Story Yourself

Story Yourself
Sketchnote by @andCreative

You must know your own story…

I was 6 when I decided to become a teacher.  I had a class, and chalk and stuffed animals in the basement.  I played school endlessly. I may have drifted back and forth deciding on this path and that path but my mother and my father were not surprised when it was my final answer.

I have been teaching for 26 years.  Being a teacher is part of my soul and I believe it is who I am meant to be professionally.  It is deeply personal. It is mine.

The other parts of who I am, the wonderful men I have loved and who loved me back, my daughter, my family and the places I have travelled and have lived are all woven into me.  I track time in my adult life by none of these. I track time by where and what I was teaching. I think it’s a teacher thing but I will only speak for myself. My twitter handle is @specedforever because your heart never truly leaves special education if it is part of your soul.  It is part of mine.

Almost 15 years ago the world turned upside down.  It moved beneath me and standing upright became virtually impossible.  My existence, my identity, how I fed my child and put a roof over our heads was under fire.  The helplessness cannot be written. It was paralyzing. What was mine was threatened and promised to be taken away.

I had a strong mother, fierce friendships, loyal colleagues and professional assistance.  I had means and yet the panic never left me. I slept with it and woke with it. For four years I taught and I waited.  After four years and a process that worked, what was mine, remained mine.

Time and perspective have changed that story for me.  I recall the panic, it comes to me in the night even 15 years later but what I know about history in this country and the taking of who someone is was not what happened to me.  I was still me. My child still slept in her room and called me mom. I loved and lost and grew professionally during the four long years. I was still me. I never lost my story, nor my life.  I was living that particular part of my story as exactly who I was; a mom, a wife and a daughter. None of me disappeared. The part that was threatened created a fear around what I knew and believed but never to who I actually am.  This perspective has come at great cost to many who live in this country…who lived here first I know better now. As an educator my job is to not only know my story but to know the stories of many and welcome each one into the places where I learn.  It’s how I know who I am and helps me to become the person I always wanted to be when I grew up.

Things are more possible with coffee at 5 am.  The birds now chime in when darkness turns to light. 

We welcome our good friend Sharon McNamara-Trevisan to The Beast to join us for our conversation this morning!


A: This story leaves me breathless.  I can’t even tell you. My children, our children are growing up and becoming who they are right now.  What is the life they will live? How does school represent that life?

S: The space to be. The becoming who one is, it’s personal, and at the same time, we are in community. School has a place in that, and by naming this as part of a ‘life’…I love how that brings the person front and centre in this realization.

K: I have thought very differently over the past year about school and this space for who we are.  I think about extra-curricular in high schools and how that feels like a space for the “who” like plays, and GSA and Shakespeare Club…I think I always believed that is where kids could be themselves.  I have clung to the front matter of the curriculum for recent months and now I am worried about the “becoming who they are.” I don’t think I ever understood that what students are “working on in class” is exactly what should be with them when “they are becoming who they are.”

A: “What they are working on in class” might have an identity of its own.  In extra-curricular activities and in Kindergarten, our children have opportunities to bring themselves to the learning.  As Allan Luke says, the littles are in first person narrating themselves and their learning.

Back Into Existence

S: Bringing Allan Luke’s thinking into a conversation, always has me revisiting his words-as they are purposeful, intentional and bring perspective to what might otherwise not be visible. His observations of shift from story, from narrative of one’s own story to ‘essay’ … the story is taken out. And yet, the story that began this conversation is of experience, and of being the voice of one’s own. It has me thinking of Allan Luke reflecting on how we come to know  ourselves. He speaks of ‘ challenges of being ‘challenges of the soul, challenges of the heart, challenges of the spirit’ that teachers have to walk.”-Valuing What We Do Not Know  Is this bringing us to the space of school being all the spaces for learning? And how we understand learning and how it happens?

K: When we first decided to write a blog…to learn in public – we knew stories were going to be our way to learn and to invite people in.  I read Allan’s quote “you have to story yourself back into existence” and my heart soared and hurt at the same time. He talks of the journey of education from story to essay – how the learning changes.  How school becomes about the “stuff” and the “work” and the “who” fades away. I think about engagement – what that word means and it itches me to death. If I cannot find myself in the learning, if my story does not matter and I cannot tell it, then why should I care about multiplicative thinking or anything else I am being asked to do to demonstrate “my” thinking when I cannot find myself in any of it? It comes back to why we decided to write the blog…I wonder if we needed “to story ourselves” back into existence” …maybe we were seeing ourselves less? If we cannot see ourselves, do we actually learn?

A: I’m wondering why wouldn’t you?  Is school about the child and who they are and who they are becoming or is school about the work they do and to what degree?  I don’t believe they are actually separate things, but one is lost in favour of the other somehow. The way we are punishing the first person and molding children into clones has to do with crisis.  We create crisis and we make school about us and not about them.

S: Is the opportunity to learn together, as you are doing publicly with this blog, also part of the ongoing story and the opportunity to name and consider crisis-on behalf of the person, on behalf of learning together? Margaret Carr in her writing says that through story, compassion is raised. It has me reflecting on learning beside students in classrooms, beside educators in professional learning spaces where the conditions for learning are being constructed whether we are conscious of that or not. And when we tune in to how it feels to be in the learning together, something changes. Does this create the space to make a difference?

K: Something changes…when we are together, not just on the carpet or at the table, actually together with – there is a deep difference in what we see and what we hear.  I believe that when we are 10 we don’t actually know that our narrative is being exchanged for an essay – written by someone else. I know that when my story, as a grown-up was being written by someone else, when it was out of my control and no one seemed to be listening, the panic was real.  Our stories, our lives are our actual reasons for learning and for wanting to learn and be different.  I was 35 when I felt someone change my story. I did not understand that it had happened long ago…and The Beast and Allan Luke and much of the conversation we have about identity has stopped me in my tracks – we have to recover who we are because of school?

S: Once it’s visible, we can be together in the building understanding. Slowing down. Recognizing, observing and figuring out the learning experience. Students can be participants in the learning journey….and I can hear your voices in the ‘handing it back.’ And now I’ll also be thinking of your words ‘our stories, our lives are actual reasons….’

Metaphor for Life

A: What you said about knowing what it feels like to be in the learning together – the feeling and compassion that comes from ourselves, our stories, our past and present – it is not always first.  Sometimes, there are things – not just eduthings – but structures and systems between us. I see them there more often now.  I want school to be a good place -a place where our humanity is realized.

K: Humanity is realized in relationships – the listening to who we are and why we need to learn and become in public.  I find myself getting lost in the doing many days – the flurry of “getting it done.” Andrea reminds me, The Beast reminds me, if I have not listened, have not paid close attention to the “stuff” that gets in the way – it becomes the way and learning is far far away.  I catch myself and have to remind myself that the people and their stories are the purpose and the reason for the learning – making space for all of us to be changed.

A: Making space to be different, not the same, not someone else, but who you are.  Give it over.

S: From engagement, to empowerment.

K: As learners, I think we need to expect it, ask for it and understand that we are going to be changed – for having been in the learning but to do so we have to bring our stories and listen deeply to the stories of others.  We have to write our own front matter every time we learn.

S: When we do so, when we expect to be changed, we can also hope for and support the depth and breadth of students’ thinking to be changed through learning together. And when we don’t have the words, to help each other with ‘If you did know, what would you say?’ and ‘What else?’ Thank you, for always keeping the ‘next’ and the ‘back to’ in our thinking and conversation with The Beast.

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