Teachers are immigrants

I am neither an American or a Muslim. The events of the past 24 hours has struck a cord with me. As a human, we can all find something to relate with each other.

My family emigrated from Hong Kong when I was 10. We had no means to do it, just a rumour from a relative of a relative that Canada may be could be granting asylum for people without status (never came true). We lived in government housing in Hong Kong, and my parents emptied their bank account, left home with a plane ticket and hope for a better life.

We had no business immigrating to Canada. We had no money and my parents did not have any desirable skills that the Canadian government were looking for in workers. The only thing we had going for us was tenacity and hard work. We had no legal status in Canada for many years and our immigration application was basically doing everything to delay our deportation date. Meanwhile, my father immersed our family into Canada and Canadian culture (“Don’t be so loud, the Canadians talk very gently”; “You need to learn to skate and play hockey, the kids love it here”;”Study hard, don’t give them a reason to deport us”). My parents bought a house with no money and 2 mortgages just before the recession of the early 90s hoping to show Canada that we want to be Canadians really badly. My younger sister and I were beginning to integrate into Canadian culture and as each day passes, it becomes harder and harder to re-integrate back to Hong Kong. Any mistakes would mean we might have go back to a place that was more and more foreign to us.

So we thought we would be deported when my father was charged with shoplifting.

He forgot his tape measure at home. So he grabbed one off the shelf in the store to measure the wood he needed, forgot that it was still in his pocket when he walked out. A moment of forgetfulness was going to undo years of hard work and living in fear. Luckily, the client my dad was working for (Mrs. Bellamy) wrote a letter to the courts, vouching for for him and the charges were dropped. (A decade later, my father would be given a community member award by Toronto’s Chief of Police for apprehending an armed mugger)

As a teacher, I have taught many students of many backgrounds all with their own stories. I have always found students of the Muslim faith to be wise beyond their years, and kind despite the negative portrayal of them in popular culture and media. The current events in the US will embolden some people in Canada who have their views legitimized by the leader of the most powerful country on Earth. I cannot dismiss it and say “that’ll never happen in Canada”. There is too much at stake. I have countless reasons why I love Canada and all the people in it, but we need to continue to welcome everyone. I’m here because of the generosity of the Canadian government, its programs to help the poor, and the many different citizens living in it. (My wife did not know her dad for the first 10 years of her life as he was living in Canada while hiding from communist Vietnam after the war) Canadians believe that we’re all better off when everyone is better off. By welcoming everyone, we do risk letting in some bad apples. That is the price of true freedom. I’m willing to pay that price.

“A painting’s beauty is in how the colours are put together to make a whole picture, not making distinction in its individual colours.”

-Beyond (a band from Hong Kong who wrote this song about the Apartheid, inspired by Nelson Mandela.


Teacher have confessions

When I said goodbye to my friends at my previous school, I had to get a few things* off my chest that I wasn’t very proud of. 

At the photocopier:

  • When the photocopier jams, I walk away and don’t tell anyone.
  • When someone is trying to fix a jam, I tell them I have a class so I don’t have to stay and help them
  • I only photocopy at 8:25 in the morning, right before the bell rings
  • If someone is making copies ahead of me, I tell them that I have a class so they let me go ahead of them (but I actually have prep).
  • When the person in front of me forgets to logout, I don’t tell them so I can use their code.


  • Those are my dishes in the sink (sorry!)
  • That’s my mouldy food in the fridge (sorry again!)
  • I don’t cover my food in the microwave (thanks for cleaning it up!)

Day to day things:

  • Yes, I did get your email
  • I can’t wait for some of my colleagues to leave the room so I can immediately gossip about them
  • I pretend to go to the washroom during staff meetings, but I actually go home
  • I have been to one department meeting in the last 5 years

Don’t blue page me:

  • I teach during lockdown drills
  • I am always the first person to leave my classroom when there’s a fire alarm
  • I let my students go early so I can catch my bus home
  • I make sure my class is quiet during morning announcements, only when I know I’ve put in an announcement to be read.
  • I act sad in front of the students when our team misses the playoffs, but I’m actually happy because I don’t have to stay late or come early to school anymore for games and practices.
  • When students ask me to supervise a club, I reject them by saying that I’m already supervising another club, only that club is completely made up.

My colleagues:

  • I tell students that teachers who don’t wear ties are unprofessional
  • When students complain about other teachers, I make them tell me who they are and usually agree with them.
  • Whenever I gossip about other teachers, I make sure the other people know who I’m talking about.
  • I always use the middle urinal
  • Whenever I’m alone in the science office and the phone rings, I don’t answer it.
  • I always make sure I learn supply teachers’ names so I can complain about them to the admin afterwards.
  • Sometimes I’m early for on calls, but I wait outside until I see the 1st half teacher calls the office before walking in.
  • During the strike, I only showed up during shift switch and tell the morning captain I’m in the afternoon shift and the afternoon captain I’m in the morning shift


  • When a student asks me something I don’t know, I pretend to know and ask them to Google it, then report to me tomorrow so I can verify if they’re correct.
  • Every time a student calls me sir or Mr. Fong in public, I give them a bonus mark
  • I sometimes buy cookies and muffins from the students, then throw it in the garbage afterwards.
  • I sometimes postpone a test because I forgot make it
  • I sometimes “grant” my students a study period because I don’t have a lesson planned

*Most of these are just jokes, I didn’t actually do these things. Most of them.


Apparently, I did do some of these (according to my students, who have better memories than I do)

And apparently, even as adults?

Teachers say Goodbye

In lieu of using up everyone’s attention and time at a meeting, I have written this goodbye post for my colleagues.

I have worked at Glenforest Secondary School for 11 years. It’s a pretty long time. I’m guessing it’s probably about 10% of my life expectancy. There have been many days when I spent more time in this building than in my own home, many weeks when I see my colleagues more than I see my own wife. I’m not alone, I know many colleagues who have been at work before sunrise, and left at night without ever seeing the Sun during the day because there are no windows in the offices or classrooms at Glenforest. I have witnessed full-out-high-volume arguments about the day’s weather between colleagues:

  • “It’s so gross outside”
  • “What are you talking about? It was beautiful when I walked in this morning!”
  • “Not anymore!”
  • “NO WAY!” (Without any tangible method to verify the statement)

These types of exchanges sometimes goes on for several minutes before someone checks… the internet (again, difficult access to Windows). I will miss those arguments. But not as much as I’ll miss the people.

Schools are just brick and mortar without the people inside it. Without the people I have met at Glenforest, I would not be the person nor the teacher that I am today. There are so many people to thank, and if you want to skip to the part about you, just hit CTRL+F and type in your name to get to your paragraph (which can be risky…) If you feel neglected, just know that I probably didn’t have anything nice to say about you — (I’m kidding!)

I have written about Karen Marsh here, without adding that she was the one who spearheaded my nomination at our union’s Teacher Recognition Awards. That gave me the motivation and drive to improve myself. Another person who did that (and more) was Anya Marin. I always imagined that I would be giving a farewell speech to her for leaving our school, not the other way around. Alas, life has a funny way of ruining our best laid plans.

To my friends the Bertovics, one of the first people I spoke to when I left the hospital after the birth of my first child. Both are excellent teachers and always thinks about what’s best for the students, even at the expense of their own time and energy. One of the most difficult days of my life was when I decided not to use movers for my move to Mississauga. You know you have a good friend when they willingly agree to help you move. Thanks, Drazen. And thanks for all the clothes and toys for my kids!

Kirsten is the consummate professional. Teacher’s colleges should invite her to give talks to teacher candidates about what is required to be a professional teacher. She respects the job and shows it in all the different ways she approaches teaching. I learned that it’s okay to love teaching from Kirsten, even if everyone else is telling you that teachers are not worthy, you keep on working and doing your best at your job, no matter what.

Aylisa is the easiest-going person I have ever met. Just so great to be around and work with. She is the person who planted the idea in my mind that change is good. Doing the same thing over and over is boring, one should seek challenge in order to be truly fulfilled. Thank you Aylisa!

Duncan is a master coach of rugby and uses those skills daily in his classroom. I wish I had an opportunity to learn more about coaching from him. Thank you for making me laugh, D.A.! Too bad “The Prosecutor” nickname never stuck.

I nicknamed “Hurricane Diana” because her projects and ideas picks me up, drops me off in different places and doing different things, and leaves me confused and alone afterwards because she’s on to the next huge project to do, hopefully picking someone else up and dropping them off somewhere they’ve never been. Those experiences were truly memorable, I wish I could match her tenacity in pulling such huge events off, and doing it so well.

Natalie and Jason are wonderful young teachers who have bright futures ahead of them. It was a pleasure to teach with them as a team, and I learned so much from each of them through our conversations. Both Jason and Natalie inspired me to work hard to keep up with them or I risk being left behind! (I will never forget Reading Rainbow)

I was also able to learn from teachers outside of my department. Harry is a fantastic coach and another excellent leader in our school. As branch president, he navigated us through our labour issues and even bought us ice cream! Harry’s generosity, and the way he helps with the issues our fellow colleagues encounter are something I aspire to get better at. He is a also terrible poker player.

When I volunteered to work on the photography parts of the yearbook, I didn’t know what I was getting in to. I was lucky to learn from the very detail oriented Barbara who is really good at organizing things. She is an amazing math teacher and it’s too bad that my children won’t have a chance to be in her classroom in the future.

In September, I’ll be teaching at a new school, I’ll be meeting and working with new people, I’ll be navigating new norms in a different place. I feel excited and nervous whenever I think about going to The Woodlands, but I will take all the wonderful experiences at Glenforest with me, it is a place I will not soon forget. I grew up here, first as a young, single new teacher, became a husband, then a father (twice) while working at Glenforest. I have experienced so many changes in my life for the past 11 years but the constant, the thing that grounds me, will always be the students. I was blessed to work with such a diverse group of young people at this school, I have learned so much from them. After 12 years of teaching, I have learned that many teenagers have the same issues, no matter who they are or where they’re from and I’m sure that it’s the same for all adolescents everywhere in the world. It gives me comfort to take that knowledge with me to my new school, and if I miss Glenforest, I’m not worried…

The new school I’m going to also has no windows.


Thank you, Glenforest. It’s been a great ride. New adventures await!


Teachers saves lives

I have realized that teaching is my calling. I love it. It is my life.

It hasn’t always been that way.

About 5 years into my career, I was starting to feel comfortable with the job. I have some experience and developed confidence in myself that this is something I can do for a long time. I could have (and was heading towards) a teacher’s equivalent of Groundhog Day. My lessons were set, on PowerPoint, I had different versions of similar tests, and I could see myself plateauing and coast for the next 25 years to retirement.

And then Anya Marin became my colleague, and she saved my life.

Anya came into my school as I was reaching a crossroads in my career. What do I want to be? How was I getting there? Do I like this job? Is it okay to like it? Why do I get a feeling it should be something to be ashamed of when it is the most noble of professions? I had worked with many different colleagues, some who loved teaching, some hated it, and being a new teacher, I found myself being influenced by the negativity that can come with the job.

Anya is a veteran teacher of 25 years, so she knows what she’s talking about, and she also has the pedigree. Her father was an university professor and she already had her principal’s qualifications when I met her almost a decade ago. Anya chose to stay in the classroom instead of “ascending” because she loved teaching so much, and she had a profound effect on me. The most impressive skill Anya has as a teacher is her ability to read people, then empathize with them if the situation warrants it. I’m always shocked by how often she is correct when analyzing what people are like, their personalities/traits, and then treats them according to what is necessary.

Through a stroke of luck, I was able to carpool to school with her everyday for over a year and we became close friends. We had great talks on those car rides and I learned so much about life, people, society, and of course, teaching. Through those conversations, it became obvious to me that Anya has a love of learning, I love that she is never ashamed of her ignorance of something new. At school, I got to watch how she interacted with students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Her easy going personality and positivity was infectious and our science department was better for it.

Anya made me want to improve myself as a teacher. She did so by example. You’ll rarely hear her complain about a new initiative, or some change that was occurring in the school. Anya embraces everything teaching throws at her and always does it with a smile on her face. Her work ethic is second to none, her endless energy amazes me, and her love for her students, limitless.

If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the teacher I am today. Teaching is my life and Anya inspired me to make it so. When I first met her, she was the sista that I worked with. Now, I consider her a sister I cannot be without. As I move to a new school next September, I feel like my 14 year old self, about to enter high school for the first time, on the cusp of a new adventure. I’m also extremely nervous that I’ll be doing it without my mentor, my guide, my friend. I’m going to miss her so much. Thanks for always laughing at my jokes.


Me and my big sister

Teachers write Eulogies

The recent passing of Joe Bower has led many teachers and educators to remember him with words on the internet. I did not know of him until he died suddenly. The saddest part to me was that he never got to hear and read all the wonderful things that was said about him after he died and almost all of them from people whom he’s never met or knew personally.

There’s no time like the present to write eulogies of my own, so here are 3 people that I met on Twitter I thought of when I wanted to write this post. They are not yet dead.



Andrew Campbell is the Spock of edu-Twitter. He always tries to be objective & logical. I admire how he challenges the status quo, disagree with the populist, and never seems to get angry (except when I tease him about being old). Whenever I have questions about my practice, I try seek his input because he always puts the students first and that’s what I strive to do when I teach. Andrew’s advice is always so convincing to me (He’s from England and I was born in Hong Kong which was once a British colony, so draw your own conclusions). Andrew’s blogs are genuine and from his heart and his published articles addresses things that we often overlook in the education world. He is also Kevin Pillar’s biggest fan and/or illegitimate father.


The Connector™

Royan Lee is my definition of a connected educator. His ability to connect different people with similar interest is something I thought I was good at until I saw what he was doing. One must have a tremendous memory to be able to categorize their twitter followers’ interests, then to alert said followers when he finds something interesting for his tweeps. Royan also organized a very successful outing to a Blue Jays game that I was apart of, and now this group (also started by Royan, kind of) can often be found giggling at their phones through WhatsApp. Look through his blog and Twitter and Instagram to see that he is one busy and talented dude. To be able do all this while being a great dad with 3 kids makes me hate him a little.


The Nomadic One™

Fred Galang is the Filipino me. Or I am the Chinese Fred. Or Fred is me with the ability to drink alcohol and grow a beard. All I know is that I’m better than he is at riding a bicycle on the streets of Toronto but he can art and I can’t. However you define it, we always seem to like the same stuff and have similar interests, experiences, and sense of humour. I really appreciated the support he gave me when I went through the strike “work stoppage” last year. He is passionate about art and his students. I mostly enjoy talking with Fred because he gets as angry as I do about education and sports. He is also very good at giving nicknames that stick (and logos too). I imagine Fred to be the same guy on or off social media, which is something that I always strive to do on Twitter and this blog. The man also delivered this homemade t-shirt to my front door. #MicDrop

The people above have no affiliation with me “in real life” but yet I cannot imagine my life (which is quite real, in my opinion) without them. Our common passion (not in order of importance) for sports, teaching, social media, The Wire, Idris Elba, being a dad is what gravitated me towards these “strangers”. This post will hopefully springboard other “eulogies” for other people that I admire as a teacher.

Teachers like to Talk

Especially on the picket line. What else is there to do when you have 4 hours to kill while marching on the sidewalk? You can only eat so many donuts…


My main man Mr. Pugi, who knew he wanted to be a teacher at an early age.

So I started talking to my colleagues. I asked them a simple question:

“How did you get into teaching?”

The answers I got were interesting and as expected, long. I asked over 16 teachers (1 for every day of the strike) and most answers belonged in one of four categories that I’ve created. There were some hybrids but for the most part, these are the four:


The family of teachers. With so many “teacher couples” on at school, I can only imagine how many more teachers are ‘created’ through lineage. Are there any other professions where there are so many in the family that are involved? I have heard stories of a colleague resisting teaching for most of her life but still ended up being one! I envy these teachers because teaching is part of their life. I always feel bad for my wife (who’s not a teacher) when I have my teacher friends over and the conversations inevitably veer towards teaching. I love talking shop with my colleagues but I’m sure it my wife is tired of hearing the same conversations again and again. Imagine if all your family dinners have years of teaching experience to draw from? All the questions that can be answered because you literally have hundreds of years of teaching to draw from? This is just what I imagine a family of teachers would do. Who knows, perhaps they hate it when that happens!

Career Change

Most of these teachers didn’t stumble into teaching from a previous career. The colleagues I talked to all had some connection to teaching before they switched. I did find some similarities to the ‘teachers of lineage’ when asked: “Why did you switch to teaching?” The answer from each career changer at my school (albeit a small sample size) was family. “My work would not give me the kind of schedule I want for my family” was a common reason. These teachers who changed careers (I’m generalizing) are the most diligent and “realistic” people in our school. I think it’s because they’ve experienced the ‘real world’ and understands that there are some things in education (and life) we cannot control. They also know that teachers (and any worker, really) are replaceable, so they roll with the punches when they’re being told what to do. I find that the most common teacher complaint is when we’re told what to do. We’re so used to ‘being our own bosses” in our own classroom we forget that yes, the principal (or whoever that has the power)’s job is to tell you what to do. My best student teachers were the ones who have had some experience in industry and treats teaching as a job, not an extension of school.

The Calling

The most noble of the four. “I have always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was (insert absurdly young age).” or “I had a great (insert favourite subject) teacher and I wanted to be just like him/her”. These teachers love what they do and exudes it everyday to their students. Students revere these teachers at my school (They would walk on glass for these colleagues of mine). These teachers knew exactly what they wanted to do at a young age and planned their life to achieving that goal. There was an example of a colleague who quit, then came back to teaching because she hated the (much more prestigious and higher paying) job she switched to. Now that’s admirable.

The Falling

This is the most touchy group of the four. Some other names for this category:

  • Plan B (too negative)
  • I have no idea what I’m going to do so I’ll trying teaching (too long)
  • Those who can’t do, teach (too close to home)

Yes. There are teachers who fall into teaching. No, it’s not because they can’t do anything else. Many found what originally planning to do was not what they envisioned themselves to be doing. There were many different paths: lawyer, veterinarian, doctor, scientists, the list goes on. It doesn’t mean they love teaching any less, or are any less capable. Every single teacher in “The Falling” group already had seeds of teaching in their life: Piano tutors, life guard, coaching, referee… etc. All of these teachers had experience working with younger people, helping them learn. After they ‘fall’ into teaching, they were so glad they found it again.

Of course after talking about themselves, the immediate question my colleagues have is: “Now it’s your turn, how did YOU get into teaching?”

If you’re interested, here’s my story.

Teachers Fall into Teaching

After speaking with my colleagues during the strike work stoppage, I heard different stories of how teachers got into teaching, and here’s mine.

I didn’t know about teaching as a job, profession, or career. As a student, I only saw the teacher behind the desk probably as my students see me now: Someone who just existed in the school and nowhere else. I don’t know why, but the thought of my teachers getting paid to work never crossed my mind. I had no family members in the profession, and neither of my parents finished high school, let alone university. Most of my older cousins who did have post-secondary experience lived in Hong Kong, where I was born. I had very little guidance throughout my academic career growing up in Canada (I immigrated here at 10 years old). For me, the guidance from my parents was simply, “be educated”. While it gave me a lot of freedom to pursue things, it wasn’t very practical. I had no idea what was out there for me. I just took courses and programs that I thought were challenging (sometimes too challenging), stuck with my interests, and hoped a job would come out of it at the end. I struggled to finish my degree because I didn’t know how to ask professors (or peers) for help. I tried to do everything on my own. It wasn’t until late in my final year of university that I learned that there was such a thing as teacher’s college (A passing comment by a buddy of mine). Not having that information also meant I missed the application deadline! Whoops. After I finished undergrad, I got part time jobs (I had 3 at one point) hoping they would become full time jobs, and one did. I learned so much in that one year of “real work” and it made me a better teacher today. During this time, I also concentrated on researching this new thing I learned called “Teacher’s College”.

Gr9 Sci

A Grade 9 ESL science class during my first practicum.

Once I knew I wanted to become a teacher, it was all or nothing. I applied to every single teacher’s college in Ontario because I didn’t know about the ones in Buffalo/Niagara Falls or I would have applied there too. It cost me almost $1000 to apply and I didn’t get in to most of them, but all I needed was one. I still have my rejection letters from the other schools as my motivation and because I don’t want to forget how badly I wanted to be a teacher once upon a time. Getting into teacher’s college was a dream come true for me, perhaps it was because for the first time in my life, I had a real goal, and saw the end of the academic tunnel. I had found something that I wanted to do, and I knew I had a chance to be good at it (most of my friends told me so).

I’ve been a high school teacher for 11 years now. I was very lucky to “fall” into my calling. I also know of teachers who “fell” into teaching and stayed because it was a comfortable, good job. These teachers are professionals and do their job to the best of their abilities. You cannot be a teacher for very long if you don’t care about students and learning. So yes, some teachers fall under the inflammatory phrase “Those who can’t, teach”. I’m probably one of them, and I will not apologize for becoming a teacher. I’m also pretty sure that many people “fell” into their current job too.

No, teachers are not perfect, but is there a perfect profession? Is there a workplace where 100% of the employees are perfect all the time? I will boldly proclaim that teaching is one of the few professions where the people in it are trying to be better at their job all the time. For most teachers, it is not just a job, but it is a place where we feel we can affect the world around us in a positive way. With the turmoil in Ontario public education due to declining enrollment and an aging workforce, we have to remember that we must invest in education for the benefit of society. The “economy” should not be a factor in education. John Green said it best in an “Open Letter to Public Education”.