Category Archives: kids


I almost had a panic attack for the first time in over a year.  Usually these attacks spring from some feeling of anxiety or an overwhelming emotional experience induced by something small and almost insignificant, like a colour or a phrase.  Today it was an Anglican Cathedral.

This particular cathedral was built in the 1840’s in the centre of a small but developing city.  Today it looks alien amidst a background of commerce.  It is surrounded by a forest of sky-scrapers and is an anachronistic reminder of a calmer age… a lost age.

‘Twas the topmost cross that first caught my attention, an outcry of black upon a blue sky. I struggled to make out the shape of it, encircled as it was by brass or  iron or some other blackened metal.  My gaze followed the cross downwards across  the roof of the tower, an octagonal structure, and down to the stained-glass windows.  These windows took the shape of what appeared to be a lily, a three looped image proudly pronouncing something that I was not yet able to hear.  Then suddenly I recognized in the shape the outline of an old friend’s tattoo, and immediately thought about what that tattoo symbolized: body, mind, spirit.

More thoughts raced through my mind, some of which tripped along their journey, slowing them to a rate at which I could appreciate them: thoughts on Kierkegaard, my tattooed friend,  and the man who mugged me several months ago.

My gaze traveled lower on the cathedral, and sculptured screaming faces stared back at me.  Their voiceless agony pierced through me, and I felt like a video camera, panning in for an extreme closeup of these lips, these noses, these eyes.  They were distorted in a disturbing way by gaping holes left in the limestone over a hundred years of Canadian weather had so efficiently cut away.

I felt the attack come over me, and for a moment I started to hyperventilate.


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.

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.

Those who Can’t Do…

I’m rather nervous about work today.  I volunteered to help organize an activity today called “Gifts to Give and Get,” being possessed, momentarily, by that spirit of Christmas that so consumes us all, that I  may possibly be the world’s least crafty person… You might even say that I am craftless.  Now, if this was a lesson on how to analyze the significance of an already made bracelet, I’d be right in my comfort zone.  Unfortunately, I’m going to be trying to teach kids how to make “Wish Bracelets” while the one I made myself  as a demonstrative tool is distorted and completely unaesthetic.   Ah well.  Those who can’t do, teach.  Right?

Guess I’ll just have to openly make fun of myself instead of pretending to know what I’m doing.  This may be an interesting learning opportunity for everyone.  Heh.

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.