Summer Comes to An Unofficial End

Technically, the fall equinox does not occur until September 22 this year and will mark the beginning of fall and the end of summer.

Puh-leez! We all know that summer unofficially ends this labour day weekend.

We can all feel it…with school starting next Tuesday, the back-to-school commercials that have been airing since July 31st (I was in shock when I saw it air before August!) and the ever-so-slight change in the weather.  The sun is choosing to slip into the horizon earlier every evening and the air is definitely fresher…less humid.

We are all eyeing those knee-high boots and chunky sweaters in store windows wondering when it will be cold enough to wear them without looking like idiots wearing boots and sweaters in thirty degree weather. (that’s Celsius).

The end of summer means good-bye to easy flip-flops, funky pedicures and that healthy summer glow.  It also means a return to schedules, routines, and the never-ending question: “what the hell am I making for dinner tonight?”  I can hear the clanking of iron bars as they lock into place around me when I envision my September life.  Fun time is over.

Or, is it?

My life will be much more scheduled.  I go back to work as a high school English teacher – where I cease to be Karen for 8 hours every day and become simply “Miss!”  – please add whine and you’ll get the intonation just right –

My life will be divided into 80-minute chunks of time and I will know (more-or-less) what every day will look like.  It is all under my control…that is until Jonathan decides to walk out of class because he can’t take anymore of this “English bullshit” or Tamara tells off Shawna in class because of something she said on FB – yes, both of these things have happened.

Regardless, I find I work better with a schedule.  I have many friends who are great at flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants.  I envy them because I have to plan to be spontaneous.

The fall brings with it luscious colour.  I love, love, love the changing colours of the leaves.  It is so much more fun now that my son is 3 – we can make enormous piles of cranberry, bronze and copper leaves and jump in!  We can go for fall hikes and crunch the leaves to our hearts’ content.  Who says physical activity ends in the fall?

Fall hikes.  My favourite.  I have a tradition with a group of friends that is going into its ninth or even (gasp!) tenth year now….we always make a date for a long fall hike that ends perfectly at the coziest pub you have ever seen.   We walk, we eat, we drink.  It is (almost) worth the end of summer.

Even though I complain every day about the whole dinner making thing…I’m looking forward to the yummy types of squash to be roasted or pureed in soup. Delish hearty stews with chunky bread and a robust glass of Cabernet. Yum! As much as I delight in the first bbq of the season, fall family dinners are just as welcome. With thanksgiving in about 7 weeks, (in Canada we celebrate the holiday in October), a really great turkey dinner is soon to arrive.

And, really, it is so much easier to wrap up the left-overs and have them ready to be taken for lunch the next day, than have to think about making lunch every day like I’ve had to all summer. (there’s only so many tuna salads I can take).

Even though I am sad that time for me, my life, my family will be swallowed up by my career again next Tuesday, I am envisioning the wicked schedules I will create while wearing the newest boots in my collection and planning the next awesome fall hike as I drink a glass of Shiraz.

So, I guess, fall ain’t so bad.

Happy Labour Day weekend to all!  Do our last summer long weekend good!

Are you feeling any bitter-sweet feelings about the winding down of summer and beginning of fall?

Teaching Teens to Navigate Life’s Detours

Lessons often come dressed up as detours and roadblocks

~ Oprah Winfrey

This quote was tweeted by @Epic_Women recently and it is one that I think I might use on the first day of school.  It is only mid-August, I still have three weeks of “me time” and I am thinking about work.  Teaching never really leaves me.

I think of ALL the different ways my students sabotage themselves.  They hand their power over so easily to the friends that influence, to the parent that neglects, to the siblings that bully, to their inner child that never got a chance to feel loved, respected and supported.  They cannot see that they are accountable to themselves and that they can be responsible for their actions – that the power is in their hands to learn from the shitty things that happen in life.

So I envision myself on the first day of school with my lovely quote written on the board behind me and I will ask them to write or discuss what they think the quote means and to think of examples of how it may be displayed in their own lives – some students will write two sentences or speak two words, others will fill pages or speak for twenty minutes, and others will draw the answer – using stick figures.

Regardless, my aim is to get them to think – to think about not wasting the next year on excuses, on blaming everyone around them, on seeing that they can take charge of their life.

Will I change them?


Can’t say that I think this short exercise will cause a cataclysmic breakthrough that proves to them that behind every difficult moment with me or another teacher or student  lies a “sunlight-breaking-through-the-clouds” epiphany that will reveal to them their true path.

But, I hope that maybe, when they are digesting the anxiety-ridden, sometimes humiliating, at times acceptable, always so difficult moments of each day, one of them might remember….

“What was that thing Ms. said about lessons the other day?”

And, perhaps, in the recesses of their mind, behind the latest gossip on twitter or bbm statuses of their 700 friends, they will see that they can move beyond the roadblock.  That the detour is just that.  A detour.  And, that just because they are fourteen-eighteen (sometimes nineteen),  it doesn’t mean they can’t learn these lessons.  It’s probably the best age to learn such a lesson.

It’s my hope anyway.

Short Stories by Kate Chopin

As part of my summer reading, I’m preparing for teaching new texts next school year.  I realized the much of our IB program is male centered (as in male writers, male protagonists, father-son relationships).  So, I made an effort to even the reading field and feature more women in literautre.  Enter Kate Chopin.

I read The Awakening earlier this year and loved it.  Wrote about it here and here.  However, The Awakening is not very long and in order to fulfill IB reading requirements, I must add some of Chopin’s short stories as well.  Here are a few I’ve read:

Beyond the Bayou~ a great story of an older Creole woman who was so frightened by an event in early childhood, she never ventures beyond the Bayou, but sticks to her immediate geographical surroundings.  She is loving and nurturing and sweet.  The children love her, the adults love her and respect her inability to move beyond the Bayou.  One day, tragedy strikes one of the beloved boys that she cares for and she is faced with a decision: keep him with her, and perhaps cause his death, or bravely cross the bayou and seek help for him.  It is a beautiful story of love, sacrifice and overcoming fears in order to help those you love…kinda like they say a mother can lift a car off her child if the child in endangered?  A touching portrait of motherly love.

La Belle Zoraide~ a beautiful young servant falls in love with the wrong man, one whom her mistress would never let her marry.  She bears his son and her mistress conspires to keep Zoraide away from her child and her lover.  This story chronicles the consequences of these decisions to Zoraide.  Tragic and very telling about the effect of childbirth to a woman – it stays with you, once you are a mother nothing or no one can ever erase that.

A Visit to Avoyelles~ a man visits his old sweetheart; she married the man who “stole” her away from him.  She is aged, with numerous children and living in lower class, questionable conditions.  He wishes to rescue her and her children from her life and from the wretch who “stole” her because he knows he can give her the life she deserves.  Does she run back to her saviour?  Or, does she remain with the man she chose?  A great story about love that endures, about love that makes no sense and the women that hang on to it and the men that can’t let the past go.

A Respectable Woman~ a woman’s husband invites his former college friend for a holiday; she doesn’t like him…until gradually, she finds that she likes him too much.  Since she is a respectable woman, she does all in her power to stay away from him until he leaves.  Her husband can’t understand why she doesn’t like his friend, who is so amiable.  She is challenged by her emotions until she puts it all to rest and feels relief.  The following summer, her husband wishes to invite his friend…will she accept or decline the visit?  A wonderfully ironic tale that resonates with Chopin’s insight as seen in her famous short story (and probably the one most studied in schools) The Story of an Hour.

Regret~ a woman who has it all: money, land, social status and she is also unmarried by choice, childless by choice.  She is fully independent and loves her life.  Until her neighbour suddenly drops off her four children because she must see to an errand – for two weeks.  The children are a chore, they upset the rhythm of her life…until, they weave themselves into the daily routines of her life.  Their mother returns and the children are gone.  I love Kate Chopin’s writing because it shows the struggle of women is not only universal, but sadly, timeless.  This story focuses on a woman’s desire for independence versus her desire for family and children.  It makes Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All a bit outdated, yet oh so relevant…it appears to be an age-old issue and not a problem modern times.

Chopin’s writing style is direct and simple.  She captures the internal life of each protagonist with keen insight and the subtleties of the relationship between men and women beautifully.  Great short reads for summer afternoons when time is limited.

Do you  have any short stories that you just love?

Can We Have It All?


Recently, The Atlantic published an article entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

It was a very honest view of the constraints put upon women who want to excel in their careers and be  active mothers in the lives of their children.  The conclusion? It’s impossible.

The author writes of a fulfilling and highly demanding career in the White House and the continued feelings of failure she experienced because her adolescent son was experiencing trouble at school.  She notes that most women do what they can to spend as many of the toddler years as possible with their children and sacrifice the teenage years for their careers.

This reminded me of something a colleague of mine said to me not too long ago: children need their parents just as much, if not more, when they are in their teens.  It is a highly volatile time for a child and that is when parental love, guidance and support is most crucial.  It is also when we decide that they are independent and can fend for themselves.  Surely they don’t need mommy to feed them, clothe them or take them to the potty.  So mommy can go back to work in over-drive!  When the children are young, career is sacrificed and when the children grow, they are sacrificed.

Slaughter was criticized for her decision to sacrifice her career for her adolescent children; it rings so very anti-feminist.    Except, is it?  We do not live in a society that favours and supports raising children – I mean truly raising them.  Even for us Canadians who have the privilege of a one year maternity leave, we are left a little disoriented at the end of that year in the scramble to find adequate (and, affordable – though the two never seem to align) childcare when it is time to return to work.

Once at work, there is the negotiation of time, work-from-home options, the endless sick days we take for our children…and, that’s if we’re lucky to work in an environment that supports family.  Some careers demand our full attention and children and family are dropped from the priority list.

Slaughter calls for the beginning of a new dialogue.  One that involves looking at the needs of modern women who wish to engage in a thriving career and have a family.  This dialogue demands that women become outspoken and promote change at the legal level to ensure that the needs of children are being met without any sacrifice of career and that the needs of women are being met without the sacrifice of her children.  If it was possible for the feminist movement to exact great change in the lives of women 40-50 years ago, then it is possible for us to reopen the dialogue and exact change in the lives of women again.

I loved the honesty of her writing and the passion she has for promoting the interests of women and family.

Do you believe women can have it all now?  Or, do changes need to be made in economic, social and legal structures to allow us to have it all?

Never Tell Children They Will Amount To Nothing

I had lunch alone today at a local Japanese restaurant with a Kate Chopin book and my Blackberry for company.  A lovely young man sitting diagonally across from me is also lunching alone and strikes up a conversation.  He’s fidgety and friendly like you’d never believe – he shoots all sorts of questions at me trying to find some common ground from which we can converse.  Within a matter of seconds I learn where in Ontario he’s from, his love of cooking, his girlfriend is six months pregnant with their first daughter and that he has a learning disability.

He instantly relates when I tell him I am on summer holidays because I am a secondary school English teacher.  His first response is to tell me that at the end of the school year when he was in grade 7, his French teacher told him “The next step for you from here is jail”.  He laughed.  I bet he wasn’t laughing when he was 12.

He now owns his own heating and air conditioning company, makes six figures yearly and runs his company smoothly – managing employees, new customers, buildings, and he loves it.

He told me that school was never for him.  It didn’t matter what a teacher did, his attention was always focused elsewhere and it was work that finally brought him a sense of accomplishment.  He explained to me how his mind worked every time he had reading or an assignment to do – I was fascinated.  He would easily learn about everything around him except for the assigned task.  Obviously, as a disengaged 12 year-old I can’t imagine he was easy to manage in a classroom – but that still did not give that teacher the right to forecast such a dire future for him.  Jail? Really?

Ironically enough, that teacher had problems with her air conditioner recently and was flabbergasted when he showed up at her door to fix it.  She had the audacity to repeat her comment and then say “I can’t believe I’m giving you money to fix my air conditioner”.  Guess some people never learn.

My point is this: as educators we come across some really interesting characters.  Some students will truly stay with us forever – because they remind us of ourselves, because they have inspired us, because they are ten million times more intelligent than we are and because they have challenged us to the point of wishing we could have a stiff drink at work to get through our day with them.  Regardless, it is never, ever acceptable to tell a child that they will amount to nothing, worse than nothing, that they will be delinquents and end up in prison.

It will be that student that will help you out of a jam down the road – and I for one would like them to do it out of respect and gratitude for what I tried to do to help them, not spite for humilating them.

We must watch the weight of our words – they live on far longer than we realize.  Thankfully, I work with many teachers who honour their students, think about they say and the impact it will leave on a child.

Did a teacher ever say something to you that you would love to respond to now? Or, conversely did a teacher say something that helped to shape the path of your life in a positive way?