This Above All

Did you have to study Shakespeare in your high school English classes? I remember asking my English teacher why we had to study Shakespeare and being told that it was because that was part of the ‘literary canon’ – the holy of holies as far as English literature was concerned.  And then when I taught English, my students asked me the same question.  And I admitted to them that I had asked that question when I was a student and that I really didn’t have an answer they might buy.

I remember Grade 12 English – Hamlet: dealing with content, discussing characters, considering motivation, memorizing soliloquies.   Hamlet and Claudius, Gertrude and Ophelia, Horatio and Laertes – and there was Polonius.  I remember him as being full of himself and long winded and meddlesome.  Yet, in hindsight, I know that he was given a speech which truly held important advice for everyone to remember.

                  “This above all: to thine own self be true.  And it must follow, as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man”

Students who are compelled to study Shakespeare in secondary school can lose sight of what’s really important to learn from it. It’s not about the content or who said what to whom or poetic devices or dramatic effects or thematic issues. It’s about lines like those said by Polonius: Be true to yourSelf.

What great wisdom to hold close. It’s about knowing yourSelf and it goes beyond that. It’s about knowing who you intrinsically are, who you were born being. It’s about embracing that: holding it as your guide for the choices which you make in creating the life you want. It’s about listening to yourSelf deep, deep down and ignoring the voices of others who, for whatever their reason, tell you who you are and what you can do and how you need to be in the world. It’s about never betraying yourSelf. It’s about never giving parts of yourSelf away until you don’t recognize yourself and you are left wondering who you truly are.

If we only noted such advice when we were teens. Even so, it’s never too late.

 

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My Story

The truth that I AM is the context for my whole life: the basis of all the choices I make.

I have always believed that people should have opportunities to realize their full power. I believe that the future of our world lies in the hands of all those who are awake to the unique essence that they are and the potential they wield for exploration.  The immensity of change and transformation possible is in the depth of the journey of exploration we, individually and together, are willing to take.

I know that there is no possibility of change and transformation if I live only with my unease about the current conditions of the world. There is no movement forward to create what I want in my world if my only response is to move away from what discomforts me.

There is no possibility for me to step into the fullness of my capacity and potential if I see myself as held helplessly captive by structures which I believe I cannot change. I choose to be authentically mySelf in the presence of others – open, clear, honest, and direct. I dare to be the medium for the message of our greater potential.

I choose not to try to fit into the confines and constraints of the existing systems of our world – to attempt to make my truth fit the expectations of those systems.   Systems, while providing predictable and sure structure are also, by their very nature, self-replicating.  Thus, they become entrenched in the belief that there is only one way to organize and structure things.  If we accept that, we will only continue to make yesterday, today.

At my core, I’m not a ‘fixer’ – someone who will say, “I know what has to be done.” and provide strategies that others would be expected to implement. I’m not a pundit or expert – someone who pontificates and presents themselves as being in the know while all others are in the dark.  I’m not a guru expecting those seeking change to sit at my feet waiting for me to lay pearls of wisdom on them.  Nor am I a Pied Piper who would lead those with questions toward a new and promised land.  I’m not a messiah – a saviour of troubled systems.  There was a time when, fuelled by my own Self-doubt, I played these roles well.  My genius today is simple: I know that the I AM that I AM is very different.

I am a seeker. I believe that change is a biological imperative for living and finds traction in the size of questions which we dare to ask. For me, it is always about capacity and the possibility to know more, be more, know differently. Each opportunity to explore and move beyond my comfort zone always transforms me.  I can illuminate pathways of inquiry.  I know myself as the invitation to consider something differently:  as the person who provides a safe place for us all to ask questions not asked before.

I choose to be both invitation and provocateur. I know that questions are gateways to answers.  As I unapologetically live MY truth, my life calls to others to know their world can be whatever they choose it to be.  As such, others have felt unable to resist the call of curiosity rising within them to re-consider their capacity for greater expression of themselves and their own evolution. Inspired, they realize their power to be in their own Self-inquiry; they mindfully and consciously choose to engage with themselves and their worlds.

I’ve always been drawn to those who are curious about the beliefs, values and attitudes they hold – the wherefores and the whys: those who know that our capability for choice is a natural expression of our humanity.  I choose to be in collective with others who are willing to examine their personal assumptions about all that is involved in living and engaging with the world, and who are willing to jettison ideas which do not stand up to their personal scrutiny: those who are willing to consider ‘What else?’  I’m intrigued by those who are willing to move the conversation beyond strategy to imagination. I’m energized by those who are not afraid to ask questions and to consider the unknown, by those who are willing to be unsure and be comfortable in that uncertainty, by those who are willing to stay with their own evolution and discover who they will become, by those who know that they are their own game as they create what they want in their worlds.

My intention is to create a safe forum for discussion where we can all feel empowered to speak our truth without fear. I seek to connect with hearts and inquiring minds, with visionaries and wizards – people who want to explore the magic of the journey of self-discovery.

I believe that chaos is the essential spark that ignites our power to create. We don’t need to do something radical. Daring to be open, clear, honest, and direct in all things is that essential spark.

There is no one right way or single vision of what is possible.  There are so many ways to see the world.

I know mySelf to be both the weaver and the threads of a strong and resilient web of transformation and creation.

I know that awakened resonance is the key to becoming invitational. When my resonance calls to others, it invites and ignites their own. In turn, their resonance invites and awakens others. It is through this living resonation that the web of awakened questioners creates itself and grows.

Individual voices collectively have impact.  All that it takes is that we speak out our truth.

 

 

 

 

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Memories of Students Past

Like all teachers, I have memories of so many things that happened over the course of my career: memories of colleagues and students, of extra curricular events – band concerts and competitions and trips and coaching, of lessons which worked and lessons which really bombed; of Ministry of Education edicts and school board directives.

I’m choosing to share some of my best memories of working with students and also my worst memories…

Students have always given some of their teachers nicknames.  When I was in high school, we named the Head of Science ‘Uncle Fester’ because he looked like the character in the Addams Family TV show. We dubbed the Head of the Classics department ‘The Mortician’ because he had this very funereal air.  I was used to being called Miss Summer and Miss Spring and Miss Fall.  One student even called me Miss Indian Summer.  I count myself lucky that, except for the play on my last name and why my students ever thought they were being unique and creative about that always escaped me, what my name seemed to be was ‘her’.  “Is she here?  Has anyone seen her today?”

I have wonderful memories of my music students. There was that group of 4 tall and strong guys.  I was introduced to the Dr Demento show by one of them whose brother used to tape those radio shows.  I remember ‘They don’t make nun names like they used to no more’ and ‘Billy the Mountain’.  I’ll never forget one student’s hands as he started clapping and fanning them out as the jazz band played.  All of a sudden, his large hands were in my line of sight.  And when we had to get a tour bus moved quickly in order to get to medical aid for a student who had suddenly become very ill, that group of 4 pretty much bench pressed a VW bug out of the way of the tour  bus… Bounce, bounce, lift and repeat.

And then there was John. He was a very shy student and a really neat kid.  I watched how he transformed over the 10 days of our band tour to Nova Scotia.  Each day, my students were introduced to a new family who would billet them for the night.  John was very unsure of himself at the beginning of the trip and, by the end of it, he confidently introduced himself to his host family.  It was just so great to see him grow in self-confidence.

And there was Karen, who when the class was starting to learn a new piece of music, looked intently at her music and clearly said, “This is gay”. Cracked me up.  And Franz and Craig who dubbed the school’s double-trigger bass trombone, ‘Bruce’ – ” the haunting mating call of the Canada Goose …’Bruce, Bruce.'”  [Think Monty Python]  And Dale who, when the band was playing a piece where he had to play the same two bars over and over again, got lost.  And suddenly I heard him singing on the same pitches he had to play, “Where are we?  Where are we?”  to which I sang back on the same pitches, “We’re at 44.  We’re at 44.”  So many great memories…

And then I moved on to work in the English department at the school. And again, I had more happy memories.  There was Mike.  Over the course of one semester, I watched him grow in knowing that he could do what I asked him to do.  Then, he just flew through the course material and that was so wonderful to see.  There was Cliff who had difficulty reading but, if he heard the material, could speak intently about it.  Once he knew that there was a way for him to understand readings, he began to believe in his ability: he believed in himself.  There was Steve who had a severely cleft palette.  He had pretty much given up speaking to anyone because he was frustrated that they weren’t able to understand him.  I always encouraged him to speak slower.  And once he discovered that that strategy worked so that others could understand him, he didn’t stop talking.  There was Aaron who insisted that he was genetically predisposed to be unable to spell.  And I told him that there was no such thing as a spelling gene.  There were the Jeremy’s who did their Romeo and Juliet rap complete with choreography and beat box.  And in the middle of it all, I heard, “Hit it, Jean” and I couldn’t stop laughing.

So many wonderful students over 33 years. So many joyful memories.

And, like all teachers, I have memories of students who frustrated me mainly because I just couldn’t understand the choices they made. I wanted to tell them not to do what they were doing because the long-term consequences might be hard to bear. And I had to bite my tongue.  It wasn’t my place to try and ‘save’ them.  I knew that they had to, as I had had to, learn from their own decisions.

One particularly tough memory resonated for me not only as a teacher but as a woman. One day, a female student came into my office in tears.  She had been sexually threatened the evening before.  She’d shared her experience with one of my female colleagues who suggested that she should forgive the man and strive to find inner peace.  And I told my student that if she wanted to yell then she should do that.  She kept on wondering what it was about her that led to that experience.  I let her know that it was nothing wrong with her.  He was the only one at fault.  And I offered to go with her to the Rape Crisis Centre if that’s what she wanted.  I couldn’t punish him for what he had done; I couldn’t protect my student and I would be there whenever she needed me.  I was so proud that she felt that she could come to me and I remember being angry for her and worrying about her.

Then there are my worst memories. They don’t revolve around dealing with administrators or colleagues or difficult students or even misinformed parents.  They are about students I lost.

I remember Jim who was so happy when he was leaving the school one spring day. “Goin’ to ride my motorcycle.  Goin’ to ride my motorcycle.”  He kept chanting that as he walked out of my classroom.  And I don’t know what caused me to be worried and I was.  Less than two hours later, he was hit by a car and died at the site of the accident.  He might not have been a stellar student and he was just always so happy and full of life and then he was gone.  And for a while, it was hard for me to look to where he had always sat.

There was Tim, a trumpet player who always reminded me of a lanky Great Dane. I remember hearing the report of an accident where a car had been hit by school bus which blew a tire.  I heard the names of those who had died at the crash site and I immediately called one of Tim’s friends praying that it was another Tim.  And it wasn’t.  And the next day, one of my music students came to my English classroom and asked for my keys.  One of my band students had just come to school and only then heard of the accident.  Could he please use the music room so they could talk?  And I had to continue teaching.

There was another Tim. I had taught him English in Grade 9.  He loved music and was an integral part of every music organization in the school.  And when he was in grade 11, he had formed a band with a few friends which had just been signed to a recording contract.  And over the Labour Day weekend, his car was struck from behind by a dump truck and burst into flames.  The picture of the car which was in the local newspaper was horrifying.  His future lay before him and then he was gone.  On the first day of school, our principal called a school assembly in memoriam for him and his friends.  And we had to go on teaching.

And there was Aaron. When he was in grade 12, one day he went missing.  No one knew where he was.  The police searched for him as did his classmates and his family.  Prayer circles were held for the students over the days we all waited for news and hoped that he would be found alive.  And it wasn’t to be.  He had fallen into the river and drowned and wasn’t found for two weeks.  Trying to help my students deal with their loss was so hard.  He was a gentle and loving soul – someone who touched the lives of everyone he met – and he was gone.  I don’t remember how I made it through his funeral without dissolving in tears.

Boards of Education usually have a ‘tragic events’ counselling team – board psychologists and other trained personnel who can go into a school to work with students when one of their friends dies. And we, as teachers in the school, are expected to help our students deal with their grief.  And no one ever thinks to provide the same kind of support to the teachers in the school.

I retired from teaching in 2009. I will always carry with me my memories of the students with whom I worked. Thankfully, the happy and energy-filled memories far outweigh the sad ones.

 

 

 

 

 

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