January 20, 2016

This Kind Of Attention

“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”
― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

I always feel inspired and good about the world after I see students kick ass at what they love. I’m a big fan of supporting, not only the students I teach, but also the ones I have taught in the past, when they share their art, music and acting in plays. I should be better about watching them in sports too, but that is another post.

This post is about the feeling of watching kids I’ve spent time with shine in a beautiful performance.

I just got back from the grade nine and ten rendition of Cyrano De Bergerac, and as per usual hats off to Bronwyn​ for another innovative and powerful production. She has a knack for taking theatre seriously and pulling the best out of each actor.

It left me thinking about how important it is to remind ourselves that, as teachers, we see kids at a certain stage of their growth, but those short one or two years we spend with them is just a window into their maturation. They keep growing after they leave us. I loved seeing kids I taught in grade eight grow into such sophisticated and talented people.

Teaching can’t be about the short term. We are working on a much larger scale. We are shaping human beings.

Hopefully the time we spend with kids has a lasting effect beyond the skills they might or might not learn. And if the friendships I have with former students here on Facebook is any indication, it is clear that even one year of English can have lasting effects on people.

Anyway, kids want to know that you are there for them and that you really care. And here is the secret: you have to actually care. You can’t bullshit this kind of attention.

After every performance, I use the names from the program to email every member of the cast that I have taught:

Hello Cast, 

Just a quick note to let you know how amazing you were tonight. I was in awe, not only of your performance, but the dedication, passion and commitment you have clearly shown for this show. 

It's so nice to see you grow up into such talented actors. We miss you in the middle school, but clearly you have matured and are becoming the people you are meant to be. 

I feel proud and privileged to have worked with you in some capacity during your time as a middle schooler.

Can't wait to see what you do next. 

That moment when there is a glitch in your tech and the app won’t work and it freezes and even crashes your phone, but you try it five more times, thinking, “This time it has to work.” But it doesn’t and so you give up and feel shitty and then you try one more time. Still nothing. You feel worse than before and the app still doesn’t work, but for some reason the next day it works fine.

Right before
I think, “This is the last thing in the world I want to do right now.”
In the beginning it feels better. Feels okay.
Fifteen minutes in, it feels terrible and I just want it to stop.

I persist
yelling at myself in my head.
I heap on the abuse.

I ignore that voice and focus on my breath and the low hanging dense clouds, the ships off the coast and the small child learning balance on his scooter.

I lose myself in thoughts of chapters and failures and half attempts and near misses, on the value of goals and data

A few more steps,
a few more minutes.
Just don’t stop yet.

Afterwards, hot, sweaty, tired,
I feel grateful.

Lessons Learned:

  • Kids are awesome. When they are awesome, it’s important that you’re there to see it and when you do, it’s important you tell them. 
  • There are glitchy gremlins in your tech and they need to find their way out. 
  • Running will always suck before and during, but pays off in the after. 

  1. How do you support the people you love? 
  2. What drive you crazy about technology? 
  3. What do you hate doing, but enjoy when it’s done? 

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