All posts by Rebecca Michelle

Educator, traveler, reader, blogger. Loves learning, black coffee, and friendly people.

On Women and Power

8 November 2016 – There were tears in my eyes when I voted for Hillary Clinton.

9 November 2016 – There were tears in my eyes throughout the silent ride to school. My carpool of strong women could think of nothing to say. Like many of my colleagues, I cried at work that day. I sat in a school-wide meeting called by our director, stunned, as he explained to the students that at our school, we value dignity and respect. We accept everyone, he emphasized, and we do not believe in hate. How to explain this to middle school students who, like the rest of us, had just watched hate win?

10 November 2016 – Our carpool was no longer silent. Shock and despair turned to anger and we realized the most important of lessons: Our voices were all that we had. I had the good fortune to be living in New York City and I was well aware that life would remain largely unchanged, despite the persistent chill in my chest.

22 November 2016 – It took about two weeks to accept that I was afraid.

December 2016 – Plans were formed and we waited.

18 January 2016 – Preparations finalized and we waited.

21 January 2017 – Women’s March on New York City. Women’s marches everywhere.

February, March, April, May, June 2017 – The carpool to and from school became an opportunity to call government officials at the local, state, and federal levels. We gave donations, signed and circulated petitions, read the news aloud, listened to the radio, joined online interest groups. We attended marches and protests. We spoke up because we could. We spoke up because we could not stop reading about people living in places that had become openly repressive and dangerous. We spoke up because these people could not speak.

And we realized, our voices were all that we had.


My political awakening came during the Obama years. I voted for the first time my first year in university, there was a financial crisis and promises for changes afoot, and I was studying to be a social studies teacher. Politics took on a relevance it never had before and I was excited to be involved. By the time Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination for president, I assumed the United States was ready to join the nations that had already elected women to the highest offices. It was 2016, after all.

Like more than half of the country, I was wrong. The people may have been ready but the Electoral College was not, and it is the Electoral College rather than the people who make this decision. So much for demokratia. The people hold power . . . except when they don’t.

This was not an issue of politics. This was an issue of women.


I have watched from afar, in horror, as the United States has increasingly restricted what can be taught in schools and what books are available for young people. I have watched from afar, that sinking feeling again in my stomach, as the nation’s courts deny women the right to their own bodies, again and again and again.

And I ask: What are they so afraid of? What are they running away from? What are they scrambling to hide?

I am a student and teacher of history, and this is the pattern of the world repeated over and over.

So I answer: Power.

After all, we do not silence people who we do not fear. We do not delegate inferior status to those we exclude without repercussion. When we do not feel threatened, we need not respond at all. In fact, we likely don’t even notice.

This leads me to the conclusion that men in power fear women. They fear opposition. They fear ideas that could harm the illusion they have built around themselves. And this illusion? That whatever power they think they have is, in fact, theirs. If it were, if that power were rightfully earned and positively utilized, there would be nothing to fear. Nothing to hide. Nothing to silence.

Clearly, there is a great deal to repress.

And this says a great deal about power.

Criminalizing a woman’s right to her own body suggests that the people making these laws are afraid of everything that makes a woman. And so I ask: If this is the case, who actually has power?


Head held high, I needn’t answer. I need only act. With my very self as the threat, my existence proves stronger than your resistance. Power lies in me and of me and through me. And no amount of you can take that away.

Women’s March on New York City – January 2017

Big School, Small School

Almost ten years ago (where has the time gone?) I wrote my Master’s thesis on the school where I worked at the time, an all-girls school in the town where I grew up. I had had myriad stereotypes about the place as a student in the area, and I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. This interested me enough to conduct a case study to answer the question of why different stakeholders choose all-girls education. (Short answer: It depends. Long answer: Contained in aforementioned thesis.)

As part of regular practice, I’ve been conducting informal research throughout my time as a teacher. What happens if I refer to this as a “task” rather than “assignment”? What happens if the “rough draft” becomes the “initial submission”? If I want to encourage dialogue in class, should students sit with their friends or not? How does the environment change when the tables are in a U shape, rows of three, groups of four? How does the environment change when student-led discussions are an assessed part of the course?*

I have learned to be a teacher not only through deliberate training, observation, and practice, but also through a lot of trial and error. What works in one environment or for one group may or may not work for another, and there is a significant level of adaptability and flexibility that is required to help students learn. (Insert home-based learning here.) This is why some teachers argue that every class is a different prep, even if the class is a second section of the same subject – two grade 9 Individuals and Societies classes, for example. I don’t usually go this far; the plan and materials remain the same, though the approach might differ. The conversation will surely be different with different groups, and the response should follow naturally from the conversation. The environment matters.

A significant way in which environment matters is in terms of school size. If I were looking for another Master’s research project, I’d be interested in exploring the relationship between school size and culture. I deliberately moved from a school of around 3,000 students to one of around 300, both of which serve students in nursery school through grade 12. The larger school had more course offerings, activities, facilities, and resources. It had more options for students, professional growth opportunities for teachers, and the possibility of just about anything for a project or event. At the same time, it could be slow, bureaucratic, and frustrating to work within that system. With so many projects running at once, it sometimes seemed like nothing was ever thought through before execution, leading to problems that individuals had anticipated and wanted to address, but the meeting to discuss the idea was likely never held because something else took priority.

This is not to say that a small school is the answer to the above dilemma. In a small school, everyone goes above and beyond because the school’s daily functioning depends on teachers acting as support staff where needed. Due to budget concerns, there’s an awareness of cost when organizing large projects, but the projects themselves are easy to pull off in a relatively short time because the scale is so manageable. A limited number of adults also means no middle-management, which gives students and teachers immediate access to the school administration when it comes to presenting ideas or addressing problems. This proximity also contributes to visibility. Students are known by most teachers and teachers are known by most students; everyone is around and relatively easy to find, making for casual rather than formal interactions. While small staff size makes for relaxed meetings and easy dissemination of information, the opportunities for teacher growth and development are minimal.

At the moment, I’m curious about school culture and how the different issues faced by schools of different sizes contribute to the development of a learning environment. On the one hand, I truly miss the closeness of colleagues and friends of the large school and the community that we built among ourselves because the sheer size of the place could be overwhelming. The small school functions more as a collection of individuals who happen to work in the same place; people are comfortable enough that they don’t need a community.

But in the small school, I’ve been able to work with a group of students who come up with school-wide ideas and carry them out without too much interference. The small school also has fewer rules and procedures because individual students are easier to catch and redirect. But I miss having an overview of a process before it begins and clear steps of what to do in different situations, which was the case at the large school. That being said, I don’t miss the time it took to go through processes just so that all relevant parties would have the time to participate. It is easier to get things done in the small school because fewer people are involved, but I miss the teamwork in the large school. I miss having people around who know what I’m doing, but I’m glad to have the freedom to do what I think is right.

As for the students, it seems to me that there’s less academic pressure in the small school but perhaps more social pressure. A smaller number of students means less competition, which may or may not be a good thing, but fewer social opportunities for those who might actually find “their people” in a large environment. When there’s a social problem, everyone is affected, everyone knows, and there’s nowhere to hide. But there are perhaps fewer social problems because the students are closer to one another than they would be in a larger environment. By the time they graduate, many of these students have been together as a class for the majority of their lives, which means they function like a family. There may be some frustration and disfunctionality, but they grit their teeth and get along.

The flip side is that the sadness and apprehension palpable in grade 12 is far greater than anything I’ve seen before. The students understand the school because they have grown up in it, and being in such a small, safe environment with constant supervision has preserved their innocence. Again, this may or may not be a good thing. In a large school, perhaps some students would have been pushed by their peers to be more academically successful, or perhaps they would have been offered courses better suited to their needs. With peers less tolerant of immature behaviours, perhaps some students would have been forced to act differently. As before, this may or may not be a good thing.

I look around and ask these questions because it all comes down to the most significant question: How can I be the most effective teacher for this group of students in this environment?

Step one: Ask the questions.
Step two: Watch carefully.
Step three: Try something. And then try something else.
Step Four: Repeat.


*The last question was actually my first action research project as part of my Master’s program and what I learned from it fundamentally shaped my approach to teaching and learning.

Home Is: A Reprise

Depending on how you look at it, I am a person with many homes or with no home. Perhaps I am a person looking for a home, or perhaps I call “home” what is more accurately “place”. Is home where you are or is home how you feel?


Home is clearly more than house, but there are times when home is indeed also house. And there are times when home has no house. Home can be forest, mountain, water, and here, home is a feeling. Can the feeling also be a place? Can a place be a home?

If I have many homes, it is because home is people, not places. But not every place with people is a home, nor do all homes rely on people. Does bringing people to a place make it a home? Perhaps not, but the community that comes from the people can be a home.

If I have many homes, it is because home is a feeling, not a location. I can feel at home in different literal places when my heart can settle in a figurative place. To say that I feel at home with you means you and not where you happen to be. So I can feel at home with you within, despite, or regardless of the place.

Or do I have no home? I can be homeless without being houseless, a person who has a physical place but no sense of warmth, of love, of affection and affinity. If I have lost my connection to home, that means I have lost connection. And what does that mean for who I am? If connection comes from relating with others and the world around us, does losing home mean losing identity? And without identity, who am I?


Depending on how you look at it, I am a person with many homes or with no home. I am deeply rooted to something I cannot articulate but am never without, a sense of belonging to the trees and sky, mountains and ocean. I do not need to be out in the world to understand that, but I need to be out in the world to feel grounded in my own body. And at the same time, I seek to lose the body to become part of the world.

In this sense, I am at home in the world.

But to be home in the world does not mean being alone in it.

So home is people, not places. I do not need to know a place to feel belonging, but to know people. By this I mean the know that is tied up in care, the know that means I will share my delights and sorrows with you because, if I feel at home with you, I believe you want to know.

But home can also be found in places themselves, because to find a home is to connect with a soul. The soul of a place is a feeling and we feel places. This is how we choose where to wander and where to settle, where to explore and where to retreat. If we are able to see the soul of a place, perhaps we understand it in a way that allows us to call it a home.

In this sense, home merely is. Home exists. Home is there. Sometimes we are there, too, and sometimes home is waiting to be found.


It has been a long time since I’ve been home, and in the interim I’ve occupied many homes. Literal homes, figurative homes, shared homes, solitary homes.

Perhaps my preoccupation with home comes from a constant search for one, or perhaps from always knowing there is inherently more than one. Perhaps it’s less a preoccupation and more a vested interest, one that comes from life circumstances I never could have imagined but that, at the same time, were always lying dormant and waiting. Or maybe it’s a simple awareness of language. I cannot wait to go home, said when I am clearly at home. Welcome home, said when I coming from home.

It took years, I remember her saying, before I stopped referring to this city as home. And then I realized that my life was somewhere else and that that was my home.

This is undoubtedly logical. But if this is the case, how can I say I’m going home? And how can I then be welcomed home to multiple places?

And so I search further. I search from the security of a place that I call home, a place made up of people who hold, care, and love, and who know that it is not the search that is important, but the discoveries that are part of searching.

And I search because I like to ask questions and I like to find answers. I am curious when I am safe, and I am safe when I am home.

Schalkau, Germany – September 2021