Be Brave, education, Parenting, Snow Days, Teacher

And the Survey Says… Teachers: Speak Up, Speak Out

brene brownThe teachers have spoken and it appears they are a little bit stressed.

A few months ago, I asked teachers to share their feelings in an on-line poll.  I received 172 responses from teachers, mostly from Canada, with a few from the US, and one solitary soul from South America.

They weren’t shy about sharing their feelings about the stress that teachers are under in today’s world. It was obvious to me that they all shared the common goal of wanting to give the very best they could to the children in their classrooms.

I have shared with you the numbers and the stats, but more importantly, I have shared many of the comments I received. Some of them were heart-warming, while others were heart-breaking.

Not every comment appears here but I tried to include examples from teachers of different grades, from different areas, with varying degrees of experience.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the survey. Here’s who they were:

1. What grade level do you teach? (169 answers, 3 skips)

Early Elementary (K-3): 56 – 33%

Late Elementary (4-6): 30 – 18%

Junior High (7-9): 38 – 22%

High school (10-12): 31 – 18%

Other: 13 – 8% (includes: resource, learning centre, administration, combined class, substitute, music)

College/University: 1 – 1%

2. Where do you teach? (171 answers, 1 skip)

Canada: 156 – 95%

United States: 7 – 4%

South America: 1 – 1%

3. How many years have you been teaching? (147 answers, 25 skips)

10 – 15 years: 53 – 36%

5-10 years: 45 – 31%

15-20 years: 25 – 17%

20+ years:18 – 12%

3-5 years: 5 – 3%

0-2 years:1 – 1%

survey pic #5
4. Organize in order of importance: what is your greatest source of stress right now? (172 answers, 0 skips)

Teachers were asked rank the following items in order from 1 – 7 in terms of their greatest source of stress.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Inclusion/Differentiation 31 (18.0%) 43 (25.0%) 38 (22.1%) 40 (23.3%) 11 (6.4%) 2 (1.2%) 3 (1.7%)
Negative Public Opinion 27 (15.7%) 29 (16.9%) 29 (16.9%) 32 (18.6%) 39 (22.7%) 8 (4.7%) 1 (0.6%)
Classroom Size 27 (15.7%) 37 (21.5%) 28 (16.3%) 25 (14.5%) 41 (23.8%) 10 (5.8%) 3 (1.7%)
Administration/Employer 35 (20.3%) 19 (11.0%) 25 (14.5%) 34 (19.8%) 36 (20.9%) 16 (9.3%)
Personal/Family/Work Balance 33 (19.2%) 29 (16.9%) 24 (14.0%) 29 (16.9%) 22 (12.8%) 16 (9.3%) 15 (8.7%)
Other 6 (3.5%) 13 (7.6%) 11 (6.4%) 5 (2.9%) 11 (6.4%) 87 (50.6%) 29 (16.9%)
I don’t feel stressed 13 (7.6%) 2 (1.2%) 17 (9.9%) 7 (4.1%) 7 (4.1%) 24 (14.0%) 97 (56.4%)

(Results tabulated by Polldaddy.com)

5. Please elaborate on your response to the previous question. If you wrote in an answer different from those listed, please explain. (79 answers, 93 skips)

Inclusion/Differentiation

Inclusion happened and things were fine until all the supports were quietly removed, one by one. Educational Program Assistants were cut so deep that now they are reserved almost exclusively for “fight” or “flight” children. Learning centre teachers have become coordinators of EPAs and rarely work with students in-depth. Resource teachers are so overloaded that they are seeing more kids, less often. We need more in-classroom supports. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

It is simply impossible to meet the needs of every child in your class. We have children with special needs, children who are on individual program plans, behaviour problems, children with anxiety, along with the “regular” children. (South America, Early Elementary)

With less money going to pay for supports in the classroom, it is difficult to differentiate learning. For example, if you have a student who has Autism (all day) but only have an Educational Assistant for 30 min/day. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

Differentiation is nearly impossible in an everyday classroom. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

I have 28 students in Grade 5. They range from globally delayed (working at the grade 1 level) to autistic (prone to screaming fits daily) to gifted. Planning takes about 4 hours per day to ensure all lessons have been differentiated. (Canada, Late Elementary, 15-20 years)

With so little prep time, how am I supposed to look after/prepare/plan/respect all the individualised plan for all the students that have one? (Canada, Junior High)

Class sizes are too large and there is such a diverse group of learners that it feels impossible to meet the needs of all students on a daily basis. Children with special needs and leaning challenges suffer because of the large class sizes. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

survey pic #4Negative Public Opinion

Every time we turn around, something negative is being discussed in the news and it is never accurate. The media presents it with a biased bent and the so-called experts are not experts. The union does not reply. (Canada, Late Elementary)

I find it demoralizing to hear all the negative opinions on teachers, snow days, summer vacation, etc. I feel like the public forgets that teachers also have families who count on us. Sometimes I feel like they expect my family to come second to their wants and desires for their children. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

There’s been a great deal of teacher-bashing due to a recent education report and several snow days. (Canada, High School, 15-20 years)

People speak so badly of teachers and disrespect the job we do. They feel it is babysitting and so easy anyone could do it. People also say we are just in it for the holidays. Teachers need to get the respect they deserve! (Canada, Late Elementary, 5-10)

Classroom Size

Too many students per class and too many with too many needs. Also, students are not held accountable and everybody passes. (Canada, Junior High, 20+ years)

I have 27 first graders in my class. I’m expected to differentiate and meet each of their needs. It’s hard. Too many kids, too many expectations that aren’t necessarily developmentally appropriate, and just one me. (USA, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

My cap is 35 and I hit it yearly. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

We have to differentiate and at the same time control what is going on with 30 or more kids in the classroom. Kids are not the same as the where a long time ago. We teachers are supposed to be entertainers and if the kids are not having fun it is ok for them not to participate. (Canada, Junior High, 15-20 years)

Administration/Employer

If I were to try to capture the essence of the problems in education right now, I would say that having a government (hence my identification of employer) that feels it must respond to every social problem by downloading it to already over-worked teachers, who are then held accountable for the fact that the problems persist. Instead of expecting parents to parent, such as making good choices for their children instead of allowing kids to run the show, teachers have become the scapegoats. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

I am always watching over my shoulder as I am unsure of my administration. Admin is always right and our voice is not welcome, especially if we don’t agree. If we don’t agree, we are shut out. We have no voice! Just last week I said to my peers, why don’t they ask us what is working/not working in the classroom with new curriculums? (Canada, Early Elementary, 20+ years)

My main source of stress right is now is cell phones in the classroom. My administration believes that students should be allowed to have their cell phones with them at all times. This means I am constantly policing proper use. In middle school, this does not come naturally to students, so it is a constant battle that interrupts valuable learning time. (Canada, Junior High, 20+ years)

Administration will favour helicopter parents and change teacher’s marks accordingly. (Canada, High school, 20+ years)

 The Department coming up with more paperwork all the time and using all of our in-service days to justify their existence to the public. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

School politics / favouritism/ ineffective leadership (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

Personal/Family/Work Balance

Fortunately, I feel very little stress from classroom size, negative public opinion, and my employers. My greatest struggle is with balancing work and personal life; I always feel that I could be doing something better if only I had more time and energy. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

I often stay late at work and still end up taking things home. My family feels that I don’t give them enough time. I feel that I make a difference in children’s lives, but public opinion is very demoralizing. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

I feel as though I cannot possibly give my students AND my family my best. Somebody always gets the short end of the stick. I bring my students home in my head every night. Sometimes I am rocking my own babies to sleep while crying because I’m thinking about my students putting themselves and their siblings to bed alone. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

Other

How can you be an educator and not be stressed??????? (USA, Junior High, 20+ years)

For other, issues around resources and having to create your own materials/spend your own money to teach the curriculum in the way that is expected. (Canada, Early Elementary)

Administrative tasks i.e. paperwork, non-teaching related tasks. (Canada, Administration/Resource, 10-15 years)

Teaching has become very stressful. (Canada, Junior High, 20+ years)

Another stressful factor, which is not on the list, is social promotion. This feeds the stress and frustration I experience when differentiating lessons. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

Admins additional paperwork and no prep time. (Canada, Late Elementary, 3-5 years)

Paperwork!!! So much Paperwork!!!! And only being able to mark students on skills rather than efforts. (Canada, Music, 3-5 years)

Cutbacks and the lack of jobs are a major stressor right now. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

Paperwork – attendance , exam exemptions , documenting parent contact , adaptations; pseudo-parenting- responsibility, independence, career planning, social skills, gender sexuality issues, cyber bullying, mental health. (Canada, High School, 5-10)

Education is subject to an impossible standard: that all students will achieve standardized excellence. Anything short of this goal is failure, despite the reality that not every human being has the same academic capacity. Students should be held to improve relative to their own abilities. This is not how the system is measured, and thus, we can never met the impossible expectations placed on the system. The apparent lack of support from increasing numbers of parents/families amplifies this. (Canada, Late Elementary, 15-20 years)

Teachers are being passed the buck to raise children, educate them, treat mental health, solve behavior problems, manage their exercise and food intake, and most recently prevent them from joining ISIS ( yeah, couldn’t believe that one either). (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

We are expected to be a jack of all trades. Teacher demands are increasing, curriculum is changing constantly, lack of funds mean we pour our own into our classroom, and we get little thanks from the parent. Parents seem to lack responsibility for student success…students have more rights and fewer consequences for inappropriate behaviour. (Canada, Early Elementary, 15-20 years)

I don’t feel stressed

There were a few teachers (8%) who picked “I don’t feel stressed” as their number one answer. We need to find these people and figure out how they did it. One of these respondents said:

I really don’t feel stressed – only at particular times of the year when there is time pressure. e.g. Report card writing and parent-teacher. (Canada, Early Elementary, 20+ years)

6. Do you feel you receive enough support from other professionals at your school, such as teaching assistants, school psychologists, administrators, resource and learning centre teachers, SLPs, guidance, others? (156 answers, 16 skips)

No: 101 – 65%

Yes: 55 – 35%

7. If you feel you are lacking in support, where do you need additional support in order to better meet the needs of your students? (98 answers, 74 skips)

(Note: The responses to this questions make it clear that teachers need more – more support from all of the other professionals in the school system. Teachers are frustrated that they can’t meet the wide and varied needs of the children in their classroom and they are looking for help. It is generally acknowledged that there just aren’t enough staff to provide the supports needed.)survey pic #3

The support we require as teachers must come from outside of the school through a recognition that we cannot be all things to all people. Realistic expectations of the role of the teacher, coupled with a stand on our behalf by those at the board and department level. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

More mental health support, more EPAs in schools, more learning centre teachers, resource, school psychologists, guidance….Teachers are doing a fine job teaching [and they could do more] if they could dedicate their days to teaching and not solving the world’s problems. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

Many of those people are so bogged down with paperwork that they have little to no time to actually do the job they’re supposed to be doing, which is working with students. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

 The other professionals can only provide the amount of help they are assigned. They try to help everyone but there are not enough of them. We need many more TAs, more resource teachers and in most schools there are NO Guidance counsellors, which are  desperately needed. (Canada, Early Elementary)

More planning time with other teachers. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

Someone needs to make administration accountable! Right now they are not proactive at all, the students and parents are running the school and there is no one to tell or no one that steps in to see how principals are doing. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

The school psychologists are so overworked that they hardly have a second to breathe. The admin are so busy putting out fires and pleasing parents that they have no time to be present in our rooms. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

More – there is not enough of this support so it is spread too thin. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

I believe that more supports need to be in place for students with weak reading, spelling, and comprehension skills. More supports need to be in place to assist a teacher when implementing individualized programs. I feel that the classroom teacher should be instrumental in providing expertise and challenge in the subject area; educational assistants or resource support should ALWAYS be available to students on individualized programs. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

Mental health issues. (Canada, Elementary 4-6, 10-15 years)

8. If your school is cancelled due to inclement weather, what do you think should be done? (150 answers, 22 skips)

1. Nothing should be done. Storm days are a normal part of the school experience: 105 – 70%

2. Other*: 30 – 20%

3. Teachers should prepare on-line lessons for students to complete while they are out of school: 5 – 3%

4. Teachers should prepare packages of storm lessons for students to complete at home: 4 – 3%

5. Teachers should report to school regardless of the weather, even when it is cancelled for students: 4 – 3%

6. School should never be cancelled. Parents should be given the choice to send their child to school or keep them home: 2 – 1%

*Some of the other responses are listed below:

This is a levelled question. High school students who are in semesters would benefit from online lessons or support. Elementary students are fine. They need to read more and stay off the computers. Go outside and play in the snow. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

I feel the need to say that I STRONGLY disagree with every listed option except “storm days are a normal part of the school experience”. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

I think teachers could make a reasonable effort to get to their work site; however, if the roads are dangerous then their judgment should be respected. (Canada, Early Elementary, 15-20 years)

After the second day, on-line instructions should be made available to students missing school for winter weather. I live in the South….our Snow Days are a local celebration. One play day is okay and then back to studies!!! (USA, Junior High, 20+ years)

My board remains open always. It is sometimes dangerous to travel, and yet the doors are open to students and the expectation is to get to work. (Canada, Music, 10-15 years)

Expecting all kids to work at home is not realistic. Not all homes and parents are equipped to sit down and do “schooling” with their children all day. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

The additional days have already been added to the school year in Nova Scotia. Because of the extension of the school year to 195 days, we already have 10 snow days built in, in addition to those that historically occurred. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

Teachers should make a reasonable attempt to get to their school; however, if the roads are too bad they can work from home. I live close to my school (5 mins) so I would love to be able to work in my classroom on storm days if the roads are clear enough to drive and the school is plowed out.  (Canada, Early Elementary)

We are in Canada, for crying out loud! We have had snow days since the 1800’s…why are snow days such a big issue this year? (Canada, Junior High)

9. What would you like the general public to know about you as a teacher or teachers in general? (121 answers, 51 skips)

We work hard for your kids every day. The system is not designed to “meet the needs of all kids”, yet you have to trust we are doing our damn best to try and do this as best as we can. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

We are personally invested in your child. We care about them and truly want what’s best for them. (USA, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

That if you think it is such an easy job to be a teacher and that we have it so easy that you should come into a classroom for a day or for an hour for that matter and see just how easy we have it!!! I love my job and love being a teacher and wouldn’t want to do anything else but it is not an easy job. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

Teachers are professionals, trained in pedagogy. Just as other professionals are trained in their area of expertise. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

That I live this job. I never leave it in the building. I am constantly thinking of/ working on how to improve my performance to help my students succeed. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

We care, we work hard, we appreciate support and do our best. (Canada, Junior High, 10-15 years)

In order to initiate change in the system, you must share your thoughts and opinions. You must not, however, assume you understand the system better than those who work within the system. Do not gripe about the school system to your children- allow them to form their own opinions, not simply echo yours. Teachers are not the only educators – parents and guardians are the first and often most influential educators in a child’s life. Lastly, please read to your little ones. They need it. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

I am a hard-working teacher who takes time and consideration to prepare lessons and assignments to help your child. Please support me in doing this. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

We can care about your child and at the same time stand up for our rights. (Canada, 20+ years)

I work a minimum of seventy-five hours a week. Four snow days a year does not make me lazy. Besides, I work on those days too. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

 We love the kids, but we can’t be their parents or therapists. (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

 That most teachers (not all) spend a great deal of their own time and money to help ensure that your children get the best education possible! We really do love our students, as if they were our own! When we talk about our students to other people we refer to them as ‘my kids’. We love what we do and that is why we are teachers, we are not just in this profession for the summer vacation and snow days. That is a great misconception! Your support would go a long way in boosting our morale! (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

I love my students. Beyond measure. And I want my own kids to have teachers who truly love them. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

I am exhausted. Ask any teacher from 20 years ago and they will tell you that the profession has changed drastically. 20 yrs ago there was no inclusion, no 4-year-olds in primary, and no technology and social media. Teachers weren’t competing with iPads and video games. You were allowed to relax and have fun in the classroom. Holiday parties weren’t banned and there was not as much, if any, of this ‘ data collection’ nonsense. Teachers could teach! They weren’t meeting’ed to death! (Canada, Early Elementary, 5-10 years)

Our hours are not 9 to 3. The majority of teachers spend a couple of hours both before and after school preparing lessons, gathering materials, meeting with other staff to discuss student needs, marking, clubs and the list goes on. (Canada, Late Elementary, 10-15 years)

survey pic 110. Do you feel teachers are fairly portrayed in the media? (146 answers, 26 skips)

 No: 129 – 88%

Yes: 17 – 12%

I am so tired of my heart breaking, it’s to the point that I am almost afraid to tell people I am a teacher. The generalized assumptions about our lives and jobs are so hurtful. And so inaccurate. For example, I have children too. I have to do something with them on PD days as well! So when people take to Facebook blasting us for taking time to collaborate I want to lose my mind. In what other job do employees NOT have time to meet and discuss their work with colleagues? We are often lumped together as a bunch of selfish over-paid, under-working lazy bums who put in time to hang out on ski hills and beaches on our vacations. See us for who we really are, not a negative stereotype. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

We need someone to follow us around for a week and report on that. The media doesn’t talk about all of the extra things we do, they just try to create controversy. They focus on strikes and snow days. Rarely do they report on “good news” stories. (Canada, Admin/Resource, 10-15 years)

Teachers fear repercussions for speaking out. Because of this, unless other informed members of society speak out, our voices are not heard.(Canada, Elementary, 10-15 years)

Teachers are often called lazy and accused of having it easy. The media seems to show us through a lens of the public opinion that we work till 3 and have weekends long holidays March Break and summers off. No one seems to realize that we don’t just show up and follow a script. We plan everything we do, correct students work , deal with parents, organize our student things, supervise students , plan field trips, wipe noses do zippers and laces, wipe tears and cuts, help foster independence, friendship and social skills, work evenings and weekends , read professional books to improve teaching , engage in learning activities and professor all development on our own time use our money to buy things to help provide essentials for our lessons attend curriculum nights, concerts, etc. and we only get paid for 195 days. We don’t even get paid holidays like most professionals do. I am just skimming the surface of all teachers do that the media forgets. (Canada, Early Elementary, 10-15 years)

We’re a very modest lot. We do incredible, amazing things EVERY SINGLE DAY. We’re performers, counselors, mediators, models, and teachers. We don’t always flaunt our accomplishments (we often don’t have time and don’t usually feel the need). However, I don’t feel that we are negatively portrayed in the news media (social media is a whole other ballgame, though). (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

My answer is sometimes. Some teachers are treated like royalty and can do no wrong and are rewarded with wonderful media coverage; however, equally excellent educators are often perceived to be lesser because they are less popular with parents and administrators and these teachers find that almost everything they propose is met with forceful argument and parental resistance (even if it is the same information given to students by the better received staff). These teachers often receive negative press and are seen to be hard to work with and embarrassing to the school system. (USA, Junior High, 20+ years)

Teachers are the scapegoats for all that ails the public education system. The government pushes the idea that if students aren’t performing well on standardized tests, then it must be the teachers’ fault. The general public jumps on the bandwagon with the government. Instead of complaining about trivial matters like teachers getting storm days off it would be more constructive to talk about things like how poorly funded the education system is, how many students do not receive the support they need because there aren’t enough teachers, teaching assistants, guidance counselors, etc. in the system. How about a discussion on how difficult it is for teachers to teach a class in which a quarter of the class shows up high on drugs? Or a discussion on the impact higher poverty rates are having on students’ success in school? Or a discussion on how current discipline practices in schools are simply not working for those students who repeatedly act out and negatively impact upon the learning of others? The media could highlight the real problems with the system, as well as the successes of the system, but it chooses to focus on whatever it thinks will sell newspapers, gets viewers to tune in, etc. Unfortunately those things don’t help anyone at all. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

The media makes me feel as though I have it “so good” that I have no right to complain. How about the day I got slapped by a student? Or the day that a student accused me of hitting them? How about the day a parent wandered into my room full of students and proceeded to berate me? Or the time a parent said (within earshot) that I was worth nothing because I was pregnant and not going to be teaching for the year? We get treated like crap, and yet since we have summers off, we’re supposed to suck it up. (Canada, Early Elementary, 3-5 years)

We are SO much more than snow days and summers off! (Canada, Early Elementary,  5-10 years)

Teachers are not portrayed fairly because they are underrepresented. Teachers do not typically represent themselves in the media and our unions and boards do a poor job, since most of those individuals spend little time in today’s classrooms, or speaking with teacher and students. (Canada, Junior High, 5-10 years)

There are bad people in any profession. Teachers are no different. By and large teachers are professionals trying to make a difference for children. The media and “edu-experts” often latch onto incorrect or exaggerated issues to sell their product, and as the old saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads”. Sensationalism draws viewers, which sells advertising minutes, and simplistic, short news bursts are easier than thoughtful and carefully considered opinions on problems (and positives) in education. (Canada, Late Elementary, 5-10 years)

 Teachers are silenced by our collective agreements and our adherence to a professional code of conduct. We are not permitted to speak out or about our employer’s competencies if we wish to continue to teach. (Canada, High School, 5-10 years)

The media slants their stories to rile the general public. Look at all those days those teachers had off because of snow or the average teacher earns X amount and only works 10 months of the year with every weekend off, all holidays and 2 months in the summer. The media is very quick to criticize and blame, but rarely praises or apologizes when proven wrong or unfair. (Canada, Late Elementary, 20+ years)

Tired, and have frankly given up, having to justify my career choice. I still find it difficult to understand why people feel they can tell us how to do our jobs when they have never done our jobs. I am speaking about the public in general, and the self-declared experts who seek out and receive airplay. I must say at the same time that some teachers who are flippantly announcing their storm day plans which involve trips to the mall, etc. are not helping. (Canada, 20+ years)

 We are one of the only professions where it is okay, even enjoyed to bash openly. I realize that this is probably the minority, but the others who support us rarely speak out. Media outlets (CBC ,CTV) in particular seem to have a hate on for teachers. Their inability to be creative journalists, means they report on the same things year after year. Snow days are one of these tired news stories. (Canada, Early Elementary, 15-20 years)

The “media” looks for sensationalism therefore what causes the greatest outcry (just or not) is what is followed and encouraged – the needs/best interests of the students are not considered. (Canada, Late Elementary, 20+ years)

I would love for any person who loves to complain about teachers to come spend a day with a teacher so they will have an informed opinion about what we do every day. We don’t just teach reading and writing, we wear many hats throughout the day. (Canada, Late Elementary, 5-10 years)

 

The Last Word

People will always have an opinion – positive or negative. As professionals, you just need to keep doing your best, every day. (Canada, High School, 10-15 years)

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education, Teacher

How to Solve our Country’s Math “Problem”

The Globe and Mail recently featured a top fold, bold-font headline that screamed: “THE FIGHT TO SOLVE OUR MATH PROBLEM”!

I was disappointed to see there was no picture attached to this headline. I was hoping for a shot of an army of stern-looking math teachers, holding pencils and books, brought in by the government to get our kids back to basicsChicken-Little_Sky-is-Falling

The PISA results were released on December 4 and the hand-wringing and head-shaking began almost immediately. In case you hadn’t heard the earth-shattering news, our Canadian students dropped from 10th place in 2003 to 15th spot in 2012. The PISA is a survey (standardized test) of more 510,000 15-year-olds from 65 participating economies that focuses on mathematics.

John Manley, President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, ominously declared, ““This is on the scale of a national emergency.”

OMG! Call in the Math Army! This is worse than the ice storm of 1998!

So scary...just like our math scores. Hold me, John Manley.
So scary…just like our math scores. Hold me, John Manley.

Now, Mr. Manley, sir, I realize you are trying to help parents who want nothing more than to ensure that little Billy won’t be living in their basement (probably playing Call of Duty 16) when he’s 35. BUT, jeez Louise! It’s ONE test! Of 15-year-olds!

Don’t get me wrong. I love and respect 15-year-olds. My youngest child is 15-years-old. My other son was just recently 15.

I, myself (believe it or not), was once 15.

Priority#3 when I was 15. Cannot include picture of French boyfriend, who was priority #1, due to silly privacy laws.
Priority#3 when I was 15 – making sure I never ran out of Silver City Pink lipstick. Cannot include picture of French boyfriend, who was priority #1, due to silly privacy laws.

I remember being 15. Acing my math test was important, but it wasn’t my top priority.

I’m not saying the PISA results mean nothing. They do. They are a great snapshot of how our 15-year-olds are able to demonstrate some of their math understanding compared to kids the same age around the world.

But we teach so much more than math in our schools these days. We actually teach more than just academics. And this is the problem. We have too many things on our plate.

Let’s start with math, seeing as it’s a national emergency and all.

In my province, there are 7 strands of math that have to be covered over the course of the grade 4 year. These include everything from number sense to graphing to probability. Within each of these strands are a variety of specific outcomes. Each carries the same amount of weight on a report card. At last count there were 65 specific outcomes. If you are in grade 4, learning your multiplication facts up to 9 is 1 of those.

It’s not that teachers don’t know how to teach basic mathematical operations and number sense. (Trust me. We do. If I have to do one more in-service on how to teach multiplication, I will poke my eyes out with hot sticks.)

The problem is that there are sooooo many other things to teach that eventually you have to move on. If the kids don’t know their math facts, oh well, because now it’s time to teach them how to read a circle graph. With 65 outcomes to get through, there isn’t a lot of time for dilly-dallying.

And this overcrowded curriculum doesn’t apply just to math.

Schools today are expected to do the work that homes, churches and community groups did years ago.

SnapchatWe are now expected to teach children basic morality, like: thou shalt not post naked pictures of your classmate on the internet.

We are expected to feed kids who don’t get a proper breakfast at home.

We are somehow responsible for solving the childhood obesity problem, despite the fact that the government keeps cutting our phys.ed. programs.

There are even calls for schools to offer nature and gardening workshops (during school time) because children are not getting outdoor time when they get home. It appears their parents are incapable of prying their offspring’s little eyes of the screens and chubby fingers off the controllers and keyboards long enough for them to get outside and blow the stink off.

The tipping point for me occurred the other day when I heard a mother being interviewed on the radio. She was upset because her teenage daughter had gotten involved in prostitution. I was feeling sympathetic to her plight until she said, “The schools really need to be doing more to prevent this from happening.”

Seriously?!

SERIOUSLY?!!!

Let me see if I understand correctly…not only am I expected to teach reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, feed the hungry, and instil basic morality, but now you want me to put a stop to the world’s oldest profession?!

UNCLE!302_businessman_teacher_or_officeworker_surrendering_and_waving_the_white_flag

I’m waving the white flag.

#Just.can’t.do.it.all.anymore.

If the general public wants improved math scores, then we need to prioritize and delegate.

Families, community groups, and government organizations need to pick up the slack that our schools have slowly absorbed over the years.

The minute you start watering down a curriculum by adding in everything but the kitchen sink, you end up with a system that is mediocre at best.

The Asian schools that beat the pants off our kids in the PISA?

I guarantee you this: they are not spending their days talking about the dangers of SnapChat, while they pass out juice boxes and granola bars. They are doing kill and drill, all day long and then far into the night with tutors and special math schools.

Do I want their education system in my country? No. But don’t compare their math scores to mine, saying it’s apples to apples. If you want me to focus more on apples, just say the word. But you’ll need to get some of the other fruit out of my basket first.

are-you-smarter-300x225

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, Memoir, Parenting, Suburban

It’s a magical world out there, my son. Time to go exploring.

writing121

To my little boy, who is suddenly, miraculously, all-grown-up,

Tomorrow we leave with a truck filled to the brim with your sheets and pillows and computer and clothes and start the five-hour drive to your new home. A dormitory filled with boys and (heaven help me) girls just like you who are starting a new chapter in their lives.

It seems like we’ve been preparing for this move all summer. The list of things to get, to buy, to wash, to sign and to organize seemed like it would never end.

Until it did.

And now there isn’t anything left for me to do or buy or wash or pack.

I thought that during your last night at home, I would give you lots of deep, sage, soul-searching advice that would carry you through the good times and the bad while you are away at university but…

I got nothin’.

And you know what? I think that’s good.

I think it means we already did that.  Over the past 18 years, anything that needed to be said has already been said many times over.

Don’t worry about us. Your dad is ready. I’m ready. (And you know your brother was ready last month when he started measuring your room to see where he would put his furniture!)

You’re ready and I am so excited for you.

There’s a whole new world waiting out there for you.

Time to go exploring.

 writing124

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

education, Memoir, Princess, Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Homework vs. Laundry: One of these things will teach your child self-discipline, responsibility and time-management. The other involves worksheets.

writing114As an elementary school teacher, I rarely assign homework.

Of course I encourage my students to read. I also encourage them to follow the news, eat right, and be kind to their friends and family.

But nightly math sheets and fill-in-the-blank grammar exercises?

Nope.

I’ve studied the research, read the books, watched the kids, and talked to the parents. I’ve raised two boys to teenagehood and I was in school for almost half my life. And I know, in my gut and in my brain, that regular, daily homework for homework’s sake is at best, unnecessary, and at worst, detrimental to children’s learning.

Go ahead.

You can start the shrieking and the hand-wringing now. I’ll wait. I’ve taken more flak for my decision to not (regularly) assign homework than I have for just about anything else in my career (except my smart mouth, but that gets me in trouble everywhere I go).

The myths that surround the benefits of homework have been around for so long, most of us just assume it’s a necessary evil.

But it’s not.

Now, I know what you’re saying.

Reader: OK, Heather, let’s say that I believe you (which I don’t) when you say the research shows that homework makes little or no difference in terms of academic success, especially at the elementary school level, but what about the non-academic benefits?

Me: Like what?

Reader: Well, you know, homework teaches kids responsibility and time management and self-discipline. That stuff is important!

Me: I agree. Those things are important. But does homework really teach those things? Can you show me a study that proves that to be true? How many 7-year-olds do you know who come home from school and pull out their homework and say, “Gee Mommy. I have to finish this math worksheet and colour in this photocopied picture of an apple without going outside the lines before school starts again tomorrow. Let me see, how much time will I need? I guess I’ll have my snack now and then I’ll go outside and play for 30 minutes. That will leave me with enough time to colour in the apple while you’re making dinner. Then I might watch a little TV for no more than 45 minutes because I need to leave myself lots of time to work on this math because I really don’t understand it.”

Washing the car - maybe the funnest chore, ever!
Washing the car – maybe the funnest chore, ever!

Let’s be honest here.

When homework comes home, the only person who has to cram more responsibility, time-management and self-discipline into their already crazy day is the parent or guardian of the youngster with the homework.

So, how DO we teach important things like those noted above?

One word: laundry.

Yup. Laundry.

Now, this means that the job of teaching responsibility, time-management, and self-discipline outside of school hours has to be taken out of the hands of teachers and placed into the hands of parents and guardians.

I know. Now I’m talking crazy talk.

“But you’re the teacher! It’s your job!” I can hear you screaming.

Yes, I’m the teacher. And when your child is in school, I will do everything I can to teach them all sorts of things, both academic and non. But, I can’t follow my students home.

And home is where these incredibly important lessons need to be taught.

Household chores (unlike homework) have been proven to instill in children all of those great non-academic life lessons that help nurture and grow our children into responsible adults.

“Using measures of an individual’s success such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs, and examining a child’s involvement in household tasks at all three earlier time, Rossmann determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less “successful.” The assumption is that responsibility learned via household tasks is best when learned young.” http://www.cehd.umn.edu/research/highlights/Rossmann/

Children who feel like they are contributing members of their community are more likely to feel like they belong.

I am not suggesting we send our children back down into the mines on the backs of old ponies to dig for coal. I am suggesting that they do age-appropriate tasks that allow them to feel like they are contributing to making life better.

Children are not pets or pieces of furniture or even guests. They are a valuable part of the family unit. They BELONG.

 I chose laundry as an example but any chore will do. (Don’t panic. You can ease into it. I’m not expecting your child to be running a laundromat out of your home at age 11.)

Children as young as 3 can be taught how to put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper instead of throwing them on their floor.

By the time that child reaches elementary school, he or she can sort the laundry into whites and colours and help mom or dad carry it to the washing machine. They can also put their clean clothes away in the drawers.

Then you can add folding or hanging up their own clothes. (This one is scary because children rarely fold their clothes in a way grown-ups consider acceptable. That’s OK. If they don’t like wearing wrinkle clothes, they will do it differently next time.)

You want to teach a teenager about time-management? Let them do their own laundry. They will soon discover that if they want to wear that dirty shirt and those jeans to the dance, they need to do their laundry at least the night before so everything will have a chance to dry.

You want to teach a child about self-discipline? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that instead of playing video games non-stop for 3 hours, they need to keep an eye on the washer, so they can move one load to the dryer and get another one in.

You want to teach a pre-teen about responsibility? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that no one else is going to pick their dirty clothes up off the floor and wash them, so they better do it or else they’ll be wearing dirty clothes to school.

(Note to the OCD Moms out there. Back away from the mess. Seriously. Close your eyes, put your hands in your pockets, breathe into a paper bag. Better yet, shut the door, walk away, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit. Do whatever you have to do but do NOT go in there and ‘rescue’ your child. Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain.)

Abolish homework. Mandate laundry.

He practically begged to vaccum when he was 3. He doesn't beg anymore but he still does it.
He practically begged to vacuum when he was 3. He doesn’t beg anymore but he still does it.

*******************************************************************************************************************

Disclosure: I have two teenage sons. Both have been doing their own laundry, along with numerous other chores, for years. One took to it like a duck to water, while the other kept forgetting to add the laundry soap.

The first time he realized what he had done, he called me into the laundry room in a panic, “Omygawd! Does this mean I have to do it all over again?!” (Like he had just scrubbed each item of clothing by hand on a rock in the middle of a river.)

“Well,” I said. “Smell your clothes. Do they smell clean?”

We both smelled a piece of wet clothing. Mine smelled like wet stinky teenage boy.

“Fine,” he said.

He added the soap and hit Start again.

Lesson learned.