Friday, August 28, 2009

Set Free

The pain in my neck and back was excruciating and I was so weary I felt I couldn’t take another step but still I continued to trudge on under the weight of my heavy load. A man came up beside me and asked, “What are you carrying in such an enormous backpack?”

“I have many important things in here, things I can’t afford to give up,” I answered.

“Like what?”

“Well, I have my pride and my selfishness, all my bitterness and grudges, my loneliness and addictions. My broken relationships are all here. I have my guilt. Then there’s my greed with its competitiveness, consumption, and constant longing for more.........more money, more stuff, more power, more accolades, just more. And then there’s all the rules and conventions I must follow so God won’t look down on me and so my friends and neighbours won’t shun me and sneer at me behind my back. I have even more in here than that but I’m sure you’ve heard enough.”

“I’ll take your backpack and carry it for you,” he offered. “Then you’ll be free.”

It seemed like a lot to burden someone else with. I didn’t want to give it to him at first, but he looked so eager to relieve me of it that at last I relented and strapped it on his back. Before I skipped off I paused. “Hey wait a minute!” I said. “Free! Free to do what?”

“Free to absorb my love.” he said. “Free to show empathy, compassion and generosity to all you meet. Free to love unconditionally. Free to be at peace with God, your neighbour and all of creation. Free to celebrate.”

“Oh, by the way,” he warned. “People will try to saddle you with other backpacks. Don’t let them. Remember me.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Unorthodox Teaching

Orthodox* religion is like snow in the spring. It is dull and gray and has no ability to instill joy or peace. It’s just there and everyone wishes the rains would come and wash it away.

What about orthodox teaching? When teachers base their teaching practices on traditions, refined agendas, programs and materials, carefully constructed curriculum or the desire to gain the approval of others, is their teaching like the dull, gray snow in spring? My goal as a teacher is to shed my orthodoxy and respond from my compassion for each child and from my desire to help that child reach his or her potential. I will value the child’s exploration and investigations. I will talk less while I watch and listen to the children more. I will reflect on what the children say and do, and use my refection as my barometer to guide me in stretching my students as they grow as learners. I will have high expectations of myself as a learner and a teacher and I will have high expectations of my students as members of a community of learners. I will ask thoughtful questions and anticipate thoughtful answers. I will make every effort to elevate each child in her own eyes and in the eyes of others. I will celebrate each child and his thinking rather than dismiss the child and his thinking. My teaching will be anchored in my knowledge of the curriculum and good pedagogy but this will not be my guiding force. At the helm of what I do as a teacher will be my goal to have a class that is like a shimmering blanket of new fallen snow that lies soft and white upon the ground instilling joy, peace and a love of learning in all who come through the door. This crowns my task. The degree to which my practices are aligned with my ideals will be the degree to which I will be successful as a teacher.

Orthodox* - adhering to:
1) traditions
2) what is accepted
3)what is customary
4)what is approved by authority
-conforming to established practices or standards
-being loyal to a system of rules and regulations at all costs

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Contemplate the Caterpillar

One day a man was strolling through life when he came to a tree, a magnificent tree with its branches stretching toward heaven. On the trunk of the tree his caterpillar was camouflaged against the bark slowly making its ascent up the trunk of the tree. The caterpillar was called Time.

The man contemplated his caterpillar for a while and then he continued his journey until he approached a fork in the road. He must choose which path he would follow. He chose to walk the path of submission rather than the path of self-will. As he continued to travel he was lavished with many fine gifts. He was given suffering and he became wise. He was given kindness and he was kind. He was granted mercy and he was merciful. He was given forgiveness and he forgave others. Love was bestowed upon him and he loved. He was filled with joy and he gave thanks. He was blessed with faith and he glorified his maker.

Meanwhile, his caterpillar reached the end of its journey at the top of the utmost branch of the tree. There it was transformed into a beautiful butterfly, took wing and soared above the clouds into eternity.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Prepare to Fly

I’m a nice person most of the time and most of the children I teach are decent people. Our classroom is usually a haven of rest for the little people who occupy it but it can be a scary world outside the walls of our classroom. Wolves abound. How can I prepare my little fledglings to leave the safety of my wings and soar like eagles far above the wolves that roam the earth? How can I teach them to walk tall and confidently but at the same time to be watchful for the dangers that may lurk around the next corner? How can I prepare them to be neither predator nor prey? With enough encouragement, exhortation and coercion will they grow to be responsible and safe citizens in our society?

Little Ashley gave me food for thought one day. “You know what?” she asked the class. “My daddy is kind of like the first little pig who built his house out of straw because Daddy drives everywhere instead of walking. He wants to get there fast and he doesn’t think about the bad things that could happen, like the air getting dirty. That’s like the first little pig. It just wanted to build its house fast and it didn’t think about the bad things that could happen later on, like getting eaten by a wolf.” Wow! This nugget of wisdom was presented by a moppet who wasn’t as old as the sweater I was wearing at the time. From there a huge discussion erupted about the importance of being responsible and working hard and the necessity of caring for the environment even when it is inconvenient.

The lights came on for me that day. I suddenly realized what my grandparents and great-grandparents knew all along. Fairy tales are an irreplaceable medium for character education. Fairy tales are a key that unlocks the child’s imagination allowing him or her to ruminate on how to live with dignity. Who can better teach a child that with freedom comes responsibility than the three little pigs or Goldilocks? The ugly duckling awakens ones empathy for others and teaches one to hope rather than despair. Little Red Riding Hood teaches us that one needs to have a healthy skepticism. Even dear old grandmothers can be deceiving.

Children have proven over and over again that they are capable of constructing their own learning through active and reflective thought. Take a fairy tale, plant it in their brains, ask a few “I wonder...” questions and wait. One fine day your seed will germinate, take roots and sprout. Your children will have a nugget of wisdom that they can carry with them for the rest of their days.