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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 3, November/December 2007

Magic comes alive in big fat binders

By Marian Dodds

Recently, I cracked open the thick binders that house the annual sets of applications for the BCTF’s Ed May Social Responsibility Fund and found myself transported to another world, a world where teachers make magic happen for their students and creativity is boundless. This is one type of data that is truly worth collecting, qualitative information providing evidence that teachers across BC since 1994 have been initiating projects that result in an increase in socially responsible behaviour in their students.

Dipping into these binders, wondrous images surfaced and for a few moments, I was transported to those schools and communities and felt invited to:

  • imagine the look of delight on a child’s face as she releases a slithery salmon into a stream as part of an environmental project involving the school and community.
  • think more critically about media literacy while viewing sophisticated public service announcements on bullying, stereotyping, and racism premiered by secondary students at an evening showing for parents and community members.
  • feel the sheer joy of children dancing their antiracism, unity, and equality dances in front of an audience of peers and parents.
  • taste the crunch of carrots produced in school garden plots, grown with the guidance of senior citizens invited to be garden mentors for the children.
  • pause to view a mural in a school that is a daily reminder of youth-created visions of harmony, inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism.
  • sense the pride of elementary students as part of a whole community participating in an aboriginal naming ceremony for a stream they have been involved in restoring.
  • connect with children as they read aloud from the illustrated books they published, based on real experiences related to human values.
  • feel respect and appreciation for colleagues who took the time to develop a handbook, "Dealing With Name-Calling," as a concrete tool for teachers to address homophobic and other slurs in hallways and classrooms.
  • remind myself that equality for women still needs priority attention while listening to a speaker at an International Women’s Day event.
  • be amazed at the resourcefulness of intermediate student leaders who worked on a playground committee to identify problems, research solutions, and collaborate with playground supervisors to resolve them.

While teachers rarely see the long-term impact of their efforts, they know what often goes unreported may surface in a serendipitous conversation years later when adults fondly recall their best moments at school. Take the young boy who participated in the elementary school project involving students performing unity, equality, multicultural, and antiracism dances and who wrote to his teacher "When dancing you get to see a different person in everyone you know." Or the youth who was moved by participation in a medicine wheel ceremony at a social justice retreat on First Nations culture and asked, "When is the next one?" I would hope and expect that these experiences guide them in some positive ways in their adult lives.

Since 1994, BC teachers have been invited to apply for grants of up to $2,000 for classroom, school-and/or community-based initiatives. This seed money assists BCTF members to expand their work for a socially just world and flows from a 1994 AGM decision to establish a fund, based on $1 per member each year, to honour Ed May, a man who co-ordinated the BCTF Program Against Racism from 1981–85 and was the epitome of a professional teacher who made social responsibility his way of life. Based on my dip into the binders, I expect Ed May would be very proud of how far teachers have gone to forward his vision of a just world. Annually, the BCTF receives a wondrous variety of applications and funds, on average, 45 to 50 projects. Since 1994, that adds up to an impressive 700 projects! Often these funds are matched or supplemented with funds from school districts, locals, PACs, and community groups. The popularity of the Ed May Social Responsibility grants clearly demonstrates how BC teachers, despite the pressures to standardize and test relentlessly, are still committed to using their imaginations to build a better world. Reading through the binders and imagining how teachers have made these projects come alive, gives me hope. As Canadian writer Timothy Finlay once said, "I know that human imagination can save us; save the human race and save all the rest of what is alive and save this place—the earth—that is life itself. Imagination is our greatest gift. I believe that. If you can imagine harmony, you can achieve it."

For more information on the Ed May Social Responsibility Fund, go to: bctf.ca/SocialJustice.aspx?id=6030.

Marian Dodds is an assistant director, BCTF Field Service Division.

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