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Taking up Space

Some weeks I have to search and wonder what to write about in my blog. I’ll look at the news and think about conversations I’ve had recently and try to imagine what kinds of words you are craving this week.

Today, I feel like I lived my blog instead of thought about it. It wrote itself out in my afternoon so that it would be ready for me to send out into the world this evening.

To backtrack a little, I have pretty lofty ambitions as a teacher. My goals each year are to help my students think for themselves, question what they are told, accept themselves and others, develop problem solving skills and act with kindness and empathy. There are other things I could add to the list, but those are definitely the big ones.

This year, where my students need the most support is in the quest for problem solving skills. Now, I’m not talking about math equations put to words, I’m talking about the basic skills that we all need to have to stay alive and interact with other humans on a day-to-day basis.

This afternoon was a classic example. My class came in from last recess and no less than 8 students flooded over to me complaining about the ridiculously petty transgressions of their classmates.

“He touched my shoe with his boot!”

“She knocked me when she was hanging up her coat!”

“He was playing with his friend and his elbow touched my arm!”

It was painful and pointless. Not a single one of the children whining at me had been hurt (physically or emotionally), there were not even any tears, it was just a load of righteous indignation. Textbook tattle tailing.

We spent the next half hour as a class talking about the difference between problems we need help solving, problems we can solve for ourselves and things we just need to let go. We did some play acting of ways to positively resolve different small conflicts and by the end of the day some of the kids were starting to get the idea.

“It’s probably good to learn to solve our own problems,” one of my students said wisely as she was getting ready to go home, “when grown ups solve your problems, they don’t stay solved long anyways.”

I thought of that comment as I walked home, thought about follow up lessons and how to empower my students to use their words and their ears to resolve conflict situations.

And then, I had the chance to put my own skills to the test.

As I was walking down Osborne St at Broadway, I looked up and realized that there were three men walking my way, completely blocking the sidewalk. They were all in their late 40s or early 50s, clean cut, wearing suits and completely ignoring the fact that I was walking down the sidewalk towards them.

First, I was hit by a nice big swell of rage. Who were these arrogant assholes who felt like they had the right to take up the entire sidewalk. There was a huge puddle on one side and a busy road on the other, where did they expect me to go? They didn’t even have the decency to look at me, trudging along in my patched up jacket, I was invisible to them.

At first I considered just continuing to walk and plowing right into them (as they clearly were not going to make room for me to get by). Then, I heard my own words come back to me. I expected my students to use their words to be heard and to solve their own problems, maybe I should do the same.

“Hey guys,” I said to the men when they were only about a metre away from me, “when you’re walking down the sidewalk, it’s really important that you make room for other people.” I used the friendliest voice I could muster. “It’s two-way traffic on the sidewalk and we all need a place to be.”

The men looked at me as though I had an eggplant growing out of my head. Two of them blushed, laughed and mumbled something that might have been an apology while they sidestepped around me (getting away as fast as their long legs would carry them). The third man glared at me angrily (if he had been a cartoon, steam would definitely have been pouring out of his ears). He took a small step towards me, his grey hair standing out against his now red face. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before finally saying in a loud, confrontational voice, “Who are you to talk to me about manners?”

My own anger drained away as the answer sprung to my lips before it had even fully formed in my mind. “I’m a teacher.” I said simply and I walked past him and continued down the street.

I have to admit, for the first few steps, I was tense, wondering if he would hit me or retaliate in some way. I didn’t look back and so I don’t know what his reaction was, I only knew that I felt a whole lot better than I would have if I had walked through the puddle or stepped on to the busy road to make way for three able bodied men. They didn’t see me (despite the fact that I am 5’8” tall and wearing a purple jacket with rainbow duct tape patches and was less than 2 metres away from them) and that wasn’t ok with me, I deserve to take up space, I deserve to be seen.

Maybe that’s even what this blog is all about. Maybe this blog is a way for me to be seen and heard. Not just for me, but for all of the queer, non-binary folk, for everyone who struggles with anxiety or depression, for all of us who try to teach children to make the world a better place and for all of us who present as female (despite being gender-fluid, I realize the world looks at me through a female gendered lens). We all deserve a voice and a place in the world and on the sidewalk.

I don’t know what those men went home and told their families about the interaction we had today (if any of you who live in Winnipeg end up knowing one of them, I’d love to hear their perspective.) I just know that by the time I got home, all I could think about is that we are all teachers and students, with the chance to continually learn and grow from each other.

I guess my goals for myself in many ways mirror my goals for my students. I will try to think for myself, question what I’m told, accept myself and others, develop problem solving skills and act with kindness and empathy.

Thank you for joining me as one of my teachers, I hope you will be patient with me, as I strive towards achieving some lofty goals.

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