Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Teacher-student friendships

Wednesday’s Sharing Circle at the TRC (see earlier blog) also invited a former teacher to give voice to her difficult experience in a school in Saskatchewan. She arrived as a new, young teacher eager and ready for her vocation. Then she saw the dreadful basement room in which she and her students were expected to spend their days. She credited her Irish parents for giving her the courage to march up the three flights of stairs to the principal’s office with outrage over the condition of their room, demanding something better. That’s when she hit the brick wall of the system’s authority. Nothing she asked for was accepted, except that eventually they were given an outside trailer, which meant braving the prairie elements to and from their classroom.

But she made friends with an experienced teacher and a caretaker who helped turn her classroom into as much of a home as possible. They brought in nice chairs and other things to “cheer it up.” She was unsettled by how silent the children were at the beginning, but over time the barriers dissolved and they became a kind of family to one another. She completed her truth-telling by referring to her “brood”—naming each with mixed tears of affection and lament, one by one.

Also on Wednesday, after listening in on my conversation with some residential school survivors (unbeknownst to me until I read his story), Globe and Mail reporter Patrick White asked me a few questions about our church’s involvement in the schools, and he asked me about other stories that needed to be told. Thanks to Cecile Fausak, another of our able General Council staff members working with residential school survivors—and thanks to the General Council’s Residential Schools Steering Committee itself—I was able to point Patrick in the direction of another teacher–student story. You may have read about Florence Kaefer and Edward Gamblin in The United Church Observer some months back. Earlier this week Cecile brought a poignant update to their story to the Residential Schools Steering Committee. Patrick White has done a fine job of gathering the details of their story, describing how Florence is at Edward’s side in a Winnipeg hospital this week. You’ll find it in today’s Globe and Mail.

Florence taught in the United Church’s school in Norway House. I know other fine United Church members who also taught and worked in residential schools with great compassion and care—up against a system that did not honour their faith, their values, and their commitments.

May we hold all of those compassionate former teachers and workers in our prayerful care as well. Their pain is deep, as is the pain of former students. This is, no doubt, a rough week for them. May we together make space sacred and safe for all of the stories to be told.

Perhaps you’ve had experiences of holding and participating in such safe, sacred sharing circles about your own experiences or others’ experiences in residential school. I invite you to consider sharing with others here what you’ve learned about what makes such space safe for souls and community to show up, that the process of God’s healing be made possible.