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.

IMG_20160326_152201

Me and my big sister

Advertisements

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

EduSpock™

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.

Royan

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.

Fred

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 need to vent

Teaching is a stressful job. To relieve that stress, we often vent about our work. We usually vent by complaining (sometimes too much) about stuff we can’t control. If we didn’t find a way to vent the stress, it will be the students who suffer the consequences. There’s nothing worse than an apathetic teacher suffering from burnout. Imagine dealing with children of any age without any patience. It’s not a pretty picture.

Empathy for others is an important part of a teacher’s mindset because we need lots of it to help our students. Teachers would do anything for their students to help them succeed. Most teachers I know have gone the extra mile to ensure the best for our students. Whether it’s volunteering for clubs and teams, writing “creative” reference letters, to buying them lunch because they’re hungry, or standing in frigid weather with a student because their parents are late. We empathize with the student’s plight, because we were young once too.

So you’d think that teachers who work with young people everyday are very empathetic towards others. And they are.

Until they talk to another teacher.

Complaining to another teacher about teaching is one of the worst experiences you’ll ever have. For some reason we lose the ability to empathize and immediately seize the opportunity to vent. The strategy we use is: “Me too, AND I’ve had it worse”.

  • Teacher A: “My period 1 class is so tough, they’re always off task, goofing off, and there’s 33 of them! I could barely fit them in my tiny classroom!”
  • Teacher B: “Oh ya, I’ve had classes like that! I once had 40 kids in a class and they had 60 IEPs! I had to check them for weapons before class and we were in a portable! We only had one table and it only had 3 legs!”

This is a common one:

  • Teacher A: “I also have so much marking”
  • Teacher B: “I have a lot too! I’ve got 90 tests and 80 essays and 10 labs to mark!”
  • Teacher A: “Thanks. I feel so much better.”

It reminds me of standing in a long line up and someone starts to line up behind you. Does it improve your position in the line? How does knowing someone who has it worse make you feel better? Imagine a psychiatrist doing that?

  • “You think your wife is crazy? I’ve had 3 divorces!”
  • “Ya ya ya, that’s nothing, let me tell you what MY parents used to do to me!”

At our school, there is one person we can vent to without having to suffer through the “Me too, I’ve had worse”. Karen always listened, empathized, and offered helpful advise. She was our “Staff Psychiatrist”.

Staff Psychiatrist

Staff Psychiatrist

Even when there was no feasible solution to the issue at hand, she was able to relieve your stress by offering a kind word, a gentle smile, a warm hug, or a funny story to make you feel better. She has the ability to put things into perspective when you think the sky is falling, or (gulp) when your “issue” really isn’t a big deal.

Sadly, I must describe Karen’s voluntary psychiatry work in the past tense. For her, stress relief is simple: Early Retirement. At her retirement party, many teachers spoke about how Karen made them feel, starting from the first time they stepped foot into our school. I don’t remember the first time I met Karen, but I knew that whenever I was stressed out, I always found myself in her office, just talking about stuff. She’d ask me questions to take my mind off things, and we’d have discussions about a myriad of things unrelated to work. Ever since her departure a few months ago, I have felt my stress level increase and it’s all her fault!! Our school won’t be the same without her. If you read about me in the news getting into trouble at work, it’ll be due to a stress induced meltdown (students beware!). All the recent changes at our school hasn’t helped either, but that’s another post for another day.

If you haven’t crossed paths with someone who helps you relieve your day to day stress at work, how do you keep from going crazy? How many of you have a “staff psychiatrist” at work?

If you don’t have one, me too, and I have it worse: I know what it’s like to lose a great one.