Tag Archives: education

The castle of memory, the present of learning

This past week I slept two floors above where I used to work. It was odd. As I walked past my old office I had a flood of memories and mixed emotions. Stranger still was being there at night. Hearing the sounds of the deep forest behind me and the going’s on of the university campus at night. The clear sound of songbirds in the early morning with no urban soundscape to muffle the lovely notes of a forest waking to the day. The greys and greens and mossy damp of the castle quietly slumbering before its inhabitants arrive for work and beyond, the ocean lapping in on the edge of this university that has been in my life for over half a decade.

As I walked to my classroom in the morning, I thought how different my experience was an an employee versus now. I feel the lightness of freedom, and while it does come at a price (no government benefits, no days, as in ever, where you can coast through, or attend a two-hour meeting that goes nowhere, or go to a potluck party for a colleague), I realize with every step that my freedom is, above all, the most important thing to me because it allows me to teach in a way that was not possible before as an ’employee’.

In the classroom there are moments when I look into the students eyes and see the connection between what I am saying and their understanding of it. This makes it all worth it, the moment of interaction around an idea, where we journey from the beginning of the day to somewhere else by the end. I’m never really sure if we’ll make it. I’m never really sure if the students will come with me. I’m never sure if what I’ll say will have any meaning for them. All I can be sure of, as I walk into the classroom, is that I will give my entire being to it as long as they entrust me to be their guide for the time we are together.

It’s a truly beautiful campus when the lens you look through is the one you were meant to see with. If you ever have a chance to visit, be sure to wander the gardens. They are extraordinary and I guarantee you will find inspiration there. Hatley Park is a National Heritage site in Canada which is often overlooked when folks come to visit Victoria. If you are able, visit in late May when the Forsythia is in bloom and walk the walled Rose Garden.  The scent will linger in your imagination long after you are gone.





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March 16, 2013 · 5:12 pm

Piecing it back together

I don’t like talking publicly about my son because he is a very private person and I respect that. However, I feel compelled to write about an important issue that came to light while I was talking to another mother who was struggling in the same way with her young son as I once had. She so reminded me of my younger self;  I could see her challenges ahead and my heart kind of ached after I walked away.

Here’s the thing: Parenting brings you to your knees. All parents, at some point, are on their knees begging God for something; a fever to go down, an x-ray to reveal nothing, a broken heart to mend, a bully battering to stop. You’re on your knees and you’re as helpless as a gnat. Maybe it’s 3 am and you’ve got an asthmatic kid and you’re listening to his chest heave, the wet crackling of his lungs as they try to suck in oxygen and fail. Maybe your shy, small girl isn’t ‘adapting well’. Maybe you hear from school your kid just punched someone for no reason. Maybe you’re sitting with your silent child in a counsellor’s office wondering, what did I do wrong?

Doesn’t matter.

You’re on your knees.

But when you’re on your knees for 12 years to the public school system, there’s another flavour to the begging. I had a healthy, bright, talented child who returned from school on his first day diminished, unhappy, and glum and said, as he lay his blond head against the cool hallway door, so quietly I nearly missed it: I’m stupid.

It was like watching the most expensive china in the world slip out of your hands and onto the floor in slow motion. I wanted to scream “Nooooooo!!” and pull it back, to stop this shattering that would never be pieced back together to the moment before its breaking.

Inside, you fall to your knees while scooping up your child and humming happy tunes all the while acting like nothing has changed, everything is fine, and school isn’t a bad place to be. That was the beginning of 12 years of telling my son: No, you are brilliant, you are talented, you are actually a genius!

I’m not sure I was enough of a cheering section to keep the insecurities at bay, but I did my best . He is all those things and more and yet, he has been lying in bed for nearly a month with migraines just trying to end this education that has, in the end, brought him to his own knees. I feel like we are both just crawling to the end of this race, wanting it to just be over. When you have a gifted child who doesn’t necessarily fit into the typical learning style of most learners, it’s not an easy road. I feel for other mothers just starting out and hope they will be more demanding than I was about the change that must come to our public school system.

Our public school system is not well, and, I would argue, it is making some of our kids sick. I know there are some great teachers, I’ve heard about them, but how many leave out of sheer frustration with our system? A lot, I would imagine. Because there weren’t too many that crossed my son’s path over the past 12 years. When they did, they changed his life. His world became a bright, creative, thriving place to be.

I really felt for the younger mother I ran into who had a lovely little boy who so reminded me of my own son at that age–precocious, smart, willful, energetic, creative. When my son was that same age , I was told I would have to home school him or put him into a very expensive private school as the public school he was attending just ‘couldn’t serve his learning needs’.

I’m happy to say he’s off to university next September, taking his immense creative talents, and burgeoning confidence with him. I know he will set the world on fire, but I am quite sure much of his fuel will come from having to piece back together his own idea of himself outside a curriculum that often failed him.



Filed under Non-fiction

College Neurosis

The other day I was talking to a friend who was ecstatic to have her son home visiting for the holidays. Halfway through the conversation, I had the sudden head-rotating, floor dropping, revelation that this could be me in the not-so-distant future. As I listened to her tell of her plaintive negotiations to spend as much time as possible with her offspring, I wondered, after all these years, would I be a hand-wringing mother scheduling my son’s every waking moment when he visits me?

Lately, there have been recruiters coming to my son’s school. I work in a university so it’s weird to see my son on the opposite side of the sales fence as myself. It’s also incredibly interesting to hear his perceptions about their programs and presentations. I think we both can’t quite believe it’s here–college. Or university? Which to do? Where to go? What is the best program? What can we afford? East coast? West Coast? Diploma laddering into a degree? Certificate with transferable credits? Degree program from the get go? Sailing school in Australia? Wizard school in the UK? I digress.

I work in education and like any industry, you can pull back the curtain and see the Wizard and it’s always a let-down at first. Sure there are moments of enlightenment that would make Oprah purr, but those of us who chuck coal into the great fires of learning every day, are merely worker ants trying to duct tape a system that heaves along institutionally,  often missing the whole point: the student experience. Not the student enrolment.

So here I am, looking with a somewhat juandiced eye at these institutions trying to ‘sell’ to my son. Luckily, my jaundiced eye is like Dorothy’s from the Wizard of Oz compared to my son’s, so he has a pretty sharp radar for BS when he’s fed it. One of the University presenters apparently came into the classroom, closed all the doors, turned the lights out and put on trance music and played a ‘hip’ video. The whole class recommended them to Fail blog via Facebook.

It’s a pivotal time in anyone’s life, the perilous, often booze-soaked, awkward transition from high school student to university student. I remember my own journey, albeit short, on BC Ferries in a rented van with my brother, a few boxes of sentimental girlie things from my room, and a stomachful of butterflies. I’ll never forget walking into the Phoenix theatre for the first time, fully unhinged from family, and entering the theatre, my only thought: I am home. And I was, for four of some of the happiest and creative years of my life.

I want to find that experience for my son, but it’s a daunting task.Hopefully he will disseminate the tidal wave of information coming at him over the next year and find the through line for his life, between the recruiting hype, and the message of true educators, and walk from one home towards another.


Filed under Relationships