Responding to a Prompt – Act 2 #SOL2023

“Take close care of your inner stories. They create your outer life. Reality isn’t your biggest threat. Your inner stories about reality are. People say I have trouble sleeping. What they really mean is I have trouble storying.

Dr. Jaiya John Fragrance After Rain

Sitting in the small local coffee shop waiting for her to arrive, a warm contentedness stirred me, prompting me to add up the elements interacting in that blissful moment. Time to rest plus restedness, fresh ground coffee plus vanilla and cream overtones, clanking cups and conversational voices, sunlight, wooden tables, glistening espresso machines, large windows and movement in and out the door, up and down at the tables, cups and saucers and voices.

“I love this coffee shop”, I thought. “It’s where community gathers and bonds in the sharing of stories.”

The barista smiled recognizing me from the past two days of consecutive visits. I ordered something different this time, “Americano — just black, please”, sat down and made space for two at the rustic wooden bistro-style table. Seconds later, she breezed through the door and we slipped easily into stories of her first year at Dalhousie, the Foundations Program — she’d applied and been accepted to an elite architecture program at UBC along with other offers for admission, then decided on a gap year serving at a tea house somewhere in the mountains near Banff. After declining the offers to study out west, she accepted the unexpected out east.

“Tell me about your first semester.”

She spoke while fumbling a fresh slice of banana bread sipping her tea and speaking in choppy intervals. I filled the space of a moment, just briefly, so she could eat and drink before another story spilled over. The previous signs of stress in conversation, the red blotchy marks on her neck and forehead, didn’t appear; I breathed relief to see her so calm despite the stories of stress and anxiety in adapting to the world of academia.

“Our midterm was a fifteen minute oral exam. No notes. Just a conversation with the Dean and a prof who took notes and occasionally prompted me. I nearly didn’t go. I didn’t sleep all the night before and nearly threw up beforehand. And, then, I just decided to go and get it over with. It wasn’t that bad afterall.”

We talked more and I took mental notes preparing to share the logistics of this form of evaluation with my current group of grade 12 students. She was returning for the second half of the year and we tried to plan a virtual meet with my class, then realized the time difference, and that we couldn’t make it work.

“Next semester. Let’s make a plan for your grade 12s next semester.”

These stories of learning exist at the center of my world right now. The past must be a place that we visit to gather the stories of our learning, and avoid the dangers of nostalgia. I have worked diligently this year to avoid looking back with a sense of loss for what could have been, or should have been; instead, seeing where I’ve been and how I am continuing to learn. I haven’t always succeeded.

But back to the “stories of learning” – the English teachers in my department decided that we would opt for student portfolios of learning instead of an exam this year. We planned with the students and I took the stories from past students and wove them into the class conversation like a local coffee shop where we relaxed in conversation.

2 thoughts on “Responding to a Prompt – Act 2 #SOL2023

  1. I think I know where that tea house up in Banff is. Is it the one you hike to? Any movement away from traditional grading is good, but it is hard not to look back and think about what could have been. Love thst opening quote, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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