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:
Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate:
Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Why I can’t get cocky about my mental health.

writing34You should never get cocky about your mental health.

I should know. For the most part, I’m a confident, easy-going woman. I have an amazing family and a ridiculous number of incredible friends. My life is full of an abundance of riches.

And yet I’ve suffered from depression.

Mental illness can strike any of us. It doesn’t discriminate.

I’ve seen an 8-year-old boy crawling on the floor, barking like a dog because of a mental illness that has been made worse because of years of abuse and neglect.

I’ve seen a teenager who has suffered with anger issues and hormonal imbalances all of his life, suddenly discover drugs and spiral out of control.

I’ve seen a big, strong, confident man brought to his knees by depression.

Thousands of stories just like these play out every day, all over the world.

And yet many suffer in silence, too ashamed to admit that they have a problem. They are afraid of what other’s might think or how it might affect their position at work. And some of these fears are valid. Individuals still face the possibility of discrimination and recriminations when they disclose a mental illness.

Sometimes though, people do get the strength and the courage to reach out for help for their spouse, their child, or themselves, only to be told that help isn’t available.

They are often told that the wait-time for mental health services is months away. That’s too long a wait when you are on suicide watch for your 13-year-old daughter.

As a teacher, I often hear those in the “back to basics’ camp calling for less focus on helping children understand their feelings, so that more time can be spent on their math and spelling skills. They say it like self-esteem is a dirty word. As any teacher knows, a student with a mental health issue is a student who isn’t learning like they could. Our first priority as teachers is for our student’s well being. End of discussion.

Bell Canada started the Bell Let’s Talk fundraising campaign in 2010 and has since committed to investing $62 million in Canadian mental health initiatives. Some have criticized Bell, saying their campaign is nothing more than a marketing strategy designed to promote their brand and their products.

To that I say, well…duh. It’s marketing 101, not rocket science, people.

But if their program helps reduce the stigma around mental health and the money donated allows more access to quicker mental health services, then I don’t care why they are doing it.

You see, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have the financial means to access treatment, be it therapy, when needed or medication, when necessary. I also have the support of loving friends and family.

But I know how privileged I am.

Many Canadians don’t have that. Which is why we need to be there for each other.

So, thank you, Bell.

And Canada?

Let’s keep talking.


Rants, Teacher

Dear Mr. Lapierre, VP of the NRA – I’m a teacher…so, where’s my gun?

A fourth grade teacher receives firearms training in West Valley City, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)
A fourth grade teacher receives firearms training in West Valley City, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Hi, Wayne…may I call you Wayne? You don’t know me, but I’m a teacher. And I gotta tell you, you’re starting to scare me.I know you have the best of intentions. Like all of us, you don’t want to see anymore children killed because some lunatic with a gun was able to get into a school and go on a rampage. So far, I’m with you. And I even agree that some schools would benefit from having a trained police officer in their school. Some of the high schools in my area have one and it’s great. They offer all kinds of services besides standing armed guard.

Where you lose me is when you suggest that perhaps school personnel ought to be armed.

When I was a kid, my father hunted and he kept two shotguns on the floor of his bedroom closet. My brother and I knew they were there and we also knew where he kept the ammunition (in his sock drawer). We also knew that if we went anywhere near the guns, we wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week. And so we didn’t. To be honest, they scared me to death. My dad tried to teach me how to shoot. The first (and only) time I fired off a gun, I just missed hitting one of my grandparent’s cows.

So seriously, Wayne, no one wants to see me with a gun. No amount of training in the world is going to turn me into a sharpshooter. I know you would offer to give me training and such, but really, it’s all I can do to keep up with the new math curriculum.

And even if I wanted one, I can’t imagine that my school board would allow me to keep a gun in my desk. For gawds sake, I’m not allowed to use Lysol wipes to clean the children’s desks because of the chemicals. Liquid Paper is a no-no because someone might try to sniff it. Even plastic knives in lunchboxes are taboo, because someone might accidentally cut their finger or god forbid, wave it around near another child.

Finally, I have no idea where I would keep a gun in my classroom. My desk is overflowing and my cabinets are full. I’d have to keep it well hidden, because these kids are like monkeys! They can get their hands on anything and I sure as hell don’t want them getting a hold of a loaded weapon. These kids are experts at Call of Duty IV.

I know you’ve offered to put one of your 4 million NRA members in our school and I thank you for your generous offer. But, no offense or anything, how do I know one of your well-armed men or women isn’t a raging lunatic under the surface? I mean, really…do you know ALL 4 million of these people personally?

There are crazy people everywhere who look and act just like you and me. Giving one of them a gun and inviting them into my school just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

So, thanks, Wayne, but I’ll pass. I’ll pass on the gun, just like I’ll pass on the bunker in case of a nuclear attack and the body armor to protect myself from a zombie apocalypse. Instead, I’ll support stricter gun control laws and increased mental health services. That should help keep the crazies out of my school and let me get back to my real job of teaching.

Princess, Rants, Suburban, Teacher

UPDATE: Peter Speight: We are never, ever, ever getting back together…like…ever.

UPDATE – Peter Speight, the sex-offender/former teacher in the New Germany, NS area, has agreed to resign and give up his teaching licence in exchange for a big whack of cash. The amount is confidential but it is on top of the $150,000 in back pay that he says he deserves. Whatever. He’s gone and the community of New Germany can breathe a big sigh of relief. Read more at:

lemonadeDear Peter,

Seriously, dude? Did you not read my last letter? What are you doing?

I get it. We all get it. You want your teaching job back. The same job you had before you pleaded guilty to sex charges. You want to come back and teach grade 3, in your old school, like nothing ever happened.  And you want your money back. The money you didn’t make…because you didn’t work…because you were fired…for pleading guilty to sexual offenses. (Do you not hear how crazy this sounds?)

If you had any doubts as to how people felt about you coming back, I would hope last night’s (court ordered) restorative justice session at your old school put those notions to bed. I read in this morning’s paper that more than 100 concerned citizens showed up to say they do not want you teaching their children – ever. The goal was to come up with a reintegration plan to bring you back, but as the coordinator of the session said after it ended, “we couldn’t get to that point because they were too heated about the fact they don’t want him back in the school.”

Peter, Peter, Peter. I’ve taught Grade 3 and let me tell you something about grade 3 students: they aren’t stupid. They hear things and they sense things and they will know on Day 1 that you are the guy who did that weird thing in his car with those ladies. And trust me: their imaginations will make what you did freakier than anything you could ever imagine.

They also aren’t wired to understand that you did something gross and weird a few years ago, but now you’re all better. Their sense of time is a little warped. To them, five years is like five days.

They may also be frightened of you because sex is something they don’t really understand yet. We don’t teach the ins-and-outs of sex until they are much older because most of them aren’t ready for that kind of discussion. What in the world could their parents tell them if they are placed in your class? “Well, dear, if he reaches for his zipper, grab your things and get the hell out of there.” Not a discussion I would want to have with my eight-year-old.

But I shouldn’t have to tell you this. You should already know this because you are an educated, experienced teacher. This leaves me to conclude that you are not rehabilitated. If you were truly sorry for what you had done to your community, especially the children, you would not be putting them through this shitshow. This quest for your old job has become a weird obsession that none of us understand. And we all know where your last strange obsession led.

Rants, Raves, Teacher

Ensuring Good to Great-Teaching 21st century kids in a 21st century world

Quick: what’s the first rule of Fight Club? Remember the 1999 movie starring Brad Pitt where he takes his shirt off a lot and fights other buff guys in basements and parking lots? (OK, stop thinking about that now. Focus. Back to me.) So, the first rule of Fight Club?  You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.

Being part of the teacher’s union is sort of like being part of Fight Club (minus the hot guys with their shirts off – that may happen in some places but sadly, never where I’ve worked).  As a teacher, I do my job and I don’t talk about what my union is doing, at least not in a non-positive, super-supportive way. Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate everything my union has done for me. God knows, if I had to teach and negotiate my own contract, I would have left long ago. They allow me to do my job; however, just as there are things I could do better as a teacher, I think there are things my union could do better as well.

Across North America we are seeing teacher unions decimated by their government leaders and demonized in the court of public opinion. In order to balance budgets and leave no child behind, governments have slowly but surely worked to take power and control away from the unions and put it into the hands of administrators. In response, many unions have retaliated by threatening to strike, only to have that option legislated away. When they use the only other means available to them, their actual work with children, they find themselves attacked by parents and the press. Teachers are only in the profession for the money, the benefits and the summers off! It seems like teachers and their unions just can’t win.

So, where do we go from here?

While researching teacher unions in the 21st century, I came across an interview with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.  Ms. Weingarten, whose union represents more than 1.5 million teachers across the United States, was a key speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer. Her presentation Can Teacher Unions be Partners in Reforming Schools in the 21st century? focused on what teacher unions need to do better in this ever-changing world.

She admitted that unions, hers in particular, haven’t always put quality teaching at the forefront.

“We…were wrong. Not that we meant to be wrong but our job initially was about fairness, not about quality. Our goal was to make sure teachers and our other members were treated fairly. Our job has to be about quality as well. Due process has to be about fairness, not about job security for life. Not about being used as an excuse for managers not to manage or a cloak for incompetence.”

She said it’s not enough for some teachers to be great.

“What we have to do is ensure good to great for all teachers.”

In response to questions posed by Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, Ms. Weingarten touched on a variety of subjects, including the controversial “bar exam for teachers”, but her focus always went back to making teachers accountable.

“We need to have real evaluation systems that can assess whether teachers are doing their jobs. And if they’re not, you help them. If they’re not, they shouldn’t be teachers.”

“What we have seen is that schools that work…have collaborative environments where there’s a real thoughtful process for how you recruit, support, retain and yes, dismiss, teachers.”

So, how do we make certain that our children are getting the teachers they deserve?

First, she said, we need to ensure that teachers have the tools and conditions they need in order to teach properly.

“You can’t give new teachers a rigorous kind of methodology to teach and then basically say, ‘You’re on your own.’ It’s not fair to the kids and it’s not fair to the teachers.”

Then, she said, teachers need to ask themselves: Did I teach the material? And most importantly: Did the students learn it? This is where standardized testing has a role to play. Sometimes a teacher can present a lesson and feel that it was the best lesson she has ever taught, only to discover that the majority of students didn’t really understand.

Ms. Weingarten was quick to point out that while standardized tests serve a purpose, they should not become the end goal.

“You have to look at the data to see if kids get it,” she told the audience. “You have to have enough data so that people concentrate on it, but when it becomes predominant then education becomes about testing and not about teaching and frankly the current generation of tests have no connection with what we have to teach kids right now. [They] are about the memorization of facts as opposed to about how kids critically think.”

If the jobs of tomorrow require critical thinking and creativity, why are we still teaching kids to memorize facts and then regurgitate them on a series of standardized tests? According to Ms.Weingarten, this focus on testing is one of the most serious problems facing education today.

Teachers need to be trained to teach critically, she said. New teachers need to be able to walk into a classroom feeling prepared, as opposed to the ‘sink or swim’ model we have now. Half of all teachers in the United   States leave teaching within the first three to five years, she pointed out.

“Love is important. You have to love kids to be a school teacher. You have to know your content. And you have to have a pedagogical bag of tricks so that you can differentiate instruction.”

This ability to offer differentiated teaching is what makes teachers great, she said.

“It’s how we go to our toolkit and understand that Walter is different than Randi, that Celia is different than Michael. [It’s] how we actually engage with kids to try to create that seminal moment of learning.”

At the end of her presentation, she went back to her initial question: can teacher unions be a part of educational reform in the 21st century?

“If we actually want to help all kids, the union needs to be a partner in this,” she said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t start focusing on…how we are solution-driven, how we problem solve, how we ensure that all kids get what they need in the public space instead of this constant polarization, education is not going to get better.”

And that’s the goal, isn’t it? To continue to improve education so that it meets the needs of all children? Having unions and governments, parents and teachers, all at each other’s throats does nothing to help students. We need to work together to figure out how best to teach 21st century kids in the 21st century.

So, I’m doing it. I’m breaking Rules #1 and #2 and I’m talking about my union (albeit anonymously and with loads of trepidation). I am grateful for everything they do but I want to make sure the voices of students are heard above all else. In the long run, I think it’s the best thing for me, as a teacher and a parent, and for our planet as a whole.


Presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival, June 30, 2012 – “Can Teacher Unions be Partners in reforming schools in the 21st century?” Link to complete video of presentation: