“You Always Say That…”

I was recently watching the FIFA world cup with my 14 year old brother and a commercial came on for coke. It depicted a varied group of little boys running around playing soccer through city streets. I commented “Where are all the girls?” to which James laughed and said ‘you always say that’.

‘You always say that.’

With that comment, my sweetheart little brother who wouldn’t hurt a fly effectively dismissed and de-legitimized my question. Thanks to the white male privilege he doesn’t really understand yet (and of course was only present here in a very diluted form), he was able to dismiss my albeit minor protest with a little laugh. I have a bit of a reputation in my family for being the one who makes a stink about feminist or racial issues, and there’s usually some teasing and eye rolling when I launch into a tirade, and that’s ok because they still show me respect by listening.  But I fear for James and the little conversations like that make me more and more aware of the desperate need for privilege education in our society, especially in rural white-dominated areas.  Our kids, especially the white ones and the boys, need to understand what societal privilege is, how they have it even though they never asked for it, how to acknowledge its presence, and how use it to help those who were born with less.

James is a good kid with a big heart and I have faith he’ll figure it out. But his big sister will always be in the background trying to make sure he uses that heart to understand his place in the world and make it a better place for others.

 

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Book Review: “Never Let Me Go”

I did it! I finished a book on my Summer Reading List (to read the full thing, check out this post). Hurray for me. Here are my thoughts on Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Overall, I really liked this book. Set sometime in futuristic England, it follows three young clones Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth as they grow up, face several life transitions, and eventually face their ends as organ donors. It’s very different from usual futuristic dystopian novels (in my experience) because it’s not about the overthrowing of the system.  None of the characters ever attempt to change their society, and only a few make meagre attempts to change their personal fates.  The reader is just expected to accept that in this future, England cures all diseases through growing and ‘harvesting’ clones, and this is accepted by everyone in society. The focus of the book is not on the dystopian system itself but rather the system is used by Ishiguro as a tool to explore the novel’s themes. So don’t expect a Hunger Games-esque revolution, because it doesn’t happen and that’s not the point.  I found this a refreshing new take in the genre of dystopian fiction.

The entire book is from Kathy’s perspective and the narration style is very casual.  It’s like Kathy knows you and is casually telling you her life story. She constantly references things she is planning on eventually telling you, jumping back and forth between her present and her past, sometimes inconsistently just like when a person is telling a story in real life.  I thought I would be irritated by this, because you have to pay attention and sometimes it takes a second to remember what she’s referring to or to keep track of her various digressions.  But in reality I found it engaging and liked the familiar feeling of being told a story.  It’s also important to pay attention because everything Kathy says is important whether thematically or to the plot; even when it just sounds like a random digression, it’s not. Ishiguro is very purposeful and has a reason for every conversation and statement.  The narration style lends itself to this as Kathy can just tell the reader the important stories, and skim over chapters of her life that are not eventful.

Throughout the novel, I found myself trying to understand what Kathy’s point is. She seems to be telling the story of her life for a reason to explain something to her listener, but it’s not clear what that is. And there is no big finale finish where everything is explained.  In the final scenes a measure of the clone system in explained, but why she’s telling the story is never laid out. Again, I thought this would irritate me but I actually liked it because it means every reader can glean something different from the story.

For me, the novel is about not really about Kathy at all-it’s about Ruth, and her reaction to the world around her. Ruth is extremely manipulative, the leader in her group, and the assertive one who attempts (albeit misguidedly) to throw herself and her friends into the successful popular group.  I saw Ruth as just a girl trying to succeed in the only way she knew how, which basically comes down to manipulation.  She constantly lies when it suits her, usually to portray herself as popular or special and worthy of attention and praise. Kathy is her closest friend, and puts up with a lot of mistreatment but recognizes that Ruth thinks she is helping Kathy, not hurting her.

I think we are all Ruth, or at least are in danger of becoming her. In our money-obsessed society, people are taught to lie, cheat, and steal their way to create a persona of success, wealth, and popularity.  It starts in the schoolyard and continues on until you look back one day and, like Ruth, have major regrets about the way your actions have affected others.  We all do this, whether in small ways or big ones. We portray ourselves a certain way in order to get people to think of us in that way which we hope will then lead to people accepting and loving us.  Through Kathy’s observations, Ishiguro highlights this behaviour and how ineffective it really is-Kathy is always seeing through Ruth’s disguises and by doing so reveals her to be the opposite of how she wants to be perceived.

 

Of course, as I said earlier, someone else could read this book and get something completely different out of it-that’s what makes it a great novel. Other themes could be coming of age, fate/destiny, death, the consequences of our actions, love, revenge, education, sex, or even medical commentary. Whatever strikes your interest, this book is a phenomenal and easy read and I highly recommend it.

 

Ellie the Elephant (to be…)

One of my favourite things to do is knit for my friends and family who are expecting babies.  Baby things are just so fun and quick to knit, and there’s so many fantastic patterns out there! So when my friends Brad and Vanessa announced they’re expecting their first, I immediately started searching for the perfect pattern.  Vanessa crochets, so I knew it had to be something that would be more difficult to find in a crocheting pattern. I was looking through my pattern binder and found a pattern for a little elephant stuffed animal, and I knew it was perfect!  I’ve knit stuffed animals before which turned out really well and I like that the babies can’t outgrow them!

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I’m not too far on it yet but I thought I’d post pics of my progress!  Luckily I had some grey yarn the perfect shade. :Image

 

 

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Looking forward to the finished product!  About a year and a half ago, friends of mine had their fourth child, so I made each child a different animal to match their personalities.  They loved them and sleep with them still which is so lovely to see.

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The Most Important Teaching Tool You’ll Ever Need.

Leah's gift

On the last day of my internship in a high school English classroom, one of my students gave me a card and some chocolates. You might think ‘ok great nice gesture’ and then move on, but you’d be wrong because this ordinary act was actually a powerful demonstration of the power of caring. This is why:

This student, let’s call her Leah, is in the Gr.10 Applied English class that I have been student teaching in for 7 weeks (for those who don’t know, ‘Applied’ classes are for students who struggle with school and/or are focusing on going to community college rather than university). At the start of my internship, she wasn’t there and I didn’t meet her until about a week in because she had decided to skip class for a week or so.  This was her second high school which she moved to after being expelled from her previous one for violence.  I later found out she lived with her mother who had a DUI and required Leah to be her designated driver when she was drunk, which apparently happened quite frequently. The family had no father and very little money. Leah’s mark was at 30%-the lowest a teacher can give out, almost entirely due to her absences and just not handing anything in. However, after my associate teacher called home a few times and the end of the school year approached, Leah decided that she did want her English credit after all, if only so she didn’t have to come back next year. She started showing up a little more and occasionally handed something in.

After Leah actually started showing up to class, albeit always late, I got to know her a bit more. She was a sullen, angry girl who only ever talked about why people were irritating her and how she had been expelled from her previous school.  My associate teacher, the classroom’s educational assistant, and I all attempted cheerily to build relationship with her and encourage her to hand work in.

Every class I made sure to smile and ask her how she was, and always respond positively when she said something negative. This has generally been my tactic for all my classes when kids complain about something: don’t deny that the student in question is upset and is right to be upset (or irritated or peeved or whatever), instead focus on shifting it to the positive, demonstrating the power of a positive attitude rather than just telling the kid to suck it up buttercup.

Gradually, oh so gradually, Leah’s attitude started to change.  It was mostly subtle-at first she didn’t talk about being angry as much and didn’t snap at things the other students in the class said. Then she started handing in work regularly. And slowly, her mark went up.  She started smiling more and skipping less, and generally was acting more friendly. She even came to class while her friends skipped, and on time no less.

Then one day a couple weeks ago the class got an updated mark.  Leah marched up to me and proudly informed me her mark was at a 50% on the dot.  Out of all 70 of my students over the 3 classes, she was the most proud of her mark that was barely a passing grade.  And you know what? So was I! For the rest of the term she continued to hand in work and kept me updated of her rising mark (‘Miss, I have a 54%-that’s another 4 whole percent!’). We chatted and joked and talked about English and I told her how amazing her turn-around was and how proud I was of her work, continuing to encourage her to keep going.

So on that last day, when she sheepishly brought the card that spelled ‘To’ wrong and the chocolates wrapped in already used tissue paper to the front of the class, you can understand why my heart sang. She wrote in the card that it was from the whole class but signed her name after writing ‘I’ll miss you!’ at the bottom of the card.  I gave her a hug, told her I was proud of her, and wished her all the best, trying to hold it together and not cry.

With all of this, I’m not trying to say that Leah’s life was transformed. I’m not saying she’s going to get on the honour roll one day and become a doctor and save the world. What I am saying is that she changed, and that most of that change came from herself but maybe part of it came because her teachers cared about her and demonstrated that care. And I feel so privileged to have been able to be even the tiniest little bit a part of that.

 

Caring matters and it works and it helps people, regardless of your job or situation. Care for people and watch them grow. Trust me, it’s an amazing feeling.

In Honour Of Father’s Day

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That’s me and my Dad several years ago during a church meeting that took place in our house. We are trying to steal extra pieces of this amazing cheesecake without anybody noticing.  It is this incident that inspired that part of my blog description and it pretty much sums up my Dad and me. He’s my unfailing supporter who taught me the important things in life: standing up for what you believe in, how to show grace especially when people don’t deserve it, giving your whole heart in abandon to Jesus, and of course the importance of cheesecake. I love you Dad.

 

‘You’re Studying What?!’, or, How to Talk to Postsecondary Students About Their Futures

This week is my final week as a student teacher teaching English to 14 year olds at a local high school.  I’ve been there for 7 weeks, and it has been one of the best and most affirming experiences of my life. I have known I wanted to be a teacher since I was 12 but this experience of actually teaching has confirmed that this is what I am meant to do. I loved every second of it, from the lesson planning to the marking to the answering questions at lunch to the attempts to get the class clown to finally shut up and listen. I love it I love it I love it.

I can deal with the ups and downs of teaching teenagers Shakespeare all day long. You skipped class and expect to hand it your work late? Let’s talk. I have to teach a poetry unit that features as diverse a group of poets as possible to a bunch of kids who don’t care? Let’s get googling. My marking pile is so high I have to stand up at my desk to talk to students who approach me with a question? Looks like I have a busy evening ahead.

I can handle these challenges and more because they are exactly what I signed up for when I applied to teacher’s college.  Every job has pros and cons and the day I decided to become a teacher I also decided to put up with whatever that means, good or bad.

The biggest challenge has nothing really to do with the education system at all. It’s everyone outside of it.  Specifically, the people who love to look on from the outside and ‘say it like it is’ (ie. ‘I’m going to be rude then laugh at the end of it so you can’t get mad’).

90% of the time when I tell someone I’m getting my teaching degree to teach high school English and History, I get some sort of variation on the reaction ‘Ohhh…good luck getting a job’, usually accompanied by a patronizing tone of voice or a stifled sneer.  Once a woman laughed out loud derisively directly in my face.

I live in Ontario, Canada, and right now there aren’t that many jobs in a large portion of the province.  Basically, ten or so years ago the government thought the Baby Boomer teachers were on the cusp of retirement so they offered them great retirement packages and opened wide the doors to teacher’s colleges.  BUT the Boomers never retired, so all those fresh new teachers came on the scene expecting jobs that hadn’t emptied and created a glut that is still getting sorted out. So yes, if I stay in Ontario it will be difficult for me to get a job right out of school. And yes, I’ll probably have to substitute teach for a few years.  And with the economy the way it is right now, a lot of people in every discipline and profession are experiencing a lot of the same struggles.

Because I’m in university, I have a lot of friends studying obscure and impractical things like Celtic Studies or 18th German Literature and we all joke together about our future unemployment. But you know what, at the end of the day we are all sacrificing A LOT  of time, money, and ourselves for the choices that we have made so that we can study what we are truly passionate about. And we know what the job market is like without every person over 30 who entered the job market easily at a time of growth reminding us sternly as if it’s somehow our fault. I believe that God has a plan for my life, and that he is my ultimate provider, which includes my future employment.  But I’m imperfect and not immune to fear, and I have so many friends who don’t share the hope we all desperately need that I cling to during difficult times.

 

The moral of this story is that if a young person comes up to you and tells you what they are studying or what they want to be there is never never never ever a reason or a need for you to criticize their choices unless you are their parent/guardian or are paying for it.  Trust me, we know what we are getting into. We’re the ones facing the mountains of debts and bills we have no idea how we will pay. Please don’t be the person who makes fun of me for pursuing my aspirations and my attempts to help make the world a better place. Choose to spread hope and support and positivity, because we know exactly what we’re facing out there and it’s scary. Don’t just remind us of the problem, help us find a solution.

My Summer Reading List

Every year since I started high school I’ve written myself a Summer Reading List.  For the first few years, these were almost all just pleasure reads or books I hadn’t gotten a chance to get into yet.  But after starting my English degree and making friends with a lot of English majors who are much more well read than I am, I decided to use my summer to read the books I felt I should read to be able to fully complete my English education.  I also found that a lot of my English classes were very specific (ex. ‘The Graphic Novel’ or ‘Shakespeare’) and there was a lot of amazing literature out there I’m missing out on.  Plus, the more I read, the more I can engage in the texts I read for class *whispers: which means I can sound smarter without working that hard!* But I never seem to make it through the whole list.

SO. This summer is the first summer in a long time when I won’t have to work and will have tons of free reading time! Which means no excuses, I’m reading my entire list by September! And each time I finish a book, I’ll write an informal review of what I thought about it.

Here is what I have so far (in no particular order).  I am allowing myself to add, but not take away, from the list below:

 

The Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Evelina by Frances Burney

Tales by Edgar Allen Poe

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

 

Suggestions are welcome!!