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…

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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:

Lineage

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.

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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”.

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!

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.