education, Rants

Getting Rid of the D (and the A,B,Cs)

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

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

The basic facts surrounding this argument are true.

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

All of that is true.

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

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

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

So what’s the answer?

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

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

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

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

unicorn

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Be Brave, education, 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, 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.

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

Princess, Rants, Raves, Teacher

Teachers: Love us or hate us, we’re still going to teach your kids.

A teacher for Prime Minister? What you talkin' about, Willis?
A teacher for Prime Minister? What you talkin’ about, Willis?!

If Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wins the next federal election in a few years, Canada will have a teacher for Prime Minister. Imagine! A teacher as the leader of our great country!

Although I think this would be fabulous, I can’t imagine it happening, seeing as many Canadians don’t even seem to want teachers to be teachers.

In last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, columnist Elizabeth Renzetti wrote an article titled, “Who You Callin’ A Teacher?” In it, she describes the twisted relationship the general public has with teachers.

“Is there another profession that’s so loved in theory and so loathed in practice?” she asked.

She continued by saying, “The love is everywhere to see, so long as it doesn’t cost us anything: Countless books, films and documentaries take a scrappy teacher as a hero…In real life, teachers get scant thanks from a public that expects them to perform ever greater miracles with ever fewer loaves and fishes.”

I love that biblical image: performing ever greater miracles with ever fewer loaves and fishes.

It’s what teachers do every day. Not only are we expected to cover the 3-R’s (and cover them well enough to beat out other countries on standardized tests) but we are also expected teach children things that their parents should, but often don’t, deal with at home (like, please don’t rape your classmate, put her picture on-line and then bully her into an early grave…but that’s a story for another time).  Add in the integration of special needs students who don’t get the support they need…oh, and do it with less money and little support.

What gives? Why the lack of respect for teachers? Renzetti explains it like this:

“There’s a particular store of resentment directed at teachers, perhaps because so much of their work is invisible to the outside world, but more likely out of numbing jealousy that they get summers off.”

I totally agree. In a past blog about snow days, I made the point that every job is different. Each has it’s own pros and cons and yet many people can’t get past the perks that teaching has to offer.

The green-eyed monster is a vicious, myopic creature. We often envy what we see on the surface.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll see all of the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears that go into a full school-year of teaching. There aren’t a lot of people who can do that well. And yes, I know there are bad teachers out there…just like there are bad nurses and bad toll booth operators and bad garbage men. But I think it’s fair to say that most teachers are well-trained professionals who have the best interests of their students in mind. It just wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t.

But let’s go back to Justin Trudeau for a minute.

In his recent blog post, Drama Teaching Experience, fellow teacher, Grant Frost noted (tongue in-cheek) that the Conservative attack ads on Trudeau had it right. What could a drama teacher possibly bring to the job of prime minister? How could a teacher possibly lead our country? His response?

“Drama teachers are a special breed of people who develop co-operation in their students, work tirelessly so that others can shine, and help all students reach their fullest potential…Canadians should dream of such a leader.”

In the end, Renzetti sums it up: “Those who can, teach; those who can’t, make fun of them.”

Excuse me, Mr. Harper, but who’s teaching your kids?

Love
Love
Hate
Hate
Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

10 Simple Things You Can Do To Help Your Child Get a Better Report Card (and lead a happier life)

writing72

It’s that most wonderful time of the year…report card time!

I jest, of course. Report card time is often a stressful time for children, teachers, and parents alike.

After report cards come home, the question parents most often ask is, “What can I do at home to help my child?”

They think the answer is going to be complicated and involve expensive tutoring support. And sometimes these things are necessary.

But in many cases, there are some simple (free) things you can do at home that will make a positive difference in the classroom. They aren’t based on rocket science and they’ve been proven time and time again by people way smarter than me (people like scientists and psychologists).  They don’t just help kids get better grades…they help them to become healthier, happier people. And in the end, that’s really what we want, isn’t it?

Keep in mind that these suggestions are designed for parents of elementary school children. Once your child hits middle school, you want to have good habits and attitudes ingrained.

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Get the TV and the game system out of their bedroom. If they have a phone, have them turn it off and leave it in the kitchen at bedtime. You want your child to have a restful sleep so they are ready to learn once they get to school. Kids can’t focus on learning when they are tired.
  2. Get your child to school on time. It’s disruptive to everyone when kids arrive late. And it’s often the same kids who arrive late every day. I get it. You’re saying, “Oh, but it’s just so hard to get out the door on time.” Uh, yes, it can be. But you need to make it a priority. By consistently allowing your  child to be late, you are teaching them that punctuality is not important when it is.
  3. Help your child with personal hygiene issues. Check them out before they leave the house. (I often do the sniff test with my kids.) Body odor, dirty clothes, bad breath, basically anything that involves bad smells, is going to make your kid a social pariah and a target for bullies.
  4. Teach your child that everyone has strengths and challenges. Your child may be good at math but struggle with reading or vice versa or both. Make sure they know that this in no way measures their worth as a human being or anyone else’s worth, for that matter.
  5. On that note, make sure your child understands that neither their self-worth and nor your love is tied to a grade on their report card. Remember: no one will be checking their grade four math mark when they are applying for college or their first job.
  6. Teach your children that popularity comes with both power and responsibility. If your child has been blessed with a leader-like personality, help her to use this power for good, not for evil.
  7. Keep an eye on what your child hears, sees and reads. There is a reason movies and video games have ratings. Movies that are rated R are not for children. Video games that are rated mature are not for children. Grow a spine and say no.
  8. Sexy lingerie is not for little girls, it’s for grown women. Even though they make thongs and lacy bras for the pre-teen set doesn’t mean you have to buy them. It’s not cute…it’s wrong. Same goes for Playboy t-shirts and sweatpants that have “Juicy” written across the butt. If she begs, see #8 for advice.
  9. Healthy food makes for healthy minds and bodies. If your child is coming to school already jacked up on a sugar-fueled breakfast (or worse, no breakfast) we are already at a disadvantage.
  10. Finally, don’t trash your child’s teacher in front of your child. The fact is, unless you can negotiate a class change, your child and his teacher will be spending more daytime hours together than the two of you. Be part of a team – your child’s team.

writing71

Teacher

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

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

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

My apologies for my sloppy research and reporting.

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

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