It gives me tremendous joy to introduce you to Carlie Kilduff. Some of us have the privilege of meeting someone and immediately knowing that we’ve met a friend for life. That’s how it was for Carlie and me. Carlie is a spoken word artist, and my friends thought she would be a perfect fit for my fundraising event, Eyes On Talent. They couldn’t have been more spot on!
Carlie not only agreed to perform spoken word, but as an event organizer, she offered to help me bring the details of the evening together. It would take me too long to describe the heart and soul of this woman and her brilliance as an organizer (and former high school teacher). I simply know is how blessed I am to have met her and call her my friend. Here now is her story:
I had no idea what was in store when I first met them. They were a group of rowdy, unruly grade nine students with a reputation for sending teachers on stress leave. Some of their teachers were referring to them as “The Sweat Hounds” but I call them “The Class”.
I was not supposed to join the roster of teachers assigned to them in September 2011, but with a sudden change of fate I found myself welcoming them into my classroom a few days into the new school year. I was supposed to teach Social Studies, but since I had never taught this subject before, I begged to have it changed. I did not want to add the stress of a new subject to an extremely challenging class. I was granted the opportunity to teach English. I had never taught English either, but since I loved to read and write, I was much more keen to accept this mission.
It could not have come at a worse time in my life. Hard stories from some of my family members were spiralling out of control, I had just landed back to work after two years of leave from the birth of my first son, and I was trying to conceive my second child with some difficulty (no wonder why!). The way that I had always prided myself on perfectly planning and staying on top of every little detail was being chipped away day by day. Looking back, it was my “perfect storm” and many great and amazing things have followed.
The bell rang that morning and I braced myself as the class came bursting through my door. There was an energy about them, alerting me that I’d better pay attention. In my years of teaching, I had worked with some very tricky students and classes, but this was a whole new level. They trickled in, a slow parade of teenage hormones and the smell of Axe cologne.
One girl in particular seemed to be in charge so I watched her intently. She pulled a desk out of the lines that I had arranged and placed it beside her friend’s desk, right at the back corner, and threw her legs up on top of the desks with purpose, placing her head down in her arms with a look that said: “Go ahead and try me.” I was familiar with students trying to make hard-core first impressions before but every one of them had previously taken a step back when I approached them with kind firmness and gave them a cue of my expectations. Not this girl.
When I asked her to separate the desks and sit up properly, with full respect and gentle guidance, she said: “No!” The show was on and a few eyes and ears perked up as I had to quickly adjust my strategy, trying to offer her a doorway out of our confrontation, by suggesting that perhaps she was not understanding that I was serious and would have to send her to the office if she did not cooperate with me, making for an unnecessary first experience together. She very slowly and reluctantly did as I had asked, with every ounce of resistance and attitude she could possibly muster while still towing the line. I knew at once that this was going to be a gruelling hour.
It was a few weeks before I was able to teach a full lesson with the class. Managing their behaviour was a massive job, and keeping them emotionally and physically safe was a priority beyond curriculum. This also fell in the midst of terrible conditions due to teacher job action. Teachers and administrators were not communicating functionally, making everything much more difficult.
This was a class full of high needs. On paper there were far too many with various learning and behaviour challenges, but in reality, there were only three or four out of thirty who would be classified as “typical” and who seemed keen and ready to learn. Poor kids. All of them.
No matter where they sat, it was always at risk of fights breaking out and I would have line-ups of students saying that they must be moved because they could not sit near so-and-so or so-and-so. There was not enough space to hide the dysfunction and damage. When I dug into their family stories I was horrified to learn what had shaped them. Collectively, as a class being together for many years in the school, they had encouraged several teachers to leave them due to stress. Individually, they were a motley crew of horrendous pain stories.
It all made sense even if it was overwhelming. Since my life was a series of pieces falling apart at this time already, I was finding my own health and well-being to be on a slippery downhill slope. I had been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder in my early twenties. I had been on medications for many years, weaned off, was back on, and was off again when working with the class. Since I was trying to conceive a baby, I did not want to get back on medications or I would have to postpone the conception, seeing as it would be developmentally damaging for a fetus.
I was riding a tight line. I was keeping careful watch on my own health and professionalism. The stress was beyond anything I had ever experienced. I had always kept up with a busy lifestyle very well, being highly organized and hardworking, but the seams were falling apart and there was nothing I could do about it.
As this was happening, a small voice seemed to assure me that it was alright. I found a calm place in the storm and began to hang out there. It wanted to tell me some very important things. Letting the outside loosen, I was able to dive into this new space and it was here that I began to investigate what these students needed from me and how I could possibly give it to them.
It was a call for self-love, for compassion and nurturing in ways I had never known in my own life. This was the missing piece. There was a form of love that they needed, and school had been far too busy and preoccupied to offer it to them. Life in general does not teach us about this kind of love. Excited to have put my finger on it, I found myself at a loss for how to bring them this love, since I was also without it.
My mission from that point became one of learning how to love myself in this way so that I could love them and teach them to love themselves.
Things in the classroom radically changed and we made some serious transformations. It was surreal in many ways. Young lives were deeply touched but none more than mine. This was the defining moment of my life.
After some forward movement with the class, I had calmed down enough to conceive my second son, and with a tiny growing life in my womb, I was aware that my health was still at risk, so I had to make a tough decision to reduce my teaching load before taking maternity leave. Sadly, I had to say good-bye to the class. I had avoided it as long as I could because I did not want them to think that they had scared me away, I wanted them to know that everything we had been through together was real and true, and most of all, I loved them.
There were many tears as I wrapped up with the class. I continued teaching part-time until taking my leave to prepare for the birth of my son. My pregnancy had been hard and I needed some rest and self-care.
My beautiful son was born on June 20, 2012, making me a momma for the second time. Rather than experiencing post-partum depression like I did after my first birth, I hit the ground running. Something had touched me to the core. I was a new creation, and I had work to do.
Many amazing stories have come from and through the class. It has been a mixed bag of emotions and stories. Since working with and learning to love them and myself, I have embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing. I have transformed from the inside out. This is a process still underway . . . it never ends!
I have resigned from teaching and am now offering spoken word poetry shows at local coffee shops in Victoria. I share powerful and passionate messages of love, joy, peace, healing, shifting world, and self-value. My work is deep, moving, and electric. Many people have connected with it and lives are being changed.
I encourage you to find my videos on YouTube (go to YouTube and type in my name). Please take the time to watch. If you like what you see, will you please help me spread them far and wide through your social media networks and word of mouth? This is not a business, but rather it is a ministry of the heart. I am a truth seeker and speaker. Our world is starving for truth but many are reluctant, and so I need all the help I can get in connecting these messages, delivered so beautifully through my spoken word poems, with those who need to hear them. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Carlie to Come
I have sensed a change of direction, or a deepening of mission for a long time. My show series has come to an end for the summer. I plan to do some busking downtown for fun and when September rolls around, I will begin anew. I am not sure exactly what is to come, but I can feel it creating within me. I will continue to share my spoken word poetry, but I see myself doing more speaking and advocating. I will be calling myself a Spiritual Health Educator and Advocate. I feel called to take on some very gritty topics like “The Voice of Depression and Suicide”, “Reconciliation with Religion”, and “This Game’s Not Fun” (about bullying).
We are always becoming. We are grown from the moments that we experience. I am forever grateful for the class and all that has come from them and the messy lessons they have taught me. Now, everybody who is touched by my work has been blessed by the class!
Be sure to watch Carlie’s Spoken Word Performance, Beauty Redefined:
As always, please leave your comments below or join us at Junie’s Writing Sanctuary to contribute to the conversation.