semester end reflections

Photo by Brigitte Tohm

It’s the end of the semester and time to reflect on how things went. I’m so happy I was able to go back to teaching, even though I had a very positive experience as an associate dean last year. I still have (I think) many more years of teaching in me. For now.

I tried to incorporate as many of the indigenous principles of learning that were shared at the indigenous education conference I went to in August at Camosun. As a result, I changed my classroom setup dramatically, pushing tables to the sides of the room and clearing a large space in the middle for sharing circles. And we had a lot of sharing circles. I feel like this worked really, really well in my classes to build community and help students support each other in their learning.

I did have frustrating moments that involved students who are not quite managing their frustrations. These students have had trauma and are coping fairly well, all things considered. But far too often for my liking, there will be an explosion that requires me to restate boundaries, be firm but compassionate with the exploder, and apply emotional first aid to the bystanders. It exhausts me and I need to find some better strategies for dealing with these situations. I got into one situation with a student who was getting very oppositional and when I asked them to step into the hall to speak with me privately, they refused. The other students were uncomfortable with the student sitting and stewing in the classroom, but I was worried about escalating the incident further, so I just said, “All right, if you choose to stay, you need to work quietly and not create a disturbance. If you want help I’m here, but I’m going to help other students now.” I reflected on it and later realized I should have said, “I’m asking you to step into the hall to provide you with privacy, but if you make the choice to stay in the classroom we will have to have this conversation in a place where others might overhear. It’s your choice,” and then followed through.

i will write more another time, but for now I’ll close with a link to an excellent thesis by an instructor teaching the high school version of my First Peoples English course: Integrating Indigenous and Eurocentric Pedagogies in the English First Peoples Curriculum by Naryn Searcy.


How to skewer a hypocrite

As It Happens host Carol Off nails Julian Fantino to the wall in this amazing interview (transcript and audio at link). The former Chief of the Ontario Police and former Conservative MP compared the legalization of marijuana to the legalization of murder. Now that the Liberals have legalized marijuana, he has started a business selling medical marijuana.

Carol Off: As chief of police in Toronto, you were very strict about drugs. You put people in jail. There are young people who are in jail because of people like you. You don’t see any contradiction between your past life as chief of police…you were part of a government that passed a law that put mandatory minimum sentences on people for having as few as six plants. People went to jail, went to prison with six-month sentences the courts had to give them, because of a law you passed even as you knew, according to what you’ve told us, that this was something of benefit to vets…Can I put to you that you’ve had your change of heart since you saw a business opportunity for yourself?

Forgotten Warriors (documentary by Loretta Todd)

We watched this documentary in my Aboriginal Studies class last week. I figured I’d post it in honour of Remembrance Day.

Forgotten Warriors (dir. Loretta Todd) documents the service of indigenous men and women in Canada’s wars, and the unequal treatment they received after returning from the battlefield. From the stripping of status, to denial of benefits, to expropriation of treaty lands, Canada has a dismal track record in the treatment of indigenous veterans.

Thunderbird Strike: Anti-Pipeline Indigenous Video Game

The video game Thunderbird Strike, created by Native designer and Michigan State University professor Elizabeth LaPensée, transforms players into a thunderbird flying across Canada and through the Great Lakes. In dozens of indigenous traditions throughout North America, thunderbirds are considered sacred beings that can bring renewal or destruction; in the game, you restore fallen caribou and buffalo to life, and strike construction and oil equipment with divine lightning. “My goal was to examine the modern through the lens of our stories,” LaPensée told The Verge in an interview.

Her game recently came under fire from Republican Minnesota State Senator and current gubernatorial candidate David Osmek, who described it as “an eco-terrorist version of Angry Birds.” Toby Mack, the president of the energy and oil lobbying group Energy Builder, went further, calling it a “taxpayer-funded political campaign… designed to encourage eco-terrorism or other bad behavior.” LaPensée received a $3,290 state arts grant through Minnesota’s Legacy fund, which was created to “protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater” and “preserve arts and cultural heritage.”

Escape Room Challenge: Homelessness

The Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver has put together an escape room to illustrate how hard it is to get out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness:

To illustrate the hurdles faced by homeless people, the charity has designed an installation based on the popular escape room games, in which participants solve a series of puzzles to escape from an enclosed space.

In the Union Gospel Mission’s design, participants must make it out of four rooms — one for each season — and navigate through barriers such as finding housing, filling up paperwork without proper prescription glasses and juggling various agencies while faced with the unexpected.

The escape room is free and runs until Oct. 14. To register, go to