Virtual Presentations

On my bucket list of things to do as an educator, one of my wishes has been to have students attend a live concert.  However, given the ever-evolving nature of Co-Vid as well as emerging issues of equity, this has been something that has presented a challenge, in addition to not having the same opportunities as a homeroom teacher to organize a field trip.  Fortunately, given these unprecedented times, the accommodations given to still present these experiences to students have also been pivoted from various artistic organizations.  Here are some of the ways students have continued applying their knowledge in new formats:

*the Toronto Symphony Orchestra digitized two concerts that my students enjoyed, The Ultimate Guide to Eating Hallowe’en Candy and Zoophony:  http://www.tso.ca .One of the advantages of virtual concerts is that gives students an opportunity to pause the video and discuss what is happening, and given the nature of so many different types of student learners these days, may present an in-class version of a ‘relaxed performance.’  I even let students bring snacks and lie down in the class to listen to the music if needed.  Many virtual concerts have a fee for digital rights that accompany class resources.

*the BBoyzm dance company: http://www.bboizm.ca recorded presentations and made them available to teachers along with a virtual Q and A with the artist.  Students were able to connect live despite not having the advantage of seeing a live performance with audience interaction, and were able to see a presentation from a group outside of the travel area that may not have been possible in person.  The funds for the presentation were provided by a cultural grant and therefore this free presentation was ideal for a community with various needs.

Naturally, we hope to return to in person presentations soon, however, if you are interested in checking low cost or free presentations for students, here are some other places to check out virtual resources:

-your local library or community/arts centre

-educational locations such as nature preserves, museums and science centres

For students and staff that have had a challenging few years, it is wonderful to see how people react to this technology integration of creativity and education.

the eyes tell our stories

Trigger warning: This post may be triggering to some folx as it discusses the emotional and physical toll happening on our students and our profession. I hope you read on.

A student asked to speak with me the other day. They said things weren’t going so well. They didn’t have to say a word. Their eyes told the story of someone who had been going through a lot lately. They shared and I listened while resisting every urge to cry along with them. How has it come to this I thought? How have so many of life’s weights been placed on a student who deserves to enjoy these years without worry, fear, or doubt?

While they spoke, it became known that these feelings of sadness and dread have been building up for a couple of years already. It struck me a bit odd as this student comes across as one of the most well liked, bright, and optimistic persons. If they were struggling, then how many more have not found the courage to come forward? My mind raced around how best to support them in the moment, but then moved to thoughts of what needs to happen on the macro level of our classrooms.

Despite some training, my mental health first aid kit is still only partially stocked, and unless additional social workers can be added to our school, I fear things will only be getting worse.  If it is happening in one school, then it is probably happening in many others. Notwithstanding the already existing immense work loads placed on centralized caregivers in school boards, it does not appear that supply will meet demand any time soon.

I guess that my best move for this particular person will be to check in with them a little more frequently, contact family to construct a cohesive support plan, and to recommend seeking some help from a social worker if at all possible. I am also going to build in some wins for them throughout the week. These could be a few more affirmations or intentional opportunities to have fun in their day.  Maybe this approach could help in supporting staff as well? Read on.

They didn’t have to say a word. The eyes told a story of someone who has been crying a lot lately. What happened before coming to school? How were they going to make it through another day when the sound of fast paced walks toward their door meant another part of the day, intended to plan and organize, was going to be co-opted again. How can this continue to happen when things are supposed to be safer, better, and back to normaler? Cue the tears. Cue the sadness. Cue the confusion. It’s hard to hide the stress or frustration. With all of that to manage, anger is never far behind. So when someone asks what is causing the tears specifically, the answer is nothing and everything at the same time.

Nothing because there is nothing we can do about what is happening other than mask up, make sure the kleenex box is full, and brave out the current chaos of each day. Everything because the number of issues provide more than enough straws to collapse every camel’s back. Mixed messages, inaction, anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, insane rates of infection, lost preps, fatigue, and having to complete the same system work with less time due to time that has been ‘liberated’ from one’s daily schedule.

Image
via https://twitter.com/MikeJToronto/status/1520175065333219329?s=20&t=NLlivpQQu-yLApHE3_iEUA

I looked into the mirror. My eyes were dull, glassy, and dry. Thankful that another week has passed where I did not have to be out of the classroom. Thankful that I did not have to isolate. Relieved that time outside of school meant a chance to disconnect and recharge.

Although there is no single thing to attribute this current state. It could be because of the daily dread built up from what is happening in schools right now. It has gone far beyond any occasional days when OT jobs went unfilled to a sadly predicatable and unprecedented time in our profession. When was the last time you ever heard of 9 unfilled OTs at one school? Last week comes to mind.

If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the folx caring for this province’s most precious resources are having a tough time and are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion and anxiety. It seems that once again, pontificating politicians have put their heads in the sand when it comes to equipping educators to meet the realities of the day with the resources they need.

Let’s start by having more teachers available to cover the amounts of educators having to take time to quarantine due to illness/exposure to COVID19 or to care for an infected family member in the same home. As we enter the final months of the school year I am not feeling super confident that things will change and that has me worried about my own energy and emotional levels.

Despite every educator’s individual efforts, ‘things ain’t goin’ so good’. No amounts of extra time or out of pocket expenses are going to fix what is happening. We need personal supports for students and staff more than ever not affirmative memos and lipservice from elected/board leaders. Help.

Music Monday and encouraging arts in the classroom

May 2 will be the first Music Monday I will be celebrating live in three years and the first in my new school. Music Monday is an initiative organized by the Coalition for Music Education to promote the importance of music education in schools. You can find information at https://coalitioncanada.ca, and schools are invited to sign up internationally as well.

At the same time on the first Monday in May, schools are encouraged to virtually sing along to a song commissioned by Canadian artists. This is Music Monday’s 30th anniversary, and during the past 10 years I have participated I have sang with the students I.S.S. (Is Someone Singing), co-written by astronaut Chris Hatfield, Music is Our Medicine, and other contributions by a variety of diverse artists. We always encourage students to play along if they are shy about performing using a variety of instruments.

A book that I like to read in connection to this topic is “The Man With the Violin”, by Kathy Stinson. The author based the story on a real experiment where master musician Joshua Bell disguised himself and played for one hour in a subway station to see if passersby would pay attention to classical pieces in a non-concert setting. The beautiful illustrations convey to spirit of the children who were the most moved by the music. My students quickly recognized the importance of not judging a book by its cover and how important it is to have music occurring in everyday life from a young age.

The past few years have taught us the importance of the arts in our entertainment as well as our mental health. This year, I am video recording some of our students of various physical and neurologically divergent needs for a special slideshow on how music can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their background and age. There are many ways to integrate music education into a variety of subjects and I hope that the choirs convey the importance of music on students’ learning and emotional well-being.

always good things on Isabella

Long before becoming an educator, I used to spend my free time checking out cool places around Toronto. My time in the city was usually spent on Yonge Street between Bloor St and Queen St. On other days, I sat in on court cases at Old City Hall or was exploring other neighbourhoods (Queen W, Spadina, Kensington Market) within walking distance to the subway. There are so many good memories from those days. I felt so independent while getting to see a side of the city that my parents and friends from the boroughs did not.

Food, fashion, and music filled most Saturdays – mostly music. It was fun way for a dorky kid from the suburbs to check out the latest, weirdest, and rarest vinyl from around the world while exploring the city. Whether it was blues, punk, jazz, rock, or worldbeat, there was always something new to add to my collection. Such were the joys of a teenager with some disposable income and parents who let him visit the city unaccompanied.

In between the record shops, l managed to discover a number of other cool spots along the way. Some by luck and others via ads on the radio(usually CFNY). For a while, the ads seemed as interesting as the music.*

Hearing those ads made each destination sound cooler than the next, and represented a departure from the boredom that was suburban retail in my corner of the city. The ad copy and the music made a huge impression on me, and there was one place I will never forget because of it. It was located at the corner of Yonge and Isabella. It was The House of Lords Hair Design.

For over 50 years, this legendary address was known for its avant garde hair stylists and punk rock ethos. They catered to clients of all ages and tastes. David Bowie got his hair cut at the House of Lords: that’s right, Ziggy Stardust. My father was also the barber for my first 13 years of haircuts. As such, I was resolved to end the cycle of home barbery and go where the cool people paid other cool people to cut their hair. In hindsight, I need to thank my dad for the motivation to get out there and earn some dollars at an early age and pay for my own before my social life really kicked into gear.

Okay story time is over. The House of Lords closed in 2017, but even after those last locks fell and were swept away, there is still lots good on Isabella. Only a brisk walk eastward now leads us to ETFO HQ.

If you have ever had an opportunity to visit this modern building you would remember it much like that happening salon just down the street from days gone by – a hive of activity. Other than the joys of finding street parking, ETFO headquarters has everything: Advocacy, administration, AQs, and activism are all happening inside of an open and light filled steel and glass structure located at 136 Isabella St. That includes the family of staff who work on our behalf.

I’ll never forget my first visit as a guest speaker for a summertime AQ course. The memories of meeting teachers from across the province who had gathered for the sessions made me feel closer to my colleagues despite our usual geographical differences.

And then COVID-19 hit. Opportunities to visit and learn on Isabella morphed into virtual gatherings for most of the past 2 years, yet the spirit to connect, share, and grow never went away. Now as we emerge from various levels of isolation, it is great to know that there are so many opportunities waiting for us to learn, connect, share, and grow.

Writing that last sentence just gave me a mini-crisis of conscience. What else have we all been doing in the last 2 years but learning, connecting, sharing, and growing? Sheesh!!

Crisis over, I did want to share some resources with you all that would be great opportunities for the constant learner, connecter, sharer, and grower in all of us.

Start by visiting https://www.etfo.ca/resources. Here you’ll find info on Equity, Women in Action, Project Overseas (hopefully returning in 2023), and much more. After you have browsed and bookmarked it is time to click on Upcoming Professional Learning Events, where there is something happening every week in areas of intersectionality, identity, gender sexuality alliance, leadership, communication, collective bargaining, and social justice. But wait there’s more! Would you like to add another AQ to your already impressive OCT transcript?

Did I mention I used to write ad copy? Some habits die hard because ETFO offers AQs too. Having taken several over the years, I must confess that the most relevant and supportive instruction came from ETFO colleagues turned AQ instructors. Check out this year’s course offering via https://etfo-aq.ca/catalogue/. Looking through the catalog shows that the instruction is evolving to meet the needs of educators with courses in Integrated Arts, Inclusion, and Teaching 2SLGBTQ+ students.

With so many to choose from, most educators could take two courses per year and never run out of options over the length of their careers. Luckily, courses are scheduled throughout the year and can be taken remotely to ensure that travel and distance do not become barriers to opportunities. In fact, registration for summer AQs is now open. Hint hint.

There are always good things on Isabella. As teachers, we have a home there; a space to call our own. A place that supports educators and wants to see us succeed by providing the best learning possible. Suddenly, I feel the need to take another course. Any suggestions?

*Maybe that is what contributed to me becoming a DJ, ad copy writer, and newscaster long before ever becoming an educator.

…and in this corner

….weighing in at the size of that giant elephant in each of your classrooms.

Yup, with a sense of timing so impeccably ironic, that it is only achievable by elected officials, we are once again face to face with maskless learners and colleagues.

Oh the freedom!

This all despite numbers related COVID19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths) increasing across the province. Despite a strategic throttling of information from the current government and an ineptly duplicitous media incapable of calling out the “horse hockey” being shovelled at an unwitting public who is either happily oblivious learning how to live with COVID19 or now scrambling to avoid a negative patient outcome for someone in their life who is immuno-compromised.

Another struggle took centre stage the moment the masks were allowed to come off in Ontario. We are once again facing government sanctioned chaos when it comes to public health policy and education in our province and there are signs of  trouble in nearly every public school. #Onted via Twitter reveals numerous schools with growing numbers of COVID19 cases and exposures among their youngest learners. That means more absences (students and staff), more missed learning opportunities, and more uncertainty in schools/homes.

To no one’s surprise who has actually taught in a school over the past 2 years, students, teachers, and support staff  once again find themselves at greater risk of being exposed to COVID19 now that masking has become optional in public schools.*

Thankfully, at the school where I teach, the number of students and staff still choosing to mask up each day remains around 90%. Odd though how that figure corresponds to another public health statistic at 90%. Hint, it rhymes with vaccination rate. Hmm? Yet, that is not the case inside of many other schools and has the potential to be problematic on a number of fronts. I’ve seen this movie before and as I recall, it ain’t a comedy.

The removal of required masking, limited cohorting, mandatory hand sanitizing protocols, and social distancing have not provided me with the peace of mind that the return of such “freedoms” pretends to promise. So what is can a health conscious public educator do while they are now placed on the frontlines of learning to live with germ warfare?

Psst. Running away and hiding are not options.

The safest moves are to continue limiting our own exposure to potential infections by keeping our distance, masking at all times, sanitizing, and limiting our social interactions. Overcoming a global pandemic entering its 6th wave is going to take a little more time. We have gone through so much and have learned an equal amount about ourselves and others.

I can sense that students are still concerned about this too. I have noticed them still sanitizing their hands and trying to maintain their distances with students who have chosen to go maskless in class. Thankfully, I have not observed any social shunning as of yet which makes me hopeful that this will be the case in the general public when ideologies collide as legislated social expectations are gone. It is in this spirit of care and respect that I encourage you all to stay safe and strong as you continue to serve and shine in your classrooms.

* I was going to make a snappy comment about how private schools did not have  to remove their mask mandates while all public schools were ordered to do so, but I could not think of a good way to phrase it without the use of profanity.

learn unlearn relearn teach…

To continue: learn some more, unlearn even more than you did before, teach even better, and then repeat.

I am not sure whether it is possible to enjoy anything more in my professional life than teaching – other than learning. Insert witticism here asking why then are students not jumping out of their seats when they are probably being taught something new everyday? I can see it now if it happened; a level of shock on the faces of teachers at what might be considered too disruptive, but oh the joy. All jesting aside, I believe it is within all of us to express and foster this type of joy in everything we do related to life at school.

Imagine if students bristled with excitement at each opportunity to learn something new rather than some of the blank stares and foreboding filled faces that silently shared that work was the only thing on their minds instead of the profound potential that can occur as new neural pathways are paved? What if that happened at a staff meeting? Maybe I am asking too much for that previous line?

Nevertheless, I still like learning new things – preferably by choice rather than prescribed. Not only does new knowledge strengthen my understandings and scalable skillsets, but being a learner helps me see teaching through a different lens from the seat of a student. For me, this is where the excitement happens along with a healthy dose of discomfort too.

Perhaps teaching and learning are simply sides of the same coin? Maybe it’s solely my intuition as an educator/lead learner taking over because nothing brings me more happiness and relief to finally arrive at another of life’s learning destinations only to realize it was merely a stop to refuel along the way.

What some might perceive as a bumpy ride filled with uncertainty and uncertainty is not a fact I wish to conceal from you. Agreed, it has taken some time to arrive at a reasonable level of comfort with this discomfort.  However, I have also realized that it was in each of those moments when I gained the most in perspective and understanding in my roles in the classroom.

Before that happened though, there were some demons to slay. Finances, fatigue, and giving up a bit of family time on occasion. Once these three things were balanced, I was able to focus on some really important AQ courses that I would highly encourage all teachers to add to their transcripts. My top pick is below.

Spec Ed Pt 1 has to be your goto first AQ.* When I took this course, I was working in a French Immersion school where the IEPs were usually for gifted students. Accommodations were for depth and breadth, but the learning about Growth Plans, ISTs, IEPs, IPRCs etc. was invaluable to support my students in the classroom. Since then, student needs in FI or significantly more complex and the role of SERT which was more geared towards supporting students back into the English stream is now focused on shaping the learning spaces to fit the students where they are within their French Immersion experience.

Spec Ed Pt 1 also came with some excellent classroom strategies that are thankfully still in my toolkit over a decade later. Of course once you have SpEd Pt 1, you might as well complete the set with Pt 2 and your Specialist. Don’t fear being forced into the role of SERT just because you have these qualifications. Think of them as gifts of knowledge for you to support every student that steps into your classroom throughout your career.

I vowed to refuse the job if ever asked to be a SERT fearing I would be placed in a space where I would not be able to survive, and then all of that changed 5 years ago – an offer I could not refuse. Stepping into the unknown discomfort zone that is the SERT role has been nothing short of transformational and invaluable to my practice in and out of the classroom. Working with students, peers, families, and system folx has been extremely rewarding even though pretty much clueless for the better part of my first two years. Thankfully, a mentor teacher and supportive admin were there to help me decode the work.

I guess this brings me back to the title of this post learn unlearn relearn teach.

I knew there was more to learn after my B Ed was completed and I entered the classroom. I unlearned some sticky habits and thoughts about student abilities and behaviour from my own schema and schooling by relearning from the experiences and wisdom of others, and now continue to apply new knowledge to my teaching.

That’s it for now, I have to go unlearn something to make room for more lessons ahead.

Next month look for a companion post about AQs and other cool goings-on at ETFO entitled ‘all good things on Isabella’.

*Did you know that ETFO is offering AQs for Special Education this Summer? Click the link to learn more.

Do you Read ‘Teacher Books’ in Your Spare Time?

Teaching is a career ripe for interesting stories from a variety of viewpoints. There is of course, the humour of working with children who sometimes say and do whatever comes to mind. There is the heartwarming nature of kids who have grown up to credit the influence their educators had on their careers and lives. And inevitably, there is the frustration of a career in a system that is plagued by various public opinion and continuing challenges such as lack of funding, etc. Here are 3 books I enjoy by current and former individuals who have dabbled in education and put their experiences to paper:

A Teacher in the Wild, by Devin Siebold:
Stand up comedian and former Florida teacher Devin Siebold financed a picture book on Kickstarter based on ideas he had about how students react to running into teachers outside of class in a ‘natural setting’ like the mall. His trademark humour from his stand up matches with hilarious illustrations from Izzy B that will make adults and kids smile imagining how the encounters look from each POV.

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny, by Phillip Done:
This memoir combines vignettes on teaching that will have educators nodding and laughing in agreement. I picked up this book at a second hand store and have recommended it to many of my friends. Be prepared to be entertained by essays comparing entering school compared to an airplane, the hazards of using a laminator with ties, and trying to make the perfect Open House presentation.

I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, by Tony Danza:
Yes, “Who’s the Boss” actor Tony Danza did a brief stint teaching high school English (he got a teaching credential before his career took off) as part of a show for A & E. Although one must be cautious of how ‘reality television’ is filmed, the book is an expansion of the reflection of an ‘outsider’ in a system based on Tony Danza’s memory of being a high school student years earlier. The thesis is simple: if more individuals were able to see education from the perspective of the staff, they would see that it is a lot more difficult and that often when we are young we don’t always appreciate what others do for us.

The common thread that all of these books have is that there is a fine line between laughing at experiences that are not easy and being relieved at relating that it may happen to everyone. Whether you read books from teachers for entertainment or reflection, there are many voices to relate to on a variety of school experiences.

Connecting Students with a Local Author

Sometimes teaching even after close to 20 years can yield new literary experiences. A few months ago, I attended a convention and came across the usual spread of artists selling their books. However, I was definitely ‘drawn’ to a short novel series by a teacher who lived about an hour away. Inspired by the popularity of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants in his class, he had written a set of books about two friends who loved pulling ‘mostly’ harmless pranks in their school and neighbours. You can learn more at https://itchygooneybooks.com.

I purchased an autographed copy of the latest and as predicted, they connected with the humour and doodles. At the end we decided to contact the author Mark Gunning by email listed on his website after exploring it. Despite him not being as highly prolific as R.L. Stine or Dav Pilkey, I prepared the students for a reply being slow in coming, if at all. However, I was so pleased to find out that Mr. Gunning offered to answer our questions LIVE via a Google Meet before our spring break.

The students were kept surprised and their only negative comment was that they couldn’t do the meeting in person, but in this age, they are accustomed to adjusting their expectations with technology. Mr. Gunning was able to offer some valuable insight into how to become an author and how to put your own spin on popular ideas. In addition, he was pleased at the activities we were able to create using his series to integrate with other subjects such as Art, Music, and Science.

Local authors often rely on word of mouth to build an audience and in this case, young fans and educators are paramount in assisting with selling books. Here are some suggestions on how to choose someone from your local area:
*check your local library for lists of books and check if there are virtual school visits. Many librarians are still connecting virtually to reach broad audiences and you may be able to coordinate a Q and A with other schools simultaneously.
*connect with the author as a staff member via social media yourself to keep everything safe and control communication. Most authors include a few platforms to follow nowadays.
*check for the books on other formats for accessibility. Some school libraries may have rules on vendor purchasing, and the local library may not always have copies. However, you may be able to get copies of ebooks (in this case, the first book is free in Mark Gunning’s I Told You So series as a Kindle download, which only requires a parent to have an Amazon account).

Mark Gunning said he got the ball rolling on his writing career after another author visited his school. Perhaps a budding author will credit an interest with writing as a career after a meaningful connection to guide them on their literary journey.

if you are not learning…

Fill in the blank.
As an educator there is always something to______________:

  • do
  • feel
  • learn
  • repeat
  • unlearn
  • lean into
  • chase after
  • reflect upon
  • run away from
  • learn more from
  • do better next time
  • experience differently

Each of the above resonate with me as a reflective practioner/teacher and as I look back, my thoughts keep returning to whether I see myself learning alongside my students or not?

It isn’t the first time I’ve tossed this thought around. Believing I was on the verge of an intellectual breakthrough to explain it all, this time I wrote, “If you are not learning, then you are not teaching” in an earlier draft of this post. A rhetorical call to action if you will.

Knowing that there is nothing new under the sun (Proverbs), I wanted to check if this brilliant quote was mine or would it be attributed to someone else unbeknownst to me? Enter American economist Vernon L Smith*. Well it was fun while it lasted, but that did not take away from the quote’s truth in my mind. If I wasn’t learning then I was not teaching. So I asked myself,
“Self?”
“Yes.”
“Are you learning?”
“Yup.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ll get back to you.”

It is within this meditative metacognitive space where I frequently find myself dwelling this year. Maybe it’s because the season we’re enduring makes things seem bleak. Or maybe the extended time indoors during global pandemic allows time to make some sense out of things that exist within and beyond our control. Cue the next quote from Smith.

“I believe that all learning is ultimately a form of self-education. That formal schooling is simply a way of introducing you to how to learn. And I think, at some point in my own education, I realized that the most important thing I was learning was that I was learning to learn. It became a lifelong endeavor.”  Vernon L. Smith

After ruminating on this quote, I started wondering whether the conditions created in my class each day genuinely allowed learning to learn to occur? Was it possible to continue being “the guide on the side”(Garfield Gini-Newman) or did I need to model learning how to learn more for them? Were the resources I was curating and creating providing a rigourous, but not spirit crushing challenge or was I underestimating their abilities as learners? Did my students have time to develop their own curiosities rather than those prescribed in the curriculum, and if so were they inspired and empowered to do so?

I wish there was an absolutely definite yes here, but it is not that simple. At least not yet.

Here’s the tricky part, I think that this is happening in some ways in my classroom, but now find myself with a new challenge to learn how to really know it. Suddenly, I feel that some of the pressure around this has been removed. Maybe the reflection had to happen in order to organize my perspective here? As the lead learner in the classroom there is always more to learn. As the guide on the side, I can always “bend, blend, or break” (David Eagleman)  what we are learning to help students go further than in days before.

Like most classrooms, what worked before is not guaranteed to work again or like it did. This in itself  has been an incredible thing to learn. Perhaps acceptance is a more apt term? How often do teachers find themselves holding on to something that worked in the past, but is not working now yet hoping it will miraculously work again in the future? Teachers need to accept that everything we do is done at the speed of education. Whether a day lags on the tarmac waiting for takeoff or jets off at the speed of sound each can lead us to discover and develop some profoundly creative skills if we approach it as pilots and not as passengers.

One final thought.

Remember earlier when I asked myself “are you learning?” I asked again. This time the reply came back as, “As I learn so will I teach.” Thank you for reading. Feel free to share this post and to leave a comment to continue the conversation.

*There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.

what i could’t learn in teacher’s college

12 months in a faculty of education prepared me for a lot of things, but not everything. How could it? Pedagogy, planning, pragmatism, and patience were all part of a very practical preparation and positive preview of what was to come for me as an educator .

Yet, even with rigorous academic, practicum, and professional development poured into the program, a paucity existed due to the finite amount of time for the program to cover the vast scope and variables that are the job. In defence of faculties, it would take several years to cover them and even then, only partially. Perhaps not being prepared for every eventuality was a good thing for me as a teacher because it allowed me to find solutions that did not have their origins in a textbook, but rather ones which were created for each specific moment and context?

I think that there has to be room included in formation of teaching candidates that focuses on situational problem solving. This is where life experience(s) can help out. As a teacher candidate in my forties, I found it interesting to compare worldviews and perspectives, with colleagues who were half my age. It was the times over coffee and in between lectures where some ageless bonds were formed that continue to this day. I also learned that wisdom was ageless as my younger peers so often shared when it came to our discussions about educators having to teach far beyond the curriculum in order to support their students. By beyond, I mean that we had to navigate how we were going to bring humanity into the classroom too.

Outside of lesson planning, curriculum, philosophy of education, and the Education Act there was a lot to cover. I really appreciated the time spent in equity and special education training where we were given numerous real life situations from the classroom to consider and receive coaching on how to best respond. Some of this was really helpful because I at least had a set of tools, but even then there was room for so much more in the kit.

I especially liked the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays and highly recommend giving it a read as a way of sparking staff conversations around racism and equity or as a supportive guide to deeper personal growth. And then came the day when I realized I needed more than that.

Although the seeds were planted in teacher’s college, they did not break through until I was in the classroom where I had to confront a student using racist slurs.

I can still almost feel the time slow down as the blood rushed through my body when it happened. Did I really just hear a student say that? I am pretty sure that my surprise and disappointment were visceral. This was an eye opener for me because that moment did not come with a lesson. Once again, experience became the teacher. What was surprising in that situation was how emotional it all felt. I struggled to process my own responses.

I know that I learned a lot from that event, but knew that my rosy perceptions of innocent school aged children now included a few storm clouds. Hearing from experienced mentor educators added to my comfort and discomfort level all the while building up confidence in the aftermath. It was here where my own experiences and beliefs were transformed into actionable responses rather than reactions in a moment. #learnbeyondthetextbook

Recent news of teachers experiencing anti-Semitic hate perpetuated by students in elementary/middle schools reminds us all that even though we are prepared for some things, we are not prepared for all, especially when it comes to hatred, assault, bigotry or racism. After events like these, it is crucial to have a trusted person to speak with about them. This could be a mentor teacher or administrator who can help process what happened and debrief with you. They can also be there to support you as you overcome. No educator should go through it by themselves

For teachers looking to find or become a mentor, check out the Mentoree website. After years of waiting, I recently joined myself.

I really believe that there are two key elements that need to accompany a B.Ed degree – mentorship and life experience. The absence of one or both will send new teachers out for many challenging days ahead filled with many tests, but few lessons beforehand. And maybe that’s how it is meant to be. A journey of discovery, cutting your path through new spaces. Solving problems as they happen while gathering the tools, surviving the experiences, and keep trying to move forward.

It is so important that educators, regardless of experience, connect with each other whether formally or informally. The days of teachers needing to feel like siloed lone wolves solving every problem that comes their way or its failure thinking are gone. They may or may not be in your building, but there are caring educators willing to offer support, lend an ear, or give advice when asked. Feel free to reach out anytime.

Possible future blog post content below

Since I recommended getting a copy of Beyond Heroes and Holidays, here seems like a good place to suggest some other important must reads for anti-racist educators;

  1. We Want to Do More than Survive – by Bettina L Love
  2. All our Relations – by Tanya Talaga
  3. The Skin We’re In – by Desmond Cole
  4. Black in School – by Habiba Cooper Diallo
  5. Biased – by Jennifer Eberhardt
  6. Caste – by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. 21 Things  You May Not Know About the Indian Act – by Bob Joseph

Feel free to share some of the texts that have pushed you beyond your comfort zones in the comments below. I am always open for book recommendations.