4th Quarter, 2007
Teacher Scholarship Winner
When I was growing up in Ontario I spent my summers at a camp where I learned to windsurf. Camp also offered me my first exposure to teaching. I spent a week teaching a young girl how to windsurf. She struggled over and over again to pull up her sail while balancing on her board on the waves of the lake. It took a lot of effort but near the end of the week she finally got her sail up and soared across the lake with a look of pure joy on her face. That moment remained etched in my mind for years and eventually prompted me to enter my Bachelor of Education program.
While completing my teacher education program, I have been exposed to numerous teaching environments and many fantastic students. My passion for experiential learning and working with at-risk youth has driven me to work at a nearby Aboriginal reserve school where I am implementing an agricultural studies program. Fresh food, nutrition and hands-on learning will hopefully inspire the students and give them the great satisfaction that I receive from growing food and being outside.
A Portion of Carmen’s Winning Essay:
When I was in elementary school the most influential teachers that I had were the ones who were not afraid to express themselves as individuals in the classroom. One of my favorite teachers, who continues to mentor me, is an incredibly unique person who did not hesitate to infuse the class with her energy. In my grade eight year, we were working on a unit on storytelling.
Mrs. Moore told us the story of “Sun Man,” which is actually an aboriginal creation story called “How the Sun and Moon Came to Be,” but I will always remember it as “Sun Man.” In the telling of the story Mrs. Moore danced around and around, swirling her arms and singing, “sun man, give us your light, sun man take away the night.”
Mrs. Moore is very passionate about culture, music and drama and brought those passions to the classroom every day. Her spirit made the class what it was. When I was younger, I loved art, writing and goaltending for my ringette teams.
Over the years, I have developed many other interests. I now love skiing, hiking and camping. I am interested in sustainability and environmental politics. I feel connected to different cultures and explore different religions. Who I am as a person is constantly changing.
In Meditations of Anselam, it is written, “it is good to be enthusiastic about a thing or two, but better if enthusiasm is part of what you are and how you greet many things. Expand your curiosity, interests and fascinations, because enthusiasm is an unfailing measure of your own self-chosen capacity for delight” (Jones, 2005, p. 11).
Enthusiasm is a fire that burns inside of me when I meet a conversation about a great day in the backcountry or a governments’ new policy to curb greenhouse gases. My enthusiasm is always changing though; there is opportunity for continual change in who we are.
Mrs. Moore, for example, expanded her passion for culture and sought out her own heritage as a woman from the East Coast. Her doctor of philosophy thesis concerns the intersections of self identity and education. To write the thesis she traveled back to the East Coast to a house that her ancestors used to live in. She tracked letters and records, collected photos and stories, wrote and recorded her own songs to create a living history of herself. She wrote in her thesis that this process had been living in her as a teacher and impacted the decisions that she made in the classroom, the anecdotes that she used and the way she brought the curriculum to her students. Who we are, and what are interests are, are intimately connected to everything that we do and teach: “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (Palmer, 1998, p.10 sic.).
My own objectives in teaching greatly reflect who I am, my own history and the things that I love. I want to teach at-risk youth through experiential education because I myself was “at-risk” and found that my greatest growth and healing took place when I was windsurfing, kayaking or hiking. I want to share those challenges and opportunities with other people. “The greatest Guru is your inner self. Truly, he is the supreme teacher. He alone can take you to your goal, and he alone meets you at the end of the road. Confide in him, and you will need no outer guru. But again you must have the strong desire to find him and do nothing that will cause obstacles and delays.” Nisargadatta Maharaj in “Sayings for Mentors & Tutors” At Morley Community School, an aboriginal school for pre-kindergarten to grade twelve students just west of Calgary, teachers infuse their lessons with their passions.
This is especially true in the incorporation of outdoor experiential education into the learning experiences at the school. A few years ago the school was fortunate to hire a woman named Genevieve Solare who is a former instructor with Outward Bound, one of the ‘founding companies’ in the field of experiential education. Genevieve saw the opportunity to bring her classroom into the outdoors, so to speak, in order to really engage her students and create a better learning community at the school. Since then, other teachers have planned camping trips, skiing trips, climbing trips and YMCA camp days for the students. The result has been an improvement in the students’ self-esteem and school community.
Good teaching, in this case, meant seeing an opportunity to share a passion and taking a risk to share it with others. Genevieve now also works as a peace educator at the school using community building exercises to create trust and cooperation in the classroom. Another interesting and critical element of the approach to teaching at Morley is that the predominantly “white, Anglo-Saxon” teaching population has really immersed themselves in the Stoney/Nakota culture. Teachers are excited about sharing this culture with the students and plan classroom activities and trips that instill cultural knowledge and pride in the students.
Placing the onus of good teaching upon the teacher creates innumerable opportunities for the teacher to shine through sharing the joyful complexities of their self. At the same time, the importance of self in good teaching also carries with it great responsibility. Self-examination and self-knowledge become critical if one believes that “good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (Palmer, 1998, p. 10, sic). No longer can teaching simply be interpreted as something that can strictly be learned from a book or even a practicum. The expression of ones identity and integrity is largely through speech. Consequently, every word that is uttered is influential.
Don Miguel Ruiz says that “your word is the power that you have to create” (1997, p. 26). The word has the power to both create and destroy. One can, with the misuse of the word, injure a child’s confidence forever, or say something so wonderful that it builds them up and presents an opportunity that was not there before. In my experience, the word of teachers has been used both for and against me.
I can attest to the power that speech can have on a life. When I was in grade eleven I tried desperately hard to understand math. I wanted to know the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of the subject so that I could really wrap my head around the concepts. My teacher did not understand my intention at asking so many questions. I grew frustrated because she was not providing me with an explanation for the equation that we were supposed to have memorized. I kept asking and asking, until finally the teacher completely turned me off the entire subject of math in a matter of ten seconds by the way that she spoke to me.
On the other hand, through the careful and loving use of words I have had teachers save my life. Words don’t always carry with them the gravity that they did in these circumstances. Sometimes the use of words is mundane and will seem almost negligible, but you never know when someone may be paying close attention or when those words will either create or destroy.
Through self-awareness we can bring to light the places where destructive words come from. I am certain that in the not so distant past I have said unkind words to people that I love and cherish. Taking a step back from those moments of haste in which I lost my tongue, I realize that those comments were made because of pain in my life, not because anybody else was at fault for anything. Quiet reflection made me realize that to change my reaction I needed to heal those hurts.
In Tao-ism it is said that “the Way of Self-Reliance starts with recognizing who we are, what we’ve got to work with, and what works best for us” (Hoff, 1982, p. 57). To be an excellent teacher, I must become fully aware of both my passions and my weaknesses because both affect the way that I use my creative power of words. Just like addressing a physical illness, we must become aware of unbalances, negativity and uneasiness in our minds and hearts: “those who know what’s wrong with them and take care of themselves accordingly will tend to live a lot longer than those who consider themselves perfectly healthy and neglect their weaknesses” (Hoff, 1982, p. 48).
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