education, Raves, Teacher

A heartfelt thank you (Sorry, no coffee card included)

writing107As the school year rolls to a close, some parents feel the need to go out and purchase a gift for their child’s classroom teacher.

Been there done that. When my kids were little, I bought their teachers gift cards and bottles of wine and mugs that said “You’re A+”. Once my kids hit middle school, though, they put a stop to all that. (If you make me give a card to my teacher, I will never speak to you again.)

As a teacher, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the concept of year-end gift giving.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the heartfelt notes and the coffee gift cards, but I always feel slightly uneasy accepting them.

I want to say, “You know I didn’t do this all by myself, right?”

Like Hillary Clinton, I know that it takes a village to raise a child and school communities are just little villages. Everyone has a job to do to ensure that the village is successful.

So, here’s my thank you note to all of those people who work together to keep the village running smoothly.

  1. The Teacher’s Aide (otherwise known as the TA or EPA or EA) – These valuable employees are among the lowest paid in the system and yet they are often the key to making our schools function successfully. In the course of a day (or an hour), they may be called upon to act as a nursemaid, teacher, parent or paramedic. Integration is a wonderful thing IF it is done properly and IF students with special needs get the support they need within the classroom.  EPA’s work with the most vulnerable members of society every day for little recognition. It is often back-breaking physical work, not to mention emotionally all-consuming.  Their dedication is admirable.  To all the EPA’s I have worked with over the years? From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
  2. The Custodian – Mopping the main hallway in a school might just be the most futile job in the word. The minute you mop it up, someone messes it up…again. You know that feeling when you’ve just cleaned your house and you look around and think “ahhh” and then everyone comes home and throws their stuff down on the clean counter and the dog tracks mud all over the clean floor? Imagine that times a hundred. A hard-working, diligent custodial staff makes a difference in the way children and adults feel about their school. It’s a dirty job and I’m glad they do it.
  3. The “Other” Teachers – These are the people who teach French, music, art, phys.ed, home economics, shop and all those other subjects that people often dismiss as “not that important”.  I taught home ec one year and I couldn’t tell you how many kids said to me, “My parents don’t care what I make in this class. It’s only home ec.” I learn the most interesting things about my students when I talk to these teachers. A boy who constantly causes trouble in the regular classroom, may be good as gold in gym class because it’s a place where he can move. A shy girl who may not say a word in math class, may love to sing and be totally confident in music. These teachers help me see a different side of my students and they give all of the students a chance to develop gifts they may not have known they had.
  4. The Resource and Learning Centre Teachers – These teachers offer pull-out and in-class support for students with special needs. They help with designing and implementing a program that meets the needs of individual students who would otherwise flounder in a regular classroom. If your child is struggling, you need more than the classroom teacher to make a plan for your child. Through their daily support they may also help the classroom teacher from completely losing her mind. (Not speaking from experience or anything…)
  5. The Specialists – Having the services of well-trained outside professionals makes a huge difference in a school. They often get to work with kids one on one and can give a perspective on a child that the teacher may not see in the classroom. I have worked with the best school psychologists and speech pathologists and I can tell you, they can change lives.
  6. The Parents – Supportive parents are the key to confident, hard-working children in the classroom. A big bouquet of thanks to parents who work WITH their child’s teacher to make every school year the best it can be.
  7. The Cafeteria Staff – These folks feed hundreds of kids everyday. I am in awe. I can barely get dinner on the table 6 days a week. (Day 7 is pizza day. Don’t judge me.)
  8. The Administration – The principal and vice-principal(s) can make or break a school. I’ve seen strong schools crippled by poor administrators and weak schools made strong by great administrators. Administrators set the tone for the village. If they set one of respect for all and put in place policies that back up what they say, everyone wins.
  9. The Government and the School Board – We all love to bash the government and the school boards for what they “aren’t” doing but we rarely acknowledge the good that is done every day. A friend of mine works for the department of education and she works her butt off. She cares about children and teachers and does what she can for the students in her area. Is everything perfect in the world of educational government and school boards? Of course not. But people need to stop being armchair coaches and get in the game. No one ever changed the world by complaining about it.
  10. The Students – Well, we couldn’t do it without you, could we? Teachers are not in the manufacturing business. We don’t go to school everyday to make widgets for what-nots. We teach people. So thank YOU for being amazing, funny, talented, awe-inspiring individuals who make us want to come to work everyday.

THANK YOU on speech bubble price labels

p.s. Seriously, put your wallets away. If you want to do something,  just tell your child’s teacher one thing they did that year that benefitted your child. It will be appreciated more than you know.

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education, Memoir, Princess, Rants

I’m the biggest loser! No, I am! (Relax, people. It’s not a competition.)

writing110I recently told my tale of personal woe in an article that was published on the Huffington Post website.

It was scary to bare my soul in a public setting but I thought it might help other teachers to know that there was someone else out there who had a difficult time doing a challenging job.

The feedback I received was amazing. I got comments from teachers all over the world. “It’s like you are telling MY story.” Some people sympathizied, others empathized and some disagreed.

I also received some rather interesting feedback that implied there was a game at hand that I didn’t realize I was playing.

“Meh. Big deal. That’s nothing. You should see what I had to deal with.”

To which I replied (in my head), “Really? Is this a contest? Are we playing Who’s the Biggest Loser right now? Is this a special episode of The Amazing Pity Party?”

The one-upmanship in the comment section was quite amusing to watch.

“Humpf. This lady obviously had lots of money and got to stay home all day. I don’t have any money and I am run off my feet working two jobs.”

“Hold on, here. You have it made! You have two feet? I only have one foot and no job and I sit in my house all day crying my eyes out.”

“Whoa, whoa, suck it up, lucky duck. You have one leg? I have no legs and I live on the street where I wish I could cry but I have no tear ducts because they were removed by aliens!!!”

You see where I’m going with this?

We’re all just simple human beings trying to get by in a world that’s sometimes neither fair nor kind.

And sometimes the only thing that gets us through the day is the compassion of others – family, friends, and yes, even strangers.

Pain is pain. Compassion is compassion.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s not a competition.

I know the story I told isn’t the most pitiful story in the history of the world. In fact, it not even the saddest story within a 100 metre radius of my house.

But it’s my story. And it’s the only one I can tell.

Feel free to tell your own. Trust me. If it caused you pain, you have my compassion.

For the ultimate one-up-manship story of woe, check out the attached Monty Python sketch.
For the ultimate one-upmanship story of woe, check out the attached Monty Python sketch. Be prepared to snort milk out your nose (if you’re drinking milk, that is).

Four Yorkshiremen – The script

Monty Python – Four Yorkshiremen – The Video

education, Teacher

Ten Important Lessons I Teach That Aren’t Part of the Core Curriculum

writing100Some folks are predicting that live teachers in classrooms will soon be replaced by disembodied voices over the internet.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

Not because I’m anti-technology or because I want to preserve my job for all eternity, but because so many important things that are taught in schools every day aren’t officially on the curriculum.

I think there are plenty of aspects of grammar or math or science that can be taught on-line. And good teachers can and do access this technology and use it to benefit all students.

But what about the other things? Call them life lessons, if you want. We don’t plan on teaching them but when you deal with children, and people in general, these things come up. And I, for one, am glad they do.

Here are a few of my favorite life lessons

  1. Everyone has strengths and challenges…even teachers. Every year I tell my students the things that I am terrible at. I tell them that my drawing skills are abysmal and that I have absolutely no sense of direction and that I am woefully uncoordinated. Then I tell them that I am good at teaching writing and math and that I will do everything I can to help them have a great year. I tell them that each of them is going to be good at some things and that other things may be more challenging for them. And then I tell them that’s OK. All that matters is that we all try our best.
  2. Equal does not always mean the same. It’s important for kids to know that everyone learns differently and that sometimes other kids will get something they won’t because they need it. That doesn’t make it “not fair”. It just evens out the playing field.
  3. The world is a big place. One year I had two South Korean exchange students. Our social studies curriculum outcome that year was not to learn about South Korea but boy did we. Even showing kids where we are on a map of the big, wide world opens a flood of questions and wonder.
  4. Sometimes we have to work with people we don’t particularly like.  Some people will be bossy and some people will slack off. Some people will fool around and others will work like dogs. It will happen at school and at home and maybe even on your hockey team. It’s a fact of life. Learning how to deal with all different kinds of people is part of leading a successful life.
  5. Tests are no more than a measure of what you are able to express at this particular time in this particular place. They do not measure your worth as a person. A few years ago, I started reading report cards (privately) with my students before they were sent home. Knowing I would have to look into a child’s eyes as they saw their marks and my comments made me more accountable and conscious of what I was writing. When I sit with the student, I explain why I said what I did and why they got the mark that they got. I answer their questions and sometimes dry their tears. And I tell them that this piece of paper in no way measures them as a person. No test can do that.
  6. Respect and manners matter. Like all of us, kids often speak without thinking and sometimes that causes hurt feelings. In a classroom situation, they learn how important it is to be respectful of each other. Helping kids make the classroom a “safe” place to learn and take chances is one of the most important things a teacher can do.
  7. If you can laugh about something, everything is better. Once I sent a student out in the hall for disrupting the class. I told him I would be out in a minute to speak to him…and then…I promptly forgot about him. About 20 minutes (!) later, I went out in the hall to get something and was startled to see him sitting there against the wall. He knew instantly that I hadn’t been coming out to talk to him. “You forgot about me!” he said, incredulously. “No, I didn’t,” I stammered. “I just…I…” He started laughing and pointing at me, “Ohmygod! You forgot me!” I couldn’t fake it anymore. I started to laugh. “I’m sorry! It was just so quiet in there and I…” By this point we were both laughing hysterically – me and a 10-year-old boy who had almost driven me to distraction 20 minutes earlier. I apologized for forgetting him and he apologized for being a pain in the…neck…and the rest of the day was lovely.
  8. When you help out and contribute to making your class YOUR class, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. I generally like to leave some time at the end of every day for clean-up and organizing. Yes, I could do it myself at the end of the day. No, this doesn’t mean I’m a lazy teacher who is trying to race out the door as soon as the bell rings. Children who help keep their classroom neat, tidy, and organized are less likely to throw garbage on the floor or draw on their desks. Children who put their artwork on the walls and their writing on the bulletin boards are more likely to see their classroom as THEIRS. It’s not MY room, it’s OUR room. Hopefully these same kids will transfer this lesson to their home and their community.
  9. Today may have been a difficult day, but (hopefully) tomorrow will be better.* Some days will just not be fun and kids will end up learning a lesson that is not warm and fuzzy. Sometimes other kids will lie to them or be mean to them. Sometimes they will get in trouble for something that wasn’t their fault just because they were hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong time. Sometimes the teacher will get mad at the whole class for “no reason” just because she is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.** And that sucks. But hopefully everyone will learn that these things happen and that it doesn’t make someone good or bad but, rather, human. And that tomorrow will be better.
  10. Grade 4 (or 8 or 12) is a journey, not a destination. To paraphrase the great Steven Tyler, “Life’s a journey, not a destination” and school is a part of life. If every lesson plan is based on preparing for the next test or the next project or the next report card, then we are missing out on an amazing journey. Enjoy the moments. They are what matter.

Now YOU tell ME: If you are a teacher, what are the most important lessons YOU have taught that weren’t part of the curriculum? If you are/were a student, what important lesson did you learn from school that wasn’t part of the regular lesson plan?

“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” – Lily’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, helps Lily deal with disappointment in the amazing, hilarious Kevin Henke’s book, Lilly’s Plastic Purple Purse. I doubt Mr. Slinger checked that particular goal off any core curriculum outcome.
*“Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” – Lily’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, helps Lily deal with disappointment in the amazing, hilarious Kevin Henke’s book, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I doubt Mr. Slinger checked that particular goal off any core curriculum outcome.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst.
**Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst.
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

Raves, Teacher

Yoga + Writing = Happy Students who Will Write and Write and Write…

Author: Sheree Fitch
Author: Sheree Fitch

I recently published a review of the book Breathe, Stretch, Write in the winter edition of AVISO, a magazine for Nova Scotia teachers. I was paid the princely sum of $75 for my efforts. (Yes, this why writers are such wealthy, wealthy people.)

But it wasn’t the promise of great riches that drew me to write this article.

This book has made my writing classes more enjoyable (for both me and my students), more interactive, and best of all, more productive.

Like most Canadian parents, I knew Sheree Fitch for her lyrical children’s books. Our family copy of Toes in My Noes is 18-years-old, ripped, stained and completely well-loved. You know those songs that get stuck in your head? Earworms? Sheree’s poems are like that. To this day, I can start with, “I stuck my toes in my nose and I couldn’t get them out” and someone in the house will follow with, “It looked a little strange and people began to shout!

As a teacher, I still read her poetry to my students, of all ages, because it’s fun and well written and the kids like it.

But this book? Wow. It’s an incredible teaching resource. She has made the lessons so easy to follow that you could put a sticky note on any one of the pages and leave it on your desk for a substitute teacher…without any explanation. It’s that straight-forward.

If you teach writing to children, do yourself a favour and get this book. You won’t regret it.

Here is a link the AVISO article, Breathe, Stretch, Write: Using Sheree Fitch’s Writing Resource in the Classroom.” The article opens in Adobe and starts on p.22.

To purchase this wonderful resource, link here to Pembroke Publishers.

Memoir, Princess, Suburban, Teacher, Uncategorized

Roots and Wings – Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

writing66Yesterday, I put my 14-year-old son on a plane and sent him 1,400 km across the country.

No, I haven’t completely lost my marbles. (If that were the case, I would have put his brother and his father and his senile old dog on the plane with him.)

He’s actually taking part in a week-long national program for youth called, Encounters with Canada. I already miss him like crazy, but I’m not worried. I’m confident that he is going to have an incredible experience. And it’s not just because he’s 14 going on 40 or because the program has been running for 31 years or even because his cousin just got back and said it was, like, totally awesome.

It’s because I know he’s resilient. He’s got the roots;  it was time for him to stretch his wings.

In his new book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, says adults need to help children develop the seven crucial ‘C’s:

  1. competence
  2. confidence
  3. connection
  4. character
  5. contribution
  6. coping
  7. control

Ginsburg, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine, says helping children develop these seven character traits will not only help them succeed in life, but it will also allow them to bounce back from whatever challenges life might throw at them. It makes them resilient and gives them roots.

To me, teaching is much like parenting. We need to trust that by the end of the school year, we have provided our students with the solid foundation they need to move confidently to the next grade or stage of their life. We also need to have faith that someone else will pick up the line once we let go.

As the end of June looms near, teachers often begin to panic. We worry that we haven’t given our students everything they need to be successful once they leave our classroom. We fret and wring our hands and say, “I don’t know what will happen to little Teddy in September when he goes into grade 1 (or 3, or 6 or 12 or university). He won’t get this kind of support next year.”

And yet he will.

One of the joys (?) of never having a permanent contract is that I have had the opportunity to work with students and teachers at almost every grade level, including a stint teaching ESL at a university. And I know that while elementary school teachers work their butts off to help their students, so do middle-school teachers and high school teachers. Even university and college professors will spend one-on-one time with struggling students. It’s something all good teachers have in common.

Letting a student or a child move on without us doesn’t mean we are throwing them to the wolves. It means that once we’ve done our job, we have to step back and trust. We have to trust that we have planted deep, strong roots that will help our children feel solid and secure and grounded. Then we have to trust that our children will remember these lessons and use them to guide their decisions.

Dr. Ginsburg says our goal should be to “think in the present and prepare for the future”.

He says that as teachers and parents we should aspire to help children become successful 35-year-olds. We shouldn’t always be thinking about the next grade or the next stage, but instead about how all of these experiences will come together to create an independent, self-sufficient happy adult. It’s about raising our children to be emotionally and socially intelligent.

Loving parents and strong teachers naturally give their children roots. That’s the easy part. Giving our children wings is a little harder. It means you have to let go. We spend so much time holding our children tight and keeping them safe, that letting them go seems to go against the very laws of nature.

It’s not easy, but when you let go and you see them soar?

It’s worth it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to go see if my son texted me. (He can fly free all he wants but he still has to touch base with mom every night.)

writing68