Two Weeks to Go!

In these parts, public school starts two weeks from today. I’ll still continue in my occasional teaching role (at least to start the year), but it will be in two school boards.

Yes! I got hired by the school board that I actually live in, so I’m very excited about that!

Since I do not have classes to prep for the Fall, I haven’t been thinking all that much, or deeply, about teaching lately. Though it’s been a nice summer break, and I’ve gotten lots of knitting done, I’m starting to get the teaching itch!

So, to get myself back in the teaching headspace, I’m doing a few things:

  1. I’m reading Mindset by Carol Dweck
  2. I’m taking part in the NEW New Teacher Chat (check it out here – it’s a slow chat, with questions posted once a week, and all the responses are done using Flipgrid).
  3. I started the process of getting my Google Educator Certification – Level 1
  4. I *just* signed up to take part in the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course)
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Favourite Moments

As the school year winds down, I’ve been reflecting on my favourite moments I’ve had during my first year teaching public high school.

  1. When a notoriously-unreachable student knocked on my classroom door during my prep and we talked for 45 minutes about his art…and then he thanked me because no one ever does that with him.
  2. During an intense game of Spoons with a group of grade 12 physics students, one ripped the last spoon right from my hand. Then when he realized who he stole it from he became bright red and said “Oh my God! I stole the spoon from the TEACHER!! I’m going to fail!!”.
  3. Having a parent email to tell me how much they appreciated me helping their child.
  4. Having students teach me how to play Euchre, and then winning with my partner. Playing games with students is an awesome way to bond.
  5. Having students get excited when they see I’m their teacher for the day.
  6. Helping students, who normally do very little work, GET something. Those smiles and sense of accomplishment are such bright parts of my day.

It’s very bittersweet finishing my first year as a high school teacher, especially as it has been a bit of a rough start. I am excited to see what next school year brings!

Posted in changes, Future?, Reflection, students, supply teaching | Leave a comment

Gift of Failure

I recently read The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey as part of a Twitter book club for educators. We would read a certain part of the book each week and then have a facilitated discussion via a Twitter chat.

The general idea of the book is that parents need to let their kids make their own mistakes in order to be successful adults.

Though it was aimed at parents, there were several things I took away as a teacher as well. Here are some quotes from the book that I found particularly enlightening:

Advice for parents

  • Children who aren’t allowed to fail are “less engaged, less enthusiastic about their education, less motivated, and ultimately less successful…”
  • “Over-parenting teaches kids that without our help, they will never be able to surmount challenges.”
  • “Offer guidance when the child is stuck, and seize the big learning moments, but otherwise hold your tongue.”
  • “Children as young as five can understand and accept the consequences of their actions (and in action), but only if they experience those consequences.”

The benefit of failure for students

  • “…research shows that smooth sailing isn’t where real, deep learning happens.”
  • “…the harder you have to work to retrieve and apply knowledge in a novel way, the more durably that knowledge will be encoded.”
  • “…it gets hard eventually, even the stuff you have talent for.”

Growth Mindset

  • “Kids who are praised for effort are more likely to have a growth mindset…”
  • “The kids who had been praised for their smarts tended to give up, whereas the kids who had been praised for their effort tried harder.”
  • “…the fixed-mindset kids did poorly. They could not bounce back from defeat…”
  • “Extrinsic rewards [like grades] undermine motivation and long-term learning.”

Social failure

  • “By a whopping 40%, peer play is significantly more predictive of academic success than standardized achievement tests.”
  • “…in our attempts to halt bullying before it ramps up into dangerous territory, teachers and parents tend to overreact to the normal social and emotional ups and downs of the adolescent social scene….”
  • “…making, keeping, and deciding when and how to part with friends is part of your child’s education.”

For Teachers

  • “…many of these fleeing educators cite “issues with parents” as one of the main reasons for abandoning the profession.”
  • “…parents who put a priority on saving kids from frustration and teachers who put a priority on challenging their students often butt heads, and consequently, the parent-teacher partnership has reached a breaking point.”
  • “I always found it terrible difficult to teach ninth graders, because the fear of standing out or making a mistake is a powerful force in their decision-making process.”
  • “Juniors [grade 11] were always my most anxiety-ridden and panicked student, because the pressure is on from the first day…”
  • “My students cannot possibly trust me completely when I am locked in battle with their parents.”
  • “Kids need the space to fail, and teachers need the time and benefit of the doubt to let that failure play out in the form of learning.”
  • “Begin with the common ground, the fact that both parent and teacher should truly care about the student…”

In summary

  • “In science, negative results are not failures, they are useful data.”

I think this would be an excellent book for both teachers and parents alike to challenge our failure-adverse society. I would love to see schools host a parent-teacher event based on this book at the beginning of each school year!



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Freedom of Speech

Recently, I wrote about things students say and do in the classroom when I’m supply teaching. There was one incident that I didn’t mention because I thought it deserved its own post.

I had a student who was using foul language and saying offensive things, and I ask them to stop repeatedly. Their response? “We have free speech in this country and I can say whatever I want when I want.”

This was frustrating at first because of their complete lack of respect for myself, the other students in the room, and the general classroom environment. Then it became frustrating at a different level: I remembered learning about how rights can be limited in school settings, but I couldn’t remember the exact details on this one.

So, I went home and told my husband about the incident, and he found The Charter in the Classroom website. Clicking on the Freedom of Expression link, I got the answers I was looking for.

First, the Freedom of Expression is stated as the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media communication”, and also “any non-violent expression is deserving of protection”.  So, the student’s language could be protected, as it was non-violent.

But, it goes on to explain the school context: “Schools may choose to limit students’ freedom of expression in order to ensure an orderly learning environment, to focus course material on particular topics, to protect other students, to limit criticism or to ensure age appropriate discussions for all students.”

So, this is why administration, teachers, and staff at public schools can limit the language acceptable in their classrooms and schools. A good tidbit of knowledge to have in your teacher’s toolbox!

This is an invaluable resource to have on hand – check in out and bookmark it!

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Trick the Supply

Being a supply teacher presents its own special challenges. Generally students try to get away with worse behaviour than normal. It can be a struggle to get them to listen and to work diligently. This is actually understandable, as respect for authority doesn’t come automatically to them. They have to “test” newcomers to see if they’re worthy.

There are many frustrating things about being a supply teacher, and I’ve had many difficult classes. But, when reflecting back with an objective lens, these things can be almost endearing, or at least make for funny teaching stories.

Things students have said to me as a supply teacher:

  • We don’t have bells at this school.
  • Our teacher always lets us go early.
  • We always write our tests in pairs.
  • I’ll pee my pants if I don’t go to the bathroom right now.
  • If I die because I can’t get drink of water, my family will sue you.

Other “tricks”:

  • switching names
  • everyone tapping their feet all at once
  • not having the right materials ready/on hand
  • not knowing what anything means (words, instructions, etc.)
  • going to “the bathroom” and taking 30 minutes

All very “classic” things, really! I think these have all been done since public education started! Sometimes I tell the students to come up with something new 😉

Despite all of this, I’m quite enjoying this role!

What are some funny/interesting/off-the-wall things you’ve seen as a supply teacher?

Posted in students, supply teaching | 1 Comment

Kung Fu Math

My grade 6 teacher, Mr. Piot, did the awesome math game with us called Kung Fu Math.

I don’t remember the exact details, but we had to compete against each other to work our way up from yellow to black belt math masters.

The yellow belt questions were the easiest (example: 5 * 2 + 1), and the black belt questions were the most challenging (eg. 12 * 10 / 5 – 6 * 9). We would NOT have to use the rules of BEDMAS, but do the order of operations in the order given.

We would go head to head with another classmate. The teacher would read the question, and the first one to say the correct answer won. The winner would get points to go up to the next belt. I can’t remember exactly how this part worked, but I think you could go up levels two ways:

  1. By winning a certain number of challenges against students at your same level (and this would increase as you worked your way up the colours: say 3 for yellow, 4 for orange, 10 for black).
  2. By winning against someone with a higher belt that you.

I really like the idea of this game, but don’t think the direct competition between students would fly these days (or am I wrong?). I may think on how to modernize it…teams perhaps? Or anonymously online?

Have you heard of similar games, or have ideas how to update it for the 21st century classroom?

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Unexpected Questions

Last week I was invited into a parenting class to talk about my parenting journey to some grade 11 and 12 students at a school I supply at often.

It was a great experience, but – as per usual in high school classes – I got some questions and comments that I didn’t anticipate, and had to laugh about!

Is it true that you poop when you give birth?

How long did it take for you to lose the baby belly?

Student 1: I don’t have the patience to be a parent. I’d rather have a baby goat.
Student 2: I LOVE baby goats! They’re so cute!
Student 1: And they’re called “kids”, so that’s close enough.

Student 1: Is that a digital camera?
Student 2: Why did you ask that with such disdain?
Student 3: Ew! A digital camera?
Student 4: We have one of those in our house!

Can you just pretend you’re still presenting so we don’t have to do our presentations?

Ah, high school students will always make me smile (and shake my head too)!

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