Qwa-halia (Madeline) Deighton weaving. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

Student Voices

Lorelei Lester: My Education: Lessons and Tasks

September 03, 2014

Guest post by Lorelei Lester, a new graduate student in History. She'll be writing these posts on a biweekly basis.

The times during a term when due dates are close together or suddenly appear out of no where (they do tend to do that) one has a choice to freak out, pretend it doesn’t matter, or buckle down and just get to it. I tend to either freak out getting so tightly wound that I’m dangerous to be around or more commonly buckle down and get things done. Thankfully, I more often tend to the latter. You will have to ask people who have known me for a long time if this true as I may be biased in my assessment of how I handle extreme academic pressure.

Perhaps this is a result of going through that academic anvil of the first couple of years of college when I was doing 5 or 6 courses per term (most of them science courses) and I had to learn study habits under extreme pressure. Overall the experience just seems to be more satisfying if I remain focused on getting the assignments done to the best of my ability.

I’m not one to just slap something together just to complete the ritual of actually handing something in. I need to apply thought, research and effort into each project. I’m aware that I am in this academic pressure cooker for a reason: to learn, hone my skills, develop academic habits. When I first made the decision to return to school I knew I would have to go all the way — cheating or just collapsing in the middle of the road isn’t an option. For my personal pride I must keep going and each step must be completed with purpose and effort.

Perhaps this comes from early training as a child under the watchful eyes of my grandmothers. I remember my mother’s mother would teach me how to do things. I always called my mother’s parents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ because that’s what my mother called them. We visited their home often when I was small.

‘Mom’ would call me into the kitchen and show me how to do something by a demonstration and a few carefully chosen words and gestures. To me she wasn’t a woman of many words. Then she would say “Ok, now you do it. All of them.” She would have everything set up for the task at hand. With a sweep of her hand she indicated that I should use all that she showed me. Then she would leave me to finish it. When I had completed the task I would report to her that I was done and she would come and look at my work. With a shrewd eye she looked it over and an expert hand would reach out to test one or two to make sure it was done according to her instructions. A small smile and nod of her head with an approving sound, “hmm, good, good,” were the best rest rewards for my work. “Ok, go now.” With a grin I would happily skip off to continue my day.

But the lesson wouldn’t end there. Whether it was a few weeks, months or even the next year ‘Mom’ would call me into the kitchen. A task that she had shown me before would need to be done again, but usually it wouldn’t be all set up for me as it had been the first time. One would be completed as an example.

“You remember how to do this?” she would ask me. If I didn’t remember my face would fall and I would bit my lip as I shook my head, “No, ‘Mom.’” The most subtle expression of disappointment would fleetingly pass across her features. Her lips would gently and momentarily press together and she would say ”Ok, like this.” She would do one demonstration clearly showing me how each step should be completed. Then she would look at me to make sure that I got it. She never berated, scolded or punished me for not remembering. She was always gentle and graceful in her ways. Love and patience were what radiated from her.

After she was sure I had the idea, she would leave me to complete the job she wanted me to do. When I was done I would report to her and she would check my work. When she saw that it was done correctly a beautiful smile of approval and happiness would light up her face, “Good.” My heart would swell with happiness and relief as I answered with a grin.

That’s how my education started as a child. My grandmothers of course had their own personalities. One was more brusque and the other more playful, but all were loving, kind and patient with my childish mistakes. The lessons were taught at unexpected moments and the follow up was equally unexpected. I saw the wisdom and love of the world in their expert hands as they worked. I felt delight and awe when they showed me how to do something as they were sharing that wisdom and love with me. Learning how to do something and completing the task correctly are ways of honouring the wisdom entrusted to me.

Perhaps this beginning is the reason that I can apply myself to my academics when the time comes. The looming deadlines and seemingly insurmountable work that needs to be done are laid out before me. My childish efforts are always open to the scrutiny of my grandmothers’ eyes. Her expert hand will reach out to test here and there. Did I do it correctly? Have I tried to cheat? Have I dishonoured her by not even trying? Will that fleeting look of disappointment cross her face?

Or will I hear that sound of approval? “Hmm, good, good.”

Salmon cleaning and drying. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives

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Tags: Student Voices; Aboriginal students

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