What Country Doesn’t Have Corn Dogs?!?
For three weeks in July, I had the privilege of traveling in Ukraine with my wife, my two sons (age 3 and 10), and one of our best friends. I have been very blessed to travel around the world on many different occasions. This was my third time in Ukraine. My wife has family in L’viv and we have developed a very close relationship with them.
While my wife and I have traveled quite extensively, we have never traveled internationally with our kids. We left Canada on July 18 with some trepidation but lots of excitement about the adventures to come. I knew we would have to deal with a number of different issues because of the age of our boys. But I never imagined the trip would teach me about teaching and learning.
At some point along our three week journey, my oldest son and I were in a shop buying some groceries. We bought the usual: sausage, cheese, water, beer and wine – the essentials. He then turned to me and said: “Dad, I want a corn dog. Let’s buy some.” To which I responded: “I don’t think we will find any corn dogs here.” His response then set in motion a period of reflection for me which I have not forgotten. He said: “Dad!! What country doesn’t have corn dogs!!” I know simply reading these words will not impart the disdain and shock with which my son responded to me. But, he was completely amazed – incredulous even – at the fact that Ukraine would not have any corn dogs.
The corn dog incident, as it came to be known on our trip, was one of the first pieces of an interesting puzzle that my son helped me put together. That comment and my son’s experiences for three weeks really made me think about being engaged and about authentic learning.
My son was shocked to learn there were no corn dogs in Ukraine. This impacted his reality in an immense way. As did the fact that most people could not understand what he was saying to them. This caused no end of frustration for him. He desperately wanted people to know what he was saying or to know what they were saying to him. However, his grasp of Ukrainian, and their grasp of English were at odds. This left him feeling unconnected and he desperately searched for some kind of normalcy. Often, he retreated into movies he had loaded onto his iPad. He was reluctant to try speaking the Ukrainian phrases we taught him and responded to very few people, even if they spoke English.
All of these events were a huge eyeopener to me. It made me realize how often this must happen in our classrooms. I’m sure if we really think about it, we can see these types of reactions from many of the students we work with. The sense of panic or the stress when the pieces don’t make sense. The fear and the retreat into spaces of comfort when they are not understood. I know I can think of countless times where I have seen this within my students.
I think the lesson from this revolves around the way we listen to and engage with our students. Obviously, the relationship I have with my son is vastly different from the relationship I have with my students. However, the lesson is still the same. I had to come to an understanding of what my son needed. I had to truly hear what he had to say. I had to be empathetic to how he was feeling and engage him in conversations about what he needed. At times, my wife was far better at this process than I was. At times, our friend was far better than the both of us. But that just reinforces the idea that it takes a community to raise a child and it takes a community within a school to meet the needs of the students. As well, we needed to structure events and time that met his needs and reduced his anxiety.
I know my son never intended to teach me a lesson while we traveled – he just wanted a corn dog! He did not know that these three weeks would have such an impact on me. I will work hard this year to remember the Corn Dog Lesson. I will strive to engage my students in meaningful discussion and truly listen to their needs. I will endeavour to create a learning environment which provides my students with authentic learning opportunities. I know I won’t be perfect and it will take time and reflection. But, I will work at it. And, if they want a corn dog, I will find them one.
Have a great day everyone,