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Teaching RC to High School Students

I teach high school English and social studies. Six years ago, the number of teachers for the courses I was teaching dropped so I was surplussed, which meant that I would still be a teacher but would be on call and placed wherever I was needed.

Then my employer, Mark, said there was a position open for teaching seven blocks of Planning. It is a course most students do not take very seriously. The curriculum could be taught in a month, but I would have the students for the entire school year. I wanted to stay at the school because I had made friends there, so I accepted the job and decided to teach them RC.

I called what we did Peer Listening. We discussed oppression and patterns and the importance of being listened to well. Students came to me with problems they were having, and I had many opportunities to listen to both boys and girls crying. We shared stories of our lives (I led by sharing stories from my own life), and we created a safe place, with a code of confidentiality. What we shared in the room stayed in the room.

Near the end of the year, a boy told me that for his English 10 class, the teacher had given the students an assignment to choose one teacher who had had a positive influence on their life and write a letter of appreciation. He told me that his letter was an appreciation of me. I said, “That is so nice! I am going to get it framed.” He told me I would have a lot of framing to do because pretty much [nearly] everyone in his class was writing their letter to me.

I received twenty-seven letters. I have taken them to Co-Counseling sessions, and my counselors have cried with me as I’ve read them.

Two years ago, Mark asked me if I would be willing to do what I did with the grade tens with grade-eight students. They take a number of courses—sewing, woodworking, IT (computers), and drama—on a rotation. He had a large number of grade eights starting in September and thought I could make a course to add to the rotation. I said I could and came up with [thought of] Community Leadership. I wanted it to again be essentially RC, but I needed something from which to give the students a mark.

In Canada it is mandated that teachers must implement aboriginal content across the secondary school curriculum. This is well overdue and is an opportunity.

Across Canada, First Nations communities have been participating in something called Threads of Hope: The Healing Quilt Project, in which people make quilt squares that share stories of the residential-school experience. [The residential schools were a network of government boarding schools for First Nations children in which the children were removed from their aboriginal culture and forced to assimilate into the dominant Canadian culture. They were made to speak English or French and were often abused. Many died.] I decided to have the students make a 2.5- by 10-inch quilt square of their life story.

On the first day of the course I had them each make a clock and go around the room and find someone for every number on the clock. Then I called a time—1:00, 2:00, 3:00, and so on—and had them pair up with their clock partner. I explained the fundamentals and importance of listening well and then had them share their life stories with their partners. I told them that their heritage was part of their life stories and said to go as far back as they could. For homework they were to find out as much as possible about their heritages—to ask their parents, call their grandparents. Most of them did. Two students discovered for the first time that they had Native heritage, and they shared this with such pride.

Each grade-eight student in the school came through my classroom, and each made a quilt square. The quilt now stands in a place of prestige. Last year it was the grade-eight Community Quilt. This year it is grade nine’s. It will come down when they graduate.

This year my grade-eight students are making a family tree out of rope and again are learning about their heritages. They share with the class some highlights of their partners’ stories (that their partners have agreed they can share). Many stories have brought tears. I will share one. A boy told how his partner (a girl) had made a quilt of a girl looking at the moon. For years she hadn’t known why the moon fascinated her, but this year she realized why. She was born in China and then adopted and brought to Canada. She now knows that the moon was important to her because both she and her birth parents look at the same moon. It was how she felt connected to them.

Mary Pearson

North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

(Present Time 187, April 2017)

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00