Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Opinion-Waiting for retirement January 16, 2020

I keep running into people who have big plans for their retirement.  They’re going to move somewhere with less snow.  They’re going to get serious about that hobby.  They’re going to start writing that book.

I ask them what I asked myself in 1998: Why wait?

One Spring Break when I was in my thirties with two pre-teen kids, I’d driven south with the kids to see my parents. I went to Vancouver, and sitting in the Water Street station, I looked around at the blooming tulips and plum trees and pondered the foot of snow in my yard back home.

On our 800 km journey back home, we drove past lots of schools.  I looked at those schools and had an epiphany.  There are teachers working here.  Why wait thirty years to move?  Why not have the life we want to have NOW?

I returned home and had a chat with my husband.  I sent out applications.  He interviewed for a transfer in his government job.  He had a few offers around the province that he turned down.  I was called to an interview in Salmon Arm and subsequently accepted a position. Two days later he was offered a position in Salmon Arm, too.  Serendipity and synchronicity.  Two months later we were living in a beautiful community that actually had four seasons that appeared when they were supposed to on the calendar (instead of two seasons: ‘winter’ and ‘bugs’).  That was twenty years ago.

I dreamed of being a writer, but thought that in my forties, it was too late to start.  Then my school hosted the BC Book Prize tour, and I discovered that every author visiting us had written their first book after fifty.

I started writing just after Thanksgiving and the week before Easter I finished Grace Awakening.  The week after the following Thanksgiving at the Surrey Writing Conference I pitched it to a small publisher, which subsequently offered me a contract.  A dream come true.

This October was ten years after I pitched that first book.  I was offered a table to sell my books at a signing event at the Surrey Writers Conference, alongside some of my author idols.  I am working in my dream job, teaching English & Creative Writing in an amazing school in a beautiful place, WHILE writing books!  It couldn’t be more perfect!

I still have a few years before retirement.

I have retirement plans.  When I retire, I plan to write a lot more books, and visit schools to teach a lot more teens and adults how to bring their dream stories to life.  I will travel and write and read.  It will be awesome.

But.

A year and a half ago, I received a brain injury.  Out of no where, in my own home, BAM: Life changed.

Words swam on a page.  I couldn’t decipher hand-writing.  The computer screen hurt.  Crowds hurt my ears. Lights hurt my eyes.  I had head-aches and eye-aches.  I was dizzy.  I was nauseous. For MONTHS.

I told my doctor that he needed to figure out healing quickly, because I needed to go back to my dream job and keep working on my books!   He said, “Shawn, you might be retired now.”

That scared me.  The idea that I might enter retirement unable to read, unable to write, and unable to teach or travel was horrifying.  What a bleak picture!  On the bright side, I thought, at least I have been able to have this wonderful job, teaching teens to write, and to inspire them.  At least, I have published nine books.

Thankfully, I had excellent concussion therapy and I have recovered enough from my brain injury to work part-time again.   Despite my injury, 6 pieces were published last year.  Some had been written years ago, some were short articles or stories that took me weeks instead of a day to write.  Slow progress is still progress.

My injury wasn’t the end of my dreams, but it could have been.

Wouldn’t it have been horrible to have all my plans completely unreachable due to poor health?  Wouldn’t it have been a hundred times worse if I had saved all my dreams for retirement, and not have the health to attempt them?  I had two colleagues who were in good health when they retired, but were dead six months later.

If you have a dream, don’t wait for retirement.

We only have today.

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Essay- When is a Basket Not a Basket? November 13, 2019

WHEN IS A BASKET NOT A BASKET?

© Shawn Bird November 13, 2019

Often, when we work side by side with someone, our learning comes not from the task occupying our hands, but with the stories that come along side.

On Indigenous Learning Professional Development Day, the creation of a lovely small pine needle basket was the least of what I took away.

The elder teaching our class told of gathering the pine needles.  How she wept to discover a clear cut where her favourite trees had been.  She told of saying a prayer during the gathering in respect to earth, and how when we were finished with our baskets, the needles left behind should not go to the garbage, as that impacts our own healing, but that they should be given back to earth, with thanks.

Quietly, at our table, she told our group that what one saw as a mistake, was not.  The elder who’d taught her when she was seventeen had explained they were  meant to be there.  I found a connection in that statement, “Oh!” I said, “Like I tell my English students: it’s about the process. There are going to be mistakes, and that’s good, because it’s part of the learning.”

Her eyes down on her basket flashed.  “English!” she exclaimed.  “I tried and I tried and I tried. But everything was always wrong, wrong, wrong.  Finally, I told them what they could do with their English!”

Then she glanced up, alarmed, concerned to have caused offense.  “Oh. But not like that!”

“I understand,” I said.  “Your stories are in your baskets. Not in English.”

She stitched her basket, silently.

And I saw.

I saw a school system that scarred her papers and her soul.  I saw a sense of never measuring up.  I saw frustration growing until giving up was the best decision to preserve self.

I saw how profound it was that she was in our building teaching us her talent and skill, sharing her art, her values, and her stories with us.

I saw that there are many others in my classroom who share her experience.

I am humbled and very grateful for her teaching.

A small pine needle basket on my shelf is full of new, poignant understandings.

 

Here is the Word Document version for easy printing.

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pineneedlebasket

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pondering- suck it up October 11, 2019

I have a smart dog.

He’s a miniature poodle, and we’ve been doing trick training since he was a pup. He earned his first trick dog title at 8 months old.  Now we’re working on his Trick Dog Championship and there are a couple of foundation things I realize I had not taught him. Since they’re needed for his championship video, I had to teach them.

Last night, I decided we would learn “hold an object in your mouth.”  There are a couple of options to show this. He could walk with me with an object for 10 seconds or stationary hold something for 6 seconds.  First, I tried just having him walk with his ball.  He is capable of holding a ball indefinitely, but, he wants to give it to me to throw, so keeping it and walking up and down the hall at my side did not work.

I switched to the dowel.  Holding a dowel is a foundation for carrying a dumb-bell which is a basic competitive obedience skill. I had been shown how to teach this and had a dowel, but I had never tried it with Kiltti.  I filled a bowl of Cheerios (our training treat) and called him over.  I attempted to put the dowel in his mouth.  He was having NONE of it.  He ran off and refused to come to me.  Evil lady with nefarious plotting in mind!

I went and got a leash.  He welcomed the leash, and then regretted it when I led him back to the couch.  I looped the leash around my leg, and we tried again.  I opened his mouth and set the dowel behind his canines. I gently held his bottom jaw and told him how talented and amazing he was.

His eyes told me he was not stupid enough to believe any nice things I was saying. I let go the jaw, he spit out the dowel he was given lots of treats.  We spent about 2 minutes on this, with his occasional attempts at escape foiled by the leash, and then he was released to go play ball.

An hour later, I picked him up and we did it again.  This time I didn’t have to hold the bottom of the jaw.  I told him how brilliant he was as I lengthened the time.  2 minutes and many Cheerios later, off he went.

Third time, no problem. I filmed him holding the dowel on his own for 12 seconds, twice the time required.  He still thinks this is a stupid trick, but he does it.

This is such a metaphor for some of my more recalcitrant students!  They spit out the dowel of whatever lesson we’re working on.  They don’t care that it’s a building block that is necessary for something they will need to do later on.

Those students who will give a couple of minutes get the task over with, are free to move onto things they enjoy more.  The next time they try the task, it’s easier.  Still not thrilling, but again, it just takes a small effort of cooperation to get it done.  Those kids get a decent report card.  No missing assignments!  In my class, that invariably means at least a B.  Their reward is success!

But those kids who are still feverishly spitting out the dowel?

The obstacle only gets larger when you fight it.  Growth comes with trying new things and trusting there’s a reason to know something, that knowledge is power.

Learning how to ‘suck it up and get it done’ is a valuable life skill.

Here is a scintillating video of Kiltti holding his dowel. 🙂  Excuse my voice. Still dealing with a cold. 🙂

 

poem-they’re all the same May 6, 2019

Filed under: Poetry,Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:15 pm
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Pick up any yearbook

any place

any year.

Turn the pages,

you will recognize them.

That one:

always so friendly.

That one:

forever in trouble.

That one:

so cool.

That one:

Oh! The music!

That one:

skipped more than attended

That one:

kept you up nights,

worried about wise choices

safe places.

Any yearbook,

familiar faces,

each so unique,

every one the same.

 

poem- scratching January 23, 2019

Filed under: Poetry,Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:11 am
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Pens poised,

Paper rustling.

Begin.

Destiny scratched

into this exam.

Future doors open or close.

You can ruin your life!

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Don’t stress.

Life is not a straight road.

If an exam slams a door,

wiggle through windows,

force up foundations,

drop down the chimney.

Destiny is carved in determination,

not scratched in this exam.

 

Education- Small but mighty learning November 24, 2018

The following article was originally published in The Gateway newspaper, Sicamous, BC, June 2014.  I no longer teach at ERS, but the school continues to engage in innovative programs with some of the most skilled teachers in SD 83.  When I left, half the teachers had Masters degrees and a third of them were published authors!

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SMALL BUT MIGHTY LEARNING AT ERS.

© Shawn L. Bird 2014

Eagle River Secondary (ERS) has been the educational heart of Sicamous since students began learning on the property nearly a century ago. In recent years, declining enrolment has required the school to become creative in order to offer programs that keep students in town. These successful innovations are causing a stir throughout the province.

The changes have included offering grade specific Core classes (English, Social Studies, Math, and Science) in the mornings and multigrade electives in the afternoons. The electives have embraced the teachers’ varied passions, allowing students to learn through classes in geo-caching, horticulture, international cuisine, cake decorating, hockey, outdoor education and guitar as well as more traditional classes like volleyball, biology and art. Of special note is the Social Justice class, which has students in the community helping at the thrift store and Meals on Wheels, harvesting vegetables for the food bank, gardening, and collecting for various charities.

A new focus on flexible learning by the Ministry of Education became the key to Eagle River’s innovations. The school has been given freedom to develop unconventional approaches to timetabling and course offerings. As a result of the success of these efforts, ERS has been recognized by the provincial government as a flagship school of the BC Ed Plan. Grade eight and nine students have had the opportunity to learn together in their choice of six mixed Science/ Socials classes throughout the school year; grade ten will be added in 2014-15. These courses have provided hands on, project based learning exploring local plants, controversial issues, water, astronomy, sound, electricity, revolutions, world religions, and cultural fashions among other offerings.

ERS is also very active in Career Education initiatives. Students are able to earn credits for their work experience in their jobs outside of school. There are two ERS students working in the community as Secondary School Apprentices, collecting hours with BC’s Industry Training Authority and gaining high school credit while they work as a marine mechanic or electrician. ERS works with School District 83 to provide two other students with dual credits (both college and high school) for career training as an automotive repair technician or a hair dresser. These students do a semester or year of training at another SD83 school, and will return to ERS tograduate with their friends.

Students also have the opportunity to parlay their own interests into Independent Directed Study (IDS) blocks. Students develop a set of learning goals, based on existing Ministry courses, and then leave the building to explore. Presently a pair of students is doing an IDS in fly fishing, learning about insect and fish life cycles, creating flies, fishing, and recording their findings. This is science and physical education for real life! Other students have created IDS courses in music, mountain biking, fitness, and long boarding. ERS partnered with UBC’s Okanagan campus to offer Maker Day. This was a chance to explore creative thinking and problem solving by students and community members working in small, multi-age groups to create prototypes of inventions. Maker Day is a movement dedicated to inquiry learning. Three ERS teachers are working on Masters degrees at UBCO, and the university is keen to have greater involvement with the school.

Eagle River’s innovations are making waves. Schools from all over the province are calling or coming to see what is happening within the walls. With only 150 students in grades eight to twelve, ERS may be small, but it’s mighty. Great things are happening for Sicamous’s kids, and the province is taking

You can find the original article in situ here on page 8. GatewayJun2014-SmallMightp8.

Shawn L. Bird BA, MEd.

 

 

poem-fear June 1, 2016

Filed under: Poetry,Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:34 am
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That explains everything, doesn’t it?

You’re afraid.

You’re so afraid of someone’s opinions

that you won’t risk anything.

You’re afraid you’re not perfect,

that you’ll make a mistake,

that someone will laugh at you.

All of this failure to complete your work

to present to the class,

to hand in an assignment

is all because you’re so concerned about image

you’ve turned yourself into a failure.

THAT was the image you wanted for yourself?

Really?

Life is a series of risks, of mistakes, of rough drafts,

of trying, and failing, and working and succeeding.

Are you so critical of others that you think everyone

is that critical of you?

In this time of social media,

confidence is your power.

My dog was happy and friendly.  After he was attacked, he became fear aggressive.

He growled when other dogs came near, lunging at them.

He built a wall.  He’d learned he had to defend himself.

It took a trainer with care and many friendly dogs to teach him to feel safe again.

I wonder what it will take,

for all of you?

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Interesting conversation before my class today as we discussed students who refuse to present to the class.   A new teacher was asking what to do about this situation.  My student over-heard the conversation and said that  if there’s someone who doesn’t like you in the class, they’ll be judgmental. She said No one wants to be judged.  So- It doesn’t matter it’s a life skill.  It doesn’t matter that not being liked by the odd person is normal.  I was told, “We’re afraid”  and that was the end of it.  It is unfair of teachers to expect them to try things that are difficult because they learn and grow that way, and they just want to stay as they are.

 

 

 
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