Tag Archives: School

How Not to Teach About Homelessness

I recently learned about The World’s Big Sleep Out, which tags itself as “A Global Sleep Out to Call for an End to Global Homelessness”. I’ve linked it here not because I support this but so that you can read about it yourself. The post that follows is my reaction when I learned that my school on the equator would be promoting the outdoor sleepover as a service opportunity for students. (That this event will take place directly upon the conclusion of our equatorial school’s winter fair could be a blog post all on its own.)


Let’s imagine: Here on the equator it’s about 27° Celsius at all times. When the sun goes down and there’s a light wind, which is common at night, it’s quite pleasant. Our students will be sleeping on the tennis courts on the roof of our school. Snacks, games, and breakfast have been advertised as part of the event and I know that there are plans for a film to be shown in the theatre before bedtime.

For a student bonding experience, it sounds lovely.

As an event that is supposed to raise awareness about homelessness, it is shockingly irresponsible.

For context: We live in a country where homelessness is actively hidden. When I’ve taken informal polls in class, and I have done this as recently as last week, no one has seen a homeless person where we live. Considering the typical income level of expatriate students at an international school, this is not surprising. They are literally in parts of the city where, in all honesty, there probably are not any homeless people. Or at least, not at times when these students would be out and about. Homelessness, to these students, is invisible.

Pretending to care about an invisible problem does not make it visible.

When I asked the organiser of the event how she planned to address homelessness, because I didn’t see how a tropical sleepover on the tennis courts would do it, she seemed to think that sleeping outside was enough. I can almost understand this response if you’re somewhere uncomfortable, like on a narrow park bench or outside in the rain or snow. But that would still break down when you consider that anyone playing at being homeless, as our students would be, probably has appropriate outdoor gear, a belly full of food, and the knowledge that they’ll be heading to back to their comfortable home in a mere few hours.

Another area to consider is that many people who are homeless do not sleep on the street. Many stay in shelters for days at a time or stay itinerantly with friends or relatives. An additional area our students will not see is that people who are homeless own only what they can carry; our students will not understand this when they bring a change of clothes to the roof and leave everything else sitting at home. Likewise, people who are homeless often do not have access to clean toilets or showers; our students will not have this concern.

Furthermore, malnutrition contributes to poor health, which certainly will not come across during this sleep over. All of our students, unlike people who are homeless, have an address. However, lack of address often restricts or eliminates access to government programs and services, as well as the ability to apply for a job since it is required on applications. This obviously contributes to a lack of stability, which leads to unstable education, and stigmatisation continues the cycle.

Our students will not understand this from a tropical night on the school’s roof.

Yes, it is important to raise awareness about homelessness. One of my students recently wrote an article about Willing Hearts, a local organisation that provides meals for those who need them. As I suggested to the organiser of the sleepover, why not ask students to volunteer for the 5am breakfast shift so they can interact with people who they would never otherwise even see? (This suggestion was met with an excuse about wanting to enjoy her weekend. I dropped the subject.)

Teach about homelessness? Assuming you’re doing so in a responsible and truly caring way, yes.

But not like this. Please not like this.

A Momentary Lull

This is the first moment since the school year began in August that I feel like I might be on top of things. For once I don’t feel as though I’m being pulled in more directions than I can handle at once. Multiple directions, yes, but perhaps I’m naturally flowing into them at appropriate times rather than being pulled and prodded and dragged to places I don’t want to go.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this feeling!

After nine years of teaching, you’d think this would have happened much earlier in the year and to be honest, it should have. About a month ago, sitting down to our first meal in Yunnan, China, I described this year as “the most stressful year since I first started teaching and was voluntold the job of yearbook advisor and was also a graduate student”.

I’m grateful for my friendships and support system; I’ve been leaning heavily.

Also significant is that I have a strong sense of purpose. I’m increasingly interested in how this sense of purpose guides what I do and makes it possible to keep doing what I see as the right thing, or the best thing under given conditions, despite challenges and resistance. On the other hand, I’ve also come to recognise that a sense of purpose is not something that can be taken away: This is important. And that’s where it ends.

Knowing that this is important to me, and letting it guide my attitude (this has been admittedly very tricky) and behaviours, has allowed me to cycle out the gate at the end of each day knowing that I have done the best I can because this is important. This matters.

Knowing that there are others like me doing the same has helped immensely, too. It has given me models to follow when my brain, tired of running and circling, desperately wants to let it all go.

I’ve lived in the world long enough to know that the sense of calm I’m experiencing now is a momentary lull. Something will come up and it will be followed by something else and then something else.

But I’m grateful for this moment of peace.

And sometimes, that’s enough.

Hello, I Think I’m Back!

Phew! It has been a long time since I’ve written. It was time to take some time off. It was time to spend time with people I love, breathe in the ocean, move apartments, and return to work.

I know I’m not unique in that my school habits are thrown off when my schedule changes over the summer. Suddenly there’s time! And comparatively limited responsibility! I ran almost every day but it was a struggle to meditate; I spent almost all of my time with family and friends but still need to make a few phone calls because there’s never enough time. I spent the last week sitting on the beach and finishing three books; I’ve been back in Singapore for almost three weeks and I’ve only finished two.

Living takes on different forms in different places and times and I’m completely okay with that. But time is finite and we make choices. I’ve chosen to cook dinner almost every night instead of sitting down with this blog. I’ve gone on bike rides instead of running, spent time out in the world instead of at home reading. I’ve spent less time listening to podcasts and more time being comfortable in the quiet.

All of this will morph. Living is fluid. If I’ve learned one thing it’s how to be wherever I am rather than trying to make where I am into something it’s not.

This is on my mind as we get ready for the new school year. Like many people, I work in a system that I don’t always like. I experience periods of negativity, defeat, and dejection over what is happening around me. But at the end of the day I am very aware that I will spend 100 hours with my students this year and it is my responsibility to make sure their time is well spent. I want them to become better people. I want them to deepen their understanding of the world.

As I write, I’m watching the sky change from grey to pink, a pink tinged with blue clouds, and finally to a deep blue. How do I help my students take the time to notice, to recognise that the world is out there and they are part of it? How do I raise good people?

It’s the beginning of a new school year and like every year, this is what I wonder. And this is what I try to do every single day.

Yup, I think I’m back.