Submitted by Pamela Smith, BCTELA Executive Member and co-editor of BCTELA’s student journal, Voices Visible.
I have just returned from Mount Seymour where I snowshoed up to Dog Mountain. It has been a year since I visited that vista in the snow. Today, as I walked back to the car among the hundreds of people who were on the mountain to experience the glorious sunshine that we are so rarely treated within this part of the world during winter, I began to cry.
This is not how I had envisioned the end of my journey up into the snow today. It is completely unlike last year’s trip to the same spot when I had to reach the peak of Dog Mountain before discovering sunshine. There was an inversion that day. I had begun hiking up through the snow falling down on me. It was overcast all the way up to Dog Mountain Lookout, but when we reached the top we found ourselves above the clouds. I was and I still am elated by that day’s experience. It reminds me of working with my students. Teaching similar curriculum every year can bring about such remarkably different results simply because the participants are new.
Today I am elated, but for a much different reason. It is because I have found hope unexpectedly. As I journeyed up from Mount Seymour parking lot this morning I feel I was reeling, reeling from something near to shock, but different. I experienced an awakening, a realization, a discovery, but this did not rise to my conscious level of thinking until I was alone on my way back to the car.
It was sunny all morning, unlike the last trip, and I had been awake all night. I spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening reading the take home essays my Grade Twelve students had submitted before the winter break. I had read half of them before the break began and now with the end of the semester looming near I had to tuck in and get to work on the rest.
The Grade Twelve students this year have been and continue to be an interesting lot. This has been the case since they entered high school; they have kept those who work alongside them, their parents, and in some cases the larger community busy by presenting challenges of every sort, some that have and still do leave us shaking our heads, our hearts and our hands, sometimes in great frustration, other times in complete amazement. “He actually handed it in – a month late- but he did it!” I have heard myself and others saying. Or, “She has been in class every day and on time for a week!”
As I read through this set of essays, I was not
expecting to be surprised or especially moved. I have taught many of these students more than once during their high school careers, and I had not thought I would be learning anything new from the assignment: A Moment that Changed My World View. I am learning though that sometimes it’s the thing we are not
expecting that moves us beyond where we were before, beyond our prior knowledge
and beyond our emotional equilibrium.
That is why I found tears streaming down my cheeks atop Seymour in subzero sunshine this morning. I was moved. I still am. I think
I will be for some time into the future. And I think the stories I have beenprivy to from these young people, these young people whose lives I really have knownvery little about, need to be heard. In them I have realized some of their challenges. In them they have shown me the courage to let me see who they are.“I see you,” are the words that come to me from the film Avatar. “I see you,” is what I want to say to each of the authors who have opened themselves, havetaken risks, and in doing so have become vulnerable. It takes tremendous courage to put such stories onto the page, stories that have touched my senses, many of them individually bringing me to a new way of seeing my students, some of them stopping my heart from beating for a moment, or longer.
Collectively Iam struck at how far these young people have come, by the strength of character and determination it has taken each of them to arrive at where they are today. Their words speak so clearly of their struggles, their challenges, their pain, often their selflessness, and all so unexpectedly.
These stories speak so profoundly of the truth of whatit means to learn to love, to love one’s self, to love one’s family, to love with compassion a complete stranger. These stories show journeys of compassion these Grade Twelve students have found for themselves or others. They give me a
sense of hope I did not have before, not in the way I feel it now after coming back down from the mountain with no sleep. No sleep because I could not stop thinking about them, these people I knew but didn’t realize fully. Now they have shown me a new side of them. I am elated.
Where, how, and if I have permission to share them I will find a way. I have an urge to see them collected into a book of essays on growing into compassion.
Over the past two years, as I approach thirty years of classroom teaching, mostly in secondary English, some people who only see me outside theclassroom have suggested, have indeed nudged me toward leaving theclassroom to get out from under the marking of essays that require most of my weekend hours, leaving my personal life scandalously deprived. I have not said it to them, those who want the best of life for me, I have not told them how I would miss the stories that surprise me, that bring me to tears, that bring me to a place of hope.
Photos by Pamela Smith