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

Mentor Me


pooh11
“When did WE become the old ones?” my friend and fellow teacher asked me the other day.

It was a conversation we have had a few times.

We know that ‘technically’ we aren’t exactly old, but professionally we are now the ones with experience on our side. More and more we are finding that younger, less experienced staff are coming to us for advice. We are now expected to mentor, rather than be mentored.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mentors and their importance lately.

My mentor, Mary Murray, died last week. Mary was larger than life and like most people who are larger than life, we all thought she would live forever. She was 78 and she crammed more living into her one lifetime than most people could do in a dozen.

As I read her obituary it occurred to me that she was MY age now when I first met her almost 30 years ago.

I met Mary when I was 18 years old. She hired me to work as a pseudo camp counsellor at an intensive English language immersion program (ELP) for the summer. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and it seemed, neither did she.

I was, to say the least, not a model employee.

I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even been to camp, much less worked at one. I didn’t understand the 24-hours a day-7 days a week-6 weeks in a row, on-duty all the time culture. I had never lived away from home before and my only other job had been working as a cashier at the mall.

Those first few weeks were miserable.

I missed my family, my friends, my bed, and my dog. I had never shared a room with anyone and suddenly I was in a tiny dorm room with a girl who seemed to know exactly what to do and when to do it.

I remember the first (of many) sing-songs I attended. Singing was like breathing at ELP – it was done regularly and with vigor. I was handed a tambourine and a songbook and told to sing along in front of 300 or so English second language students from around the world.

I looked at that tambourine and I looked at the staff who were singing along like we were at some bizarre version of Woodstock and I thought, “Oh.my.god.This place is frickin’ nuts.”

Why I wasn’t fired in week one is still a mystery to me.

But I wasn’t. And I didn’t quit either. I stuck it out and slowly I started to understand how this strange new world operated. My roommate, Colleen, took me under her wing and helped me to see the fun side of the job.

And Mary stood by me. She advised me, counselled me, and cheered me on. She gently scolded me when I needed it and I needed it often. Not that she really had to scold me. Just catching a raise of her eyebrow was enough to make me want to do better, to be better.

I survived that first summer (barely) and came out of it with my eyes, my mind and my heart opened wider than they had ever been before. (I was also 20 lbs. heavier, but that’s a different story. Turns out I wasn’t “naturally” skinny after all and that cafeteria food was not my friend.)

The next summer I vowed that I wasn’t going back. I moved out west and lived with my parents, but I quickly realized I wanted to go back. I couldn’t have explained why. I just knew I missed it.

After the first month, I called Mary and asked if she thought there were any jobs she thought I could do.

No hesitation. No warnings that things had to be better this time around.

She just said enthusiastically (as she said everything), “Of course! I’d love to have you back!”

She gave me a job in the office where I discovered that I loved managing the paperwork and organizing events. I didn’t know that this would be my strength, but Mary did. She knew that I would be good at it if she gave me the chance. Once again, she helped me, guided me, and nudged me along.

A few years later, after I graduated with my Arts degree, I got married and moved away. I thought I had left that part of my life behind. But life is life and eventually I was back and looking for a job. Once again, Mary said, “Wonderful! I know what you can do” and she offered me a job teaching grammar.

Grammar. Really? But Mary knew me and she trusted that I could do it. And she was right. It was perfect for me. It wasn’t a difficult class to teach (very structured and organized…just the way I like things) and it gave me as chance to see if I actually enjoyed teaching.

And I did. After teaching ESL, I decided to go back to university and get my Education degree. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But Mary was never history for me.

Even though I rarely saw her again after those summers, I never forgot her. Her words and lessons echoed in my ears as I moved throughout my teaching career.

I sent her a Christmas card every year and always tried to include a little note about something I did in my teaching or with my children that year that I could credit back to her.

Mary was a natural mentor. At her funeral and the reception that followed, I met person after person who talked about how Mary had guided them, helped them, mentored them.  She never wanted to create Mini-Marys. Instead, she wanted all of us to be the best we could be. She helped us to find our gifts. She saw our strengths and nurtured them until we were ready to fly on our own.

I know I’ll never be a mentor like Mary, but that’s OK. She wouldn’t want me to be. I know she would want me to be the best ME I can be and to help guide and mentor the next generation of teachers and leaders to be the best they can be.

I’ll do my best, Mary.

mentor blog meme

 

“Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.” Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

 

 

 

 

education, Girl Shaming, Humour, Rants, School Dress Code, Teacher

Newsflash: Girls Are Not Distractions

The school dress code issue has reared its ugly head once again and everyone is acting like this is a brand-new problem.

Seriously? Every generation of adults since the beginning of time has felt that the younger generation dresses inappropriately.

Those kids are too sexual! Too sloppy! Just plain disrespectful!

(Photo: US magazine)
(Madonna – the queen of wearing underwear as outerwear. Photo: US magazine)

The problem now is that we are supposed to have evolved. As a society, we are supposed to understand that girls are not objects and boys are not weak-willed lust-machines controlled by their hormones.

We need to give our children some credit.

Saying that girls need to watch the way they dress because they could distract the boys is insulting to both boys and girls. And it’s sexist. Honestly, I spent most of my school years distracted by boys. And they weren’t scantily dressed boys. Just boys. Cute boys. Funny boys. Bad boys. It’s a wonder I graduated.

In the midst of the debate surrounding “appropriate” dress for students, we have forgotten one important factor – the students themselves.

Feeling like you belong somewhere is a basic human need. Children and teens spend most of their waking hours in school, so it makes sense that they would want to feel like they belonged to their peer group.

Quick. What’s an easy way to feel like you belong to a group?

Dress like the group.

You may not the smartest or the best athlete or the most talented musician, but when you are dressed like your peers, at least you belong to the group in one way.

Some of our dress code rules are so outdated that they were in place when I was in high school.

For example, take the finger-tip rule (please…take it.)

I did some research (ie. I went shopping at the mall) and discovered that it is damn near impossible to find shorts that meet the “fingertip rule”. Most of my shorts (and keep in mind that I am OLD) don’t meet the fingertip rule.

TAYLOR SWIFT in Short Shorts

Yes, school is for learning all about math and reading and writing, but it’s also for learning how to maneuver social situations and for figuring out where you fit in the world. Middle-school kids tend to want to blend in with each other. If you have to wear shorts that are so long your mini-van driving mom wouldn’t wear them, then you are probably not going to feel good about yourself. Unless every other girl in the school is wearing the same dowdy looking shorts, you will probably feel like you are out of the loop.

Another part of the problem is that the rules are generally not enforced equally across the board. What ends up happening instead is that some girls are targeted and told that their outfits are inappropriate, while others sashay by without nary a word said. One day, I watched as a 12-year-old girl had her skirt inspected by a teacher and the principal, in the middle of the hall during the lunch hour.

While she stood there, mortified, a half-dozen girls walked by in similar outfits and none of them were called to task for breaking the dress code. This girl just happened to have a teacher who felt that since the rule was in place, it was her job to enforce it. The girl being called out for her short skirt was also pretty. (And we all know pretty girls distract the boys…so, stop it…stop being so pretty, pretty girls.) I don’t blame her teacher. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. (And don’t even get me started on the male teachers. If they say something, they can be accused of leering at the young girls and if they don’t, they are accused of ignoring the “problem”.)

Girls who develop more quickly than their peers often get dinged with the dress code, too. They may be wearing the same the shirt and skirt set as their peers and yet because they look like curvy young women, they are told their outfit is inappropriate.

I am (generally) a rule follower. If the rule of the school is that your shorts should be a certain length and your belly button shouldn’t show and your underwear should stay under your clothes, then I think the rules should be enforced  for everyone OR the rules should be changed.

In this case, the rules need to be changed.

We are trying to implement 80’s rules in the 21st century and our 21st century kids want nothing of it. They know fashion trends before they hit the newstand and they want to try them out.

Parents can decide if their child’s outfit is appropriate. And yes, some kids will rebel and change their clothes without their parents knowing. That’s part of growing up.  (True story: At my high school, there was a group of Pentecostal girls who would come to school every day in their long jean skirts and their buttoned-up blouses and immediately go into the bathroom and change into skin-tight jeans and t-shirts. Teens will rebel and the sun will set in the west.)

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know a few things for sure:

1. As the mother of two teenage boys, I have never had one of them say, “Geez Mom, I could have made an A in math if it wasn’t for that girl in my class wearing those short shorts.” Both have managed to learn and succeed in school, despite the occasional distraction of a girl in short shorts.

2. As a teacher, I have never said to a parent, “Well, Billy would have passed if it wasn’t for that Jessica and that visible bra strap of hers. There goes his chance of getting into law school.”

3. Making girls feel ashamed of their bodies and telling them that they are “distractions” is wrong.  Let’s stop doing that, shall we?

Girls are people too logo 4

education, Humour, Pop Culture, Rants, Suburban, Teacher

Because I’m tired of businessmen telling me how to teach

Money and fame do not automatically make you brilliant and all-knowing. One would think this would go without saying. And yet… Why, as a society, are we so quick to follow the “teachings” of the rich and famous?! Take for example, the idiots people who followed the advice of former Playboy model, now-turned talk show host, Jenny McCarthy and stopped vaccinating their kids. Jenny, going on the advice of a doctor who later turned out to be a liar, said a vaccination caused her son to “catch” autism.  Amazingly, millions of people listened to her. When the doctor was later called out as being a fraud and even Jenny admitted she might have been a little bit wrong, it was too late for all of those little munchkins who missed their annual shots. jenny Now, personally, I think if you follow medical advice dished out by blondes who strip for money, then you deserve what you get. Unfortunately, these people didn’t get what they deserved…their children did.  And now we have an outbreak of measles sweeping the country. What’s next? Smallpox? Polio? (Oh crap…seriously?) But I digress. I’m so tired of people who know nothing about education telling me how I should do my job and how I should be compensated for it.  I mean, really, who knows more about educating children than somebody who has spent their life making money? Someone who probably hasn’t laid eyes on a child he isn’t related to since he went to school. (And yes, I say “he”, because it’s usually the business’men’ who feel they could save public education if people would just listen to all of the great insight and wisdom they have gained while making their money.) My humble opinion is that these businessmen want schools to pump out good little workers who will keep the economy churning. Whenever you hear one of these successful businessmen slamming education, they always finish with, “If we don’t change things now, we will never be able to compete with those Asian countries who keep beating us on the math assessments!” None of them ever says, “I hope the children in my country get a well-rounded education that prepares them to be good citizens in their families, their communities and the world.” Nope. It’s all about keeping the worker-factory churning. A few months ago, there was an interview in the Atlantic Business Magazine with John Risley, a man who made his fortune in the seafood industry. He’s obviously a brilliant businessman (he’s a self-made billionaire), but it seems his vast wealth has also made him an expert in other areas. In the article, he gave his opinions on everything from politics to education. And he didn’t hold back. {We} have the worst P-12 education system in the country. That’s not subjective. We have the worst goddamn math scores in the country!”  (Uh, actually…that IS subjective. It’s the definition of subjective. You can’t call us the “worst” without presenting facts to back it up.) He goes on to talk about how education could be improved in the province, if the government would just listen to him. Another businessman with a lot of money thinks everyone should be listening to him as well.  Bill Black, who now has a regular column in the newspaper, made his fortune in the insurance industry.  And despite having no background or training whatsoever in education, he frequently takes to the pages of our local paper to talk about how the education system, and teachers in particular, are completely off track. Of course, he knows how to fix things. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it’s presented as expert advice, that’s when I have a problem. I don’t tend go around shooting my mouth off about how to run an insurance company because I am not an expert on running insurance companies. So, why are these men being given mountains of white space in our local papers to talk about things they know nothing about? Just because someone is an expert in one area doesn’t given them knowledge or expertise in another.

wisconsindailyindependent
wisconsindailyindependent

The leader of this movement of businessmen who think they can fix the world is Bill Gates. I get it. He’s a genius in the field of technology and an expert in marketing and money-making. But does he have a background in education? Nope. And yet there he is, leading the way for educational reform in the United States. And things aren’t going well. I leave you with the words of the wise Barb from the Trailer Park Boys telling the dim, shirtless Randy not to interfere in matters he knows nothing about: “Randy, you know, when I want advice on cheeseburgers or not wearing a shirt, you’re the person I’ll come to.”(Season 2, Episode 7) So, fellows, if I want advice on how to catch a lobster or run an insurance company or build a multi-billion dollar empire, I’ll call you. But if I want advice on how to teach? I think I’ll put my money on teachers.

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

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, Princess, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Cheers, fellow teachers! It’s World Teacher Day! Time to start celebrating, non?

writing134Oct 5 is World Teacher Day! What are you doing to celebrate?

I started celebrating today at precisely wine-o’clock. (Cheers, Me!) I’ve been in this profession (off and on) for more than 20 years, so I figure I’ve earned a few pops, as Don Cherry would say.

Teaching is a wonderful, fun-filled, amazing career BUT if you aren’t careful, it can drive you crazy.

Two years ago, I let it drive me completely and absolutely bonkers. My long trip back from Bonkersville took me more than a year to complete, but I came back with a brand new perspective.

Teaching is a job and you need to do it to the best to the best of your ability. You have kids who depend on you and parents who trust you with their most beloved little person. But in the end it’s a job and you can’t let it run or ruin your LIFE.

So, how can you be the best teacher you can be without going bonkers?

1. Do your job. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But sometimes it isn’t. We get bogged down in paperwork and standardized tests and we forget the real reason we are there…to teach kids. So, Priority #1 everyday: teach kids. Priority#2: everything else.

2. Accept the fact that you can’t do everything, for everyone, every day. It’s called being human.

3. Take comfort in the reality that you can be replaced. Yes…comfort. Once I realized that the world of school continued to spin perfectly fine without me, I felt like a load had been lifted off my shoulders. It was liberating to know that, yes, I made a difference but no, the world would not stop spinning if I stepped off for a day or a year.

This is my mantra. As teachers, we can't fix everything so we have decide what we can do and what we have to let go. It's the wisdom part that gets me all the time.
This is my mantra. As teachers, we can’t fix everything so we have decide what we can do and what we have to let go. It’s the wisdom part that gets me all the time.

4. Understand that you don’t have to teach everything or fix everything in one year. There are a lot of people in the system who will help your students over the years. It’s not your sole responsibility. I’ve taught or worked with almost every grade (including university students) and one thing every grade level teacher has in common is this belief that if “I don’t do it now, next year’s teacher won’t do it and little Johnny will be screwed.” Let me put your mind at ease. All (good) teachers, at every grade (including college and university) want what’s best for students. They will be OK.

5. During the school day, shut your door – physically and metaphorically – and focus on the students inside your room. They are your priority. (If you have trouble with this one, see #1.)

6. Teach students subjects. Don’t teach subjects to students. Know your students as well as your subject and I guarantee you will have a successful year. I love the fact that my son’s math teacher is a freaking math genius, but I also love the fact that she can relate to her students and make them feel like they can do anything. That’s a win-win.

7. Take care of your health. Eat right, exercise, get your sleep. You can’t do those things if you are working all the time.

8. If you do get sick, take a sick day. Seriously…no one admires the teacher who shows up with the flu and spreads flu bugs throughout the school. Hear me now: you aren’t that important! There are subs who can keep the world of school of spinning while you recover from the mumps. And don’t forget: your health includes your mental health, too. No one likes the crazy, cranky teacher. The occasional mental health day may be the thing that keeps your career on track.

9. If your classes are anything like the ones I see, you could literally work 24-hours a day and still not meet the needs of every child, every day. Do your best and then shut it down. Make sure you have a life outside of school. (see #7)

10. Enjoy it. Yes, class sizes are often too big and curriculums change and sometimes things just don’t make sense. But kids are worth it. Being able to watch children learn and grow every day is an amazing gift. Enjoy it.

writing133

Note: This pithy advice applies to teachers like myself who experience first world problems. Teachers who work in third world countries, war zones, or in areas of extreme poverty are, in my humble opinion, teacher-saint hybrids who have my amazed admiration.