Teachers walk the picket line

Some thoughts and stories from the picket line:

My favorite part of the day is when I arrive, I try to meet everyone and say hello to each of my colleagues. It was quite wonderful to actually see everyone that worked in the same building at the same time. We’re normally so busy that we only get to do that for 2 days in a school year: The first staff meeting before school starts, and the end of year luncheon on the last day of school.

Time seems to go so slowly when you’re walking on the picket line. It goes to show how crazy a typical school day is. It’s not uncommon to hear these things in school:

  • “What? It’s 3:30 already? I forgot to eat my lunch! Again.”
  • *Bell rings* “Nooooooo! I’m not finished yet!” (You’d hear this in class or during prep)
  • “I haven’t peed since this morning, when I ran in from the parking lot.”

Adversity reveals character, and nowhere is one’s character more visible than on the picket line. There are rule followers, rule benders, and rule breakers amongst us. An overwhelming majority of our staff are wonderful, diligent in fighting the good fight. Others disappoint, but that’s because my standards are probably too high. Teachers, after all, are people too.

Although it’s not as bad as prison, picketing with no end in sight can get you down. I was walking alone a lot at the beginning, many told me to “cheer up!” as they walked by. Some colleagues started walking with me, and we would have nice chats as we walked the picket line. After consoling each other about the strike, I would then ask them a simple question: “How did you get into teaching?”, with a follow up of: “How did you get to Glenforest?”

The answers, as you can imagine, are fascinating (for another post).

The public? During the past 3 weeks, it’s been (mostly) positive. We’ve encountered the occasional “Get back to work!”, or “Lazy teachers! Greedy!”, and my favorite, one hand out the car window, pointing at the sky as they drive by. (I always look up and find nothing of interest. What are they pointing at?)

Of course, NOTHING beats a student visit on the picket line. I’m not ashamed to say that we have the best students at my school!

Have a look at all our visits!

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Teachers are on strike

Heather summed up many teachers’ feelings on Friday.

And this is how we all felt late Sunday night/early Monday morning:

And here we are.

Starting today until the end of the strike, I will head to the picket line, reflecting on what I’m missing everyday…

  • I will miss holding the door for students as I enter the school
  • I will miss watching students hurry inside, to hold the next set of doors open for me
  • I will miss students saying “Hi”, or “Good morning!” and waving to me as I walk through the halls to the office
  • I will miss exchanging head nods in the hallway with the “cool kids”
  • I will miss seeing my mailbox empty in the morning (no “On Call” sheets)
  • I will miss trolling my students
  • I will miss smart pranks played on me by my students
  • I will miss figuring out the pranks
  • I will miss making up silly rules for my class
  • I will miss ranting off topic during lessons
  • I will miss looking for the ringing phone in the middle of a lesson
  • I will miss suppressing laughter when students say inappropriate things
  • I will miss the times when students stay in their seats even when the bell rings because they were concentrating on their work
  • I will miss when students start packing 15 minutes before the bell rings
  • I will miss making students unpack their stuff again until the bell rings
  • I will miss “Have a nice day, sir” as they walk out the classroom
  • I will miss the different time zones and climates in our (almost) 50 year old school
  • I will miss students pretending to put their phones/hats/food away in the hallway
  • I will miss pretending to not see them do it
  • I will miss learning from my students
  • Most of all, I will miss providing the best education possible for my students

But the proposed changes by the government and school boards threaten the working and learning conditions for myself, my colleagues, and my students. That is unacceptable.

And that’s why I’ll be on strike, focused on my goals amid the chaos around me.

Teachers are ….

I don’t know how to finish the title. Weird for a teacher to be speechless, isn’t it?

We (our board/district) are about to go on strike for the first time in over a decade (and the first time in my 11 year career). I have never been more stressed about work than I have in the past week. I can’t sleep. I have no energy. I’m always hunting for any sliver of good news on the internet, sometimes late at night, because I can’t sleep.

After being unfairly treated during the government’s legislation of Bill 115, I was angry. I continue to be angry about the way things unfolded. I thought striking was the only way to show our anger and displeasure. I was actually looking forward to go on strike to let people know how poorly and unfairly we’ve been treated. I was ready to picket & march on the sidewalk, whenever, wherever. Rally at Queen’s Park? No problem. I’ve been angry for so long. It’s time to fight back and go on strike until we get the respect we deserve.

I was wrong. So wrong.

My life isn’t at stake, but I feel like a soldier on the brink of my first battle. I’ve been psyching myself up for months, years even. Now I’m sitting in a truck, getting ready to start this battle and I’m thinking to myself: “No. This is bad. I can’t pull the trigger and shoot someone. None of this is good for anyone.”

I don’t want to go on strike. I want to go to work. I enjoy it, and (I think) I’m good at it. How often have I told students to find something they love to do and be good at it? All the time! Why did I ever think going on strike is a good thing?

Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.

I can only hope that the strike doesn’t happen. Because a fictional movie character once said: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of good things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I will do whatever it takes so that I can continue to love what I do. If we have to strike, so be it. I will be out there. Whenever, wherever.

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.

#AWQ3M

#AWQ3M

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 are learners

This was My First Tweet. It has been five years.

Sadly, it still is so true. Who wouldn’t want a perpetual weekend? I have spent 5 years on twitter (kind of, more on that later) and I have learned so much to the point that I’m a different person than the one that wrote that grammatically incorrect tweet 5 years ago. Just like any new learner, I was doing it wrong at first. My account was locked, and I was only following famous people and my not so famous friends. My only followers were my friends, and when I needed to talk to them, I texted them instead of using twitter. After awhile, I felt that twitter wasn’t all it was hyped up to be. I didn’t care what the celebrities were eating and I definitely didn’t care to see what my friends were eating, unless they were going to bring it to me (they didn’t).

I stopped using twitter for a couple of years after that. Looking back, I didn’t have anyone to teach me, and I couldn’t see the value in it. I locked my account and worried about being followed by students (I was denying any student requests to follow me). I don’t remember what prompted me to start using twitter for school. When I did, I went through the learning process, but I got to learn it with my students. I made mistakes, learned from it, and it has been transformational experience for me. I try to follow(back) students who choose to follow me on twitter, and I have been following my students for 2 years now. I was nervous about doing it at first, and I learned even more lessons along the way. I had to un-follow a few students that were posting things I did not wish to see on my timeline, but it gave me an opportunity to talk to them about it in school. There are many positives to following students, mostly it’s the enhanced connection I have with them. It’s tough to get to know the quiet students in class sometimes, and I was surprised by how different they were online. Students have approached me in the hall to tell me that it’s a good thing that I’m on twitter. They told me it “actually made me look more human”. Well then.

Someone once told me that it’s more important to teach the student first, curriculum second. Somewhere along the way, we forgot about the relationship aspect of teaching and learning. I have noticed a change in the relationship I now have with my students. I know a lot more students at my school, including students that I haven’t taught, and they know me better as well.

The best part of my learning in the past two years was that there are many educators on twitter! I have made new connections and have seen different perspectives about education from all around the world. These teachers also share! It’s great to see that there are so many dedicated and innovative teachers out there. Having these connections has made me a better teacher. There are so many great educators in the twitterverse. I can’t wait to meet more and learn more from them. (This will definitely be another post later)

Here are some anecdotes from my time on twitter:

Students are a great resource, and they tell me what they’re interested in learning about.

I got some positive reinforcement from a student when I had the privilege of introducing our valedictorian this past year.

We don’t give our students enough credit because they appreciate our work. Eventually.

Recently, I had a task that I needed help with. So I asked for help on twitter. The response was awesome. It turned into quite a funny story!

My personal favorite:

I once helped a student who was stuck in her bathroom via twitter.