Ada Glustein’s passion for learning and teaching shines through in her self-published memoir Being Different. (photo from Ada Glustein)
Duke’s father would beat him. Tien, a refugee from Cambodia, had witnessed unimaginable violence. Louise was in and out of foster care because her father had drug addictions and her mom was emotionally unstable.
These are just a few of the countless children Ada Glustein encountered in her time as a teacher. Many of her young charges – she taught kindergarten mostly – faced harsh conditions at home and adult-sized problems. She shares her and their experiences with kindness and compassion in her memoir Being Different: From Friday Night Candles to Compassionate Classroom, which she self-published last year. She dedicates the book to her “parents, grandparents and ancestors whose struggles and strengths brought them to Canada, where at last they found their place to call home.” She also writes, “To my children and grandchildren, whose journeys bring the hope for a future of respect, social justice and belonging for all.”
While Glustein was born and raised in Ottawa, her Jewish Orthodox grandparents and parents came from Russia, from an area that became Ukraine. Part 1 of Being Different – Where I Am From: Stories of Home and Community – is about Glustein’s family and her early years. “Though my parents considered themselves to be modern,” she writes, “to me they seemed to live in a world caught between the old and the new.”
From her perspective, her father believed she asked too many questions and her mother fretted too much over her safety. But they came from a different time and place, more traditional and more dangerous. “My family comes from a place where the grass is greener somewhere else. Any place that is not Eastern Europe, not within the Pale of Settlement. Any place to leave behind the pogroms and the poverty, the losses of children who died in childbirth or wasted away from consumption. I do understand the silence,” she writes.
“But I also understand the richness of life’s difficult experiences and their inevitability. To allow those experiences to touch me, even to hurt me, helps me to live a full human life, to live with the reality of how things are.”
Part 1 of Being Different is about Glustein’s efforts to understand her place and who she is within her family. Part 2 – Where Do I Belong? Lessons at School – takes that exploration of identity and differentness into the broader world, where Glustein has to confront Christmas plays, lecherous older men, peer dynamics and a mix of teachers with different approaches, among other life lessons. In Part 3 – Becoming a Teacher: Finding My Way Home – we see how Glustein translates what she has learned into being an educator. And, honestly, if only every teacher could be like Glustein – not because she is perfect, but because she cares, and is continually learning.
Glustein graduated from Ottawa Teachers’ College, completed her bachelor of education at the University of British Columbia and her master of arts at Simon Fraser University. She taught for many years – in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver – and also became a faculty associate and sessional instructor at SFU, where she taught teachers. After she retired, she became a member of two writing groups and has had several of her works published. Being Different won a silver medal for Canada-West Region, non-fiction, in this year’s Independent Publisher Book (“IPPY”) Awards, and deservedly so.
Being Different is charming and heartbreakingly honest, written in short, crisp chapters, giving it a sense of immediacy. It is a call for all of us to be more patient with one another, to keep an open mind and to understand the impact our actions have on other people, especially children. In her openness about her own imperfections and missteps, Glustein is also asking us to be kind to ourselves. A more accepting and inclusive world begins with us, after all.
Being Different will be engaging to any reader – it will foster many a childhood memory – but should be a must-read for anyone interested in becoming an educator. It is available on Amazon.