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Opinion, Promising Practices

Where I’m From

An invitation to explore our sense of professional place

Back at the turn of the century (I can say that now), I had the opportunity to teach in a preservice teacher education program here in Ontario. One of the first official tasks that I assigned as part of a School and Society course was a three to four page reflection on the question, “So, what brings you here?” It was a chance for candidates to think back on the many threads of influence that were woven into their decisions to consider a career in education. For three years, I read students’ recollections of their early childhood experiences: playing school in the basement or the backyard, their first experiences of classroom life, the successes and struggles that they experienced in their own schooling, and  the teachers that had a positive and negative influence on their approach to learning. I met students who knew from a very early age that they wanted to be a teacher, students who were inspired by one of their own teachers, and those candidates who came to teaching after experiencing the joy of learning through the eyes of their own young children.

The “So, What Brings You Here” assignment was a conversation starter, a touch point for our work throughout the year and a reminder of just how important the school experience is in the lives of even our youngest children.

Some years later, I encountered, “Where I’m From“, a poem by writer and teacher, George Ella Lyon. The original poem challenges our traditional responses to questions about origin, home and our sense of place in the world. It invites a richer reflection on the experiences, memories and personalities that continue to render the question, “Where are you from?” dynamic and ever-changing. 

Since Lyon’s poem was first written in 1993, many others have used “Where I’m From” templates as writing prompts, starting points for narrative reflection and group storytelling. I’ve used it with students, parents and even grandparents as a way of making important connections with the things that have made us who we are. Last year, students at our local elementary school used a “Where I’m From” approach to reflect on global issues that were important to them. This week as I re-discovered some of the “So What Brings You Here” files on my home computer, I got to imagining how powerful it would have been to use this poetic format as part of those early preservice conversations.

But I also got to thinking about the opening staff meetings that are about to take place as we move into a new school year. How could a “Where I’m From” approach help us to introduce ourselves to each other, help us reconnect with the things that have brought us to this point in our careers and help us remember just how important school is to the sense of place, if not home, for our students.

So, what would a “Where I’m From” template for educators look like? What would it include? How would it balance the importance of past memories and experiences with present values and aspirations? At the risk of being overly analytical or pedantic, I’ve tried my hand at creating a guide for thinking about “Where I’m From” from an educators perspective.

So, I started to write my own “Where I’m From” poem, from my perspective as a teacher. It was a great opportunity for me to “re-member” and connect with some pretty powerful memories. Here’s where I am so far:

I am from hours with my grandmother’s Bromwell flour sifter, from Tinker Toys and Tape Recorders,
From Crayola Crayons, SRA Reading Kits and Radio Shack calculators.
I am from speckled terrazzo hallways, the “beep” that warned us to advance to the next frame, and the smell of freshly waxed classroom floors.

I am from the Riverdale Zoo in the springtime and the day that she said “Maybe” to my Friday night invitation.
I am from laying out my clothes the night before and waking up every hour to check the clock.
I am from hot porridge with dark brown sugar and cream of asparagus soup in an overly sensitive Thermos.
From Mrs. McDermitt’s, “You can do up your own coat” to Sister Leona’s, “Some day I’m going to see you on my TV”.

I am from “Get your homework done before you go out to play” and “You can always fall back on a teaching degree”.
I am from procrastination and under the wire submissions.
From daydreaming in class, and the top grade on my creative writing assignment.

I am from “I hate math” and pushed back chairs.
From determined tongues and dancing eyes.

I am from wanting to be like Mr. Way and keeping their curiosity alive and active.
From needing to better understand Moira’s world and helping Sanjeet discover his voice.
I am from anticipation, hesitation and imagination.

I am from Mr. Hurley, if it weren’t for you

I’ve included a downloadable copy of the guide here. Please, please, please, feel free to adapt, change, add, delete. Use it as a guide to your imagining, but don’t feel that you have to follow it exactly. It’s meant to be a guide, not a recipe!

It would fun to see what you do with it and where it goes from here. It would also be interesting to hear from anyone that has used the idea to get some conversation going among your staff or team. What memories did the process invoke? What did you learn about your colleagues? What did you learn about yourself? What connections did you make?