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A Sad First in my Teaching Career

21 May

I’ve been teaching now for 15 years. The law of averages says that at least one or more of the students that I’ve known has passed away in that time. But as an international teacher, I’m not connected to the communities that I teach in the same way that someone who spends their whole career in the same school (or school district) is. So there are surely some passings that I am not aware of.

That’s why this one is so hard. It’s a first.

This kid was in my French class for a couple of months. I remember that he was funny, athletic and personable. He was ready for a laugh and seemed to get along with just about everyone. He came from a good caring home and had all the material and societal advantages that one can think of. But ‘sit’ is just about all he did do in my class. He wasn’t terribly interested in French and he transferred to beginner’s Spanish before Christmas. Having a French language background made it easier for him, his new teacher told me. Even after he’d left my class, whenever I would see him on campus he would give me a smile and a cheery, “Bonjour!”

Having a French language background made it easier for him, his new teacher told me.

“Easier”. That is a word that keeps coming up for me when I think about this kid. From what I saw of him, he seemed to spend a considerable amount of energy seeking out the ‘easy’ option at school: be it class work, homework, projects or deadlines.

This afternoon his parents will host a service of remembrance for their son in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. It will no doubt be attended by many of his fellow students and former teachers.

As a teacher, as a parent, I feel that we need bigger, better, badder ways to talk to our kids about substance abuse.

We can’t keep allowing funerals for 17 year olds to be the final lesson on this subject.


An open letter to the ‘big boy’ at the playground

9 May

We live in a high-rise apartment building that has its own playground. There are perhaps two dozen kids living here that use that playground regularly – from teeny toddlers to teens.

My 4 year old son has a particular fondness for one of these boys. I’ll call him Adam.

Adam is a ‘tweenager’ : so he’s much older than my son. But he’s a sweet boy with a kind soul and he often goes out of his way to play with my son and to make him feel included. My son’s face literally lights up whenever he sees Adam.

The other day my son and I were down at the playground when Adam and a couple of friends came running in. They were obviously playing a game together and, naturally, my son wanted to join in. So off he ran. I started having a chat with some of the other parents there but very soon it dawned on me that the boys were gone.

And that’s when I saw it – my little boy’s head poking out from the spot he’d crawled into under the Little Tykes playground equipment.

He’d crawled in there so that no one would see him crying.

Apparently, as he tells the story, when he went up to Adam to ask if he could play too, he was told by another boy that, “Adam thinks you’re stupid.” just  before the boys ran off. And if that wasn’t enough to bring tears to my eyes and want to hug him for eternity, the next thing he said certainly did. “And Mommy, where was (sic) you? You’re supposed to come and give me hugs when people say bad things to me.”

So we had a great big cuddle right then and there on the playground floor, tears streaming down his face.

I did my best to reassure my son that he wasn’t stupid, that that was a mean thing for that boy to say and that people are sometimes going to say things to you that aren’t true. “I know it hurts but you have to learn to shake it off.” I told him.

If I could say anything to the boys in question, especially Adam, this is what it would be:

Dear Adam,

My son thinks that you are a pretty special person. But you probably know this already by the way that his face lights up, and the excitement in his voice when he calls your name, whenever he sees you. He looks up to you in probably the same way that you look up to the older kids at your school and your brothers. He doesn’t have an older brother so you are, in many ways, a role model to him. 

I realise that he’s a lot younger than you; and probably not your first choice in a playmate. I understand that. He can’t play the same games as you (or at least not as well) but you’ve always let him try. That is so important to him. You’ve shown patience and maturity with him that is beyond your years. And for that I would like to thank you. 

I would also like to remind you that my son is only 4 and a half years old. He’s just learning what the word ‘friend’ means. If you asked him to tell you what a ‘friend’ is, he would probably tell you that a friend is someone that you play with, share things with and who doesn’t fight with you. 

Can I ask you a favour? Please be careful what you say to him. He takes everything that you say to heart. Because he looks up to you, he’s likely going to do and say the same things that he sees you doing and saying because he wants to be like you: his ‘big’ friend. 

If he hears that someone that he thinks of as ‘friend’ thinks that he’s ‘stupid’, then I’m afraid that he’s going to think that that’s what friends do; put each other down.

His Dad and I understand that the world is not a perfect place. We understand that our son is going to get his feelings hurt from time to time and we are trying to teach him how to best deal with that. But if you could understand the influence that you have to set a positive example of what friendship is all about…well, we would be grateful. 

Moving on – one from the archives

9 Oct

I began my teaching career in the fall on 1997.

I remember the thrill of getting that first teaching job like it was yesterday. I was young and wanted nothing more than to prove myself.

I worked hard. I worked/lived in the middle of nowhere. I had no access to teaching ressources so I made my own. I “worked” 6 days a week. I gave myself Friday night and Sunday morning off. Saturdays were given to marking and Sunday nights to planning lessons.

It was during my second year of teaching that “Columbine” happened. In our province, we had a copy-cat attack the very next year.

These events made me question my very choice of profession.

Through a series of very fortunate events…I was offered a job overseas and I lept at it.

Fast forward….fifteen years and three continents later….

This afternoon, I watched a play in Bangkok. A play put on by Yr10 students as part of their final assessment and I was moved. Obviously not in the same way that the Yr 9 and 10 audience was. There were several moments when the teenage audience reacted in ways that I found profoundly offensive. They laughed when the actors on stage talked of the planes hitting buildings. They laughed when the actors spoke of loosing friends. This was very hard hard for me to take. I wanted to yell out, but I didn’t.

I was already a fully fledged adult when 9/11 happened. Today’s audience was between the ages of 2 and 4 on that Tuesday morning. They can not possibly comprehend what the rest of us went through on that day; never mind on the days, weeks and months that followed.

Since that infamous day, I’ve seen movies and read books that portrayed the events of 9/11 but this was my first experience with a play. There is just something about live theater that is so much more personal.

I was caught off guard by the emotions that it brought up.

The reality for me is that I now have teaching colleagues who were 14 yrs old when Columbine happened and 16 years old when the World Trade Towers fell. Their teenage years were touched by a fear that I can not possibly comprehend.

Both events impacted me in ways that I have trouble articulating. I suspect that the students in that theater that day felt the same way.

Maternity leave: the aftermath

18 Apr

So… today was my first proper day back at work. By proper, I mean that I was actually responsible for the delivery and execution of teaching and learning. Whereas my first week “back at work” was more about getting to know where I needed to pick up after my supply teacher.

It has to be said, today was a rather easy re-entry. The day began with a visit to my homeroom. A group of year 8 kids that I’ve known since they began their journey into secondary as ‘little’ Yr7s. Moreover, (and what makes my job even more pleasant) I share responsibility for this group with another teacher. As fate would have it, she and I taught together at another local area school for a brief period but never really got to know one another. That being said, I’m a big fan of being in her orbit.

First period consisted of reconnecting with my Yr4 class. A lovelier bunch of 7 and 8yr olds I’ve yet to meet. One of whom was new to me but he soon proved to be the type of inquisitive sponge who fits in rather well with the rest of the class.

Period two, I met with my Yr7 class. It’s amazing what change can be affected in a mere three months. Since December, this class has lost 2 key members. Two girls who were each remarkable in their own right. One, for being an amazing talent when it came to languages. The other, for being just a sincerely nice person. We have two new male additions and the new dynamic is (maybe not) surprising. I look forward to seeing what the next eight weeks hold for this group.

When too much collaboration is a bad thing

31 Jan

This week’s Time magazine features a look at the upside of being an introvert.

Among other things, it touches on collaboration and how it is viewed in modern society. Now, there is no doubt that collaboration is a positive exercise that can result in some really amazing, creative outcomes. But has the pendulum swung too far in one direction? Have we devalued the act of quiet solo contemplation in favour of the more social aspect of group thinking. And at what cost?

Here is an excerpt from the article:

The trouble is, fewer and fewer of us have time for solitary contemplation and practice anymore. It’s not just the assault of e-mail, cell phones and social media…But the very geography of the American workplace is designed to force people together. Some 70% of American workers spend their days in open-plan offices, with little or no separation from colleagues…Much of this is done in the name of collaboration, but enforced teamwork can stifle creativity. “You need to give people time to think if you want them to actually get work done,” says Cain.

It’s not just introverts who suffer when work becomes an endless series of meetings and brainstorming sessions. Anyone who has spent time in any organization knows that there is rarely a correlation between the quality of an idea and the volume at which it is presented. Defying the loudest speaker–and the groupthink that tends to build around that person–can be painful for anyone. Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist at Emory University, has found that when people oppose group consensus, their amygdalae light up, signaling fear of rejection. The risks of groupthink are perhaps most apparent in criminal juries, where the desire for social cohesion can sometimes short-circuit justice


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