Tag Archives: Teaching

On Dreams

I think I’m a lucid dreamer. Or maybe this is just how dreams go. The science behind lucid dreaming is sketchy at best, as is much of the science behind sleep, but I know where I am in many of my dreams and make decisions about what I want to happen next. Once I’ve woken up, sometimes I can fall back into the dream and redo what has already “happened.” My own laughter has woken me more than once in the middle of the night, but I don’t think I’ve ever woken up in tears. I think the last time I had a nightmare was in college. I woke up with my arm outstretched, grabbing at something that wasn’t there.

I dreamed about this blog post last night. Or, rather, I dreamed about what I was actually thinking but couldn’t articulate when I spent a couple hours writing yesterday afternoon. That’s why I’m rewriting it.

We sleep. Neurons fire. Things make more sense once our brains have had time to process.

Last night I dreamed about love. I dreamed about what we used to talk about, where we used to go, what we used to do. I woke up with a physical ache that I soothed by resetting my breathing; I turned off that dream before rolling over to fall back asleep. I liked the memories. I didn’t like the longing. Dreams can pull us back into the past and the past can be dangerous. Just look at Gatsby.

I’ve learned that it is one thing to dwell on the past, to romanticize it and see it through rose-colored glasses, but it is quite another, I think, to look upon the past as an old friend, with the knowing smile that comes from the expected. The school year is ending, which means that this, too, will join the past. This is the time of year when I begin to look back on what was, which always leads me to think about what could be or could have been.

“The past” enters, stage left.

Since my life follows a school calendar, “next year” begins with the start of the school year in August and “this year” ends in just a week. Soon, I’ll speak of “last year,” meaning right now and the ten months preceding it. Where we are now, the “end of the year,” is a lot of fun, busy, and always bittersweet. At international schools, we say goodbye a lot and at least for me, it never gets easier. We turn over a lot of new leaves.

Sometimes I indulge when I find myself feeling sentimental. Sometimes I go up to the roof and sit in the dark, eyes closed, Lana del Rey or Bon Iver filling my ears, a soundtrack for feelings too wrapped up in themselves to be put to words. Sometimes I run through a few old favorites – things that were, unspoken dreams of things that will never be, imagination for what is still within the realm of possible but only on a technicality. My mind is filled with people I’ve known and loved, maybe for a long time or maybe they’re brand new. People come and go in transient cities, in international schools, and we’re often just counting time.

Thinking about the end of the year got me thinking about the past and is likely why I dreamed about a love I once had. The past becomes the story we tell ourselves, true or not, and it’s what we do with the story that matters. We write those stories all the time.

This is the end of the school year, prompting me to write the story about wanting to be better next year. This is the part when I am reminded of why, how, and who I was. Who I am. Who I can be. This is the part that reminds me of the people who have been with me along the way and I miss them, even if we have yet to be apart.

But of course, sometimes, my imagination catches me off guard, an enemy rather than a friend. Those are the times when I find myself angry or hurt, which are really just emotions that mask feeling fear. Maybe I don’t have nightmares because I can admit when I’m afraid. It doesn’t come up in the dark the way it used to and I don’t push it away as insistently anymore. I’ve learned to make my peace with people and times and events, recall what I’ve learned from them, and wish them well.

When I let my mind wander, I find myself writing stories about what I want and what I hope for, both for myself and for others. I invent conversations that I wish had taken place, rewrite conversations that could have easily gone another way, and imagine conversations yet to happen. Sometimes my imagination is like a tape that won’t stop running, no matter how many times I press stop. Sometimes it fills me such delight that it’s almost disappointing to keep my dreams to myself. And sometimes I catch myself with a silly grin on my face and can’t help but laugh out loud. I think about my people, the broad category that they are, and hold them tightly.

The end of the year is a time of transition. Living on a school calendar provides a convenient opportunity to make changes, restart, and try again, but it also forces endings and beginnings, often sooner than I’m ready for them.

But here we are. Already. So soon. And yet, we thought it would never come. Or so we told ourselves months ago. There’s so much time and never enough. This is the time to remember or say goodbye to people who have built my dreams, occupied a space in my mind and made it their own. It’s the time to send love and good wishes half the world over, to those gone, those going, and all of those I have left behind.

Thank you for being part of my story, part of my dreams. Lucky are those who will come to know you; lucky are we who already do.

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Words from Students

We have parent-teacher conferences later this week and it often strikes me that the parents and I know very different young people. This could be because I know them as students while their parents know them as children, or because I only see them for 80 structured minutes every other day. It might be because I see them around their friends in a different context than their parents do, or just because school and home are very different places. I enjoy sharing what I know with parents and, at the same time, learning about these young people from people who know them well.

An interesting thread of discussion I’ve heard from several grade 11 students recently, one that I don’t expect their parents are aware of, is that they wish their parents would pay more attention to them. This came up in several contexts, but there are two that stood out:

  1. Frustration from reasonably self-sufficient students with siblings who are not
  2. Frustration from students with siblings away at university

Both groups have said things like, “They’re constantly on top of him because he won’t do any of his work if they aren’t but I’m like, ‘Hello? Anyone interested in what I’m doing?'” and “I thought that once she went to college they’d stop focusing on her as much, but they still FaceTime her all the time and I’m like, ‘I’m here, too!'”

What strikes me here is not that students want attention – I know they do. They often come to class with an entirely unrelated question or something to share or just need a moment to complain. I have a feeling they appreciate a face-to-face encounter with someone who is not also holding a phone and scrolling through emails, messages, or Facebook while nodding and replying, “mhmm” at appropriate times, a phenomenon I often observe on the MRT, in restaurants, and walking down the street.

My students are pretty open about the negative impacts they feel that social media has had on their lives, as well as the pressure they experience to be within reach and involved at all times. They feel anxiety when they can’t be connected because so much rides on constant status updates, posts, and likes.

It worries me that much of the above counts as connection at all.

The teenagers I work with are also eager to talk about the importance of authentic personal connection and relationships over what exists in cyberspace. They readily admit to feeling lonely, isolated, and anxious whether they’re surrounded by people or not. I feel that, too, at times, and I didn’t have a smart phone until I was in my early 20s. I can’t imagine how it has been growing up with no quiet or boredom or permission to just ignore everyone and everything.

In all generations, teenagers often get a bad rap for just about anything they do (an ad recognizing this has been running in movie theatres lately). Instead of brushing them off as kids crying for attention, consider why they want to be noticed. Consider the incredible pressure on them to make something of themselves, do something worthwhile, and understand the world around them.

Young people have a lot to teach and offer the rest of us and just need a chance to do that. Listen to them. They have things to say, questions to ask, stories to share. They’re great people and I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about them through the conversations I’ll have with their parents later this week.

Building Peace: Classroom Activities

The last week of the semester is always a bit of a challenge. Our second quarter grades were due last week and there’s little point in beginning something new that will be immediately interrupted by a three-week break.

For me, this week was the perfect time to do some work with peace and conflict resolution with my grade 10 students. As I’ve written before, I believe that building peace really ought to be the purpose of education and that we need to provide our students with a toolkit to build a better, more peaceful world. This year, I’ve tried to include those ideas in every topic we study.

In grade 10, we recently concluded a unit on genocide during which we discussed social enterprises, NGOs, and other organizations that are currently working to help affected communities move forward and improve the problems that have resulted from these atrocities. Spending a few days talking about peace and conflict seemed more than timely.

Below are three activities that I’ve developed and/or adapted from the United States Institute of Peace. You can download their Peacebuilding Toolkit for Educators for free! These activities require students to talk with each other and move around, which is always helpful towards the end of a semester. They tend to work best with chattier groups, but even quieter students react pretty strongly.

Defining Peace
1. In pairs, ask students to come up with a definition of peace.

2. Each pairs partners with another pair, making a group of four. Ask the group to come up with a definition of peace that everyone can live with.

3. Two groups of four form a group of eight and repeat the exercise. (Split the groups of four as needed with a small class so that the whole class is ultimately in two large groups.)

4. Continue until the class is split into two groups and have each group write their final definition on the board.

5. The last part of this activity is to see whether the class can agree on a definition of peace, either by choosing one, combining the two options, editing, or writing something new entirely.

6. Debrief as a group about this process and how the definition changed and developed (or not!) as the groups changed. Compromise, learning from others, and agreeing with different ideas are usually the topics that come up. Some groups really enjoy the language structure component of this activity, as well.

Peace Scenarios
1. Ask students to keep in mind the whole-class definition of peace (or two definitions if the class couldn’t come to consensus). Create a continuum of peace along a wall with one side as 100% peace and the opposite as 100% not peace. The middle of the room is an even split between peace and not peace.

2. Present students with a variety of peace/not peace scenarios. They should place themselves where they fit along the continuum.

3. Page 31 of the high school toolkit from USIP has a list of scenarios representing personal, local, and international conflicts. I’ve found that Personal #2 (Your teacher accuses you of cheating on a paper, but you did not. You schedule a time after class to work out the
misunderstanding.) is great starting point and then I proceed from there in this order:

  • Personal #1 – You arrive at home and your mom has taken money off your dresser without asking. This frustrates you, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to cause a fight.
  • Local #2 – A school holds a charity event to raise money to build schools in an area affected by a natural disaster.
  • Local #3 – A high school hires armed security guards to manage school violence.
  • International #3 – Humanitarian aid with medical supplies and fresh water reaches a community affected by conflict.
  • International #4 – Children in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp are not able to go to school for fear of violence if they leave the camp.
  • (optional) International #1 – There are 300,000 child soldiers involved in conflicts around the world.

4. Many of my students are language learners and we do pause to make sure that everyone understands both the content and concepts in each scenario. Students move according to their opinions, which is also an opportunity to share with a classmate. This is particularly helpful for language support. Then, I call on them at random to justify their views.

5. I usually start with the students at the far extremes and then choose one in the middle and one or two others before opening the floor for anyone to share. If a student moves during the activity, I ask why. Some students will purposely take the opposite perspective from the majority of the class just for the sake of discussion, which is always really fun. I also allow students to question each other.

Over the Line
This is a really quick activity that I generally preface simply by telling students that it is related to peace and conflict.

1. Divide the class into two groups and have them pair up with someone from the opposite group.

2. Tell students that you will hand out specific directions to each group and give each student the instruction sheet from page 38 of the USIP high school toolkit. The instructions are identical and read as follows: You will be sentenced to life in prison in exactly 3 minutes. Your only chance to escape is if you can get your opponent to cross over to your side and stay there before the time is up. Good luck. 

3. Students are not to look at the directions until the activity begins.

4. Tell students to stand facing each other and draw an invisible line across the floor between them. Remind students that each group has specific directions and that their task is to accomplish the goal using any means except physical violence. Announce that they have three minutes to complete the task.

5. After three minutes, ask students who thinks they accomplished the task. (The solution is for the partners to trade places.) There is usually at least one group who read their instructions to each other, realized they were the same, and figured out the solution. Ask this group how they went through this process and why they chose to share their instructions. Ask a few other groups about their experiences.

6. Debrief as a class about how this activity relates to peace and conflict. Ideas that come up generally include trust, considering different points of view, compromise, and communication.


This is the type of work that I love doing and I was really glad to do these activities with my grade 10s this week, especially coming off of our unit on genocide. The classroom can be a powerful place if we’re willing to have conversations about difficult topics. I believe that this work is essential if we aim to improve our world.

I’ve used these activities for several years in grades 9 and 10 and would love to hear how they work for you in your classrooms! If you have your own peace and conflict activities to share, please do so. I’d love to learn from you.