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I was a pregnant angel: Why Halloween is still my least favorite holiday

A re-blog of why Halloween is still my least favorite holiday.

suburbanprincessteacher

Trick or treating was banned in the village where I grew up. It was sort of like that Kevin Bacon movie, “Footloose” where the town council bans dancing after some kids are killed returning home from a dance. Rumour had it that one year a little girl in our neighbourhood had been hit by a car and killed while she was out trick or treating. The community leaders met and decided that letting children go door to door to beg for candy was too dangerous and was henceforth outlawed.

Instead, all of the parents (read: moms) gathered together the week before Halloween, with their assigned treats, and stuffed large paper bags with all sorts of Halloween goodies – chips, chocolate bars, cans of pops, even the yucky stuff like candy kisses made into those bags. They filled enough bags so that every kid in the village would get one.

Then…

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15 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself on the First Days of School

Great words of advice for teachers who aren’t “perfect”!

Those Who Teach

Whether you’ve been back for a few weeks, or just a day or two — you did it!

You made it out of bed at an ungodly hour, rocked a fresh first-day outfit, and presented your Teacher Self to a new crop of kids.

You’re taking attendance, writing those first parent e-mails, planning lessons, doing lunch duty, attending meetings, assigning first homeworks, and collecting first homeworks.

Maybe you’re teaching a brand-new course this year, or taking on a new responsibility as coach or advisor, too.

Through all of this, you’re delivering instruction to multiple groups of differently abled, very distractible kids.

So, please remember — it’s OK if…

1. You don’t know most of your students’ names yet.

2. It takes you a full five minutes to remember old students’ names when they say hello in the hallway.

3. Your desk is already a mess of papers.

4. You didn’t…

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education, Teacher, Uncategorized

Report cards – Who are we writing them for?

In response to a request for feedback put forth by Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education, I wrote the following letter which I forwarded today.

writing117Dear Minister Jennex,

In a recent letter to The Chronicle Herald, you invited families, students and educators to offer feedback on the report card system.

In my experience, teachers are often extremely reluctant to speak publicly on matters of education for fear of being seen as insubordinate or disrespectful. They often worry that speaking out will affect their current teaching position or their future job prospects. This fear silences teachers and keeps valuable information from being shared.

As an active teacher currently working in the Nova Scotia school system, I am taking you at your word that my feedback will be accepted in the manner in which it was requested. I expect that you will consider my comments to be neither disrespectful nor insubordinate. My only intent is to pass along my experience with the current report card system with the hopes that this ‘insider information’ will help to improve the current system.

My concern is that there appears to be a disconnect between what is being said and what is being done.

In your letter, you stated:

Comments on report cards should provide clear, straightforward information to parents about how their child is achieving and progressing in relation to program expectations and learning outcomes.

The HRSB policy on assessment states that report cards must be written: “using language that is based on learning outcomes and is easily understood by parents/guardians.” 

What we have here is an oxymoron.

To ensure report cards are easily understood by all parents/guardians, we need to use clear and straight-forward language. But, when we must deal exclusively with learning outcomes, we are forced to use eduspeak.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do both at the same time and have anyone, other than other trained educators, understand what you ‘really’ mean.

In your letter you also stated:

It is important for families to know that teachers are expected to produce individual report cards for students. The idea that they must use only “canned” comments is not true. Teachers are encouraged to include personalized comments.

While I don’t presume to speak for all teachers, the ones I know, myself included, have not been encouraged to include personalized comments. In fact, most personalized comments have been discouraged and crossed out by administrators only to be replaced by general outcomes-based language.   

As a former teacher, I know you are aware that teachers spend hundreds of hours writing report cards every year. And while it is true that we are not given “canned comments”, it is true that we have been specifically told by our administrators what we may and may not include in these comments.  Over the years, this list of what is permissible to say has been whittled down to such a narrow point that often all that is left is what you might call a ‘canned’ comment.

All Nova Scotia schools (as far as I am aware) require teachers to submit their report cards to be proofread and edited by an administrator before they are sent home. This helps to pick up on most of the inevitable typos that occur when you type 100+ pages of reports, but it also ensures that all comments are outcomes-based and do not include any information that strays from this focus.

HRSB policy states that teachers are required to develop accurate report cards by always relating grading and reporting to the learning outcomes and excluding characteristics that are not linked to learning outcomes (such as effort, behaviour and attendance). 

As well, individual student achievement will be measured against defined curriculum outcomes rather than compared to other students or measures of individual academic growth (and is) not be based on measures such as students’ social development and work habits, bonus points, student absence, missed/late assignments, group scores, neatness.

How is a teacher supposed to personalize a comment for a student when all personal information has to be excluded?  Once again, we have ourselves a paradox.

There are many different ways for teachers to communicate with parents outside of report cards. As we used to say at my school, “No parent should ever be surprised by what they read on a report card.” Yes, we send home completed tests and projects and samples of work, we write newsletters, we make appointments to meet with parents and we call them when specific issues arise. We also have board scheduled parent-teacher interview times. Unfortunately, in the HRSB at least, parent-teacher interviews are no longer scheduled to follow the issuance of report cards. Any parent who is confused by their child’s report card must make a separate appointment to meet with or speak to their child’s teacher. For a variety of reasons, not all parents are able or willing to do this. Many of them rely on their child’s report card to be self-explanatory, as they should be.

In the end, it’s simple.

Parents want to know how their child is doing in school. They want to know what their child is good at and what they struggle with both academically and socially. They want to ensure that their child is a happy, independent learner. They want what’s best for their child. And students, even the little ones, want to know when they’ve done well and how they can do better.

We need to improve our current report card system so that parents and students understand what we are saying. Otherwise, what is the point of having report cards at all?

writing118

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

Uncategorized

Just to clarify: this post has nothing to do with bombs or pornography.

suburbanprincessteacher

writing47

If your teens are like my teens, chances are they are cave dwellers. And by caves, I mean bedroom or basement inhabitants.

Despite their cocooning tendencies, I know (because the experts have told me) that I must keep the lines of communication open. I need to protect them from all of the evils that lurk on the internet and beyond.

So, when my children shut themselves off in their bedrooms, I like to make numerous visits in order to ensure all is well and everyone is safe.

If you would like to follow my shining example, since I am a self-proclaimed teen-raising expert, here is an example of the conversations I repeatedly have with my spawn. (You’re welcome.)

In order to protect their fragile identities, the Heir (age 17) shall hereby be known as William, while the Spare (age 14) shall be called Harry.

Me: (knocking quietly…

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For my counsellor/psychologist friends.

Life's So Sweet

Many of you know, I am a school counselor by day and an author by night.

After reading Harper Faulkner’s “Why I Write”, and with [government-induced] budget concerns wondering if my profession is necessary, I began to think, “Why am I a school counselor?” This is a question I don’t often ask myself, because I love my job. I am filled with such joy throughout my day that sometimes I literally skip down the halls of my school. (Just one or two hops, not the full hallway length. That would be strange). But some people feel that school/guidance counselors are a waste of money. Some people believe that the funds spent on our salaries and benefits could be better spent somewhere else. To this I say:

I am a school counselor for military families because our nation has been fighting two wars for more than 10 years now, and…

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