• Miss, Is Civics Important?

    I had an interesting experience today that helped remind me not to judge a book by its cover.

    Earlier this week I got a call for a history assignment for today. I was reeeeeeally hoping it was actually history, and I lucked out. I walked into the office to grab my plans, and was thrilled with the schedule: Grade 10 History, Prep, then two back to back periods of civics (my fav).

    My morning was positively dreamy. My first period class was wonderful. I got to teach a lesson about the Great Depression AND help the kids write summaries. It was like blending both English and History into one, and I’m all about that. I spent my prep curled up in their lovely staff room reading a book a friend recommended to me. This book has completely drawn me in and I can’t put it down. More on this soon.

    I was really excited to get into my civics classes this afternoon, as it is seriously one of my favourite courses to teach. There is SO much you can do with it, and it’s one of those courses where if you can engage your students, you can really make a positive impact. So, I’m there, I’m pumped, and then the students come walking into the room.

    I say walking, but I should say shoving, strutting, punching and horsing around. Within 7 seconds my serene classroom transformed into a total zoo and it felt like chaos before I could even take attendance. There was a group of really rowdy boys, and they came in and totally took control of the classroom. They wouldn’t sit down, were swearing and aggravating one another and even started getting physical. They kept making excuses to try and leave the room and I had to stand in front of the door to block it. I had to put on my mean teacher face and yell in my big voice within two minutes of the bell. I was seriously so stressed out and hadn’t even been able to take attendance yet.

    I finally got them all semi settled and into seats. I took attendance and handed out the assignment, which prompted more rowdiness and attempts to escape the classroom.

    …then the angels from Academic Resource came to save me.

    They must have known this was a challenging class, and they took out several of the ringleaders to work with them in the resource room. As soon as they left the environment changed dramatically. Everyone started to focus and do their work, and this class I was dreading turned into a lovely period. As I was circulating through the room, one student who had been part of the rowdy boy group and hadn’t been particularly motivated to work all period called me over. He said,

    “Miss, is civics important?”

    I asked him to clarify what he meant, and he rephrased:

    “Is civics important for what I want to do after high school?”

    I could tell these were genuine questions, so I looked around to make sure I wasn’t needed, and decided to settle in for a chat. I explained a little about active citizenship, and how this course prepares students to engage in their communities after school. It teaches students about how our country is run, and the process through which we elect our leaders. On a much more practical level, it’s a required course to graduate. So yes, civics is important.

    He mulled this over for a minute, then I asked him what he wanted to do after high school.

    He hesitated, then checking to see if his buddies were listening, responded that he wanted to be an accountant. It was not the answer I expected from this kid after seeing his behaviour in class, then I had to check myself: I had totally made a snap judgement about someone’s abilities based on their behaviour for a few minutes. His buddies were equally shocked and started to mock him for making such a lame choice. I shut that down in a hurry, and asked him to expand a bit further about his goals. He very seriously told me that it was just something he had always been interested in, and was drawn to math. He said he struggled in other courses but he always did well in math.

    It’s why he wanted to know whether or not civics was “important”. Beyond that, he wanted to know if it was a realistic goal for him, or whether or not he should just shut it down now.

    Here was a fifteen year old kid, wondering if he should even try to open the door to his dream career. This kid, who had been clowning around earlier had shed his mask and was, for a few minutes, being completely genuine.

    I told him to go for it. I explained that it was very difficult and he would have to work hard, but that at 15, he still had lots of time to make it happen. We talked about choices and accountability, and that ultimately the choice was his. The boys around him noticed that I had taken his inquiry seriously, and also tentatively began to ask me about career paths they were interested in. Before I knew it, this group of boys I was sure were going to be trouble as the class began was engaged in a thoughtful discussion about their futures. Seriously. They stopped joking, were totally interested in each other’s ideas, and were open to my discussion about the opportunities presented in the careers portion of the course.

    Then another student needed my help, and as I walked away the spell was broken and the silliness came back.

    But, it was a much needed reminder that behaviours don’t define a student. I was ready to make judgements about the kind of kids these must be based on a few minutes of horse play, but they reminded me that it was just one side of themselves… perhaps the one they feel they need to show to survive the day. Who knows.

    I hope that maybe, I made an impact today. That I was able to provide a little bit of support for a kid who was questioning his abilities.

    I really hope that he does become an accountant one day.

    And despite the need to use my big voice today,  I really love my job.

     

     

  • Not My Favourite Interview*

    I just finished my whirlwind Monday cleaning, and procrastinating making my children’s lunches for tomorrow seemed more appealing than actually making them, so, here I am.

    I ended up taking all of last week off work because the kids and I were sick, so tomorrow is my first day back. I’m still not 100%, but I don’t really want to have to take any more time off either. Luckily I’m just booked for a morning, so I can come home and crawl into bed tomorrow afternoon if need be.

    It’s the best of both worlds. :)

    Tomorrow is another random assignment from the system. I’m heading to a school I haven’t been to in ages–not since I interviewed there over three years ago. It remains one of my least favourite interview experiences, and it really soured me on working there at all. I’m sure tomorrow will be fine–I used to supply teach there a bit back in the day–but the interview I had there bothered me more than I care to admit.

    It was at the end of the summer three years ago, back when P was just a twinkle in my eye and I was still actively searching for full time work. Two English LTO postings came up at this school, and I applied to one of them immediately. I had been in a few times to supply teach and always had positive experiences, so I figured I’d give it a go. I was really happy when I got a call a few days later, asking if I would come in for an interview.

    I spent a good deal of time preparing, made extra copies of my resume, donned my lucky interview outfit and drove to the school. I walked in feeling confident–by this point I had a few other LTOs under my belt, and I’ve done over 20 interviews. (The joys of occasional teaching in Ontario!) I was invited to wait for a few minutes while the interview team got ready, then it was go-time.

    The principal of this school was female, and I took this as a welcome sign. The first two principals I worked for were both female, and they were both wonderful. Most of the interviews I’ve done since have been with men, and I thought it would be a nice change.

    I was wrong.

    The principal was joined by two vice principals and the interview began. We quickly covered introductions and pleasantries, and began working through a list of questions. There weren’t any that were out of left field–I’ve done this so many times that it’s rare that I’m shaken by a question now. The vice principals handled most of the interview while the principal sat back and observed, but I felt prepared and answered easily.

    Then she began to speak.

    It was clear that she had spent some time looking at my resume and had gone over it in depth. She began asking questions about things I have included that I’ve never had mentioned before, like my extra curriculars and volunteering. She was keenly interested in the fact that I had taken several college level French courses after I completed teacher’s college. I explained that it had been difficult to get on our supply list after graduation, so I began exploring other avenues to begin my career. When I was a brand new unemployed teacher, I was willing to do just about anything to get a job. I knew there were openings for French teachers, so while I applied and waited during that first year, I began working towards adding French as another teachable subject. I was only one or two courses away from completing the college program when I was finally hired by the board, and work was very steady in my current teachables. I ended up being hired to teach English, and never really looked back.

    To be perfectly honest, I really don’t think I would have been happy teaching French anyway. I just don’t love it like I love English Literature.

    She seemed completely dumbfounded that I had starting working towards my FSL (French as a second language) and hadn’t followed through, and kept pressing the issue. When I explained that work had been steady in my present teachables, she responded with,

    “…So? Why didn’t you keep working on this in the evenings? Why didn’t you finish?”

    By this point I was a bit taken aback, so I explained that not long after being hired by the board we started our family. I laughed a little and said life was a little busier with my children, and I liked to have my evenings with them. She looked at me square in the eye and said,

    “Well that’s no excuse. You should never let that get in the way of your career. You could have a full-time job teaching French by now. That’s where the jobs are. You should have finished it.”

    I was floored. It was a full-on reprimand from someone I had never met. First of all, I was interviewing for an English posting, not French, and I have never felt so judged for the choices I’ve made for my family or my career as I did in that moment. I supposed I mistakenly assumed that as a woman, she might better understand the struggle of balancing home and work life. It’s a delicate dance and I always feel like I’m a beat or two behind the rest of the group. That being said, when it comes down to career vs. kids, my family will win out every time. I fumbled and tried to come up with a coherent answer to respond to her statement, but I could feel myself getting upset.

    It became clear to me in that moment that there was no way that I was getting that job. The interview ended shortly after, and I thanked them for having me in and left.

    And then I sat in my car and cried.

    (My skin is not as thick as I sometimes pretend it is.)

    The path of my career has been long and winding, with many, many bumps and turns in the road. For better or for worse, I made a choice not to turn towards teaching French. I really believe that part of being an effective teacher is loving what you teach… and I knew that my love is with English Literature. I also had a few rest stops as we started (and grew) our family. Those were choices I made that have definitely changed my career path, but also brought us so much joy.

    Looking back, I hope that maybe this principal was hard on me because she saw potential and felt I was squandering it. Maybe, on some level, she was trying to give me some advice.

    At the time, it just didn’t really come across that way.

    So, maybe tomorrow I’ll have another really great experience at this school and change my mind again. Maybe not.

    Either way, I get to come home and have a nap and that’s a win in my books.

  • O Brother, Where Fart Thou?

    I feel like my blog has been all doom and gloom lately because the kids and I have been sick and I’m tired pretty much all of the time. My throat feels a little bit like it’s on fire so that’s fun, but whatever. This too shall pass and all that.

    I have a story that I’ve been wanting to share with you, but I had to wait a little bit so it wasn’t super obvious which school it happened at. I’m usually pretty good at keeping my teacher face on when hilarious moments with students ensue, but there have moments when I’ve just about lost it or almost done damage to my internal organs trying to hold my laughter in.

    (One such moment where I failed miserably was where a student spun the globe on my desk, pointed his finger on a country, misread the name of said country and proudly announced to the class that he was going to move to *insert name for female body part*. He had no idea what he’d said, I was over tired and had to excuse myself and leave the room. I went into my colleagues classroom and nearly wet my pants.)

    When I was a kid, I took part in the Girl Scouts program. I loved being in Brownies, and completely immersed myself in it. One of my all-time favourite memories was a special evening that our leaders put on for us called a “Monk Supper”. You eat the meal entirely in silence, and each time you speak or giggle, you lose a utensil. You purposely serve something messy like spaghetti, so people end up eating with their hands and making a mess of themselves. It’s great fun.

    But, for a while at the beginning, everyone eats in this energized, anxious silence, waiting for the first person to lose their fork. At one of these monk suppers, we were all eating in a circle in the hall, so everyone could see one another. The room was electric and silent, except for the scraping of forks on plates as we twisted our pasta. Everything was quiet, and then one of my leaders accidentally let out this enormous fart. This was before the days of cell phone apps so we knew it was real, and she turned about 80 shades of red when it happened… and we all had to cup our hands over our mouths and try not to make a sound as we died laughing. (I failed miserably at this, just for the record.) It is still one of my FAVOURITE memories from my childhood and I giggle every time I think about it. I mean, this was one seriously loud toot. I’m sure she was mortified, but she played it off well and was no worse for the wear.

    I’m going to let you in on a little secret: as a teacher, this is one of my biggest fears. Every time I’m supervising a test or quiet activity, I’m SO NERVOUS that I’ll suddenly toot and the whole room will hear me.

    Thankfully it hasn’t happened yet.

    However…

    In one of my assignments since starting back to work I was supervising a class that was completing a quiet, independent activity. They were all hard at work, hunched over their desks, deep in concentration. I was slowly walking through the aisles making sure everyone was on task, pausing quickly by each student ensuring they were headed in the right direction with their work.

    Then it happened.

    As I approached one student, they let out this loud gunshot fart. It was so loud and there was no mistaking what it was–you couldn’t blame this one on a chair leg scraping the floor. I opened my mouth in horror for one second thinking that maybe it was me, but then I realized that this student must have deliberately waited for me to come by before letting it rip so it wouldn’t be as obvious who the culprit was. This made me start to giggle, which I had to try and cover with a horrific coughing attack and excusing myself from the area immediately. This kid didn’t even look up from their work, seriously intent on shifting the blame to me. I had to sit at my desk and think about sad puppies while I did some deep breathing to try and shove the laughter bubbling up in my throat back into my chest. (No small feat, I assure you.) The class sort of giggled for a minute and looked around at me before getting back to their work.

    I decided to take one for the team and not say anything. I know being a student in high school is hard enough as it is, without being the kid that farted in class.

    So I guess now I’m just the tooty teacher… lucky for the kid, it was not a tell-tale fart.

    (I’m so punny!)

  • It’s Hammer Time*

    I worked again today, back in the same classes I was in yesterday.

    I’ll be honest: for most of last night I was completely dreading it. It was long, challenging day and it was not my favourite. But when I woke up this morning I decided just to put on a brave face and get it over with… and I decided to take a new approach with my classes.

    When I walked in to my classroom this morning, I laid down the law. I usually try to be a laid back fun teacher, but it did not work with my classes yesterday. So, nice teacher went away and I decided it was hammer time. I wasn’t mean, but I laid out very clear expectations with clear, fair consequences. I separated some of the groups that caused problems yesterday, and most importantly, I banned cell phones from the room. They abused this privilidge like crazy yesterday and the phones caused so many problems, so as they didn’t need them for their work today, I made sure they were all away for the entire class.

    I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference it made.

    Yesterday these classes were rowdy, rough, loud and out of control. They were unmotivated, didn’t listen well and there was a huge lack of respect in the room–for me and each other. When I made them put their phones away, it was like a different group of kids. I tested the waters with my first period class, and from the get-go they were more focused and on task, they were quieter and they actually spoke to the kids sitting near them, rather than yelling across the room about a photo or video they were watching. I was almost in awe at how much work we got through today, when yesterday we accomplished next to nothing.

    I had the most issues with my last period class yesterday, so it was the one I was most apprehensive about. I met the students at the door and explained the cell phone ban as they walked in, so there would be no questions later. Again, it was night and day. Yesterday I couldn’t even get this group to listen to me, and today I completely won them over. A group of girls who were very disruptive yesterday worked pretty quietly through the whole period. I went over to tell them what an awesome job they were doing, and was beyond touched when they told me that they wished I was their full-time teacher. I expected a rebellion when I set the new rules, but each class responded so well to some structure and clear expectations.

    As I sat watching the kids work today, I couldn’t help but notice what a difference banning the phones made in the room. I was in the same classes, but it was like being with an entirely different group of kids. I’m all for assistive technology and 21st century learning, but today I saw first hand what a complete and utter distraction phones are. It was almost like the entire class was in a fog, and when I made them get rid of the phones, they all finally looked up and could see more clearly. They listened, they worked, and most interestingly, they spoke to each other with more respect. I certainly see that cell phones could be used as a learning tool, but for the most part, they really aren’t. Kids use them to play games, text constantly, look up google images, watch ridiculous Youtube videos, take photos with filters or scroll Instagram. I really believe that a lot of teenagers (and adults) are addicted to them… and I personally prefer a classroom without them.

    I’m really glad that I got a chance to go back again today–it was like I got to have a “do-over” for yesterday, and I left feeling much better. Yesterday I left feeling like a failure. Today I left feeling like I had made a small difference, and had done my job well. I feel like I won over some really challenging classes and I’m a wee bit proud of that.

    Tomorrow is just a half day, and I’m so excited. The long weekend starts at lunch!!

  • Today Was Not My Favourite Day*

    Today was not my favourite day.

    It started off okay–the school I went to is close to home and has a later start time, so it wasn’t quite as much of a rush to get out the door this morning, which was nice. I got to the school and was able to find my way to the office, where I bumped into a friendly face right when I walked in the door. A teacher I worked with at my last school is now a VP, and works at the school I was called to today. It was nice to see her, and it made me feel not quite so alone there.

    I went to the secretary to pick up my keys and instructions for the day, and while I was at her desk she asked me if I was available tomorrow. I was, so I said as much, but didn’t realize that that meant she was already booking me in for another day. I’m often asked this by secretaries, and it usually they just check and see if there’s anything, then check back with me later. More on this in a bit.

    I saw on the plans that I was out in a portable all day long. I understand that they are a necessity with schools as they are these days, but really, it’s so unfair to teachers out there. There are so many distractions out the windows which the broken blinds don’t cover, and there is just no way that I can make it from the portable in to the school to use the washroom and back again in the few minutes between classes. So, slight wrinkle in my brow when I saw that, but I just tried not to drink any water while I was in my classroom.

    I took a deep breath and dove in. Today I had three applied classes–two grade 9 and one grade 10. The call I received was for History, I found myself teaching two periods of Geography, which is not in my wheelhouse. Thankfully I had an EA in one class (there’s strength in numbers) but I was on my own for the other two. It was a challenging day. Each class was a “work period”, and even though I tried everything, I could not motivate these kids. It quickly flipped from me trying to get them on task to crowd control. I had to bust out my teacher voice and yell at my last class. I hate yelling. It’s so not my style… but I had literally tried everything else.

    And this class was so loud they couldn’t even really hear me as I was yelling. It was so defeating. It got to the point where I was seriously just counting down the minutes waiting for the day to be over, which is not who I am. It’s not the kind of teacher I want to be.

    As I was awkwardly sitting in the department room through my prep and lunch, I got a message from a friend at my old school asking if I could work for her tomorrow. I sent her an emphatic YES, and she put it in the system and I waited for the call…. which never came because the secretary from this morning knew I was available and had already booked me back in for the same classes again tomorrow. I know she was trying to be helpful and give me some work, and it’s probably better for the kids to have some consistency, but I am dying a little inside at the thought of going back. There is no new work for the classes tomorrow, and since a bunch of the kids completed what was intended to last both days today, it will mean bored kids bugging other bored kids for an entire period.

    Hold me.

    I know it’s just one day, and that I can power through it, I just… ah.

    It was not my favourite day, and I’m not excited about repeating it again tomorrow.

    Is it the weekend yet?

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