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A Sense of Place

The longer I teacher, the more I know that the most important part of my job is to build positive relationships with my students and to help students build those relationships with each other. My ability to connect, appreciate and love my students is more important than any rule, expectation or even the curriculum. I could be the smartest person on the planet and it wouldn't matter to my students if they felt that I didn't care about them and their well-being.

A large part of building relationships with students is letting them know who you are as a person. Students genuinely want to know about what kind of person their teacher is. From time to time I tell students different stories of my past struggles in school or how I used to "admirably" defy the hat rule when I was a student. This makes for good laughter in the class and my biggest connector to students has always been when I share about my struggles in school.

But what teaching has really done for me is to push me to reflect on how I became the person I am today. There is no other place I feel authentically like myself then when I am teaching. I get to be the exact person I want to be. Working with youth is just a place of comfort for me to be in and I love getting students excited about learning. It's what I'm meant to do.

As I look at myself as a teacher and person, I naturally look back at the loving and supportive family I came from, the awesome group of friends I grew up with, and the loving and supportive partner I've had for over a decade. These were obviously important people who shaped me into the person and teacher that I am today. But one element of who I am that I didn't realize is a large part of me is my home town of Windsor, Ontario.

I recently took a trip back to Windsor over March break to visit my family. During my trip I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite spots and old haunts that used to define my time in Windsor. I spent the large majority of my teenage years and early twenties just wanting to escape Windsor. It wasn't that I hated the town but I just wanted to see the rest of the world. I wanted to go on an adventure and meet new people and discover new things. I always felt that Windsor was holding me back as it was viewed as a dead end. As I grew up it seemed Windsor was hit with tougher and tougher economic times with the decline of the auto industry. For someone who was looking for new opportunities, I didn't see a future in Windsor.

But as I revisited Windsor and walked down Wyandotte street near the University or spent some time at a park on the Detroit River, I realized that Windsor had shaped who I was much more than I had ever imagined. I spent a great deal of my University career at Windsor looking into local history. I was always amazed of the strong working tradition of Windsor whether it was workers at Hiram Walkers or the famous Ford City blockade where thousands of workers protested in order to be able to form a union.

These stories as well as Windsor's rich history in bootlegging during prohibition, its magical pizza (seriously, Windsor has the best pizza), as well as its often hidden history of the Indigenous peoples who called this area home at various times all make up the history of this place and how it shapes the people there. Learning about the history of the Huron, Potawatomie, Ojibwa, Ottawa and Wyandot people's has been an eye-opening experience. It does not surprise me that the land that Windsor now sits on has been a meeting place for many nations for thousands of years before Windsor ever came into existence. It's essential that Windsorites, and all Canadians, learn about these stories and how they contribute to the cities, towns and villages that we live in.

My great grandparents on my mother's side came to Windsor at the start of the Great Depression. They lived a tough life, as many did at that time, but rallied to provide a life for their family. They would go on to mainly work at Fords and in the automotive industry, connecting my family to that Windsor tradition. On my father's side, I have an ancestor named Leonard Kratz who was a Hessien soldier who fought in the American Revolution on the side of England. After the war, he was eventually captured, along with his wife, by a group of Indigenous peoples and taken to Detroit to exchange with the English. The English took him in and granted him land across the river in the town of Kingsville in Essex county (About a 30 minute drive outside Windsor today). This history is a part of who I am. Windsor and Essex county have shaped my family for almost 250 years. It has played an enormous role in who I am as a person and as a teacher.

Understanding how the place I grew up shaped me allows me to understand how, as a teacher, I can play a role in understanding Canada and how I as a settler on Indigenous land can be an ally to decolonizing our schools and working with Indigenous communities to create a better education system that will benefit all students.

I spent many years just wishing to leave Windsor behind. As I grow older and live far away from my home town I've learned to not only appreciate it but love it as well. Windsor is often looked at as an undesirable place in Canada. I would argue that Windsor is not only a beautiful city with amazing people, but it's history and sense of place is always looming over us and shaping our lives. Windsor people are some of the best people I know!