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.


Teachers don’t need French

Recently I had a conversation with the head of the languages department. I was trying to convince her that we should abolish French from our school. My argument was two fold: French teachers are in short supply, and we don’t often use French anyway.

While she agrees with me in principle, it was naive of me to think that she would risk the rapport she has with her French-teaching colleagues.

I think it’s actually a facade she’s putting up in lieu of her true passion, to become an entrepreneur, own a chic boutique on a cul-de-sac that serves omelettes and croissants à la carte.  She talks about it like it’s a fait accompli.

I thought the problem with owning such an unique store is that it will quickly lose its cachet if she doesn’t have enough panache for the job. I suggested adding to her repertoire by doing something less risqué, such as starting a chauffeur business for clientele who love different genres of cinema that use montages to pay homage to our forte, teaching.

Her lassiez-faire attitude towards my ideas led me to believe that she is totally blasé about being a department head. I think I risked my derriere for nothing.

And that’s why we have to abolish French from our schools.

Teachers love to show off

Show off their students, that is.

I’ve been leading a group of students in a photography/yearbook class this semester. It was quite an experience. I learned just as much from my students as they did from me (if not more). We helped with the yearbook in between photography assignments. The students took head shots of the actors in the school play, decorated the student services office with photos from around the school, and got ideas from our memorable photography trip downtown to put on our own show! This entry is my “culminating project” to show off the students’ work.



Aakanksha’s Photography seems like a mash up of different pictures at first, but upon inspection you’ll find hidden gems, my favorites being her reflection about our field trip, and her fashion assignment in which she asked total strangers to pose for her!

Sara’s self created assignment on Ignorance was great. I loved her use of monochrome and directed her subjects to pose for her pictures. Hopefully she learned a lesson about directing teenagers!

Lora really took blogging to heart. She had mentioned to me that it was really cool to see that people have been checking out her photo-blog, and this made her want to do a good job with it (intrinsic motivation, a teacher’s holy grail). In it, she posted some interesting treasures when we do “photo scavenger hunts” in class.

Miranda chose to try wedding photography when she created her own assignment. It looks like she made her subjects feel at ease and her reflections tells us that some poses are more difficult than others!

The head of our student services department gave us a great idea for an assignment: Pictures of the school and activities within it! Rachel did a great job capturing different scenes and scenery in the school. She is also going to be an asset when we need her to do layouts for next year’s book!

Samiha wrote a great synopsis of our field trip to the Contact Photography Festival. It really was a great day for all of us. Samiha really loves taking photos and she was taking photos non stop the whole day. I can still hear her chasing me down the street saying “Sir! Take a look at this one got!”

Taleivee is very quiet in class. I thought it fit her personality when she created the shadows assignment. She tells me (when she wrote in my yearbook) that she’s not always quiet and that she can be quite chatty sometimes. Perhaps I interpreted her demeanor in class differently, just like shadows can represent different things depending on your perspective.

Vanessa is a budding artist. She improved her technique throughout the year and it shows in her blog. My favorite picture was her subway shot from the assignment “Anti-Portraits” that she created. Vanessa says wants to take the course over again, but when I told her I’d have to fail her in order for it to happen, she passed on the idea.

Sweekruti is the de facto leader of the class. She’s always willing to help whenever it’s needed and not afraid to challenge me when I’m wrong. She’s also smart enough to have a battle of wits with me, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Her field trip pictures were not of the exhibits, but things that caught her eye along the way, including a nice group picture!

YanYan is Ms. Reliable. When she takes on a task, I don’t have to worry because I know it’ll be done, and done correctly! Her hard work is evident in her blog. Each entry is well thought out and reflects her learning. The photography is pretty good too!

Nethan is the most experienced and talented artist in our class. Check out his entry for our culminating project with some toy photography! Fantastic work. Now if he’d only submit his work on time! If there’s one thing that I learned in this class is that sometimes, you just can’t rush creativity.

Our project for the Student Services office

Our project for the Student Services office

Thank you present for doing head shots for the school play, Don Quixote

A thank you present from the drama teacher for taking head shots for the school play, Don Quixote


Our culminating project, "Relationships" photography show

Our culminating project, “Relationships” photography show

Teachers have birth days

I’m a birthday Grinch.

When students come in and tell me it’s someone’s (or their own) birthday, my response is usually: “You only have one birthday. All the other ones are just the anniversaries, marking a trip around the Sun, which 7 Billion people are doing every day.”

Groans. Eyes roll. Students get so bummed out that they probably tune out my point about celebrating one person on your birth day: Your mom, who did most of the work that day. (I was in the delivery room when my wife gave birth to our son. I’m still speechless)

Our Tech-Arts department has a tradition of celebrating department members’ birthdays. There’s going to be a cake, a card, and maybe even a song! I always feel weird when others celebrate my birthday, especially the song. What are you supposed to do? Sing along? Stand still? Smile like an idiot? All of the above?

I think it is nice that people want to celebrate something in my life, even though it usually reminds me of the day when I contributed nothing. At some level, I probably wish that my hard work in class should be the thing that is celebrated. But as twitter has taught me, many other teachers around the world are doing amazing things, everyday!

Like traveling around the Sun.

Teachers hate November

Yes, it’s been awhile. Keeping up with blogging is tough!

There are so many factors that cause teachers to get the “November Blues” (Thanks to Brad Marsh for the term!) Here are some observations:

  • The energy of a new school year is waning for teachers
  • Teachers’ candy & chocolate supply dwindles in November
  • The days are getting shorter
  • The weather is getting cold, so teachers stay indoors longer, get less exercise
  • There are no holidays (ie; long weekends) for teachers to look forward to
  • There is a mountain of work that teachers have procrastinated on
  • Midterm Report Cards are sent out in November
  • Parent Interviews are usually in November

This is why Teachers hate November.

Now go back, read it again and replace the word Teachers with Students.

Seriously, Teaching?

Through the magic of Twitter, I’ve read numerous posts and watched many videos about teaching. Almost all of them were serious. Others added humour and it enhanced interest for the audience, but the subject itself was still serious. Who can blame them? Teaching and learning is a serious matter.

I want to take a light-hearted look at a serious profession. One that builds the future, creates societies, yada yada yada… because teachers are people too.

So don’t take this too seriously, I try not to.