There are prevalent misconceptions that we all hold about other people in our lives. Holding certain misconceptions is commonplace and unavoidable at times, it’s the nature of who we are and how we operate and by no means implies that we have malicious intentions against those who we may not completely understand in character and mind.
I want to share with you quite a personal story, one that forced me to confront and deal with the fact that I had carried huge misconceptions about a very important person in my life, but once I was able to better understand the truth, it was too late to act upon it and let them know. However, as sad as this might seem, it was actually a deeply profound moment that brought with it a certain sense of peace and valuable insight that stays with me to this day.
I believe that the lesson I learned from this experience has made me a better teacher as it’s allowed me to understand the importance of being aware that the truths that we feel are accurate about others may in fact be far from the actual truth. As educators, there is no greater place to apply this learning than to the students that we teach on a daily basis.
Andrew Joseph Vasily
I was named after my father. My dad was a unique kind of man who prided himself in hard work and figuring out how to get things done. He was a man of few words and often times would lock himself away in his home office working endlessly on the different architectural projects he was involved in. Although I tried to make sense of his paper and pencil designs when he wasn’t around, I had no idea what the multitude of numbers and different sketches actually meant but would still love looking at them.
The most satisfying times I ever had with my father were throwing the football around and hitting golf balls on the range in silence with him. He’d offer me a tip and some advice from time to time, but other than that we would just carry on with things.
As I grew older and matured, I began to form what I felt to be certain truths about my father. And although I had a relatively good relationship with him, I found it hard to understand him at times, especially after my sons, Eli and Tai, came into the world. I’m very close with my sister (also an educator), who is 7 years older than me, and together Carol and I would talk for hours trying to figure out why our father seemed so absent at times. We grappled with questions such as ‘Why wouldn’t he just pick up the phone and call to see how his grandkids are?' Together we formed certain conclusions that he was sad, lonely, and had no real interests. The introverted nature of my father’s character was difficult to understand and accept. Deep down we knew that he cared for and loved us. That wasn’t the issue, instead we found ourselves endlessly questioning why he wasn’t taking action in his life to find joy and happiness. Little did we know…….
One of the things about living so far from Canada is the distance away from long time friends and family. Many international teachers have received that dreaded call or email to inform them of bad news from back home. Being so far away at times like this can be extremely daunting and overwhelming when things like this happen.
On Friday, November 28th, 2009, I received an email from my mom letting me know that my dad had been hospitalized and that it was quite serious. Although my mom and dad had been divorced for years, they remained good friends. My dad had liver cancer and failed to let anyone in the family know. He lived 2 hours away from my mom and it was his sister, my Aunt Mary, who I called to get further news. When I reached my aunt, she told me that she was going into the hospital at that moment and to call back as I could speak with my dad directly.
When I called back his voice was barely audible but I was relieved to be speaking with him. I told him to hang on, that I had bought a return ticket to Canada and I'd be there the following evening. I pleaded with him to hold on and let him know that I would be there for him. The last words he said to me were, 'I love you and I am so proud of you and your accomplishments'.
I arrived to a very cold and grey evening in Toronto the following day and rushed to a phone to call my sister Carol. She informed me that my dad had passed away only four hours before. I was gutted as I desperately wanted to be by his side, but had to deal with the reality that I didn't make it back in time. It was very hard to digest and accept.
My sister, brother, and I went to my dad's small and humble apartment after his funeral to spend some time looking through his things. It was here that we dug through his books and other belongings for any memories of him that we could keep alive. What we found was astonishing.
Tucked away on countless shelves and in several boxes were journal after journal. In each journal, we found meticulously neat hand-writing on page after page of everything that he had learned and taught himself over the past few years. He had a series of journals in particular, that detailed every single baseball statistic of his beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Turns out my father had listened to each and every game on the radio and kept track of all the statistics, hand-writing them in his journals. He literally had several seasons of team and individual statistics in his journals all done by hand in live time as he listened to the games.
He had journals devoted to the top movies of all time going back years and years. He had journals devoted to geography and history. He had loads of journals and information about NASA and different space missions. As well, throughout his apartment, he had his model plane collection and model speed boats that he had assembled. In the far corner of his apartment was a small electric piano as he had taught himself to play the piano over the past several years before his death.
Looking back I remember my dad always being into model planes, but everything else came as a surprise to me. As we looked through his apartment, certain realities became clear and my sister broke down in tears and sobbed inconsolably which made it tough for me to contain my feelings and grief as well. But, what we learned in that very moment was that we never really knew our father. We had formed preconceived truths and held several misconceptions about him for years that he wasn't happy, that he was probably lonely, and certainly wasn't taking any action in his life to do anything of interest in his old age. Were we ever wrong! The reality of this struck us hard but with it came a sense of clarity and peace in knowing that he was happy, that he was productive, and inspired to learn all that he could about the world and things that interested him.
Is it a far stretch to speak of misconceptions, the death of my father, what I learned from this, and how it may apply to our teaching? I don't think so, as it's an authentically meaningful life experience which has taught me a lot. Holding misconceptions can lead to experiencing certain kinds of emotions that can cloud our ability to look through the eyes of others. As educators, we need to be careful of potential misconceptions that we hold in regards to the students that we teach. This experience reminds me we must never assume that what we feel and think are always the truth about those who we teach.
We may be surprised to find out that the certain truths that we hold about our students are in fact partially accurate and sometimes completely false and in realizing these things, we can arm ourselves with the teaching tools necessary to maximize the impact that we have on the students that we teach. Thanks for reading.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.