“We’re the soccer rejects”
So claimed one of the five grade 8 students in my art room yesterday. Intermediate soccer tournament day. The day when the rest of the class went off to compete with other area schools in tournament play (or chose to ditch class all together). My favourite day.
Now let me say, I have nothing against soccer, or those who play it. I love to coach and play myself. However, when I get to have those special moments with the other students, it really is special. We hang out, create art, (and by we I mean WE, myself included) and most importantly, a shift occurs. Students who might otherwise say little, say a lot. Stories are shared. The climate changes in the classroom and we become a different community all together.
The project in the works for one class is a basic start-of-the-year name art, a handwritten name as the focal point and the background -a choice-of-media – depiction of one’s self. I learned someone loves to bake. I learned someone loves to design rooms. Another shared, profoundly, shyly, “I’m not sure what I want to DO why I’m older, like, as in a JOB. But I know I will be a MAN.” From this seemingly simple statement a 13-year-old story began to unfold. A story about absence of strong, healthy men in a community of growing youth and addiction. And another student, without saying a word, told a story in her artwork of pain and abuse against a most beautiful depiction of hope in her name.
A few years into my teaching career I was given a great little metal ladybug sculpture- a teacher gift. It was whimsical and meant, I think, to serve as a paper weight. I chose to put it on my desk and use it as a reminder that every day, I needed to attempt to reach every student. Say hello, smile, ask questions, connect, even when the day before I got nothing but silence. Every day. And every day that ornament sat on the desk of my classroom where the often-unlikeable 13 and 14-year-olds taught me about myself and about life. Until one day, having been absent from my classroom (and indeed, I did still consider it MY classroom), something occurred and I returned to find the metal ornament in pieces.
I was pretty ticked. When asked, students agreed in no uncertain terms it was a tiny-but-rage-filled girl who had wrecked it.
I was at a loss. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d grown to that little bug, sitting there on my desk, and in the coming days I struggled without it. Would I remember to connect to every student? The irony spoke volumes… its purpose obliterated by the very student it was meant to serve. When I shared the story with a colleague she had suggested I make something else out of the shards of metal, something new of the remains.
I couldn’t do it.
What that broken ladybug taught me is that, like the soccer rejects, though some things may appear broken and imperfect, this is what it appears as today. What we do with it, that’s our choice.