Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Why We Should Abolish Grade 8

Let the cats and the grade 8's roam free.
Let the cats and the grade 8’s roam free.

I have long proposed that Grade 8 be abolished.

Sort of like the 13th floor in a hotel. Just skip over it. It’s bad luck. No one wants to get off on that floor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying kids in grade 8 are bad people. It’s just that when they hit grade 8 they become afflicted with a condition I have coined Grade-Eight-I-Tis ©.

Grade-Eight-I-Tis, or G.E.I.T. for short, causes the adolescent brain to stop working, allowing the puberty hormones to take over.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what are the side effects of this dreaded condition?

Well, since you asked, let me give you an example of G.E.I.T. in action.

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Yesterday, as I was driving through my neighborhood, minding my own business, I saw one of my former students coming around the corner of the little side street where I was about to turn. He was with three other boys, all in grade 8.

I taught him three years ago when he was in grade 5. He was a cute little kid then. Nice, friendly, helpful.

I waved at him but he didn’t wave back. This was odd because he always waves at me. In fact, the other day, he actually stood in the middle of the road so that I would stop my car and talk to him.

That little mystery was solved in a matter of seconds.

As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the fire.

I have no doubt that this former student of mine started the fire with his empty-headed buddies and then just sauntered away. There was no one else around and the flames were pretty high by the time I started beating them out with an old hat I found in the trunk.

Between my hat beatings and the man from across the street who came over with a bucket of water, we managed to put the ditch fire out pretty quickly.

But I was mad. I called 911 and told them they needed to send someone over to spray down the grass, just in case there was a rogue spark lurking somewhere. Then I told them to have the police call me. I was on my way to have a chat with a few budding arsonists.

I caught up with the boys pretty quickly (athletes they are not). The three I didn’t recognize took off running. My former student walked over to the car.

Trying to be cool, he leaned over my window, “Hey, what’s up?”

“You’re busted, buddy,” I told him. “Get ready for a chat with the police about the fire.”

“I didn’t light any fire,” he said, trying to look cool as sweat beaded on his forehead under his stupid backwards baseball cap.

“Whatever. Tell it to the police.”

Now, I know the worst thing that will happen to this little dumb-ass-kid, and his equally dumb-ass friends, is that they will get a slap on the wrist. Even if they are charged, the Young Offenders Act in Canada protects kids from their own youthful stupidity. And I suppose that’s a good thing. I can only hope that their parents will realize that unless they want to visit their kid in a juvenile detention facility in a few years, they need to step up and nip this problem in the bud.

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This incident just reinforced my belief that G.E.I.T. is a burning problem (no pun intended) that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

In my little fantasy-world, students in Grade 8 would not be in the classroom.  Instead, they would be out in the community helping: helping people, helping animals, helping the environment. This would help grow the parts of their brain that have been stunted by G.E.I.T. They would learn empathy, compassion and respect.

There would still be grade 8 teachers but their job would be to coordinate and supervise the work placements.  Yes, it would be like herding cats, but seriously, if we’re being honest here, isn’t teaching grade 8 like herding cats anyways?If you’re going to let the cats out of the bag, you might as well give them a wide open space in which to roam.

And who knows?

Perhaps if you’ve just spent the week cleaning out the ditches around your neighborhood, you might not be so quick to light them on fire.

I’m just sayin’.

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Checkin' for monkeys right now.
Checkin’ for monkeys right now.

UPDATE: I heard from the police this evening regarding our little junior arsonists. It seems three of the boys threw the fourth one under the bus and said that he lit the fire without them knowing. Apparently, this one rogue trouble maker ran off to the ditch (alone) to pee and then he started a fire. That makes sense to me. I always light a fire after I pee in the ditch. Yeah…and then monkeys fly out of my butt!!! Amazingly, their parents apparently bought this big stinking sack of doo-doo and all four got a “stern talking to” from the police.

I must say, I am a little concerned. I believe the United Nations puts “firm talking to”s in the same category as waterboarding. I hope the boys can get past this.

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
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.

Teacher

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

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

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

My apologies for my sloppy research and reporting.

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

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

Rants, Teacher

Why Common Sense Education lacks Common Sense

writing30The student make-up of your average classroom has changed so dramatically over the past few decades that it is barely recognizable. So why are reformists suggesting we go “back to basics”? Why not go forward?

In a recent article, Mr. Zwaagstra, a representative for a group called Common Sense Education, says that teachers need to stop treating students like individuals and instead, focus on the subject:

Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time. Students would learn more and teachers would have more time to focus on things that really matter.

Quick question, Mr. Zwaagstra: when was the last time YOU, or any of your Common Sense Educating peers, were in a classroom?  I’m not talking about a homogeneous grade 11 Chemistry class where all of the students have already met the pre-requisites. That’s a challenging job but it’s not the same as teaching in a mixed abilities classroom.

I’m talking about a public school elementary or middle school classroom, where integration is fully in place.

Let me paint you a little picture I like to call “reality”.

It’s September and you have been assigned a class of 30 beautiful grade 4 children. You can tell already that they are nice kids and you want to do your absolute best to help them be the best they can be.

Besides yourself, you have a one teacher’s aid (or EPA) assigned to work one-on-one with a high needs student in your class.

There are thirty (30) students in your room. Six (6) have Individual Plans (meaning they are at least 2 grade levels behind their peers and have specific goals designed to help them improve), four (4) have Behavior Plans (this means they are disruptive to themselves, the teacher and the rest of the class), and five (5) have Adaptations, meaning they can meet the outcomes if they have a special accommodation in place. These adaptations can vary wildly, from making sure the student sits at the front of the room to having someone to write down everything they want to say because they have a writing disability.  (Note: Some children have more than one of these plans in place.)

That makes 15 children who need some sort of individualized support. Half your class.

Now, let’s go deeper. Those six children with Individual Plans? They are all different. They are as different as you and I, which means their plans are different.

One boy, who is big for his age, has severe autism and operates at a 3-year-old level, needing support for toileting and all other personal needs. He shouts out when he gets upset or overwhelmed or just plain excited and has been known to bite. He has EPA support and spends part of his day in the learning centre.

One boy has Asperger syndrome, which means he misses a lot of the social cues that his peers understand. This often results in hurt feelings and social unrest. He also cannot complete his work with one-on-one support. He does not have an EPA.

Two children are multiple grade levels behind in their math and two others can barely read at a grade 1 level. They do not have EPA support either.

Let’s see, what’s next?

Oh right. Behavioural issues.

One of your students lives in foster care, having suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of his parents and grandparents. At any given time, he could be crawling on the floor, barking like a dog, or snuggling in close, asking you to “please, please be my mommy.” The next minute he tells you to f-off and the struggle to remove him from the classroom, once again, begins.  He does not have an EPA.

And remember, he’s only one of four students with his own behaviour plan. And they are all different. Some have ADHD, which may mean they are all over the place or it may mean they are completely introverted. You will figure out which is which pretty quickly.

What about the other 15?

A few of these kids are your very bright and very independent learners. They are usually placed at the back of the room because the front is needed for the kids who need one-on-one support and special cueing. They are usually bored senseless because you have to go over the same lesson 3 times when they have already gotten it the first time.

Finally, you have your so-called average kids who will do their work and make A’s and B’s and fly under the radar all year, unless you purposely make it your mission to focus on them.

That’s your class. I’ll admit…it’s a challenging one but sadly, it’s not unusual.

So, tell me, how do you focus on the subject and not the student when you have such a rich, diverse group of learners? How do you put aside everything you know about the child as a learner and just say, “The heck with it. I’m teaching one lesson, one way and if you don’t get it, too bad.”

How is this common sense?

Rants, Teacher

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­A guide or a sage? Spare me the crap. (Part 1)

standardised-testing-1Michael Zwaagstra, a school teacher and self-professed saviour of the education system, recently wrote an opinion piece that appeared in my local paper.

He said universities are brainwashing teachers to be a “guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage”.

Oh, spare me the melodrama.

Most teachers I know don’t have time to pontificate on whether they are guiding or a ‘sage-ing’. They are too busy teaching.

In a series of Common Sense Education videos on YouTube, Mr. Z has proclaimed that the “progressive ideology” of today’s education system is a failure.

Ah, yes. Once again, the education system is a failure. I’d be upset by this…if I didn’t hear it every other day…every other year…in every other century.

Back in the ‘good ole days’, teachers taught one lesson plan to the class and everybody learned it and we were all happy about it.

Yup.

At least, that’s the story that keeps going around.

And yet, it’s not quite true. In fact, it’s not true at all.

People who yearn for those rose-coloured days of school, filled with spelling tests and multiplication memorization, tend to forget a lot of the facts that went along with these things.

Back in the 1970’s, when I started grade school, we didn’t have children with special needs in our classes. Children with physical or mental disabilities were sent to a different school. In my case, their school was right across the street from my school. They were literally a stones-throw away and we never got together. The kids in my class who struggled were labeled “slow learners” and they failed at the end of the year.

People who wonder why kids never fail anymore, hear me now: because it doesn’t work.

Do you seriously know anyone who failed a grade (or two or three) who went on to great academic success because they had a chance to “catch up”? In my high school, these were the guys who went to the liquor store for you in grade 11, because they were already 20. They weren’t burning up the academic world thanks to being held back. They were just putting in time in a system that didn’t give a crap about them or their special learning issues.

In 2005, the Journal of Applied School Psychology published a study of students and discovered that:

Across grade levels, those events rated as most stressful by children were: losing a parent, academic retention, going blind, getting caught in theft, wetting in class, a poor report card, having an operation, parental fighting, and being sent to the principal.” 

Wow – kids would rather go blind than fail a grade.

And don’t forget about those kids at the school across the street. They were segregated from their peers, kids who may have lived across the street or were in their own family.

Thankfully, things have changed.

This new “progressive ideology” tries to treat students with respect.

All children are now considered worthy of a public education. We know that everyone benefits from integration (when it’s properly funded and implemented). Those who learn in different ways are taught in different ways.

Unfortunately, it is very, very hard to provide individual support when you have 30 students and one teacher.

Mr. Zwaagstra says that teachers are burning themselves out trying to adapt their lesson plans to meet every child’s individual learning style. He advises:

“Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time.”

I agree that teachers are burning themselves out (please see a picture of me labeled, Exhibit A), but this ‘helpful’ advice just doesn’t ring true today.

We need to make some changes to our education system, but just declaring it a failure and going back to the good old days isn’t going to work. It’s 2013.  We have to look at today’s kids in today’s system and figure out what works best for them.

To be continued…

Teacher

Six is not the new sixteen

What's wrong with you, baby? How come you can't read yet? How will you ever get a job?!
What’s wrong with you, baby? How come you can’t read yet? How will you ever get a job?!

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Whenever I read doom and gloom stories, lamenting the reading scores of six-year-olds, I feel sad. When did six become the new sixteen? When did we start worrying about job prospects and future options for kids who still sleep with a nightlight?

Imagine you are six years old. You like running around aimlessly with your friends and playing video games and snuggling with your cat. School is OK, but reading is hard. Maybe your brain scrambles the letters, so you’re not seeing what the other kids see. Or maybe you can’t stay focused long enough to figure out what the words mean. You don’t really know what’s going on except that your parents keep bugging you to “pay attention” and you have to read with that “special teacher” who helps you and a few other kids.

Now, imagine you worked your little butt off for the whole year and your reading got a lot better. All of a sudden, you can read real books, some of them all by yourself. You’re feeling pretty good. You did all of the work your teacher asked you to do, but guess what? It still wasn’t enough to make all those grown-ups happy because you didn’t pass the “test” at the end of the year.

Well, gosh darn it. You tried your best and you did get better. How come it wasn’t enough?

Maybe it’s because you’re only 6 and you need more than one year of extra help. Maybe you spent most of this year learning how to tie your shoes and be a good friend and count to 10. Maybe your brain is just working slower on reading because it’s working overtime learning something else. Or maybe, just maybe, you have a learning disability, which means reading is going to be hard for you…maybe for awhile, maybe always.

An opinion piece by Paul Bennett in Saturday’s paper proclaimed Nova Scotia’s new literacy program Succeeding in Reading a failure. He said the assessments for the end of Year 1 (year 1 of a 3-year program, mind you) showed that 44 per cent of these grade 1 students failed to meet the expected standard for achievement. Ergo, the education system has once again failed these poor children.

Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

There is another way you could look at those numbers. Hmmm…what could that be? Oh, let’s see now. One hundred take away 44…carry the one…uh…56. That means 56 per cent of the children met the standards.

More than half…in the first year…of a brand-new three-year-program.

That’s starting to sound a bit better, isn’t it?

Here’s a novel idea: what if we started looking at test results differently?

Call me crazy but what if, instead of comparing widely different kids to each other, we compared them to themselves? What if we based their successes on their individual achievements?

Well, the critics will grumble, that’s not the way the real world works. These children are going to have to compete with people from all over the world to get jobs! They need to be competitive. 

Yes, yes. I agree. They will have to compete for jobs…in 15-20 years! Right now, no one is fighting them for the job of making their bed.

I want to know how many of these children became better readers over the course of the year. Based on my experience working with struggling readers, I would guess that almost every single child improved. Of course not all to the same extent, but some may have had farther to travel. These successes should be celebrated, not lamented.

Each individual result needs to be looked at, so we can see what each individual child needs in order to continue improving in the years to come. Tossing all of the results into one big melting pot and saying: Well, only this many kids passed the test, so therefore the entire program is a bust, is silly and irresponsible.

All kids learn differently, at their own pace. And they all need different things to be successful. How about we focus on that for change?

Rants, Raves, Teacher

Top Ten Tips for Student Teachers

EHougan_COVER_fnl_outlineMany (many, many) years ago, I did my student teaching at my old high school with my old high school English teacher. I was even placed in the same room where I passed notes to my friends and tried not to fall asleep during first period. On the first day of my internship, my advisor/former teacher gave me a few tips and then retired to the staff room, leaving me on my own to teach a room full of teenagers. It was a baptism by fire and I made plenty of mistakes. I wouldn’t recommend it, but luckily it worked out OK in the end. I had a wonderful student teaching experience that made me determined to pursue a teaching career.

Many years later, the tables turned and I was the (semi) experienced teacher assigned my very first student teacher. I was excited to get her because I had a challenging class that year. I thought two adults in the room would be better than one. Unfortunately, it was not a good experience. My student teacher was overwhelmed with part-time work and family responsibilities and was argumentative about anything that required work on her part. Looking back on it, there are lots of things I could have done differently. Here are some of the things I wish I had said.

10. I have no doubt that you had a great education but you don’t know everything just yet. Listen to other teachers, talk to them about what you’re doing, take advice gracefully. You don’t have to do everything that is suggested, but do understand that experience does count for something.

9. Learn everyone’s name, not just your students (although you should know theirs as soon as possible). Talk to the ladies in the cafeteria and the man who cleans your classroom. Make a point to check in with the principal and vice-principal when you have some free time and see how you can help. This will go a long way towards getting you some work as a substitute teacher once you graduate.

8. Treat everyone with equal respect, no matter how old or young they are. I have taught students from 5-50+ and I generally don’t change the way I deal with them. Of course, you use different words depending on their age and understanding, but children deserve to be treated with the same respect as adults. For godsake, never use baby-talk. You aren’t their grandmother, you’re their teacher. I don’t care how cute little Suzy looks in her new dress, she’s not a baby being passed around at a baby shower. She needs you to treat her like a learner, not a doll.

7. Be prepared! In fact, be over prepared. I can’t stress this enough. The quickest way to lose the attention of your class is to be scrambling around trying to find your notes or to upload something on to the overhead projector. The minute they see that you’re weak, you’ve lost them and it’s really hard to get them back.

6. Understand that your students will all be working at different levels of ability. Make sure you read and understand their individual adaptations and program plans. Take special care to spend time with the special needs students in your room who have their own teacher’s aide. Some of your sweetest experiences may be with these kids; don’t miss out on that opportunity. Remember: you are responsible for ALL the students in your class.

5. Be prepared to be flexible. There may be an assembly or a fire drill that causes you not to get something covered that you were hoping to get done. Or you may think you are going to get through a math concept in one day only to discover it’s going to take a lot longer than that. Remember: you’re teaching to the children in front of you, not the lesson plan on your desk. It’s a map but the children are your compass. They will tell you what needs more or less attention. Watch them carefully.

4. Get to know your students. Talk to them. Ask your cooperating teacher if you can head up a current events conversation a few times a week. See who plays sports and who plays an instrument. Find out who got a new cat and whose grandmother just died. Even if you’re not on duty, go outside at recess and see what your students are up to. Take a walk through the cafeteria at lunchtime and see who is eating alone and who is stealing treats from someone else’s lunch. Some kids are very different in social situations than they are in a classroom. It helps to know them when you are trying to teach them.

3. Spend some time getting to know the specialists in your school. Talk to the resource teachers, learning centre specialists, school psychologist and speech therapists. It’s important that teachers work as part of a team. Some kids require a whole village of support in order to be successful. You might also find that you are interested in pursuing a career outside of teaching but still within the school system. Teaching doesn’t have to be a 30-year-career. There are lots of opportunities out there.

2. Cooperate with your cooperating teacher. There is nothing worse for a cooperating teacher than having a difficult student teacher. It’s like having an extra student. Yes, we know you don’t get paid. And yes, we understand you may have a part-time job or a family or a dog that needs to be walked. But you’ve taken on this responsibility and you need to take it seriously.

1. Finally, take some time to reflect on whether or not you actually like what you’re doing. You may discover that it’s not what you expected. Perhaps this ISN’T how you want to spend the next 20-30 years of your life. And that’s OK. Finish your degree and look for something else. It’s better than spending your life doing something you don’t enjoy. But if you do LOVE it, grit your teeth and work your butt off for free. Someday, karma will reward you.

Rants, Raves, Teacher

If we can’t direct the winds, we must adjust our sails – The case of Jeffrey Moore.

Chris Jeanguenat, Sailboats in Stormy Seas

It’s easy to understand why schools are built with wheelchair ramps – without the ramp, a child in a wheelchair would not be able to access the same educational services as other children his or her age. (Insert – duh! – here.) Even the most curmudgeonly among us would have a hard time complaining about taxpayer money being spent to install a ramp at a school.

When a child’s disabilities are invisible, however, that’s when things start to get confusing for some people.  A child with a learning disability has average to above average intelligence and, like most of us, has areas of strength but also areas of serious weakness. These challenges often require extra support, alternate programming and adaptations in order for that child to be successful. This, like anything else that steps outside the norm, costs money. And once you start talking money, human compassion starts to wane.

Recently the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of a family who took their child out of public school in British Columbia in grade 4 and put him in a private school when it became clear the school could not meet his special learning needs.

In the early 1990’s, Jeffrey Moore was struggling to keep up with his Grade 2 classmates. Despite extra help from his parents and teachers, Jeff could still not read. The school psychologist was brought in and it was discovered that Jeff had a learning disability – dyslexia, which meant he had great difficulty reading. She recommended that he attend the local diagnostic centre in order to receive the help he needed. Unfortunately, before Jeff had a chance to enroll, the local school board closed the centre. By this point, Jeff was suffering from low self-esteem, constant headaches, stress and was falling further and further behind his peers. His school was offering him the same services that other children with his issues were getting, but they weren’t enough. He needed specific services that his public school and school board were unable to provide.

Based on recommendations from the school psychologist, Jeff’s parents felt their only option was to enroll him in a private school for children with learning disabilities. So they did. It was expensive but it worked. Jeff’s reading improved and he was a much happier little boy. But his parents felt it wasn’t fair. They felt the government had a responsibility to provide an education to all students, even those with learning disabilities.

So, in 1997, Jeff’s father, Frederick Moore, filed a human rights complaint against the School District and the British Columbia Ministry of Education alleging that Jeff had been discriminated against because of his disability and had been denied “a service . . customarily available to the public”, contrary to s. 8 of the Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210.

Basically what Jeff’s parents were asking was for their child to be given the same chances as every other child to be successful at school. Because of his learning disability, he needed something extra in order to level the playing field. He needed a ramp upon which he could climb the hill that dyslexia had put in front of him.

This is the analogy Madam Justice Rosalie Abella used when awarding the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in favor of Jeff and his parents.

Adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury. For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.” Moore v. British Columbia (Education),2012 SCC 61.

The justices awarded Jeff’s parents $100,000 for the costs involved for his private schooling. Jeff, now 23, was awarded $10,000 for the discrimination he suffered.

Jeff’s father said he was driven to take the case as far as he could because he felt public schools had an obligation to help all children succeed.  Moore’s lawyer Frances Kelly said the decision sets a national precedent and sends a message to all public schools. “This is a warning to them that they have to comply with their duties under the human rights code to ensure that students with learning disabilities have the same access to education as other students.” (http://www.vancouversun.com/news/education/North+Vancouver+school+district+discriminated+against/7524870/story.html#ixzz2CPUpXZ4v)

The Globe and Mail published an editorial immediately following the ruling strongly condemning the Supreme Court for “overstepping its authority”.

The Supreme Court of Canada has opened a Pandora’s box for public school boards by finding that a British Columbia school district discriminated against a dyslexic child when, during a financial crisis, it closed a special-education centre that provided him intensive help in learning to read. From here on, schools, school boards or provinces could be forced to bleed other programs to meet court-ordered educational standards for special-needs students. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/supreme-court-ruling-on-special-education-opens-pandoras-box/article5169193/)

On November 16, the Vancouver Sun published an opinion piece by Derek James From, a staff lawyer with the Canadian Constitution Foundation. It reads like diatribe from a right-wing American pundit. He notes that Jeffrey is now making a good living as a plumber and therefore, no blood, no foul.

Perhaps it’s Jeffrey, not the hard-working B.C. taxpayers, who should pay his father back.”http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Supreme+Court+ruling+rejects+equality+favour+another/7562452/story.html#ixzz2CnAp9F1R

Wow – talk about totally missing the point. Jeffrey is making a good living now thanks to the fact that he was taken from his public school and put in a private school, at his parent’s expense, where his needs were met. Who knows where he would be now if his parents had not been able to make this commitment?

But Jeffrey Moore’s individual situation is not the point of this story. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that children with learning disabilities have every right to be taught the way they learn. I will repeat: Children have a right to be taught the way they learn. We have to stop cramming our little square pegs into round holes. It’s not working. These children have a disability that requires a “ramp”. Just because it’s not visible doesn’t mean it’s not there. And yes, it’s going to cost money. Probably lots of money. But the argument that this will hurt the so-called average child is bull-puckey. Any teacher who has ever taught a class that includes a child with a learning disability (and that would be every teacher in North America, I would guess) can tell you that having no support for that child affects every other child in the room. I have had classes where, no lie, half of my class had some sort of learning difference, some very severe, and classroom support was minimal. When those children don’t have the supports they need, do you know who provides it? The classroom teacher. And who suffers when the classroom teacher’s attention is pulled in one direction and then another? All of the children, even the so-called average kids.

This ruling by the Supreme Court may change the face of education. And I hope it does. We are going to have to re-think the way we do things. There isn’t an endless pot of money at the end of the rainbow. Things will have to cut and reduced. The status quo is going to have to change in order to meet the needs of all children. And so it should.

The winds have changed. It’s time to adjust out sails.

Read the full Supreme Court ruling (ie. the legal mumbo-jumbo) here: http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/12680/index.do

Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Rants, Suburban, Teacher

No one told me I’d have to raise my own children!

Response to Brenda MacDonald’s Oct 15, 2012 column: Two Cents Worth

I’d like to add my two cents worth to Brenda MacDonald’s recent column in the Bedford-Sackville Daily News. In this week’s column, she laments the fact that she can no longer trust her sons’ teachers to teach them “the moral, value, life lesson, don’t-miss-a- deadline stuff”. Wow. My heart goes out to her. I mean, as a parent, I didn’t know either that I was actually expected to teach my children morals and values. This wasn’t in my “What to expect when you’re expecting” book! I mean, I understood that until they started school, I would have to teach them certain things like, “Don’t touch the stove or you’ll get burned!” and “Don’t flush your dinky toys down the toilet or we’ll have to pee in the yard!” But I felt safe in knowing that once my boys started school that responsibility, that heavy, heavy burden, would be lifted off my shoulders and placed on the backs of those miracle workers known as teachers. And when the last of my (two) children got on the school bus to begin his first day of school, I heaved a heavy sigh of relief. I felt light. No more worrying about educating my children on life lessons or morals or values. That job was now up to the teacher. I now have one child in grade 9 and another in grade 12 and I’m afraid I have a lot of catching up to do. You see I trusted their extraordinary teachers to teach them all of the morals and values and life lessons they would ever need. Thanks to Ms. MacDonald, I now realize how wrong I was.

Sarcasm aside, Ms. MacDonald’s initial concern that her child was given a 5-week extension on his middle school project and was not docked any points off his final grade is certainly valid. None of us likes it when we work our butts off and get our work done on time and the person in the cubicle next to us does the minimum amount and still gets paid as much or more than we do. (Yes, real life sucks, too.)

Ms. MacDonald admits that schools across the country have adopted no-zero policies, which means students can’t be penalized for what is considered a “behaviour issue” such as handing in a project late. Some parents and teachers are currently banding together to protest this new rule. The most high profile case on the books right now involves a teacher in Alberta who was suspended for going against the rule and assigning a child a zero. Ms. MacDonald dimisses the rapid spread of this policy across the country by saying, “I have no time such nonsense.” Nonsense or not, it is here, and teachers are required to follow the guidelines set forth by their provincial departments of education, their school boards and their school administrators. Shaming and blaming teachers (“I no longer totally trust them to teach my children anymore.”) is shifting blame to an easily identifiable group and allows Ms. MacDonald to ignore that other “nonsense”. A backhanded compliment like “don’t get me wrong, teachers are an admirable bunch” is as insulting as saying, “That dress is lovely. It really hides all the weight you’ve gained.”

Teacher responsibilities have grown over the years to include much more than the traditional reading, writing, and arithmetic. The obesity crisis, the bullying crisis, the identity crisis – all of these things are now being placed on schools. Fix our children, parents cry! Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure they can still read, write and do math better than children in other countries.

I did not, have not, and will not ever expect my child’s teacher to prepare my child for the “real world”. I want my child’s math teacher to teach him math and his biology teacher to teach him biology. I can handle the life-lessons, the morals, the values and “don’t miss a deadline” stuff. That’s what I signed up for.