Education, Teaching, Uncategorized

Just Ask

Ask      the girl crying in the washroom.

Ask      the custodian with a twisted back.

Ask      the boy with a fresh bruise.

Ask      the two kids holding hands.

Ask      the boy praying for his life in the stairwell.

Ask       the new kid.

Ask      the girl giving a blowjob in the washroom.

Ask      the boy doodling dragons in class.

Ask       the Principal (but only if she knows your name).

Ask      the supply teacher that doesn’t know who to call for help.

Ask      Gregory Doucette.

Ask      the VP that doesn’t know how to say ‘no’.

Ask      the attendance secretary.

Ask      the kid waiting for the library to open.

Ask      the teachers in the staffroom, workroom and book room.

Ask      the kid that just signed out.

Ask      the history teacher just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Ask      the school nurse.

Ask      the young girl that wishes she were invisible.

Ask      the young boy that forgot to gel his hair.

Ask      the boy that forgot his lunch.

Ask       the kid with Tourette’s.

Ask       the mouse that only comes out at night.

Ask       the boy who needs a bath.

Ask       Mr. Bukowski.

Ask       the school social worker.

Ask      the girl that was just called a ‘slut’.

Ask       the kid that changes his route everyday.

Ask      the kid losing his hair.

Ask       Jordan Manners.

Ask      the boy that just found a knife.

Ask      the girl that carved ‘fuck life’ on the back of her hand.

Ask      the boy that wants to be a girl.

Ask      they’ll all tell you: the hallways at school can be a terrifying place.

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Education, Literacy, Teaching

How to Find Out What’s Really Happening in Schools

  1. If you want to know just how serious your child’s school takes literacy, don’t use the province wide test as a marker- visit the school’s library.
  2. If you want to know how your child’s school values their health, visit the school cafeteria.
  3. If you want to know just how serious your child’s school values their ability to think, ask them how many multiple choice questions made up their final exam.
  4. If you want to see how your child is really doing in math, give them the grocery money and let them do the shopping. NOTE: They can’t spend a penny more or less. They are not allowed to use a calculator.
  5. If you want to see if your child’s school values differentiated instruction, ask them about their most recent assignment and how it was different from the last one that they handed in.
  6. If you want to see if your child really is information literate, ask them to search for something without using Google.
  7. If you want to see if your child cheats on assignments for school, ask them to write their next essay, in front of you, without using a computer.
  8. If you want to see how serious your child’s school values history, social justice and empathy, visit in February and ask about what’s scheduled for Black History Month. 
  9. If you want to know how safe your child’s school is don’t just ask the Principal – speak to the social worker, youth worker and the custodian.
  10. If you want to see if your child is learning anything at school, don’t look at their report cards- just ask them.
  11. If you really want to see if your child is prepared for the future, take a look at how much the education system has changed since you were in school.
  12. If you want your child to succeed, don’t put your failures in life on them. Let them choose their path; choice is everything (unless, of course, it comes in the form of a multiple choice question). 
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Creative Writing, Education, Teaching

Meet Mr. Ben Driscoll

I thought it might be cool to interview one of my own characters from my novel-in-progress. The book is a made up of nine loosely connected short stories that document the lives of teachers and students of a high school in the middle of anywhere and everywhere.

Stay tuned for more.

_________

Chapter 4: Ben Driscoll; 59 years of age; three months shy of retirement after having taught History for over 30 years.

_________

Interviewer: Will you show up for work tomorrow?

Ben Driscoll: I’m not allowed back in the classroom.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Ben Driscoll: I’d rather not say.

Interviewer: Did you do something?

Ben Driscoll: No. I said something.

Interviewer: And…you’d rather not share?

Ben Driscoll: That’s correct.

Interviewer: Is there alcohol in that thermos, Mr. Driscoll?

Ben Driscoll: Of course.

Interviewer: Do you drink?

Ben Driscoll: Don’t you?

Interviewer: You’ve taught history for over thirty years; are you looking forward to the future? Retirement?

Ben Driscoll: I am now.

Interviewer: You haven’t always?

Ben Driscoll: No. I used to love teaching.

Interviewer: What happened?

Ben Driscoll: What didn’t happen? I spent my whole life looking back into the past that I didn’t see what was coming up ahead.

Interviewer: Do you think you’ll miss teaching history?

Ben Driscoll: No.

Interviewer: Why not?

Ben Driscoll:  Because in this day and age, history doesn’t matter- it doesn’t exist.

Interviewer: Do you think your illness makes you say things like that?

Ben Driscoll: I do. I’m beginning to forget things.

Interviewer: Don’t you think that’s ironic: A history teacher that is beginning to forget?

Ben Driscoll: Perhaps I should have taught English.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Education, Teaching

I Know You Didn’t Ask For It (But You Should Have).

The other day I had a student come into the library to ask for help on an assignment. He needed to interview somebody about about their profession. I had seen kids working on the assignment earlier in the week so I knew it was late and that the young man was being given a last chance. When we sat in my office I asked to see the questions. He told me he didn’t have any and was hoping that I could help him with that part too. I rolled my eyes, secretly smiled, and suggested a few that he might want to work with. The questions were:

Why did you get into teaching? What do you like and dislike about the profession?  What advice do you have for young teachers coming into the profession?

When I got home that evening the last questions popped into my mind. I thought it might be an interesting thing to try and answer my own question:

What advice do I have for young teachers coming into the profession?

Teach students the rules, and then encourage them to break a few.

Assign them a textbook and then tell them to put it away.

Don’t teach high school because you loved high school.

Use poetry to teach history, math to teach dance, science to teach religion, and a recipe to teach law.

Literacy changes- pay attention.

These kids can smell a fake from a mile away.

Your worst year of teaching will be your 4th, 7th, 12th or 15th.

Find a mentor.

If all your going to do is give notes, and have them take notes, you may as well not even be there.

When you don’t look forward to coming into work, its time for a career change.

Your department head is not your boss.

Look up the term critical thinking.

Read (and let them see you doing it).

There is more to writing than the five-paragraph essay.

Everything you see, hear, smell, touch and taste is material for a lesson.

Don’t keep a binder.

Avoid the staffroom.

If there is a child struggling in your class take responsibility.

Don’t be the teacher whose class you slept through when you were in high school.

The best advice I ever got as a teacher was, “They’re all children that want, and need, to be loved.”

Enjoy the best job in the world.

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Education, Literacy

First Books

The other day I was a volunteer at a high-needs elementary school, a school located in a much different neighborhood than the one I teach at. You see, I teach at a high school that has a Smartboard, computer and television in EVERY classroom; where some kids are dropped off in a Mercedes and picked up in a Land Rover. When I walk into my school  I walk into an ocean of light; the matrix has a wall with floor to ceiling windows that looks out into conservation space. In the summer we see deer going for a stroll; in the winter we look out at scenery worthy of a Robert Bateman painting or Freeman Patterson photograph.

The school I visited the other day was nothing like my school. It was surrounded by a chain link fence; in the place of trees and green space stood apartment buildings as grey as my mother’s weekday roast. Inside, the halls were poorly lit and the paint was well-worn. When I walked into the library I was overcome with a feeling of sadness. The computers looked more like a puzzle where the pieces didn’t quite fit; the books on the shelves looked too tired, defeated, bereft of life.

It was a small school with just over 350 kids (pre-kindergarten to grade five). I was there with First Book Canada, a non-profit organization that looks to get   new books to children that might not otherwise have access to them. A half hour into our visit, we were called into the gymnasium for a school wide assembly.

The entire school had gathered.The kids sat on the floor, the teachers on benches. The volunteers and dignitaries sat upfront, while the press took pictures off to the side. There was a buzz in the gymnasium. The kids were excited. Some of them were too excited. The VP  had to periodically walk through  the crowd point at a specific kid, whisper their name (she seemed to know them all) and put her finger up to her lips. After the usual pleasantries, accolades and speeches the assembly came to an end.

A few kids from each class stayed behind to help carry the books into the classrooms. I was assigned to a grade five class. The book that was selected for them was John Grisham’s Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. When we got into the class we distributed the books. The kids could barely contain their excitement As a high school Teacher-Librarian it was nice to see kids excited about books. Once the class was settled, I read (more like,  performed) half of chapter one. It was wonderful to be reading to them, to see them with their faces buried in the pages of a book, asking questions and begging me to continue. But sadly for me, it was time to go. We took a class picture and said goodbye (but not before I had the class promise me that they would continue with the book on their own).

Upon exiting the parking lot, the school looked a little different. It had a little more color, a little more life. I couldn’t get some of the kids faces out of my minds. Their smiles were flashing in my mind like spots that appear after looking directly into the sun. They had certainly brightened up my day.

On the way to back to my school, driving through the rolling hills and lush green space, I could not stop thinking about the kids and their brand new books. I know I was making assumptions about their lives based on what I was seeing for such a short time. But I’ve been teaching long enough to know that these kids were experiencing things that I had only read about or heard on the news. They lived in a different city, belonged to a different school board. But if my students were to visit, they would have felt as if they were visiting a different planet.

Back at my school,  I made a pledge to commit more of my time to getting books to kids who may not have access to books at home, or even at school. They need books; we need books. Books help level the playing field because books don’t discriminate. As I walked back into my library I couldn’t help but feel that those kids had made my life all the more richer. Only it didn’t make me all that happy. It wasn’t me that needed more, it was them.

Click on the First Book Canada link above and help get books to kids in need.

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