“What do you do?”

“I’m a teacher,” I answer, looking past the counter to my reflection in the dark floor-to-ceiling windows behind the immigration officer. A teacher? Really?  The person in the reflection looks like he could still be in high school, maybe. I wonder if that wasn’t about how I looked when I left nearly six years ago. A teacher already. When did that happen?

“What do you teach?”

Looking once more at the reflection I’m surprised anyone could buy my story. A little young, don’t you think? They let people your age into the classroom?

“English, History and PE.” I’m not about to explain what Social Studies is. I seem small in the reflection — my usual kamzor, skinny self. I’m going to hear it from the people I meet. They’re always convinced I’m wasting away in Canada or something. Not that I mind that much. It usually just means I get pushed to eat more while I’m here, which is a pretty good problem to have.

“This is this your first time to Pakistan?”

I almost laugh, but I’m too tired to, and I’m not sure he’d find it funny. “No.” How do I even begin to explain? “I’ve been here many times before. I grew up here.” I wonder why he can’t pull me up on their system or something and see how many times I’ve been there. Surely they have the technology for that. Who knows.

He asks me my exact address in Hyderabad. I can never remember it. It’s way too long and complicated, and all I’ve written on the entry card is the name of the “Phase”, the neighbourhood, the city, and the province. Lived in basically the same house for almost eighteen years and I still don’t know the address? Seriously? Drop me off at the highway though and I could find my way to it.

He tells me he’d actually been to the area of my city just the other day for a wedding. I smile. We’re over that hump of feeling like my life is being scrutinized like an weak alibi. He stamps my passport and hands it to me. I smile and thank him, and my reflection turns past the counter and heads toward the baggage claim. I don’t think the jeans help. They make my legs look thinner.

At home, the doorbell rings. I open up the gate for Shanti, the lady that works for us — who’s basically an aunty to all of us kids. She hugs me, asking me how I’m doing. She smiles and adjusts her dupatta as she steps back and takes her shoes off. “You’re so skinny!”

Coming Back



I sit on a plane, passing over the cold, northern part of Russia, wondering what it will be like to be back home again. I wonder what it will be like to go back to the familiarness of a world that, in many ways, is so forgotten in my day to day life in Canada.

I wish I had Michelle with me. Somehow going on this trip to revisit Hyderabad once more before the door, to the house at least, is closed forever feels like it’s taking me back into my childhood. Being alone seems to make it all the more a pilgrimage into my past, without my wife, and without any part of my Canadian life with me. I do the trip the same way I’ve done it so many times. It’s hard, but it seems fitting somehow.

The fact that the trip came together so quickly only makes the journey seem more automatic and routine. I’ve missed the anticipation and build-up that normally comes with a trip like this. It isn’t strange or abnormal to find myself navigating through airports alone over Christmas break. It seems second nature. In so many ways it feels like all the times I flew home to visit family over my breaks in high school.  Only this time I have a wife in Colorado that I’m away from, and a life in Canada as a teacher, with responsibilities and classes, and students who struggle to even begin to understand this — this part of me.

Sure, I talk about Pakistan sometimes. They ask questions about what it was like, and we make jokes about serious things like terrorists, or we talk about what the weather was like, or whether it felt dangerous, or whether I was scared; the usual. We laugh, and I move on. Life goes on. And so much of my life I live without giving any of it a thought. I wake up, scrape the ice off the windshield as the car heats up, and drive to school, teach, coach, laugh, talk, come home, relax with Michelle, work, sleep, repeat. There’s no room for this. There’s no room for all that’s in my head sometimes, even though I don’t realize it’s there until a time like this — the self-absorbed soul-searching and questions about my identity; the questions about where I fit in with all of this. And now that I’m married, about where a duo of mixed up internationals fit into the complicated world they live in.

So I put up a little Pakistani flag on my bulletin board, share some stories, make some jokes, and then go on fitting into to where I appear to fit so well. It’s not that I’m trying hard to fit in, or trying not to. It just happens. Pakistan lies dormant inside me, like a dream that I’ve had enough times for it to feel like reality. It’s just that in times like these, as my plane cuts through the cold Russian sky, nose pointed toward Beijing, that I wonder which life is more the reality, and which is a more the dream. Only maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

The Life Between the Line

pencil-1692531_1920I remember my parents making fun of my brother, Stephen, for how terrible he was at communicating when he was in boarding. They always said, “It’s difficult to read between the line,” because there was only ever one, in his emails. He’s never been a man of many words when it comes to writing.

As I look back on the past several months, I wonder if my parents are saying the same thing about me. I think about the amount of short ‘one-liners’ I’ve sent off to my parents or friends lately. I know I mean well. I’m always wanting to set aside a good chunk of time at some point to write a proper email and give a more full picture of things, but it usually doesn’t happen. My all-or-nothing approach with emails usually means people either get emails that resemble text messages, or nothing at all. I’m still waiting for that time when I decide to sit down and write out a proper email.

Unfortunately, so much of life happens between the lines. So many of the thoughts we have throughout the day, or the experiences we go through, never quite make it out to the people who want to hear all about it. I realize this even with Michelle each day, as things get missed or forgotten. And it’s always the craziest or best stories that are the hardest to relate. Some of the biggest lessons, impressions, and insights seem to fall into the blank silences between the lines, as words so often fail to express the beauty and complexity of these moments.

As everyone knows, it’s often when more things are happening in life that communication gets harder and harder. And as the schedule fills up, the conversations are pushed to the sidelines. It doesn’t mean that the conversations become secondary, it just means that as the quantity of story to tell increases, the motivation to tell it decreases. Before you know it, life becomes “a long story” that you hardly ever have time to tell, with all the backstory, prefaces and appendixes to everything that makes up our experiences.

That is, I suppose, the nature of life. So much of it is unexplainable and passes by in a beauty and chaos that can’t quite be captured in words. And yet, it also begs to be described and communicated. As the writer, Thomas Mann noted, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” And I’m sure, in the same way, it’s the most beautiful moments, of life that art and artists struggle to put to canvas, or to capture with a camera. It’s impossible.

Life is an unpaintable model. However, you may read between the lines in this post, and realize that I do need to work on my communication. I’m a procrastinator at my core, I think— especially when it comes to written communication — always waiting for that perfect moment to start something, when nothing else is getting in the way. But everything always gets in the way. And so, this is part of my effort at doing a better job — choosing to start, and put words on paper; choosing  to try to capture the fleeting moments of life.

Some Things I Learned in School

It’s seems like an eternity since I’ve really been able to stop and catch my breath. Stepping into the changes of married life, and into a new season of our lives in Three Hills, things have felt a little crazy for Michelle and I. Many days I’ve felt like Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as I can just to stay in place. And if I want to get anywhere — to get anything done besides the day-in-day-out job of staying afloat as a teacher, I have to run twice as fast.

Getting to be a full-time teacher for a whole semester has been so good for me. And now, with my contract for a maternity-leave over, I’ve become a substitute teacher, which has been an interesting transition in itself. For the first time, since I started teaching in September, I’ve been able to properly step back and look at how things panned out over the semester. I see the things I didn’t do as well as I could have, and the things I’m proud to have done. I see some of the kids who I never got through to — who were glad to have me leave (or said they were), and I see the kids who connected deeply, and whose confidence and motivation is more than I could have ever asked for as their teacher.

Teaching has changed me. I look back at the idealistic and revolutionary high-schooler that started into university, wanting to change the world and the face of teaching into the amazing thing it could be. I saw all the failings of the education system, and I wanted to fix it all. I wanted creativity, choice, flexibility, inquiry and imagination, and somehow I thought I knew a lot of the answers (or at least thought I’d be able to find them if I tried).

I do still want to see these things in teaching, but I’ve come to realize that the process of getting there, what that looks like in the classroom, and how students receive all these things is vastly different than I imagined. I’m not looking for a magic formula for educational perfection, and I’m not hoping for a quick and drastic revolution in the education system.

I believe more than ever that school should be a place of imagination and creativity — but school isn’t perfect. It’s easy to work myself into the mindset that, if we could only get the right ingredients, school could be this amazing space of ingenuity, problem-solving and curiosity, where kids love to come and learn, try new things and create. But somehow in all my wonderful ideas of what school could be, I forgot that school isn’t just made up of programs and ideas. It’s made of people. It’s made of students who have times when they really don’t care about learning. It’s made of teachers who have times when they are so overwhelmed and exhausted, they do all they can just to put one foot in front of the other each day. School is full of all kinds of problems, and is expected to solve most — if not all of them — and to do it gracefully and quickly.

So here are some things I’ve learned while being a teacher.

Teachers really want to make a difference. In the conversations I’ve had with fellow teachers and administration, the time I’ve spent with future teachers in university, and the sharing of ideas, plans, resources and all kinds of other teachery things, I have been been overwhelmingly impressed by the amount of really caring, amazing people there are in classrooms around the province and the world. It’s easy sometimes to feel pretty self-centred, working away at making a difference for the kids in your classroom, especially when that work is so consuming you can barely lift your head to look around you. But when I’ve had a chance to look at the things other teachers are doing in other schools, or things I hear in the frequent conversations with my colleagues, I very quickly realize that there are an incredible amount of people that selflessly pour themselves into the kids they teach. They work hard and late, and they genuinely care about the kids that come through their door each day.

Education bashing is a global pastime that doesn’t really help anything. I used to really appreciate a good Youtube video or Facebook post about how schools stifle the things that matter in life — about how the model of school is still stuck in the Industrial Revolution era, and about how one size doesn’t fit all, or how many times school has failed people, how schools shouldn’t be factories etc etc. But having been in one for the past five months as a teacher (and all the other years as a student), bashing school as a system has increasingly lost its appeal. I see some of the blood, sweat and tears that I talked about earlier, and I see how sometimes kids take the nicest teachers, with the best lessons and ideas, and throw everything back in their face with an apathetic eye-roll. I understand that everyone has something to say about education, because almost everyone has gone through it, and that there are lots of things that could be different about schools, but I’m continuing to learn that change takes commitment, patience, resilience and hard-work, and throwing tomatoes at the education system on social media doesn’t fall into any of those categories. I know the education system isn’t perfect, but there are a lot people around the world trying to make it the best it can be, and they feel better when you cheer them on.

People aren’t perfect. Schools are full of people. Waiting for education to be all I’ve ever dreamed that it could be is like waiting for Liverpool Football Club to win the Premier League. It hasn’t happened in my lifetime. There are moments when the right things come together — a string of passes and choices seem to gel together to make something magical, just like those moments when enthusiasm is high, kids are getting concepts and are excited to learn. And then, out of nowhere there will come some crazy mistake — half of the defence seems switched-off as the ball thumps it’s way into the back of the Liverpool net, and yet another game ends in a disappointing defeat to some low-level team. In the same way there are days and moments where things just don’t work out. Misunderstandings occur, plans fall flat, distractions steal the crucial teachable moments, motivation has somehow disappeared from the entire room, or attitude, emotion and frustration cloud choices and activities. Teachers, students and parents, all come with their own set of problems and failings, and when they all work in close-proximity for ten months at a time, things don’t always happen the way you would hope. While I’m holding onto the hope that I get to see Liverpool raise the Premier League trophy some year, I know I’ll probably never see perfection in the education system — at least not as long as it continues to be filled with people.

As I look at some of these things I’ve learned, I can’t help but wonder if I’m a little pessimistic. Have all my ideals just been replaced by a “things are fine the way they are?” But that’s not what I think. I want education to be the best that it can be, and I want to try new things and for schools to continue to take risks and make changes. I believe in schools. I believe in teachers. I believe in kids. And I believe in parents. We each bring our own problems and failings to the table, and school is the place I get to see them all come together. While that can make for a messy combination, it can be beautiful at times.

Despite the few students who I look at, and I feel like I failed, as they continue to see school as an authoritarian, broken and stifling institution, I have to allow myself to see the other students as well — the ones who beam at me in the hallways, who tell me about their days, who get excited when I come to watch their hockey games, or whose humour and creativity in Social Studies projects makes me smile. I remind myself of the deep literary conversations I’ve had about Batman, or the times when a student tells me they decided they’re actually going to try at their work this time (after a couple months of not doing that), or when someone tells me they were so excited about the stop-motion animation we were doing in class that they went home on the weekend and spent a good part of their Saturday making one at home with Lego.

It’s far too easy to let failings overshadow the successes, but it’s the successes (in the face of failings) that motivate the desire to try for change , and to continue to work hard at making things better — to give my very best to the kids I’m entrusted with, to refine and improve my teaching, and to continue to invest in making school what it is and can be for kids.

Into the Unknown

I handed in a resume to two school boards today, with a little breathless hesitancy, covered over by my best attempt at a calm and friendly smile. I think one of the most helpful and underrated teaching techniques I’ve come by is pretending to be confident and relaxed even when you aren’t. That way at least somebody feels like you know what you’re doing.

It’s strange to be reaching the end of a chapter of my life that I’ve been in for what feels like forever, and yet also seems to have gone by so fast. After being in college and university for the past five years, the thought of finding a full time job, getting married, wading through Canada-US immigration, moving into a new place and beginning life as a couple is all a little frightening. I have nightmares of being a stay-at-home job seeker, trying desperately to get some work as a substitute teacher while Michelle and I both struggle and learn through all the things that come with life on our own. I don’t actually have nightmares — they’re more like flashes of panic in the middle of an English class or on a bus ride — the kind that I imagine might flash through the mind of someone about to jump out of the open door on their first attempt at skydiving. It’s this feeling of, “ohmygoodnessidontactuallyknowificanmakeit!”

But I can make it. The panic subsides. I reason with myself and look at all the years I’ve spent preparing to be a teacher and tell myself that I’m equipped and able to live through my first year of teaching students. I can do it. Or I think back on my first field experience of student teaching and think of how I felt after the initial newness of it all had faded — how comfortable and familiar I began to feel with the kids. I can calm myself by looking at school board websites and budgeting tools, estimating how Michelle and I will be able to make it through our first year financially. It all helps.

But ultimately I find myself looking back over the past few years. I think of all the unknowns that have now become landmarks behind me, and all the questions I once had that have since fallen into place. I think of all the desperate prayers I’ve voiced, and how they’ve been answered, in some way or another, just as the Lord desired. I think of Michelle, and the fact that, though I feel pretty unprepared to care for her and provide for us as a couple, I’ve seen the way God has cared and provided for us along the way, with each of our faltering steps. I remind myself that “thus far the Lord has helped us,” (1 Sam. 7:12) and we can know that He will continue to do so.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed about all the things that have to come together —all the details that need to be sorted out, and and all the changes that need to be adjusted to. But I know that we haven’t been alone. And I know that He who has brought us this far will lead us where we need to go, and provide for us in the moments of uncertainty and craziness. It’s exciting, exhilarating, stretching and fun, and I’m so glad I’m not alone in this journey into the unknown.