Friday, 30 September 2016

Apples and Oranges

On the first day of grade two, I entered Mrs. Teeple's class full of excitement and fear. 
I had my brand new dress. 
I had my new scribblers and pencils and crayons.  

There were 42 of us in that class- some from farms, some residents of a new neighbourhood full of new houses for oil and gas workers in our burgeoning, hopeful town.

I found my desk and neatly stacked my school supplies inside. I was very proud of how it looked. I was ready!  No sooner had I done that when Mrs. Teeple barked out that we were NOT to put our things in our desks. She had a seating plan and everything had to be moved.  I was mortified.  I tried to surreptitiously remove everything from the desk before she caught me. 

How well I remember the shame.
I didn't want attention. 
But mostly, I didn't want to be wrong.

I think back to that day on Orange Shirt Day, a day to recognize the children who attended residential schools. 

The movement was founded by Phyllis Webstad, who was a student at St. Joseph's Residential School in Williams Lake in the 1970s. She was told she was not allowed to wear the bright orange shirt her mom gave her to wear on the first day of school.  I picture this little child, full of hopes and happy anticipation, proud of her new outfit. 
A girl just like me. 
A girl whose mom took pains to help her child come to school ready to learn and grow and belong. 
A girl ready to start the school year. 
How she must have felt. 
How ashamed she must have been. 
Ashamed for herself. 
But even worse, ashamed for her mom because it was the blouse her mom bought, with all the best intentions, that caused her humiliation. 
Being ashamed of yourself is one thing, but being told you should be ashamed of your mom is much much worse.

Phyllis says:
“The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
And while I think about how alike Phyllis and I must have been on our first day of school, my story and the story of Phyllis Webstad are as alike as apples and oranges. While my momentary childhood trauma was forgotten and I (and later, my indigenous brother) were supported in finding our own way under Mrs. Teeple's iron fist and warm heart, Phyllis and thousands like her learned that not only were their clothes wrong, their language was wrong, the way they were raised was wrong, their parents were wrong and they did not belong. They learned their own identity was something to be ashamed of. 

Today, I am a teacher. 
I hope I don't ever tell a child his or her way of living is wrong and that they should be ashamed of being who they are. (Except for you guys cheating off Course Hero, my EYES ARE ON YOU.) 

I hope I truly show that I believe every child matters.
If I do ever make my students think they do not matter, even in subtle ways I am not even aware of, for that I am truly ashamed.