I came into this room for a reason…

I’m in charge of the display case in the foyer of our school. It’s a central location where we showcase art, themes, important school events and messages for the student body. I love doing it, even though it usually takes me three hours to build a display, usually on a Saturday, and I often end up kneeling on a staple or cutting myself with an exacto knife… and there was one particularly fraught day when I shattered an entire panel of glass…

This week, I felt it was important to show the kids how much we love them, support them and are worried about their experience of the current job action undertaken by the NSTU in the face of the remarkable bullying, lying, hyperbolizing, out-of-context rhetoric of the current government. A government which is hell-bent on painting teachers as greedy, brainless drones. A government who is so out of touch with the realities of …

But I digress…

I approached our staff, asking them to provide quotes reflecting what they love about teaching, what lead them to this career, and why they enjoy working with young people. I also asked them to list their credentials, so the kids could see that we are professionals who didn’t arrive at this place by accident, or as an easy option in a world of career possibilities. Many of our teachers have more than eight years of university education in our back pockets…

I digress… again…

I titled the display “I know I came into this room for a reason…”

As I compiled their words, I was struck over and over again by the depth of dedication and nurturing our teachers deliver daily to over 300 kids in our building.

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On Monday we are embarking on a work-to-rule action which cuts deeply into the flesh of our teacher souls… clubs, sports, concerts, plays, field trips, special events, assemblies… what do you remember about school? Sure, you probably remember the academics, a certain class, maybe even a certain lecture. (I remember that bio teacher Mr. Porter had incredible biceps, and folk dancing in gym class was absolutely mortifying. Tantramar Regional High School, class of ’84)

But it’s the extras that stick in my memory. Choir. Football. Student Council. Winter Carnival.

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As we prepare to face Work To Rule what strikes me the most is the incredibly long list of services we are withdrawing in service to a bigger picture.

I have spoken with teachers in tears this week, mine and theirs.

I have spoken to angry teachers.

I have spoken to teachers questioning “but what about…?” and “can’t we still…?” and “oh my god, my kids are going to be so disappointed…”

I didn’t even realize that so much of what we do is outside of our contract, and I’ve been teaching for a dozen years. Because to me, and to the thousands of teachers in this province, the extra is the norm. Not one teacher in my building has shown relief, or ambivalence, or benign acceptance over what we are facing this December.

We are in crisis.

We are grieving.

But… we are desperately concerned about our ability to continue to deliver quality programming and attention and care of ALL of our children without the equally dedicated support of our government. And at this point, we don’t seem to have it.

Yes… we refer to them as OUR children.

Our kids.

Because… yeah… we love them. We care. We nurture. We fret about their present and their future.

Because that is what this is all about.

“My favourite thing about teaching is the students.  Plain and simple.  I deeply care about their well-being socially, emotionally, mentally and academically.  I want to see them succeed and to support their growth into adulthood.  I try to build positive relationships and strive to bring out the best in each and every person.  To teach independence, facilitate learning, guide, listen, laugh, cry… I love it all because in the end, the kids of the now, are the kids of the future. I want to be part of that.”

I don’t have the answers. I don’t consider myself a political person. My agenda restricts itself to my kids, my classroom, my school.

I am a teacher.

I want to teach.

Myself, and over 9,000 other teachers in the province… because your kids, are our kids. Our current job action reflects our determination to meet their needs, dedication to a profession that is both rewarding and extremely challenging, and a line in the sand which states that the government must do better in their support of education.

I sure hope they’re listening.

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Please click on the link below for more information on the current situation with education in Nova Scotia:

Act For Education

 

 

 

 

Hitting November…

I’ve hit November.

Like almost every teacher I know, I’ve hit the wall which is November… it’s a wall of exhaustion, a wall of over-exertion, a wall of self-doubt, and this year in-particular it is a wall of both solidarity and bemusement. It’s a wall that beckons with the elusive promise of Christmas and the barbed wire challenge of report cards, and while I hit it running, hoping to scale it with grace and determination, it seems to have knocked me off my feet.

Again.

Like it does every year.

I arrive at school at 6:50 am every morning and leave usually around 3:30 pm, (our school runs from 8 am-2 pm) although last week I didn’t get home until almost five every day because of meetings and Art Club and Dinner Theater rehearsals. I’ve spent several Saturday mornings at school, preparing for lessons, marking, plugging marks into the computer. I’ve spent Sunday mornings at school running play rehearsals. We have 30 minutes for lunch, and I usually spend at least 10 minutes with one kid or another who needs one thing or another… and the other 10 minutes moaning with my teacher friend while we inhale whatever carbohydrates we can scavenge at the end of the cafeteria line, about having to pee and needing a coffee and why isn’t there more chocolate? I know that only adds up to 20 minutes, because I do math right good, you. I lose those other minutes trying to figure out where I left my glasses and where is the photocopying I know I did this morning?

I wake up at 5am and do prep, and I do prep after supper, and on the weekends.

What is prep?

Everything.

You know how they say that public speaking is, like, the number one fear for most people, even above fear of heights, clowns and spiders? As a teacher, I do that all day, every day. The public speaking. And honey, you better believe that you gotta plan what you’re gonna say or 25 teenagers are gonna tune out and log in and swipe left and then what you gonna do about the Provincial Exam, or the common assessment, or the survey, or Powerschool, or the angry parent…?

Prep means linking outcomes to action.

It means questing in perpetuity to find engaging methods to excite them… videos, podcasts, stories, images, new materials… and preparing those lessons, editing them, arranging them, delivering them… and make no mistake, these kids aren’t the kids I taught ten years ago. They aren’t the kids I taught five years ago. These aren’t the kids we were, when we were kids. Remember how exciting it was when the teacher rolled in the movie projector because you were going to watch an educational video about plate tectonics?

Yeah.

No.

Teaching nowadays is like comparing the Cirque du Soleil to earthworm races. If there isn’t a trapeze and a flaming hoop somewhere in the lesson plan, forget it!

…all while making sure that the eight kids with adaptations can follow you and the three kids with autism can feel involved and the five kids with behavioral adaptations won’t lose interest and the kids who can’t take notes have what they need and the kids who have auditory processing delays can keep up and the kids who haven’t had breakfast are awake and the kids who might have gotten stoned at recess are hopefully not stoned and the assessment piece is in order and you’ve filled in the forms on Tienet and you’ve planned your CLT meeting and you’ve photocopied your Literacy strategy handouts and you’ve emailed back the parent with the absent kid and you’ve tried to find the ipad charger (and failed) and you’ve pissed off another teacher because you planned an event when they have a test and if Stanley drops the f-bomb one more time in class…

And that’s only for one class.

And then there are the things you can’t prep for.

heavyboots

So far this year I have talked with lovely wonderful adorable kids, all of whom I want to take home and wrap in blankets and feed hot chocolate to… a kid whose mum has cancer, a kid who’s being bullied by older kids, a kid who is terrified of going into debt if she goes to university, a kid whose drug use is crippling, a kid who is trying to come out but is scared and can’t tell her parents, a kid who is hungry every day, a kid with absent parents, a kid with an abusive boyfriend, a kid trying to hide a learning disability, a kid who won’t take off his hoodie because then he might be visible, a kid… and a kid… and a kid…

And I have twenty-three in one class, and my neighbor has twenty-eight, and his neighbor has thirty-four, and her neighbor has thirty-seven…

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I love them all.

Yes. Even the jerks.

“I know what that gesture means, young man. Stop it. Now.”

“You called her a what? Oh dear. Oh no, dear, that’s not a nice word.”

“I don’t care if your boyfriend is an a**hole, you do not need to text him right now.”

I am responsible for them all.

Do we do this job for the money? Of course we do… teachers are human beings with bills and families and responsibilities… but is it only about the money?

It is not.

It is so emphatically NOT about the money… the $500 I spent of my own money last year for classroom supplies… the cakes I buy every time one of my kids has a birthday… the hours and hours my colleagues spend coaching… the tutoring they offer after school… the program planning for individual students… the support and love and kindness offered outside of the classroom… it is NOT about the money.

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It’s about the kids.

That’s why we’re here.

And… they are your kids. They are my kids. They are Nova Scotia’s kids.

I’d like to survive November.

I’d like to have all my reporting, marking, inputting, adapting, accounting for, documenting, meeting, debriefing and analyzing completed so that I can…

Just teach the kids.

We all, just wanna teach the kids.

Now,  where did I put my trapeze…?

PicMonkey Collage

 

 

 

 

Yea or Nay? That is the question

I feel very nervous. I feel like I’ve just passed a note to a friend, right under the teacher’s nose, and I’m gonna get my knuckles rapped. I’m going to get in trouble for daring to speak when it probably isn’t my turn, and I didn’t raise my hand, and I might be wrong, and I know I’ve misspelled something.

Today, I’m kind of nervous because… well… because I’ve written a soliloquy.

In iambic pentameter (mostly).

Syllabically identical to the original.

Yes… I am a rebel.

This week, the teaching world has been abuzz with debate about our upcoming vote for our contract. Many of us feel bullied, many of us feel oppressed, many of us wonder why we’re even bothering to hold a vote when the result seems a forgone conclusion. Many of us feel exactly like other public servants who are facing similar negotiations with the same sense of being bullied, oppressed, and bewildered (What a fun word, negotiations. The implication of mutual satisfaction is so quaint.)

Yet again, it feels like we’re being told we aren’t good enough, we aren’t working hard enough, and we don’t know what we’re doing. Financial issues aside… several of the items that were on the table have been removed, (but maybe they’ll come back if the table is shifted slightly closer to the door and three crows speak the alphabet backwards at dawn and if we vote NAY…) seem to imply that a solution to our educational woes is having teachers and students spend more time at school. Especially teachers. We should, apparently, never leave the building and thank goodness that there’s an app, or ten, to continually link us to our students so we can respond to their queries at 9pm on a Sunday night… because thrusting a device in every wee hand is surely the answer to our literacy and numeracy concerns… never mind our issues with social skills, empathy, bullying, cell phone addiction

I digress.

OBVIOUSLY all we need is a new snow day policy and these problems will get better.

So.

I wrote a soliloquy.

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I recently attended a speaking competition with a group of lovely young women from local schools. One very clever girl spoke eloquently about our addiction to technology. She said (I am paraphrasing here) that if Robert Frost would have had a cell phone he wouldn’t have written The Road Not Taken because he would have been distracted by a quiz on Buzzfeed to determine what his Spirit Animal may be. I love that young woman and want to feed her chocolate and literature and give her a feather quill to write with. She has inspired me to write this soliloquy, because if we have a Shakespeare in our classrooms we may never find him if he’s hiding behind an ipad. We are up in arms about our contract, rightly so, but we have bigger issues throbbing on our doorstep.

I fear we are replacing our children’s natural drive to learn and question and seek answers with the click of a button and an educational standard which allows them to hand in their assignments… whenever they want. We are removing their accountability, responsibility, and sense of accomplishment. We are crippling them for the rigor of University and the demands of the work force. Because, um, we still do expect our students to get jobs eventually, don’t we? Isn’t that still, kinda, like… a thing?

I am nervous in posting this because I am not usually one to stir the pot. I hesitate to offend, and quite frankly, I’m afraid of getting trouble.

But I think we’re already there.

In trouble.

The issues of our contract debate are real and important, but I fear we may be missing a concern that is much more vital. Policies are failing our students, and our contract… yea or nay… will not address that problem. As teachers dress in pink on Tuesday in protest over a disappointing contract, I will choose to wear… red? Maybe blue.

I have a limited wardrobe of protest clothes.

I choose to call Tuesday’s vote our Contract of Blame, because it seems to me that the issues being waved in the air are pointing fingers at the failure of teachers, without questioning the failure of policy. And that deserves some dialogue.

Thank goodness there is Shakespeare, to soothe my jangled soul. Needless to say, these opinions are my own, and I don’t think one can get fired for having opinions…

 

Yea or Nay – That is the Question

A re-imagining of Hamlet’s Quandary

To vote for Yea or Nay – that is the question:

Whether ‘tis preferable to acquiesce

To the slings and arrows of bully tactics,

Or to stand in a sea of uncertainty

And by opposing end them. Vote Nay – or Yea –

Which one? And by voting Nay is to say

We risk the heavy hand of legislation

That denial is heir to. ‘Tis a quandary

Which opposing, shames us. To Yea, to Nay —

To vote — perchance to grieve: ay, there’s the rub,

For in that vote lies fear of what may come.

Our teachers are not schooling’s fatal flaw,

Policy is. And with respect,

We aren’t the calamity of school life.

For we could bear the whips and scorns of those

Who say more time in school is the solution.

Our contract, Yea or Nay, won’t fix what’s wrong.

   ( Students can hand in their work… whenever?

   Students can attend their classes… or not?

   An ipad in every hand… are you kidding me? )

What insolence to suggest: the real

Issues might merit some investigation.

Ask us what we really want? Let. Us. TEACH.

Kids need consequence. Somehow we must bear

Poor policies that thwart our weary lives.

To grunt and sweat under a mantle of

Impotent political correctness,

The undiscovered reasoning: from whose brain

Did these policies spring? It puzzles the will,

And makes us look like failures when we have

No recourse to encourage kids to learn.

Thus policy does make monkeys of us all,

And thus the native eagerness of children

Is sicklied o’er with excuses galore,

And learning of great meaning and import is

Negated by a contract of blame: no more snow days,

That’ll fix what’s wrong… but there’s an app for that…

— Soft you now,

O fair pedagogy – It’s those damn teachers,

And I fear we are outnumbered…

PicMonkey Collage

 

 

 

 

 

The apocalypse is nigh…

About three weeks ago, I put up a tent in my classroom.

Not to hide in, although the thought was tempting. And not to zip wayward teens into to prevent them from running with scissors, another major temptation. No, this tent was my attempt to bring the Apocalypse into my students’ lives.

Why, you may ask?

Desperation, man. Sheer desperation.

The Apocalypse Tent is a result of facing an apocalypse in my career over a year ago. I called it a “pedagocalypse” this week when I presented my ideas to a group of fellow pedagogues as part of the NSTU Provincial Conference Day. My pedagocalypse infected me in the form of unengaged students… kid who would rather read text messages than novels, kids who would rather tell me they “have a life” than do homework, kids who would rather fail than complete the most basic of assignments.

Teaching isn’t easy. Snow days notwithstanding, it’s a stressful, soul-wrenching, all-consuming career and we wear our students like Hannibal Lecter wore Clarisse… wait, did he make those gross skin suits, or was it that other guy? I watched that movie through laced fingers. I have no idea what I’m talking about. Just… teaching is hard. Trust me.

The idea behind the Apocalypse Tent is to plonk my students into the setting of the novels I hope they read. This year, I have put aside my old trusted friends … The Crucible, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Kite Runner… in favor of Apocalyptic Fiction such as The Age of Miracles, Station Eleven and Hugh Howey’s Wool.

Why?

Because of the Walking Dead, man.

And World War Z, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games and even Wall-E.

Don’t get me going about Wall-E. It gets ugly.

Apocalyptic fiction is everywhere, disturbing and dark as it is, but if that’s what’s flickering under their covers at night then I want to be the flashlight to illuminate it with them. We teach tough content all the time in the English classroom. Try to tell me Hamlet isn’t heavy. Go ahead. Have you read The Kite Runner? What about Speak? As English teachers we have the privilege and the challenge of deconstructing tough content for our students with every novel we teach, and the End of the World is no different.

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The Apocalypse Tent

The Apocalypse Tent is installation art that models a Survival Encampment from the Apocalypse. There’s a map showing the invasion, there’s a dissected zombie hand, there’s a journal of The Book of Days, there’s a communication device, there’s a dead zombie girl… most of the artefacts in the tent are taken directly from the novels the kids are reading. We did some theatrical activities, we did some monologues, we pondered the meaning of Authority and Obligation and Dependence.

Did it go over well?

Meh.

The custodians seemed miffed.

My darling Liam, from Art Club, insisted on adding a pee-jar with the rationale that since the world was crawling with zombies, no one would dare to go pee outside. A practical lad.

My English students were, for the most part… uncomfortable. It seems they want to enter a class, sit in a desk and be told what to do. I can do that. Read this story, answer these questions, find these definitions, and you learn… what exactly?

Squat on the floor of a hot smelly tent with zombie sounds emanating from beneath the flaps and write a monologue telling me what your character is feeling. Use quotes from the novel. Wear a costume. Make it real.

I dunno.

I, obviously, don’t have a life…

But I took this tent, and these ideas, and my incredible nervous terror to the ATENS Conference on Friday and I presented to lovely teachers who smiled and nodded when I spoke of my fears for my career, and my fears for the literacy of our kids, and my fears for getting it right in the face of a twenty year old curriculum and all these shiny new “Millenial” children.

Presenting for the Association of English Teachers of Nova Scotia

Presenting for the Association of English Teachers of Nova Scotia

I used a puppet. Apocalypse Annie. I like her a lot.

It’s super cool to be able to hide behind a mask and speak in a really lousy south shore Nova Scotia British accent with a hint of Pakistani that slides around from one nationality to the next while a crowd of people sit on the floor and laugh. It was great!

I am trying to get over my Pedagocalypse… I have twelve more years to go, people. I can’t throw in the towel just yet, so I’ve decided to throw in the zombies instead. Just to see what happens.

I am asking my students to consider three main Essential Questions with their novels:

  1. When is it acceptable, even essential, to question Authority?
  2. What are your social obligations, especially in times of extreme unrest?
  3. What are the consequences of dependence?

I ask myself these questions as well. Am I the authority in my classroom, when they can google any question, anytime, and get a response before I can even find my glasses to read what they are waving at me on their tiny, tiny phones? I lose my glasses ten times a day. Their phones seem to rule their universe. Authority has changed, respect has changed, kids have changed. I have to change along with them.

I have a social obligation to meet my students where they are, and work from their interests to build literacy. Where are you, kids of 2015? I am asking, I am searching… maybe I’ll have to google the answer.

And I have to let go of my dependence on my traditional ways of teaching that included such classics as the “Chapter Questions” and the “Vocabulary Building Activity”. Sigh. I will miss you, Vocab friend, perhaps we will meet again…in Teacher Hell, where the lunch bell is always late and the photocopier is always broken and there are always ten less pairs of scissors than kids…

I’ve taken the Tent down now… apparently it was a fire hazard… but the lessons continue. The uncomfortableness of being asked to participate, and to think, will continue. But maybe, if the Apocalypse does come, my students will understand the zombie’s point of view, and their motivation, and their Essential Questions…

Or at least they can google the answers.

On their tiny phones.

While me and Annie (Annie and I, duh) hide in the tent.

PicMonkey Collage