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.

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Be Brave, education, Humour, Pop Culture, Princess, Raves, Teacher

Show Me How BIG Your Brave Is: Why Sara Barellis’ “Brave” should be our new national anthem

For a group of people who talk all day for a living, teachers are often a very silent bunch. We save our comments for the staff room and then grumble about how no one listens to our opinion.

Teachers across the United States are in crisis. Morale is at an all time low. Politicians are treating teachers like children who need to be monitored and disciplined with threats of job loss and salary reductions.

It’s disgraceful.

As a Canadian teacher, I know that we have it better than our friends to the south, but I can see us headed in that direction and it scares the hell out of me.

Business people with no links or background to education are being tapped by politicians to find ways to “fix” our education “crisis”.

Forgive me, but we are neither broken nor in a crisis. Yes, there are things we can improve upon. And guess what? Most of us know exactly what needs to be done. Most of us have multiple degrees in everything from child development to curriculum and evaluation. We do regular professional development on everything from reading and math to bullying and nutrition. We can help make things better. We need money and time to make positive changes, not outside “experts”.

But before we can help others, teachers need to find the courage to stop whispering and start speaking up. Our students want to look up to us. They want us to be role models. We need to model bravery so that they can grow up to be brave as well.

We live in a world where people overshare all the time. Videos and pictures that you might have once only shared with family and friends are now put on the internet for the world to comment on. But despite all of this new ‘openness‘,  I don’t think it’s made us any braver.

We still watch what we say and worry about what people will think, what they might say. What if someone doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t approve of what I say? What if they get mad at me? What IF not everyone likes me???

Guess what? The world will keep spinning. You will continue to breathe. Life will go on. And you will be better for having spoken your mind. The world will be better.

Being brave doesn’t mean you have to rescue a baby from a burning building. It could be as simple as standing up for a colleague when they are being harrassed or supporting a student when they need someone in their corner. Bravery often shows itself in simple acts of kindness.

I stopped watching music videos sometime after Michael Jackson’s Thriller because I have no interest in seeing women dance around half-dressed while men sing about degrading them. But this? Brave is the best video, the best song, the best…everything I have seen in a long time. 

It’s not deep or complicated or edgy. It’s just honest and true and fun.

If this song can’t be our new national anthem, let’s make it our new mantra.

Watch it, love it, live it.  I want to see you be brave.

“Brave”

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just want to see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
See you be brave

education, Rants, Teacher

Shame Discipline – We know better. It’s time to do better.

Bring back the strap!

You’ll often hear people of a certain age say that kids today would behave better if we brought back the strap as a disciplinary tool. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to use the strap on their children or grandchildren. Noooo, just the “bad” kids. That would learn ‘em.

Years ago, when a child misbehaved at school, a big leather strap was pulled out of the teacher’s desk. It was a state-mandated beating designed to stop any further misbehaviour and set an example for the others who might be considering such naughtiness. Jordan Historical Museum-School House

But if you ask anyone who was ever strapped back in the “olden days” they will tell you that the pain of the strap was nothing compared to the shame and humiliation. They learned a lesson alright. They learned that if you were bigger and stronger and held more power than someone else, it was OK to hurt them.

Fast-forward to 2013. Times have changed. Most (sane-minded) people agree that beating children in front of their classmates with a big slab of leather is just plain wrong.

Nowadays most teachers use positive disciplinary techniques designed to help a child change their behaviour while still retaining their dignity. I have worked with teachers who can manage their classrooms without raising their voice. My own children have been blessed with teachers who made learning both fun and safe.

Sadly, however, some teachers are still using discipline methods that rely on shame and humiliation as tools to correct real or perceived misbehaviour. And administrators are condoning this behaviour, either intentionally or by turning a blind eye.

I have written 64 blogs on this site over the past year and every single one resonates with how much I care for and support my fellow teachers. I have the utmost respect for the profession and the job we do every day. I will defend my co-workers to the death if I have to but NOT if what they are doing is hurting children.

If you were me  And I were you  For just a day  Or maybe two  Then maybe you  And maybe me  Would see the me  That you were too. Author: Sheree Fitch
If you were me
And I were you
For just a day
Or maybe two
Then maybe you
And maybe me
Would see the me
That you were too.
Author: Sheree Fitch

Most teachers have the best of intentions. They want their students to be the best they can be. They want them to do their work to the best of their ability and behave in a positive manner. But some teachers don’t know what to do when they are faced with a child who doesn’t fit the mold. So they try other methods. Here are just a few of the discipline techniques punishments that I know are being used in schools across North America today.

  • Having students stand on a designated “line of shame” in the hallway throughout recess and lunch hour, while hundreds of classmates and teachers walk by and stare, point, pity or mock.
  • Giving students who score well on weekly tests a pizza party on Friday. Students who do not score well have to eat their bag lunch in a different place in the classroom.
  • Having students stand and face the wall. (The modern of version of “go sit in the corner”.)
  • Taking away a child’s chair and making him crouch at his desk as punishment for turning around in his chair too many times.
  • Holding up a child’s work and telling the other children, “Your work should not look like this. Little Billy obviously did not do his best on this.”

I am not referring to children who willfully hurt other children or who disrupt the class in ways that make it impossible for other children to learn. (And even if I were, these children need positive discipline methods even more. My next blog post will deal with this issue.)

No, these children were punished for wiggling, talking, dawdling or forgetting. For these “terrible” offenses, they were subjected to public humiliation.

Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “Discipline in schools should respect children’s dignity. For children to benefit from education, schools must be run in an orderly way – without the use of violence. Any form of school discipline should take into account the child’s human dignity.”  Barbara Colorosso’s  Philosophical Tenets state: Kids are worth it. I won’t treat them in a way I would not want to be treated. If it works and leaves both of our dignity intact, do it. © Barbara Colorosso, Kids are Worth It

Research has proven time and time again that shame is not a good motivator. Oh, we’ll do anything we can to avoid it but it doesn’t instill good habits or an innate desire to do better. We merely change our behaviour in order to avoid the pain.

And some children, no matter what they do, cannot avoid the ‘misbehaviours’ that are causing them to receive these punishments.

If you have ADHD, you might not be able to control your fidgeting or your inattention. If you have dyslexia, no matter how hard you study, you might not pass that spelling test. No pizza party for you, Little Billy…ever. There are lots of things teachers can do to help these children – humiliating them in front of their peers is not one of them.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not trashing the entire teaching profession. I have worked with hundreds of amazing teachers and I have made a million and one mistakes over the years, but as Maya Angelou says, “I did what I knew.. when I knew better, I did better.”

We may not strap kids with a leather belt anymore, but we are still hurting them. We know better. Let’s do better.

Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate: http://www.teach-through-love.com/about-us.html
Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate: http://www.teach-through-love.com/about-us.html
education, Rants, Teacher

“Gimme a Y! Gimme an O!” Seriously…Gimme some common sense.

writing131Have you ever found yourself singing along to the lyrics of a song and suddenly going, “Holy crap! Did he really say that?!”

Google the lyrics of some of your favorite songs and be prepared. My favorite song of the summer, Blurred Lines? I really wish I could unlearn those lyrics.

There’s something about chanting or singing that makes us lose sight of the meaning of the words we are saying.

The Orientation Committee at St. Mary’s University learned this the hard way last week.

Committee members were caught on camera leading hundreds frosh in a chant that was…how shall I put it nicely…just plain wrong.

“Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass. SMU boys we like them young!”

Ummm…seriously?

Did anyone actually think about what they were saying? It seems like the siren of the song lulled the organizers into thinking that their words didn’t matter.

Now, imagine for a moment that the rhythm of the chant and energy of the crowd were removed. Only the words remained.

Here’s what a simple conversation between a new freshman and his orientation leader might sound like:

Male Orientation Leader: Hey man. Welcome to SMU!

New Frosh: Yeah, thanks!

MOL: So, listen. Uh, I don’t suppose you have a sister, do you?

NF: Yeah, I actually I do. She’s in Grade 10.

MOL: Cool! You know, us SMU guys, we like them young.

NF: What are you talking about, man? Are you saying something about my sister?

MOL: Chill out, man. It’s OK. Us SMU guys, we just ike ‘em young, like your sister. Cuz she’s so tight, you know?

NF: Are you kidding me right now? Shut the hell up, man! Why are you talking about my sister like that?!

 MOL: Don’t freak out, man. I just really like the fact that she’s underage, you know? I don’t even need to get her consent. I’m just going to grab her ass.”

I don’t think we need to stretch our imaginations to figure out how this scenario would end. The Orientation Guy would most likely be on the ground trying to find his teeth, while the frosh rushed home to get his sister into a nunnery.

Of course, a conversation with dialogue like this sounds ridiculous.

And yet, when it was sung in the middle of a football field, by hundreds of young people, it somehow seemed completely normal. Young men and women smiled and sang along.

The release of the video has caused an outpouring of outrage across North America.

Once again, adults are shocked and appalled by the behaviour of “young people today”!

On local radio call-in shows, outraged old men were calling for the end of orientation events altogether.

“Kids today! They have no respect! It’s just Party! Party! Party! Orientation is just partying and should be cancelled. University should be learning and nothing else!”

OK. Thanks for that, Gramps.

But in the real world where I live, orientation committees play a valuable role in helping young people make that transition from home to independent living.

Orientation used to be about hazing and heavy drinking.  Enormous progress has been made in getting these things out of official orientation events. And I have faith that progress on eradicating this bizarre “rape culture” will be made as well.

All we can do is keep calling foul when we hear these things and help kids to understand why it’s wrong.

Some folks are saying that it’s unfair that SMU Student Association President, Jared Perry, was pressured to resign. He made a mistake. That’s all. And he apologized, so…

I disagree.

Seriously people. We are the town of Rehtaeh Parsons. For the past few months, our airwaves have been full of discussions about the importance of consent and the dangers of a so-called “rape culture”. How could anyone not know that this chant  was wrong?

I’m sure Mr. Perry did plenty of wonderful things during his term and I suspect he has a bright future ahead of him. No one is saying he’s the devil incarnate.

BUT, when you make a mistake, you have to own it. And owning it means accepting the consequences.

SMU needs to regains its reputation and rebuild the trust of its students, alumni and community. And they will.

This “scandal” will blow over and a new one will take its place.

But let’s hope the lesson sticks. Think first..then think again.

writing132

education, Teacher

There’s A New Kid in Town. Be nice.

It sucks being the new kid – even when you’re not a kid anymore.

writing128At my old school, I could walk into the staff room anytime of day and no matter who was in there, I knew them, I liked them, and I felt comfortable talking to them.

My classroom was set up just the way I liked it.

I knew where all of the office supplies were stored and were the good things were hidden.

The school secretary was my BFF.

I knew when to approach the principal for something and when to turn tail and try again another day.

After 5 years, I belonged.

Until I didn’t anymore. And I had to get a new job.

After spending almost 10 years in the elementary school system, I switched gears and took a new position as a resource teacher at a different school – a middle school – grades 6-9.

I knew that I would know most of the kids because my new school is the feeder school for my old school. They are literally within walking distance of each other. But it was new and it was different and it wasn’t my old school.

My first day, I was lost. I didn’t know where anything was and I didn’t know who to ask. I recognized my fellow newbies by their vacant zombie stares and the way they reached out and grabbed at people, begging desperately, “Help me! I can’t find the photocopier!”

By lunchtime, I was questioning my decision to return to the teaching world altogether.

I was just about to reserve a table for one for my full-fledged pity party, when I walked into the cafeteria.

It was the first lunch for the new group of grade 6 students and they were all trying to figure out where to sit in their new cafeteria.

Last year, in elementary school, they all had assigned seating. You may not have liked the kid who ate beside you, but at least you had a place to sit.

Now, it was a free-for-all.

Some rushed to find a spot next to their friends, while others just stood there, scanning the room.

I watched for a few minutes. I said hi to a few kids I had taught in previous years and then I made a beeline for a little girl I saw sitting alone. Since I didn’t recognize her from my old school, I was pretty sure she had just moved to our area.

“Hi there,” I said, sitting down across from her. “My name’s Mrs. Hollis. What’s your name?”

She barely raised her head. “Sarah.”

“Hi Sarah. Are you new here, Sarah?”

(whisper) “Yes.”

“Where did you move from?” I asked, trying to gently get her to open up.

Turns out “Sarah” had just moved to our area from California. She didn’t know anyone and when the lunch bell rang, she had no idea where she was going to go or who she was going to sit with. So she chose to sit as far away as possible from everyone. She looked like she wanted to crawl inside her own skin and disappear.

I talked to her for a little bit and then introduced her to a few students I knew at her table. I tried to start a conversation between them before moving on.

Next I found a foreign exchange student standing alone in the middle of the cafeteria. She was clutching her lunch bag to her chest in the same way my grandmother used to hold her purse at the mall – as if she was trying to protect it from potential muggers.

This little girl’s English was poor and her voice was barely a whisper but I managed to figure out that she had had trouble opening her locker which made her late for lunch. She didn’t know where she was supposed to go and no one was jumping up inviting her to join them. I quickly paired her up with a few kids I had taught a few years back that I knew would be nice to her and kept moving.

Now, I realize these kids are not in Kansas anymore. They are travelling the mean streets of middle school now. But this shouldn’t have happened.

New kids need support systems in place the first day of school. They need to know that when they go to lunch on that first day, they won’t have to stand there, scanning the crowded tables, desperately trying to figure out whether it’s better to approach an already formed group and risk rejection or eat alone.

It’s difficult as an adult to feel out-of-place in an unfamiliar situation or with an unfamiliar group but it is gut wrenching for a child.

The most important thing for all of us as human beings is to feel as if we belong.

If you don’t feel that you belong in the place where you spend the majority of your time, chances are you will be stressed, anxious and unhappy. And when you are stressed, anxious and unhappy bad things happen. Eating disorders, depression, anger, and a whole host of other things that children shouldn’t have to go through.

Schools need to do a better job of helping everyone feel as if they belong.

New kids transferring into a school should be assigned a buddy, someone who is confident and familiar with the school. Someone who will show them which bathroom is closest to the class and which water fountain only spits out warm water. They need someone to sit next to during lunch that they know won’t make fun of them.

Today was Pink Day. It’s the day when students and staff wear pink to show that they are against bullying. This is a great initiative. But do you know what protects kids most from becoming victims of bullying? Having  friends. Even one good friend lowers your risk. Bullies target kids who are alone because they are easy marks. If you have a friend, even one, you are safer, happier, and more successful.

So when you see a child who is always, repeatedly, unhappily, alone, say something, do something, help.

writing34

It could make all the difference in the world.

Pop Culture, Rants

Use your words, ladies. Why we need to stop worrying about being embarrassed.

writing113Today is the day San Diego Mayor Bob Filner starts his two weeks of intensive therapy to help cure what he called the “monster…inside me.”

A few weeks ago, the man known as Headlock Bob found himself in hot water over his alleged instances of “unwanted sexual touching”. It seems Big Bad Bob likes dragging women around the office in a ‘friendly’ headlock while asks them for a little love. He has also been known to ask the women in his office to come to work without their panties. To be fair, perhaps he feels this will help them type faster or something…sort of like swimmers who shave off all their body hair in order to shave off a few seconds of time.  (Honestly, if I had a nickel for every time my panties have slowed me down at work, well, I’d be sitting on a beach in…uh…nowhere because I’d have NO FREAKIN’ NICKELS!)

Mayor Herbie Headlock has a long history of serving the people of San Diego, including 20 years in Congress and six years with the city council. He is well-known as being a serial sexual harasser.

Now, to be fair, he has admitted to doing the things he is charged with but he says it’s not his fault. At 70 (!) years of age, he says he didn’t know any better. He blames the City of San Diego because they did not pay for him to attend sexual harassment training seminars.

(No, seriously. I could not make this stuff up.)

In fact, his lawyer is arguing that because his employer didn’t send him for this training, they should pay his legal fees as fights the charges these (now) 10 women have brought against him.

First of all, let me be the first to say…two weeks, Mr. Mayor? Seriously? It’s only going to take two weeks (!!!) for some therapist to beat the douche-baggyness out of you? And then you get to go back to work as the Mayor of the great city of San Diego? Where is this therapy taking place? Hogwarts?

While this story made me laugh in a head-shaking, tongue-clucking sort of way, it also made me wonder how a story like this could even occur in this day and age.

The women who have filed suit against Headlock Bob sound like strong, relatively powerful women. One is a communications consultant, another a dean at the University of San Diego, while still another is a retired Navy rear admiral who also served as San Diego’s former chief operating officer.

They all say he made them uncomfortable, embarrassed and/or scared.

And yet it took some of them YEARS to file a complaint.

So why didn’t they report him? Why weren’t charges filed years earlier?

I have no idea. I would guess they feared some sort of retribution from a very powerful, well-connected man. B ut I would also guess there was another factor at play.

We are all deathly afraid. Women especially.

And do you know what we are afraid of?

Being embarrassed.

We don’t want to make a scene.

So we laugh nervously and get the hell out of the situation and hope that we never have to go through anything like that again.

And yet, sometimes, we end up going through it over and over again.

So, here’s what I suggest.

First of all, check out your surroundings. Are you safe? Are there people around? Exits you can use? Yes?

Now use your words. Sometimes it works best to speak softly. I love whispering. I find it often works like a charm. But if that doesn’t work or you just don’t feel like it, speak up. Loudly, if necessary.

It’s OK to say, “Take your hand off my leg. Now.”

It’s OK to say, “No, you may not kiss me. Ever”

It’s OK to say, “If you ever put me in headlock again, I will knee you in the gonads and then march to HR and file a complaint.”

Don’t worry. You can’t die of embarrassment. Trust me. I would be dead a million times over if that were the case. I can barely make it to the bathroom in the morning without embarrassing myself and I’m still here.

So what if people stare? So what if he gets mad and says, “I was just joking” and gets huffy?

Again, I’m not talking about situations where you are in danger. That’s a different story for a different time. I’m talking about situations like the ones these women were in.

In most cases, they were in public places, where other people were present, where they were physically safe.

One of my biggest goals as a teacher is to teach young people (girls AND boys) that it’s OK to speak up for yourself.

Over the years, I have seen girls as young as 8 who can’t end a sentence without lilting their voice at the end so every sentence ends up sounding like a question.

“I like…cats..?”

The sentence becomes a question as she looks around the room to see if everyone (especially the class bully) likes cats and if it’s OK to like cats and if she really should say she likes cats or just wait in case anyone says they like dogs more.

I always tell my students, “Tell me what you think and say it like you mean it.”

“I LIKE cats!”

So, ladies?

Say it like you mean it.

Perhaps that will keep future mayors and others from thinking it’s OK to put women in headlocks and pat their butts and basically degrade and dehumanize them because they know think they can get away with it.

education, Memoir, Princess, Rants, Raves, Teacher

Bearing (or baring) it all in the Huffington Post

writing105Well, there goes my secret identity.

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.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-hollis/the-moment-i-knew_27_b_3427778.html

writing106