I survived my first week teaching in the Cree Nation of Mistissini.
To sum it up: It felt like I was starring in a hidden camera documentary entitled: Sixth Grade Psychological Warfare.
Let me give you a few details so you’ll better understand the structure of my new role. I am team teaching with another sixth grade teacher who has been at the school since last January. Her name is Dominique and she’s a great.
There are four sixth grade English classes at the elementary school (there are also two sixth grade French classes as the students have a choice to pursue their education in English or in French). Two of the English classes are team taught by Elaine an Laura who have been at the school for over five years and the other two are taught by Dom and me.
Team teaching means that both Dom and I are the teachers of two 15-student classes that were joined together to make one 30-student class. The students are taught some subjects as one large class (science, art and social studies) and they are separated into two classes for math and English according to their comprehension levels.
Team teaching is unconventional and it has its pros and cons but Dom had been wanting to give it a try for a while and I thought it was a great idea, so we are going to test it out until Christmas break to see if it works for us. I think we make an awesome team.
A challenging week:
Here are just a few of the things that took place during my first week of teaching, many of them occurring simultaneously:
- I was sworn at and mocked in the Cree language.
- The students defied 90% of the instructions I gave them.
- They constantly and loudly complained about what they were asked to do.
- Students threw things at each other during class.
- They pushed, shoved an hit each other in the classroom.
- They constantly argued with and antagonized one another.
- A student kicked the door in anger.
- Several of them threw objects against the wall in defiance and frustration.
- They refused to stop talking when I was giving directions.
- They walked out and slammed the door when they got upset.
As you can imagine, it has been a very challenging week, physically, mentally and emotionally draining. But at the same time, it’s been invigorating because this week has given me confirmation of why I’m here.
I firmly believe that God called me here to show His consistency, acceptance and love to these students, many of whom have had childhoods wrought with abandonment, rejection, and sometimes abuse. There has been a lack of consistency, consequences and structure in their lives and their tough exteriors are carefully constructed facades meant to protect vulnerable, wounded and hurting 11 year-old hearts.
The students are accustomed to seeing teachers come and go on a regular basis. Many teachers can’t handle the stress of this environment and the dejection of a seemingly hopeless situation, and I can completely understand why. But because of this lack of consistency, the students have learned to not trust authority figures, leading to an outright lack of respect for their teachers.
Love and devotion:
I was talking to one of the women in the community who works as a doctor at the clinic here and she gave me a poignant analogy of the situation. She told me that the students don protective shells because it’s how they’ve learned to survive. They’ve been so hurt and disappointed that they’ve adopted these tough exteriors as defense mechanisms. These shells, equipped with sharp thorns, will pierce anybody who dares to get close enough.
She went on to share that genuine compassion and true devotion is not giving up on them even though it means that I’ll get pricked endlessly. It’s not retracting my affection even though loving them is painful; it is exhausting and overwhelming and thankless in many ways. Their constant anger, frustration, aggression and disrespect is difficult to endure. But, I do love them and I am devoted to them. Because God loves them and I have committed to loving these kids as He does.
I was able to have a meaningful conversation with one of my more defiant female students this week. With all sincerity, she asked me, “Am I always bad?” My heart broke. I responded emphatically, “No! You are not bad, you are good. You are smart, capable and good. But sometimes, you make bad choices.” I went on to talk to her about how all of our choices, good and bad, have consequences that affect us, others and our futures.
She listened intently and I could tell she was absorbing the truth that I was sharing: her behaviour is separate from her identity. Many of these kids have been taught either implicitly or explicitly that they are bad and cannot change. It will take a considerable amount of time and effort to help them unlearn the lies that have been spoken over them and replace those lies with God’s truths regarding their identity. They are not bad, they can change, there is hope.
This small victory made the entire arduous week worth it. It strengthened my commitment, bolstered my courage and ignited my conviction. I will withstand the insults to show them God’s consistency. I will endure the hostility to show them God’s acceptance. I will suffer the thorns to show them God’s love.
- We have cracked down on discipline to bring structure, accountability and logical consequences to the classroom, please pray that we are able to uphold these rules and procedures fairly and consistently.
- Please pray that I would have the patience, compassion and firmness to love and teach the students well.
- Dom and I spend a lot of time together, planning, preparing and teaching the class. Please pray that we would continue to build a strong and effective partnership.
- Please pray that I would have an overflow of God’s strength because there is no way that I can do this in my own strength.
Thank you so much, friends. I love and appreciate you! If you want to write to me, I’d love to get your letters! My address is:
368 Mistissini Blvd, Apt. B, Mistissini, QB, G0W 1C0.