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

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education, Rants, Teacher

Shame Discipline – We know better. It’s time to do better.

Bring back the strap!

You’ll often hear people of a certain age say that kids today would behave better if we brought back the strap as a disciplinary tool. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to use the strap on their children or grandchildren. Noooo, just the “bad” kids. That would learn ‘em.

Years ago, when a child misbehaved at school, a big leather strap was pulled out of the teacher’s desk. It was a state-mandated beating designed to stop any further misbehaviour and set an example for the others who might be considering such naughtiness. Jordan Historical Museum-School House

But if you ask anyone who was ever strapped back in the “olden days” they will tell you that the pain of the strap was nothing compared to the shame and humiliation. They learned a lesson alright. They learned that if you were bigger and stronger and held more power than someone else, it was OK to hurt them.

Fast-forward to 2013. Times have changed. Most (sane-minded) people agree that beating children in front of their classmates with a big slab of leather is just plain wrong.

Nowadays most teachers use positive disciplinary techniques designed to help a child change their behaviour while still retaining their dignity. I have worked with teachers who can manage their classrooms without raising their voice. My own children have been blessed with teachers who made learning both fun and safe.

Sadly, however, some teachers are still using discipline methods that rely on shame and humiliation as tools to correct real or perceived misbehaviour. And administrators are condoning this behaviour, either intentionally or by turning a blind eye.

I have written 64 blogs on this site over the past year and every single one resonates with how much I care for and support my fellow teachers. I have the utmost respect for the profession and the job we do every day. I will defend my co-workers to the death if I have to but NOT if what they are doing is hurting children.

If you were me  And I were you  For just a day  Or maybe two  Then maybe you  And maybe me  Would see the me  That you were too. Author: Sheree Fitch
If you were me
And I were you
For just a day
Or maybe two
Then maybe you
And maybe me
Would see the me
That you were too.
Author: Sheree Fitch

Most teachers have the best of intentions. They want their students to be the best they can be. They want them to do their work to the best of their ability and behave in a positive manner. But some teachers don’t know what to do when they are faced with a child who doesn’t fit the mold. So they try other methods. Here are just a few of the discipline techniques punishments that I know are being used in schools across North America today.

  • Having students stand on a designated “line of shame” in the hallway throughout recess and lunch hour, while hundreds of classmates and teachers walk by and stare, point, pity or mock.
  • Giving students who score well on weekly tests a pizza party on Friday. Students who do not score well have to eat their bag lunch in a different place in the classroom.
  • Having students stand and face the wall. (The modern of version of “go sit in the corner”.)
  • Taking away a child’s chair and making him crouch at his desk as punishment for turning around in his chair too many times.
  • Holding up a child’s work and telling the other children, “Your work should not look like this. Little Billy obviously did not do his best on this.”

I am not referring to children who willfully hurt other children or who disrupt the class in ways that make it impossible for other children to learn. (And even if I were, these children need positive discipline methods even more. My next blog post will deal with this issue.)

No, these children were punished for wiggling, talking, dawdling or forgetting. For these “terrible” offenses, they were subjected to public humiliation.

Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “Discipline in schools should respect children’s dignity. For children to benefit from education, schools must be run in an orderly way – without the use of violence. Any form of school discipline should take into account the child’s human dignity.”  Barbara Colorosso’s  Philosophical Tenets state: Kids are worth it. I won’t treat them in a way I would not want to be treated. If it works and leaves both of our dignity intact, do it. © Barbara Colorosso, Kids are Worth It

Research has proven time and time again that shame is not a good motivator. Oh, we’ll do anything we can to avoid it but it doesn’t instill good habits or an innate desire to do better. We merely change our behaviour in order to avoid the pain.

And some children, no matter what they do, cannot avoid the ‘misbehaviours’ that are causing them to receive these punishments.

If you have ADHD, you might not be able to control your fidgeting or your inattention. If you have dyslexia, no matter how hard you study, you might not pass that spelling test. No pizza party for you, Little Billy…ever. There are lots of things teachers can do to help these children – humiliating them in front of their peers is not one of them.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not trashing the entire teaching profession. I have worked with hundreds of amazing teachers and I have made a million and one mistakes over the years, but as Maya Angelou says, “I did what I knew.. when I knew better, I did better.”

We may not strap kids with a leather belt anymore, but we are still hurting them. We know better. Let’s do better.

Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate: http://www.teach-through-love.com/about-us.html
Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate: http://www.teach-through-love.com/about-us.html
education, Rants, Teacher

“Gimme a Y! Gimme an O!” Seriously…Gimme some common sense.

writing131Have you ever found yourself singing along to the lyrics of a song and suddenly going, “Holy crap! Did he really say that?!”

Google the lyrics of some of your favorite songs and be prepared. My favorite song of the summer, Blurred Lines? I really wish I could unlearn those lyrics.

There’s something about chanting or singing that makes us lose sight of the meaning of the words we are saying.

The Orientation Committee at St. Mary’s University learned this the hard way last week.

Committee members were caught on camera leading hundreds frosh in a chant that was…how shall I put it nicely…just plain wrong.

“Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass. SMU boys we like them young!”

Ummm…seriously?

Did anyone actually think about what they were saying? It seems like the siren of the song lulled the organizers into thinking that their words didn’t matter.

Now, imagine for a moment that the rhythm of the chant and energy of the crowd were removed. Only the words remained.

Here’s what a simple conversation between a new freshman and his orientation leader might sound like:

Male Orientation Leader: Hey man. Welcome to SMU!

New Frosh: Yeah, thanks!

MOL: So, listen. Uh, I don’t suppose you have a sister, do you?

NF: Yeah, I actually I do. She’s in Grade 10.

MOL: Cool! You know, us SMU guys, we like them young.

NF: What are you talking about, man? Are you saying something about my sister?

MOL: Chill out, man. It’s OK. Us SMU guys, we just ike ‘em young, like your sister. Cuz she’s so tight, you know?

NF: Are you kidding me right now? Shut the hell up, man! Why are you talking about my sister like that?!

 MOL: Don’t freak out, man. I just really like the fact that she’s underage, you know? I don’t even need to get her consent. I’m just going to grab her ass.”

I don’t think we need to stretch our imaginations to figure out how this scenario would end. The Orientation Guy would most likely be on the ground trying to find his teeth, while the frosh rushed home to get his sister into a nunnery.

Of course, a conversation with dialogue like this sounds ridiculous.

And yet, when it was sung in the middle of a football field, by hundreds of young people, it somehow seemed completely normal. Young men and women smiled and sang along.

The release of the video has caused an outpouring of outrage across North America.

Once again, adults are shocked and appalled by the behaviour of “young people today”!

On local radio call-in shows, outraged old men were calling for the end of orientation events altogether.

“Kids today! They have no respect! It’s just Party! Party! Party! Orientation is just partying and should be cancelled. University should be learning and nothing else!”

OK. Thanks for that, Gramps.

But in the real world where I live, orientation committees play a valuable role in helping young people make that transition from home to independent living.

Orientation used to be about hazing and heavy drinking.  Enormous progress has been made in getting these things out of official orientation events. And I have faith that progress on eradicating this bizarre “rape culture” will be made as well.

All we can do is keep calling foul when we hear these things and help kids to understand why it’s wrong.

Some folks are saying that it’s unfair that SMU Student Association President, Jared Perry, was pressured to resign. He made a mistake. That’s all. And he apologized, so…

I disagree.

Seriously people. We are the town of Rehtaeh Parsons. For the past few months, our airwaves have been full of discussions about the importance of consent and the dangers of a so-called “rape culture”. How could anyone not know that this chant  was wrong?

I’m sure Mr. Perry did plenty of wonderful things during his term and I suspect he has a bright future ahead of him. No one is saying he’s the devil incarnate.

BUT, when you make a mistake, you have to own it. And owning it means accepting the consequences.

SMU needs to regains its reputation and rebuild the trust of its students, alumni and community. And they will.

This “scandal” will blow over and a new one will take its place.

But let’s hope the lesson sticks. Think first..then think again.

writing132

education, Memoir, Parenting, Suburban

It’s a magical world out there, my son. Time to go exploring.

writing121

To my little boy, who is suddenly, miraculously, all-grown-up,

Tomorrow we leave with a truck filled to the brim with your sheets and pillows and computer and clothes and start the five-hour drive to your new home. A dormitory filled with boys and (heaven help me) girls just like you who are starting a new chapter in their lives.

It seems like we’ve been preparing for this move all summer. The list of things to get, to buy, to wash, to sign and to organize seemed like it would never end.

Until it did.

And now there isn’t anything left for me to do or buy or wash or pack.

I thought that during your last night at home, I would give you lots of deep, sage, soul-searching advice that would carry you through the good times and the bad while you are away at university but…

I got nothin’.

And you know what? I think that’s good.

I think it means we already did that.  Over the past 18 years, anything that needed to be said has already been said many times over.

Don’t worry about us. Your dad is ready. I’m ready. (And you know your brother was ready last month when he started measuring your room to see where he would put his furniture!)

You’re ready and I am so excited for you.

There’s a whole new world waiting out there for you.

Time to go exploring.

 writing124

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

Memoir, Princess, Suburban, Teacher

Puppies: Better than Booze

Puppy RoomDalhousie University has just introduced a puppy room to help its students deal with the stress from Christmas exams. I’ve watched a few of the videos on-line. These stressed-out university students look like little kids.  As soon as they reach out to the dogs, their smiles and giggles become completely genuine. You can just see the tension slipping away from their backpack laden shoulders.

I know I would have been a frequent flyer at the puppy room if they had had one when I was at university. Just before I started my second year, my parents packed up our house, gave away our dog and moved 4,000 miles away. It felt surreal as I moved into an apartment downtown with my best friend. I went from being a very sheltered teenager to being a scared little college girl overnight. I was going on the world’s longest sleepover and my parents were never coming to pick me up.

We didn’t have a puppy room at my university. We did have a pub, though. And that’s how most of us dealt with stress. Trust me. There were many mornings I wished I had spent the evening at the puppy room instead of the pub. Sadly, I was not unique. University students are well known to be heavy, binge drinkers. Some of that, no doubt, is due to the excitement of having the freedom to do whatever you want without your parents looking over your shoulder. But a big part of it is because alcohol is a stress releaser. After a few drinks, you stop worrying about your assignments and your exams. You forget about your money problems and your relationship issues. Life’s a party when you’re loaded! Unfortunately, the next day, those good (albeit: fuzzy) feelings are gone, often replaced by feelings of embarrassment over last night’s actions. Once the booze wears off, the stress returns, often with a vengeance.

A dog never makes you regret patting it the night before. You could pat a dog all night long and never wake up feeling guilty or stupid or regretful. Unfortunately, we don’t all have 24-hour access to a soft, calming animal. That’s why it’s important for our children and our students to know how to deal with stress so that it motivates, rather than paralyzes them.

As an elementary teacher, I’ve tried to help my students see school as something they can enjoy, not dread. Part of my job is to help them feel comfortable with writing tests. I emphasize that tests are just one way to show what we know. We talk about how to read the directions. We practice examples. We write practice tests that look exactly like the real test, except with different questions. We have discussions about how stressing over something doesn’t make you do any better. In fact, it often makes you do worse. I also tell them that in the big story of their lives, one math test is not going to make or break them. If you bomb the test, it doesn’t mean that you will end up living like a hobo in a ditch somewhere, while all of your friends go off to be doctors and lawyers. All it means is that for some reason you didn’t get what we learned this week in this particular area. No worries. We’ll work on it. Just breathe.

To paraphrase the great philosopher, Steven Tyler, I want my students and my children to know that  “life’s a journey, not a destination.” Live in the moment. Learn from the bad times and move on. And if you have the choice between cuddling a puppy and chugging a six pack, you’re better off with the puppy every time.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2012/12/students-instagram-dalhousies-puppy-room-therapy-dogs.html