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What Country Doesn’t Have Corn Dogs?!?

August 28, 2013

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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,

Sean

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4 Comments
  1. Thanks for your insight, Sean. Sometimes these connections to student learning have a funny way of sneaking up on us. This recognition and reflection allows teachers to better see into the worlds of their students and also, as a result, they can improve their own teaching deficiencies to better reach those students. Thanks for sharing.

    • Victoria,

      First, I’m sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment. Second, I agree with you about student learning sneaking up on us. I received an email last week from a student of mine who graduated in June. His one comment to me was how he was impacted by the things we did in my class. He told me it shaped how he saw the world and what he wanted to do in the future. That comment demonstrates his engagement and development in thinking far more than any test score ever could. I hope to be able to continue to see my interactions with my own children as opportunities to learn. I just need to figure out what the lesson is.

      Have a great day,
      Sean

  2. Jennifer Wood permalink

    Hi Sean,

    Laurel just shared this with me and I was glad I read it. We prepared the kids for months before coming to The Netherlands on how the food would be different and they wouldn’t have as many “snacks” like gummies, Gold Fish, (insert any packaged kid snack) here so they have been pretty good so far and accepting what is given to them as food. But we did have a moment the other day, the same day that I read your post, Euan couldn’t believe that kids younger than him could speak Dutch. He kept going on about it and how he didn’t understand how they could speak it so well. I tried to explain to him that Dutch is their language and they speak it at home like we speak English. But no matter how many different ways I tried to get him to understand he just couldn’t imagine it. He just thinks these kids are so amazing to be able to speak a different language!

    Although even though they speak different languages and most of the younger kids don’t speak English they seem to get along just fine. They speak to each other in their own language but can play for hours like that. It’s amazing to watch little kids adapt and try to communicate the best way they can. Euan says, I just keep telling the kids “what does that mean? what are you saying?” They answer in Dutch probably the same thing Euan is saying then they both shrug their shoulders and run off and climb statues and play.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Jen

    • Thanks for this, Jen! Laurel and I have spoken a great deal about you and your family’s adventure. I would love to hear more about what you are all doing and experiencing. Keep us up to date:)

      Sean

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