Tag Archives: Teacher

Love people. Cook them tasty food.

Today was the kind of day that I describe as quiet but very, very loud. Quiet because I didn’t venture more than a few kilometers from home and loud because my thoughts have been racing. There aren’t many days like these.

It’s the end of the calendar year, which means that nearly every conversation I’ve had over the last few days has led inevitably to a discussion of who’s staying or going at work. Who has resigned their contracts, who has decided to move on at the end of the school year, who’s attending which job fair, who has signed up with which recruitment agency. Who’s moving on, adventuring elsewhere, pursuing different dreams.

Even though they’re commonplace and repetitive, these conversations leave me very sad because saying goodbye is hard, and it doesn’t help to think that it’s six months away.

I went for a run today in the rain – on purpose. I figured that if I was going to cry, I might as well do it when the sky was crying, too. But I ended up laughing because I was squinting to see, jumping to avoid puddles, and absolutely soaked about two minutes in. And while laughing, I realized that I had a choice.

I could be sad because people were leaving, or I could be happy for the times we’ve spent together, the ways we’ve known each other, the laughter and ideas and conversations that we’ve shared.

And I realized it was okay to feel sad, but that the sadness would never be stronger than the joy I have felt around the friends that I’ll be sending down new roads when the time comes. Basking in that joy is what allows me to feel sadness and that’s okay, too.

My mum has a dishtowel that aptly sums up my philosophy towards the people in my life. “Love people,” it says. “Cook them tasty food.”

I’m bringing gingersnaps to work tomorrow.

What does learning look like?

Play a game with me. (I love games.)

Picture a teacher. Any teacher. A teacher you’ve had or a teacher you wish you’d had. A teacher you liked or a teacher you didn’t. Picture that teacher in a classroom. What does the classroom look like? Where’s the teacher? What’s the teacher doing? Put some students in that room. Where are the students? What are the students doing?

Try to keep that picture in your mind while reading the description of what my grade ten classroom looks like on a typical day.

Current Classroom
All students have laptops. They’re working, some talking with others but mostly just sitting quietly. Some are listening to music. The desks are in three clusters of four, one cluster of five, and two rows of three. I’m not sure who set them up that way. The students go back and forth from our class blog, which contains links to all resources they’ll need for the day, to whatever it is they’re working on. Some have printed copies of the linked resources and some are using pocket translators to help. There are notes from whatever we’ve recently discussed on the board. As the teacher, I’m either sitting in a spare student desk or on top of the cabinets at the side of the room. I have a laptop, too, and I’m probably on it.

We spend the beginning of each class reading through and then sharing the news. We discuss or review a few things together as a large group. Students complete a task, we discuss, students complete a task, we discuss. Sometimes these tasks are done independently and sometimes they work together. Sometimes students submit responses or assignments on GoogleDrive and sometimes they comment straight onto the blog. Often, they do neither and we periodically discuss for a few minutes after students have talked in their groups.

I’m willing to bet my classroom doesn’t look much like the one in your head.

The classroom in your head probably involves a teacher standing at the front of the room. Depending on how old you are, the students are probably in rows, though maybe groups of four. If you’re picturing a high school class, the students are probably taking notes while the teacher talks. Maybe there’s a PowerPoint presentation that the teacher is using, or maybe there are notes written on a transparency or perhaps on the board, again depending on how old you are. In this classroom, I’m willing to bet that the teacher is “teaching” and the students are “learning” and that the roles and responsibilities of both are clear. Anyone walking in could see that the teacher has the information and the students are supposed to take it in and understand it.

And if that’s not the classroom in your head, I’d love to hear what the classroom in your head looks like!

Even though my classroom might not match what we often think of when we hear “classroom” or “teacher” or “learning”, I have no doubt that my students are indeed learning. I can make this claim based simply on what they say in class, whether we’re having a discussion or they’re asking for clarification while working. I can make this claim based on individual conversation I have with students while checking up on their progress. If necessary, and sometimes it is, I can also provide samples of student work and show you the data I’ve collected and tracked on each student.

Anxiety
And yet.

And yet there’s some anxiety, anxiety for me as the trained educator in the room. What am I actually doing when others walk in or walk by the room? What am I actually doing that requires me to be there? I feel a sense of insecurity because I’m doing what I think is right by my students but looks inactive as compared to what others may do in their classes. The reason my classroom looks the way it does and I organize my classes the way I do is because I know, because I have learned, that with access to curated resources, assistance as needed, and feedback on their progress, my students will be just fine.

I might not be “teaching” in the traditional sense, but the point isn’t that I teach; it’s that students learn.

A few months ago, I read Michael Horn and Heather Stacker’s book Blended, which argues for disruptive innovation in schools. The authors explain that disruptive innovation comes from attempts in the business world to make products and services available to more people at lower cost. It was while reading this book that I began to rethink (yet again) the way that schools run and, more specifically, what I could do within my own classroom to meet students where they are and let them learn in the ways that make the most sense to them.

Future Classroom
Disruptive innovation in schools means making education and educational opportunities available to more people in ways that education may not have been in the past. In order to receive a diploma, everyone used to attend a building called a school. Considering schools in the context of disruptive innovation makes us ask, is that necessary anymore? Horn and Stacker describe models of schools that are a mix of remote and in-person learning experiences, either determined by the students themselves, by a the student in conjunction with a counselor, or by the student’s results on assessments. The very idea of a classroom, then, is called into question.

If I could, I’d design a school that looks like the one described in earlier writing here. I still believe that building peace is the purpose of education and that our students need a toolkit to make the world a better place. As much as I can, I design my grade ten curriculum around the real learning that is necessary for solving world problems and realizing one’s role and responsibilities as a citizen of the world. While my students have due dates, deadlines, and specific assessments, I’m trying to make my classes more flexible by providing students access to a wide range of resources and a choice about which ones to use.

There’s a long way to go. I know. There’s a lot of working, dialoguing, and understanding that has to happen. None of this happens quickly and I’m trying to be patient. I’m trying to be satisfied with one small change at a time. This isn’t the type of change that happens quietly, either, which is why I write about it.


Play a game with me. Design your ideal classroom or school or learning environment. Why do you think it should be this way or look like this? Comment below or send me a message.

Thank you for your thoughts, as always.

Why I Went to Work on International Women’s Day

I didn’t intend to write this post.

And then my eighth graders asked some questions and I realized I was missing an opportunity to explore the complexity of what it means to be a woman and educator in today’s world.

As my students noticed, I did not participate in A Day Without a Woman on Wednesday, March 8. I did not participate in the demonstrations in New York City. Instead, I went to work.

This lack of participation is a sharp contrast to my activism in the Women’s March back in January, and my students were curious about it. Many of my eighth graders read this blog (and ask me about it in class when they’re supposed to be working on other things) so this post is for and because of them.

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My favorite sign from the Women’s March in January

The Question
A number of my students come from households that talk politics. Some of them come to class echoing their parents’ conservative or liberal views, others come with questions, and still others want to be involved in the conversation but don’t know where to start. I  don’t openly discuss my political views with my students, but I’m also not completely closed off when political questions intersect with deeply held personal views.

On Thursday, March 9, the day after International Women’s Day, two young women who usually present very different political narratives quietly and separately asked me, “Why were you here yesterday? I was expecting you’d be at a protest.”

I was surprised because I hadn’t even considered skipping school to demonstrate or protest. My identity as an educator is such that I feel a sense of moral responsibility in being there for my students to guide their learning. That is what I tried to convey in my answer to both of those young women on Thursday.

The Answer

That’s a really good question. The way I see it, my job is to make sure that you’re learning. I know that I can best do that when I am here helping you learn and guiding you along. When I’m not here, I have to leave that task to someone else. Yes, someone else can do it, but I know what my goals are for you and I know what I’m doing to help you reach those goals. My not being here is potentially harmful to your learning. So, to be the best teacher I can be, it’s important to me to be here with you.

I understand why some women made the choice to protest. I understand why it’s important to show the country what happens when women are silenced and shoved aside. But I think that an alternative way to demonstrate that is to be here with you and talk about it. So I support those women who didn’t go to work. I support their decision to make their absence felt. It just doesn’t fit with my job right now. I have a different agenda, which is to do what’s right for you.

The girls nodded. Both expressed their surprise and understanding. One of them told me she respected that decision.

In truth, the more I think about it, it’s far more complicated than that.

The Challenge
The challenge for me is to “talk the talk and walk the walk”. It’s all well and good to say that I support women who took time off work, either paid or unpaid, to stand in solidarity with other women on Wednesday. However, I did not take time off work. I did not physically stand in solidarity with women. Do my actions speak louder than my words? If so, do my words of support still count?

If I want to be a role model for my students and do what is right, am I obligated to stand up on behalf of women and join them in protest? Or is sticking to my beliefs about education modeling in itself?

I’m not sure.

I could be giving myself far too much credit as essential to my students’ learning. I know they could have gotten through a day without me and that the day would not have been a loss. So maybe I’m not as important as I think I am, and maybe I could have had a greater impact missing school and joining a protest.

Similarly, there are definitely things I could have done in class on Wednesday to draw attention to A Day Without a Woman. I could have addressed it explicitly and discussed the history of women’s protest with my students. I could have asked if they knew anyone participating. I could have pulled opinion pieces and even footage of protests and demonstrations and we could have had a class discussion on the purpose and effectiveness of protests.

Picking a Side
In truth, I didn’t think about it. Perhaps I should have. Perhaps this was a lost opportunity and my students and I all missed a valuable learning experience. Perhaps this was not simply a matter of another day at school.

Unfortunately, I think that’s all too common in schools. I think we often miss valuable learning experiences because we’re tied to other priorities, whether those are selected for us or by us. I don’t know if I made the right choice in going to work. I don’t know if I made the right choice in spending the day on “normal curriculum” instead of digging into protest in America or wage inequality or women’s issues around the world.

I do know that I’m walking a line between political and personal identities and I’m having trouble finding a bridge. I feel like I’m coming from two almost opposing camps and I don’t always know where they should intersect.

On Wednesday, I chose to go to work and do my job because I felt like it was the best thing I could do for the young people under my care. Yes, there are others who care for them. But I can only control what I do and the messages that I send. It was more important for me to stand by my promise to be present with my students than it was to embrace my role as a woman and skip school that day. At this point, all I can do is recognize that choice for what it is and perhaps consider what other options I might have in the future.

Eighth graders, you ask good questions. Keep doing that.