Uncategorized

One of Mine

rest in peaceTeachers know the expression.

Whenever something happens to a young person in the community where you teach, the first question that comes to mind is: “Was he or she one of mine?” ie. Was this person one of my former students?

If the news is good (they won a scholarship, were on a winning team, helped the community), the feeling is one of pride. “Bravo! I’m so proud of you.” You pat yourself on the back and think, “I played a small role in that.”

But when the news is bad, the grief is overwhelming.

A 17-year-old boy in my neighbourhood died last week and the first question was, “Was he one of mine?”

Sadly, he was.

Seven years ago, I had this bouncy, bubbly, bright-eyed boy in my grade 4 class. He had that long, wavy blond hair that boys often lose when they hit school and a smile that made it easy to forgive his whirlwind nature. He was, even though we aren’t supposed to admit it, one of my favourites. I never forgot him, even though I have probably only seen him once or twice since then. He is forever 10 years old in my mind. He should have gone on to have a wonderful life, full of love and laughter. I know he would have done good in the world. My heart breaks for the loss and aches for his family and friends who have to go on without him.

Rest in peace, Simon. You were one of mine and I will miss you.

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education, Rants, Retention, Teacher

The No Fail Philosophy Has Many Shades of Grey

One of the important conversations that took place during the recent Nova Scotia teachers contract negotiations dealt with the existence (or non-existence) of the province’s no-fail policy.

The Minister argued that no such policy existed; however, teachers and administrators knew that this unwritten rule was firmly enforced and argued that it made it difficult for them to support families and kids.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the great people on the interwebs weighed in and started sharing their opinions on the issue.

They said that “lazy” kids should be held back. As if a lack of ability was something that needed to be punished, so that these students would “try harder”. They also argued that a year being held back would result in all of these kids “catching up” and going on to future academic success.

fair isn't always equalNow, this argument does ring true in some cases. There are some students who are working the system. (Just like there are some people who slack off at work and some people who cheat the welfare system.) The kid who skips all of grade 10 so that he can play video games and deal drugs, probably shouldn’t get a free pass to grade 11. (He may need mental health and addiction support, but that’s another story for another time.)

But there are many, many more students, who try their best every day and still come up short. Perhaps the system isn’t built for them; perhaps their brain works a little bit differently.

That’s when the training and expertise that teachers have needs to come in to play.  That’s when we need to have those conversations with parents and students and figure out what’s best for that specific student. And that’s when the relationship between the teacher, the student and the family is so important.

Because if we trust that teachers want what’s best for their students and we trust that parents want what’s best for their children, then we need to trust their judgement.

And there’s the rub, right there. Trust.

Do you trust that teachers want what’s best for kids? Does our society? Does the government? If we don’t trust teachers to do what’s right, then how can we, in good conscience, send children to school every day?

In some cases, retention is right and good for the student. I’ve seen it work in the lower grades. Some of these little munchkins just aren’t ready for school at age 4 or 5. But a positive retention story after those early years is pretty rare, in my never to be humble opinion. There is lots of research that shows that retention does not result in student improvement and actually results in higher drop out rates as they go into high school.

In almost every case, the kids I’ve worked with want to do well. They just can’t. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid or lazy. It means the system isn’t working for them. A learning disability or cognitive delay means that no matter how many years you retain them, they will not “catch up” with their peers in their particular area of weakness. Knowing that, do you really want a 16-year-old sitting, seething in a grade 3 classroom? No? Neither do I. Neither do they.

Before we even consider retention, we need to look at helping our students move from where they’re at, to where they could be. That means beefing up our extra supports through adaptations and individualized plans. It means putting more money into specialists, like psychologists and speech therapists and guidance counselors, and investing money into our learning centres and resource teachers. We need to hold our students responsible for individual assignments and classroom behaviour every day, instead of letting them slide by and then slamming them at the end of the term with the fact that they have failed.

Instead of thinking that it’s the kids who are broken, perhaps we need to look at the underfunded, overcrowded cookie-cutter school system we have put them in.

Retention is not a black or white issue. We need to consider all of the different shades of grey before we rush into a decision that could have dire future effects.  Every child is an individual and needs to be treated as such.

We need all kinds of thinkers and doers in our society, not just the kids who are all academic strengths and no challenges. What a dreary world it would be if we were all the same.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

If you liked this post, consider ordering my book through Pembroke Publishers (Canada) or Stenhouse Publishers (United States). Thanks for your support!book-cover

 

 

American politics, conspiracy theories, critical literacy, Donald Trump, education, news media, Pizzagate, Teacher

Critical Literacy Skills are Critical, Especially Now

truth

These are some wild and crazy times.

How does a person know who or what to believe anymore? And more importantly, as teachers, how do we teach our students how to separate the truth from the tabloid headlines?

Fake news, alternative facts, liberal media, right-wing conservative news.

And smack dab in the middle is newly minted U.S. President Donald Trump madly tweeting out his version of the truth.

How you know what’s what and who’s right?

Anyone who has ever taught literacy knows that children and youth often have a great deal of difficulty figuring out the main point of a book, a video, or even a conversation.

Let me give you an example:

Grade 10 student Jeffrey has just finished reading a book about the holocaust. In the book, a  family is forced to flee their home in order to avoid capture by the Germans. The book is heart-wrenching and involves some family members being sent to a concentration camp.

When he’s done the book, you sit down with him and ask, “So, tell me about your book.”

“Well,” he says, “It’s about this kid in Germany during the war.”

“Sounds interesting,” you say. “Tell me more.”

“Welllll, there was this one part about a chicken.”

You strain your brain to figure out what he’s talking about…a chicken?

“What happened with the chicken?”

“Well, this kid goes to sit down on the train but there’s this chicken on board and it’s pooped on the seat. And the kid sits in it. That part was funny.”

“Um, OK,” you say, vaguely remembering this very small, inconsequential part of the story. “But what do you think this story was about? ”

“I didn’t really understand that much of it, (pause) but I really liked the part of about the chicken because once my brother sat in bird crap and we all laughed our heads off.”

As teachers we know from this short exchange that Jeffrey has probably not yet learned how to read critically or for meaning. The only thing he could find to talk about was a piece of the story that he could relate to and that he found funny (cuz, you know, poop is hilarious).

Sadly, this is how a large portion of the population is reading nowadays.

Being able to read critically and for more meaning is a skill that many students and, more frighteningly, many adults are sorely lacking these days.

I see this everyday on social media.

People take one small kernel of information that agrees with their point of view and proceed to spread it across their social media sites. Well meaning and well-educated people are sharing articles from disreputable websites merely because it amuses them or because the information aligns with their already preconceived notions.

Not understanding how to check your sources and verify your information is a modern plague on our society. Taking one person’s opinion and sharing it as fact is dangerous and it can make you appear ignorant. And I hate to break it to people, but just because you saw someone somewhere say something once in a YouTube video doesn’t make it a fact.

Unfortunately, President Trump has made it even more difficult for people to know what to believe. What do you do when someone in a position of great power tweets or says something that other people are saying is untrue? I understand how people can be torn…he’s the President, so he must knowon the other hand every major news outlet and expert with knowledge of the subject is saying he’s wrong.

ghandiSo, what’s a person to do?

First, ask yourself these three questions when you read something, hear something, or view something:

  1. What is the author’s purpose?

Why did the author write this? Was the purpose to entertain, educate or persuade? These aren’t difficult questions. I’ve done them with elementary school students and with a little thought and self-reflection they can usually figure out the author’s purpose. Just take a minute and think about it. If you feel like you’re being manipulated, chances are, you are.

  1. What is the tone of this piece and are there any persuasive elements being used to make me feel one way or the other?

Does the video try to scare you or make you feel afraid for yourself or your family? Is the tone condescending, making you feel as if you better believe what the person is saying or else you’re a dope? Is the person shouting or raising their voice in an attempt to get you to see the truth? If that’s the case, try to find a different source that gives you only the facts, something you can double-check on multiple sites. Try these non-partisan, fact-checking websites. They are great for doing a quick check.

  1. Politifact
  2. Fact Check.org
  3. The Washington Post’s Factchecker
  4. Snopes
  1. Is there any bias to this piece?

First, do a little research on the person writing the piece or making the statement. If that person is linked to one side, chances are their argument will be slanted towards that group or individual and you know you won’t getting both sides of the story.

This requires a bit of research and due diligence on your part, but it’s worth it. Think about it…do you want to make up your own mind on the issues or do you just want to take someone else’s word for it?

I would also recommend that you get more than one source. For example: A few months back there was this wild conspiracy theory making the rounds on the internet that claimed Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex ring out of a pizza joint. Now, before hitting “share” on your Facebook, first you could have checked to see if any of the major news networks were reporting on the story. You could have Googled it. Checked Snopes. This bizarre story, which was later nicknamed Pizzagate, circulated on the internet for weeks, gaining thousands of believers. One man went far as to test this theory by shooting a gun into a pizza parlour! Luckily no one was injured or killed, but it goes to show how dangerous false news can be.

If smart, savvy grown-up people are being taken in by bogus websites and fake news, how we can help our students avoid this trip down the rabbit hole?

We start by bringing media literacy lessons into every classroom – not just the language arts classes but science, music, history, everything. We tell our students, openly and honestly, that there is a lot of stuff on the internet and not all of it is true. And we help them navigate their way around. Yes, our children and youth are good with technology. What they are not good at is media literacy.

Talk about the news with your students. Encourage them to question what they watch, read and listen to. A great activity based website for teachers is MediaSmarts. It offers hundreds of activities to do with children from elementary straight through to high school. It invites them to question what they read and probe for the truth. I’ve done some of these activities with students in both elementary and middle school. The students are always amazed to discover that just because something has been published or put on the web doesn’t always mean that it is true or accurate or ethical.

Critical literacy skills are important for all of us, especially now. Develop your own and teach the next generation. It may be the most important thing you do for your students and yourself.

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book-cover

If you’re looking for more ways to help your students get the most of their literacy skills, check out my new book, Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction – Helping Our Students Become Literate, Considerate, Passionate Human Beings.

Links to the publishers

Canadian: Pembroke Publishers

American: Stenhouse Publishers

Uncategorized

So, NO! Now, what?

Great advice. Together we’re stronger. Our stories make us stronger. Let’s get out there and share them with whomever will listen to us.

Towards A More Perfect NSTU

So. Here we are, smack in the middle of uncharted territory. Minutes after 70% of voting public school members rejected the latest tentative agreement, Minister Casey made it clear that the government has no interest whatsoever in collective bargaining that involves further negotiation. That, coupled with repeated statements from Premier McNeil in the days leading to the ratification vote that the government will not allow an arbitrator to settle any collective agreement with public sector unions, leaves us with a collective bargaining process with one final chapter: strike action or lockout.

Let’s step back for a moment to consider our lot.

Collective bargaining is traditionally a process that has a continuum of options and phases designed to provide both sides with flexibility and opportunity to find avenues to arrive at mutually agreeable terms. At times, that process is fairly straightforward. In others, these options provide complexity that empowers problem solving…

View original post 2,292 more words

Be Brave, Rants, Uncategorized

THE STRAW THAT BROKE THIS TEACHER’S BACK

 

teacher

Hey. Psst. Teachers. Yeah, you.

NSTU members, in particular.

Can we talk?

WTF?

I mean seriously. What the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on?

We are supposedly in “contract negotiations” right now, but from my perspective it looks like we are being handed our hineys on a silver platter. And those doing the handing have their hands out like they are expecting a tip and a pat on the back.

Well, you can put your hands back in your pockets, folks. No tip for you!

Our new contract is basically a dog’s breakfast made up of our old, rejected, contract. It’s like we are being told that it’s new and improved, when really it’s last night chicken and it’s just as rubbery and tasteless as it was the first day it was served and sent back.

The union wants us to trust that they have gotten us the best deal they possibly could, but sadly I lost trust in my union a long time ago.

I, like many others I’ve talked to, have gone to the union for help with a variety of different issues and been told, “There’s nothing we can do to help you.”

The straw that broke my old, decrepit back this time around though deals with an issue so small that it might seem insignificant. But when seen in the larger picture of the culture of distrust, disrespect and a complete lack of understanding of what teachers really do, it actually serves as a perfect example.

It seems there is a rule regarding the reimbursement of teacher expenses whereby teachers are not allowed to earn  loyalty card (Air Miles, Chapters, etc) points if they want to be reimbursed for their purchases.

Is this news to you?

It was news to me until I arrived at my current school last year. I have been at seven different schools over the past 12 years (thank you, term contracts – not) and this is the first time this issue has ever come up. But the accountant who deals with our school refuses to reimburse any receipts that show that the teacher has received any sort of loyalty points.

WTF…again.

This is a major pain in the patooty because if you’re like most of us, you just scan your Air Miles card as a matter of course. I love watching the look on the 17-year-old sales clerk’s face when he asks, “Do you have an Air Miles card?” And I say, “Yes, but I’m not allowed to use it because my employer thinks I’m basically scamming the system if I swipe my card and earn 2 cents worth of points, even though I’ve driven all the way here on my own time with my own gas, to buy things I should already have in my classroom.” (Yes, sales clerks now go on break when they see me coming.)

So, I sent a request to my union rep, asking if he could look into this matter. He responded first by saying he thought teachers wouldn’t be allowed to gather loyalty points because of Revenue Canada tax implications (Not true. I checked the Revenue Canada site and loyalty points are not a problem. Check it out. http://www.crarc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/tpcs/pyrll/bnfts/lylty/menu-eng.html

That kind of annoyed me because really, it took me 5 seconds to Google it and find out an answer.

But the straw that really broke my back was when he said that the union wouldn’t want to get involved with this matter because of the “optics”. God forbid. They wouldn’t want the public to think teachers were gettin’ away with somethin’.

The optics.

Are you freakin’ kidding me right now?!!!

What “optics” would these be?

The one where teachers are purchasing things for their classrooms or their students on their own time, with their own money and then waiting a week/a month to see if/when they get reimbursed?

We should be getting patted on the back for this service, not being treated like we’re criminals who are trying to double-dip the system.

Who is my union protecting? Me or themselves?

See for yourself. This is what I sent to the union asking for their support. The response was a simple, sorry, we can’t help you.

___________________________________________________________

Request for policy regarding reimbursement of teacher expenses to be changed to reflect the reality of teacher expenses. I respectfully submit that this rule is insulting, discriminatory and absurd and ask that it be changed to allow teachers to use any points card they may possess when making purchases for their classrooms.

Fact: Teachers are not “getting away with something” when they use their points cards to purchase supplies for their classrooms. They are giving freely of their time, money and efforts in order to help their students meet their potential. Not reimbursing teachers for valid classroom expenses because they swiped their points card, suggests a lack of respect for people who are trying to do what’s best for their students.

Fact: Teachers are expected to purchase supplies for their classroom using money they receive through school fundraisers or from their administration. They are also expected to use their own time and source of transportation to travel to purchase these items. I challenge anyone to find a teacher who doesn’t spend their personal time and money, driving around purchasing items for their classroom.

If teachers were to charge for their actual expenses when they purchase items for their classroom:

Sample Hourly wage (based on 7 hour day) = $34/hr (Based on what I am charged if I take a day off without pay, approximate salary is $235 per day)

Mileage for school related activities – $0.438/km

Sample interest on money spent from the teacher’s chequing account – 3.2% (variable)

Value of Sample Points cards (ex. Air Miles, Chapters Plum rewards)

Air Miles

1 Air Miles point = $0.10

“It works like this: each time a collector accumulates 95 reward miles, he or she can exchange them for $10 off the bill at a participating retailer. The $10 is deducted after the payment of tax on the total bill.” – Air Miles website

At Sobeys you get 1 point for every $20 spent. So every $20 spent = $0.10 reward. Anything under $20 results in no points earned.

­Chapters Indigo – Plum Rewards

Earn 5 points for every $1 spent

1 Plum Rewards point = $0.002

2500 points = $5

________________________________________________________________

This is a sample invoice of expenses for a school learning centre that was not accepted simply because an Air Miles card was used and a Plum rewards card was used. If a teacher commits the unforgivable sin of swiping their points card, they must drive back to the store, ask for a refund, then repurchase the items without using their card, in order to be reimbursed. This costs teachers time, (gas) money, and unnecessary stress and hardship.

Purchases Cost (tax incl.) Point(s) earned Cash Value of Points Expenses of teacher to purchase product(s) Invoice
Sobeys

 

Baby Wipes for learning centre (LC) students who require toileting support

 

 

$9.18

(incl.$1.20 tax)

Air miles – 0

 

(purchase was less $20 so no points were earned)

$0.00 Mileage to and from school to Sobeys

14 km x 0.438 = $6.13

 

Time spent

$34/hr x 0.5 hrs = $17

 

 

$23.13 (+3.2% interest earned while awaiting reimbursement)

 

Chapters Indigo

 

Educational games and activities for LC students

 

 

$33.69

(incl.$2.26 tax)

Plum points – 157 $0.34 Mileage to and from school to Chapters

36 km x 0.438 = $15.77

 

Time spent

$34/hr x 1.5 hrs = $51

 

$66.77 (+3.2% interest earned while awaiting reimbursement)
Total Cost vs. Benefit Teacher would have received $0.34 in points with no cost to HRSB

vs

HRSB billed $89.90 for teacher expenses

And that’s what really gets my goat: The complete and utter lack of understanding for what teachers do, day in and day out.

Everyone likes to talk about how much money teachers make,“Oh, those teachers. Raking in the big bucks. Only working 10 months a year. What a life!”

But no one talks about how much it costs to be a teacher.

Teachers: How much do you spend each year on your classroom?

What types of things have you bought? Paper, pencils, games, furniture, clothing, food? The list endless.

This isn’t a hypothetical question. Please let me know in the comment section. I really want to know. I know elementary school teachers spend a fortune on items for their classrooms and that junior and senior high school teachers are often paying for large ticket items for their students for trips and supplies.

How much does your job cost you?

Everyone knows that teachers spend their own money in order to ensure their students have a classroom that is set up for their success.

Our Prime Minister (who is also my manservant in an alternative universe) knows this is true.

This past year, the Government of Canada created an income tax category for it. Truly! It’s called the Eligible Educator School Supply Tax Credit. This is, according to the CRA, a “new refundable tax credit calculated as 15% of up to $1,000 in eligible expenses per year, for supplies of an eligible teacher or early childhood educator. Therefore, the maximum tax credit is $150 per year.”

Think about that for a minute. The Government of Canada is saying: We know teachers are spending their own money in order to do their jobs properly and we are willing to give them 15% of that back. What? What?!

While I appreciate the acknowledgement of the money teachers are spending out of pocket, Prime Minister/Manservant, doesn’t this just seem WRONG???

What other group of professionals pay to do their job? And then only ask for 15% of that money back?

Imagine:

Scenario 1:

Jim, the nurse, is finishing up his shift when he realizes that Mary in room 4B doesn’t have a warm blanket for her bed and is all out of Kleenex. He knows there is no money left in the hospital budget, so after work he drives to Walmart, buys Mary a blanket and a few boxes of Kleenex and then goes home to his family – 1 hour later and $30 poorer. He knows the most he’ll ever get back is 15% of $30 ($4.50), but he sleeps better knowing his patient has what she needs.

Scenario 2:

Susan, the lawyer, is cleaning up her desk after her day at work when she realizes she’s out of copy paper. She has already spent the tiny budget she has been given to do her job properly, but she knows she can’t do her job tomorrow without it. So she puts on her coat, walks to the nearest office supplies store, spends $100 on copier paper, and then carries it back to work. Her boss knows she is spending her own money but feels it’s just “part of her job”. She doesn’t get reimbursed, despite the fact that she needs these materials to do her job properly.

Both of these scenarios sound ridiculous, but teachers do this kind of thing everyday.

So, this is my long, round-about way of saying, No.

Just no.

I get that our province is short of cash.

I get that our union feels they can’t negotiate a better deal.

But I’m not ready to say, that’s OK. Kick me again.

I’m too old for this crap. I’m giving 110% and I’m not even earning loyalty points for it.

I’m willing to take the risk and vote no.

We can stand up or we can lie down.

What are you going to do?

cant-scare-me

 

Uncategorized

Dear Hillary: How Very Dare You!

Fantastic article.

Social Justice For All

HillaryLet me be as candid and transparent as possible: I was a very strong supporter of Bernie Sanders, and until the past four weeks, held out great hope that he would become our next President. Over the course of the past month, I have had to do a great deal of reflecting and ask myself where does this seemingly irrational antipathy for Hillary Clinton come from? Why have I participated in it? After doing some research and looking hard at systemic misogyny, I have had to confront myself with the truth that I bought into a narrative about Hillary Clinton that has been produced, packaged, and perpetuated by mostly the GOP with the help of many democrats and independents.

This narrative is a 30-year-old vilification of a woman who is bright, independent, wealthy, and powerful — a woman who asks for what she wants and needs. How very dare you…

View original post 1,139 more words

Dallas police shootings, Donald Trump, education, gun violence, Orlando shooting, police violence, Rants, Teacher

Teach Your Children Well

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

Fear.

This nameless, unreasoning terror has paralyzed a nation once again.

In less than a month, the fabric of the United States has started to unravel at a rate that seems unprecedented.

First, we had the mass murder of the nightclub patrons in Orlando.

Then, two black men were shot by police during what appeared to be routine questioning, triggering protests across the country against police violence.

Finally, five police officers were killed, seven more were wounded, and two civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time were injured. The 25-year-old shooter, a man who said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers, is now dead.

First they blamed the Muslims, then the police, and finally the Black Lives Matter movement that was holding a rally where the police and civilians were shot.

As a Canadian, I can shake my head and tut-tut about the state of the United States of America, but we have our fair share of systemic racism here in Canada as well. We just have much stricter gun laws and an overall mindset that doesn’t argue for the godgiven right of all persons to own and carry automatic weapons just because somebody said we should a few hundred years. (Sweet Jesus, people. The founding fathers were talking about muskets, not AK-47’s. How hard is that to understand?)

It’s sickening and sad and terrifying to think that this is the world we have created for our children. It’s like we’re going backwards instead of forwards. And I blame it on one thing: fear.

People like Donald Trump are pouring lighter fluid on the fire of fear everyday. With every stupid, xenophobic, sexist, racist, homophobic tweet and sound bite, Trump and those like him, make that person who is already afraid of losing his job or going hungry that much more afraid and angry. And people who are angry and afraid, generally, don’t make good choices.

It’s natural to fear things we don’t understand. If you feel that your life is going down the toilet, it’s much easier to blame someone else, someone different from you, than it is to take responsibility for yourself and work to make things better.

quote-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-88369

Teachers alone can’t fix a society in crisis, but we can do our part to make sure the next generation is raised with more understanding, more compassion, and more strength.

We can do that by teaching them about the differences and similarities that exist between all people. We can help them realize and develop their ability for compassion and teach them to be brave enough to stand by their beliefs so that they can stand up for themselves and others. And we can empower them by giving them the tools they need to make intelligent, well thought out choices and decisions.

As teachers we can ensure that our students – ALL of our students – feel loved and respected everyday. We can cultivate an atmosphere in the classroom where our students support each other, not in spite of their differences, but because of them. We can show them that acts of kindness make us feel good and that being mean hurts us as much as it hurts the other person.

We can introduce our students to other cultures and sexual orientations, so that they  can see that people are people and love is love. We need to do this so that they don’t grow up thinking that people who are different are to be feared or reviled. We must do this so that they don’t grow up thinking that the only answers to their problems are those which involve violence and hate.

Teachers can’t change what’s happening today, but we can influence what happens tomorrow. We can educate our students about the world and the people in it and by doing so, rid them of the fear that is so pervasive in our world today.

By doing this, we can show them that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Coming September 2016Teaching with Humour, Compassion and Conviction – Helping Our Students become literate, considerate, passionate human beings. Heather Hollis (aka: SuburbanPrincessTeacher)

Published by: Pembroke Publishers.