education, Rants

Getting Rid of the D (and the A,B,Cs)

In a recent article in The Atlantic, the author argues that schools should consider getting rid of the D.

“Unfortunately, when students know that Ds will earn a diploma as readily as As will, some game the system. If pride, intellectual curiosity, social pressure, and vigilant parents do not compel them to do otherwise, some students only work to avoid getting Fs. “

The basic facts surrounding this argument are true.

Some students will do the minimum to pass. Some teachers will pass students who do the bare minimum because they know they are not permitted to fail them. And some school boards will crack down on schools that have higher fail rates because they know this will affect their funding in future years.

All of that is true.

But, in my never to be humble opinion, getting rid of Ds will only result in Cs becoming the new Ds. The students who originally worked for Ds will very quickly figure out what they need to do to get the bare minimum and adjust their work accordingly.

Remember, the argument is that these kids are choosing to do the minimum, so getting rid of Ds doesn’t get to the root of the problem: disengaged students who have no personal stake in their own learning. If a student is only working so they don’t fail and does not intrinsically, deep in their own heart and soul, want to learn, then we have already failed as educators.

On the opposite side of the coin, expecting all students to be good at all things and then punishing them when they aren’t, doesn’t do anyone any good.

So what’s the answer?

What if…just a thought…we got rid of traditional “grade levels” all together?

What if, instead, we implemented multi-age classrooms where students went to class with other students of like-abilities and interests? If you are a strong math student, you are in a math class that moves at your pace. If at the same time, you struggle with writing, work at your own pace in a different class with others at your same level. If teachers are not required to differentiate their instruction for multiple ability levels within one room, there will be more time for specific, focused support and instruction and students will progress at a faster rate. Add in more industrial arts, classical arts, and physical education, so students can explore areas outside of the regular 3R’s. Teach the whole child. Help our young people understand that we are all good at some things and we all struggle with others. No shame, no guilt.

When a student graduates (some may be ready at 16, others might need to stay until they’re 20), they come out with an honest “report card” that details their strengths and challenges. By this point, they will already know what they’re good at and what they might want to pursue as a future career. Colleges and employers could read the final report and have a clear picture of the student’s abilities.

I realize this idea would require the powers-that-be to think outside the box (and the next election), so I know that it will most likely be implemented when we are all given our own unicorn to ride to school; however, doing the same thing over and over hasn’t worked yet. And getting rid of the letter D, isn’t going to change that.

unicorn

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Be Brave, education, Parenting, Rants, Teacher

Let Teachers Teach

The following letter appeared in the Chronicle Herald on-line edition:

albino-moose-bIn Scott Cote’s recent letter to the editor, he says that teachers in our province “lack the intestinal fortitude to stand up for kids”. He also says that a currently employed teacher who openly comments on these issues would be as rare as an albino moose.

Well, allow me to introduce myself: I am the rare albino moose.

I would be more offended by Mr. Cote’s insulting and condescending comments if I weren’t already shell-shocked from the overwhelming amount of negative press that has been hurled at teachers like snowballs these past few months.

That said, it bothers me when Mr. Cote says, with great conviction, that teachers, such as myself, my friends, and my colleagues, lack intestinal fortitude. The teachers (and all of the other people it takes to run a school, such as administrators, school psychologists, speech pathologists, EPAs, secretaries and others) I have known and worked with over the past 20 years have more intestinal fortitude than you could ever know, Mr. Cote.

I have seen them fight battles behind the scenes that have benefitted children in their classes, their schools and their province. I have seen teachers dig deep into their intestinal fortitude to help children who are learning disabled, sick, abused, homeless, and mentally ill. I have seen teachers dig into their own pockets to buy food, supplies, and special treats for their students because if they didn’t those students would go wanting.

Teachers are well-trained professionals. They are generally not loud-mouth blowhards who run from one media outlet to the next spouting their great ideas on how to improve our “crumbling” system (usually without ever stepping foot in an actual classroom).

Instead teachers are in the classroom doing the work of educating our young people. Not just in math and English and science, but in areas as diverse as the environment to bullying to nutrition and computer programming. They are teaching children how to be kind to each other and deal with disappointment and discover their gifts. They are making sure that their students get some exercise and fresh air. For some, it might be the only fresh air and exercise they experience all day.

As a parent, Mr. Cote, what did YOU do to improve the system from the outside? Parents and other concerned individuals can do so much to help children without ever stepping into a classroom or telling a teacher what he or she should be doing.

You could start by addressing the real issue of child poverty, so we don’t have hungry, tired children in our classrooms. Push the government to address and fund youth mental health, so we don’t have mentally ill children suffering in our classrooms.

Model respect and understanding of people of other races, religions and sexual orientations.

Promote positive attitudes about school and teachers at home and in the media, so students don’t come to class with a preconceived negative notion about teachers, who they’ve been told, only work for snow days and summers off.

As a society, take some responsibility for the mental, physical, and social health of our children so that when they come to school they are ready and able to learn.

In response to your request that currently employed teachers speak out publicly against their employer or their union, I would guess that you are either being naïve or obtuse. Teachers sign contracts, like most professionals, and these contracts require them to act, well, for lack of a better word, professionally.

Teachers are not unique in this regard. Have you ever seen a linesman from the power corporation write a letter to the editor blasting his employer about a recent power outage? How about a cashier at Wal-Mart publicly trashing their manager for not having enough cash registers open on a busy Saturday?

Of course not. It’s not professional.

But don’t kid yourself. Teachers make themselves heard. They have the intestinal fortitude to put themselves out there every day for the good of their students and their communities.

And for you to state otherwise is just plain wrong.

Heather Hollis, Currently Employed Teacher and (apparently) Albino Moose

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.” Anon.

Be Brave, education, Snow Days, Teacher

Teachers – It’s Time to Stop Whispering and Speak Up

Teachers voices often go unheard in discussions about the future of education.

This is your chance to speak up and speak out.

This survey is made up of only 10 questions and can be completed in less than 5 minutes (your time is valuable, I know). All comments are anonymous.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Click here. Then share with your teacher friends. Your opinion matters. Make your voice heard.

http://suburbanprincessteac.polldaddy.com/s/teachers-speak-out

 

 

 

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2014 : A year of educational opining.

Great commentary on Nova Scotia public education in 2014.

frostededucation

The last few weeks of December are a time of retrospect and reflection for many people. And as busy as the holiday season can become, this is one teacher for whom the annual winter break could not come soon enough. I don’t know if it was the phase of the moon or something in the water, but during the last few school days of December, the kids, at least in my school, were literally bouncing off the walls.

Now, I recognize that this state of student manicness is not something that those outside the building may understand. As well, I am sure that a few “armchair quarterbacks” may have comments about how this behaviour must mean teachers have no control in their classes. I am also sure that some of our resident “education experts” would say that this is another sign that public schools are failing our kids. But teachers…

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Be Brave, Humour, Memoir, Princess, Rants, Teacher

What Your Teacher REALLY Wants for Christmas This Year

grinch-620x422I don’t want any gifts for Christmas.

(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.

Believe in yourself.

You got this. believe in yourself

Be Brave, education, Humour, Memoir, Mentoring, Raves, Teacher

Mentor Me


pooh11
“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.

mentor blog meme

 

“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

 

 

 

 

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Mental Illness is Not a Choice – A Reminder for Educators

The following is a message I received from a reader who asked me to share.  It is so important as educators that we understand and are compassionate towards children and youth who have mental health issues. Parents and  teachers working together = happier, healthier kids.

www.collaboratedurham.co.uk
http://www.collaboratedurham.co.uk

Dear fellow educators who need this reminder,

Mental health issues are not like colds or the flu. Those attempting resilience may be overcome at nine, feeling reasonably able to fake it at noon, and done in again at four. Thus, you may not see them in class, while they are crying in guidance, but you may see them “laughing it up with friends at lunch.”

Here’s how it works, in case you missed the class in psych or any of the wellness events held at your school, or haven’t touched base with the other teachers who are amazing and helpful. Depressed kids may have two good days and a bad week and then complete an opera or go back to bed for three weeks. This is not evasion. This is not a choice.

If you also suffer and manage to force yourself to go to work, good for you. If I were your mom, or your union rep, I’d tell you to take better care of yourself. It’s not ok to pretend to be compassionate and understanding while actually judging and valorizing martyrdom, denial, and workaholism. If you don’t want to help, don’t, but don’t pretend you do and then not. It confuses the kids and confusion makes it all much worse because they blame themselves.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Parent