Grateful for Canadian Women Writers

We are transitioning this week from our September theme of the return to school, to gratitude, our theme for the month of Thanksgiving.

After running around like a madwoman all September, I am ready to sit down and create some space for myself and to reflect on what has kept me sane for the past month.  What keeps me sane is my bulging bookshelf of books to be read.  More than sane.  It delights me.  What I am most grateful for in this month of Thanksgiving is the incredible talent of the Canadian women whose work has made my down time such a joy.

In spite of the insanity of the blur that was September, I still managed to read a lovely pile of books.  I recommend one and all and hope that you, too, will find something to love and to be grateful for.

9781770894327Girl Runner

Carrie Snyder

Toronto: Anansi, 2014.

I have reviewed Carrie’s work here before.  Her Juliet Stories are a favourite of mine, and I could not wait to read her latest.  Girl Runner is everything I had hoped it would be.  It is crisp and smart and lyrical.  It is a page-turner.  Last, but not least, there is a gorgeous illustrated map at the beginning of the book.  It reminded me of Ernest Shepard’s map of the Hundred Acre Wood.  It has beautiful little houses, neat rows of crops and trees, and a lighthouse in the middle of farmland; a mystery in the middle of a rural landscape.  It is preparation for the mystery at the heart of the story of the novel’s protagonist, 104-year-old Aganetha Smart.  Olympic runner.  Nursing home inmate.

The book begins on the day that Aganetha is sprung from her nursing home by two strangers claiming to know her.  The novel then progresses with flashbacks of Aggie’s life as they take her home to the farm where she grew up.  Aggie’s girlhood on the farm, her working life in the city, her training as a competitive runner and her winning Olympic gold for Canada in the 1928 Olympics, her friendships, work and ambition.

What I most loved about the book is the description of Aganetha’s ambition.  I don’t think there are enough stories about female ambition.  Snyder describes ambition not as something hard or calculating, but as if it is something organic, born and not made by the goal-setting cheers of the chorus of life coaches that seem so loud in the 21st century.

Aganetha reflects that

Somehow it never went out of me–the desire to compete, to line up against others, win or lose, part of a rhythm larger than myself.  One turning wheel in a crowd of effort.

That image of gears could stand equally well as a metaphor for how the book is constructed, with successive gears setting each other in motion, and when you arrive, breathless, at the end, the final gear clicks into place and the whole story makes a different and piercing kind of sense.

ellenEllen in Pieces

Caroline Adderson

Toronto: Harper Collins, 2014.

When Caroline Adderson set out to write this book, she did so with a particular goal in mind: to write a book that walked and talked like a novel but that could be taken apart into standalone stories.  Ellen in Pieces.  Ellen.  In Pieces.  She knocked it out of the park.

The cover art is especially apt because not only can the novel’s structure withstand being fractured, the book looks at the fragments of a woman’s life and at how romance, motherhood, friendship and a sense of self can all survive being shattered.  And it has to be said, there is shattering.  There is also humour, sex, and some damn fine writing about the frustrations and difficulties of being a single mother:

She met the American novelist in the restaurant of the Hyatt to review his schedule.  Interviews, bookstore signings, then the grand finale, the Reading.  He asked straight out, “Did you love my book?”

“I did,” Ellen said.  She’d only read the beginning and the end and some of the middle bits.  “It’s brilliant.”  It was middling, actually, but you don’t feed two children on honesty.

Ellen is not an entirely likeable character.  This also has to be said.  But I really enjoyed seeing how Adderson made her character succeed in spite of her faults.  She is feisty and often selfish, but she is loved, and her friends are loyal, and I found it a marvel to watch how they rally around her.

interInterference

Michelle Berry

Toronto: ECW Press, 2014.

Interference, another novel in stories, takes its title from the rules of hockey: a penalty is called if an opponent impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal, obscures too aggressively his line of sight.  Sight, obscured and predatory and sinister, is what this book is all about.  How do we see?  How are we seen?  Who is watching?  The book is a collection of short stories about the inhabitants of a small Canadian town: the members of the Senior Ladies Leisure Hockey League, local teens, a mysterious man with a disfiguring scar.  The stories are interspersed with written ephemera: letters to parents from the school principal,  a list of myths about cancer, emails and legal Cease and Desist letters.  Sometimes, though, these bits of information raise more questions than they answer.  I absolutely loved how the book kicks off with a letter from the principal:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

This morning we became aware of an incident that occurred at another school this week.  We are forwarding this information to you, because we know you need to be aware of what is going on and we need to have an open dialogue between staff and parents.  We have found that if we don’t have this kind of discussion some of our parents get very upset.  Last year’s incident with the ice cream and the hermit crabs was just such an example of this.

In effect, “Parents, we are watching you.  We don’t like how you gossip.  This is the one true version of events.  Everything is under control.”  The letter goes on to describe an incident of a possible attempted abduction, and the threat of a pedophile lurking around haunts the rest of the book.  Everything is decidedly not under control, and disquiet hovers.  But, damn, all I wanted to know on page 1 was what happened with the ice cream and the hermit crabs!

brokenAll the Broken Things

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Toronto: Random House, 2014.

All the broken things includes my heart.  This novel tells the story of Bo, a refugee from Vietnam, his mother Rose, and his sister, who is severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange.  It tells the story of Teacher, who tries desperately to do the right thing for Bo and his family, having sponsored them through her church, but failing utterly to understand how hard it is for Bo to accept her goodwill because he feels proud and alien and 14, for Pete’s sake.  It is about Emily, Bo’s schoolmate and neighbour, who has an otherworldly wisdom and an ability to connect with his hidden sister.  It is about getting swept up in putting on a school play, the story of Orpheus, and it is, improbably and perfectly reasonably, about a Vietnamese boy finding a home in Canada by performing in the theater of the circus: bear wrestling.  He is given his own cub to raise, and like the great writhing mass of his emotions, he has to keep her hidden from sight.

The story broke my heart because Bo has too much responsibility and wrestles with too much loss for one so young.  He is swept up in so much turmoil, and while the pathos is never gratuitous, I found it so very moving to read about a boy still so adrift after making landfall in Canada.  When Teacher invites Rose to help make the costumes for the play, Bo chafes at seeing his mother at school:

He wasn’t embarrassed.  He was ashamed.  And he wasn’t ashamed of Rose.  It was something deeper.  It was the shame Teacher conveyed, by trying to fix things.  He wanted to shout that these things were just broken.  He wanted her to understand about the pride of broken things.

That Bo is simultaneously so wise and so lost is the story’s best and, yes, most heartbreaking, tension.

Please share the book love!  Tell us what you’re reading and what we should read, too.

Guest Post: Jennifer Cypher on Why Boys Tune Out

photo (12)I’m sitting in one of those plastic chairs designed for kids. My son’s kindergarten teacher is saying things I don’t understand. “Your child doesn’t participate at circle time. He doesn’t do art, or like to draw. He does not respect his classmates.” Is she talking about my child? Because I’m getting 6 drawings a day coming home in his backpack. But then she hands me his report card, with his name on the top. This is my child at school?

I take a breath. I ask about the 6 drawings that come home daily. Those aren’t “art” because he doesn’t colour them (true, they are all in pencil) and he doesn’t like to colour and doesn’t colour in the lines. Why doesn’t he participate at circle time? She explains that he can’t sit still so she removes him from the circle, ergo he can’t participate. Disrespect? He blurts out answers and doesn’t give other students a chance. Oh, and another thing, he talks to the adults in the room too much, and follows their adult conversations. This is not appropriate.

I take another breath. Our time is almost up, so I ask about his reading. He came into kindergarten reading. “Is he reading a lot,” I ask. “Reading to others, reading in French (this is French Immersion)?” “There’s nothing special for him, that’s not a focus for us.” So, no enrichment for him, and you aren’t even using his skill to help other students? Oh. I suggest that he may be bored. This does not go over well.

I hear on the playground, that this teacher “doesn’t like boys” so all of his normal behaviours (not sitting still, needing to move, needing to get his words out, needing to draw freely, not caring about where the lines are) are “problems” that stem from being a boy. Two months into school he becomes his behaviour: disruptive, mouthy, disrespectful.

Every year since then it has been some version of this. There are no attempts to harness this energy, or to accommodate it, or allow it to just be. The suggestions his father and I give to “deal with” him are met with incredulity. Let him work standing up, I say. Not an option. Give him more responsibility, we suggest. It might make him feel included, and give him some skin in the game. Responsibility must be earned, we are told. Through compliance, we surmise. I literally tell a teacher that if she won’t accommodate him as he is it’s her funeral.

Why are we still doing it this way? No wonder I spend half of my energy as a university professor trying to get 20-year-olds to stop colouring in the lines and show a spark of something other than lumpen lack of enthusiasm and total compliance, or the appearance of compliance. Sometimes I make fun of them for how well they comply, not to be a jerk but to drive home how weird it is. But after years and years of molding themselves into the school system’s image, they don’t think it’s weird at all. This is not what I want for my son, more importantly it isn’t what he wants, nor does it honour who he is or what he is capable of.

When my kid does his homework, he is slow to start. He’s working on cursive right now, and doing pretty well with it. I can’t help much, he’s a lefty and I am profoundly right-handed. He stands up, writes a line or two, then does a sprint: diningroomlibrarycouchjumpstanduplibrarydiningroomkitchenfloorslide. Back to the table for another couple of lines, repeat. I know this would be difficult to accommodate in a classroom, but surely not impossible. It would be nice if anyone, just one teacher, tried.

This year, it might be different. He has a teacher who is trying different strategies, and who sees him as a human being, not a bundle of behaviours to be managed. It’s early days yet, but we’ll see. I can only be partly hopeful about this, because this is one teacher in a larger system that isn’t geared for kids like him, which means they are probably not responding to perhaps 48% of the people they are supposed to serve. I might be hopeful for my child, this year, but in the face of the larger picture I’m not hopeful at all, and I can see clearly why boys tune out. Mine is certainly on the verge, and that makes me angry and afraid.

::

Jennifer Cypher is an academic, community activist, parent, and late-bloomer hockey player. She has a PhD in Environmental Studies from York University, where she teaches part-time.

 

 

What Boys and Girls Alike Need to Succeed at School

Word on the street is that boys aren’t performing as well as girls at school; as a mother of three boys I feel compelled to tune in to discussions like the ones hosted at the Globe and Mail back in 2010.  I try to glean what I can from them, and I’m more than open to advice on raising sons – yet still I often find these conversations alternately a bit dull or depressing.

Whatever social biases result in girls or boys being under-serviced at school should be rooted out, obviously.  But if we can operate on a slightly higher plane and assume that the playing field ought to be level, then it seems like a generalized failing of a group within an education system would only be possible by failing to see those students as individuals.

Yes, of course, let’s be sensitive to patterns of conduct and performance outcomes, but these things would be less important if, as a point of departure, our education system could recognize and nurture as individuals the students who make up a classroom.  One wouldn’t then have to rely on statistical reports revealing that boys are failing at school, because one would know that Ryan and Jason and Thomas are bored/unmotivated/distracted.  And if we really knew those kids, we could do something about it before the failures began.

I find the discussion about these things distressing because with classrooms of 20 or 30 students grouped exclusively according to age (as opposed to interest, need, affinity, or…?), it is hard for even the best teachers to know and nurture students as individuals.  I remember once talking to a teacher who said that she would trade all the reports, all the new teaching techniques, all of the everything that gets thrown at teachers to improve student achievement for one thing:  more teachers.  Put all of the money poured into these studies and reports and redirect them into salaries, she said, because having a relationship with someone who knows and cares about you, made possible through low teacher to student ratios, is the one thing – and I think she may have said it’s the only thing – that consistently makes a difference.  Her view had, to me, the ring of truth in it, and I’ve never forgotten it.

This individual care and attention would help make school relevant too.  These marks that the boys aren’t now achieving, or that girls were once discouraged from achieving, are they worth striving for?  Kids, like adults, don’t usually tune out things that matter to them, but you can’t know what those things are unless you know the children.    Before we lament the lagging of student achievement at school, maybe we should question whether the education that the children are failing to acquire – the one that prizes a narrow definition of academic success according to strict age  limits and few subjects – deserves the importance that is attributed to it.

I’ve chosen a holistic education for my kids – one that honours equally the contributions of the head, heart, hands and spirit (non-religious) because I’m not at all sure that the academic accomplishments so valued in our education system can serve our children well on their own.  It ought to be coupled with full recognition and appreciation of their whole selves.  When my boys move their bodies naturally, fluidly, in a field of sport or while exploring the depths of the ravine, I don’t see a way to let them let off steam so they can get to the real business of their worksheets:  I see robust and magnificent body (or kinesthetic, if we’re being fancy) intelligence.  And I think that without true development of the many intelligences that grace our world, our education system is quite seriously undermined.

I’m not an educator (and am full of respect for the many committed educators I both know and don’t know) but I have a simple view.  Sometimes I think that what students really need isn’t more than same sex classes or technology or tutoring or studies but more people.  Parents, teachers, mentors, and peers who are engaged with the whole person of the girl or boy before them, willing to see them through an early process of learning so that when adulthood comes, they know how to do this for themselves.  I’m not sure there are any short cuts through the village.

Boys and Education: Sometimes the teacher must be the student

I have a confession to make. In addition to being a great mother before I had children, I was even a better fifth grade teacher. I couldn’t understand why library books didn’t come back on time, I’d shake my head at a family’s disorganization and as embarrassed as I am to admit, I would harrumph, and roll my eyes at the “excuses” for homework not being done.

That was before.

I will also admit to feeling gob smacked when I learned that I was having a boy. And another. And then another. How could I, poster child for the girly-girl, have three boys?

Living with boys hasn’t come easy to me. It has been a learning process of how to best communicate with them and Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, has been my instructional guide.

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“Did you know that most boys and men build friendships around activities and don’t really care to share their inner most feelings with each other?” I asked my husband, somewhat incredulously.

“Um, yeah,” he muttered back to me while absently staring at the tv and flicking through the channels.

“Did you know that most boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder, you know, looking at problem together, rather than making direct eye contact?” I say this like it’s some sort of a revelation.

“Ya.”

“Okay, this explains a lot. Did you know that there are structural differences in the ears’ of boys and girls, and this guy is suggesting that sometimes boys have a hard time hearing their teacher and don’t intend to be disruptive?!”

“Sorry, what’d you say?”

And there you have it. My life with boys.

I read somewhere that women speak thousands more words in a day than men. In my case it’s true. I live my life according to a script.

“Wake up! Teeth brushed, beds made, clothes on! Knees off the table. Use your spoon. Dishes to the dishwasher . . . “

And when the boys are fighting, I am more likely to get into a discussion (albeit one-sided) about feelings and anger, and controlling impulses. Down on my knees, arms wrapped around each boy, sandwiching myself in between them, I talk. And talk. And talk. I’m usually there to intercede immediately after the first fist flies.

By contrast, the boys’ father will swoop into a room after the fighting has reached a level he has deemed too violent (usually just before or after bloodshed) and clip, “Enough!”

With that simple command, the boys will scamper to their respective corners, like lion cubs retreating after they’ve caused the leader of the pride to roar.

“You engage with them too much sometimes. Just say it once and mean it.” This is my husband’s advice. In fact this is how he lives his life. He keeps his sentences brief, and speaks when it counts. Years ago he told me that when someone talks to hear their own voice others would eventually learn to shut it out.

Dr. Sax would say that I should let the boys be physical and competitive because they are just doing what comes natural. He is quick to assert that doesn’t mean letting them pound each other to a bloody pulp or allow them to use violence to solve their problems, but that I should just back-off, and not make the jump to “Oh my God! They are going to grow up to be sociopaths if I let them pretend to shoot each other!”

But it’s hard for me. As a woman, I like to talk about everything and hash-it all out. My girlfriends and I will talk all sides of a story and debate tone and inflection until exhausted, we move on to another topic. My friends with daughters often remark how their little girls come home from school and they talk for an hour, getting the play-by –play: what the teacher wore, what so-and-so said, where they sat on the carpet and what the story was about. They will know the dynamics of friendships and whose feelings were hurt and who has made-up.

My boys come home and it’s like prying teeth to get them to share the happenings of their day. I have resorted to asking very pointed questions on our walks home from school, should-to-shoulder, avoiding direct eye contact. I used to think that they weren’t sharing things with me because they were embarrassed, or possibly nervous of my reaction, but no, I was reassured with a shrug of their shoulders and an, “Oh, I dunno. I forgot.

It’s important to note that my boys and I have a very close relationship and they will tell me their inner most secrets, but I’ve had to learn what’s news to me, isn’t news to them and like their father, they use fewer words than I do.

So what does all of this mean when it comes to the classroom?

I usually breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that my son’s teacher is a mom to a boy.

She gets it. I think.

I hope.

And usually she does. She usually gets that boys think fart jokes are hilarious, and that they generally like competition, even if it’s just with them. She gets that sitting for more than one-minute necessary can have a disastrous result. She gets that even when they don’t say anything, it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting, or needing help. She gets the nuances of being a boy.

And that’s what I didn’t get when I was a teacher. Make no mistake; I thought that I got it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Can you really blame me?

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*Dr. Sax refers to gender and not “sex” differences. It’s an important distinction.

* Dr. Sax also writes about the disjointed messages our girls receive from society while growing up and how damaging they can be. Fascinating food for thought.

Is There a Crisis in Boys’ Education?

I feel as though I spend a great deal of my parenting energy fighting boy behaviour.  While I’ve given up entirely on stopping my three boys from making guns out of whatever material comes to hand, I feel I wage a constant battle to put a stop to other undesirable boy behaviour: taming their tendency towards violent play, stopping rough-housing before it gets out of hand, keeping the noise levels tolerable, taking their dinner chairs away and making them stand if I have to ask them too many times to just sit down and eat for the love of god, discouraging loud burps and farts.  I do not look at my battle as a war on boyhood.  I look at it as a civilizing mission.  I’m not telling them that what they are and how they want to play is bad; I’m making sure that their choices are consistent with civility and with a mission to do no harm, to self or to society.  If I surrendered to my instincts, I’d stay in bed all day with a book.  Neither that nor running screaming through the streets, as Youngest is wont to do, is going to do anyone any good if it’s the norm rather than the exception.

elementI agree that the model of education in most schools is guilty of a similar suppression of a lot of boy energy, and  I applaud teachers who are keen to get their students up and moving and using all their different kinds of intelligence.   Inspired by Sarah Easterbrook’s interview last week, I watched all the You Tube videos I could find of Ken Robinson, then I read his book, The Element.  He is wonderful about teaching us about the outliers who do not fit the mold, and who shine when they are able to be their true selves.  But there is still a time when bums have to be in seats and lips zipped.  We have to hold kids accountable to that, too.  We have to be clear that we have expectations, and we have to encourage our boys to meet them.

I was saddened to read in the first article in the Globe and Mail series from 2010 that

Nearly 70 per cent of parents said they expected their 15-year-old daughters would complete a university degree. Yet only 60 per cent had the same expectation of their 15-year-old sons.

“I think too many of us accept the failure of boys, we say, ‘Well, that’s just the way boys are,’ there’s a social impulse in that direction, that even our expectations are lower,” Dr. Cappon said. “We don’t pay nearly enough attention to their needs and aspirations, take seriously their interests, and what motivates them, whether it’s reading comics or science fiction. It isn’t at all clear that schools have taken account of that.”

But if part of the problem is having lower expectations of boys, then isn’t part of the solution to have high expectations of all students?

I spent a year teaching literacy to adults, teaching men who went from functional illiteracy to Grade 9 or Grade 12 equivalency.  My students were all men, injured at work and having to go back to school to get new jobs through a government re-training programme.  They had all dropped out or been kicked out of school; they were able to find work that suited them better.  Until they could no longer do that work, I don’t think any of them would have gone back to school, and believe me when I tell you that some of them very much resented having to go back to what was obviously something they thought they’d left behind.  They all earned 80% or higher on all of their work.  (For the Americans in the audience, that’s an A- in Canada.)  We had high expectations of this group of students: 80% was our passing mark, and they all did it.  It took injury and many hours of intensive teaching and studying, but they graduated with marks that I’m sure their younger selves would never have expected.  I could not have been more different from those men, but I hope we shared the same degree of pride at their success.

If I am perfectly honest, I know that it was that job that taught me how to punctuate a sentence properly, and not my own experience of Grade 9 to Grade 12.  I could not have recited the rule for semi-colon use before that job, nor could I recite the six occasions on which it is appropriate to use a comma; now I can.  I got through graduate school without the command of grammar that I am convinced can only come from having to teach it.  I persuade myself every day that Eldest will eventually learn to write in full sentences by default and that Middlest will remember to put a period at the end of every sentence.  One day, it will, finally, sink in.

I do worry a little about the boys’ reading and writing.  They were all late readers, and they are not great writers.  I view that as a need for more training, not a lack of ability, and we supplement school with writing instruction to help bring them up to speed.  I aim to read to them for an hour a day, and I pick the books.  (They can read whatever they want to when they get their own time with books.  Who am I to dictate taste?  As long as I don’t have to read a Lego Ninjago book, I’m good.)  I don’t manage it every day, and sometimes we have to surrender reading to rink time or the almighty clock, but I work really, really hard to make sure that more often than not, we end the day with an hour of books that we all enjoy.  Is this to make up for a boy deficit in language?  No.  It’s because it’s a passion and the boys experience it as one.  They will grow up knowing that books are precious, that time to read is made and not found, and, for now, that is more important than their punctuating perfectly or beating the girls’ average in English class.

And the boys do all have girls in their classes.  I do not think that an all-boys’ school is the answer to boys’ educational needs.  They need to see girls and women as leaders, colleagues and competitors.

Eldest is thrilled to have a male teacher this year.  Why?  Because he does not believe in homework.  That’s not gender-specific.  Of course, I’m happy that my boys are happy when they have male teachers.  I’m not worried that there are too few; I’m worried that we undervalue teaching as a profession.  I’m not surprised that more men are not attracted to the profession.  We do not respect or reward our teachers nearly enough.  One proposal from an advocate for getting more men into teaching is to have

A marketing campaign, similar to billboards used to attract women to apprenticeship programs, … with images of men working with young children, so society can see men that way, and men can see themselves that way.

I’d rather see those dollars go towards a pay raise, for male and female teachers.  We value them too little.

Again, it’s part of my civilizing mission to make sure that my kids do respect the adult at the front of the class, male or female.  I do not advocate blind adherence to authority, but I insist on respect for the person whose job it is to take care of you: babysitter, teacher, coach, grandparent or parent.  My message is always the same: work hard, have fun, but don’t make it anyone else’s job to manage your behaviour.

Is there a crisis in boys’ education?  I don’t think it’s productive or necessary to ring alarm bells.  Men still earn more than women.  Men still outnumber women in positions of power and prestige.   But we do all need to work hard to keep all of our kids engaged and living up to their potential.

At Issue: Teaching Boys

As you know, we are all mothers of boys.  We face the daily challenge of keeping the fridge stocked, the socks off the floor and the noise levels to something below ear-splitting.

But what about being mothers to boys in school?  What are the challenges of parenting boys through their academic development?  This week, 4Mothers will be discussing the challenges of teaching boys.

In a 6-part series in 2010, The Globe and Mail investigated a perceived crisis in the education of boys.  In the introductory article, Carolyn Abraham notes that

Boys have been recast as the underdogs of academics. It’s a controversial shift – fuelling a complex battle of the sexes – but these days boys are the ones making news, for falling behind and flunking out, from the U.S. to China, from the U.K. to the Philippines, from New Zealand to Canada.

Subsequent articles in the series looked at the endangered male teacherover-medicating boys, misunderstanding boys, and a call to action to even the balance.

In this article from April 2014, Erin Andersson reports on a study that shows that boys’ poor performance is actually nothing new: boys have been lagging behind girls for the past 100 years:

Boys aren’t falling behind in school. More accurately, they were never ahead.

A new international peer-reviewed study by Canadian researchers has found that over the last 100 years, girls have always done better than boys when it comes to school grades. And not just in language studies, though the gender gap in those subjects is wider: Their findings also hold true in math and science. In those stereotypically “male” subjects, girls have either performed just as well as boys, or do better. These results were not only stable over time, but across nationalities and race. And while boys do make up some ground in math and science in high school, girls still do better than them.

How does our experience measure up to these alarm calls?  Is there a crisis in our own boys’ education?  Stay tuned for our perspectives on teaching boys.

Enjoy the Adventure that “Yes” Can Bring: an Interview with Sarah Easterbrook

It’s such a pleasure to introduce Sarah Easterbrook in Toronto.  I’d say something more about her, except that her words on teaching and children say it all.  We are so lucky to have the commitment and enthusiasm of wonderful teachers – it’s an honour to shine the light on them this week at 4Mothers.

~~~~~

What was your proudest moment as a teacher?

My proudest moments are when I have been working with a child on a concept, or an idea that they have found really difficult ~ and then they have that ‘lightbulb’ moment.  That feeling always gives me a buzz, and I’m on cloud nine for the rest of the day.  It can be something as simple as a child recognizing the first letter of their name for the first time, or a child using their words to ask to play with a toy rather than snatching it.

What would you like parents to know (but are too polite to tell them)?

I think I would tell parents anything ~ but only if they asked!

One thing I think we all do, and I constantly challenge myself as parent on this, is to ask “why am I saying ‘no’”?  It can be something as simple as letting the children explore mixing sand and water, to mixing up the different colors of play dough, and now that my children are older, to when they ask to play an online game.

Now I think about why I am saying ‘no’, and try to say ‘yes’ a whole lot more.  I think about what is the worst  thing that can happen if I say ‘yes’ ~ and most of them time, if the worst happens, it may not be a bad thing.

So I would like parents to say ‘yes’ more often and enjoy the adventure that a ‘yes’ can bring.

What has been one of your biggest challenges as a teacher?

Making sure every day is different for the children, and that I don’t give everything at the beginning of the week and have nothing left for the children in my class on Friday.  Pacing myself is something I find really hard, because I want to give 110% to everything, and I can’t all the time.

Who is one of your mentors?

That’s a hard one.  I take inspiration from lots of blogs on the Internet, people coming up with amazing ideas that I can spring board off to adapt for the children I work with.  Examples would be Teach Preschool, The Crafty Crow, Pink and Green Mama, and The Artful Parent.

There is also a wonderful educator called Ken Robinson – I love his ideas and thoughts.  He believes that every child is unique, and that too often education emphasizes academic attainment over creativity.  Creativity is what we should nourish in every child.

I enjoy this cartoon that draws along one of Ken Robinson’s speeches:

I often recommend this talk Ken Robinson gave at a Ted Talk in 2006, about how we need to create an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.  A little irreverent in places – but he makes his points really well with humor.

What do your students teach you?

Lots!  The main one is how they take something I have set up, and play with it in many unexpected ways I haven’t thought of.  I love how the children turn my ideas upside down and come up with something much better.

Community Success

photo 3My proudest time as a teacher was taking a group of students to South Africa on exchange.

In 2007, I took eleven Nelson Mandela Park Public School students (from grades five to twelve) to Cape Town, South Africa, for a month.

For close to two years, the school and the Regent Park community worked together and supported the exchange in every way (financially, emotionally, physically) through fundraising, learning about South Africa and Nelson Mandela, and through communicating with Battswood, our sister school in South Africa.

Prior to our trip, in December of 2006, the Regent Park community hosted a group of teachers, parents and students from our sister school in their homes and classrooms for a month.

The community aspect, both here in Canada and there in South Africa, was amazing.

It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time it was easy because we knew that other people were supporting  the project.

What was most remarkable about this whole experience was the level of trust from the school, the community, and the families that these children could be successful in doing the unexpected.

I was privileged to be a part of this life changing experience.

(Recounting this story brought tears to Sherri’s eyes).

 

What do you learn from your students?

photo (10)Being a teacher and spending my days with young children has taught me to embrace living in an imperfect world. The lives of children are often messy and complicated, but that messiness is usually short-lived and turns into joy and exuberance more quickly than we adults anticipate. I am always amazed watching children make mistakes as they are learning or as they are navigating the social world of the playground because I am also witnessing them build resilience and their inner strength, which I know they will carry into their adult lives.  Watching them build their resiliency or come to accept when their ideas don’t work out as planned makes me remember it’s okay to exist in a place that isn’t always neat and tidy, where it’s okay to fail because we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

What was your proudest moment as a teacher?

20140911_145815 (1)“As a teacher I am fortunate to be in a profession that allows me to see great accomplishments on a daily basis.  Though I often feel pride, it isn’t necessarily because of something I’ve done. It is because of the accomplishments of others that I’m able to be a part of.

One such example is of two little girls from Bangladesh. Their mother was a gynecologist and father a computer professional. They came to Canada to provide their children with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. Life was not easy for them here. Their parents could not get work in their field and therefore were forced to live in a low-income area of Toronto where the children were living and going to school with people who had different ethics and values.

The two girls had to learn English and struggled to follow an academic path that was very different from many of their new friends.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both girls in more than one grade. The eldest daughter mentioned me in her grade 6 valedictorian speech as being part of her success in elementary school.

The family has since moved to New York City and Mahshid is now in university on scholarship and wants to be in education. She keeps in contact still and often reminds me of the difference I (along with others) made in her life. I am so very proud – not for what I did, but for what she has achieved and for the fact I was fortunate to be involved, even if only for a short time.

This is what teaching gives you, the ability to guide, inspire, encourage and help someone on their path to achieve what they set out to do. It is pride for what others have allowed you to be a part of.”