One of my main beliefs about education is that we need to be providing authentic “real-world” experiences for our students and to satisfy this idea, I try to have guest speakers visit my classroom on a regular basis. I often think about how someone from the “field” can provide so much more insight and explanation than I ever could. I truly believe that no matter how much research a person can do, personal experiences can trump research as human beings love to listen to stories. Personal stories evoke emotion and can have so much more of a profound impact.
In my ENG 2PI course, we spent a couple of weeks learning about mental health and the variety of treatments available. As this happened over Remembrance Day, we focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and veterans. Through our research, we learned that a treatment that is proving to be quite beneficial is that of using therapy dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD. We did some further research and discovered that organizations here in Ontario were on the forefront of this initiative. We invited Elizabeth Baker from Thames Centre Service Dogs and this morning she came to talk to our class about their work.
What unfolded was more than I could have expected. From the moment she and Oliver (her personal therapy dog) arrived, my students were engaged. They asked deep and thoughtful questions, were an amazing audience, and showed such respect. I was so proud as so often applied level students are seen as the ones who don’t possess these qualities but my students yet again broke the stereotype. She described the roles her dogs play in helping people and in many cases, the dogs are used to help people in extremely heart-wrenching situations. For the whole class, everyone (including me) sat with our jaws on the ground as her stories truly touched our hearts.
The transformation in my students was also amazing. Students who often don’t say anything were smiling and laughing, students who are often quiet and reserved were sharing stories about their own lives and feelings, and students who I can tell have a lot of pain in their lives were comforted and relaxed. I wish I could say the reason for this was something I did, but the truth is that it was Oliver who gave these wonderful feelings to the students. What he gave to my students as human beings was more than I could ever have done in class today.
It speaks volumes as to why it’s crucial to give these students authentic experiences that are about life…