Category Archives: career

Art Gallery Hop


I had a great time at work yesterday, organizing and leading an Art Gallery Hop.  I took four of my students to view the art in several local art galleries in the Exchange District, taking the bus to the heart of downtown, and then walking from gallery to gallery.  It was a great opportunity to not only discuss art created by local artists, but also to discuss  the history of the city.

I had called the galleries in advance, so they knew we were coming, and some owners were especially eager to share their love of art with my students, taking them behind the scenes in the workshops where they do custom framing and where several exhibits sat waiting to be put on display.

Before we had finished our tour, each student had found a piece of artwork that especially resonated within them. 

One of my students loved a group of 4 multi-media pieces, one blue, one green, one black, and one red.  They looked kind of like branches to me, and she said the reason she liked them so much was because how well they all fit together. 

 Another student was particularly drawn to a painting of an Eden-like setting, full of different kind of animals.  The closer you looked at the painting, the more creatures you could see. 

Another student was in love with all things dragons, and there was a painting made entirely of tiles, with little bits of black on them.  When all of these tiles were set together, they took on the form of a regal looking black dragon.

The last student had two favourites.  One was an etching of a frozen river, where many stories were intersecting.  The more attention you paid to the piece, the more stories you could see.  There were also some well-known landmarks in the background, and my student remarked, “This one is all about US.”

The other painting this student particularly enjoyed was a painting of a woman in a red coat.  Her back was turned to the audience, and her face was hidden.  She looked like she was waiting for maybe a taxi, but the background was also hidden in darkness.  She told me she liked this painting because you could tell what it was, not like some of the other abstract paintings that surrounded it.  We talked about it for a bit, and I tried to help her see that this picture was telling a story, just like the abstract ones, and that what it was could change depending on the story you created for it.

My favourite painting was a symbolic piece.  I didn’t even get the significance until one of students pointed it out.  At first it looked like a human breaking out of an egg, until this student pointed out that the egg from which it was hatching was actually the world, and that the breaking out of the egg was destroying the world.  We looked at it again, from a different perspective, and it appeared that the arm of the person was coming out of North America, and that it was North America who was destroying the earth while an emmaciated woman stood by with an arm raised, watching.

I want to do this again, perhaps in the summer, with another group of students.  It was particualarly rewarding, and this experience may very well be my favourite activity we led at work over the holidays.

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Back to Work I Go


Yesterday was my first day back at work after the holidays.  At first I was a little reluctant to go, not wanting to leave the warmth of my bed and of my home.  It’s hard to go to work, even when you love your job, when you’re so entirely content at home.

Once I got there, though, I was glad to be back.  I was able to connect with a kid I haven’t seen since October, played some rugby (badly) with her, and was able to invite her to some other holiday break activities.  We sat around drinking hot chocolate and eating chili, and then she turned to me and  said, very casually, “You’re coming to the talent show, right?”

One of the high schools I work out of is hosting a Talent show.  Apparently a  TA class is organizing it, and had auditions before the break.  I hadn’t even known that this kid tried out, but she did, and she was awarded with a place in the show.  She’ll be singing a Mary J. Blige song in February in front of the whole school, and I was honoured that she wanted me to be there to support her.  I felt very much like a proud parent.

These little things mean so much to me.  I love my kids, I love my job, and I love my life.


Do you believe in God?


I overheard the most interesting conversation today between a grade nine Christian student and a grade 11 student who is non-religious.  The grade 9 student is very curious about religion , and will often ask people about their beliefs.  The response of this grade 11 student to the question, “Do you believe in God?” was:

“If God DOES exist, then he’s a giant douche bag.”

Touche, young man.  Touche.


Reflecting on Demian Again


I helped one of my kids write a poem yesterday.

This student, who is a brilliant grade 9 student, struggles more with English than any other subject.  He came into the tutoring centre stressed out by this overwhelming task his teacher had set out for him.  So we sat down together to figure out how to best begin.  First he wrote a short story, saying the things he wanted to say in the poem.  Next, he broke it up into “stanzas” whenever he thought there was a thought-change.  From there, he looked at each sentence, and cut the sentence into fragments to emphasize the most important parts. It was a very scientific approach to poetry, not an approach I would ever be able to take myself, but this is the way his mind functions best.  And he ended up writing a pretty good piece of work.

This is the kind of thing I like best about my job: the ability to teach without having to be labeled as Teacher, to instruct and guide, but not be forced to evaluate based on generic criteria.  And really, the role I have now is a  role I have always felt I was destined to play.

Awhile ago, years ago now, when I was reading Hermann Hesse’s Demian for the first time, I wrote:

I have always wanted to be something.  My pride wishes to be sustained by affecting the lives of others.  I want to be a teacher, and a Master.  I want disciples to learn from me, and I want to spread Truth to as wide an audience as possible.  I want to be a nurturer and a guide.

I am none of these things.

If I am honest with myself, I am impatient and intolerant.  I am rash and fearful.  I can guide myself, but not others.  I am harsh and blunt, and while I may offer protection, it is only a temporary protection; it is not in me to nurture.  In fact, the only function I think I serve is as one who smashes the illusions held by an individual in order to prepare him or her for a true teacher.”

I think, basically, the same is true today.  Although I no longer “smash illusions”, I do still try to help individuals see not only illusions but also to understand their own perception of reality and the world around them.  By doing this, I AM preparing my students for a true teacher and  am “acting out my natural function”, one that I did not pick out myself but when performed seems to complete me, just as Hesse instructed us to do.


Reassuring the Bourgeoisie


I just found out this evening that one of our sister organizations have had their funding cut.  Maybe there were problems within the organization itself.  I don’t know.  All I do know is that this program was set up in the heart of the North End, in a place where poverty and crime is everywhere and so many kids are in need of the supports we offer.

I think it may have something to do with a non-supportive school board, and with the politics of “wasting” money on a project everybody is expecting to inevitably fail.

The community I work in is also filled with poverty, but it is an invisible poverty.  The tenement buildings appear quite aesthetically pleasing, but I’ve been inside, and there are many issues within.  Bedbugs are frequently a problem, and some bedrooms don’t even have closets.

Of course, the following picture is not actually of these kids’ houses, but this is basically what the low-income housing looks like from the outside.

And this is quite often what the interior will look like:

When I first got the job, people wondered why I was working in such a rich community, if I was supposed to be helping disadvantaged youth.  The area has the reputation of being a better neighbourhood, and I think this is one reason our organization has prospered as it has.

The middle class want a program to keep the hoodlums off their lawns.

Does this mean that the work I do has no significance?  Does this undermine the kind of positive influence our program has on kids?  No, of course not.

But it is important to keep things in perspective.  And I  realize that a part of my role is to simply reassure the bourgeoisie.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Landed in a New Perspective.


Last month I took three kids to see the play version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Two of these kids had never seen a play before, and all three still can’t stop talking about it. We sat in the second row, a little off to stage left, and as the play progressed, I became more interested in watching my kids than watching the action on stage.

Andrea is in a drama class this term, and was obviously trying  very hard to look sophisticated and well-versed in everything theatrical.  Of all the kids, she was the only one who had dressed up for the occasion.  She sat up straight in her seat,looking around occasionally to make sure other people noticed how proper she was being.  And she laughed only where other people laughed,where they  indicated it was acceptable for her to join in.  She is always concerned about concealing her economic status with her peers and teachers, and, for her, part of this experience was all about entering into a higher social/economic bracket as an equal.

Leanne was just blown away by the whole experience.   She sat in awe of everything, giving herself up completely to the  emotional currents of the piece.  She laughed and she cried.  She hated and she loved.  She was silent even during intermission, and it was not till the end of the play, when I was trying to engage them all in a quick debrief of the experience that she told me she related most to the Chief.

Amy ‘s reaction was the most interesting.  She is a bit of a terror.  She has attitude like nobody’s business, skips class, and is failing two of her cores.  She lies like crazy, and has a constant need to one-up everyone ALL the time.  She is also one of my favourites, because beneath that badass image is a kid who is afraid, a kid starving for the attention she doesn’t get at home, a kid who has been told by somebody that she’s stupid and that she can’t succeed.

When the play first began, I had to tell her twice to turn off her cell phone.   the second time I asked her, I explained to her the reasons behind the request: a play is different from a movie theater and the actors on stage can get distracted from the glow of the cell phone.  She put it away.  I had to remind her not to put her feet on the back of the chair in front of her, again for similar reasons.  It wasn’t that she was being intentionally disrespectful, she just didn’t know.  She also asked a lot of questions, some of which were important that I answer immediately but most of which I instructed her to wait until intermission for.

During intermission Amy was particularly curious about the set.  “It’s perfect for this play.  But what are they going to do when the next play needs to use it?”

“”Well, they’ll build a new one.  Each set is custom made for each play, Amy.”

“Wait, you mean they’re going to tear it down?” she demanded.

“Well, yes,” I explained.

“How long does it take to build?”

“I don’t know.  Sometimes I guess it can take months.”

“So all that work, and they just tear it down? For a week long performance?? Why?  What’s the point of that?!”

“Well, are you enjoying the play?” I asked

She answered immediately with: “Yes.”

I smiled and said, “Well, that’s the point.”

On Wednesday I invited Amy down to the tutoring centre to talk about coming with a group of us to an audition workshop that my old university is willing to put on for these kids.   She was excited, and said she’d come to talk with me about it tomorrow.  She didn’t show.  But then on Friday she showed up, and with HOMEWORK!  She told me she got her report card yesterday, and realized she was failing.  She said she wanted to be an actor, and wanted to go to acting school, but that she has to do well in high school first.  She also asked me about using her incentives for acting classes.  She knows that she has to commit to at least three hours of tutoring a week before we can even start to talk about that, but this is an amazing step forward.

I’ve also offered to lend her the book by Ken Kesey, and she’s excited to begin it.  I think I’m going to give her the nickname of McMurphy… I just hope I don’t get labelled with Ms. Ratched 😛


Introduction


In May of 2010 I became employed by an organization in my city which works with students from low socio-economic backgrounds.  We support students both in school and after school, working with their teachers and administrators to encourage academic growth and ensure a successful transition into post-secondary.  It is a pilot-program which is in effect until 2013, and I really hope we continue to receive government funding after this time elapses (because I feel strongly about the work I do and I sure would hate to become unemployed).

We provide both tutoring and mentorship support that they might not otherwise receive.  In return for their commitment to these supports, we also provide them with incentive money that they can use towards things like theatre experiences, art lessons, dance lessons, sports equipment, school supplies, winter clothes… anything that can help these kids see the value of education and to promote success in school.  And on top of that, the organization provides thousands of dollars in scholarships for each student upon successful completion of high school.

This blog will be a look into some of my experiences with these kids, things I’ve learned from them and the politics behind the scenes, while at the same time respecting the confidentiality I’ve been entrusted with.  Any name I use will indeed be false, and I’ll tend to talk about my own opinions and experiences rather than any kind of description of the personal lives or habits of kids.

There are a lot of bad politics (mostly funding issues and government policies outside of our organization’s control) that affect the work we do with kids, and I hope to clear the air and advocate for my organization, a program that I feel passionately about.