Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thoughts from a Frozen Lakeside

I can say that I've lived by a lake all my life.  Every town/city I have ever lived in has bordered a lake.  But even with that, I could never say I lived next to a lake until this year and right now.  I look out my living room window, and there's the lake.  I walk twenty-five meters from my building and I can touch the water.  Every day, it's glorious and breathtaking and every day I am amazed by what I see.

And yet, despite my proximity, I had not taken the time to walk along the waterfront trail since the temperatures dropped below freezing this winter.  Part of the reason was that I was busy with school and couldn't find the time to take a break. The other part was the cold.  I was hesitant to venture along the shore where the cold sucks the breath from your lungs and the wind bites and buffets with abandon.   

But, each day, my landlady was out there.  Since the lake froze over and skating was possible, she has been on the ice, sometimes for hours a day.  She'd come home and tell me how beautiful it is and how I absolutely must walk along the shore.  

I knew she was right, and so last week, I made the time to go for a walk, unplugged.  I left my electronics behind, bundled up, and ventured out along the shore.  Words cannot express aptly the wonder of a frozen lakeside.  It's like a completely different world.  As the lake froze, melted and then froze again, chunks of ice were pushed ashore and piled into sculpture-like objects.  They make me think of tectonic plates kissing together and pushing each other up into mountains.  In addition, the rocks and even piers along the water's edge are, at some points, completely encased in layers of ice!

Yesterday morning, I took my friend Jenna out with her camera and we sought to capture some of the majesty.  In a world of go-go-go, sometimes we need that little push to stop-stop-stop.  But when we heed the voice, the results are priceless.  

I think the pictures speak for themselves.
Picture by Jenna K.
Me looking out over the lake.
Picture by Rae
Rocks completely encased in ice.

Picture by Rae
The sun rising over the ice.

Picture by Jenna K.
Shoreline tree leaning out over the ice-made dunes.
Picture by Jenna K.
Me standing on the ice next to an encased pier.  
Picture by Rae
Shot of the harbour.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Poverty Challenge

I want to remember what I felt and what I thought as I went through the Poverty Challenge--a 1 hour activity preceded by training and followed by a debriefing.  We only role-played for an hour, and I quickly felt fatigued and drained.  The people we were pretending to be, well, I bet they wish they could stop and break for lunch like we could.  Unfortunately, they are living in a constant struggle.  Stuck at the bottom of a smooth-stoned well: how do you climb up and out when there are no holds?

Monday, the Fac of Ed took part in the poverty challenge, a complex workshop of sorts that is run predominantly by volunteers from the community.  The simple breakdown is as follows:

Each teacher candidate was assigned a role and given papers dictating details of said role.  Some roles were members of different services (e.g. Ontario Works (OW), Family Court, Food Services, Employment agencies, Housing, etc...) while other roles were profiles of a person living in poverty.  Before the activity began, we met in our groups for a bit of training (so all the Food Services got together, all the OWs, all the "Sallys," "Mollys," "CJs," etc...). In this training, we also discussed preconceived stereotypes of individuals living with poverty.  Terms like lazy, uneducated, alcoholic, drug addict/addition, and health problems were at the forefront of this line of thought.  How quickly we saw that they were so terribly incorrect, showing only a splinter of the bench.

With the activity to start, we took our places and it began.  I was in the Rental Housing agency and sat in the gym, waiting for people to come to me during their long list of errands.  I saw many "Sallys," "Mollys," and "Emmanuels," among others.  Each with a tragic situation that was not the result of alcohol or addiction or a lack of education (some profiles were in fact OVER EDUCATED and as such no one would hire them).  And from the way these people were fighting and struggling to better their lives, there is no way that I would consider them lazy.

Each had an allotted sum for housing and came to me to find a place.  Sally had ~620$ for housing and was looking for a 3 bedroom apartment for her and her two kids.  Her current abode was too far from her children's school and she was spending too much on travel.  She also had a violent ex-husband who had threatened to kill her and currently residing in jail.  Emmanuel was nearing 50 and had recently been laid off from a job in Alberta after his company was forced to cut back.  He had nowhere to live and no current employment--again, not because he wasn't qualified.  Molly was a young mother who had an infant.  The CAS told her that her past living arrangement were not suitable for a child.  She needed to find a better place or they would take her child away.  With her child, she received ~580$ for housing.

I wanted to help all of these people.  But I couldn't.  The cheapest apartment in my listings was a Bachelor pad for 725$.  Every time I had to say, "No. I can't help.  I don't have anything you can afford.  Can you find someone to split an apartment with?  Maybe try looking on Kijiji?"  Depending on their current situation, I could also send them over to Subsidized housing where they could stand in line for forever and then be put on the end of a year long waiting list (if they were "lucky" and by that I mean if their situation was bad enough).  How is any of this right?

The role play only lasted an hour, but by the end I was exhausted, as were many of the people with profiles who had to fight with the court, the OW, the banks, Food Services, employment agencies--oh wait, if they pick up an extra job, they lose their OW, but that extra job doesn't bring in enough extra money and actually they make more with OW, so what do they do?  If they were to sell their car, they could make x00$, but then again, that raises their income by too much and they no longer qualify for y and z help.  Or, they can't qualify for y unless they do z but they can't do z until they have y so they are stuck in this never ending cyclical situation.


Why is our system so flawed that the people who need the help the most don't get it?  We talked about how in Canada, 1/5 of the population has 68% of the country's wealth.  The next 1/5 have about 20% of the wealth, the next 1/5 have 10%, the next ~1%.  The last and poorest 1/5 of the population don't even make the cut.  They have less than 1% of the wealth between all of them.  I don't know how that could be seen as fair to anyone.  To me, it just seems bogus.

 I digress slightly, but it's hard not to when the whole situation is so utterly frustrating.  After the activity we returned to the profile rooms and had the opportunity to meet the people that our profiles were based on.  It was definitely more powerful knowing that the 11 or so profiles that were used were not fiction but based on the real life experiences of individuals who have fought with poverty for years and in some cases are still fighting.

I feel like, in a piece like this, the most logical ending is a call to rally the troops and act, but I don't know what I can do to change the situation.  Living as a university student, I know that income-wise, I am not currently that far off from those living in poverty.  I don't have the money to make the situation better and I don't know why the government doesn't fix the problem.  Sure, I guess that fixing the problem isn't as simple as snapping your fingers, but if it's never started, how could it possibly reach completion?

From a confused and frustrated citizen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stressed Over the Moon

Let's say that there's a stress meter.  At the lower end the tag reads, "Productivity lacking due to no stress."  At the higher end it reads, "Forgot how to breathe, over the moon with stress."  Everything else falls in between.

Currently, many of my friends are at the "Over the moon, but somehow still breathing" level.  Last week, we had this fair called "Options."  If you're any good at guessing, you might just guess that it was all about exploring our options as teachers.  (Who knew, right?).  A number of Ontario school boards came along with northern Ontario organizations, Ontario private schools, a board from Calgary, and then a few international teaching opportunities including some UK and Australian teaching agencies and schools in Sweden, China, Korea and Honduras.  I'm probably missing a few categories, but I imagine you can get the gist from the list:  There were a lot of options.

I always thought choices were supposed to be a good thing, but I learned in psychology that too many options actually produce more stress and can cause damage.  

People were nervous before Options even started because we were told that the international opportunities would be accepting cover letters/resumes and possibly doing interviews.  (The school boards weren't accepting resumes but merely there to answer questions we had about their boards and the application process).

The day of it was like all of the animals at the Toronto zoo had been squished into the same pavilion.  The chaos started at 10:30.  The different organizations had booths lining the main hallway in the Faculty of Ed, ready and eager to talk about who they are, what they offer, and why you should apply to work for them (well, mostly.  Not everyone who came was helpful, but I won't name names).  Some of the organizations also had presentations throughout the day.  So, seemingly helpful, yes?

Apparently not.  Many of my friends found that Options only exacerbated their stress and as the day progressed, they only felt worse.  I wish I knew the magical words that could help them step back and calm down.  While stress in moderation is helpful and even good, too much stress can hurt you physically as well as mentally.  (Psych Major.  That's me).

While I'm not over the moon like some of my friends, I am feeling the mounting stress.  Especially as job interviews are quickly approaching.  I'd classify myself just over the halfway point at "Steady stream of Steam" (try saying that 10x fast!).  At this point, I think what is most stressful is the fact that I know that in an interview, I can only do my best and then it is out of my hands.  Not having the power over the final decision is nervous-making.

At the same time, this thought is also what helps alleviate a lot of the stress for me.  I can only do the best that I can do.  Worrying and over-stressing will not help me do my best and can instead trip me up.  Worrying won't make a job fall into my lap or make me feel any better, so why should I waste hours of my life worrying over something that I can't directly change?

While it's not always easy to do, I know that I need to find my source of calm and ride through this season, come what may.  To any of you in similar boats, I wish you the best.  Keep your wits and hold steady!

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his pan of life?  
Matthew 6:27
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  
Matthew 6:34

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Talking Circles

Tuesday, we had a guest presenter in my History Curriculum class and she led us in a talking circle.  In case you don't know what a talking circle is, it's pretty simple: everyone sits in a circle and an object is passed around.  Whoever has the object is the only one who can speak.

Talking circles are used in First Nation (and other) cultures.  I don't know if all First Nations in Canada have a version of a talking circle and am not trying to generalize.  I do know that the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe both use them.  Our instructor, Lindsay, told us that the big difference between the two is that one passes the talking stick clockwise and the other counter-clockwise.  (I don't remember which is which).

Lindsay also explained some other important rules:
Guidelines of talking circles on the chalkboard.
In the left column of the image are what we were to say when we introduced ourselves.  We said our names, our band (if we had one) and where we're from.  So I would say, "Rae ndeshnikaaz, Ontario ndoongiibaa."  The Objibwe sounds were foreign on our tongues and many of us had trouble pronouncing the words properly, but Lindsay encouraged us to try our best.  In the right side of the image are the guidelines. 

First, NEVER repeat what you hear without permission.  Our instructor explained that in First Nations culture, your words and your stories are your property.  If you were to retell a story that you heard without the owners permission, that would be extremely disrespectful and a break of trust. Also, a talking circle is a safe space and people are welcome to feel safe and comfortable sharing.  If people are compromising the information, that could lead to a breach in private information.

Second, as previously mentioned, Only the person holding the talking stick talks.   Lindsay's talking stick was an elk horn decorated with a string of beads and an eagle feather.  (Elk horns are cool because elk drop their horns naturally and you don't hurt the animal to get them.  They are also really cool to look at.).  There was a meaning to the eagle feather, but I don't remember anymore.  She told us that the object didn't overall matter and it was up to us to find our own talking stick for when we choose to use talking circles in our classes.

And third, You do not have to speak.  There is no pressure whatsoever to say something during the talking circle.  It is your prerogative.

It was a really cool activity to do as a class, and even though it might seem really simple and more fit for the primary grades, as adults, we enjoyed it.  The circle really changes the dynamics of the class as well as brings in another cultural element.  In the conventional lesson, the students and teacher create a sort of dialogue as the teacher instructs and the students raise their hands in participation.  In a talking circle, that dialogue is not there.  The stick does not go backward but always moves forward around the circle.  It's not really an activity for commenting on other people's words and ideas but for sharing your own thoughts, feelings and opinions.  It's also about listening to others for the sake of listening and not for the sake of building on their ideas/opinions.  The entire pace of the activity is more relaxed and peaceful which was a pleasant change from the rush that can be the classroom.

In case you missed it, I liked partaking in the talking circle and I hope to use it in the future when I have my own classroom.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2015 at a Glance

I don't know about you, but for me, 2015 is a big year. There a lot of things "scheduled" in and a lot is on the horizon.  So, for those curious as to where I stand, I've condensed my year to five points.  Here it is at a glance (In a mostly chronological, but sometimes not, order):

1. In four months, I will be done my formal schooling.  (But of course, never done learning!).  I finished my undergrad last year and this year I will finish my B.Ed.  By the end of June, I will be a certified teacher.  My friends and I are all very excited to be almost done.  Three and a half more months of classes!  The countdown is on!  

2. In this last semester, I am taking part in a musical with people from my faculty.  This next month will be a flurry of activity as we perform the 5th and 6th of February.  Until then, there is a lot to do, learn and practice.  I never thought I'd be able to do something like this now that I am deemed an "adult" by society and must do "adult-like-things" and what-not.  I really love drama though and am really looking forward to this opportunity.

3.  Also in this last semester, I am going to England for one of my practical components to learn what I can from the British school system.  I've never been on a plane before and I am both really excited and nervous about it all.  To say the least, I am really looking forward to the experience.

4. In the summer, I'm looking to do some travelling.  The current goal is to hopefully go around to some of the States and visit a few of my friends who live down there.  Plans are mainly idea at this point though.  The reason for the last who-haw is....

5. Next September, I will be working.  Somewhere in the world, may hap.  Teaching in a school.  That is the plan.  Yay for plans!

I look at my list and can't help but smile.  There is so much possibility in what the future holds and I can't wait to see what's in store.

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...