Ripping #SOL

We texted in a group chat about decisions, stuff we’d done, plans for the week, videos we’d shown. I’d taken action on something that needed to be done. I hadn’t asked for permission, because I knew this was a good decision for students.

Each year the three of us select an emoji, an annual symbol, which represents an abstract idea of our situation or circumstance or approach to the year. When we text in the group chat, we’ll send threesomes with the emojis of the year. Last year’s emojis included the clown face, a pretzel. and the Easter Island head. (I will not divulge whose is whose on the grounds that it might incriminate us.) Besides, it’s our code.

This year’s emojis are fire, tornado, and bicep flex. I think this information might be enough evidence for someone to profile each of us, but this thread weaves throughout our communications.

The group chat from today went like this:

Melanie: I ordered x books without checking because the students need some joy.

Tobi: finger and the three emojis.

Amanda: high five and the three emojis.

Tobi: Amanda’s way more polite.

Amanda: Not anymore. I’m within spitting distance of 50 and no longer give a rip.

That line had me in stitches and I am so thankful for the way we play with texts and emojis and words. We share our joys and suffering, not always in equal measure, but these people make up the fabric of my teaching life.


Communities #SOL

Bicycles now lean like blossoms reaching for the sun in one long row locked along the front parking lot of the school. They fill the space of green grass vacant since March 2019. Masked students with backpacks move across the land in small swarms visible from my second floor classroom window. There is energy in the air; albeit muted, but I see it and feel it.

I greet my grade 9 students knowing they cannot see my mouth, so I smile more with my eyes, listen more to what they have to say,  and linger longer beside their desks. I say their names, a few times, asking if I am saying them correctly, leaving space for an offered anecdote or story to fill this once empty room. 

I then ask them to use evidence found in the classroom or online to figure out aspects of my identity – who is this teacher in front of you? They draw conclusions and have fun speculating using information from Instagram and Twitter to list my loves; dogs, raspberries, rose, kale, running, but mostly books. They tell me that I’m married and they know this by my ring. They laugh among themselves making guesses about me not realizing they are learning to use evidence and inference. One boy offers what he first thinks is simple “you’re a teacher. I expand on this and let them know this is a fundamental aspect of my identity. I intentionally don’t talk in the language of “school” yet, because I hope that this natural curiosity will flow. I’ll share more about my identity tomorrow; but not today.

The inquiry ends and they begin to use paper and sticky notes left on each desk.

“Glance around the room and count the number of people who you recognize. Write the number in the middle of the paper on your desk.”

I join them and we raise our papers in unison. They see the large zero in the middle of my paper and students with 0 or 1 smile knowing we are in this together. Suddenly, we aren’t alone in being alone.

The sticky notes serve a different purpose as I gently ease them into this community. Each holds a hope and a worry.

“Use one sticky note to record what you are looking forward to and one to record a worry or wondering.”

I make two columns on an easel of chart paper, face it away from the students at the front of the room, and ask them to post the notes anonymously. Watching them move about the space reminds me that they are not used to being in crowds – 28 in this class, 31 in another. Most hang their heads, move in staccato motions towards the front anticipating others. Some have not yet grown into their legs, or feet, and trip, or knock into desks avoiding eye contact with peers. 

We have filled the two and a half hours with independent reading, personal writing, some short videos, poetry, and lots of talking. There were two classes today, one of 28 and another of 31. There will be two tomorrow and the days after that as we try to build a learning space together. I am pausing to read the room and I know this is my objective in this prolonged pandemic year as I’ve done all the webinars and trauma informed pedagogy and I have worked nearly all summer to bring equity to my practice. 

But we are not well. I hear it in the deep sighs at the photocopier. We share the same physical space but each of us moves internally carrying residue. There are three of us, in three different physical spaces, who have worked together as friends and colleagues since the pandemic hit. We text in a shared chat – often daily. We Google Meet on weekends or call one another and problem solve and sometimes cry. We have used technology to keep us connected. We create our own community where collective action and nurturing is our goal. We are not well, but we have each other.

Lifting weights #SOL2021

Backs are like canaries, an early warning system of the body. They alert us to dangers ahead, foretell the development of weaknesses, or misalignments, and signal the passage of time. Backs help us stand strong and carry weights.

My back gave way several years ago while lifting pressboard posters on a stairwell. I leaned forward ninety degrees at the waist reaching arms straight out in front of me to lift the thirty pound load. I collapsed on the landing knowing I should have taken time to move closer, assess the weight, or ask for help. But, I rarely ask for help.

And, I think I know why. My father is fiercely and proudly independent and I have flown similarly in this pattern, a murmuration of movements through life all the while feeling alone and I must do on my own. At ninety-six years old, I watch him decline, now with pneumonia, his back curling forward with the weight of time.

Yet, not all lifting is physical. I thought I was asking for help at a difficult time where life’s challenges weigh upon my usual inclination to keep doing and keep holding in the heaviness, alone. I asked for help with as much truth as words allow. I had hoped it would be met with empathy that was informed, that would lead me forward without leaning at ninety degrees. And, I should say that I was met with what appeared to be empathy, but not the kind that actively lightened or lessened or lifted any of this weight. Not the kind where someone sees you dropped the grocery bags in the parking lot and they wordlessly pick them up carrying them with you to your car because they can see this is too much for one alone. No words; just actions.

Now, to be fair, I know that everyone is stressed and overwhelmed with schooling in a pandemic. We each carry invisible loads, and I get it. But, I asked for help and I rarely ask for help. I shared very personal parts of my life, and now, I wish that I hadn’t.

A few weeks back, someone with a position of power over me, sat in my classroom describing the consequences of my request for help. I was given the scenarios in detail with a clear demonstration of how this would affect another. Of course, they know me. And, they knew this would be a deal-breaker. Selflessness is an exponential burden when your audience is comfortable with evasiveness and blame.

Sure, the facial expressions masquerading as genuine concern were there and the canned commentary about “wanting to do everything in our power to support you”. You lift this on your own, was never said. But, the conversation did make its way to the place where “my decision” would affect “opportunities for others”.

I feel a strain in my back now. I wonder if it was the workout, the lifting books, the awkward position I’m in when I open the windows of the classroom. I sit here this morning feeling proud and mournful for my father stuck in this swirling flight of life asking myself, how much does regret weigh?

The Patty Pan #SOL2021

The half moon gourd sits glowing with sunshine yellow flesh on the counter of my kitchen. It’s an unfamiliar squash to me and my family. We’ve indulged frequently in spaghetti and acorn and butternut, but never patty pan. And, I don’t deserve it.

It was Saturday, market day, so we decided to walk the few blocks to the park where stalls from various local farmers congregate on a triangular patch of land in this city scape. The central path, a bike trail on all other days, was a moving cluster of shoppers in masks with bags and dogs, the scent of fresh bread and dill weed, garlic and kimchi tossed about by a slight September breeze. I’d seen this Jamaican-Canadian farmer on previous visits selling his hot sauce, recognizing his Carribean lilt, and felt a pang often seeing him sitting alone while all the white residents passed without comment, without engagement, without purchase. I smiled regularly and nearly stopped to buy, but I already have too much hot sauce in my house – maybe just one more?

Today, he had more for sale than usual at his stall, and there were a few people milling about. His table was framed by flowers and there were beans and tomatoes so we stopped alongside another younger man making a purchase. I knew that I would buy from him today. It really didn’t matter what, but it wouldn’t be more hot sauce. After dumping his large long green beans into my bag beside the minute cherry tomatoes, I pointed to this half yellow moon positioned to one side of his cash.

“I can tell that is a squash, but I’ve never seen that kind before. What is it?”

“Patty pan.”

“Patty pan? I’ve never heard of that. What does it taste like?”

“Here. Take it.”

“I’ll pay for it.”

“No, no. You’ve been nice to me. Take it.”

Those words landed in me uncomfortably and I squirmed a bit before smiling and thanking him. I hadn’t done anything unusual, nothing extraordinary nor deserving of such a gift. He explained that a few half moon squash just appeared in his garden hiding under some large green leaves and his characterization of the yellow surprize made me acutely aware of his connection to the land. He hadn’t planned to grow them, but there they suddenly were.

The land unexpectedly gave to him and I felt this unexpected gift deeply.