Friday Two Cents: An Entertaining Distraction.

‘Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.’ Auguste Rodin

For many teachers, students, and parents, the past six weeks of virtual learning were a rollercoaster ride of emotions. For everyone there was the excitement of starting a new year online, but then the stress-filled reality set in. For the students, it meant not seeing or interacting with their friends.  Parents found it difficult to oversee their children’s learning habits while juggling their own responsibilities.  Then there were the teachers working 12-14 hours on top of the regular school hours to provide lesson plans.  

And then when nerves were about to break, the news came out that everyone would be returning to in-class learning this week.  Many people, if not the majority of them, looked forward to it, myself included.

This was the first week of in-class learning in the Toronto region for 2021 and the continuation of the school year that started in September of 2020, yet in reality it felt like déjà vu.  I went into school ready to teach music, but it was like I was starting from scratch again with the students.  I thought I could move forward with the new things I had taught in the virtual class, but I discovered that many had forgotten, or more accurately, had not paid attention while in virtual school.  I had to go back to what I was teaching before the lockdown to refresh their memories.

I should not be that surprised: on many occasions, I noticed many students would turn off their cameras and I would not know if they actually participated in the lesson.  Or when I tried to engage them in some music and movement, the same thing would happen, and at times it seemed that I was the only one doing the movement.  In class, I brought out the same activities that I had just used the week before to continue the learning, but many did not know what to do or they did not do it.  I thought to myself, “Ahh, you cannot turn off your cameras now.  You have no choice but to do the activity.”  It felt like September all over again.

Upon reflecting over this week’s discovery, it only strengthened my belief that online learning for younger students from kindergarten to grade 3 is not a good idea.  Even for grades 4 and 5, it was a bit of a stretch.  Putting aside the fact that teaching performance art forms like music, dance, and drama are extremely difficult in a normal class setting, once you place it in a virtual environment it becomes next to impossible.  

How can teachers assess a student’s performance if they cannot see them? Or if they say they can do the music pattern online, but once in class, they say they’ve forgotten what it was not one week after performing it?

I believe this virtual school has been a tremendous learning curve for the students, a test of patience for the parents, and an experience in futility for the educators.  For all the effort and work put into the lessons by the teachers, some 4 to 6 hours per lesson and the time spent helping their students, the net results are minuscule to non-existent.

That said, these past weeks in virtual school were not a total loss.  I believe that we as a society have learned something valuable.

Virtual learning for younger children has as much value as a television show: an entertaining distraction.  

Friday Two Cents: All the Classroom’s a Stage

‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts,’ WilliamShakespeare

Or is it …     “one teacher in his time plays many parts.” 

For the past few months I have engaged in an adventure of working as a music teacher within a long-term teaching position.  As a regular supply teacher at the school, I am very familiar with the staff, school community, and students.  The position is challenging but with my music and art background to help me, I am finding it quite rewarding.

In the past month though, I have undertaken the new responsibility of teaching music virtually.  This job is hard enough in the middle of a pandemic with all the restrictions, but now I have to continue doing it online, within a virtual classroom setting.  Yet after some bumpy days trying to get the students familiar with the technology and coming up with a program, I have settled into a comfortable routine.  

This past week though, a comment from the students made me stop and think.  They said, “Wow Mr G, you’re like a talkshow host.  I feel like I am listening to a show. You should be an actor on a show.”  I took it as a compliment but that made me wonder about my teaching style and how am I getting my message across.  

During this entire virtual experience, I have been receiving compliments from staff, students, and parents on my enthusiasm and energy.  I am normally a very animated person, and I guess this part of my personality is coming across more on the screen.  I regularly change the tone of my voice or use different vocal expressions and accents to help sing/chant songs with my puppets. With the older students, I use it to peak their interest and engage them with the different lessons.  I have used a variety of music to help get my point across in my instruction or to stimulate different thinking.  I have even used movement and music to help get the students to understand rhythm and patterns.  But I had not seen myself as a entertainer.  

I reflected a long time about what the student said.  Am I an entertainer?  I did notice that at the beginning of the virtual experience, the students were engaged in what was happening and I think they were excited by the new format.  But by the third week, their attention was beginning to drift and I was beginning to question if they were getting anything out of this.  

I noticed I started using other strategies to help keep them attentive: using a piece of music to introduce our class, smiling and using more voice inflections and impressions, and cracking a joke or two during the lesson.  I even turned a weekly online quiz into a fun competition or event with music and, dare I say, showmanship to help them learn about different composers.  What I realized was that these little things worked.  The students were more involved, and they were doing the actions, patterning, and songs.  

In the classroom, I would use these strategies but they were not so pronounced.  It seems that within this virtual setting, I had to use the skills I learned from my drama and musical performance background to deliver the lessons in a more entertaining way.  

Perhaps with this remote learning environment, this quote truly rings through for many teachers.  

‘Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.’ Gail Godwin

Friday Two Cents: Good, Bad and Ugly of 2020

‘Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.’ Euripides

To say that this past year is like no other is an understatement.  The pandemic has placed a number of anxieties and stresses upon many people, myself included.  However, I think there is something that the pandemic has also given us that many do not recognize, which is perspective.  This past year has taught me many things but perspective is by far the most important one.  

Reflecting on this past year, I looked back upon the many different view points and events around me and how they affected my life. I call them the “Good, Bad and Ugly of 2020”.  

Many media outlets are giving their top news stories and the pandemic is number one, yet I see this as a moment in time where I have seen the good, bad and ugly in this world. The Good has been the health care workers suffering everyday to help people, the  Bad has been the rising death toll of this pandemic and the Ugly has been people being selfish and ignoring public health measures because it inconveniences them.  These are only a few examples I have seen in society, yet my personal reflection hits closer to home.  

I think the number one lesson I got out of this pandemic was that I learned a lot about people.  Family, friends and colleagues all were affected by the pandemic and as a result, their interactions with me came into sharp focus.  I saw and felt the ugly side of people trying to use me to their own advantage by throwing tantrums, name calling and making up stories.  Looking back at the incidents, these people focused on what was best for them and not giving a damn about me or others supposedly close to them.  These were simultaneously the greatest revelations and disappointments of the year for even though in retrospect I should not be surprised, it took a pandemic for these people to show the ugliness inside them.  

I saw the bad side of people not caring for me or the safety of others; many ignored established health regulations to keep everyone safe because it was an inconvenience to wear a mask, or argued that it infringed on their rights and freedoms under our Charter.  The selfishness of others looking down on me because I wore a mask to protect others around me at work or to ensure that I did not bring anything home to my family showed a lack of empathy:  all that mattered was what they wanted and they did not care who got hurt in the process.

  Yet for all this doom and gloom from those people, there came the warm bright rays of sunshine that turned the darkness of the pandemic to one of hope.  I learned who my true friends were and who I can truly trust.  You know those people; they are the ones you can share your deepest feelings and know that they have your back.  The ones who won’t use your darkest thoughts against you, but will help you to put them into the trash bin of your mind.  The ones who will surprise you with a coffee, a treat or a phone call just because they care.  Those are the people you keep close to help brighten your day.  

I learned there are only a precious few of these people within my life.  For they are like angels sent to help and guide me and are as rare as diamonds.   A treasure like no other.  

‘Angels are like diamonds. They can’t be made, you have to find them. Each one is unique.’ Jaclyn Smith

Friday Two Cents: Comic Strips: No Smoking

Being both a supply teacher and an artist, I sometimes have the opportunity to combine my passions.  Creating my comic strip entitled The Craziest Things is one of them.  

The genesis of this comic strip came from the situations I have observed from students, and thus The Craziest Things was born.  

I use many different themes to inspire me to create it. Some include the difference in the generations or the use of technology in the classroom compared to their parents. Other times I find inspiration from the real world and then simply create a scene, though the majority of my inspiration comes from interactions with the students.  

December is all about the holiday season and what better way to help you get into the Christmas spirt than reading classic Christmas stories. I loved them as a chid and I love sharing them with the students.  However sometimes these classic tails show their age with the students.  

I hope you enjoy December’s The Craziest Things: No Smoking.

Comic Strips: Two Maps

Being both a supply teacher and an artist, I sometimes have the opportunity to combine my passions.  Creating my comic strip entitled The Craziest Things is one of them.  

The genesis of this comic strip came from the situations I have observed from students, and thus The Craziest Things was born.  

I use many different themes to inspire me to create it. Some include the difference in the generations or the use of technology in the classroom compared to their parents. Other times I find inspiration from the real world and then simply create a scene, though the majority of my inspiration comes from interactions with the students.  

In November, I was immersed in an experience that took up most of my time, not the US election, but teaching music.  With this great opportunity, I focused a lot of my artistic efforts into the music, and my visual art time was cut back; however, I continued to draw and create my comic strip, and now that the winter break is upon me, I am able to finally post it.  

I hope you enjoy November’s The Craziest Things: Two Maps.

November 2020

Friday Two Cents: The Art of Being Happy

‘The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.’ Henry Ward Beecher

This week was the last one before the winter break for schools.  During this time, the school is a buzz of excitement for the upcoming holiday season, with both children and adults looking forward to a festive break.  Yet this year with the pandemic, things have been rather subdued.  Ever the person to bring a smile to others, I decided to bring in my favourite Christmas book to read to the younger students:  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss. 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas By Dr. Seuss

If you are not familiar with the story, I strongly recommend you read it and more importantly share it with a young person in your life. It tells a tale of “The Grinch”, a creature who hates Christmas and in the end decides to steal it from the town near his home. He thinks that if he takes all the decorations, food, and presents, he will stop it from coming. Yet the town’s people still celebrate Christmas without any of the stuff associated with it. The Grinch realizes that Christmas is not about the material gifts, food, or decorations, and that there is something more about this holiday, more than all the hype and acquisition of things. Perhaps it is about being with people we love and care about; it’s about something more.

I have always enjoyed this story at Christmas because for me, the giving and receiving of presents is not what the holiday is all about. Even at a young age, I thought that it had become too materialistic and commercial. I read this story every year and it helps me to remember the important parts of Christmas. It is about being with people I care about and the good feelings that are shared with them. It is about my traditions and faith that come from my family and friends. No matter how upset I am during this time of year, I try to see that there are others out there worse off and I thank God for the blessings that I do have.  It is not always easy: I have had Christmases where I was downright miserable but I try to see past these troubles to see the joy and positive aspects of the season.

With this year’s extra stress, I too am finding it difficult to be happy.  The more I see people fighting to go shopping and buy more and more stuff, it makes me wonder if people are trying to fill the emptiness brought on by the pandemic with things.  Or can it be that they are truly so obsessed with material gains that they have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas? Or have they forgotten how to be happy with what they already have?

I often reflect upon how my life would be if I did get all that stuff and I keep coming back to the fact that I do not need things to make me happy, nor do I need to fill the emptiness with material goods.  I make my own happiness with the people I am with and through the interests I enjoy.  Yes, some of those things are nice and I would like an iWatch or a Corvette, but in the end, the true joy I feel is within me.

Maybe the one positive thing brought on by the pandemic is the realization that people do not need to go shopping and buy mounds of things to be happy.  All they truly need is to …  ‘extract happiness from common things.’ Henry Ward Beecher

Friday Two Cents: Sense of Entitlement

This past week, I had a front row seat to an incident involving someone with an inflated sense of entitlement.  Many people today use the term “sense of entitlement” to describe Millennials and children of today, yet this trait is not limited to that demographic.  It can and has occurred in all generations. 

For those of you who do not know this saying, it is best explained this way:

‘In simple terms, people with a sense of entitlement believe that the world owes them something in exchange for nothing.’ (Porter, 2020)

The feelings of rage and disgust brought out in me was enhanced by the fact that it was from someone I have known for a lifetime.  I had no idea that this person was like this, but witnessing this scene and what followed has changed my perception of this individual forever.  However, it did encourage me to look up the psychology of what makes someone develop a sense of entitlement.  I did some research and found an article written by Robert Porter and medically revised by Ann-Marie Duncan entitled “The Psychology Behind Sense Of Entitlement”.  After reading the article, I got a better sense of what makes up this condition, and found some helpful tips to overcome it.  Some include … 

Do something because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect to be rewarded.’ (Porter, 2020)

Don’t live in the past.’ (Porter, 2020)

Practice treating others with respect, compassion and gratitude.  The more kindness you give to others, the more you are likely to receive.’ (Porter, 2020)

Celebrate the successes of others, even when you feel like a failure.  The happiness and joy of others can be infectious.’ (Porter, 2020)

 Upon reflection, I recognized some of these pieces of advice.  I try to live by them or something similar everyday.  They have served me well for many years and I know they do make me feel better about myself.   Perhaps more people should adopt them to help make the world a better place.  

Porter, R. (2020, June). The Psychology Behind Sense Of Entitlement. Better Help.

Friday Two Cents: Personal Fortress of Solitude

For the past four weeks I have had the good fortune to work in a long-term teaching position at a school where I do supply work regularly.  I have been filling in for the music teacher who is on leave, and the job is quite demanding as it is a rotary position that provides music instruction to several classes while giving the home room teacher some valuable preparation time.  

I am finding the position quite challenging, not because of the curriculum or the music part.  I have a musical background and have been playing music in marching, military, and jazz bands since I was 10 years old; rather, I am finding it emotionally,  physically, and mentally draining. 

You see, many teachers are very empathic: they show or have an ability to understand and share the feelings of others.  It is a great asset at times, but with this role it seems to be taking its toll.  The fact is that I see 4 to 6 classes a day ranging from Kindergarten to Grade Five.  During these times, I am instructing them in music, dance, or drama.  I know the subject materials but the interaction with so many people is taking a toll on me.  Please remember that the average class size now is between 20 to 25 students.  That means I have to interact with 80 to 120 students a day, all of them individuals with their own wants, needs, and desires.  If that does not mean anything to you, also remember that in every job there are down periods that are quitter than most where you can recover.  One does not need to be at 100% their entire work day.  Every-time I enter a class I need to be on at 100% to help the students, which is draining after a full day.

More and more I have found myself seeking the solitude of the one person with whom I can truly relax and recharge: myself.  Like Superman, I sometimes seek out my own “Fortress of Solitude”: that can mean reading with a soft music in the background, watching movies, playing video games or indulging in my art.  

Recently people have been trying to enter my moments of solitude.  I don’t mind it generally, but there have been times when I feel a bit annoyed.  I am usually a very outgoing person who gets his strength from others, yet there are occasions when I desire to be alone.  In the past week one such moment happened and it took a lot of my mental strength to focus on the other person and not push them away.  I can tell you, I did not like that feeling.  I pride myself in being open to others and willing to help in any way, so these recent feelings are not a welcome development.  

Upon reflection, I was thinking that this pandemic has been very taxing on everyone, including the students, and that in the course of the day, I try to give them some of my strength, either in the form of a smile, song, a happy thought, or whatever it takes to try and help them get through it.  At the end of the school day, I have given so much that I need the solitude to recharge for the next one.  

It appears that maybe I am taking a page out of Superman’s play book.  When the weight of the world threatens to come crashing down on him, he goes to his “Fortress of Solitude” to help him recharge and think things through.  However, if the world needs him, he will be there for others.  Perhaps I too need to think like that in order to maintain my strength and assist others in their time of need.

Comic Strips: Candy Cannon

Being both a supply teacher and an artist, I sometimes have the opportunity to combine my passions.  Creating my comic strip entitled The Craziest Things is one of them.  The genesis of this comic strip came from the situations I have observed from the students.  I thought it would be great to create a comic strip based on those situations and thus The Craziest Things was born.  

I use many different themes to inspire me to create the comic. Some include the difference in the generations or the use of technology in the classroom compared to their parents. Other times I use situations that inspire me from the real world and then I simply create a scene.  Yet the majority of my inspiration comes from real life situations that I experience with the students.  

October is a time full of many wonderful activities.  Canadian Thanksgiving, the trees showing their autumn colours, apple picking and of course Halloween.  In a time of Covid-19, Halloween will be a little different this year.  Yet even with all the anxiety and mixed feelings I thought it best to poke a little fun to lighten the mood a bit.  Therefore I thought what if someone took social distancing and treat giving to the next level.   Then it hit me, so to speak.

I hope you enjoy October’s The Craziest Things: Candy Cannon.

Friday Two Cents: Society Cannot Function Without Women

Ever since the beginning of the school year, I have had the good fortune of working everyday as a supply teacher at a couple of schools.  The staff at each school is amazing and I count myself as very fortunate to be working with these great educators.  Despite the strict guidelines in place due to the pandemic, I have been able to build a rapport with all of them.  

 During our conversations, the subject matter inevitably turns to the pandemic and how it is affecting the schools, both with educators and students.  In one instance we jokingly discussed when we think the schools may be closed again, as they were in the spring.  There were many opinions and all joking aside, some offered dates.  I too thought about this long and hard and then came up with a date: June 29, 2021, the last day of school for this year.  

I have come to the firm belief that this school year will not be cancelled and that they will only close the schools down on a class-to-class basis if there are any Covid-19 cases present.  Many asked why I think this and I broke it down for them with two simple reasons. 

1) The politicians and people in power have realized that elementary schools and daycares provide childcare.  They have come to the realization that society cannot function without someone looking after the workers’ children. 

2) Educators (teachers and early childhood educators/ECE) are part of that group of support workers that people cannot do without but remain continually undervalued.  These workers include nurses, personal care workers, social workers, elderly care workers, and they look after our society’s most vulnerable and are continually spit on and needed by others. 

But then I realized a simple truth; many, if not all of these fields are female-dominated.  For all our strides in gender equality and it being the 21st century, these fields are put down simply because the majority of their work force is comprised of women.  

The truly disgusting thing is when I witness women putting down other women in these fields, particularly in the education sector, when women attack other women’s character as mothers simply because they did not get their way.  So much for woman power and sisterhood.  Perhaps it comes down to that simple saying,“the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  People know that women are invaluable but do not acknowledge it for fear they would lose their illusion of control.   

The truth is that our society cannot function without women, and the people in power know this.  They simply do not want to acknowledge this universal fact and so instead, they put them down and threaten them.  

I have seen what women provide and I continually am impressed by what I have witnessed.  From nurses to special needs experts, from elderly care to social workers, and of course from ECEs to teachers, women deserve our respect and admiration.  Maybe society would be a better place once we valued all people equally.  Perhaps it starts with this person acknowledging their contribution and simply saying, “Thank you.”  Then others may take notice and then … who knows?

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