Memoir, Princess, Suburban, Teacher, Uncategorized

Roots and Wings – Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

writing66Yesterday, I put my 14-year-old son on a plane and sent him 1,400 km across the country.

No, I haven’t completely lost my marbles. (If that were the case, I would have put his brother and his father and his senile old dog on the plane with him.)

He’s actually taking part in a week-long national program for youth called, Encounters with Canada. I already miss him like crazy, but I’m not worried. I’m confident that he is going to have an incredible experience. And it’s not just because he’s 14 going on 40 or because the program has been running for 31 years or even because his cousin just got back and said it was, like, totally awesome.

It’s because I know he’s resilient. He’s got the roots;  it was time for him to stretch his wings.

In his new book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, says adults need to help children develop the seven crucial ‘C’s:

  1. competence
  2. confidence
  3. connection
  4. character
  5. contribution
  6. coping
  7. control

Ginsburg, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine, says helping children develop these seven character traits will not only help them succeed in life, but it will also allow them to bounce back from whatever challenges life might throw at them. It makes them resilient and gives them roots.

To me, teaching is much like parenting. We need to trust that by the end of the school year, we have provided our students with the solid foundation they need to move confidently to the next grade or stage of their life. We also need to have faith that someone else will pick up the line once we let go.

As the end of June looms near, teachers often begin to panic. We worry that we haven’t given our students everything they need to be successful once they leave our classroom. We fret and wring our hands and say, “I don’t know what will happen to little Teddy in September when he goes into grade 1 (or 3, or 6 or 12 or university). He won’t get this kind of support next year.”

And yet he will.

One of the joys (?) of never having a permanent contract is that I have had the opportunity to work with students and teachers at almost every grade level, including a stint teaching ESL at a university. And I know that while elementary school teachers work their butts off to help their students, so do middle-school teachers and high school teachers. Even university and college professors will spend one-on-one time with struggling students. It’s something all good teachers have in common.

Letting a student or a child move on without us doesn’t mean we are throwing them to the wolves. It means that once we’ve done our job, we have to step back and trust. We have to trust that we have planted deep, strong roots that will help our children feel solid and secure and grounded. Then we have to trust that our children will remember these lessons and use them to guide their decisions.

Dr. Ginsburg says our goal should be to “think in the present and prepare for the future”.

He says that as teachers and parents we should aspire to help children become successful 35-year-olds. We shouldn’t always be thinking about the next grade or the next stage, but instead about how all of these experiences will come together to create an independent, self-sufficient happy adult. It’s about raising our children to be emotionally and socially intelligent.

Loving parents and strong teachers naturally give their children roots. That’s the easy part. Giving our children wings is a little harder. It means you have to let go. We spend so much time holding our children tight and keeping them safe, that letting them go seems to go against the very laws of nature.

It’s not easy, but when you let go and you see them soar?

It’s worth it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to go see if my son texted me. (He can fly free all he wants but he still has to touch base with mom every night.)

writing68

Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

The Sunshine Award – Yes, it’s all about me.

Sunshine Award

You like me! You really like me!

It appears I am a Sunshine Girl! A lovely lady over at http://1tric.wordpress.com/
nominated me for this blogging award. She follows me, I follow her – everyone wins by getting to read interesting posts on a regular basis.

I’m not really sure what a Sunshine Award means, but it’s a very pretty icon and I guess it’s better than a kick in the pants, so I’ll take it. Hooray for me!

The award comes with some rules that I must follow. They are:

* Make sure to post this award on your blog site. – Done
* Nominate ten fellow bloggers. – Done (see bottom of page and everyone over on the side, as well.)
* Please answer the ten questions. – and…Done-er-i-no.

1. What inspired you to start blogging?

I was tired of stifling my voice. As public servants and members of a union, teachers are expected (and actually required, in most cases) to keep their opinions to themselves. As someone who is, how shall I say it nicely, not exactly quiet about her opinions, I needed a place to vent, share and express myself.

2. How did you come up with a name for your blog?

I have always wanted to write a book called, Confessions of a Suburban Princess. I figured this blog would put me on the road to that goal. But the name, Suburban Princess, was already taken, so I tagged ‘Teacher’ on to the end and decided I actually prefered it.

3. What is your favorite blog to read?

http://thebloggess.com/ She makes me laugh with every post. She also inspired me to write this blog. After I read her best-selling book,  I thought, “Damn! That girl is crazier than a cat in a paper bag and she wrote a blog and a book. Maybe I could, too!”  Check her out…you won’t be sorry.

4. Tell me about your dream job.

I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up but my dream job should include beagles, George Clooney, wine and chocolate.

5. Is your glass half-full or half-empty?

It’s usually completely empty…I’m a chugger.

6. If you could go anywhere for a week’s vacation, where would you go?

Barcelona, Spain.

7. What food can you absolutely not eat?

Liver. It’s disgusting. I had to eat it once a month when I was a teenager because my mother was convinced it would raise my iron levels when I was men-stru-ate-ing. Helllooo? Had we not heard of iron supplements in the 80’s?? There’s really no need to eat an animals’ internal organs.

8. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

I’d like to say dark because it’s politically correct and all, but no…I could eat milk chocolate until it flowed from my orifices like lava. Pour it overtop of a soft gummy bear and you have my heart forever.

9. How much time do you spend blogging?

Not a lot. I don’t like it to get in the way of my “Vampire Diaries” watching.

10. Do you watch TV? If so, what are your favorite shows?

Of course I watch TV…what do you think I am? Amish? I LOVE TV and now that I have Netflix, I may never go back to work. I’ll just sit at home, eating my milk chocolate, watching series after series…ahhhh, bliss. Favorite shows? Vampire Diaries, Days of our Lives, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, What not to Wear…yes, I am an intelligent girl.

That’s it for the questions about ME. (Sadly.) And now, for the final part of this assignment: ten of my favorite bloggers. Check them out, if you have time on your hands that you don’t know what to do with. Also: I love the people down the side of my blog. They are cool, too. Enjoy.

OTHER AWESOME BLOGGERS

1. http://carrieblueberry.wordpress.com/

2. http://illbeoutinaminute.com/

3. http://siobhancurious.com/

4. http://5kidswdisabilities.com/

5. http://anotherthousandwords.wordpress.com/

6. http://ineedanewman.wordpress.com/

7.  http://peachyteachy.wordpress.com/

8.  http://pamela984.wordpress.com/

9. http://yacantgohome.wordpress.com/

10. http://thefoodgirlintown.wordpress.com/

Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Why I can’t get cocky about my mental health.

writing34You should never get cocky about your mental health.

I should know. For the most part, I’m a confident, easy-going woman. I have an amazing family and a ridiculous number of incredible friends. My life is full of an abundance of riches.

And yet I’ve suffered from depression.

Mental illness can strike any of us. It doesn’t discriminate.

I’ve seen an 8-year-old boy crawling on the floor, barking like a dog because of a mental illness that has been made worse because of years of abuse and neglect.

I’ve seen a teenager who has suffered with anger issues and hormonal imbalances all of his life, suddenly discover drugs and spiral out of control.

I’ve seen a big, strong, confident man brought to his knees by depression.

Thousands of stories just like these play out every day, all over the world.

And yet many suffer in silence, too ashamed to admit that they have a problem. They are afraid of what other’s might think or how it might affect their position at work. And some of these fears are valid. Individuals still face the possibility of discrimination and recriminations when they disclose a mental illness.

Sometimes though, people do get the strength and the courage to reach out for help for their spouse, their child, or themselves, only to be told that help isn’t available.

They are often told that the wait-time for mental health services is months away. That’s too long a wait when you are on suicide watch for your 13-year-old daughter.

As a teacher, I often hear those in the “back to basics’ camp calling for less focus on helping children understand their feelings, so that more time can be spent on their math and spelling skills. They say it like self-esteem is a dirty word. As any teacher knows, a student with a mental health issue is a student who isn’t learning like they could. Our first priority as teachers is for our student’s well being. End of discussion.

Bell Canada started the Bell Let’s Talk fundraising campaign in 2010 and has since committed to investing $62 million in Canadian mental health initiatives. Some have criticized Bell, saying their campaign is nothing more than a marketing strategy designed to promote their brand and their products.

To that I say, well…duh. It’s marketing 101, not rocket science, people.

But if their program helps reduce the stigma around mental health and the money donated allows more access to quicker mental health services, then I don’t care why they are doing it.

You see, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have the financial means to access treatment, be it therapy, when needed or medication, when necessary. I also have the support of loving friends and family.

But I know how privileged I am.

Many Canadians don’t have that. Which is why we need to be there for each other.

So, thank you, Bell.

And Canada?

Let’s keep talking.

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Teacher

CORRECTION: Michael Zwaagstra is a teacher, not a ‘former’ teacher.

In one of my previous blogs, I refered to Manitoba teacher, Michael Zwaagstra as a “former teacher”.

He is, in fact, a full-time teacher.

My apologies for my sloppy research and reporting.

If you would like to read his comments and reponse to my post, please check out the comment section of my last blog post.

In the interest of fairness, please check out his website. I don’t agree with everything he says or how he says it, but he makes some good points. http://michaelzwaagstra.com/

Rants, Teacher

Why Common Sense Education lacks Common Sense

writing30The student make-up of your average classroom has changed so dramatically over the past few decades that it is barely recognizable. So why are reformists suggesting we go “back to basics”? Why not go forward?

In a recent article, Mr. Zwaagstra, a representative for a group called Common Sense Education, says that teachers need to stop treating students like individuals and instead, focus on the subject:

Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time. Students would learn more and teachers would have more time to focus on things that really matter.

Quick question, Mr. Zwaagstra: when was the last time YOU, or any of your Common Sense Educating peers, were in a classroom?  I’m not talking about a homogeneous grade 11 Chemistry class where all of the students have already met the pre-requisites. That’s a challenging job but it’s not the same as teaching in a mixed abilities classroom.

I’m talking about a public school elementary or middle school classroom, where integration is fully in place.

Let me paint you a little picture I like to call “reality”.

It’s September and you have been assigned a class of 30 beautiful grade 4 children. You can tell already that they are nice kids and you want to do your absolute best to help them be the best they can be.

Besides yourself, you have a one teacher’s aid (or EPA) assigned to work one-on-one with a high needs student in your class.

There are thirty (30) students in your room. Six (6) have Individual Plans (meaning they are at least 2 grade levels behind their peers and have specific goals designed to help them improve), four (4) have Behavior Plans (this means they are disruptive to themselves, the teacher and the rest of the class), and five (5) have Adaptations, meaning they can meet the outcomes if they have a special accommodation in place. These adaptations can vary wildly, from making sure the student sits at the front of the room to having someone to write down everything they want to say because they have a writing disability.  (Note: Some children have more than one of these plans in place.)

That makes 15 children who need some sort of individualized support. Half your class.

Now, let’s go deeper. Those six children with Individual Plans? They are all different. They are as different as you and I, which means their plans are different.

One boy, who is big for his age, has severe autism and operates at a 3-year-old level, needing support for toileting and all other personal needs. He shouts out when he gets upset or overwhelmed or just plain excited and has been known to bite. He has EPA support and spends part of his day in the learning centre.

One boy has Asperger syndrome, which means he misses a lot of the social cues that his peers understand. This often results in hurt feelings and social unrest. He also cannot complete his work with one-on-one support. He does not have an EPA.

Two children are multiple grade levels behind in their math and two others can barely read at a grade 1 level. They do not have EPA support either.

Let’s see, what’s next?

Oh right. Behavioural issues.

One of your students lives in foster care, having suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of his parents and grandparents. At any given time, he could be crawling on the floor, barking like a dog, or snuggling in close, asking you to “please, please be my mommy.” The next minute he tells you to f-off and the struggle to remove him from the classroom, once again, begins.  He does not have an EPA.

And remember, he’s only one of four students with his own behaviour plan. And they are all different. Some have ADHD, which may mean they are all over the place or it may mean they are completely introverted. You will figure out which is which pretty quickly.

What about the other 15?

A few of these kids are your very bright and very independent learners. They are usually placed at the back of the room because the front is needed for the kids who need one-on-one support and special cueing. They are usually bored senseless because you have to go over the same lesson 3 times when they have already gotten it the first time.

Finally, you have your so-called average kids who will do their work and make A’s and B’s and fly under the radar all year, unless you purposely make it your mission to focus on them.

That’s your class. I’ll admit…it’s a challenging one but sadly, it’s not unusual.

So, tell me, how do you focus on the subject and not the student when you have such a rich, diverse group of learners? How do you put aside everything you know about the child as a learner and just say, “The heck with it. I’m teaching one lesson, one way and if you don’t get it, too bad.”

How is this common sense?

Rants, Teacher

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­A guide or a sage? Spare me the crap. (Part 1)

standardised-testing-1Michael Zwaagstra, a school teacher and self-professed saviour of the education system, recently wrote an opinion piece that appeared in my local paper.

He said universities are brainwashing teachers to be a “guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage”.

Oh, spare me the melodrama.

Most teachers I know don’t have time to pontificate on whether they are guiding or a ‘sage-ing’. They are too busy teaching.

In a series of Common Sense Education videos on YouTube, Mr. Z has proclaimed that the “progressive ideology” of today’s education system is a failure.

Ah, yes. Once again, the education system is a failure. I’d be upset by this…if I didn’t hear it every other day…every other year…in every other century.

Back in the ‘good ole days’, teachers taught one lesson plan to the class and everybody learned it and we were all happy about it.

Yup.

At least, that’s the story that keeps going around.

And yet, it’s not quite true. In fact, it’s not true at all.

People who yearn for those rose-coloured days of school, filled with spelling tests and multiplication memorization, tend to forget a lot of the facts that went along with these things.

Back in the 1970’s, when I started grade school, we didn’t have children with special needs in our classes. Children with physical or mental disabilities were sent to a different school. In my case, their school was right across the street from my school. They were literally a stones-throw away and we never got together. The kids in my class who struggled were labeled “slow learners” and they failed at the end of the year.

People who wonder why kids never fail anymore, hear me now: because it doesn’t work.

Do you seriously know anyone who failed a grade (or two or three) who went on to great academic success because they had a chance to “catch up”? In my high school, these were the guys who went to the liquor store for you in grade 11, because they were already 20. They weren’t burning up the academic world thanks to being held back. They were just putting in time in a system that didn’t give a crap about them or their special learning issues.

In 2005, the Journal of Applied School Psychology published a study of students and discovered that:

Across grade levels, those events rated as most stressful by children were: losing a parent, academic retention, going blind, getting caught in theft, wetting in class, a poor report card, having an operation, parental fighting, and being sent to the principal.” 

Wow – kids would rather go blind than fail a grade.

And don’t forget about those kids at the school across the street. They were segregated from their peers, kids who may have lived across the street or were in their own family.

Thankfully, things have changed.

This new “progressive ideology” tries to treat students with respect.

All children are now considered worthy of a public education. We know that everyone benefits from integration (when it’s properly funded and implemented). Those who learn in different ways are taught in different ways.

Unfortunately, it is very, very hard to provide individual support when you have 30 students and one teacher.

Mr. Zwaagstra says that teachers are burning themselves out trying to adapt their lesson plans to meet every child’s individual learning style. He advises:

“Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time.”

I agree that teachers are burning themselves out (please see a picture of me labeled, Exhibit A), but this ‘helpful’ advice just doesn’t ring true today.

We need to make some changes to our education system, but just declaring it a failure and going back to the good old days isn’t going to work. It’s 2013.  We have to look at today’s kids in today’s system and figure out what works best for them.

To be continued…

Teacher

Six is not the new sixteen

What's wrong with you, baby? How come you can't read yet? How will you ever get a job?!
What’s wrong with you, baby? How come you can’t read yet? How will you ever get a job?!

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Whenever I read doom and gloom stories, lamenting the reading scores of six-year-olds, I feel sad. When did six become the new sixteen? When did we start worrying about job prospects and future options for kids who still sleep with a nightlight?

Imagine you are six years old. You like running around aimlessly with your friends and playing video games and snuggling with your cat. School is OK, but reading is hard. Maybe your brain scrambles the letters, so you’re not seeing what the other kids see. Or maybe you can’t stay focused long enough to figure out what the words mean. You don’t really know what’s going on except that your parents keep bugging you to “pay attention” and you have to read with that “special teacher” who helps you and a few other kids.

Now, imagine you worked your little butt off for the whole year and your reading got a lot better. All of a sudden, you can read real books, some of them all by yourself. You’re feeling pretty good. You did all of the work your teacher asked you to do, but guess what? It still wasn’t enough to make all those grown-ups happy because you didn’t pass the “test” at the end of the year.

Well, gosh darn it. You tried your best and you did get better. How come it wasn’t enough?

Maybe it’s because you’re only 6 and you need more than one year of extra help. Maybe you spent most of this year learning how to tie your shoes and be a good friend and count to 10. Maybe your brain is just working slower on reading because it’s working overtime learning something else. Or maybe, just maybe, you have a learning disability, which means reading is going to be hard for you…maybe for awhile, maybe always.

An opinion piece by Paul Bennett in Saturday’s paper proclaimed Nova Scotia’s new literacy program Succeeding in Reading a failure. He said the assessments for the end of Year 1 (year 1 of a 3-year program, mind you) showed that 44 per cent of these grade 1 students failed to meet the expected standard for achievement. Ergo, the education system has once again failed these poor children.

Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

There is another way you could look at those numbers. Hmmm…what could that be? Oh, let’s see now. One hundred take away 44…carry the one…uh…56. That means 56 per cent of the children met the standards.

More than half…in the first year…of a brand-new three-year-program.

That’s starting to sound a bit better, isn’t it?

Here’s a novel idea: what if we started looking at test results differently?

Call me crazy but what if, instead of comparing widely different kids to each other, we compared them to themselves? What if we based their successes on their individual achievements?

Well, the critics will grumble, that’s not the way the real world works. These children are going to have to compete with people from all over the world to get jobs! They need to be competitive. 

Yes, yes. I agree. They will have to compete for jobs…in 15-20 years! Right now, no one is fighting them for the job of making their bed.

I want to know how many of these children became better readers over the course of the year. Based on my experience working with struggling readers, I would guess that almost every single child improved. Of course not all to the same extent, but some may have had farther to travel. These successes should be celebrated, not lamented.

Each individual result needs to be looked at, so we can see what each individual child needs in order to continue improving in the years to come. Tossing all of the results into one big melting pot and saying: Well, only this many kids passed the test, so therefore the entire program is a bust, is silly and irresponsible.

All kids learn differently, at their own pace. And they all need different things to be successful. How about we focus on that for change?

Princess, Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Snow Days – Every job is different

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Today was a Snow Day. Capital “S”, capital “D”, which means students and teachers in our school district had the day off.

This also means the haters were out in full force once again on talk radio (or as I call it, Old Man Radio). Teacher-haters love Old Man Radio. It gives them a chance to publicly air their views about all the wrongs they see in society. Most of which are caused by lazy-ass teachers.

I wish I could host that radio show when these issues come up.

“School’s cancelled again, which means teachers get a day off! It’s crazy! Why should teachers be allowed to stay home when I have to go to work?!” shouts the irate caller, obviously taking a short break from his very important job.

“Oh, I see. So you think things should be the same for everybody?”

“Yeah, right. They should be the same.” The caller is happy now.

“So, everyone should make the same salary, work the same hours, get the same benefits, and have the same rules regarding their employment?”

“Well, no,” he stammers. “I mean, you know, every job is different.”

Right.

Every job is different.

writing17 scene-where-a-school-bus-slid-off-the-road-at-abercarn-178024589

There are so many jobs that I could not, would not, or choose not, to do.

As much as I would like to make the money that comes with being a surgeon, I didn’t have the brains or the desire to do all the work it takes to become one. Do I begrudge them their high salary and all the other perks of their job? No. I understand that in order to get those things, you have to do all the work beforehand and afterward and I wasn’t prepared to do that.

And as much as I would love to argue cases in a courtroom and learn all about interesting facts of laws, I know I wouldn’t have the ability to remain neutral. So, do I hate lawyers for doing what they do even though I wasn’t able to do it myself? Of course not. That would be illogical.

Someone in a high-end sales position can make my entire annual salary in bonuses and incentives. Does that annoy me? No, because I didn’t choose to go that route. I couldn’t sell ice cream to kids on a sunny day.

There are a million jobs that I think would be fascinating and interesting, but I know I’m not suited for them.

Here’s the thing: I don’t begrudge anyone the salary they make or the benefits they enjoy from their chosen career. I know that no matter what your job, there are ups and downs. Perks and pains. And people pick their careers according to what they want out of life. Do you want lots of money or do you want more freedom and free time? Do you want to help people, animals, or the environment? Everyone makes their own decisions.

I’m a teacher. I’m suited for that and I’m good at it. And I worked really, really hard to get to where I am today. Three degrees, student loans, numerous mandatory courses and workshops, and years of dead-end short-term contract positions just to get the opportunity for a full-time position.

Some people are suited to teaching. Other people are not. If you don’t enjoy teaching, if it doesn’t make you tick, you’re going to have a very difficult time in the classroom. If you’re doing it for the summer break or the rare Snow Day, enjoy that time, because you are going to pay for it the rest of the year.

That’s why it ticks me off when non-teacher-types complain about Snow Days.

Snow Days are magical for those of us who get to experience their joy.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets to have this experience. In fact, the majority of the population doesn’t. Most people have to leave their homes extra early in the middle of dangerous driving conditions in order to get to their job.

And I’m sorry about that. If I ruled the world, unless you were in a mandatory service industry (like fire, hospital or police personnel), I’d let you stay home until the plows cleared the streets and made it safe for everyone to get back on the roads. But since I don’t, all I can say is this.

Yes, teachers get the day off during a Snow Day. It’s part of the job. Just like cleaning up a child when they get sick on themselves. Or helping them through an argument with a friend. Or teaching them how to read when that’s the hardest part of their day. It’s a part of the job like writing report cards late into the night. And being cursed at by angry students and parents. It’s a part of the job like a million other things that make up the position.

I’m not going to complain about doing any of those things; however, I’m also not going to apologize for the occasional Snow Day or the summers off.

I have the job I chose and worked my butt off for. And for now…my job includes Snow Days.

UPDATE: March 1, 2015Are you a teacher? Do you want your say on snow days and other issues affecting teachers? Click here to add your two cents to a survey. It is completely anonymous and takes less than 5 minutes to complete. 

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Rants, Raves, Teacher

Top Ten Tips for Student Teachers

EHougan_COVER_fnl_outlineMany (many, many) years ago, I did my student teaching at my old high school with my old high school English teacher. I was even placed in the same room where I passed notes to my friends and tried not to fall asleep during first period. On the first day of my internship, my advisor/former teacher gave me a few tips and then retired to the staff room, leaving me on my own to teach a room full of teenagers. It was a baptism by fire and I made plenty of mistakes. I wouldn’t recommend it, but luckily it worked out OK in the end. I had a wonderful student teaching experience that made me determined to pursue a teaching career.

Many years later, the tables turned and I was the (semi) experienced teacher assigned my very first student teacher. I was excited to get her because I had a challenging class that year. I thought two adults in the room would be better than one. Unfortunately, it was not a good experience. My student teacher was overwhelmed with part-time work and family responsibilities and was argumentative about anything that required work on her part. Looking back on it, there are lots of things I could have done differently. Here are some of the things I wish I had said.

10. I have no doubt that you had a great education but you don’t know everything just yet. Listen to other teachers, talk to them about what you’re doing, take advice gracefully. You don’t have to do everything that is suggested, but do understand that experience does count for something.

9. Learn everyone’s name, not just your students (although you should know theirs as soon as possible). Talk to the ladies in the cafeteria and the man who cleans your classroom. Make a point to check in with the principal and vice-principal when you have some free time and see how you can help. This will go a long way towards getting you some work as a substitute teacher once you graduate.

8. Treat everyone with equal respect, no matter how old or young they are. I have taught students from 5-50+ and I generally don’t change the way I deal with them. Of course, you use different words depending on their age and understanding, but children deserve to be treated with the same respect as adults. For godsake, never use baby-talk. You aren’t their grandmother, you’re their teacher. I don’t care how cute little Suzy looks in her new dress, she’s not a baby being passed around at a baby shower. She needs you to treat her like a learner, not a doll.

7. Be prepared! In fact, be over prepared. I can’t stress this enough. The quickest way to lose the attention of your class is to be scrambling around trying to find your notes or to upload something on to the overhead projector. The minute they see that you’re weak, you’ve lost them and it’s really hard to get them back.

6. Understand that your students will all be working at different levels of ability. Make sure you read and understand their individual adaptations and program plans. Take special care to spend time with the special needs students in your room who have their own teacher’s aide. Some of your sweetest experiences may be with these kids; don’t miss out on that opportunity. Remember: you are responsible for ALL the students in your class.

5. Be prepared to be flexible. There may be an assembly or a fire drill that causes you not to get something covered that you were hoping to get done. Or you may think you are going to get through a math concept in one day only to discover it’s going to take a lot longer than that. Remember: you’re teaching to the children in front of you, not the lesson plan on your desk. It’s a map but the children are your compass. They will tell you what needs more or less attention. Watch them carefully.

4. Get to know your students. Talk to them. Ask your cooperating teacher if you can head up a current events conversation a few times a week. See who plays sports and who plays an instrument. Find out who got a new cat and whose grandmother just died. Even if you’re not on duty, go outside at recess and see what your students are up to. Take a walk through the cafeteria at lunchtime and see who is eating alone and who is stealing treats from someone else’s lunch. Some kids are very different in social situations than they are in a classroom. It helps to know them when you are trying to teach them.

3. Spend some time getting to know the specialists in your school. Talk to the resource teachers, learning centre specialists, school psychologist and speech therapists. It’s important that teachers work as part of a team. Some kids require a whole village of support in order to be successful. You might also find that you are interested in pursuing a career outside of teaching but still within the school system. Teaching doesn’t have to be a 30-year-career. There are lots of opportunities out there.

2. Cooperate with your cooperating teacher. There is nothing worse for a cooperating teacher than having a difficult student teacher. It’s like having an extra student. Yes, we know you don’t get paid. And yes, we understand you may have a part-time job or a family or a dog that needs to be walked. But you’ve taken on this responsibility and you need to take it seriously.

1. Finally, take some time to reflect on whether or not you actually like what you’re doing. You may discover that it’s not what you expected. Perhaps this ISN’T how you want to spend the next 20-30 years of your life. And that’s OK. Finish your degree and look for something else. It’s better than spending your life doing something you don’t enjoy. But if you do LOVE it, grit your teeth and work your butt off for free. Someday, karma will reward you.

Rants, Teacher

Dear Mr. Lapierre, VP of the NRA – I’m a teacher…so, where’s my gun?

A fourth grade teacher receives firearms training in West Valley City, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)
A fourth grade teacher receives firearms training in West Valley City, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Hi, Wayne…may I call you Wayne? You don’t know me, but I’m a teacher. And I gotta tell you, you’re starting to scare me.I know you have the best of intentions. Like all of us, you don’t want to see anymore children killed because some lunatic with a gun was able to get into a school and go on a rampage. So far, I’m with you. And I even agree that some schools would benefit from having a trained police officer in their school. Some of the high schools in my area have one and it’s great. They offer all kinds of services besides standing armed guard.

Where you lose me is when you suggest that perhaps school personnel ought to be armed.

When I was a kid, my father hunted and he kept two shotguns on the floor of his bedroom closet. My brother and I knew they were there and we also knew where he kept the ammunition (in his sock drawer). We also knew that if we went anywhere near the guns, we wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week. And so we didn’t. To be honest, they scared me to death. My dad tried to teach me how to shoot. The first (and only) time I fired off a gun, I just missed hitting one of my grandparent’s cows.

So seriously, Wayne, no one wants to see me with a gun. No amount of training in the world is going to turn me into a sharpshooter. I know you would offer to give me training and such, but really, it’s all I can do to keep up with the new math curriculum.

And even if I wanted one, I can’t imagine that my school board would allow me to keep a gun in my desk. For gawds sake, I’m not allowed to use Lysol wipes to clean the children’s desks because of the chemicals. Liquid Paper is a no-no because someone might try to sniff it. Even plastic knives in lunchboxes are taboo, because someone might accidentally cut their finger or god forbid, wave it around near another child.

Finally, I have no idea where I would keep a gun in my classroom. My desk is overflowing and my cabinets are full. I’d have to keep it well hidden, because these kids are like monkeys! They can get their hands on anything and I sure as hell don’t want them getting a hold of a loaded weapon. These kids are experts at Call of Duty IV.

I know you’ve offered to put one of your 4 million NRA members in our school and I thank you for your generous offer. But, no offense or anything, how do I know one of your well-armed men or women isn’t a raging lunatic under the surface? I mean, really…do you know ALL 4 million of these people personally?

There are crazy people everywhere who look and act just like you and me. Giving one of them a gun and inviting them into my school just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

So, thanks, Wayne, but I’ll pass. I’ll pass on the gun, just like I’ll pass on the bunker in case of a nuclear attack and the body armor to protect myself from a zombie apocalypse. Instead, I’ll support stricter gun control laws and increased mental health services. That should help keep the crazies out of my school and let me get back to my real job of teaching.