be bestowed the secret powers of classroom management. At the very least I thought that there was a certain technique that all teachers were equipped with. When none of these expectations were met I find my answer in Parker Palmer’s words, “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” He taught me that ability to teach comes from within.

Parker Palmer also writes about the importance of connecting with your inner teacher. He speaks that there is an ability within you to teach without fear. I found this particular quote astounding:

“I am painfully aware of the times in my own teaching when I lose touch with my inner teacher, and therefore with my own authority. In those times I try to gain power by barricading myself behind the podium and my status while wielding the threat of grades. But when my teaching is authorized by the teacher within me, I need neither weapons nor armor to teach.”

I have had teachers who use this armour and wield these weapons. I have also armed myself this way in my job working with kids. I relate fully to what Palmer writes in regards to the disconnect. I will walk into work some mornings so frazzled and disconnected from myself that I fall into this trap. I threaten with words of punishment and timeouts, I protect myself with distance because I know the second I let my amour down this disconnect will cause me to crumble. Palmer has taken this squishy and icky feeling I experience and put it beautifully in the above quote.

My question for this reading is why do we disconnect in the first place from our inner teacher, and how do we minimize this occurrence? I feel that if I can permanently make my teacher self and regular self into one cohesive identity that it would make the classroom a better place for all.

Parker Palmer speaks about the heart of teaching, and that all teachers must keep their hearts open despite the risk of breaking. I often hear that teaching is one of the most unselfish acts that there is. As someone who probably has not experienced the joys of teaching I wonder what kind of appeal that lifestyle has? Can I be a successful teacher while still valuing my well-being?

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Jagged Worldviews

The world can be viewed in dozens of different ways. Primarily, in the western world it is easy to fall into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative. We think this way, they think that way. Leroy Little Bear breaks down the Western worldview and Aboriginal worldview in his book Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision. He explains each worldview clearly and exhibits great analysis of both. In the end he speaks of the loss of culture within the Indigenous community and how worldviews of their ancestors are colliding with the western worldview. Making room in society for multiple worldviews is important now more than ever as Canada continues to grow and diversify.

From Leroy Little Bear’s article I learned of many aspects of Indigenous Worldview. For Aboriginal people time moves in a cyclical fashion. I could spend all of my time learning about the different ways in which people experience time, and how they view the notions of past, present, and future.

Image of North Dakota pipeline protests
North Dakota Pipeline Protest

Leroy Little Bear explained the fascinating Indigenous belief that all things on this earth are connected as one by a moving spirit. In turn, this would give life to what westerns would believe are inanimate objects. I learned that this particular way of viewing the world instills a more respectful attitude in regards to the natural world. It is not only reflected in Little Bear’s writing but when looking to the causes that many Indigenous communities support, many of them fight for the preservation of wildlife.

I also learned that embracing many aspects from multiple worldviews is important in building your own personal outlook on life. It is easy to follow the crowd and believe what others tell you to believe, but to form an opinion that is truly your own, you must take multiple different parts and work them together. The same goes for worldview. As Leroy Little Bear outlined in his book, with the loss of Indigenous worldview and the adoption of western beliefs leaves many Indigenous people at a loss. They often find themselves molding the two worldviews together to create a belief that is cohesive to them individually while staying true to their people.

As the Colton Boushie case moves through Canada, people are facing the underlying conflict between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal citizens. This takes me back to an Indigenous 100 class I took in my first semester. In this class we discussed the slow change of the Canadian legal system to incorporate Indigenous worldview in court such as verbal accounts. This clashing reminds me of Leroy Little Bear’s work because he writes about worldviews clashing across many cultures. I am puzzled over how much molding and shaping worldviews will go through, and excited to see the reflection of old worldviews in new ones.

The question that I end this reading with is one that I often ponder, even before reading this article. Upon learning of different worldviews I wonder that if two people who live within completely different worldviews are still living in the same world?

Canada’s History of Education

Canada’s history of education is one that often gets told in tiny pieces with its faults sugar coated and the effects present in today’s society ignored. For this week I was given a wide array of resources that pieced together Canada’s entire educational history. These resources opened my eyes to the true history of Canada’s education system.

The first thing I learned was from the Schooling in Saskatchewan document. I had always wondered how English and French immersion schools came about, and this article covered the entire evolution of such schools. I had not known that twenty short years after Manitoba joined confederation that they had abolished separate denominational schools and French as an official language. I also learned that it took the implementation of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Saskatchewan to create a Francophone School board.

Next I read the truly heart-wrenching stories from Shattering the Silence: History of Residential Schools in Saskatchewan which was written by Shuana Niessen. There were three stories written that depicted the lives of a parent who was left behind as their child was carted away to attend an Indian Residential School, then of the child in question and their experiences at these schools, and lastly, an intergenerational trauma survivor. For myself throughout my education I was typically exposed to the stories of the student. These stories were the easiest to comprehend and connect to. This was my first time considering the parents of the students. The story managed to encompass more than the separation and anxiety that crippled the parents of these children. It included

Teepee in the middle of a modern street
Fibonacci Blue Flickr via Compfight cc

the pressures that came along with providing for their community in a new world where challenges such as colonization were never experienced. The final story brought me to the present where I read of the deep cut that colonization and residential schools inflicted in First Nation, Metis, and Inuit family lineage. I learned of the intergenerational violence that the survivors become entrapped in and of the challenges that the survivors and their families are currently facing because of residential schools.

After taking all of this new knowledge in, I am left with many questions. Where do we go from here? Is it right to keep expecting students to succeed in such a flawed system? How do we, as educators, incorporate the vastly changing needs of our students into a curriculum that hasn’t been updated. Most importantly, how do we deal with the flaws of our education system and provide adequate education for the twenty-first century student?

The above question leads my train of thought to analyse how far schools have come. On the surface it is easy to point out that we no longer remove children from the influence of their families and communities, but we are not fostering that experience appropriately in the classroom. We no longer use physical punishment and tolerate sexual abuse, but our expectations of children are oftentimes unattainable (hence the use of prescription drugs to alter their behaviour).

Canada’s history of education bleeds into the present and well into the future. We cannot continue to ignore the impacts of our past mistakes as it impacts of society today.

Unearned Privilege

White privilege is a heavy topic. Although my ECS110 class covered this topic and allowed me to feel much more comfortable speaking on this issue, I do not get a free pass from discussing thing and I am certainly not an expert. I am still exploring my white privilege in relation to the other forms of privilege in my life and in the relationships I have with those around me. I feel that acknowledging your privilege is the first step to productive change, but I have a long road ahead of me before privilege and systemic racism are factors of the past.

Girl Standing with Backpack
The eclectic Oneironaut Flickr via Compfight cc

Through Peggy Mcintosh’s insightful article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” I learned that my privileges are “invisible packages of unearned assets”. This is an interesting way of looking at privilege. Thinking about it in a physical sense where there is in fact a backpack which has assets to aid me in life is an interesting concept that I can add to my growing arsenal of knowledge.

I also learned about a defense mechanism that many white people tend to use in conversation about white privilege. That is where it is interlocked with racism, sexism, and heterosexualism in order to ‘spread the target’ or ‘soften the blow’. As Peggy McIntosh states in her article since racism, sexism, and heterosexism are not the same, the advantages associated with them should not be seen as the same.” Which in turn makes them uncomparable in a discussion about white privilege.

Lastly the entire list that McIntosh was able to create opened my eyes to the privilege I have. The twenty-six scenarios she posses are only the tip of the privilege iceberg, yet they change the way I move about my everyday life. It has drawn attention to the unfair actions that society seems to constantly dismiss as optional. I am specifically astounded by the act of presenters who are asked to speak on behalf of their race. In this very class we applauded Anna-Leah King as she stood before us and generalized the genocide of her people for our learning experience.

This entire article leaves a coil of guilt in my stomach. I realize that guilt and shame was not the purpose, and that my time is better spent on finding solutions to the issue of white privilege, specifically my white privilege. The question I will be asking myself is how do I lessen the unearned assets in my invisible knapsack? How do I go about ridding myself of my privilege, and ending this unfair privilege for all white people? I find the solution problematic and uncertain. The direction that I need to be going in is vague and I am not sure where to begin this journey of shedding my privilege. I don’t wish to renounce my whiteness or pretend I don’t belong to my own race. I believe that ending the privilege is possible and needs to be obtained for the benefits of those who do not have this privilege and for those who do. White privilege is not about guilt, it is about action.

Muffins for Granny

This week class was spent learning about the importance of Aboriginal identity through the stories of Anna-Leah King and from the film Muffins for Granny. King spoke about her parents’ experiences going to residential school. It wasn’t until I looked up from my note taking that I saw her face mid-story. Gloss coated her eyes thick beneath her lashes and with each word she said a wave of emotion followed, as if it pained her to speak so openly about her parents, herself, and her people. Allowing myself to accept the stories spilling out from between her lips and into my open and supporting heart is one thing, but to metaphorically cut herself open and bleed the truth to a receptive audience is absolutely astonishing.

Then came the film. I have watched many films on the subject of Residential school, but had yet to watch Muffins for Granny made by Nadia Mclaren. The film is dedicated to her Grandmother who shared her tragic experiences in Residential school. The film showcased 7 others who’s stories continue to haunt me well passed the end of the documentary.

From the presentation and film viewing I learned a lot. I had never bothered to think about a presenters feelings before. Whether the topic be very personal or standardized facts with no personal connection, I never stopped to wonder what effects these topics actually had on the speaker. This causes me to reflect back on other presentations I had sat through mindlessly absorbing the words without empathy. Even one week before when I had the privilege of listening to Christian speak about his experience with gender identity while growing up, I was so focused on how I would apply the new lessons I learned from his presentations into my own life in a positive way that I lacked the empathetic nature that I have now. It was as if with Anna-Leah King that my eyes had been opened to a whole new world of listening with an empathetic ear. I would like to thank Ms. King for the insightful presentation and for recommending the heart-touching film Muffins for Granny. If you have not seen the film I encourage you to watch the trailer below.

Reflecting back on her presentation along with the film that followed moves me to tears. As a way to express my feelings about this presentation I have written the poem below.

 

For You

For the lives that go unlived and the dreams that go undreamt,

For children that ’re not taught and the land that wasn’t leant.

The valiant and the brave fought for the innocent.

This is for the children, families, communities,

For the ones who had to suffer with no opportunities.

The continued negligence reveals the truth of our species.

This is for the food, plates uneaten and unserved,

They made it sound important as if the people they deserved.

A population in starvation, yet their cries will go unheard.

This is for the bodies buried, burned, and all forgotten,

Will the families hear the words if their ears are filled with cotton?

Darkened hearts that keep on beating, taking orders they are rotten.

For the children stuck in past, present, future it’s unsure,

We need to work together wading through the truth obscured.

Teach me in your language let your voices sound secure,

Of the hurtful kind of suffering that your people must endure.