Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Being a Teacher in ON

I'm a teacher.  I don't talk about it much here because really, this blog is about faith, family and a bit of everything else.  There are lots of wonderful teacher blogs and I don't aspire to that.  This is for me to live the life that means the most to me.  Don't get me wrong but I learned early on in my career that while it was important to me to strive to make a difference in the lives of my students, if I didn't cultivate what meant most to me personally, I wouldn't have much to give.

Today, I'm going to change the pace a bit.  I need a vent and it's not one I can do publicly.  "Teacher me" needs to rant a bit.  After hearing some real horror stories of the way that some teachers at my school were treated at Meet the Teacher night and then the way that I had a good friend hold me accountable to everything she thinks is wrong with teachers, I NEED to say my piece somewhere.  Here, I don't imagine it will get me in trouble.

1.  The teacher to whom you are speaking is not the teacher who made you feel like you were worthless when you were in school.  This person is no more responsible for that than is any male you meet because a man was horrible to you once.  Don't project your history of bad feeling onto the teachers you deal with now.  We agree, the way things were done 30 years ago didn't work.  That's why we don't work that way now.

2.  Teachers work hard.  We don't think that we work HARDER than anyone else but we do work hard.  We can't slip up at all.  You might make a mistake at work and a file goes missing or a car doesn't get sold or, horribly, a cheque gets lost.  We make a mistake and a child's self esteem is tattered for years, if not a lifetime.  We have to measure every word we say.  That's exhausting.

3.  We don't get free pensions.  I paid $10 000 into my pension plan last year.  I think anyone would consider that a fairly good RRSP contribution.  It's no different than all of those who get contribution matching from their employers.  It's not uncommon for people whose jobs require the amount of university education that teaching does.

4.  Every time we take a stand, we are blamed for putting ourselves over our students.  Let's be clear.  I may decide to withdraw some voluntary services to express my displeasure with the government taking away our charter right to collective bargaining.  I will still plan my programme, teach my class, report to parents, write all kinds of assessment forms, deal with children with a wide range of disabilities and try to teach children about boundaries who see none at home.  I will continue to do my job.  I am not giving up on the kids.

5.  You do not have the right to go in screaming at a teacher because you don't like the level of book they are sending home, you feel that they are not teaching math the way that you think they should or because you feel that they are being unfair imposing a detention on your child for rudeness or disruptiveness or for not living up to his or her responsibilities.  Teachers are no less entitled to respect that any other professionals with whom you deal on a daily basis.  You wouldn't go in yelling at your doctor, your lawyer or your minister.  Don't expect to do it with us.  It's not o.k.

6.  You would not go in a scream at your doctor because you don't like his or her diagnosis.  You recognize that:
a.  He or she has seen this a few times more than you have
b.  He or she has considerable post-secondary education to allow him or her to make an informed decision
c.  It's very hard, as a parent, to be objective.  This teacher is seeing your child in the context of many children the same age.  Most likely, he or she is more right than you are.

7.  A teacher is the person who bears the brunt of an imperfect system.  It is ridiculous to think that 20 (or more!) children who have nothing more in common than being born in the same year will all have the same learning needs.  We are often trying to teach a range of abilities that is greater than 3 years difference.  We will do the best that we can but we can't make a system that is unmanageable work for everyone.

8.  The teacher hates a split grade class as much as you do.  Don't blame us that the school boards are going to do what is financially best.  We did not impose the hard cap of 20 and we would rather your child be in a straight grade, too.

9.  If your child is bored, it is most likely that the child is spoiled.  Gifted children are rarely bored (contrary to what so many parents believe).  Gifted children make the most of all learning opportunities.  They take their learning into new and exciting directions and often have to be reined in, not entertained.  There is an element of learning that requires the learner to want to learn.  While we do everything we can to engage your child, not all children have the motivation to strive for their best, especially if they haven't had much required of them before they come to us.

10.  We deal with the classes we are given.  We teach many children who are neglected, abused, ignored, who are exposed by their parents to many things they shouldn't see, who have no social skills and who have a huge range of emotional, cognitive and physical disabilities.  We are trying to do the best we can with the children walking into the classroom every day.  That's all that we can do.

11.  We have to act as social workers, nutritionists, therapists and parents to children with great needs.  We do that every day and in a group of 20 in a short time span.  We are doing our best, I promise.

12.  If we had done six years of university and gone into the private sector in many careers, while we may not have the pension we have, we would make a lot more money and have more control over our hours, our working conditions and have the possibility of bonuses.  That doesn't happen for us.

13.  Many of those who criticize us the most are people in business.  Just for the record, while we get an (unpaid) summer off and a good pension, we don't get to write off our gas, our meals out, our hotel rooms, our parties that we host or any of a number of other perks that business owners do.  We don't get a company car, either.

14.  If we have it so good, you get yourself into teacher's college, pay what you have to pay in tuition and spend the years that many spend trying to get one of the very few jobs available.  We work hard to get our qualifications and work even harder to get jobs.

15.  We have to balance the needs of all of the children in our classrooms and we are responsible to teach all the kids in our classes.  We can't pick and choose who gets taught and who doesn't.  You may believe that your child is the most important in the classroom and we understand that but we can't take that same perspective.  Any parent of more than one child understands that, sometimes, what's right for one child isn't right for another and it feels awful having to put the needs of one over another.  We do that with 20 important little beings every day.

16.  If you are my friend, I don't expect you to agree with me but I don't deserve to be attacked for wanting to enjoy my constitutional right.  I don't ask politicians to take away all of your business tax breaks or call you lazy or spoiled for trying to exercise your rights.

17.  Teachers are not the enemy.  Go volunteer in a school for a month, attend every meeting, write a full set of report cards and conduct the parent interviews and then come back to talk with me about what teachers should get.  Just because you were a child once doesn't mean that you understand the ins and outs of education.

18.  Or, as my husband often suggests, host a birthday party for your child's entire class but instead of doing it for a couple of hours, try an entire day.  Then, you might actually have some right to offer your opinion.

For the record, I do want to say that 99.9% of the people I deal with, particularly at my school, are wonderful, helpful, supportive and encouraging.  They understand that I want the best for their children and they see me as  part of a team and we work together.  That's how it should be.  I think that's why, when I either hear stories about nastiness (like the two stories I heard about parents who went in yelling and screaming at their children's teachers at Meet the Teacher night last week and created a big scene in front of all the other families) or when I am subjected to an aggressive attack by someone who is supposed to be a friend, it hurts... it's such a shock to the system and so uncalled for.

The child part of teaching is the most wonderful thing in the world.  Sadly, the adult part has times that is nowhere near as much fun.

Rant finished.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

James: Mercy Triumphs

This is new territory for me.  Growing up in the denomination that I did, talking about faith and God isn't something I am very good at.  That's for ministers and I wouldn't want to sound silly or, even worse, given someone a false idea about God.  It's crazy how strange I find talking about faith.  I guess my prayer should be that God guides my tongue and gives me the words that I need.

Let me start by saying that I am really enjoying this study, much as I always enjoy Beth Moore's studies.  I'm a learner, a bookworm, someone who loves to read and learn new facts.  I love trivia and connection and patterns and Beth gives me everything that I feel like I am missing in my own reading of the Bible.  When I read, I want to know how one text relates to another and the time and geographic and theological links between different people and stories.  Beth definitely gives me that.  I know all the "big" Bible stories from growing up in the church and having done the "Old Testament Challenge" (we read through the O.T. as a church and did small group study), I feel like I know the O.T. fairly well.  I grew up in a tradition that follows the lectionary (set readings for each Sunday on a three year rotation which omits huge portions of the Bible, especially from the N.T.)  I know the gospels inside out but get me past the few first chapters of the book of Acts, and it's a struggle.  It's so nice to get to travel in a new land!

I also love the fact that Beth doesn't shy away for the tough stuff.  It doesn't take long to get into texts that are easy to avoid... James 1:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds,(F) because you know that the testing of your faith(G) produces perseverance.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial(T) because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life(U) that the Lord has promised to those who love him.(V)

I've always found these kinds of texts really hard.  I'm nowhere near joyful in the hard times and to be honest, I always found that texts like these actually make me feel kind of guilty and shallow.  At times, I am able to see small gifts in times of trial but honestly, pure joy it isn't.  It's easy to put that down to "special people" (you know the ones, people who either need nothing and live in horrible conditions and serve the poor and truly seem happy... I don't do dirt or bugs and while I do feel shallow about it, that's not my way to serve).  In doing the studying along with Beth, I heard a new message - these times of hardship serve a purpose - to develop in me the things that I am lacking, to strengthen me.  It's not the hardships themselves that should make me happy but the strength, the wisdom, the clarity in how I see things that they bring that should give me joy.  It's easy to do when I think of a very, very hard time I made it through a few years ago.  I do have to admit, awful though that time was, so much good has come out of it, in part because of the fact that it blew some things open that needed to be addressed and in part, because it taught me to appreciate what I have.  It did help me see my life in a different way.  Will it change the way I see intense hardship the next time round?  I hope so!  I hope it will help me to trust God and to not be,
"like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind"

One other little thing that is speaking to me?  Writing out James as I go.  I have never written out a large text from the Bible as part of the study and now, I am wondering why I haven't.  It really helps me to see each and every word and puts things in my mind in an entirely new way.

I hope I haven't seemed silly in my comments here - what I am saying doesn't read as being very deep to me but truly, I am feeling them in a very deep way.  I'm looking forward to read what others are thinking.

Fall Bucket List 2012

One problem with the combination of a cheap camera and a highly unskilled photographer is the inability to capture the beauty around me on film.  This afternoon, I took the dogs for a run and it was stunning.  It felt like everything had been painted with a brush of yellow - the goldenrod is out in full force and the yellow leaves seem to be moving more quickly than anything else.  I tend to think of September as a yellow month, followed by October which is filled with orange and rust.  Lovely!

Fall is my favourite season and every year, I find myself desperate to make the most of it.  My spring and summer bucket lists didn't seem to go anywhere but I am determined that the fall list will guide family life.  Here we go:

1.  Pick apples (which we have already done) and make applesauce.  I'd like to try my hand at canning some but this will not be the year.  If you want advice, check out Monica at "The Homespun Heart", who has quite a few wonderful posts about apples.

2.  Pumpkins - everything I can think of.  I want to make Dh a wonderful pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  I want to take the kids to the farm and pick pumpkins.  I want to do our annual fall photo shoot on the wagon at Betty's corn farm.  I want to make pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins.

3.  Leaves - we want to rake leaves and jump in the piles.  I want to collect leaves and press them.  BHG has some great decorating and craft ideas with leaves and I wouldn't mind trying a few of those, too, but given the frenzy that is my life right now, I don't want to frustrate myself with endless things that become my list of what is not getting done.

4.  Knitting - I want to finish the Guernsey wrap and ideally, make a baby blanket for a friend who is due soon and a wrap for my mom for Christmas.  It remains to be seen whether I will be that disciplined.

5.  I want to walk in the forest and admire the colours at least once.

6.  I want to find a recipe for killer apple pie.  I have a decent recipe but it isn't earth shaking.

7.  I want to have fun with Halloween this year.  Since I have decided that it's o.k. for our family as long as we are careful, I want to make it a time of happy family memories.  I want us all to dress up.

8.  I want to burn candles, a lot.

9.  I want to make cider for everyone after we have been outside so that the house smells heavenly.

10.  I want to buy a new down vest in a great colour.

11.  I want to find some new traditions to incorporate for Thanksgiving.

12.  I want to comb Pinterest for ideas to make Christmas special this year.  I want to do lots of planning so that by the time Christmas arrives, I am ready and not feeling overwhelmed.

13.  I want to get back in the habit of blogging.  I want to clean out my Reader subscriptions so that I can manage them and don't find it so overwhelming to read so much.  I want to help my computer time to be more structured so I don't waste so much time.

14.  I want to wear clothing that makes me feel good.

15.  I desperately want a way to embrace the concept of Sabbath.  Especially since I became the Children's Worship coordinator at our church, I find that Sundays are my worst day and by mid afternoon, I am ready to crawl into a cave and hide, I feel so overwhelmed.  I need to get the work done sooner in the week, to ask Dh more specifically for the help I need (and stop waiting for him to see that I need help and jump in, men just can't seem to do that) and to learn to enjoy the day.

I'm sure that I have forgotten some things and I will add them later.  What are you adding to your Fall bucket list?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happiness is...

 These morning glories have been so interesting this year.  I planted them from seed in the spring and they have been huge and lush with lots of green but without any blooms at all.  My friend who is my gardening guru told me that they probably weren't getting enough water.  Strange thing, two weeks ago, after a heavy rain, all of a sudden, they began to bloom so I guess she was right.  Now, I get to enjoy both pink and lilac coloured flowers every morning.

It's a little thing but when Pk was at music class today, Lb and I built with blocks for an hour.  We had so much fun, building high towers and knocking them down.  When I could blow a tower down, he laughed until he cried.  So often, we are running so hard we can't enjoy these little moments.  This was such a treat.

Yarn Along

It's been so long since I have participated in a yarn along over at Small Things but I have really missed it.  I have been knitting, though, as you can see.  This is Jared Flood's "Guernsey Wrap" and I love it!  I am doing it in Cascade Eco and the colour is lovely, if I do say so myself.  It's been a great deal of chart reading until I got the hang of the pattern and I won't miss that part when it is done but I am loving the feel and the pattern.  I have about 25 rows left to go and I can't wait!

In terms of reading, I am sort of in between books right now.  First, there's "The Shadow Queen" by Rebecca Dean and I just picked it up off the new books shelf at the library.  It's not bad but I am still not sure about it.  I'm slowly wending my way through the first of Madeleine L'Engle's four volume set The Crosswicks Journals and I am adoring it in small doses.  I feel like she is a personal friend and I felt quite a sense of grief when I realised that she had died back in the 90's.  Finally, I am browsing my way through The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket.  This is a home addicts' dream... crafting, colour and home keeping on a new level.  I love this book!  I have become addicted to Louise Penny's Three Pines mysteries and at the moment, I am waiting for the next book to come in at the library.

Happy reading and stitching!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happiness is...

 Life has been chaos lately, as it so often is in teacher families when the school year resumes.  Given that our house is a two teacher home with one student living here, too, and you add a birthday into the mix, as well as a significant labour situation in the schools (another post coming on that), things have been pretty busy.  It would be very easy to fall into misery but I have been very lucky to have lots making me happy at the moment, too.  I need to focus on that and I thought that I would share it with you.

First of all, we have a little girl who has truly discovered horses.  She has always been very interested in animals and, to be honest, she follows her mother in that.  I grew up in the city and ALWAYS wanted to ride.  Given that we didn't have a car and money wasn't in abundance, that wasn't going to happen.  I'm realising my dreams through Pk, I think but she seems to be as happy about it as I am.  She's had one riding lesson so far and we had a pony party for her birthday.  It was marvelous!  The kids got to groom the horses, to ride and to feed carrots to the four legged beasts.  I would have DIED to have had a party like that as a kid.

It wasn't just the horses that made me happy, though.  I frequently ponder how lucky I am to be surrounded by such great friends and the next generation seems to be the same.  Watching my oldest friend very patiently helping Pk assemble her horse toys, seeing the care people had taken in choosing gifts and just the warm spirit of everyone there gave me such a feeling of reassurance.  If something ever happens to me, I think that Pk is surrounded by love.  She's such a lucky girl!

Another pleasure for me is that we have started a farm share.  I have wanted to do this forever and there is a local farm that does a full programme - eggs, meat, fruit and veggies.  We hadn't done it in the past because we had to pay for six months up front and while it would save us in the long run, it was hard to pay for it in a lump sum like that.  They have changed the programme and now, it's pay as you go.  We get 4 lbs of natural pork a month, 9 lbs of beef a month, a dozen eggs a week and a veggie/fruit box once a week.  While it isn't organic, it's natural, antibiotic and hormone freeze, no pesticides and humanely raised.  I love getting new foods and trying to figure out what to do with them.  So far, we've really enjoyed:
salsa verde (I'm not very familiar with Mexican food and so had NO idea what to do with tomatillos),
I love the fact that we are giving our money directly to the farmers who grow our food, I love that we are eating seasonly with lots of fresh ingredients and I feel like I am doing something good for my family.  It doesn't hurt that it's economical and that the farm has the best activity area for the kids with tire swings, hay slides and the best corn box ever.  The corn box has led to the unique problem, though, of corn bits all over the house after a visit.

Thirdly, the new school year makes me happy.  I love that I can help Pk with her learning.  I love that I have a wonderful class and that I can have the perfect excuse to immerse myself in children's books, buy from Scholastic, research constantly and work with people that I really enjoy.  I love a fresh classroom, new stationary, a glossy waxed floor and time that is budding with potential.  If there wasn't all the trouble with the government, it would be just about perfect.

Pk's transition to Sk was a bit rocky but we managed.  She seemed really happy to go until just before it was time to leave and my parents were taking her because I had to go to work.  She broke down in tears and I have one of my rare brainstorms that actually worked.  She has her favourite rabbit and I suggested that maybe "Rabbity" could stow away in her backpack.  I had knit a blanket for Rabbity this summer and it was still blocking so I got it out and we wrapped Rabbity up and I gave her a very stern warning that she was not to bite Mrs. T or to steal kids' recess snacks.  It worked!  She came home thrilled and in love with her new teacher.

 Finally, and I feel shallow saying this, I love shopping at yard sales and second hand stores.  I shouldn't and it's a shallow pleasure but it makes me feel so good to pay a tiny amount of money to buy something nice for my home or my family and for some reason, when it is second hand, that makes it more fun - like finding buried treasure.  My neighbour across the street had a sale yesterday and we bought some great stuff - this saddle rack that is a quilt rack at the moment, this butterfly lamp and bedskirt that are perfect for Pk's room and this rocking horse that Pk loves.  It 's so nice to see something new and different and know that I haven't hurt our finances bringing it in.  We are also the owners of a new-to-us pair of skates for Pk for skating lessons and the nicest Gap pea coat for LB from the Mennonite second hand store.  Such fun!

What have been your little pleasures lately?