So, it has been forever since I have actually taken the time to sit down and write a new post on here. Sorry to my loyal followers. Of course, some of you I spoke with in person during the summer. Moving on…
Well, first, I need to back track just a bit to June. It was a simpler time, when children respected their elders and…. Ok never mind, it was graduation day, and it was a stressful time as all of my grade 12s were preparing for their big ceremony. That of course, was all but one of them who had come to school to sit at the computer beside me and perfect his valedictorian speech. As I was finalizing grades and trying to get exams corrected on time, he said to me “Mr. O, thanks, you are the only reason I am here today. I am only graduating because who pushed me to finish school.”
These were the words of a student who was ready to quit school when he finished grade 11. I had to push him to change his mind and finish. I know that as teachers we often do hear about the positive impacts that we have on our students. Sometime we get glimpses as we talk to other students or community members, it was just a nice moment to hear first hand from a student whose life I made a difference in.
During the summer I visited back to Conne River, Newfoundland. Lots of positive stuff going on in that community since I left. What hit me the most though was not the new roads, new houses or even the new school going up. It was talking with some former students and asking them what they were up to.
Kinesiology, music, two in nursing, teaching, marine engineering, one doing her bachelor of social work, another doing her Masters of social work, and other just finished her masters in speech pathology. A couple had started their own businesses on and off reserve. Another is trying to get a aboriginal community radio station going to help benefit the community. These are all awesome feats, and whether I had anything to do with it is irrelevant, because I know I impacted these students in someway, most of them I taught for all 3 yrs of their high school careers.
There is one story that truly sticks out though. This student (let’s call him Drew) entered grade 10 and struggled with reading. He had dyslexia. As such, he also spent a lot of time putting himself down. He wanted to go into Nursing, but felt he couldn’t do it. I pushed him… and pushed him. He was a smart kid. Come grade 12, he had to write the public exam, which I read and scribed for him. All he had to do was sit in class and listen and he managed to pull off 70% or better on the exam.
After graduation in 2012 Drew went on to try out Nursing. After 3 years of planning his nursing career and a semester in the program he felt it was not his cup of tea. Today, he is a paramedic. He stuck with the medical career, but a different aspect. He’s been at it for 2 years not, and is happy. I spoke with him when I was in Conne River. It was so awesome to hear that he found his niche and a was able to succeed in spite of the dyslexia.
Let’s now skip ahead a bit to last week. School more officially started and students were back in the building. I find the beginning of the year is my time to reflect and think about why I have chosen this career path. I do it in the fall because I use the reflection to give me some inspiration to keep doing it. This summer was full of inspiration to me. Directly or indirectly, I know I made a difference to those students. I had to; they were in my classroom for 1-3 hrs per day everyday for 3 years. This is why I keep going. It is an amazing feeling to know that these kids are doing awesome things with their lives and I had the honour to be part of it.
Two days ago I had a couple students in grade 10 sit there and tell me they were too stupid to do their math that morning. First of all, nothing irritates me more than hearing a kid tell me that they are stupid. At that moment I sat down and gave her a piece of my mind… no not really, I gave her a little pep talk. I am trying to get these kids to try and hopefully succeed, I don’t need them thinking they are stupid.
This incident got me thinking about Drew and his story, and all of the other students I just mentioned. That afternoon during math with the same group, I asked them to put their pencils down and listen. I told them first that every single person I was about to talk about was also First Nations, and although it is at times more difficult, don’t let it stop you from doing what you want or love to do. I shared all the stories, but one took priority – Drew’s story.
After a few minutes for them to take in what I talked about, we were back to work. I find some of these kids need to know they are worth it. They need to know that someone believes they CAN do it, even if they don’t yet think they can.
One of the new teachers at school asked me today, why I teach in First Nation schools. There is no simple answer, and while in both cases it was a matter of needing a job, I have been doing it enough now to realize it is much more.
The FN schools are more relaxed atmospheres, for sure. But, they also focus more on individual students on a case-by-case basis. I don’t mean academically necessarily, but rather when dealing with the kids in general. It is more difficult to do that in public school, rules and policies are in place and are etched in stone. Realistically, no two students’ situation is the same, so why do we try to fit them all in the same mould?
I also do it a bit for greed. I know historically that FN communities are going to be dealing with more issues than the average non-FN community. This makes teaching the students more challenging at times, but when you see the rewards and the students’ successes, it makes those challenges all the more worth while.
Perhaps I have just been rambling on too much, it is 1 AM on a Friday night, so it is possible.
On a final note, I think this is going to be an awesome school year. I finally got a classroom without a sauna (ie. The computer lab with 15 computers giving off heat), I have a SmartBoard. I have some awesome classes – the kids are fun. I found out today I have some extra budget money to spend on my math and science departments. SWEET! J
Anyway, I am yawning away. I am off. Until next time. Cheers.