E is for Equity (part 1)

I’m a new teacher.

I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.

If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!

A – Alma and How She Got Her Name

By: Juana Martinez-Neal 

B – Black is a Rainbow Colour

By: Angela Joy

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

C -Bilal Cooks Daal

By: Aisha Saeed

Illustrated by: Anoosha Syed

D – Don’t Touch My Hair

By: Sharee Miller

E – Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

By: Joanna Ho

Illustrated by: Dung Ho

F – Forty-Seven Strings: Tessa’s Special Code

By: Becky Carey

Illustrated by: Bonnie Leick

G – The Gift of Ramadan

By: Rabiah York Lumbard

Illustrated by: Laura K. Horton

H – Hair Love

By: Matthew A. Cherry

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison

I – I am Enough

By: Grace Byers

Illustrated by: Keturah A. Bobo

J – Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

By: Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez

K -Suki’s Kimono

By: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Stéphane Jorisch

L – Love Makes a Family

By: Sophie Beer

M – My Heart Fills with Happiness

By: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

#16Days

November 25-December 10 is internationally known as the 16 days of activism to stand against and commit to ending gender-based violence. Black women and girls, FNMI women and girls, racialized women and girls, women and girls with disabilities and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are at high risk of gender-based violence. November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and December 10 is World Human Rights Day. Let’s amplify the voices of those who are subject to gender-based violence, listen, learn, and demand safety, inclusion and acceptance for all. Let’s begin these conversations in our classrooms. ETFO has provided some ideas here about how to get yourself and your students involved in the #16days of activism. 

The significance of the activism this year is greater than ever before due to the increasing amount of gender-based violence reported over the course of the pandemic. 

Gender-based violence facts 

Gender-based violence both directly and indirectly affects everyone. Victims of gender-based violence experience trauma that can be intergenerational in nature. To eradicate gender-based violence we must acknowledge it exists and victimizes people of all genders, races, abilities, sexualities, ages and classes in all geographic locations. We cannot advocate for feminism without intersectionality. 

What can we do?

  • Educate our students and community about gender-based violence from a trauma informed approach 
  • Educate even our youngest learners about the importance of consent and advocating for their own mental health and well-being
  • Listen and learn from experts, community organizations and survivors
  • Support local and global initiatives that commit to advocating for people of all genders and putting an end to gender based-violence 
  • Use our privilege as educators to advocate for change
  • Continue to model acceptance, inclusion and teach using an anti-oppressive framework

On Being a Queer Educator in Ontario Schools

If you read Part 1, you’ll know by now that my experience as a student sucked. By the time I went to teacher’s college, I had fully embraced my queerness. I had a reasonably good handle on my identity. As I took my first baby steps into the world of teaching, I had decided that I was going to do better for my students than any of my teachers did for me.

Oh, to have that same youthful optimism and fire.

After ten years, so much of it has been chipped away by constant reminders that the school system and almost everyone in it are still perpetuating the idea that there is a “default” and then there are aberrant identities that are outside of that norm.

Think about your experience as an educator and whether any of these moments have happened at your school:

  • Being asked to “balance” the distribution of boys and girls when creating class lists.
  • Playing “boys vs. girls” in Phys Ed.
  • Having a “boys team” and a “girls team” for intramurals.
  • Creating groups of desks to intentionally mix genders.
  • Having “boys” and “girls” washroom passes.
  • Splitting the class based on gender for health class.
  • Saying “boys and girls” to address your class.

Do those feel innocent to you? No big deal? Look, it’s okay if you have done these things and never thought twice about them. Most of us have. But we have to acknowledge that those types of small actions contribute to the sense that we have a specific set of expectations around what it means to be a “boy” or a “girl.” That we expect all students to even fit into that binary. We have to be better than this.

Students notice these things. Some of them are obvious, like the Phys Ed example, while others you may think are more “behind the scenes” like class lists, but students notice. And when students notice those things, they draw conclusions about what the Institution of Education thinks about who is attending their schools.

And then, there’s how educators approach students who don’t fit those expectations.

I can’t tell you how much it hurts every single time I hear these things:

They’re too young to know they’re trans.

They just want attention.

I think they’re lying.

The other kids won’t get it and will all want to use the all-gender washroom.

I have to inform their parents. 

Fine, but I’m not going to change how I teach.

I can’t talk about this in class because parents will get upset.

I don’t know enough about this to teach any of it.

I don’t have time to do anything that isn’t in the curriculum.

Why do we need a neutral washroom if we don’t have any trans or NB students?

You think you’re commiserating with a colleague. You think you’re just expressing your frustration and stress with a colleague. What you’re doing, when you’re saying these things to a queer colleague, is often retraumatizing them. You’re reminding them of their otherness. You’re showing them that you consider their existence extracurricular and optional.

You’re showing not only your students but your colleagues, too, that you do not think their existence is worth the time to learn about, integrate into your teaching, and normalize.

But wait! There’s more!

Remember back in Part 1, when I talked about fear? And how it kept coming up at the PD day a few weeks back when we were discussing how to use a 2SLGBTQ+ resource in the classroom?

I want to talk about that fear.

When you say you’re scared of parent backlash, what exactly is it about that idea that scares you? What do you think will happen?

Will a parent post about you on social media?

Will a parent complain about you to the board?

Will a parent remove their child from your class?

Or are you scared that a parent will make an assumption that you are queer?

Are you scared that a parent will decide that you are unfit to teach their child?

 

Most importantly, why is it that you think that your fear is more important than your responsibility to your students to support them, validate them, see them, and show them a world where they are not something other and are, instead, just… normal?

 

Do you realize that your 2SLGBTQ+ colleagues and students have lived with fear their entire life? That we hesitate before putting our family photos up in our classrooms, the way that some of you do without thinking twice, because we are worried about the reaction?

 

And we notice, Reader, when you turn equity lessons into events instead of building it into your everyday teaching. We notice when you inform (let’s call it what it is: warn) families before discussing equity in the classroom. We notice when you give families the chance to opt their child out of lessons on equity.

As a queer parent, when I get a letter home “informing me” about an upcoming lesson where the class will be talking about a “challenging topic,” it signals to me that the educator and the school behind this letter consider this topic to be controversial. That there will be different points of view and that those have to be “respected.”

But my life is not a point of view. I have an absolute, inalienable, unassailable RIGHT to exist. 2SLGBTQ+ people are not a matter of debate, we are not an opinion – our existence is objectively right and we have an obligation, as educators, to promote and defend that existence just as fervently as we do all others.

When you leave space for debate, when you “respect all points of view” in your classroom, you’re telling your queer students and colleagues that you think it’s okay that some people believe that their existence is wrong.

And we notice that.

We notice when you refer to teaching about 2SLGBTQ+ as a challenging topic. Why is it challenging? 

Does it make you uncomfortable? Examine that, because that’s some problematic nonsense right there. 

Do you feel like you don’t know enough? Then educate yourself, just like you probably look up half of the Science curriculum every time you change grades. Or maybe that’s just me.

Are you scared of having to defend your teaching? Your board and union have both taken public stances in defense of 2SLGBTQ+ rights and they’re protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so settle down.

Do you think you’re going to face a lot of questions from students that you may not know how to answer? Isn’t that… pretty much a daily experience in teaching, no matter what subject? Embrace learning WITH your students.

I’m glad that it’s becoming more commonplace to talk about 2SLGBTQ+ experiences, identities, and perspectives in class, but if you feel like you need to or even can warn your students’ families before discussing equity in the classroom, quite frankly, you aren’t talking about equity often enough.

 

Finally, I want you to know all the good things I notice, too.

I notice when you introduce yourself with your pronouns.

I notice when you don’t say “moms and dads” to your students.

I notice when you teach with books showing queer experiences – both as the lesson itself and without making the character’s queerness be THE POINT, because hey, we’re also just regular people doing regular things and it doesn’t all have to be about being queer.

I notice when you tell your students about the gender neutral washroom on their First Day of School tour.

I notice when you don’t say “boys and girls” to get your students’ attention.

I notice when you embrace inclusive intramural teams.

I notice when I can’t find any of the 2SLGBTQ+ picture books because they’re all out in colleagues’ classrooms being used.

I notice when I walk by your students and overhear them talking about what they’re learning in class.

I notice when students feel safe to explore their identity in your classroom.

I notice when students feel safe to come out in your classroom.

I notice when you don’t whisper “gay” like it’s a bad word.

I notice when you don’t wait for me to be the one to say, “This long standing practice is problematic and rooted in homophobia. Can we change it?”

 

There’s a long road ahead of us. When educators are more scared of community backlash than they are of harming their students, we have to call that out.

Your inaction is causing harm.

Your fear is causing harm.

Your students deserve better than that.

On Being a Queer Student in Ontario Schools

Recently, there was a PD day in my board where the morning was dedicated to equity training. We started with a discussion about a book that has been provided for every school in the OCDSB titled George

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is a brief synopsis from Scholastic Canada

A bright, bold debut about a girl who was born a boy, but refuses to let that stand in the way of her dream.

More than anything else, George wants to play Charlotte in her fourth-grade class’s production of Charlotte’s Web. The problem is, her teacher won’t let her, because George is a boy. But George isn’t about to let that squash her dream. With the help of her best friend, George must learn to stand up for her wish — and brave a few bullies along the way.

Transcending all categories and genres, George is a pertinent and poignant middle-grade read for kids of all backgrounds.

As soon as this discussion was presented to us, I felt my heart rate increase. I debated turning my camera off (we were doing this PD remotely) so that my colleagues couldn’t see my reactions. We were given a few minutes to explore some questions about how we would approach this text in the classroom and share our thoughts on a collaborative whiteboard.

Reader, I didn’t make it past the first question: “What biases do we have that we may bring to the text?”

I didn’t make it past this question because I kept seeing the word FEAR come up on the screen in front of me. I started to sweat. My leg started shaking restlessly. I found it hard to sit still. I grit my teeth and started adding my thoughts next to theirs: 

Why do we have to “warn” families that we are going to use this resource?

This implies that there is something controversial about being queer.

As educators, we have to make students feel seen and validated.

I’m not going to go through a detailed account of how that “training” went for me. I still haven’t fully recovered. It was an incredibly difficult day to get through and I left feeling overwhelmed by how much work there is to do in education to do better for our students. I’m going to talk about that “FEAR” idea later, after I put some of this in the context of Who I Am.

What I am going to do here is challenge the idea that discussions about 2SLGBTQ+ people, perspectives, and experiences are a challenging or uncomfortable topic in the classroom. This is going to be a two-parter, so bear with me. Maybe even a three-parter. Who knows when I’ll get to the exact point I’m trying to make.


In this first part, I’m going to talk about my experience as a student in this province.

In my Twitter bio, I describe myself as “Queer AF.” My profile picture has the pan flag as a background. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s in a small town close to Ottawa and went to Catholic school from JK to OAC (grade 13, that magical year that no longer exists).

I know many people can point to the exact moment when they realized they’re queer, but I can’t. In many ways, it feels like I’ve just… always known. Because I’ve always been queer. What I needed, as a child, was the opportunity to see myself reflected in lessons, stories, media, discussions in the classroom.

That is not what I got.


There is something wrong with me. 

I can’t tell you how many times that thought ran through my head as a child. As a teenager. As a student. I remember watching movies and shows, reading books, seeing families in the news, and trying to imagine myself as an adult. Sometimes, I could see myself in these families. Sometimes, I could see myself fulfilling the role that society was very clearly expecting me to take on.

Sometimes, though, I couldn’t. There would be moments where I’d imagine myself as a Wife to a Husband and it just felt… wrong. Like it didn’t fit.

I got older. People started developing crushes. We’d talk, as friends, about who we “liked.”

I never liked anyone. I never had crushes. That’s what I told myself, anyway, because everything we were taught was that girls would have crushes on boys, boys would have crushes on girls, and that was that. That’s how “biology” worked. 

It wasn’t until later that I realized that oh, I had crushes, they just… were all on girls.

I sat in class thinking about this often. Why was I broken? What was wrong with me? I would try to pick out boys that maybe, one day, I could convince myself I liked. Sometimes it worked, fleetingly, but most of the time, I felt indifferent.

I moved on to high school. I wrote a love letter (yes, it was immediately shared around the school, and yes, it was mortifying) to a boy. I was deeply set in my feeling that everyone can tell that I am very broken inside and I needed someone to think that no, I’m normal, see? I have crushes on boys! I’m just a regular girl! Just like everyone else!

I think I had everyone else mostly convinced that I was straight, but I had trouble making and keeping friends all the same because the depth of that feeling of otherness was overwhelming. I struggled with mental health, self-harm, depression. 

I even tried to be a Good Catholic Girl in grade 11. I became very interested in liturgies. I tried very hard to make prayer work for me. When it came time for Reconciliation, I thought, This is it. This is where I can fix everything. 

I confessed to having feelings for other girls. But also, sometimes boys! I’m– I’m redeemable, right? This is my big chance! I’ll tell the truth, I’ll pray, I’ll do my penance, and then I’ll be “better.”

And at school, in a school-sanctioned (and required) event, with school staff, I was told that I would go to hell. It confirmed my fears that I was broken. Fundamentally wrong. A sinner. Don’t you want to have children? Don’t you want to go to Heaven? Don’t you want God’s love?

These questions, thrown at me like accusations by the school chaplain, are burned in my mind. The memories are like scars. I actually wrote them down. I kept the journal where I wrote that down for years, for some… awful, self-loathing reason. I don’t know why.

I was shaken by that. My mental health declined even further. I became convinced that my mental health was just another example of how irrevocably screwed up I was as a person. I mean, everyone else around me was “normal.” People were dating. In movies and shows, everyone was straight. If a character came out in the media, it was shocking. Because it wasn’t “normal.”

I withdrew into the online world even more than I had before. I threw myself into the online roleplaying community, playing make-believe as all manner of characters from different genres. I wrote stories – so, so many stories. I read fanfiction. I learned what “slash” and “shipping” meant.

Most importantly, online, I found the queer community. It was sneaky, at first – just little glimpses of other people who were like me, hidden in their writing and the characters they played. I started to wonder if I wasn’t so alone. In time, this world of beautiful, bright, loving, ABSOLUTELY NORMAL PEOPLE helped me see that it wasn’t me that was wrong, it was the world I was expected to live in that was.

And reader, that made me so angry. I had wasted so much time hating myself, trying to fix myself, trying to be someone I wasn’t. I had hurt myself, and in the process, I had hurt my family, too. I had pulled away from them because I didn’t want to cause them pain by being their broken kid.

Furious at my own ignorance to my identity, emboldened by my online friends, determined that none of this should be this way, I came out as bisexual at school in grade 12.

The reaction was swift, decimating, and brutal. People teased. People joked. In that same journal from before, I kept track of the things people said to me: I was doing this for attention. I was saying this because I was too ugly or weird to get a boyfriend. Besides, I couldn’t be bi if I’d never even kissed a girl to know if I really wanted to. What a weirdo. What a freak. Obviously I’m screwed up, since I also have all those scars on my arms. Hey, is that why I was trying to die? Because I knew how screwed up I was?

I hid. I got quiet. I did not talk about being bi after a few weeks of that misery. By OAC, I think most people had forgotten about my moment of “attention-seeking” and moved on to some other target. It wasn’t until I had moved away and started university that I let myself explore my identity and figure out some small piece of who I am.


So. You’ve read all of that, and you’re wondering what any of this has to do with education, maybe? Maybe you think that none of the responsibility for this fell on the school, because after all, it wasn’t my teachers saying that I was a freak. It wasn’t my teachers saying that I was broken or looking for attention.

The thing is, they also didn’t normalize 2SLGBTQ+ identities. They didn’t talk about them at all. And because they never brought them into the class, not only did I sit there feeling like I was fundamentally broken because I couldn’t relate to what I was seeing – my peers internalized the idea that cis-het is the norm and everything else outside of that is deviant.

In short, school created, presented, and perpetuated a perception that being cis-het is the default. If any other perspectives ever came up, they were immediately juxtaposed with the Straight Experience. If students tries to explore queer topics in their work, they were summarily shut down, implying that there was something about it that was wrong or inappropriate for school.

School let me down.

There was a chance for school to be the place where my peers were shown a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and identities to broaden their worldview.

Instead, they perpetuated one experience and held it up as the one you’re supposed to have.

And we’re still doing it, but that’s what Part 2 of this is going to be about.


If you read all of that, thanks. There’s a lot in here that I’ve never said out loud – not to my partner, not to my family, not to my friends.

But it was time.

See you in Part 2.

Boys vs Girls

A friendly competition?

No. 

No. 

No no no no no. 

 

Boys vs girls in sports? Boys vs girls in games? Boys vs girls in math? 

No again. 

 

Here’s why:

  1. Boys vs girls contests assume there are only two genders and reinforces this idea to children. 
  2. This competition forces children to ‘choose’ which side they are on. For those cisgender students, the choice is simple. For students who are transgender, or identify with genders outside of the two given choices, this is much more complicated. Not necessarily because they are unsure of their gender, but because self-identifying in front of the entire class can be detrimental. Students may not be ready to discuss their gender identity, do not feel comfortable, fear being outed, or they may be working on discovering and understanding who they are. 
  3. Gender roles and societal expectations associated with those roles need to be demolished. Gone are the days where we should teach little girls exclusively to be caregivers while leaving the science, technology and math to the boys. Pinning ‘boys’ against ‘girls’ presents to students the idea that there should be some sort of contest, some sort of competition, rather than collaboration amongst all.

Educators who are seeking to make groups may use alternative approaches to divide their class in order to empower students and create a positive classroom environment. Here’s some ways I like to divide students into groups:

  1. By their birth month
  2. The amount of letters in their name 
  3. ‘This or That’ – ask students to decide, for example, “Do you like blue or green?”
  4. Good old fashioned randomization! Use popsicle sticks with student names, random name generators from the internet, student pictures, the list goes on. Use whatever works best for your classroom.

If you have any more thoughts or ideas on how to make non-gendered groups in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you!

Covid-19 Testing Privilege

The Story of COVID-19 Testing in Ontario | Public Health Ontario

Covid-19 Testing Privilege: Are we really all in this together?

After experiencing some symptoms on the Covid-19 list, I booked off school and set out to get tested. I wanted to make sure I would return to my school Covid free, keeping my students and my school safe.

First Test

This was my second time getting a Covid test. In April of 2020, it took 4 days of waiting before I was able to get a Covid test. It took me over a week to get the results as the website told me I needed to speak to a nurse several times … what! Did I have Covid? The answer was no as the website/system was not working properly. I hoped that the second time around would be easier and faster as I had to self isolate for 10 days.

Second Test

It took me a bit of time to figure out where I should go for a test as the available options were not evident. I found many websites with contradictory information as to whether I needed an appointment or not. After trying to book an appointment online with little success, I opted to book my appointment over the phone.

I wondered about a possible source of my undiagnosed symptoms. As I purposely keep my contacts to a minimum, only going to school and back home, I knew if I was infected the source would be my school. I also knew that if I was off, it was unlikely that I would have a supply teacher cover my class.

The person on the phone asked me if I had been in contact with an infected person. I responded that I was not sure as there were four cases of Covid in my school and two closed classrooms. I had no idea which classrooms were closed as staff were not told. I also had no idea which students were in these classes. As my classroom is near the Behaviour Teacher Assistant’s room, I interact with many students who pass by.

The person online stated that I should be fine since “students were learning with social distancing in place.” I almost peed my pants at the statement and corrected the person saying that students in my school were in crowded classrooms sitting about six inches apart … instead of six feet. I did not give the person on the phone a hard time as I knew they were just doing their job. After five minutes, I had an appointment the next day.

Waiting at the hospital

As my partner drove onto the hospital grounds, I noted a very small line for Covid-19 testing. It was easier than the first time as I had a short wait to get into the hospital to be processed. As I knew what to expect, the very long probe that was inserted into my nose (almost touching my brain) was not a big deal. The drive, test, and return home took 40 minutes.

While waiting in line, I spoke to a woman with her grandchild. It turned out that he was her great grand child! She told me that she spoke to her mother every night on the phone before they retired to bed. Wow, five generations in one family as the boy had a living and healthy great-great grandmother.

Privileged assess in health care

As I looked around, I noted that the people in the Oakville hospital, like me, had a great deal of privilege. The people all arrived to the testing location by car. Women could get tested without their children in tow, as they had adults to watch their kids. People had extra money to pay for parking their cars and access to Internet and/or a phone to book an appointment. Due to lower Covid outbreaks in Oakville, the testing lines were shorter than lines in Toronto, Peel, and York.

Challenges of Single Parenting

As I reflected, I remembered the days when I was a single parent. My children were four and six years old. My son, TWS, had undiagnosed ADHD and he was a tornado of a child, never able to stay still. As a single parent, it was taxing to take him anywhere.

Due to the challenges of both parents working, my children’s father and I decided that one of us would stay home to care for our children of 3 and 5 years old. As a result, I was the one to quit my well-paying marketing job. About a year later, my children’s father wanted a divorce. I was in an abusive relationship and I had to get away from this abuse.

I had no income, no vehicle, and few resources. As I could not afford a babysitter, I often took my children to my doctor’s appointments. While I attended an appointment, my son decided to rummage through my “talking “doctor’s reception desk resulting in him being covered with stamp impressions. Another time I had a PAB test done while trying to distract my daughter with a toy.

As a single parent, I could not afford cable TV and we made do with three channels using a “Rabbit Ears” antenna. I could not afford a cell phone until after I got a job as a teacher. I certainly would have not been able to afford internet.

Covid Testing as a Single Parent

As I have become more aware of the privilege I carry in my life, I considered my experience as a single parent going for a Covid-19 test. I imagined this experience through the lens of my own life as a single parent with my own children.

I know I would have had a challenging time booking a Covid-19 test as I only had a landline. It would have taken me time to figure out which location would be best for my circumstances. With no car, I would have had to take public transit which would have meant keeping my son, TWS, from not pulling the “stop request” cord. I would also likely have to transfer to another bus route making the journey more challenging.

Once at the testing location, I would have had to keep my children occupied while we waited. Further, I would have also decided to get my children tested. My daughter, KIS, would have complied to a test as long as there was some reward after. As I could hardly get TWS to agree to swallow medicine, I know he would not have agreed to have a very long probe shoved down his nose … he would have needed people to hold him down. The whole experience would have been a calamity.

After this ordeal, I would have had to get back on a bus to go home while giving my children snacks as a couple of hours would have passed. Exhausted with no extra support, we would have arrived home to have an early dinner and then bedtime.

Service Industry Workers

Most people in the service industry do not have many or any paid sick days. With testing, single parents and their children would have to self isolate until results were posted. This would result in a loss of pay for a parent and a loss of time in school for children. I could write an entire blog about the precariousness single parents face in their employment when dealing with their own health and the health of their children.

With privilege comes more available resources

I acknowledge that I have a great deal of privilege as an educated, employed, English speaking, non-immigrant, married, mobile (not physically disabled), White woman with resources like a car and working internet. As my children are now adults (now almost 27 and 28 years old), I am also relieved of the parental responsibilities of childcare and the monetary need to support them. Not all parents have these resources or privilege.

Are we really all in this together?

Regarding COVID-19, I’ve heard people say “we are all in this together” … but are we? The people who live with limited resources via housing, funds, and access to health care do not have the same privilege as people in higher socioeconomic circumstances. People who must work for minimum wage in service industries such as factories, warehouses, groceries stores or in long term care facilities do not share the same privileges. This community of people only share the disadvantage of being economically insecure which makes them more vulnerable to infection from the virus. As a result, they are not those with resourced privilege and this is likely why the virus is raging in their communities.

So, if you go for a Covid-19 test, remember how privileged you are to have easy access to getting this test.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

COVID-19 test and testing location information

Holiday Break Assumptions

December is stressful for so many reasons.  Seasonal concerts and plays, crafts and the general hustle and bustle around this time of year.  While teachers attempt to make things fun and engaging for the last few weeks before the holiday, there are a few things to consider about assumptions that as educators we might make about our students.

Not every child is looking forward to the holidays.

As working adults we look forward to the break from our daily occupations at this time of year.  For us it means a chance to regroup and reconnect.  However, for some students it may mean a lack of routine and structure which can provoke anxiety.  The reality is that some students may find school the safest place in their lives.  The two weeks off of school at the end of the December will inevitably happen for everyone however, not every kid is looking forward to it.  So it may be best not to focus on the “Countdown to Break.”

Children living in poverty.

For those children living in families who celebrate the season with any kind of gift giving, this can be a time of stress and anxiety for parents and invariably children.  According to parenting expert Alyson Schafer, “Parents of low-income families will often put themselves last in order to shield their kids from poverty and the parents’ health and well-being suffers for it.”  Some parents may even skip meals or prescription medication in order to have enough money to buy gifts.  Whether the children are aware of their family’s financial situation or not, they will witness wealthier classmates getting more at this time of year and it can be difficult for those children.   While this is the time of year that many schools engage in a food drive, teachers need to remember that some students may not be able to donate and in fact, there may be students in your class or school whose family accesses the food bank.  It doesn’t mean that would need to stop these charitable acts.  As educators we just need to be aware of the assumptions that we make about our students when we engage in the activities.

Those “fun” activities aren’t always “fun” for everyone.

This time of year gets busy in a school.  There are often more announcements, events and things for sale or collection.  Students who already struggle in school find this time of year difficult because of the multitude of interruptions to regular routines.  When possible, keep things as simple as possible for your students.  I have always found that keeping as much routine as possible in my classroom at this time of year provided much needed comfort and predictability.

 

 

 

Addressing Equity

The elementary school that I teach at is a K-8 school with approximately 540 students. It has grown over the century with new additions, since its original build in 1923. I have only known the school for the past three years that I have been teaching there. So I consider the school to be diverse with many new Canadians, mostly from Bangladesh. It is also higher needs in terms of the challenges students face for success, according to the Learning Opportunity Index. The family income has declined for families attending the school, as demonstrated by the data. Many of the parents work part-time, multiple jobs, and through the evenings, nights, or on weekends.

What I found interesting to note, is that teachers who have taught at the school for more than ten years, many for more than 15 years, have difficulty seeing the demographics of the school as they are. They continue with the same fund raising projects as they always have, yet lament that there is less participation or interest from the students. They continue to book trips that cost more that an hourly wage that most families would make, then are disappointed in the attendance. It is only in the past year that they have been questioned about the cost required for students to attend their own graduation celebration. The teacher response in regards to how they are accommodating a student population with a decrease in family income, is to encourage students to come forth if they don’t have the funds and the staff will address it or provide the funds, based on the individual situation.

Recently I was talking to a teacher from another school board about equity and teacher bias. She recommended the ETFO publication, Possibilities: Addressing Poverty in Elementary Schools to read.  It is an excellent resource. It not only encourages a change in mindset by educators about assumptions and biases in regards to poverty, but it provides strategies and literature connections to address the real needs of students for academic success and well-being. It also provided information on how to engage parents and the community of a lower income status.

According to TDSB, “Educational research has demonstrated that children from lower income families face more significant barriers in achieving high educational outcomes.” It is essential that we as educators are aware of these facts and barriers, as well as the strategies and supports necessary for the students that are in our schools right now.

Link to ETFO publication: http://www.etfo.ca/ProfessionalDevelopment/ETFOsBookClubs/Lists/ETFO%20Book%20Club/DispForm.aspx?ID=37

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