This experience has been vastly overwhelming – a process of unpacking and personal (emotional) growth.
I have recently become passionate about integrating social justice issues in the classroom. Naturally then, I was looking for ways to provide the students in me pre-internship classroom with an impactful, socially just experience. After dialoguing with my co-operating teacher and a few education professors, I decided that taking my students to the Moving Forward, Never Forgetting exhibit at the MAG was exactly the kind of experience my three-week block planning was missing. I had heard great things about the exhibit and really looked forward to the experience – my enthusiasm was evident, that is for sure!
Upon entering the gallery, my breath was immediately taken away. I am unsure as to whether this was because of the evident beauty among the diversity of the art pieces or because of the impactful first-impressions I felt from some of the pieces. I do not know what I was expecting walking into the exhibit – something that provided students with meaningful learning but was not “in your face”? I am really unsure.
I felt overwhelmed; I had trouble swallowing and felt my eyes welling up with tears. It was an emotional experience to say the least and I felt vulnerable and discomforted the entire time. The first thing to run through my mind: is this content appropriate for my grade six students? I began feeling guilty; if I had not attended this exhibit ahead of time with my university class, I may have naively walked my grade sixes into an experience that is too overwhelming for them. I do not think that in the short three-week period I have with them, I will be able to provide them with the knowledge base they need in order for the exhibit to be meaningfully impactful opposed to emotionally damaging. Our trip to the MAG was planned for the last day of the teaching block, meaning there would be little time afterward for me to provide the students with an opportunity to unpack the experience. All of this was running through my mind the entire time – was it fair for me to unload this heavy knowledge on the shoulders of eleven year olds without a strong background knowledge base and an authentic opportunity to unpack their emotions?
My entire view of teaching for social justice shifted in this moment – I had every intention of teaching about current controversial issues (i.e., missing and murdered Aboriginal women) and exposing the students to the experience of the MAG without even thinking twice about it. Thus far I have been approaching teaching for social justice in ways that are “impactful”, but may in fact be too “in your face”, opposed to approaching it in ways that are relational (with the students’ best interest at heart). Now, I am not saying that when planning to teach for social justice in the past that I have not had my students’ best interest at heart; I am however saying that I may have been so focused on the impactfulness of the issues opposed to the ways in which students may emotionally connect to the content. Essentially, this experience has “knocked me off of my social justice pedestal” – I no longer feel confident in teaching for social justice as I am now refiguring/navigating my approaches…
Another hesitancy lies in the lack of support I may receive as a pre-intern – what support do I have if there are families who are unhappy with my choice to bring their children to the MAG exhibit? Some of the content was quite explicit (i.e., “F*** Harper”) – it would be naïve for me to think that my students have not been exposed to such crudity, but I still felt hesitant. This is my largest fear when teaching for social justice playing out in real life, full force. I have always been questioning my ability to push past this ‘barrier’ (fear? discomfort?) and am now seeing how challenging this task may be. I truly think that this hesitancy among educators is, at times, what denies students from authentic, impactful learning experiences (such as the MAG exhibit). Through extensive dialogue with my co-operating teacher and administrator, I have decided against the community learning experience at the MAG during my three-week block – YAY! Fear has succumbed me! (I am questioning my role as a teacher working towards anti-oppressive practices…)
The content and art pieces within the Moving Forward, Never Forgetting exhibit were emotionally moving for me. I strongly resonated/connected with multiple pieces and see value within the teaching experiences/conversations that can potentially arise from said pieces. All of the pieces are contemporary works; meaning, most inspiration has come from current issues. Now, when age appropriate, this can be a powerful gateway into classroom learning – when students are able to use their perspective and critical thinking skills to unpack current issues in response to an artwork, that is authentic learning! I took almost fifty photos during my time at the exhibit so I could continue to unpack/reflect on the experience once the tour was over. I was amazed at how beautifully the pieces expressed ideas of pain, hurt, forgiveness and reconciliation – all of which are emotions I believe are integral to “moving forward”.
At this time, I am unsure as to what I am feeling – I am still so overwhelmed by the experience that I have succumbed to a sense of numbness. I have been continuously learning about our country’s shared history and the importance of reconciliation; however, attending the exhibit at the MAG made all of this feel so real to me. Yeah, I have been able to think about what it might be like for people living without privilege past and present; however, empathy has been powerfully ignited within myself… What am I feeling? I am unsure. Where do I go from here? I do not have a clue. This is a significant turning point in my journey towards teaching for social justice – a turning point that I did not see coming, but am sure will aid in the continuous shaping of myself as an educator.