Read it!: The Universe Has Your Back

I can’t begin to tell you how long I’ve wanted to review this book. I finished reading The Universe Has Your Back a long time ago.

The Universe Has Your Back - Cover

So what’s kept me from talking about it? Fear.  On one hand you have the fact that I’m spiritually liberal: Religiously speaking, I have a Christian background. I’m familiar with the faith. And I’m still what you would call “spiritual”. Yet I don’t believe Christianity has the only answers regarding God and humanity. Meanwhile a lot of my friends are still traditionally Christian. As I contemplated talking about Gabby Bernstein’s latest read, I could feel their judgement start before I even began.

But honestly? I’m too old to be afraid of what a bunch of humans think. My soul’s destiny isn’t tied to them.

Let’s get right into it. The Universe Has Your Back is fantastic. It’s the best book I’ve read about faith in a while. The content isn’t tied to any particular religion, but you can easily apply it to your spiritual path. It addresses God and faith from a general point of view.

In the book Gabrielle Bernstein addresses one of spirituality’s biggest questions: If God (or the Universe) is as loving as we claim He (it) is, why do we give doubt so much room in our lives? Better yet, how can we banish it?

The solution seems easy enough.We need to trust and truly believe that Jesus/God/the Universe is there for us. Period. But maintaining an unshakable faith can be challenging. Ms. Bernstein acknowledges this. Yet she also addresses the heart of the struggle, and the key to our success. We need to harness our ability to focus on one of the only things that matter in this life: Love.

Gabby also addresses the concept of surrender—an idea that people of all spiritual stripes wrestle with. In order to receive from the Universe, we have to be willing to release ourselves from our egos. They can be one hell of a motivator. They can also separate us from what God intended.

The Universe Has Your Back is chock full of contains meditation and reflection exercises. This is important since the road to spiritual trust isn’t simple. It’s always worthwhile, but it’s a truly humbling process. In order to succeed at it we need to dig in and do the work.

I’m far from spiritually perfect. I wrestle with the concepts in The Universe Has Your Back all the time. But I’m glad I came across this book. I need to give its concepts the attention they deserve.

Let the healing begin.

On “Black Friends”

Demetria just about covered it.

I read a bunch of comments about Adele on Grammy night that were ridiculous. I swear. My eyes rolled so hard, it’s a wonder they didn’t fall out of my head.

Then, I got introspective.

What do you hear when someone uses the words “Black friends”?

We live in an era where people are boldly, unapologetically racist. And I get it. The words “Black friends” have been used again and again (and AGAIN) by bigots when they’re straining to be polite. “No, Jay’s Blackness doesn’t bother me. I have PLENTY of Black friends…”

But this isn’t that.

Like it or not, the fact remains that folks have friends who are Black. People need to learn the difference between “Black friends” as condescending tokenism and its use as an accurate descriptor.

Stop running.

like-yourself

I remember the day when those words, directed at me, hung in the air. They had been said randomly. If anyone else had uttered them, I think I would have been angry. But the speaker knew me. Not as well as I think they should, but somehow, well enough.

“You don’t like yourself.”

After hearing that sentence, another person might have been mad. But I was curious.

How could this person be so sure? What were they seeing?

Sometime last year when I was thinking about authentic self care, I realized something. There are a ton of things that I can do in order to feel whole. But do I invest in them? How do I feel about honouring my most sacred gift: myself?

While wondering this, something else hit me. I’ve been meaning to delve into this topic for ages, but have only scratched the surface.

Why have I avoided talking about self-care?

Am I afraid to be still in my own skin? It’s hard for me not to think so. It’s even harder for me to admit that. But the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have one. So here I am.

I’ve been running away from myself for a long time. That needs to change. And slowly but surely, it will.

Review: Hillsong – Let Hope Rise

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is billed as a “worship experience”. However, contrary to its press release, to me it didn’t feel like a part of a new genre. Let Hope Rise is, absolutely, a concert film, in the vein of Katy Perry’s Part of Me and Justin Beiber’s Never Say Never.  Scenes that offer viewers a taste of Hillsong’s story are interspersed with shots of the band in concert performing some of their most popular hits.

I agree with one of the performers who stated that “God created music…”. Over the years I’ve enjoyed all sorts of music—including some of Hillsong’s more popular tracks. And yet, as I watched the musical segments I was torn. On one hand, I wanted to be free to love a particular song. On the other, I was reminded of what I hate about worship band performances: The idolatry. In a house of worship, when the people are gathered to sing together, they should be able to hear each other. In my opinion the only time the focus should be on a performer is when she sings a solo. Otherwise, it’s not always easy to tell who’s being glorified—apart from the singers on stage.

I know this idea flies in the face of what one of what Joel (one of Hillsong’s leaders) said: “These songs are written for people to sing, not just to listen to.” And in fact, that is something that speaks to Hillsong’s success. Hate them or love them, Hillsong has hit songs. Their lyrics tap into a religious narrative that’s revered by people throughout the globe.

Let Hope Rise isn’t necessarily a bore. It includes a few spare moments that revealed the musicians’ personalities. I chuckled at a line from a bandmate during an early tour: “Canada. We’re almost in America.”

Yet throughout the film I cringed at the sight of screaming fans. I know that within Christendom there’s a celebrity culture. But ideally, so-called “Christian celebrities” aren’t here to promote themselves. It’s their Creator—who gave them their talent in the first place—that should matter the most.

This movie also managed to include a glimpse into something that even heathen stars face: Financial challenges.  Never assume that because someone has a hit album, he or she lives in the lap of luxury. Some of Hillsong’s members still live with their extended families.

If you come to this film looking for a thorough introduction to the Christian faith, be careful. Connecting with Jesus is not as easy as “[Finding] a local church!” This subject isn’t discussed in depth and the band’s advice shouldn’t be taken as gospel. I’m a firm believer in vetting a houses of worship before joining them.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise offers them a look at the lives of one of the most popular worship bands in the world. Overall, I think viewers will enjoy it.

The Trouble with Teaching

Note: This is a piece on a sensitive aspect of my teaching career. Although currently I live in an area that’s predominantly monocultural, I’ve worked for a school board that has a very diverse population. It was at the top of my mind when I began writing.

Teacher at Chalkboard

It took time for me to fall for teaching, but once I did, I was committed. Sadly, though, the profession that I loved didn’t seem to love me back. I spent the majority of my career working as a substitute teacher. Slowly but surely I noticed a pattern related to those who worked long-term in various schools. Stories of nepotism were popular, but something else was going on.

I’ve seen the occasional article claiming that boards with diverse populations are making an effort to include more non-white teachers in their schools. But I am not a fool. Teaching isn’t a profession with a high turnover rate. It’s true that new teachers may give up when faced with challenging circumstances. However the majority of staff at any given school are established professionals. And from what I’ve seen of said professionals, most are white. My concern is that in spite of the occasional hire, diversity in the teaching profession remains primarily a discussion. Little action has actually occurred to provide diverse students with instructors who reflect their cultures.

I should have caught the hint that people might object to me being an educator after I first left teachers’ college. Back then I’d heard an odd rumour: A classmate had said I wasn’t “cut out” to be a teacher. At first, I naively thought she was right. Teaching isn’t for the faint of heart. The transition into the profession involves a disturbingly steep learning curve, and a life change arguably as drastic as the arrival of a child. Eventually, though, I wondered what my colleague had meant. What was it that made her suited to a teaching job over me?

This essay doesn’t show it, but I know that I tend to be more exuberant than your average citizen. For a moment I wondered if her doubts were related to my personality. However, let’s be realistic. Just because someone has a cheerful disposition, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be an awful educator. Over time, as I thought about my classmate’s statement, reality dawned on me: People of colour are streamed and steered out of professions all the time. And what of those who resist the tide? From architects to doctors, folks just can’t seem to envision Black people in positions that command respect. Should I really be that surprised that someone didn’t think I was equipped to share knowledge with others?

“But Claire,” you say,”You worked as a substitute teacher. That’s more than most people!” True. But let’s take a closer look at the types of “opportunities” I was given. During the rare occasions when I received assignments lasting longer than a day, I noticed a trend.

For example—I once worked for an entire term, full-time. Great, right?

Not so fast.

In a landscape where solid teaching jobs are as plentiful as literate internet trolls, that may sound good. But let me share a bit more about what I was up against. I had three classes. Each involved a different subject—English, World Religions, and Civics/Careers. Yet I was only qualified to teach one of them. Therefore, I didn’t know the other two subjects.

And again, I hear you. I know I was supposed to play catch up and properly prepare for my other two classes. But if you know what the pace of a full-time teaching job is like, you’ll understand me when I see your,”Claire, PREPARE!!” and offer up a big, fat, “WHEN?!?”

To top it all off, the students in the class involving my terra firma—English—were challenging. By that, I don’t mean that they had intellectual difficulties and I was ill-equipped to accommodate them. I have training in special education. When I say “challenging” I’m referring to their behaviour. My students were disrespectful and often downright hostile to me on a daily basis. In return, I was constantly stressed and terrified. I barely got any teaching done. Between my workload and my kids’ behaviour, I felt it was a wonder I made it through the semester.

Adding insult to injury, their behaviour left me second-guessing myself. You know those moments when someone’s so rude that you wonder if you dreamed it? That was me for several weeks, until one day it happened: I received confirmation that I wasn’t losing my mind. Back then I’d built a rapport with one of the non-teaching staff, a safety monitor whom I’ll call “Tony”. Tony told me flat-out that my English class contained “the worst” students in the school. Admittedly, it’s horrible to label students. But there needs to be room to be honest about young people’s conduct. Leaving and entering the room without permission isn’t kind. Incessant heckling isn’t kind. Snapping at both your teacher and your fellow students isn’t kind. I think it’s disturbing that administrators would deliberately put their rudest students in a single class and then assign them to a new teacher.

I wondered what the point of it all was. I used to wrack my brain to understand why I might have received this kind of assignment. Earlier this year I felt some relief when I learned about Through Our Eyes. It’s a report filled with insights from Black teachers in America, and it mentioned something that caught my eye.

Teachers have indicated that being labeled as the disciplinarian meant that their colleagues and administrators believed they could only teach the troublesome or lower performing students.

Looking back on my career, I wondered: Is that why I’d been hired? Had I been cast in the role of “disciplinarian”—a ball-buster who would whip tough students into shape? Considering this class wasn’t my only assignment featuring aggressive students, the thought had crossed my mind.

Somehow, here, I feel like I ought to justify myself by discussing my background. I already mentioned my sunny ways. Let me also share that thanks to my parents (one of whom was a teacher) I could read before I went to school. Once I started, I spent my elementary years in private institutions, and then attended one of my area’s academically-focused high-schools.

And reading that, I realize how spoiled I must sound. I can assure you that I wasn’t. My point was to help you understand that I don’t fit whatever stereotype I fear my colleagues and superiors may have expected. Rather, I’m someone who’s used to a certain amount of readin’, writin’ and–God help my math-phobic self–arithmetic.

Overall, when I went to school, the expectation was that students would behave.

To this day, I wonder if school administrators truly understand that Black teachers are qualified professionals, every bit as intellectually competent as their white counterparts.

So again, the question remained: Was I given antagonistic students on purpose? Were administrators patting themselves on the back for hiring me, a “token” Black teacher? And how wonderful was it for them, when they knowingly gave me such unkind kids?

It horrified me to consider the elephant in the room. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been sabotaged. But eventually I learned that my experience wasn’t that far out of the ordinary. Earlier this year Bee Quammie wrote an article entitled Are Diverse Hosts…Set Up to Fail? . In it, she discussed something called the Glass Cliff phenomenon as it relates to the firing of certain Black media hosts. Ms. Quammie explains that the idea of the Glass Cliff

was developed by Dr. Michelle Ryan and Professor Alex Haslam at the University of Exeter, and looks at the idea that women and other minority groups are more likely to be appointed to high-profile positions with a higher risk of criticism and failure.

In my experience as a Black teacher, I found it hard not to believe that I was purposely given difficult assignments. Also, keep in mind that in a classroom, students’ behaviour and their academic level tend to go hand in hand. I once asked myself, “Do they [administrators] realize that I’m capable of supporting intellectual students?” I took Honours English when I was in school, and have the same degrees as everyone else who applies to be a teacher. Yet the fact that my students were both underperforming and badly-behaving spoke volumes to me. As a new teacher, the stress of the situation stung. Who would want to attempt to continue in a field that left them feeling raw and weary?

In hindsight I know the onus was on me to be able to help my students. However that would have been easier as a new teacher if I had access to my own resources. I remember a vice principal spoke to a colleague of mine on my behalf. This woman was in charge of coordinating the school’s educational assistants. My VP’s request was simple: Could I be assigned one? In reply, my coworker’s “No,” came so fast it nearly knocked me over.  I knew that personnel were limited. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if she got some sort of joy out of inconveniencing me.

How effective can a teacher be when she or he is constantly stressed? And what if the source of that stress is his or her students? That sort of circumstance can be tantamount to an abusive relationship.

Placing Black teachers with badly behaving teens and offering no support via administration or an EA sends a very negative message. It suggests we are incapable of supporting academic excellence. It also suggest that we deserve professional hardships. Meanwhile, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the days when I was trying to get hired, it was hard not to take my unemployment personally. Until I caught on, I thought something was wrong with me. Yet for teachers of colour there’s an added obstacle to entering the system. Over the years I’ve dealt with people (well-meaning) relatives and family friends who believed my lack of a job had something to do with my Blackness—specifically my hair texture. Surely “they” would hire me if only I wasn’t natural. (This is a sentiment that’s sent my way to this day.) If this seems too far-fetched to you as reasons for unemployment go, read on. Although it’s 2016, certain employers still believe that a woman wearing natural hair deserves to be discriminated against. For our southern neighbours who wear locs, the law is not on their side

Thankfully I don’t take objections to my hair seriously. To me it isn’t a problem. However, I believed another more obvious aspect of my identity was. Over and over again I couldn’t help but notice the demographic of the majority of those who worked in schools on a permanent basis: white women. Here, to clarify, I have no problem with Caucasian women being employed. But as a Black woman, it’s been hard not to recognize that I’m the polar opposite of my profession’s norm. In that sense, as I think about hiring trends, a part of me wonders if there’s a point in my being upset. When it comes to looking for someone to hire, it’s clear to me that I’m not on administrators’ radar.

As an industry, education hasn’t always been welcoming to new professionals. In writing this, I hope that school principals will begin to look at how teachers of colour are treated once hired—if they are hired at all. Whether we work temporarily or not, teachers of colour see who’s working permanently. Currently, the odds are stacked against us.

People who would make excellent educators are losing interest in their dream profession. I don’t blame them. It’s hard to want to find a space in a field where you’re not welcome. The past few months’ news has featured incidents of prejudice both in and outside of the classroom.   These, combined with the law suit against the York Region school board  haven’t come as a surprise to me.  Current staff ought to be trained to appreciate diversity. However beyond that, people of colour should be given fair consideration when the time comes to hire teachers for permanent positions. We have as much of a right to be at the front of a classroom as everyone else.

Photo Source

 

Black In The 519

blackinthe519-notitleI’ve lived in Small Town*, Ontario my whole life. Although certain things are happening now that make me feel hopeful, there are a few aspects of life here that get on my nerves. I’m one of the displaced: A person of colour who has struggled to make peace with life in a non-diverse part of Canada.

In the past, our town’s lack of diversity has driven me nuts.

Although certain changes are making things about living here more enjoyable, I can’t help but feel as though something’s missing.

Just the other day I was talking to someone who works here but lives out of town. They asked me what Small Town is like. “It’s quiet.” I cautioned. As I walked away, I wondered what I was thinking. Was “quiet” some sort of euphemism for “white”?

I’ll be honest. Ideally, I think a person should love where they live, but I’ve struggled. I realize that my lack of social interaction is my own fault. Yet in some ways, being here has been challenging.

ORIGINS

Once I was old enough to know where I was born, I figured it was a mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake. My parents immigrated to Canada from the Caribbean (Barbados and Trinidad) before I was born. They settled in the GTA and pursued their education. Eventually, my father got a job out of town. He was hired locally to work as an elementary school teacher.

Thus began Mom and Dad’s exodus from paradise. They settled in Small Town in the 70s. My mother and I have been here ever since. All along, it’s been hard not to notice the disconnect between us and our surroundings. Growing up, I used to wish my parents had fought harder to stay in Toronto.

SIGHTINGS

If I’ve made my town sound like a gigantic washroom with a Whites Only sign out front, I should apologize. That isn’t my intention. I remember one Black woman and her family used to live on a street near our house. They moved away several years ago.

Overall, my town’s lack of diversity is a major factor in the reason I’ve tried, repeatedly to make my escape. However my attempts have proven to be unsuccessful. The only place I can really imagine settling is Toronto, and that city is ex-PEN-sive with a capital E.

Meanwhile, since I fist graduated from university, I’ve begun to notice the occasional person of colour in town.

A few years ago I was taking music lessons. One day as I was leaving, Mrs. Music Teacher’s husband came home. When I saw him, I was stunned. Mr. Music Teacher was a Black man!

You know that moment when you’re shocked by someone but you don’t want to stare because that would be rude? Yeah. That’s what happened.

“How long have you been here?” He answered, and I’m ashamed to admit that I could barely believe him. If Mr. Music Teacher had, as he claimed, been here for years, why hadn’t I seen him before?

There’s a Latino family in my neighbourhood. A few days ago I saw a hijabi near downtown. Every time I see a person of colour in town, I feel a twinge of hope mixed with sorrow and curiosity.

Things started to really hit me though when I first saw a Black student at the grocery store about a year ago. She was with a friend. I couldn’t help but wonder what life was like for her here in town.

Was she like me—ever-conscious of the fact that she was an “only”—apart from her family, the only Black person around for miles? I couldn’t help but wonder if like me, she planned on leaving as soon as she was old enough to do so?

Well actually, that’s a lie.

I saw two other Black teenagers a few nights ago when I went to McDonalds. Once again, I wondered what their life was like. Have they been here for a while? Were they ever teased when they were younger, like I was?

THE MEETING

One reason I don’t like to venture out and about is that there’s a 50% chance that I’ll feel unwelcome. (Living here, I notice that either people don’t care less, or they seem to be genuinely bothered by diversity.)

A few years ago there was a public meeting on the county’s future. I moseyed over and sat towards the outer edge of the room. As usual, the speakers seemed concerned about preserving our county’s heritage. However that heritage has involved agriculture and manufacturing—industries that offer no options for those whose talents lie elsewhere.

At one point in the evening one speaker got up to speak about what he didn’t want to see unfolding in our town. Every now and then Toronto had been mentioned as a point of contrast. Comparisons to the city can be a sore point for a lot of people. We see its flaws spelled out in living colour on the evening news—poverty, crime, and carding. Yet something about the place keeps drawing people in. There’s a whole generation of Small Towners that don’t live here. I’d be willing to bet my life that the majority of them are in a larger city.

Why resent Toronto? What draws people to it? Diversity. Racial diversity, cultural diversity, diversity of thought, religion—you name it! In the city, opportunities to learn from a variety of human beings are endless. It’s inspiring to be in such a place.

I remember during the meeting, the townspeople were given the chance to speak. One of them was a middle-aged man. From what I can recall, he only seemed to have one intention—to complain about what he didn’t want Small Town to turn into. I cannot remember the details of what he said, however he spoke negatively of life in the city. I asked him to elaborate and specify exactly what it was about being in Toronto that was so offensive to his sensibilities. I was standing right behind him. When I asked him to clarify his points regarding the aspects of urban living that he didn’t like, his reaction didn’t go unnoticed. My request was met with silence.

I couldn’t help but wonder why. How hard would it have been to say that he didn’t like the crime or the crowds or the stench of overpriced real estate? Instead, he said nothing. That confirmed exactly what I’d feared about some of the people who live here. Whatever it was that offended this man about city living was likely something that wasn’t truly problematic, yet only got on certain folks’ nerves. Needless to say, my mind went straight to diversity. It’s the most obvious difference between life here and elsewhere.

In the week after this forum, I’ll never forget the way the press responded. A reporter from The Small Town Herald was there that night. He made it sound as though the man I’m referring to was genuinely concerned about condo developments over-saturating the town’s skyline. However, I was there. And as I said, his silence over a simple question spoke volumes.

My attendance at that meeting also made me self-conscious and want to assert myself. As one of very few people of colour, in town I almost think I should wear a t-shirt that says, ”I belong here!!”

In fact, while I was there, I wanted to stand up and launch into a soliloquy: “How long have I been here? Since there was a Calbeck’s and IGA!” These are both old grocery stores that were in town during the 70s and 80s, when I grew up. At that point, I would have gone on. “One of the ladies who retired from working at Sobeys has seen me shop with my mother since I was a child!” I might have looked strange, but it would have felt good to say something.

THE COMMERCIAL

Do you know those commercials by the Dairy Farmers of Canada featuring Canadian towns that share names with European cities? We have one. It’s been interesting watching it evolve. At first I was surprised and delighted…And even a bit confused.

It was obvious to me that it was produced by people who aren’t from the area. The first time I saw the advertisement and the announcer said, “This…Is Small Town…” I was stunned. It actually looked diverse. At one point there was a woman in it who had a gorgeous afro. Jokingly, I looked at my mom and said, ”Who in [this place] would have an afro, except for me?”

However, my surprise and delight was short-lived. The last several times I saw the commercial, I noticed something. It seemed as though all signs of diversity, aka actors of colour, have been edited out of existence. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. To me, although these changes were technically accurate, because Small Town isn’t exactly a melting pot…They were somehow wrong.

They also made me wonder about my family’s lack of a local footprint. If only a few people in town remember us, and they pass on over the next few decades, were we ever really here in the first place?

 

*The place where I live has a name. However I think my theme’s fairly universal.

Your mind matters.

yourmindmatterswilliamstitt

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week (#MIAW2016). I can’t speak about how this week gained its notoriety. However, what I wanted to do is speak a bit about therapy. I’ve attended sessions before. Chances are, I may go again. There’s an awful stigma surrounding it that has to change. I’ve heard people make ignorant comments about it. I also know that others have loved ones who are downright abusive when they dare discuss their weaknesses. Either way, this subject resonates with me.

I want people to think: When you mock people who choose to go to therapy, you’re not demonstrating how resilient you are. You’re showing me that you don’t understand how human beings function. You’re demonstrating your insensitivity.

Just for the record: NO, a person doesn’t have to have a serious illness like schizophrenia to see a therapist. No, her decision to seek help doesn’t mean that she’s an idiot. Nothing is wrong with someone trying to find solutions to their problems by talking to somebody. People have the right to get help when they need it.

In sessions with a good therapist, there’s a sense of freedom. You should feel safe. Ideally you’ll be sharing your thoughts with someone who’s unbiased and willing to listen to your problems. In return, this person will offer you guidance. They won’t try to dictate solutions to your challenges, but help you recognize them. (I know that opinions on therapeutic outcomes vary, but these are mine.)

Let’s talk some more about reactions to mental health intervention. What would you say if a friend tells you she wants to go to counselling? If she decides to share her reasons, I hope you listen. Be open minded. A person who recognizes that they need this kind of help isn’t a fool. They’re vulnerable and brave.

On the other hand, what if someone close to you suggests that you’re the one who needs counselling? I know that you might be surprised at first. You might even be angry. But if this person truly cares about you, I hope that you won’t dismiss them or be judgemental. People who know us well can have an uncanny habit of noticing things that we may overlook. Perhaps your friends have seen changes in you. Maybe you haven’t been yourself in a while.

In the end, your mind matters.

It’s a part of you. It affects the way that you function every second of every day of your life. If you doubt what I’m saying, consider this well-worn analogy: Why is it so easy to seek medical attention if we break a bone? Meanwhile, if we feel a sadness or anger that doesn’t leave, some of us are told to do nothing, or think we’re supposed to just magically push it away.

Lastly, I think we should also pay attention to what I call behaviour blocks. (I don’t know what the proper term is.) I’ve seen situations where Person A’s attitude may affects the way he interacts with Person B. Person B may think Person A is being unreasonable. Maybe he is or isn’t. But please. Don’t be so committed to being right that you won’t listen to another person when they try to point out how they feel around you. Be open to intervention—especially if it will change your relationship for the better.

We are more than mere flesh and bone. Our thoughts really, truly have the power to hurt or heal ourselves–and others.    

Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash.

Self-care? Self aware.

Well, guys, I’ve finally made a decision. I’m gonna start talking with you a bit about my struggles with self-care. Over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s something I truly need.

A recent edition of Chivon John’s #sidehustlechat focused on this subject. She asked us an important question: “Self-care has a different meaning for everyone. What is your definition of self-care?” I offered up a short, vague idea of what it meant to me. I even had the cojones to talk about taking “true” care of myself. And in return she asked


trueselfcareq

After that, Chivon and another chat participant (Hey, HecticDad!) encouraged me to share my thoughts. I’ve wanted to do so before, but hesitated. Now, I don’t know what’s come over me lately, but here we are.

“Self-care” is a pretty well-worn buzzword. I can’t tell you what to do about your journey. But what I can do is share why I’m investing in mine.

First there’s the matter of self-preservation. The fact is, women in my family age well. I’m at the halfway point in my life, and I feel as though I’m in bloom. Also, I’m in the process of rebooting my existence. I need energy and strength so that I can live through what’s ahead.

Speaking of “what’s ahead”, I’d also like to help build a better world. I’ve been talking about going back to work in education. If ever there was a career that demanded all of you as a human being, it’s teaching. I took horrible care of myself during my first go ‘round. I can’t afford to do that again. It’s bad for me—and my students.

Lastly, directly tied into improving the world, there’s the idea of service. Whether you’re teaching, cooking, singing, parenting—you name it—you can’t serve others effectively if you’re in pieces.

Overall, I’m learning that the greatest key to success lies in honouring my God-given self—body, mind, and soul.

I’m no guru. I’m just a regular woman. And I’ll admit it. I have fewer obligations than most: I’m single and I have no children. However I know that people with a variety of responsibilities can benefit from investing in themselves. I’ve heard them preach it, and I believe it! The more I work at self-care, the more I look forward to seeing what happens.

What are you doing to take care of yourself?

So I Think I Can Teach.

Still. In spite of everything. In spite of being an overly-sensitive dreamer.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve worked for  my local school board. In that time I swore I was done with working in education for good. If only I’d known that this week my Little Demon Chickens would have come home to roost.

I remember when I first graduated from teachers’ college in 2005. I was naive. I was also incredibly in love with education as a profession. I applied repeatedly to various school boards but to no avail.

Over the years, teaching broke my heart again and again. I began in the realm of substitute teaching. Although qualified at the Intermediate/Senior level, I never really felt equipped to deal with jaded teenagers—I simply didn’t think I wasn’t strong enough. There was the odd unprofessional colleague who was nasty enough to put me off of my game. And worst of all, in spite of the hope I had after working on one brief contract, I couldn’t secure a permanent position.

The possibility of working overseas beckoned to me. In fact, it still does. But I kept telling myself that I wanted to to work at home. That hasn’t changed.

Nevertheless as I said, I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I left the insecure pastures of substitute work for good in 2013.

I went to Toronto and studied television for a year. After that I returned home, to nothing.

Well…Not exactly nothing.

I’ve done some temp work, and a bit of freelance writing. I’ve recorded a few podcast episodes. Still, I haven’t hustled as hard as I should.

I’m not yet the woman that I want to be.

Something’s been missing.

And so, on the morning of a Wednesday that was already off to a craptastic start, I watched this:

The speaker, Jameelah Gamble, is a professional educator and television host. She works with children who have special needs. Around eleven minutes in, I broke into tears and had an epiphany.

In spite of everything, I still want to teach.

When I first graduated from teachers’ college, I felt unstoppable. My fellow classmates and I were in a cohort devoted to diversity and social justice. We joked about wearing a symbol on our chests like a bunch of educational superheroes.

And then reality hit.

No one told us what the teachers’ job market is really like. For some reason after I left OISE, I thought there’d be a position waiting for me at the end of my pedagogical rainbow. Boy was I wrong.

Back then, nepotism was the name of the game. Teaching jobs were widely advertised, yet the majority of administrators hired educators that they or their colleagues already knew. Never mind a rookie’s skills. If you baked Ms. Stevens’ kids cookies and had your OCT certification, chances are, you were in.

Since then, just as I exited the system, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Regulation 274 was created to ensure that teachers were hired due to seniority. Right now I’ll admit I wonder how effective it’s been. (I have the feeling that certain school boards find ways to circumvent this policy.)

Nevertheless, in 2013, leaving teaching felt like the next logical step in my life. What point was there in trying to participate in a profession where I clearly wasn’t wanted?

And yet, in spite of all of this, Ms. Gamble brought me back to the single reason that I thought I could be a teacher.

Love.

I love helping people learn—regardless of age. I want them to have faith in themselves, no matter what their circumstances may be. It breaks my heart to see humans lose hope. I may not be a parent, but I had hoped to influence the next generation for the better one way, or another.

Meanwhile, I know why I walked away. I’ve been wrestling with the words to explain the ways that I was challenged. It’s been a long time since I first tried to teach, but I think my soul is ready. Stay tuned.

Books: See Me After Class

Well, guys. I still want to work in education.

I’ll tell you about that another time. Long story short–yesterday I had one hell of an epiphany about my career. Last night I went and shopped my basement for teaching books. Thank God I didn’t burn them like I’d once planned. I found most of them. Among the pile, I was happy to see one in particular: See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden.

seemeafterclass-cover

This was the first authentic book on teaching that I’d ever read. The teaching-book landscape can be tough. Some volumes can seem polished to the point of stiffness. And don’t get me wrong. Those sort of books have their place.

Yet that’s not the only thing that new teachers need. When you’re in or out of the classroom and you feel like you’re losing your mind, you need a voice that can offer you perspective. You need someone who knows that classroom management issues don’t correct themselves as magically as they do in the movies.

I have a ton of other books, like Teaching to Transgress and When Kids Can’t Read. But I think Ms. Elden’s book is going to be the first one that I re-read as I get my mind back on track. Her work covers a variety of scenarios–dealing with colleagues, your “teacher” personality, marking assignments, etc. And of course, there are the myths. Have any of you teachers out there heard the phrase “don’t smile ’til Christmas”? (If you don’t work in education, you should know that some people advise teachers not to smile until before their first major holiday. No doubt, this is supposed to show students that we are serious professionals.)

Man.

If I followed that rule, my face would fall off.

See Me After Class offers readers a realistic look at teaching. I recommend it to anyone who’s new to the profession.