(From my students, I mean. Husband dear? You have my list.)
I don’t want a mug that says, “World’s Best Teacher”, or a gift certificate to Starbucks, or even (gasp) a bottle of wine.
I know these things are purchased with the Christmas spirit in mind but, in my humble opinion, they neither necessary nor needed.
Teaching is my job and I get paid for it. I don’t need a gift for doing my job.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want something for Christmas. It’s just that you can’t buy it at the mall.
Here’s what I wish was under my tree this Christmas:
1. From: The general public – Respect. Teaching is one of those jobs that everyone has an opinion on because once upon a time they went to school and they saw how things were done and they know how things could be better. Everyone, from Joey at the grocery store to Bill Gates at Microsoft, thinks they know better than teachers (who have both the education and the experience).
2. From: My administrators – Respect. I know what I’m doing. Help me do it by supporting me, standing by me, and guiding me when I get off track. If I have your support, I can do anything.
3. From: My fellow teachers – Respect. We are all in this together. Let’s share our ideas, our plans. The more we work together, the better things will be for our students. It takes a village to raise a child and we are the villagers.
4. From: Parents – Respect. I want your child to succeed. Sometimes your child may not like me very much and that’s OK. I’m not here to be your child’s best friend. My job is to help them to learn and to leave my classroom better educated than they were when they came in. But I can’t do it alone. I need your support. If your child comes home and says, “My teacher hates me” ask why he thinks that. Call me. E-mail. Talk to me about how we can work together to make things better for your child. Don’t immediately jump into Mama Bear mode and call the school demanding that my head be served on a platter.
5. From: Students – Respect. Listen carefully, please. Cell phones down. Eyes up front. I want you to succeed. The only reason I come to school everyday is because of you. I am always thinking about ways to help you, ways to engage you through interesting and relevant lessons plans. I want what’s best for you. If you got a 65% on your report card, it is not because I hate you. It’s because that is the mark you earned this term. And I promise you, I will do everything I can to help you improve. But I need your cooperation. I can’t do it alone. It’s like the old expression, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” I can walk you down to the water, but unless you put your head in and drink, you are always going to be thirsty.
6. From: Myself – Respect. This one is the hardest. Most teachers are extremely empathetic creatures. We care deeply about our students. It’s what makes us get up in the morning. But it’s also our downfall. When we read articles that describe teachers as lazy and greedy, it hurts. When parents jump to conclusions and attack us for trying to help their child, it hurts. When a student you’ve been bending over backwards trying to help, turns on you, it hurts. You start to doubt yourself and your choices. And then everyone suffers.
So, for Christmas this year, I want to give all of my fellow teachers (including myself) the gift of respect.
“When did WE become the old ones?” my friend and fellow teacher asked me the other day.
It was a conversation we have had a few times.
We know that ‘technically’ we aren’t exactly old, but professionally we are now the ones with experience on our side. More and more we are finding that younger, less experienced staff are coming to us for advice. We are now expected to mentor, rather than be mentored.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors and their importance lately.
My mentor, Mary Murray, died last week. Mary was larger than life and like most people who are larger than life, we all thought she would live forever. She was 78 and she crammed more living into her one lifetime than most people could do in a dozen.
As I read her obituary it occurred to me that she was MY age now when I first met her almost 30 years ago.
I met Mary when I was 18 years old. She hired me to work as a pseudo camp counsellor at an intensive English language immersion program (ELP) for the summer. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and it seemed, neither did she.
I was, to say the least, not a model employee.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even been to camp, much less worked at one. I didn’t understand the 24-hours a day-7 days a week-6 weeks in a row, on-duty all the time culture. I had never lived away from home before and my only other job had been working as a cashier at the mall.
Those first few weeks were miserable.
I missed my family, my friends, my bed, and my dog. I had never shared a room with anyone and suddenly I was in a tiny dorm room with a girl who seemed to know exactly what to do and when to do it.
I remember the first (of many) sing-songs I attended. Singing was like breathing at ELP – it was done regularly and with vigor. I was handed a tambourine and a songbook and told to sing along in front of 300 or so English second language students from around the world.
I looked at that tambourine and I looked at the staff who were singing along like we were at some bizarre version of Woodstock and I thought, “Oh.my.god.This place is frickin’ nuts.”
Why I wasn’t fired in week one is still a mystery to me.
But I wasn’t. And I didn’t quit either. I stuck it out and slowly I started to understand how this strange new world operated. My roommate, Colleen, took me under her wing and helped me to see the fun side of the job.
And Mary stood by me. She advised me, counselled me, and cheered me on. She gently scolded me when I needed it and I needed it often. Not that she really had to scold me. Just catching a raise of her eyebrow was enough to make me want to do better, to be better.
I survived that first summer (barely) and came out of it with my eyes, my mind and my heart opened wider than they had ever been before. (I was also 20 lbs. heavier, but that’s a different story. Turns out I wasn’t “naturally” skinny after all and that cafeteria food was not my friend.)
The next summer I vowed that I wasn’t going back. I moved out west and lived with my parents, but I quickly realized I wanted to go back. I couldn’t have explained why. I just knew I missed it.
After the first month, I called Mary and asked if she thought there were any jobs she thought I could do.
No hesitation. No warnings that things had to be better this time around.
She just said enthusiastically (as she said everything), “Of course! I’d love to have you back!”
She gave me a job in the office where I discovered that I loved managing the paperwork and organizing events. I didn’t know that this would be my strength, but Mary did. She knew that I would be good at it if she gave me the chance. Once again, she helped me, guided me, and nudged me along.
A few years later, after I graduated with my Arts degree, I got married and moved away. I thought I had left that part of my life behind. But life is life and eventually I was back and looking for a job. Once again, Mary said, “Wonderful! I know what you can do” and she offered me a job teaching grammar.
Grammar. Really? But Mary knew me and she trusted that I could do it. And she was right. It was perfect for me. It wasn’t a difficult class to teach (very structured and organized…just the way I like things) and it gave me as chance to see if I actually enjoyed teaching.
And I did. After teaching ESL, I decided to go back to university and get my Education degree. And the rest, as they say, is history.
But Mary was never history for me.
Even though I rarely saw her again after those summers, I never forgot her. Her words and lessons echoed in my ears as I moved throughout my teaching career.
I sent her a Christmas card every year and always tried to include a little note about something I did in my teaching or with my children that year that I could credit back to her.
Mary was a natural mentor. At her funeral and the reception that followed, I met person after person who talked about how Mary had guided them, helped them, mentored them. She never wanted to create Mini-Marys. Instead, she wanted all of us to be the best we could be. She helped us to find our gifts. She saw our strengths and nurtured them until we were ready to fly on our own.
I know I’ll never be a mentor like Mary, but that’s OK. She wouldn’t want me to be. I know she would want me to be the best ME I can be and to help guide and mentor the next generation of teachers and leaders to be the best they can be.
I’ll do my best, Mary.
“Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.” Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring
To my little boy, who is suddenly, miraculously, all-grown-up,
Tomorrow we leave with a truck filled to the brim with your sheets and pillows and computer and clothes and start the five-hour drive to your new home. A dormitory filled with boys and (heaven help me) girls just like you who are starting a new chapter in their lives.
It seems like we’ve been preparing for this move all summer. The list of things to get, to buy, to wash, to sign and to organize seemed like it would never end.
Until it did.
And now there isn’t anything left for me to do or buy or wash or pack.
I thought that during your last night at home, I would give you lots of deep, sage, soul-searching advice that would carry you through the good times and the bad while you are away at university but…
I got nothin’.
And you know what? I think that’s good.
I think it means we already did that. Over the past 18 years, anything that needed to be said has already been said many times over.
Don’t worry about us. Your dad is ready. I’m ready. (And you know your brother was ready last month when he started measuring your room to see where he would put his furniture!)
You’re ready and I am so excited for you.
There’s a whole new world waiting out there for you.
As an elementary school teacher, I rarely assign homework.
Of course I encourage my students to read. I also encourage them to follow the news, eat right, and be kind to their friends and family.
But nightly math sheets and fill-in-the-blank grammar exercises?
I’ve studied the research, read the books, watched the kids, and talked to the parents. I’ve raised two boys to teenagehood and I was in school for almost half my life. And I know, in my gut and in my brain, that regular, daily homework for homework’s sake is at best, unnecessary, and at worst, detrimental to children’s learning.
You can start the shrieking and the hand-wringing now. I’ll wait. I’ve taken more flak for my decision to not (regularly) assign homework than I have for just about anything else in my career (except my smart mouth, but that gets me in trouble everywhere I go).
The myths that surround the benefits of homework have been around for so long, most of us just assume it’s a necessary evil.
But it’s not.
Now, I know what you’re saying.
Reader: OK, Heather, let’s say that I believe you (which I don’t) when you say the research shows that homework makes little or no difference in terms of academic success, especially at the elementary school level, but what about the non-academic benefits?
Me: Like what?
Reader:Well, you know, homework teaches kids responsibility and time management and self-discipline. That stuff is important!
Me: I agree. Those things are important. But does homework really teach those things? Can you show me a study that proves that to be true? How many 7-year-olds do you know who come home from school and pull out their homework and say, “Gee Mommy. I have to finish this math worksheet and colour in this photocopied picture of an apple without going outside the lines before school starts again tomorrow. Let me see, how much time will I need? I guess I’ll have my snack now and then I’ll go outside and play for 30 minutes. That will leave me with enough time to colour in the apple while you’re making dinner. Then I might watch a little TV for no more than 45 minutes because I need to leave myself lots of time to work on this math because I really don’t understand it.”
Let’s be honest here.
When homework comes home, the only person who has to cram more responsibility, time-management and self-discipline into their already crazy day is the parent or guardian of the youngster with the homework.
So, how DO we teach important things like those noted above?
One word: laundry.
Now, this means that the job of teaching responsibility, time-management, and self-discipline outside of school hours has to be taken out of the hands of teachers and placed into the hands of parents and guardians.
I know. Now I’m talking crazy talk.
“But you’re the teacher! It’s your job!” I can hear you screaming.
Yes, I’m the teacher. And when your child is in school, I will do everything I can to teach them all sorts of things, both academic and non. But, I can’t follow my students home.
And home is where these incredibly important lessons need to be taught.
Household chores (unlike homework) have been proven to instill in children all of those great non-academic life lessons that help nurture and grow our children into responsible adults.
“Using measures of an individual’s success such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs, and examining a child’s involvement in household tasks at all three earlier time, Rossmann determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less “successful.” The assumption is that responsibility learned via household tasks is best when learned young.” http://www.cehd.umn.edu/research/highlights/Rossmann/
Children who feel like they are contributing members of their community are more likely to feel like they belong.
I am not suggesting we send our children back down into the mines on the backs of old ponies to dig for coal. I am suggesting that they do age-appropriate tasks that allow them to feel like they are contributing to making life better.
Children are not pets or pieces of furniture or even guests. They are a valuable part of the family unit. They BELONG.
I chose laundry as an example but any chore will do. (Don’t panic. You can ease into it. I’m not expecting your child to be running a laundromat out of your home at age 11.)
Children as young as 3 can be taught how to put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper instead of throwing them on their floor.
By the time that child reaches elementary school, he or she can sort the laundry into whites and colours and help mom or dad carry it to the washing machine. They can also put their clean clothes away in the drawers.
Then you can add folding or hanging up their own clothes. (This one is scary because children rarely fold their clothes in a way grown-ups consider acceptable. That’s OK. If they don’t like wearing wrinkle clothes, they will do it differently next time.)
You want to teach a teenager about time-management? Let them do their own laundry. They will soon discover that if they want to wear that dirty shirt and those jeans to the dance, they need to do their laundry at least the night before so everything will have a chance to dry.
You want to teach a child about self-discipline? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that instead of playing video games non-stop for 3 hours, they need to keep an eye on the washer, so they can move one load to the dryer and get another one in.
You want to teach a pre-teen about responsibility? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that no one else is going to pick their dirty clothes up off the floor and wash them, so they better do it or else they’ll be wearing dirty clothes to school.
(Note to the OCD Moms out there. Back away from the mess. Seriously. Close your eyes, put your hands in your pockets, breathe into a paper bag. Better yet, shut the door, walk away, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit. Do whatever you have to do but do NOT go in there and ‘rescue’ your child. Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain.)
Disclosure: I have two teenage sons. Both have been doing their own laundry, along with numerous other chores, for years. One took to it like a duck to water, while the other kept forgetting to add the laundry soap.
The first time he realized what he had done, he called me into the laundry room in a panic, “Omygawd! Does this mean I have to do it all over again?!” (Like he had just scrubbed each item of clothing by hand on a rock in the middle of a river.)
“Well,” I said. “Smell your clothes. Do they smell clean?”
We both smelled a piece of wet clothing. Mine smelled like wet stinky teenage boy.
Yup. Suburban Princess Teacher, Clark Kent, Jason Collins – we’re all out of the closet now.
A few days ago I sent a story into the Huffington Post about the mini-mental-breakdown I had following a very trying school year. I wasn’t expecting to hear back…this was the Huffington Post, afterall.
But I got an e-mail back within the hour.
“We want to publish your story but you need to use your real name.”
To paraphrase the foul mouth kitties above: Damn! Now things just got real.
I checked in with a good friend who is both an amazing writer and a trusted mentor. She said it was time. Time to stop hiding and step out of the shadows. Let the writing speak for itself.
So, I put on my big girl panties and took a big cleansing breathe and…pushed send.
Let me know what you think. I’m pretty sure I can handle it.
Growing up in the suburbs of New Brunswick in the late 70’s, it was pretty clear that only the rich families went to Florida on vacation.
Vacations with my family did not consist of getting on a plane and flying to…well, anywhere.
Instead, they involved an annual 14-hour drive (each way) to southern Ontario to visit the grandparents and assorted relatives.
My mother packed breakfast, lunch and supper and we drove straight through. My father white-knuckled it beside crazy-Quebec drivers, while my brother and I bounced around (sans seatbelts) in the back of the car. We would flip the seats down in the station wagon and lay out the sleeping bags, so we could read our comic books and punch each other until someone reached back and smacked at us from the front seat.
We never stopped at a hotel on the way for a night of fun and frivolity. Well, we might have once but I think it was because the car broke down and I don’t believe there was any frivolity.
Like I said, Disney was not part of my childhood. (Thanks a lot, Dad…you owe me for some serious therapy).
Fast-forward 20 years: my children are of that “Disney” age but still it’s not in the cards. For one thing, my boys were runners and climbers. Both had near-misses with cars around the age of 3 and I spent much of their early years just praying they wouldn’t die on my watch. Combine my fears of them running off into the Magic Kingdom and being kidnapped by Goofy with the fact that we had about 37 cents to rub together and once again, Disney was out of the picture.
It seemed as if I was destined to be a Disney virgin for life.
But then…all that changed.
On a whim, my husband and I decided to take the plunge. We pulled the kids out of school and flew to the magical land of Mickey and Minnie. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the best time…my eldest graduates this year and 7 days out of school when you’re facing grade 12 exams probably wasn’t the smartest thing we could have done, but we were on a mission – we were Disney bound!
We left on a cool Canadian morning in May and arrived to steaming hot Orlando temperatures.
Our days were full.
I had bought tickets for 3 days in Disney, 2 days at Universal Studios, 1 day at SeaWorld, and 1 day at Wet and Wild. We left two days open for shopping and relaxing.
Let me tell you – those two days off?
My senses have never been so overloaded in my life.
Sights, sounds, smells – everything comes at you full speed at Disney (and by Disney, I mean all of the Orlando theme parks…they’re all Disney to me). You are on a thrill ride before you even set foot on a roller coaster.
I am grateful to have gone but I don’t know if I would go again. I think it’s something like childbirth. You would only do it again if you could forget what it was like the first time around.
All that said, since I am now an experienced veteran of all things Orlando, I will share my tips and observations with you. (You’re welcome.)
All good things end in the gift shop…and all rides…and all shows. You literally walk through hundreds of gift shops during a week at Disney. Put on the blinders and march quickly through the gift shops. There are hundreds of discount stores mere miles from the amusement parks. You do not need a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like Mickey and Minnie. And if you really, really do? Buy them for $9.99 at the outlet store, instead of $29.99 at the gift shop.
As much as I enjoyed all of the ‘activities’, waiting for my boys to finish riding the crazy-ass roller coasters gave me the chance to people watch. There is nothing like people watching at Disney – you see all shapes, sizes, ethnic groups, ages and personalities and hear all types of accents. I saw people in clothing choices that made me wonder if they owned a mirror and I saw tatoos on everyone from grannies to pre-teens. It was like watching a movie.
Babies at Disney…WTF?! I don’t get it. What benefit does a BABY get out of a day at an amusement park? Now, if you have other children and you’re just dragging the baby along for the ride, I kinda get it…I couldn’t do it, but I understand. But there were adults there with just a baby…trying to get the carnie-worker to let them take their BABY on the rollercoaster with them?! Stop. Put.the.baby.down. (One exception to the baby rule is my cousin Tracy, but that’s only because she is a superwoman and she does Disney with kids the way it should be done…with kid rides and kid activities.)
Water rides will save your life. Don’t worry about getting soaking wet…you will get soaking wet but you won’t care because Orlando is stinking hot and you will dry quickly. The water rides will cool you off but even better than that, they will soothe any crankiness or nastiness that might be setting in after a day of sensory overload.
Street food is everywhere. Word of advice? Walk away from the giant “turkey legs”. At $10 a piece, these things could feed an entire family. But should they? I have never seen a “turkey” with a leg that big. And the meat is pink, more like ham than turkey. I am pretty sure these things are made from some sort of weird hybrid. Turkey + pig = purkey. I would not encourage the eating of purkey until more testing can be done.
Carry your own bottled water. We bought a two-four of bottled water at a local convenience store for $2.99, which coincidentally is what you pay for ONE bottle of water at the parks. We hydrated ourselves like we were hiking through the Sahara desert.
Carry some real food for lunches and snacks. Yeah, the street meat and deep fried foods are fun…for awhile. But there comes a time when you hit the wall and you can’t bring yourself to pay $7 for a hot dog that tastes like…well…a hot dog.
Allow yourselves downtime. For us, it was sitting around in the evenings, watching TV or hanging out around the hotel pool. That’s when the kids would tell us what they liked, didn’t like, wanted to do, didn’t want to do.
Enjoy it for what it is. Yes, it is a super-sized, commercialized, sensory experience but for me, it was a chance to spend time with my husband and our boys without any interruptions from real life. Just us and Mickey.