Friday, March 14, 2014

Taking Time to Notice

I've been thinking about what we notice. Mostly it’s the noisy moments, like the Olympics, when athletes in obscure sports like bob-sleighing get a chance to shine and then sink back into obscurity for another four years, eking out a living to follow their passion. Or the noisy people like Justin Bieber or the Kardashians (I’m still not sure who they are, but they keep coming up in the magazines I read while I’m waiting at the supermarket checkout).  

In smaller circles, the noisy people are those willing to tell their story. When you think about it, most people simply do things, rather than tell about them. They don’t even think they have a story to tell. When I was working with teachers to use technology, I fought an uphill battle with social media, not so much because they were technophobes, but because they didn't like to express themselves in such a public forum. They didn't feel that what they thought ought to be shared widely. Who wants to hear about us, they’d say.

So we are told only a handful of the stories worth telling and we listen to even fewer. It isn’t surprising, since most of us are busy with our own tasks and trials, that we lift our eyes only when there is sufficient noise. When I first started at my new school in my new position teaching in an entirely different world (elementary verses secondary), I was hit by the tsunami of new things that left me reeling. I scarcely noticed anything except the challenge directly in front of me.

But lately, I’m starting to lift my head a little.  I watched the Olympics. I read a few books. I paid attention to some of the things my colleagues do. And I was reminded of how much I wish we would make more noise about their work.

Here’s one small story.

Every Friday after school (on Friday – after a gruelling week of teaching hard-to-teach students), my colleague runs an open gym for basketball. Anyone can come, but the grade 6 and 7 boys are the most regular attenders, along with a scattering of girls and little boys, some only in grade one. They split into teams and play a game, the big boys, learning that a team is whatever you make of it, become coaches themselves as they pass to their smaller and clumsy team-mates, yell at them to run forward, to fall back, to hold up their hands, to follow their check. It's loud and raucous; there are often quarrels and drama, hurt knees and bruised feelings, but the gym is open. Every Friday. For two years.

The students, of course, don’t thank her. Parents don’t really think about her commitment when they pick up their children. It just seems like another thing schools do; they don’t realize that she could be sitting at home with her feet up reading a book, at the pub drinking an end-of-the-week pint with colleagues or even just in her classroom reorganizing and planning so that she has one less hour to work on the weekend.  Instead, she’s running up and down the basketball court.

Earlier this month, our intermediate boys had their first basketball game of the season. They won handily. The best part for me, watching them, was the full bench of players from our small school rotating onto the court regularly, the way they played as a team, the way the strong players passed the ball or ran a screen to let others get the glory – and, above all, the stories they told about themselves the next day.

Behind the scenes, not even a part of the stories they tell – what do they understand, after all? – is Twila. Thank you.  I just wanted to say I noticed.

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