Monday, June 25, 2012

You reap what you sow

A story from New York State has dominated the news lately: a bus monitor was taunted to the point of tears by some young teenagers, who taped the bullying and posted the video. A Canadian viewer was so appalled that he created a campaign to donate money for the woman to go on vacation. One version of the story can be found here. Funds donated have grown exponentially. An interesting follow-up to this story: the four 13-year-old boys that actively participated in the verbal assault are now themselves targets of death threats and have to have police protection. I neither watched the original video (because I knew that the scene would upset me too much), nor do I condone sending death threats to the perpetrators, but it seems the old adage applies: you reap what you sow.

The next three stories will be deliberately "vagueified" to protect the identities of those involved, but the end message is the same as the above extreme example.

At an elementary school with which I am familiar, a particularly troublesome student was not allowed to play a key role in the end-of-the-year talent show because his/her behaviour did not merit this sort of reward. From what I understand, this pre-teen has been rather disrespectful, and unjustifiably so, to his/her peers and teachers. None of the consequences given for the child's actions prior to this seemed to make a dent or difference in his/her conduct, but this denied privilege may have an impact. You reap what you sow.

This is the season for graduation celebrations. At another elementary school I know, they had their graduation ceremony last week at a banquet hall, and afterwards, there was a dinner and dance. To keep the students from becoming bored or restless before the dancing began, there was a post-dinner activity with prizes to be won: each table had to choose a favourite or memorable moment from the school year and act it out for everyone present, with the table of teachers determining the winning group. When it came time for the presentations, three out of the four tables performed scenes in which they recounted how a particular teacher interacted with them. For the majority of the adult viewers, it was a very clear message. It was reported that the teacher in question did not interpret the performances in the same way that the rest of the table did, unless the teacher's external reaction covered up the actual reaction.If true, that would be a shame because it could have been a valuable lesson learned. You reap what you sow.

And finally, a personal recount. I noticed on Saturday that Dolly, my daughter's pet bunny, was running low on food, so I went into her cage to fill it up and Dolly scratched and bit me! I read online later that rabbits can be very territorial about their cage and it is best to refill bowls when they are outside their cage getting their exercise, but I was pretty mad at her for a while and don't plan on giving her extra treats if I can help it. You reap what you sow - oh wait, I think the more appropriate saying for this incident is "don't bite the hand that feeds you".

Monday, June 18, 2012

Teaching Dynasties

It was several months after the arrival of our new principal that I realized that his name matched the plaque on the wall of our school commemorating its opening. My current principal's father was the superintendent at the time our school began, which made my principal's appointment to our specific location extra special for his father (so happy belated Father's Day to him and all other fathers and father-figures!).

It made me realize how many families I know for which education is the family profession. I know of many husband-and-wife combination in which both are teachers, but I also know of many others in which both parents are teachers and siblings are in the education field as well. I was going to type that I wasn't a part of a long line of teachers, but then I realized that both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are teachers.

What are the pros and cons of having teaching as the family business? As far as I know, this has never been studied and all my points are unscientifically generated from my biased imagination.

Good Things
  • family can understand what you are going through (e.g. report card writing, concerts, etc.)
  • contacts can help you get your foot in the door for a job (networking)
  • relatives can share resources and tips
Bad Things
  • family might not consider/value other job options
  • contacts can help you get your foot in the door for a job (nepotism)
  • individuals may have a sense of entitlement
I'm sure I'm missing several points. I shared my list with my husband, who commented that dynasties of any sort aren't healthy, be they political or educational. Is there a dynasty-in-the-making at my house? I don't know what my own children wish to be. Actually, let me correct that statement. I just asked my daughter, who said she wasn't sure but was leaning toward becoming an author. My son told my husband the other day he wants to be either a video game designer or a comic book writer. Did I mention that their father is a writer? I guess it's only natural for children to emulate their parents (at least when they aren't making choices diametrically opposed to their parents). 

Oh, and even though this has NOTHING to do with today's topic, as promised, here is a shot of my version of Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games. File this under "the crazy things some teachers will do".

Monday, June 11, 2012


My school library is used for many more purposes than merely a quiet place to read or research. I consider it a Learning Commons in progress. Because of the size and the supervision (big for the former, available long after hours for the latter), it's a popular place for students to practice their routines for our school's annual So You Think You Can Dance celebration.

SYTYCD is a bit deal at AMPS. The junior-intermediate classes all require their students to create and perform a group dance as part of their curriculum. The best two dance teams from each class are invited to share in front of the whole school at a half-day assembly. Three staff members take on roles as famous celebrities from various talent / TV shows and provide commentary after each act. Last year, we had Jennifer Lopez, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Sue Sylvester as guest "judges". It's improvisation at its best and most challenging, because all comments must be rated G and be positive. (For the record, I was Sue Sylvester for two years and Simon Cowell for the previous two years. This year, because I am the junior/intermediate chairperson, I will be taking the much more sombre role of MC.) Students coordinate their outfits, use elaborate props like confetti cannons ... it's a huge extravaganza. Everyone really enjoys the show.

I was watching the students rehearse in the library out of the corner of my eye while I marked work and I noticed something very interesting. A dedicated group of Grade Eight girls and boys were practicing their dance. They played their song on their iPhones and danced. Then they had a small group perform a specific section of the dance that they were concerned about and they videotaped the portion on their iPhones so they could all watch it and see if they were synchronized properly. To make their performance unique, they decide to add a modified voice file to a part of the act, so they recorded their lines on their iPhones and then they changed their voices to sound like chipmunks on their iPhones to add in later at home. Then they called home on their iPhones to tell their parents they were on their way. See the trend? Now, I'm not sure that these were all iPhones, but they were all portable electronic devices with multiple purposes - kind of like a school library / Learning Commons, n'est-ce pas? Despite the much ballyhooed news that TDSB was allowing cell phones in schools, (the famous / infamous Bring Your Own Device move) there are still a lot of restrictions surrounding their use. In the school library, they are allowed to turn them on and use the school wi-fi *IF* they are working on school-related tasks first (because let's be serious, we know adults that use school computers to check their Facebook and Twitter, so as long as the students have done their work, why deny a quick email check?) I was really impressed with how they were fluidly using their tools for school. It would be really neat to move beyond dance class to see how this would work in a math class, or language class. It'll be another great show this Wednesday.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sex and the Twilight Saga

I've been composing today's post in my head for several days, judging my words carefully. This is not a post about Bill 13, the "Accepting Schools Act", legislation debated by the Ontario provincial government regarding anti-bullying measures including section 303.1(1)d which specifically mentions "activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name". This bill is very controversial. I myself am quite torn on the issue - am I allowed to say I support both sides?

The main reason I mention Bill 13 in my preamble is to demonstrate how sensitive certain issues are, especially ones dealing with human sexuality. It is around this time of year (the late spring / early summer) that most teachers I know choose to teach their "sex ed" units; I suspect because it's one of their least favourite subjects to teach. It can be awkward, the students can get silly, and educators become concerned about what kind of information is too much, too little, or just right to provide.

I have a very librarian-y solution that I happened to stumble upon: the use of fiction.

My daughter is currently in grade 6. She is a voracious and proficient reader but we still enjoy having bedtime reading time. We've done the entire Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy, and right now we are reading Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the Twilight saga. Long-time readers of this blog from the time when it was hosted on the Library Network Group site will remember that I'm a pretty big Twilight fan. This is my seventh time reading the books from cover to cover, but the first time as a read-aloud with my girl. It's been a different experience. My dear friend Wendee and I talked about this and she hypothesized that because many of the books consist of Bella's internal thoughts, having them said aloud makes them sound excessively dramatic in some sections and overly fawning in other parts. I think she has a point. My own private dialogues in my head can veer to hyperbole (e.g. "my husband is the most perfect person on this planet and I just don't deserve to be with someone this intelligent / kind / good-looking / fill-in-the-blank").

Because I'm a fan and the movies are so ubiquitous, my daughter knew about the basic plot long before she read the books. She knew that Edward and Bella get married and have a baby in the last book of the series. (The author, Stephenie Meyer, is a Mormon and I think this impacts how she writes - the scenes of intimacy aren't graphic at all, even the honeymoon section.) The great thing about reading this book together is the conversation we have after reading a chapter or two at night. I won't go into too many details because I want to respect the privacy and sanctity of our discussions - how would you feel if your mother blogged about a "birds and the bees" talk she had with you? The nice thing is that our chats aren't just about the "birds and the bees"; they can touch on all sorts of different aspects, from the mechanical to the emotional and ethical. Because we are talking about fictional characters, we can get into detail without the "ick" factor kicking in - the only question that ever veered into the personal was when my girl asked about my emotions on my wedding day. It's a super opportunity to share our family's values regarding certain subjects but also expose her to different points of view. Literature can bring us understanding to situations beyond us, like Finnick's horrible abuse by the Capitol in Suzanne Collins' series, in ways that make us care more than by reading a non-fiction text on consent and coersion. Focusing on the story grounds us and leads to more choices for discussion.

This post is long enough, so I won't go into the interesting but lengthy anecdote about a Grade 6 teacher reading Veronica Roth's Divergent to her students. (Maybe I can return to it if I run out of topics for the blog during the summer.) The long and short of it is that Breaking Dawn has provided a wonderful opportunity for me to talk with my daughter about sensitive issues; thanks Stephenie!