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Unpacking Emotional Baggage

This summer will mark eleven years since I graduated from high school. The educational climate of our world has undergone monumental change since then but sadly, the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” still rings true.

Being in school as a member of the faculty this time, is like an old familiar T-shirt: very comfortable but somewhat ill-fitting because students today face similar obstacles and some even more complicated than when I went to school. Sadly, sometimes teachers can’t help but stand silently on the sidelines with no way to intervene and no answers to offer.

emoThe last few weeks have been particularly eye-opening for me and some of my colleagues and it got me thinking.

As teachers it is sometimes so easy for us to bulldoze our way through a lesson. We plan, we prepare, we create resources, we try to make learning relevant and when we’re in the classroom to deliver it, we don’t want to let anything get in our way. But, very often we forget that just like we do, our students bring with them emotional baggage and a host of 21st century problems and complexities that they’re dealing with individually. As educators, this can be a daunting task—teaching students who come with a book bag in one hand and emotional baggage in the other.

You see, it’s so easy sometimes to forget that our students are a product of their own unique experiences – a culmination of their own sensibilities, their personal beliefs, family dynamics, values, thoughts and feelings. They each come with an untold story—some typical and average, others awful and extremely sad.  Though I’m in a rather unique position as a teacher and friend/counselor, even I find myself fighting an inner battle to see which role serves my students the best. Very often, the teacher in me has to take the back seat. Sometimes all students really need is someone who’ll hear them out.

You see, what adults see on the outside is very often a child’s protective suit – their armor – while this inner world is often kept tucked away unless an environment is created that allows for feelings of safety and a sense of belonging. When any child or adult enters into a space that accepts, inspires and affirms their emotional space, we have finally found the key that unlocks the door to extravagant learning! What is that key? That golden key is a connection and nothing matters more to a teacher-student relationship.

How do we do this?

We do this through sharing our own stories, followed by the deepest kind of listening that usually escapes most of us. When we share a personal account, a story that brings forth our commonalities as humans, we connect on the most basic but close level because we can begin to empathize, feeling what it must be like to walk in the shoes of another.

We need more teachers in the world who realize the full extent of their calling; teachers who are willing to sacrifice their years of experience and preconceived notions at the altar of service to children who need that connection.

Inside the classroom, the lesson might sometimes be uncomfortable, staccato and the attainment or the outcomes may not be as high as other days. There will be a lot of squirming in the seats as we search for underlying themes in a play or contemporary relevance in a piece of old English Prose. But I honestly believe that sometimes it’s more important to show students it’s not a question of how to get better at subject content, but rather that you’re there for them willing to do whatever it takes for them to make it through that day, through high-school and beyond.

 

 

 

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Stop and Stare! #HappyDigitalLearningDay

In today’s tech-obsessed climate, we share almost everything online – even pictures of our food! We let everyone know where we spend our weekends, when we check into restaurants, where we’re holidaying, who we’re having coffee with, even who we’re engaged to marry! We’ve given an online dimension to almost every aspect of our lives. The internet now does the same for teaching and learning and that makes this one the most exciting times for educationists and students around the globe.

Today the world is celebrating #DigitalLearningDay and while it’s easy for those standing on the sidelines to point out the shortcomings of using educational technologies, not many are so eager to find and apply a solutions to make learning more robust and enjoyable. Many educators fear that the development of social media and educational technology will have a negative impact on the education of young people. But at one point in time, people were afraid that the emails and laptops would stop people from being able to handwrite, which hasn’t happened yet and we all know how we’ve integrated e-mails into our daily lives.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional education is important and I am fully aware of and understand its significance. Still, it has many shortcomings and may not be ideal for students in the 21st century. As a teacher, I’ve tried to take what’s best in my classroom (student discussions and collaborations) and bring it to the online space, where all of my students, regardless of their academic standing or anything else, can exchange knowledge and skills. In case you weren’t already aware I have an educational blog as well and I’d like for you to see how the students are using the internet and technology so responsibly to learn their course content. Here are a few examples I’m happy to show off in honour of World Digital Learning Day.

Blog: ‘My Reassigned Classroom’ provides students with an informal online learning environment to share ideas, discuss subject matter and interpret content. A few months ago my grade 10 literature class read a Chinua Achebe story that made them question the ideas of arranged marriages, romantic love and age-old religious traditions. Soon after the lesson I posted a question on the blog and was amazed by the responses of the students. I think we had a better discussion online than we did while we were actually reading the text! (Click the hyperlink below)

Marriage

Voicethread: provides a wonderful opportunity for student self-expression and creativity but more than anything, I find that it is a wonderful tool for differentiation allowing students to comment using video, voice or text responses whichever they are most comfortable with. Have a look at this summer assignment on poetry that brought out some wonderful responses from the children.

(This is a hyperlink – click the title to open the page) Stopping By Woods

TestMoz: Children today are overburdened with assignments and tests. Using online test generators like TestMoz makes it fun and engaging for students to participate in summative assessments and collaborative quizzes. These tools also help teachers to collect data and other statistical information that is crucial to their own planning and progress.

Twitter: Is already the most widely used social media site today.  It is now being used as a tool to encourage discussion, collaboration and easy access to the teacher when in doubt. (See screen-shot)

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While these are just a few examples of how I am using EdTech it would be prudent to mention that following a Web 2.0 tools workshop conducted last year, teachers in my school are currently using a wide-range of educational technology. In addition to these they employ the use of wikis, Edmodo, YouTube Time Machine, Class Blogs, Facebook, Evernote, Prezi, Glogster etc.

The main aim here is not technology for technology’s sake. It remains our consistent endeavor to provide students with ample opportunity to hone 21st century skills such as working online, collaboration, independent research etc.

Today we don’t shy away from technology; we acknowledge the depth and breadth of its influence and embrace it for its powerful impact on teaching and learning. We are currently setting the stage to introduce digital storytelling and the use of augmented reality in our teaching-learning. (click on hyperlink to open)

AugmentedReality

These are exciting times for both the students as well as me as a teacher.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. EdTech is no longer an option for schools and educationists. It is a 21st century requirement. Whatever we do, it’s unlikely that the students won’t use the new technologies they’re discovering every day. Perhaps at this point it’s time to stop the conjecture and start learning how to keep up with them!

 

 

 

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Such Sweet Sadness

Not too many posts have been going up on this blog lately. Not because I haven’t been writing (I’ve actually been writing regularly and about a lot of different stuff) but because I’ve decided to carefully select which ones I want to put out there, you know? I want to keep some of my thoughts private.

So what made me write one today, you might wonder. Well last night I said ‘farewell’ to the graduating batch of 2014 and farewells are just not my thing. I’m terrible with goodbye’s and it got me wondering why I struggle so much to let go.

You see, every year I enter new classrooms and find before me about 25 -30 young teenagers waiting for me to take them through another year of new learning.

So I tell them about the brilliant works of Shakespeare, we argue about the relevance of ancient plays and the verbosity of old English prose. We interpret poetry, marvel at authors’ use of language and the complex rules of grammar. Through it all, together we derive life-affirming lessons from literature. We discover great wisdom; cheeky anecdotes and profound truths that help us understand the complexities of life just a little bit better.

Gradually I push them forward, towards new learning, insight, and understanding and towards another year in their school career. That’s how the system works.

But you see, as a teacher I have this unwritten deal with all of my students; thoughts that I don’t think need to be articulated and therefore it remains a deal I never tell them about. But once they’ve moved on to another year – possibly a new teacher, that deal continues to be.

While they move on, I (and I think all good teachers do the same) spend the rest of my days entertaining hopes and dreams for their future success – lives of grandeur and big achievements. I continue to watch from the sidelines as they become men and women ready to take on the world.

After investing so much into what we do (emotionally and other-wise) it’s rather difficult to simply say ‘good bye’ and not know where the road ahead will lead them. We know that as bright and hopeful it may seem, the path ahead will be a difficult one. One that is fraught with struggles and successes, achievements and losses, love and heart breaks none of which we could prepare them for, no matter how much we try.

I’ve discussed this with some of my more experienced colleagues and while some have taken the time to hear me out others have simply put it down to the fact that I’ve ‘only been teaching for eight years’. ‘You’ll get used to it with time’, they say. – But I’m not so sure. After spending years together in the crowded confines of a classroom, saying goodbye can never really be easy.

So reluctantly I let go in the hope that wherever they go and whatever they do it will all work out well. I believe that in my time with them I did everything I could and taught them everything I knew about how to deal with life. In my heart there is a calm assurance that no matter what happens they’re going to be ok. I know that if they meet me ten years down the line, my eyes will still light up when I see them and my heart will still swell with so much pride that the bond we share today will ring alive and loud years and years later.

I’ve realized that graduations are inevitable and while there is a tinge of sorrow in those farewells, the overwhelming emotion will always be pride and great joy. I was totally ambushed by those very emotions while writing this post, I’m sentimental that way, soppy even and I know many people in my field frown upon that. They say it gets better with time and that the platitudes will come easy. But I hope *I* don’t change. This is me. Every day I wake up happy and I give a 100% to the kids I teach. We laugh, we learn, we become a part of each other’s lives and saying goodbye will never be easy because of the amount of love and respect I receive in return.

So I think the departure of my students will continue to bring a tear or two to my eye, and I think that’s perfectly acceptable. While I watch them go, I’ll pray that my efforts have not been in vain. I’ll remind myself that my influence on their lives is permanent, positive and long-lasting and that as teachers, in our own small way; we’ve just changed the world for the better because of the kind of people they’ve turned out to be.

 

 

 

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Memories of My Melancholy Whores

To get the obvious out-of-the-way, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing is stunningly gorgeous. That goes without saying. After having read ‘100 Years of Solitude’ and ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ I knew I was in for a treat when my Facebook Book Club decided to select ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores.’ Unlike his other books though there isn’t much grandeur here. It’s a simple story that could be read in one sitting over some re-fills at Starbucks and that is exactly how I read most of this novella.

I’m not going to divulge the plot details here for the obvious reasons but here’s what I felt about this story. The hero, narrator, and putative author once belonged to the cultivated bourgeoisie but nearly a century later he lives in his decaying parental home as a stark reflection of his former self. He used to make a living as a journalist and teacher of Spanish and Latin; now he gets by on his pension and the weekly column he writes for a newspaper. The parallels between his past and his present are striking and leave one to consider on what how these many changes could have affected the man.

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The rest of the book is the chronicle of the old man’s passion for a young girl, a passion that leads him, predictably, to recall the many other women in his life and, less predictably, to turn his paper column into a series of love letters that “all people could make their own” and here’s where the story gets in interesting (albeit briefly) but such stuff, in the hands of a great writer, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes for splendid literature. The fourth and fifth sections of the novella are littered with deep and philosophical musings that save the story from being a simple confession of his colorful youth and transform it into a canon of wisdom for readers to mull over.

Garcia is able to masterfully take the theme of an old man’s longing for the idealized youth and turn it into a powerful fable on human frailty. There are definite high points. The protagonist’s reflections on aging were sharp and funny. The epic nature of the love is grand and romantic and if you choose to put aside the creepy elements and focus on the romantic sentiment, this story can provide deep insight into one of mankind’s greatest fears – the fear of growing old.

I feel guilty to like a book just because of the name of its author and to be honest the first few sections of the book are provocative and disturbing and I really couldn’t believe I was reading a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. There were times I was even reminded of my traumatic ’50 Shades…’ experiences. However, I soon realized that if you are able to get beyond the incorrectness and depravity of what’s being suggested on the surface, you will find a masterfully written story about life, loving, living, and aging. Morally challenged or not the characters are perfect because of their many imperfections. That’s how we all are, aren’t we? That’s what makes us interesting. And human.

We live in a society where we’re inundated with stories about either traditional, fairy tale romances or casual flings. Marquez uses those same motifs but turns those notions on their heads, and that’s precisely the reason people adore him and his writing style. His words still defy the norm and reflect (quite honestly and brutally) the wide gamut of our human experiences.

If you forget everything that Memories of My Melancholy Whores has to offer I guarantee you won’t forget this. Beneath it all, the book will leave you with the idea that it is never too late to fall in love – the epic, grand and wholesome kind of love that we all long for and that’s a good reminder to be left with. Don’t you think?

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Looking Back and Moving Forward

I wonder how many of you subscribe to the romantic notion of a New Year being a fresh start, a clean slate, a blank page and the likes. Normally January 1st is like any other day to me and I really don’t get the drama that surrounds it all. But today is different. I’m so glad that 2013 is over and that a new year lies ahead of us. 2013 was a difficult year and that’s just putting it *mildly*.

How was this past year for you?

As human beings – we dream, we make plans and we do all that we can to pursue those plans. But things turn difficult when some of those plans don’t come to pass and it’s excruciating when everything feels like it’s moving in the opposite trajectory of what you had hoped for.

2013 was difficult for so many reasons. It was difficult on me as a person with individual dreams and aspirations. It was difficult for us as a family. It was difficult to come to terms with the tragic loss of a student and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse it was difficult to stand beside the earthly remains of my 23 year old cousin on the last day of 2013. So yes, it’s been a difficult year and I’m glad it’s over.

I’ve experienced a wide gamut of emotions in this time. Fear. Anger. Depression. Sadness. Worry. I’ve questioned God through it all and while some believe that to be a sin, I don’t think it’s wrong for us to ask God why He’s allowed things to happen to us the way they did. I’m sure God doesn’t want us to pretend or be dishonest when we come to Him–and in any case, He already knows what is in our minds and hearts.

But the reason I’m writing all this down today is not to vent or complain. Neither is this post one of those mandatory ’2013 in review’ blogs posts you’ll see all over the internet. You see while 2013 *was* a difficult year, it was a year that only strengthened my love for and belief in my maker.

Whenever we face out-of-control situations, we tend to go to one of two extremes. Some of us, the more out-of-control life gets, the harder we try to control it. Some do the exact opposite: They simply give up! But 2013 has taught me that every day, you have to decide who’s going to be in control of your life — you or God and that choice is a battle. But I’ve learned that when you let go and just trust God things work themselves out. When loved ones die, you’ve got to believe that there’s a greater plan unfolding and that His plans are way above ours.

I’m not saying that when we’re in a bad situation or grieving the loss of a loved one that we should simply suck it up and move on. Absolutely not. Our emotions help us come to terms with our experiences. Job in the Old Testament didn’t understand why God was testing him and questioned why God had let it happen.But Job didn’t wallow in depression. Instead, he honestly sought God and, in time, God reached down and brought comfort to him. No, all his questions weren’t answered–nor will yours ever be. But Job saw God’s greatness and love in a new way–and that made all the difference.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring with it. I don’t know how many mountain top or valley experiences my family, loved ones and I are going to have this coming year. But I firmly believe that there is always a higher calling: a divine plan that is playing out. Sure there are times when I question it. I don’t see the full picture. I wonder what’s going on up there. I ask for direction. I question my maker. I ponder over the decisions I have made and hope and pray they were the right ones. And then suddenly in a quiet moment, after I’ve vented, after I’ve wrestled with God over how futile I think it all is, I’m reminded that I my steps are guided by a power I cannot comprehend. I’m reminded that there’s someone up there with a plan for me that my mortal mind cannot begin to fathom. I realise that I’ve always been the centre of his plan. That everything happens only because He has willed it to. He knows all. He sees all. He plans all.

In those quiet moments, I breathe again. I sit there in the silence. My thoughts stop racing. There is a calm assurance that everything, every single thing is as it should be.

I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. – Jeremiah 29:11

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Ali – Gone Too Soon :’(

The news exploded in our chests,

it can’t, it just cannot be true!!

The unforeseen, blinding shock,

To lose someone like you!

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We stood beside your grave today,

something we *never* thought we’d have to do.

They pointed to a mound of dust,

and said beneath it was, YOU.

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But you’re not there –

Your spirit lives, in your words, your thoughts and deeds.

In your little jokes, your deep ideas and in all our memories.

*

So suddenly the end arrived;

like a bolt out of the blue.

We close our eyes and speak your name;

Our prayers go heavenward for you.

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You’re gone today – gone too soon,

We could not say goodbye.

But in our hearts and in our minds, Ali,

your memory will never die.

R.I.P Ali, we miss you so much already.

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5 Year Plans

Yesterday I met up with some of my friends who happened to be passing through Dubai. As we sat in Costa Café at the Festival City Mall and nibbled on our snacks (must mention here that the 10% City Bank discount plus the 5% Expo2020 discount was a welcome surprise) my friends began asking me about my life in Dubai and where I saw myself in the future. Then, the inevitable question surfaced.

‘Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?’ they asked.

Why do people always want and in most cases *expect* you to plan out the little details of your life right down to the last detail? When asked that question, I feel like I am almost *required* to concoct a false future. If I answer with “I just hope I’m alive and well” then I’m called boring and uninteresting. If I say, however, I hope to be (for instance) the Principal of a school, doing magnificent things, then I’m ‘incredible’ and everyone applauds my dreams. How realistic is that though? I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream big. Dreams are what make us thrive. It just sucks that we’re expected to have such a handle on those dreams 5 years before they happen.

5 years seems so far away that I always imagine my life will be so different from the present. So much can change in 5 years. People change. Is where I am now, where I thought I would be 5 years ago? Nope. Is my career playing out to what I dreamed it would be? Again, no. Well guess what? In my books, that’s absolutely fine! I cannot live my life being a slave to the ideas of my future that I promised to myself when I was 18 years old. When I was 18, I was a different person. I’m a different person today.

It is incredibly important to think about the future. If we don’t, we’re at risk of becoming too “comfortable.” But remember Goals are not glue. And they aren’t permanent. They change.

Lately, I have felt like I have let my 18 year-old self down because a lot of what I’ve dreamed of or planned for still remains unaccomplished. But, I’m happy and to me, that’s above and beyond any desire I’ve ever had.

So, coming back to the question I’ve been evading.  Where *do* I see myself 5 years from now?

For one thing I’ll be 34 years old (34!!!!!! Hopefully by then I’ll feel and behave like a grown up) and other than that fact, I have absolutely no idea. And for the first time in my life, I’m content with that.

I just hope I’m happy, I hope I’m surrounded by the people I love and doing the kind of work that I love. Everything else is neither here nor there.

 

 

 

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