Friday Two Cents: Students and Parents Learn About Federal Elections

On October 21, Canadians will be exercising their democratic rights and vote in a new federal government.  At a school I worked at this week, the grade 5 teachers are helping the students to understand the political parties stances’ on the issues that face Canadians today. The grade 5 curriculum for social studies focuses on the Canadian government.  What’s a better time than with the federal election to put academic study into practice.  Many have questions and opinions on a host of topics.  The amazing thing is that many parents are coming to school and telling the teachers that they are having meaningful conversations with their children about the election and Canadian politics. 

Yet the one thing that many of the students and parents mentioned was that many parents did not know the process or where each political party stands on with each issue.  From my point of view, I grew up in a family where politics is a serious conversation and we get excited about elections and election night as much as we do watching a sporting event.  Therefore I have to remember that in many families politics and the election in general, would not be a big issue.  

To that end I happened upon a bit of information that might help others with the upcoming vote on Monday October 21. Below are four brief synopsis on where the four major Canadian political parties (in alphabetical order) stand on the issues for the 2019 federal election.   

I am not telling who to vote for.  What I am saying is do the research and make up your own mind, but please go out and vote.  I remember one great quote about democracy …

‘Democracy is not the will of the majority but of those who show up.’ Author Unknown 

If only one group of people vote, the rest are allowing them to speak for them.  Something to keep in mind.


Friday Two Cents: Sympathy for the Devil

This past week I went in to supply for a physical education (PhysEd) teacher at a school.  I enjoy doing PhysEd because I get the opportunity to see not just one class but several over the day.  Not to mention that I also like being active with the students while teaching the classes.  However there was one class in particular that I was surprised with.  

In the middle of a game, I had to stop the game because someone got hurt.  I blow my whistle and proceeded to the student.  I was with the student for a few seconds and was trying to comfort and help them to a bench to recover when I noticed something about the other students. To my surprise many of the other students continued with the game and paid no heed or had any concern for the hurt student. It took me several tries to stop the others and even then I saw some with looks of irritation that the game was suspended.  

For this group of students I had a hard time getting their attention before coming to the gym and to even explain the game.  The regard for each other or anyone else except themselves was staggeringly lacking and I had to stop and wait until I got there attention again before proceeding.  At that moment I had to address the group and say how surprised I was with their lack of empathy.  Not simply on how they reacted to me but also their classmates.  Some got the picture but many continued with their behaviour even after we resumed the game or after the game by bragging or taunting each other.  They showed nothing but poor sportsmanship and a sense of entitlement that many have been saying is running rampant in students today. Yet with all this poor sportsmanship and a sense of entitlement in this class, it reminded me of something I had seen and experienced earlier this week.  

I went to see a movie out in theatres called “Joker”.  For those of you who are not aware of this movie, it is based on the DC Comics character Joker from the Batman series.  In it, he is the arch villain of Batman and this is his genius story.  Without spoiling the story too much, the Joker was a normal person trying to make his way in the world.  Yet no matter how he tried to get ahead things happened and it pushed him down further and further. At one point he was receiving help with counselling and medication for his mental issues but the government canceled those programs.  Working as a clown he was attacked and got a gun for protection. He was found out and subsequently fired.  After losing his job he intervened when some wealthy guys were harassing a woman on the subway.  He got beaten up for this but in the process shoot the three men.  When the word got out about the incident the rich and powerful calling him a criminal, a clown, a joker.  But the poor was calling him a hero because he stood up against the rich and powerful.  

It was a good movie but at the end of the movie I had a strange feeling; I actually felt empathy for the Joker character and that made me upset.  Here I was a normal guy feeling empathy for a serial killer.  I realize it is a fiction but here I was feeling that this guy was justified for acting the way he did.  He was beaten down by society, the government canceled his social program and the rich corporations only want to take from him.  

Then it hit me.  This movie was not just a movie about a fictional character, it was a piece of visual art that spoke about what is happening in our society today.  People are being beaten down by others, rich corporations only care about profit margins and not their customers and governments are cutting social programs everywhere.  Then I remembered the class I taught.  Their lack of empathy, that since of entitlement over others in their own classroom.  They are a microcosm of our society.  However they are a group that I can reach. 

I thought my feelings for the Joker was a misplaced emotion, in fact it shows I have what many in our society needs. Empathy for our fellow human beings.  I just need to remember …

‘The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.’ Meryl Streep

A power that can be taught and passed on to as many people as I can.  I guess sympathy for the devil can be used for good after all.  

Friday Two Cents: Trust Has To Be Earned

‘Trust is earned when actions meet words.’ Chris Butler

As a teacher trust is the first thing you must establish in a class. Without it the students have a barrier that will impede their learning.  Without trust they cannot meet their full potential.  As a supply teacher trust is very hard to establish when you only go into that class once in a while.  For me, the difficultly is not just trying to establish trust, it is also the knowledge that this could be the only time in months if not the year that I will be in that class. 

I find that I have to be part educator and part entertainer to help earn their trust.  With the younger grades I have my puppet George to help establish that trust.  With the older grades it is a little more work.  I have my upbeat personality and my artistic talents do help win over the students, parents and staff.  Yet doing it day after day, one class to the next is quite literally exhausting, both mentally and physically.  Especially since I find it rather difficult to trust people.  

I have always tried to see the best in people, unfortunately experience has taught me to expect the worst.  I have had people I trusted stab me in the back both personally and professionally. 

Yet upon reflection, it has taken me several years to recover, though I find that in some ways I haven’t.  The wounds may have healed but the scares are still present.  If trust had levels from 1 – 10, one being very little trust and 10 being I trust you with my life, I can only count on one hand the people I trust and that is only at a level eight.  How can I trust so few when being asked of others to trust me?  The answer is that I must adapt and make the first move. I have found that the best way to move forward is to see my relationships with people as a bank account.  

by Ben M. Bartlett

A model I found by Ben M. Bartlett called the “Relationship Back Account” is a visual tool to help people see the level of trust with others.  Many points on this model I have mentally used to help me gauge my trust of someone. Most of the time I see the points and I mentally chalk them up both in favour and against.  (Yet the optimist in me is always looking for the good side in a person.)  For I believe that trust is a two-way street and ‘Trust is earned when actions meet words.’ (Chris Butler) If I want you to trust me, you need to earn my trust too.  I have found that opening the door to trust with people is a healthy start. Though as Arthur Ashe once said …

 ‘Trust has to be earned, and should come only after the passage of time.’ Arthur Ashe

Friday Two Cents: A Positive Attitude

‘Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.’ William James

This past month I have been in a few classes where the other staff have looked at me and said, “Good luck. That’s a challenging class.”  Hearing their warning/words of sarcasm I go into the class thinking whatever the issues I have to face, I guess I’ll face them.  On a couple of occasions I have had to law down the law with the students but in general they respond positively to my approach. Mind you, it was a challenge to establish a rapport with them, yet with some hard work I was able to enjoy the day with them.  

To be honest I found many of the classes that were seen as challenging as joy to be in, especially the kindergarten classes.  I think my attitude going into a class is to take everyone’s opinion with a grain of salt and have a positive attitude.  What some might see as difficult, to others may seem as joy.  

I think my biggest advantage is that I have worked hard on having a positive attitude.  Not simply in teaching but life in general.  I would be the first person to say that my life is no bed of roses, far from it.  I have seen and experienced many difficult situations and occurrences that would make others freeze their soul.  However, if I let those circumstances stand in my way I would not be where I am today. Therefore I choose to be positive. 

It comes from a few studies I have read.  Studies done by the Mayo Clinicwhere they have shown that optimists were 50% less likely to die early compared to pessimists.  That optimism is linked to a longer, healthier life.  The researchers say that this is because negative emotions trigger the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn affects your immune system.  

So I have chosen to be more optimistic.  I have trained myself to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. Instead of thinking how I have to deal with challenging students I think of how I can help them enjoy the process of learning a new skill or subject.  With that goal in mind the results are pretty amazing.  

It is all a matter of presenting yourself with that positive attitude and believing in it 100%.  As Hans Selye once said …

‘Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.’ Hans Selye

Positive words to live by.  

Which type of person are you?

Friday Two Cents: Inspiration From A Master

On my Ottawa trip I had the opportunity to experience a wonderful exhibit at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.   There they have amazing interactive activities that explain science and technology to children and adults alike.  Yet as wonderful as the museum was there was a special exhibition that was my ultimate goal.  I am referring to the special exhibit Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius. 

This was a wonderful opportunity to explore the genius that is Leonardo da Vinci, a personal inspiration of mine.  The exhibition-featured reproductions of his notebooks, ideas, inventions and of course his wondrous drawings and paintings.  For obvious reasons you cannot collect all of his works in one location.  Many are over 500 years old and many would deteriorateand be lost to humanity if not protected. 

Even though everything within the exhibit is a reproduction that did not diminish the wonder I felt.  To look upon his works and I can only be amazing and humbled.  His inventions were astounding for the time period he created them. His drawings and notes on human anatomy were nothing but wondrous.  Some so actuate that I remember using some of his drawings in my anatomy class in university. However for me, I was mostly drawn to his paintings and drawings.  

His drawing of the Vitruvian Man and the subsequent explanation of it were fascinating. His fresco of the Last Supper was spectacular and his paintings were full of wonder and meaning.  There, I had the opportunity of seeing his two versions of Virgin on the Rocksside by side.  The dark version and experts agree is an earlier version of the painting is located in the Louvre, Paris.   The other is a latter version in the National Gallery, London.  They are quite similar but for the obvious colouring and shading, yet there are other subtle differences and meanings in both. Instead of me telling you I will let you see the painting below for yourselves.  

The section on explaining and understanding the mysteries of the Mona Lisa was spectacular on its own.  They had the opportunity to photograph the Mona Lisa in great detail as well as its many different layers and in ultraviolet and infrared.  They take you through the process and show you the painting in such detail it is like you are looking at the real thing.  Their examination was so detailed that is showed different paintings of women underneath the one we see today.  They also adjusted for 500 years of fading and wear on the colours and reveal how the painting looked when Da Vinci originally painted it.  

This exhibition is a testament to a man who exceled in many different fields. A man who’s interests include invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history and cartography.  A “Jack-of-all-trades”.  In a world where people are increasingly looking to be a specialist in one field Leonardo da Vinci shows that we can excel in whatever we put our minds to. I have been called a “Jack-of-all-trades” with knowledge in technology, mathematics, the sciences as well as the arts. I am handy with tools and have constructed many things just as Da Vinci once did.  

To say I admire and am inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci would be stating the obvious.  He is someone I inspire to be. A “Jack-of-all trades”, a true Renaissance man

Friday Two Cents: Honour Our Past To Understand Our Present

This year I decided to visit the Ottawa region for a mini vacation.  There I indulged in a few activities that always bring a smile to my face.  This vacation came out of a desire to recharge my batteries so to speak by doing something I truly love, learning more about my beautiful country Canada.  What better place than in our nation’s capital of Ottawa.  

There I visited a number of historical sites and museums but the one place or museum that always touches my heart is the Canadian War Museum.  I have been to the museum many times, both at the old and new locations.  Our country is known for its peace and openness of other cultures but we Canadians have a vast and honourable military history dating back to the First Nations and then later to the first European settlers. 

This year they had an extra exhibition of the Highland Warriors. We as Canadians share a common heritage with the United Kingdom, Scotland being one of them.  If you have read my blog you would know that I recently went on my second trip to Scotland where I enjoyed the people, culture, history and natural beauty Scotland has to offer.  This exhibit was a wonderful reminder of that trip and how close culturally Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Britain are to Canadians.  Many of our military and cultural traditions originated for this region and I have always believed that knowing where we come from helps us to understand who we are.  

As a teacher I find this subject matter a necessity for all students to learn. The museum is a treasure trove of information of our history and sacrifice by many who would see Canada grow and flourish.  However many would argue against teaching students about this part of our history, that we should not be “glorifying” war.  Many I talked to were adamant that we should not talk about the soldiers or the wars to students.  

Yet I say, “To truly understand our present we must first understand our past”; the good, bad and ugly sides.  I cannot tell you how many adults do not know or understand the current Canadian issues that we face today, started many years if not decades ago.  But they keep on complaining and in my opinion whining about these issues without knowing the history of them.  

One such person, in a class I once attended, would not stop arguing about this and kept saying it is a waste of time.  I argued the other side saying how important it was for us to remember and teach this subject.  She finally asked me straight to the point why was I so passionate about this.  Well I looked at her and rather simply said, “Because those men and women gave their life’s blood so that we would have the RIGHT to be free and to have this argument.”  I emphasised Right, we have the right to do what we want because they made the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that our rights were preserved.  

Today people have the right to be who they are, what ever that may be. Those men and women fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure these rights.  The least I can do is remember them and help pass on their goal of a prosperous and free Canada.  

For … 

“To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”

In Flanders Fields Poem, By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

I for one will always take up the torch and hold it high.  The question is who will join me.  

Friday Two Cents: Dress Code

I was having a discussion with a couple of other teachers about a new dress code policy that the school board would be implementing in the coming school year.  Among some of the changes are that students will be able to wear tops that may expose shoulders, backs, stomachs, midriffs, necklines and cleavage and bottoms may expose legs, thighs and hips.  Also headgear (hats) will be permitted in the classroom so long as it does not obscure the face.  

The school board’s reason for the changes is to have a more student centric dress code that reflects student voice.  As well as to make it more equal to all nations and ethnic groups.  

The new dress code includes the following: 

  • Students must wear clothing that covers groin, buttocks and nipples in “opaque material”
  • Students may expose shoulders, stomachs, midriff, neck lines, and cleavage
  • Students may expose legs, thighs and hips
  • Students will not be permitted to wear undergarments as outwear, but straps and waistbands may be exposed
  • Students may wear any headwear that “does not obscure the face”
  • Students may not wear clothing that promotes “offensive, lewd, vulgar, or obscene images or language, including profanity, hate and pornography.”
  • Students may not wear clothing that promotes “discriminatory, Islamphobic, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, classist, abelist, or sizist” content
  • Students may not wear clothing that symbolizes, displays or references “tobacco, cannabis, alcohol, drugs or related paraphernalia”

As a supply teacher working with mostly elementary students, most of these rules do not affect many of the students I deal with. Yet much of the secondary teachers see this on a daily basis.  

Student Voice

My opinion on the matter is rather divided.  On the one hand I agree with the idea of student voice and being respectful to other cultures.  Yet on the other hand I see school as a student’s work place and many if not all workplaces have a dress code according to their corporate image.  Some places may even call it “dressing professionally”. 

As a student I went to a Catholic school with a school uniform.  At the time I did not like the idea of the uniform but the more I wore it the more I did not give it much thought, it was simply the thing to do.  Later in the military we all had uniforms.  Not until I left and started working did I realize how much mental effort was required to choose what you would be wearing to work the next day.  

School uniforms

I read an article that studied the effects of decision-making on our mental health.  It showed that we make hundreds of decisions in a day and after a time it begins to wear us down.  The study continued to say that we use up mental energy to make these decisions. That we have a limited amount of energy a day to make these decisions.  Of course in the morning deciding what to wear uses up some of that energy.  

They say the best way to reserve that energy is to make these decisions prior. Thereby having your clothes ready in the morning for you to wear.  When I had a uniform everyday I never had to think about what to wear.  I knew what to wear and it became a simple act of getting dressed.   Did this not thinking about what I would be wearing help me in school?  I am not sure but what I do know is that I do prepare my clothes the night before and I find that it is one less thing I have to worry about in the morning.  Which makes my morning routine that much easier. 

Perhaps instead of allowing an unlimited amount of choices to students and thereby using up their mental energy on deciding what to wear, maybe they should save that energy for other things.  Uniforms may not be desirable by many students but from my own experience I did find it easier and who knows, I could have had some extra energy for my studies, extra-curricular events and some “other” teenage activities.  Having one less thing to worry about as a teenager, that could have been enough to make sure I was one type of teenager and not another.  

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