Archive for April, 2021

Another big wave, tsunami-fashioned. Third? Fourth? Fifty-six and a half? Which wave? Which year? Which incarnation?

Another “State of Emergency.”

Another lockdown that isn’t really a lockdown, and might be called a ‘mockdown’ instead.

And a woman writing a blog, wondering what’s going on…listening to the birds waking up outside her window, and the sound of an ambulance wailing down Paris Street.

This is me writing as a teacher first. I’m not a parent, so I can only empathize with those of you who are during this pandemic, but I am–as the Ontario Education Act of 1990 says–someone who acts “in loco parentis” to my students, and I have since September 2001, when I began teaching.

That’s thousands of young people who’ve come through some classroom door and spent time with me. That’s hundreds of kids, too, who have, when frustrated with something, raised their voices to me and said “But, yeah, Mom…listen…” That’s hundreds, too, I know, who have sat crying at desks with me sitting next to them after class, a light hand on an elbow to reassure them that it will be okay when the world around them seems to be falling into a state of despair and shit. So. They are my kids, even though they aren’t mine, and I’ve loved each one–even the ones who frustrated and confused me. Those ones, to be honest, are the ones who’ve taught me the biggest, most important life lessons. And, there are two who have died, whom I think of more often than you’d imagine. Their names and faces, their voices–Deirdre and Jordan–are tattooed on my heart, and it aches when I think of how they left too soon.

Further contextualizing my identity–I’m a straight, white woman, and I’m a settler. I’m past middle age now. I have white privilege. I don’t appropriate other cultures. I’m a survivor of mental illness. I know that some stories aren’t mine to tell, and I respect that. I tell my own story. I know my three university degrees come from that white privilege I just mentioned. My parents were working middle class, so I’m the first one in my immediate family with a university degree. My sister followed, so she became the second one. I value education deeply because of this, and because of the way in which my parents taught me to value reading, writing, books, and about giving back to the society in which I live. And, well, though it should be fairly obvious by now, I’m a poet and a writer.

I’m a listener, more than a talker, and I’m fairly shy, even though most people wouldn’t think that when they see me in public spaces. I think before I speak, and I only speak–with great passion and a clear voice–if I feel very, very strongly about something. I tell the truth. I’m honest. I can’t lie. I also can’t leave out my truths and say that that’s not lying. That would still be lying in my books. (This might come from having tried to lie to a nun back at Marymount in Grade 13, while I was trying to escape an afternoon pep rally because I was being bullied by some popular girl, but that’s a whole other blog. The only time I tried to lie, to that nun, in a portable hallway, I turned bright red, mumbled and stuttered, and she called me on it. Since then, well, I just can’t lie.) I’m private, and it takes a while to coax me out of my turtle shell. Lots of people don’t stick around for long because of that. I have a hard time trusting people. That comes from childhood trauma stuff. It’s hard. It’s complex. I don’t like it, but I deal with it. I’m a work in progress. And I’m proud of how far I’ve come, in such a short time.

There. I’ve contextualized myself and my identity. Now…here’s what I have to say about all of this:

This most recent ‘State of Emergency’ doesn’t feel very emergency-like to me. Not at all. When I sit with my Grade 12 students online every day, and when I ask them how they’re doing in the pandemic, I get a variety of responses. Most times, they start off as comments firing through the chat box on Google Classroom, but soon enough, they end up being kids unmuting themselves and chatting about what they think. They do this when they are most unsettled or when they want guidance, but don’t know where to go. They know, I think, that I’ll listen, and that I’ll try to help them walk through this shit storm. At least, I hope they know that…even though I’m teaching from my tiny dining room table.

When we’ve talked about the pandemic in my class before, I asked my students what acts as ‘an anchor’ or ‘a lighthouse’ to them in these difficult times. The responses have varied: “I bake things,” “I have an indoor herb garden,” “I work out,” “I watch TV with my parents on the couch at night,” and even “I like to walk outside when it rains.” That one was, of course, my favourite. Then we talk about what they’re frustrated about. They’re missing the things they so looked forward to for such a long time: “Semi-formal and fancy dresses, high heels, and then dancing in bare feet to really loud music,” “The Gallery Run” (a tradition at the school where I teach), “Prom,” “Grad,” “friends,” “sleep overs,” “going to the mall,” “Spirit Week,” “Winter Carnival,” and even “The Caf.” They are missing the things that gathered them together, in The Before Times.

Then they talk about what’s been happening in Ontario. They are frustrated. They wonder why it’s this ‘back and forth thing.’ They ask why it’s a lockdown if the big box stores are open. They watch their parents worry about their jobs, and they watch their parents lose their jobs, and they watch their parents struggle emotionally in front of them while trying to pretend everything is okay. We’re all just…trying to pretend it’s okay. Maybe, I was thinking yesterday, we should stop doing that? We’re exhausting ourselves by acting ‘normal’ in a very not normal time on the planet. Why can’t we just admit that this has been a year unlike any other? People have lost jobs, marriages, lovers, homes, families, and yes, even friends. Things have disappeared without warning. Global pandemics have this effect, apparently. You just need to find your flutter board and hold on tight. You need to “Just keep swimming.” (#dory)

How do teachers fit into the puzzle or equation? We’re the ones who are ‘in loco parentis.’ While we’re mostly vilified by the public across the province, we love your kids more than you know. And, to be honest, we’re sometimes the only ones who some kids can look to for help. Those are the ones I’ve been worrying about lately–the kids who are marginalized by society before they have a chance to learn how to walk. These are the kids who come from really broken families, from families that struggle with inter-generational cycles of addiction issues, poverty, and abuse. These are the kids who get kicked out of their houses late at night, and who then crash in their friends’ basements for months on end. These are the kids who depend on breakfast clubs and on school buildings that are heated in the winter months. These are the kids…who I worry about a lot.

But…I worry about all of my other kiddos, too. They’re struggling. They are. They’re resilient, though, so I want you to know that. They are. In fact, I think they’re behaving better than a lot of adults I know lately. They’re honest, true, and they are connected by their virtual networks. They are, and I can tell you this with great certainty, aware and astute about how to stay in touch through their cell phones. And, every few days, I remind them to reach out to someone they haven’t heard from in a while. Where did that person go? Did they disappear? Maybe a text or call? Holiday weekends are bad for me, so I reminded them last Friday to reach out to someone who might be on their own. Or…maybe that person is just on another path. We talk about paths a lot these days in my class…and about how we will navigate our way through this mess…and come out on the other side as better, kinder, and more compassionate humans. They are teaching me the biggest lessons of my life.

They want to know, in the last few months, why a lockdown isn’t really a lockdown. I want to know that, too. I want to know how it is that I’ve been a bubble on my own with a dog, following suggested rules, battling loneliness, and writing a lot of new stuff, while watching people out in groups, living as if…nothing is really going on. So, I tell them I don’t have that answer for them. I tell them that sometimes grown ups don’t know how to lead, or that they pretend to lead because they have a certain plaque on their office door, or because they think letters behind their names mean that they’re better than other people. I tell them…that we can only do our best. They say…”We don’t want people we love to get sick, so we follow the rules.” And I say, ‘I know. Me, too…’ And they say, “Do the other people…not want to think about everyone else? Because we…are ‘everyone else’…” And then I just want to cry.

They want to know why people aren’t thinking about other people…and I don’t really know how to answer that anymore. And that worries me. A lot.

My students want to know why it isn’t a real lockdown.

I do, too.

People in power, in Ministries of Education, in tall office towers of school boards around the province, and people who haven’t taught in a while…or people who might never have taught a day in their life, might have forgotten what it means to be with kids in a classroom–real or virtual, or hybrid–all day, every day. They won’t, then, even know what it means to walk a kid through a pandemic, in person and online. They won’t know what it means to teach in a ‘hybrid’ fashion. They won’t know what it means to wear a medical mask for hours a day, and to want a HEPA filter so badly that you might cry when the maintenance guy comes to install it. They won’t know what it is to feel frustration when the school wifi doesn’t work and twenty-five kids are out there, somewhere, waiting for you to start class. And, they won’t know what it’s like to yell over a HEPA filter, through a mask, and to worry that your mask obscures the way your face moves to show and express emotion. For the kid who is on the spectrum, that matters. For the kid who doesn’t get your sense of humour, or who can’t know you because you’re rushing through a quad in eight or nine weeks, and whose feelings might be hurt if they can’t see you smile as you chat with them, that matters.

The human side of this matters.

I’m wondering a few things this morning:

~How come kids’ mental health hasn’t been an issue before the pandemic? I mean, it was, on the radar, and has been for a number of years now, but now it’s being used as a way to convince people that having kids sitting in desks in classrooms, in school buildings, is the only answer to keeping them mentally healthy. That’s not true, though. The thing is…a kid can’t be mentally healthy if they’re at risk of being infected with Covid, or anxious about bringing that virus back into their house, where they might live with an immunocompromised sibling, parent, or grandparent. Because there are more of those kids in classrooms than you might imagine, and they’re anxious *coming* to school. Please, let’s don’t forget about these kids…because they are the ones who might not be sleeping well, or who might be struggling in classes because of their worries.

~Covid is on the buses. I hate to tell you this, especially if you’re under the false assumption that it isn’t. But…one only need to look at various cities, and follow the bus routes, and see how things have sprung up around communities and schools.

~That point leads me to this big point which is…you guessed it…why it’s necessary to close schools for a while. If we’re in a ‘State of Emergency’ and this is a ‘lockdown,’ how are schools allowed to remain open? How is that safe while other things aren’t? The incongruity of it all is what boggles the mind. It boggles the minds of my Grade 11s and 12s, so if they’re wondering what’s going on, I’m sure some adults must be wondering, too…or I hope so, anyway.

~What’s affecting the mental health of kids most, if you ask me, because I spend time with them every day, is how it all works. They don’t understand why some things are allowed and some aren’t. They want structure. They want someone in charge who will lead them to safety. They want a person who…when you’re walking through a dark forest some night while on a camping trip…the kind of person who you can grab onto the hem of the back of their shirt or jacket…and let them guide you through the darkest, scariest, most intimidating parts of the walk. They want that. Who doesn’t want that, at this point?

~Education workers who work with kids special education needs will be vaccinated next week, during the delayed Spring Break week. This is good news, but it’s late in coming. Much. Too. Late. Similar stories out of Alberta, on Twitter yesterday. Ted McCoy, a professor at the University of Calgary, tweeted that there are approximately 50,000 teachers in Alberta, and about 400,000 vaccine doses in freezers. See…here’s the issue: people really like to hate teachers. It’s always the ‘summers off’ comment, but I have yet to see anyone jump feet first into education just for the summers off. The teachers I have had the pleasure and honour of working alongside over the last twenty years are people who love kids, who love learning, and who have a natural sense of curiosity about the world around them. Too, they really have this notion that teaching the next generation is a privilege, and an honour. So…I wonder about that, the teacher bashing. But, I’ve dealt with it since I became a teacher back in 2001, so I know it’s not going away anytime soon.

~I’m aware of fellow teachers who have dealt with Covid in their homes, while continuing to teach virtually, and who have worried about bringing it home to their families, or to those–like me–who live alone and are aware of what it would mean to care for themselves if they were to be infected. We are both sides of the same horrible coin. And, I’m aware of those teachers who have been hospitalized, and I’m especially thinking of one woman who died, and another who remains in critical condition–now intubated in hospital–because she went to school to teach kids. That could’ve happened virtually…but didn’t. That’s wrong.

~I’m thinking of the kids whose parents work at Laurentian University today, too. I know that they’re under an incredible amount of stress. Here in Sudbury, those kids are learning virtually, because we’ve been in the Grey Zone due to rising case numbers in the last month or so. On top of trying to manage their fears of the virus, of becoming ill or spreading it to someone they love without knowing, and on top of missing their friends and extended family members, and on top of just trying to breathe deeply…those kids — at elementary and secondary levels of study — are dealing with the uncertainty of a government, and a university, that won’t tell anyone here what’s happening about the future of our northern university until….when??….the middle of next week. That. Is. Like. Water. Torture. And…it’s just unkind. I’m thinking of those kids, too, today…and their parents…and of the entire city.

~And…finally…I’m thinking about colleagues who have had to go on stress leaves…because, make no mistake, this is stressful. Our school staffs are families. We worry about one another. Sometimes, we’ve worked together for decades. Seeing people you’ve worked with for twenty years have to go on sick leave, or retire, because of the pandemic stress, is a punch in the heart. The retirements might be the hardest to watch, because these are the educators who are the veteran stars who guide future generations of teachers. We’re losing mentors inside our educational system, and no one’s really thought about that…I don’t think. Maybe…someone should.


This is a long blog. Sorry. And also–NOT SORRY.

This is National Poetry Month and today I’m thinking about someone who meant a lot to me, as a poet and as a vocal advocate for causes he cared about. He didn’t mince words. He was honest, even when it wasn’t popular. He had a voice and used it. He told his truth. He didn’t hold back. So. This is me doing that, using my voice. Too many of us, as teachers, bite our tongues in public, for fear of being chastised. And, well, maybe it’s time we didn’t do that as much, especially given the nature of what’s been going on in schools.

In my favourite poem of his, “Sailboat,” Gord Downie wrote about how we can think about our lives in bigger ways. Ripples, you know? What we do, what we say, matters. Being honest matters. Speaking truths matters. Being brave matters. If you’re lucky, in this world, during these so-difficult-days, “the most you can do is/spend all your time/giving some of your time/meaning.”

This is me. This is me…making meaning.

I hope you all stay well, and that you are lucky enough to have other people in your bubbles, and that you’ll do your best–as teachers and parents–to speak up for our kids and education workers.

That’s what I hope for…but I don’t know anymore. And that makes me sad…



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