Friday, April 27, 2012

Day One Hundred Fifty Six: A Long Anesthetization

Today I walk to school and spring is springing, as is Angie, my walking buddy and colleague from the Elementary School. Later, I am remembering my ordeal, long ago, at the Bessborough, where I bombed a presentation. I have never felt quite so vulnerable. Reminds me of Brene Brown's Gifts of Imperfection. I remember Brown's advice, "Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Stand your sacred ground." Oh did I shrink and for a few months, but later, after a great phone call with my grandparents, I learned to step into my vulnerability and "stand my sacred ground." I post pages 52 to 56 of my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti Racist Pedegogy.

A Long Anesthetization
            The next day of the conference I have to present a different session about the flashcard system I’ve invented for my Storefront students. My dad, a retired teacher, comes with me.
I’m introduced. I sing a song I wrote. I advocate passionately that we teach students, starting from where they are. I facilitate a cooperative learning activity using flashcards. My dad beams like a beacon from his group. One lady writes, “Hooray for flashcards” on her evaluation.
My mind is still in the long, blue room.
Later that week, I meet up with my colleagues at the Prince Albert Grand Council Conference. I tell my research colleagues about my ordeal. “Some people can be so prejudiced” my colleague, who is Dene, says.
I am scheduled to present four sessions. I am on autopilot for the rest of the week. I replay over and over the tones, glances, whispers, comments, arm movements, feet leaving. My chest aches like the weeks after my first boyfriend broke up with me.
I fly home to the reserve, but my nightmare continues. I’ve been accepted to present three all-day workshops at Effective Strategies13th Annual National Aboriginal Conference in Winnipeg in April. It is one thing to bomb a two-hour workshop, but an all day workshop? Do I have what it takes to do this? Do I have the right?
My research colleague who is taking her Masters Degree in Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural education from the University of Arizona gives me the first piece of my puzzle. She explains the importance of identifying the voice of the speaker and admitting perspectives and bias. No research or voice is ever entirely objective. It is important to explain the subjective slant of each individual voice.
I prepare a slide show to introduce myself in Winnipeg. Still, the question – what went wrong? –  follows me on the gravel road to the school, along the waxed hall to my classroom, down the snowy hill to the Northern Store, through the bush trail to the Medical Clinic. Do I have the right to research on the reserve? Do I have a right to speak about my experience in the North? Why did I ever think I could be an effective or progressive teacher in this context? Am I delusional? What do I have to share with First Nations people or non-First Nations people?

Is this the way we “professionals”
Deal with challenges
to our identity, authority, worth?
Should we be
Asking ourselves
These questions
More often
Than not?
-- Michael

As the snow melts I begin to feel some hope. Maybe I can do this. I pour myself into preparation for Winnipeg as though this is the cure for cancer.
Cure for cancer
This is caught up in self worth.
I think that sometimes
We define our self worth
By the things
That are probably not things
That we should hang our hopes on.
It goes toward respectability.
-- Michael

I add to my thirty-frame slide show and script a forty-page hand out. I meditate on Buffy Sainte Marie’s words about guilt and bitterness. I videotape some of my students at Storefront. I practice my guitar. I make new flashcards. I plan a culture-shock game. I burn overheads. I write a “philosophy bingo” icebreaker.
It’s April and I have two stuffed binders, one for each session. One week until the conference and the questions and haunting have returned.
I phone my elderly grandparents who were both teachers. I ask, “Why do I do this? Am I doing it for the recognition? If I am, then it’s not worth it. This is just too much work. Why do I keep pushing myself out there and making myself vulnerable?”
I hear the silence echo over 700 miles of telephone lines and anticipate Grandpa’s response: you’re doing it for the attention; your ego is too big; you’re compensating for feelings of insecurity.
Grandpa says, “You keep pushing yourself because you want to serve people.”
Grandma adds, “You want to add to the common good.”
The tight lines at my eyes relax a bit. A knot in my chest and a lump in my throat make me feel alive. Yes, I do want to serve people. I do want to make the world a better place.
Does this really answer
Your question of why
You do this?
Is there more to the
-- Michael

In Winnipeg I must leave my pride at the door, and be more a listener than a speaker. I will say, “This is where I’m coming from. This is my experience. This is what I’ve learned. Where are you coming from? What is your experience? What have you learned? How can what we’ve learned help all of us?
The Winnipeg conference is a happy blur from being met at the airport by the conference organizer, settled into a luxurious hotel room, and walked to my first session by the head organizer. Within ten minutes of the first session, I know people are with me. Three days of right attitude in the right place.
Why is this the right attitude
and not the other questioning attitude?
-- Michael

Upon Re-reading Question Mark in Abstract Abstract
Bonus words: at, man, tea, serve.
Pre-fix-is words: re, wo, Eng, on, ex.
Suf-fix words: es, ite, lish, ence
Name words: cher, mem
Onomatopoeia words: wh, lish, ber, peri
Serve them tea on cher-lish man.
Emerging ex-man my I wo-es.
Today Prairie Valley School Division sang, laughed and ate together for the first time.
Keynote speaker says the sooner we figure out that life is about service
the happier we’ll be.
Serve Them.

Quick Conclusion to a Long Anesthetization
            Although evaluations in Winnipeg report positive sessions I only glance at – rather than pour over – them. I know I did everything I could to serve those who came to my sessions. I feel like I can breathe again. It’s like the heady days after giving birth. I am exhausted, but liberated and overjoyed with the unknown/known I now carry in my arms. Something miraculous, bigger than me, has occurred. The most profound humility sweeps doubt, pride, selfishness, and independence from my heart. This is the most amazing thing I’ll ever do, and yet it is not about me.
I think it is in part
About you;
How could it not be?
-- Michael

Day One Hundred Fifty Six: April 27th Pictures

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day One Hundred Fifty Five: Resighting

Today at school I have a mini photoshoot with Ms. Paul and two of her star students in Commercial Cooking. She will appear in Our Young People Speak: The Leadership Edition, product of our First Nations and Metis Leadership Literacy Project. The smiles and playfulness remind me of everything that is good in education. Later, I post a more difficult memory, taken from my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti Racist Pedagogy.

“Some stories are painful and take an interminable length of time to write,
but writing loosens their shadow hold on me”
(Richardson, 1997, p. 5).
*  *  *
My husband writes
I am nervous about this title
I know you deconstruct
But it’s loaded
Who are you
To equate this experience
With a massacre
When real massacres
Have been perpetuated
On people
By our society?

            By appropriating the word “massacre” into my RESIGHTING title I do not wish to trivialize the experience of those who know the deep meanings of the word. I use this word to signify the horror of my Bessborough experience within my teaching life. I also use the word to show the exaggerated potential cross-culture relationships present. I heighten the bigger-than-life feelings a teacher may experience when her heart is exposed. Tennyson (1850) says,
I sometimes hold it half a sin
  To put in words the grief I feel;
  For Words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
  A use in measured language lies;
  The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain. (p. 138)

I believe “massacre” reveals my vulnerability and ignorance while concealing my rejuvenation and responsibility.
*  *  *
            The keynote at the STF Diversity in the Classroom Conference is going over-time. Her message had begun late because the hoop dancers had started late because the round dance had continued longer than expected. I’m scheduled to present at , but I can’t walk out on this visionary educator from British Columbia. Everyone coming to my session will be here too, so they’ll understand why I’m not early.
At I bolt across the street to The Bessborough and up the elevator to my session room. It looks the same as it did last night: long rectangle, blue carpet and curtains, circular tables five long and two wide. AV service brought the TV/VCR as I had requested this morning at . I wished it had been there then so I could have cued my Buffy Sainte Marie video clip. Michael left my guitar at the front of the room, good, good.
One man sits near the front and one woman is near the back. I tidy my session brochure, noting the agenda, which follows an experiential model as suggested by the conference organizers. I place my handout on the front table. I draw a map of Saskatchewan on the flip chart in preparation for an icebreaker.
More people enter and I call out that they may write where they are from on the map. A gentleman draws an arrow to northern Manitoba. A lady identifies she is from a Dene community I am familiar with. I smile and return to my box of supplies, gathering the moccasins that were a gift to my husband from the band office after he presented a team-building workshop. The moccasins were too small for him, so they became my Valentine’s Day gift.
The woman who had identified herself as Dene looks at the Moccasins. She does not smile. What’s wrong? Did I act disrespectfully by tossing them lightly onto her table?
I return to the front, pick up the brochures, and ask a man to hand them out. He frowns at me slightly. Was that a mistake to ask him? Is it beneath him?
I turn to the VCR to cue the Buffy Sainte Marie clip, but turn around while the papers are circulating. No one else has written on the flip chart. I cross the front of the room. “So, Where are we all from?”
My stomach begins to tighten, my throat constricts.
One person responds. I ask, “Where is that near?” and write it on the chart.
A slight, well-dressed man (does it matter that he is white?), sent from the conference organizers, introduces me by reading a prepared paragraph.
I flip the chart paper over. “What would you like to get from this workshop?” 
The man who introduced me says, “I expect a coffee break at .”
I laugh and record his expectation. “I can arrange that.” I consider my audience and know I need to get them on my side, but they look like adjudicators and I am playing my first wind solo.
I keep piping air to my lips. “Wasn’t the key note speaker at lunch excellent?”
Lining the roadway down the long room the fifteen faces are a variety of white and brown, each table a gated community. Their eyes, too far away to notice colour, are curtained windows.
Is anyone home?
My palms tingle and I feel dizziness like the time I met the ambulance carrying my bleeding brother.
what happened to the playful plan
the snow covered hills
now I slip and slide
on glare ice
a harsh wind whips
red my white face
i fall
twelve inches deep
so my head makes no dent
the ice already creviced
i want hot chocolate home

            “Let’s get started,” I say. “Assume a role you think is a northern role: Mother, Father, Trapper, you decide. Complete a portion of the Questionnaire which we used in our research.”
I walk down the long isle. “This table can do section A, this table B, this table C, this table D. The conference committee asked us to use a variety of presentation strategies. I’m using experiential and cooperative learning. When we’re done, each group can share with the whole group.”
Two men at the first table jump into the activity. One table of women start. Most just flip through the handout.
A woman calls out, “What is this workshop about?”
Another, “Is this just about this research?”
My mind stumbles, unsure of my intellectual footing. I redirect the women’s attention to the outline in the brochure.
Another woman says, “What do you mean by ‘Dreams’ in your title?”
Another says, “I’m a lawyer. I don’t know much about the eduation system. What does this workshop have for me?”
Another, “Do you run a Dene-immersion?” She explained that their school is struggling with their own immersion program.
Another introduced herself as a multi-cultural advocate from Calgary. “How can this workshop inform me of what is being done in the education community?”
I begin addressing the first question about the title of our research, dreams as hope for the future.
Nobody is working on the activity. People are talking in whispers and normal conversation voices.
The woman who had asked the first question begins explaining how dreams have a very important place in her culture. She continues on and on, openly unhappy with our title.
I have trouble listening. I have lost the room.
I find the picture of my fellow researchers and me. The tall lady is a white woman from Ontario who married into the community and the shorter is a Dene woman educator from the community. I am sitting on a bench with the second lady sitting on her heels in front, leaning onto my lap and the taller woman standing, cuddled into the frame from over our shoulders.
I hold the picture up and my voice calls everyone’s attention together. “I wish my colleagues could be here to help me answer your questions.” I brag about the qualifications of my colleagues and how we each play a different role, representing a different voice in the community’s education system.
The room listens to my voice, but I am unaware of my words. I see the room from their perspective. They see a young, white, southern girl talking in a First Nations context. I had assumed that my four-years on the reserve had legitimized my voice. My community accepts me, why can’t you?
The workshop is a blur of pain.
The only bright spot is when my young cousin, an education student at the University of Saskatchewan, slips into a chair at the closest table to the door.
Two First Nations women get up and leave.
People at all the tables are talking and whispering again.
Everyone at one table gets up and leaves.
I find myself walking from table to table trying to engage people, jumping all over my agenda, trying to respond to the variety of questions in the room. Knowing I am inadequate all the while.
It is nearly . I say, “Well, we’ll have our coffee break and then I will be available for discussion, but things seem to be wrapping themselves up.” What I really want is for everyone to leave so that I can cry.
During the “coffee break” a few people stayed to visit. One excused himself to a Doctor’s appointment.
The man who introduced me works in First Nations education with the government. He’s encouraging me, sharing experiences, and his views on this experience, but I am having trouble concentrating. I want to hang on his words like a child to her father’s pant legs, but this man is not my father. He excuses himself.
There is no one left except my cousin and me, and there is no formal conference thank you.
Jennifer’s eyes are big like flashlights. “I don’t think the ladies I was sitting with guessed I was your cousin.” Jennifer has big brown hair and mocha skin, thanks to her Jamaican mom.
“They weren’t very happy with me.”
We laugh but there is no happiness or relief.
Later, I read the only evaluation filled in by the man who introduced me. “Needs to be more organized.”

Day One Hundred Fifty Five: Photo Shoot with Ms. Paul

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Day One Hundred Fifty Four: Pause for a Three-Point Thesis

Walking to work with Sue Bland this morning who drove up my lane, parked her car, and joined me. She shows me her pin from the Truth and Reconcilliation Council hearings, waves in a circle representing the seven teachings. She says the TRC Hearing in Fort Qu'Appelle May 14th and 15th will represent the teaching of Truth. Later in the day we have The Canada Show live at high school stage. I post pages 43 to 45 from my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti-Racist Pedagogy.
Pause for Three-point Thesis
Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti-racist Pedagogy is a white woman teacher’s memory montage as she journeys toward anti-racist education. Blue Eyes signifies her whiteness and subsequent privilege within Canadian mainstream society. Remembering Toward poses the ambiguity of acting in the present, informed by the past and moving toward the future. Anti-racist Pedagogy is both a goal and a process. Anti-racism being the struggle against privilege and power awarded on the basis of race, a sister-illness to all Anti-oppression. Pedagogy being the act of walking with students, leading toward the teaching. Through a variety of stories, poems and memory work, she does the following:
1.                          Re-sights a painful learning sequence which started at a conference;
2.                          Remembers teaching moments from her “on” reserve days; and
3.                          Retells racial stereotyping from her first young adult novel. 
The author re-sights a 1999 presentation she gave at the Diversity Conference in the Saskatoon Bessborough Hotel. “The keynote speaker… had begun late because the hoop dancers had started late because the round dance had continued longer than expected. I’m scheduled to present at , but I can’t walk out on this visionary educator from British Columbia. Everyone coming to my session will be here too, so they’ll understand why I’m not early.” They don’t understand. A shape poem interrupts, “what happened to the playful plan.” The emotional revisiting and “Re-order-ing the Massacre” brings a definition of racism, longing for home, disruption, “novel thoughts”, disclaimer, meltdown and a poem “H      e      a      r      t      Bleeding Liberal.” Conference chaos gives way to classroom chaos.
            The author remembers teaching moments in a community 700 miles north of home which brings cross-cultural reading: teacher to student, student to teacher; Dene to white, white to Dene; colleague to colleague. A constructed narrative reveals education and scholarship in simply complicated inter-action within the classroom. Cross-culture relationships from non-fiction inform fiction.
            A retelling occurs as the author remembers her days teaching on the reserve, while she is finishing final edits on her first young adult novel, Voice of the Valley. She realizes that the novel spans the exact timeline of her remembering. In fact, the novel is like a diary of awareness regarding stereotyping, whiteness, and racism in the context of a young adult audience. Narrative as teacher?
            Re-sight-ing, remembering and retelling are parts of the whole. The story neither begins nor ends at their borders.
Carolyn Heilbrun suggests that we don’t imitate lives, we live ‘story lines.’ The process of rereading one’s work and situating it in historical and biographical contexts reveals old story lines, many of which may not have been articulated. Voicing them offers the opportunity to rewrite them, to renarrativize one’s life. Writing stories about our ‘texts’ is thus a way of making sense of and changing our lives. (Richardson, 1997, p. 5)
However, these parts are a beginning of sorts. The author wishes to extend into further research, further findings. Perhaps continue her memory work by submitting a non-fiction book proposal to a publisher. Then, writing a book.

Day One Hundred Fifty Four: April 25th Pictures

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Day One Hundred Fifty Three: Procrastination Won

There is still snow on the ski hill. I climb the hill, my bare arms hot in sunshine, and hold the snow in my hand. Up close it is peppered white. Back on the road, I'm thinking about possibilities, especially after chats with the director of Credenda Virtual School. Mid-dream-of-what-could-be I see an eagle, wings wide and high over the hills, over my home. I post pages 41 to 43 of my 2006 Thesis: Blue Eyes Remembering Toward Anti Racist Pedagogy.

Procrastination Won

            For five years the clear plastic tub with white rectangular lid has sat on a shelf, in a cupboard, under a pile, moved from space to space like a box of old love letters. Once or twice a year under the safety and permission of academic florescence I have reached into five hundred pages and pulled an anecdote to share with students as a writing sample. Secretly, such opportunities allowed a self-conscious romantic to celebrate a great love, now lost to time and space.
How can this box of memory be so every-day and yet so powerful that I am now writing this paragraph to procrastinate the unsheathing of the pages from their clear plastic tub? What am I afraid of? Will the pages condemn? Overwhelm? Expose? Embarrass? Trivialize? Oppress? Marginalize?
I bring the tub unceremoniously to my workstation and place it on a rectangular table across from my three-year-old daughter. She colours on outdated computer paper, the kind with tear-off-holes along the edges. I turn on praise and worship music to distract my daughter who is now digging into my computer desk drawers.
“Everywhere I go I know you’re not far away, you’re right here, you’re right here, yeh ah.” I type the words. The tub is more than the sum of its parts. Something spiritual. Something to fear. To embrace.
My daughter has left, but I am not alone. I turn off the music. I turn to the pages.
            Three hours ago I removed colouring sheets from my work table, then retrieved pages 1-19, 20-27, and the remaining 28-560 from the tub and placed them in three piles.
The first represents re-reading from the first day of Christmas Holiday at the farm. I asked questions in the margins, commented and generally talked back to six-years-ago me. I wrote “Blue Eyes on my Knee” in reflection to this first sitting and imagined that the re-entry into this text wasn’t going to be as difficult as I’d feared; however, I couldn’t leave the warmth of Christmas family and relaxation to enter this unknown past, hence the second pile: the pile I should have read, over Christmas, but haven’t.
The third is unsifted, unread but for glimpses at titles or sentences or paragraphs, which caught my eye as I checked to see that all the pages are there. It’s as though a word here or a thought there is really an unmapped landscape. If I were to enter, truly re-enter, I would become disoriented and lost.
In the last three hours I have written a query letter, taken a shower, snacked on broccoli, stared at the piles, inspected my children and husband’s housecleaning, and dressed to work a bingo tonight (I wonder what other things I have done which I cannot list here because they would weaken my perception of desired respectability from my reader). I now have fifteen minutes to consider a strategy that would allow me to enter and exit, re-enter and re-exit this memory work given the restrictions of my life as mother, wife, and teacher. How can I discover an entry point, identify landmarks and find my way home?
These are my questions, straightforward and in my face.
  1. What are the re-emerging themes as I (a white woman English teacher) remember my on-reserve experience?
  2. How can I use poetics and memory work to layer my off-reserve learnings toward anti-racist pedagogy?

Tomorrow morning, after walking the dogs and eating breakfast, I will skip down the stairs to my office and allow my fingers to run and slide through the white pages of the third pile, as though they were hills covered in snow. I will allow a mound or knoll to arrest my playfulness and I will let my blue eyes remember.

Day One Hundred Fifty Three: April 24 Pictures