Tag Archives: teaching

Change is the Worst

The other day I was listening to a podcast. There I said it. I am a podcast listener. It was the latest episode of Revisionist History and they were discussing The Paradox of Theseus Ship. The gist of it is that if a ship is changed gradually over time wherein planks are replaced one by one, is it still the same ship as when it was first built?

As always, I enjoyed the episode (it’s a good podcast, and it’s hosted by a Canadian, give it a listen) and it helped pass the time as I cleaned the toilets, put clothes away and packed lunches. It made me think, but only for a few moments and then I moved on to bedtime routines and planning for the week ahead.

A day or two passed in a blur and then we had a staff meeting. As a rule, teaching is all about change. We get a new start with a new class every fall. Teaching assignments are rearranged, rooms switched, staff try new things. So I was completely prepared to receive news that some of our staff would be moving on to new schools and new roles. We had already seen some gradual changes this year which were grieved, processed, then celebrated for our friends. But this round of staffing threw me (and many fellow educators) for a loop. Our leader, who has inspired, supported, encouraged, and guided us for over four years, was the one moving. THIS IS NOT THE CHANGE I WAS PREPARED FOR.

The morning was rife with emotions of shock, sadness, joy (current staff would be taking on the leadership roles – yay!) and back to mourning. Then I decided to put all my big feelings into a box and tuck it on a shelf to be opened later when I could process it all. This spring has brought about many staffing changes and I was losing some of my best work friends, teammates, and partners (yes, Bearded Husband is moving on to an exciting new role, too).

It is hard to be the ones left, no matter how good the motivation or opportunity being embraced.

During the quiet of my drive home I heard a whisper “the ship is changing gradually, piece by piece, but it’s still the same ship.” Sorry, could you repeat that? When did I start hearing voices? And such profound ones? Epiphanies can strike anywhere, any time.

You see, when discussing Theseus’ Ship, some argue that if the planks being removed are replaced with planks of equal structure and integrity, it is the same ship. The fundamental identity of the ship remains the same. I would say the ship is better for the change because it remains strong and voyage-ready.

I mourn the gaping hole that these people leave in the wake of their job change. I cry because I will miss seeing them daily, they are my friends. But they are leaving well. They are excited, but grieving, too. They are strong and steady and valued and they are off to replace the planks of other ships.

We get to welcome and create a space for the new planks on our ship. And we will be stronger and better for it. I know this because this change isn’t new. Our ship has undergone this change multiple times. And it was scary and sad and full of tears every time. Yet here we are. Steady, strong, and valued.

It’s time to open that box and let those feelings out. It’s going to be okay.

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Me, on the last day of school

 

 


Kindergarten in Review

It has been my privilege to spend another school year in kindergarten. Teaching, that is. As our staff wraps up another busy year we are gathering reflections, quotes, and other magical moments that have made these past nine months memorable. I was digging through old tweets and posts and was struck by the ridiculous, hilarious and disgusting things that happen on any given day in kindergarten.

Obviously, I had to share.

Kindergarten Convos

Kindie: “Is this ‘O Canada’?”
Me: “No, Elton John.”

Me: “Did you flush?”
Kindie: “No, you gotta see it.”

Kindie: “My letter jar is at home.”
Me: “Oh, will you fill it with your mom and bring it back?”
Kindie: “No, she won’t fit inside.”

Me: “Friends, we don’t put play-doh in our ear.”
Kindie: “It’s not play-doh, it’s paper.”

Me: “I like your shirt – do you know where you bought it?”
Kindie: “Where?”
Me: “I’m asking you.”
Kindie: “Yup.”

Kindie: “Guess what!”
Me: “What?”
Kindie: “Sometimes my dad takes his phone with him into the bathroom.”

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“J is for Happy Pumpkin!”

In the computer lab…
Me: “Would you like to go to starfall or tvokids?”
Kindie: “Batman.”

Me: “Stop pushing.”
Kindie: “You look beautiful.”
Me: “Carry on.”

Kindie: “Why is he wearing lipstick?”
Teacher: “He’s not, he licked the metal window ledge. It’s blood.”

Me: “What do you notice about the parachute?”
Kindie:”My headband is purple.”

Me: “I smell something pretty stinky in here.”
Kindie: “Maybe someone was smoking.”

Me: “No one is more important just because they get to the library first.”
Kindie: “Except Jesus.”
Me: “Alright. Except Jesus.”

Kindie: “My back has these sharp things.”
Me: “Yes, that’s your spine.”

Kindie: “It smells good in here.”
Me: “It must be me.”
Kindie: “No.”

Me: “Did you just eat a really red snack?”
Kindie: “No.”
Me: “Did you get some new red lipstick?”
(pause)
(longer pause)
Kindie: “Yes.”

Kindie: “We made a pretend TV at the blocks and she keeps turning it off!”
Me: “Couldn’t you just pretend it’s still on?”

Me: “Why do you think there is a Skyjack at school today?”
Kindie: “We don’t hit… or kick.”

Kindie: “He spit at me”
Me: “What happened right before that?”
Kindie: “I came and told you about it.”
(Lesson on sequencing of events followed)

Me (during story): “What do you think Rabbit is planning?”
Kindie: “My toes keep growing bigger.”

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“It’s a snail family!”

Me: “Friends, what special day is Sunday?”
Kindie 1: “Swimming lessons!”
Kindie 2: “No school!”
Kindie 3: “Church!”
Kindie 4: “Thanksmothers Day!”

Teacher: “What rhymes with cat?”
Kindie: “I know! Shat!”

(Recruited the help of a classmate to help communicate with a new kindie)
Me: “How do you say ‘cow’ in Arabic?”
Student: “Cow in Arabic.”

(During a lesson on Canadian coins)
Me: “Who is that person whose face is on every coin?”
Kindie: “Jesus.”

 

Life Lessons From The Young

“Sometimes I miss my mom but then I just suck it up. Like a buttercup.”

“If you get flushed down a toilet you won’t come out.”

“I took ten dollars from my brother, but it’s okay because I said ‘April Fools!'”

“Maybe those tadpoles are just sleeping…or having a Code Red.”

“Yeah, God wears underwear.”

“You can live without a head, my dad said so.”

“I eat Ontarios for breakfast.”

Yes, I Said That

“You’re either are an elf OR Rudolph, but not both. Make a choice.”

“Put your book in your backpack, then I’ll watch you whip and nae nae.”

You’re still the line leader even if you don’t say it ten times.”

“We glue paper, not friends.”

“We don’t use the salad tongs on our friend’s eyeball.”

“There’s no teeth involved in kissing.”

“Maybe you could have warned me you had licked your necklace before you asked for help putting it on.”

How about next time you let that fart cloud dissipate a bit before calling me over for help?”

“Whose kitten and hamburger picture is this?”

“Putting marbles on your eyeballs is not a learning centre.”

“Help tidy up, it’s what dead Fishy would want.”

________

Is Kindergarten the most magical place on earth? Possibly. It has its ups and downs and can leave you exhausted. But only in kindergarten will a five-year-old slide you a note and tell you it says “I am leaving early today for a meeting with my investors.”

 

 

 

 


Everyone Matters

The school my husband and I teach at has an unofficial motto, “Everyone Matters”. We encounter situations and behaviours daily that can challenge this credo. Recently, Bearded Husband wrote a journal entry for a course he is taking. He was asked to respond to his quote:

“Creating a non-threatening environment in which students are emotionally and physically safe has a significant impact on student learning and achievement.” Marzano (2003)

I’m proud to teach with this man and to have his words shared here. Thank you to my fellow teachers for the dedication you bring to your job, even when it’s tiring, even when you want to give up. You matter.

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It can be a tough process in life. We all have a basic need for it. Identity issues or a negative sense of self can arise if we don’t have a deep sense of it. Without it, we don’t function as we were meant to – we fall apart; we ache; we hurt others.

A sense of belonging.

If one lacks a feeling of belonging, it can negatively influence who we are, how we act, how we treat others. As educators, we are called to ensure that students in our care feel safe, secure, and valued. That they belong. We want students to have the courage to be authentic and put themselves out there. To feel like they’re allowed to be imperfect, that they don’t always need to be right. To realize that it’s okay to struggle, to feel imperfect. That’s important. We foster that attitude through our actions, words and beliefs.

Teachers matter to student achievement more than any other aspect of schooling. Us. We matter. Our knowledge, our skill, our leadership, our commitment to students. We develop students’ potential to become contributing citizens of our society by modelling care, trust, respect, and integrity. We are called to ensure our learning communities are safe. We want students to see themselves as an important part of a diverse community of learners where differences are valued – where it’s okay to display our strengths and needs. We all want to feel included. To belong.

Coming to this realization has made me a better teacher. It’s a tall task to meet a child’s basic needs. I encounter children daily who may not feel safe for several reasons: they are bogged down with problems related to financial distress, family dysfunction, health and well-being concerns, and neglect. I’m proud to say I’m part of a school team that does our best to alleviate these worries by providing programs beyond the call of duty. Attendance is a real issue for some. But we know that students are less likely to miss school if they feel safe. A big part of that is up to me.

Through reflection and dialogue with colleagues I continually refine my teaching practice. I try to be sensitive to the factors that influence student learning. As a teacher, I do my best to provide a non-threatening environment to relieve students’ anxiety and tension. I encourage students to take risks, to speak their ideas, to feel like they belong and are valued.  I foster this through my actions and words – by modelling it. We engage regularly in class meetings, we set fair but firm expectations together. We seek ways to put others first by volunteering our time and effort. But ultimately, it’s up to me to set the tone. So I establish high expectations and insist they be met. I treat students equitably and with respect. I take time to establish a sense of trust. I ask students to focus on what we can do for others rather than on what we can “get” from doing something. I find effective resources to plan for and respond to the needs of individual students and learning communities. I provide whatever accommodations necessary to enable them to succeed. I do these things because I want my students to grow and learn and achieve more. I want them to have a chance to succeed in life. So I do what I can to create a sense of belonging.

We’re all in our own little communities with people who aren’t the same. Being different needs to be seen as a good thing. We all have strengths and needs different from each other. Everyone matters.

We are all worthy of belonging.

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Sparkly Mittens

“My hands are cold,” my young friend informed me. This little student had not dressed for the cold snap we were experiencing and her hands were raw and stiff from the freezing temperatures. The mittens she had been wearing were thin and soaked through from playing in the snow.

After double-checking for spare mittens in her backpack and the bin in the hall where extras are stored, we headed to my stash. Friends had kindly donated new hats and mittens for our school community. There was one pair of mittens left after winter had depleted my supplies.

“Well, look at that!” I told her, “purple mittens that are just your size and they even match your boots. Will you wear these if I give them to you?” She quietly nodded and her eyes lit up.

“I don’t have sparkly mitts,” she told me. She watched as I unhooked the pair and then began to snip off the tags. “Why are you doing that? Why do they have those?” she asked.

“These are brand new so I need to take the tags off from the store.”

Again, those big brown eyes looked up at me and she said with surprise, “Why would you have mittens for me?”

Why do we have mittens? For the same reasons we have extra snow pants, boots, shoes, jackets, and underwear. We have them because we know that life is not always easy or fair or simple. Finances are tight, families are stressed, jobs are hard to find. Sometimes grown-ups are dealing with their own messes and challenges. They are trying their best, but even the small things in life are too much some days.

Why do we have mittens? The same reasons we have a snack program to make sure hungry kids are fed and ready to learn. Because you should not need to worry about having enough food, enough warm clothes, or boots that do not leak. You are kids.

She is too little to understand the impact her question had on me or the many layers my answer contained.

“I have mittens because I care about my kindergarten friends,” I told her. And with that she shrugged and toddled back outside to play. Ready to be carefree again and play with her classmates. And eat snow, of course, because after all, she’s just a kid. That’s what kids should do.

Why do we have mittens? Because you matter, little friend. Everyone matters. 

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If a Kindie Sees an Ambulance

Inspired by real life events (everyone is fine) and the beloved series of books featuring animals with insatiable and irrational desires for things like donuts, pancakes, and muffins, I decided to try my hand as an author of children’s books. Here’s the working draft of my first manuscript. I might turn it into a play, I haven’t decided yet.

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If a kindergartener sees an ambulance in the school parking lot, they will immediately jump to the most extreme scenario.

Kindie (spotting an amubulance through the classroom window). “Someone is dead.”

Me. No one died.

Second Kindie. Someone is DEAD?!

Me. No one is dead.

Third and Fourth Kindie (as they rush to the window). Who died?

Me. No one is dead. They are here to help a student and give them medicine.

First Kindie: Well, SOME people are dead.

Me. (exasperated look)

First Kindie (whispering, head down). Well, they ARE.

Me (more forcefully). The ambulance is hear because teachers did the right thing and called for help to make sure everyone is okay. It’ll be fine. Oh, look! See? There’s the student sitting up, they’re going to be fine. Firefighters, police, and ambulance drivers are our friends. It’s fine, but if you feel anxious or have some questions we can chat. BUT EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Second Kindie. One time I had to get stitches at the hospital. I was bleeding.

Third Kindie. Is the playdoh open?

Second Kindie. Joey picked his nose. I SAW him.

Fourth Kindie. So, who died?

(Scene)


What Are you Doing?

Ah, teaching kindergarten children. Is it rewarding? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Challenging? At times, yes. Energizing? You betcha. Draining? For sure. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Do you ever wonder what it’s like to work with small children every day? Here you go.

___________________________

Student (to me as I stamp letters with a classmate). What are you doing?

Me (thinking it is pretty obvious). What am I doing?

Student (smiling). What are you doing?

Me. What am I doing?

S. What are you doing?

M. What am I doing?

S (giggling). What are you doing?

M. What is in my hand?

S. What is in your hand?

M. What do you think I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (gesturing directly at the stamps and paper and classmate). What does it look like I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (weeping quietly). Stamping. His. Name. With. This. Stamp. In. My Hand.

S. Hahaha. What are you doing?

M. Go find a centre, honey.

S. Bye.

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Be A Learner

Last summer I was invited to share some thoughts with a  roomful of student teachers. I was nervous, they were nervous, we were all nervous.

————-

Welcome to teaching. This week you begin a year that will transform you. I must confess, I’m a little envious of you.

This is the year you get to try all kinds of new experiences with the security of being partnered with an experienced teacher. There are times you will sink a little bit, but you will not drown, because someone is by your side, encouraging you, making sure you’ll be okay, and a little bit better for the experience. That person is your Associate Teacher.

I’ve had the privilege of being a mentor to more than a dozen teacher candidates during my career. It is exciting, challenging, thought-provoking, and stressful.

Yes – it can be stressful. We wonder who our TECs will be. Will I like them? Will they like me? Will they be a hard worker? Will they cry if I have to give them some critical feedback? What if we aren’t a good match?

You are probably feeling nervous about starting your year, but rest assured, even old veterans like myself, get the jitters, too. We’ve been where you are.

So, how do we establish a positive working relationship?

Here’s a little secret – we are often asked to take a student teacher as a favour, but the fact is, we really enjoy it. Through the process of mentoring a teacher candidate we question our methods, we try new things, we learn through observing and collaborating with you. It’s a win-win.

But there is that relationship piece. And it’s a big piece. So my advice to you is: Be a Learner.

A learner asks questions, even if they might seem obvious. We’d rather have you ask for clarification than to feel uneasy or unsure.

A learner looks for things that need doing. It’s important to observe and watch, but not exclusively. Jump in. Help a student manage their belongings, sit with a group who seems to need help staying on task. Offer to run down to get the extra paper from the supply room. And if in doubt, ask if there is anything you can do.

During my very first practicum, I asked my associate if there was anything I could do to help her get ready for the day. She pointed to 3 stacks of paper and asked if would staple them. I then proceeded to staple each of the 3 piles. When she returned I asked what else I could do and she smiled and told me she had meant for me to collate the three different piles into 3 page double-sided booklets for the class. So, although I did look for things to do, I didn’t ask the obvious question. I did wonder why she had me do such a simple task and also why the booklets were so thick.

Ask the obvious questions.

"Do you drink coffee?" is an excellent question.

“Do you drink coffee?” is an excellent question.

A learner takes risks. This is your chance to try out all kinds of things. While I do recommend discussing it with your associate first, this is the best opportunity to apply new methods, new strategies, new techniques. And the really great thing is that we learn through you as well. We appreciate when you try to maintain the overall tone and classroom culture, part of the excitement of having a TEC is that we get to learn what you learn and see it put into action. I had a student teacher who really wanted to try a new game for gym. Right in the middle of it he turned to me and said, “this is a total bomb.” It was, and we regrouped, and then the next day, it went really well. He took a risk –he was a learner.

You know what else a learner does? They communicate. Let us know how you felt about your teaching, or your interaction with a particular student. If we’ve given you some constructive criticism, when you’re ready, talk about how that might have changed your teaching. I had a TEC who needed some time to process some feedback I’d given her and the following day she told me, “I remembered what you said about non-verbal cues and this morning I did more of that and I felt it went much better. “ She was right, it had. She was a learner.

It’s good to let your associate know some of your goals for the block so that they can give you better feedback. And this may seem insignificant, but communication includes being friendly – a warm hello to your associate and also other staff, emailing or texting if you are going to be absent.

A learner plans. Planning is perhaps most important during this year as you learn more about your teaching style and the curriculum. With time and experience, you will need to formally plan less and less, but it’s good practice for beginning teachers. Planning in advance allows you to ask for resources, to discuss possible glitches with your associate, and to seek feedback or brainstorming ahead of time. Collaboration can only occur when you know where you are heading.

Along with planning is preparation – if you need sand or lego for an upcoming lesson, ask your associate ahead of time where to get those materials. It can save you a lot of last minute stress and the school day is unpredictable, you might not always have those 20 minutes before school to gather up your supplies.

Did I mention “ask”? It bears repeating. If in doubt, ask.

How do you think that lesson went?

What would you do if the smart board did that in the middle of your lesson?

What do you think I could do differently next time?

What does IEP, IPRC, TLPC, ESL, ELL , FDK mean? (teaching has more than it’s share of inside lingo – sometimes we forget, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification)

 Make the most of this year. It will be busy, at times daunting, but it is an up-close glimpse of the amazing world of teaching.

Be a learner.