Friday Two Cents: Work On Kindness, Empathy And Selflessness

In Toronto we had our first taste of winter with an early record snow fall.  Normally we would not get snow until the end of November, but with the uncertainty of the weather we occasionally get this “gift” from old man winter.  For many adults this marks the start of shovelling snow, winter tires and bundling up before we head out.  Yet for children it is a totally different set of circumstances.  

Yes, for children tobogganing, rolling around in the snow making snow angels, building snowmen and oh yes building a snow fort or house are the orders of the day.  I remember building several snow forts as a child and I loved every minute.  The students at school equally enjoy building snow forts, houses and the occasional ice rink.  When ever I am out on duty I see the students busy building and I cannot help admire their patience, skill and passion for their creation.  

However as in life, there are a few who would rather destroy than create.  You know who I am talking about.  The person who looks to see the person building a sandcastle and cannot wait to step on it and turn it into a pile of sand again.  The same can be said for snowmen and forts.  At the school I have seen several students engaging in this behaviour.  Yet year after year the standing rule within the school is to not destroy another persons snow fort.  And year after year students attempt to destroy and announcements are made reminding them.  Yet this week I witnessed an act that was nothing less than bullying and disgusting.  

After the final bell rang I dismissed the class I was supplying in.  I finished writing my notes to the teacher, cleaned up and got my things to leave.  I was in a portable and got ready to lock up, yet as I opened the door I witnessed a grade 5 going over to a couple of younger students, from my class and processed to kick and destroy the walls of their fort.  The look on their faces was devastating and the older student was that of pleasure.  I called out to the student to stop and called him over to me.  I asked the younger students if they were alright and they said yes.  I asked the older student why was he destroying their fort.  He could not answer, he simply shrugged his shoulders.  I told him that there was an announcement made about not destroying forts.  He said he did not hear it.  I told him that that was no excuse, that this was the same rule for the past years he was in the school.  He simply shrugged his shoulders again and repeated that he did not hear the announcement.   I tried to make him understand that his actions were not acceptable, that ignorance of the rules was no excuse and that he was old enough to be accountable for his actions.  He kept saying the same thing again and again.  I final said that I would be talking to his teacher about this behaviour and that he should go home.  He did with rolled eyes.  The younger students were alright and they appeared happy that their creation wasn’t damaged to much, but mostly I think that someone stood up for them against an older student.  I did follow up with the teacher and they said that this student had a history of this type of behaviour.  The entire episode was disconcerting and left me with a bad feeling.  

The feeling stayed with me for sometime and upon reflection I think I know why.  The total lack of empathy and malevolence in a 10 year old was disturbing.  Yet the worst part is that I have been seeing this type of behaviour occurring more often.  In class after class, this level of hostility and lack of empathy towards others makes me wonder where is this behaviour coming from.  The only answer I keep coming back to are parents.  Parents unwilling to teach their own child values such as kindness to others, empathy or simply to help others.  There are some who do and to them I stand and applaud your effort and wish you continued success.  For we need more of those young people who help and respect others.  Those are the ones that the world desperately needs.  

We keep saying that we need to save the planet for the children and the younger generation.  Perhaps while we are cutting back on emissions, reducing and recycling, parents need to also work on teaching kindness, empathy and selflessness.  We teachers can only do so much and as I keep telling parents; your children will learn more from you over their lives than they will ever learn over the six hours a day from me.  

Teach kindness, empathy and selflessness

Friday Two Cents: Stop the Abuse of Teachers

This past week I participated in my first teachers’ union strike vote.  I was impressed by the large number of teachers who turned out to vote.  Yet I was also gratified that my colleagues took the time to come out and vote on something that matters to them and will effect their lives on a personal level.  

However I still heard from others in the general population that complained and put down teachers.  Some of them, unfortunately, are in my family.  People do not realize how much teachers do for their students and how much abuse they get everyday from the parents, students and people in general.  The biggest problem is that many teachers simply take this abuse as part of the job but I for one say NO!  No one has the right to abuse you or treat you badly.  

In our society we tell women (and men) that if someone hits you, screams at you, tells you that they’re going to kill you, tells you their going to bring a gun and shoot you, steals from you, destroys your things, threatens your friends, curses at you, mocks you, makes fun of your physical appearance, GET HELP. RUN AWAY. IT IS NOT OKAY. LEAVE THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP. Cut ties to those people. 

YET when a student does any of the above to a teacher, we don’t acknowledge it as a red flag, we give them no CONSEQUENCES for their actions.   We allow it to continue without any regard to a teacher’s well-being, safety or mental health. These are such toxic situations, we continue to ask teachers to show up with a smile on their face, ignore the issues, reward dangerous and toxic behaviour and do as you’re told. 

I took my mother to the hospital for an appointment and they had signs saying that they had a ZERO tolerance policy for violent patients.  Everyone knows not to be violent in the hospital and any violence towards a nurse, doctor, secretary or any staff member they are immediately removed from the hospital and legal action could be taken as well. Hospital staff do not tolerant this type of behaviour and the public understand and accept it, but teachers are suppose to? 

In my years as an early childhood educator (ECE) and then a teacher, I have found that teaching is the most toxic profession I know. It makes me SICK and disgusted to see WONDERFUL teachers think that being assaulted at their workplace is okay. And I am SICK and disgusted to see experienced, wise, seasoned teachers think that being assaulted at their workplace is also okay.  This has to STOP.  

I love all the students I work with, but sometimes, loving someone means setting boundaries, consequences, having hard conversations, seeking additional support, reporting dangerous behaviour, standing your ground and finding alternative placements. That is what is missing.  If teachers love the students and they know that these things need to be done for the benefit of the children, then why doesn’t society or more importantly their PARENTS do it. 

Teachers are being thrown to the lions as a sacrificial lamb to appease people for their failings.  And the worst part is that teachers are going to the slaughter willingly.  But I say STOP!

Stop saying “they’re just kids”. 

Stop wondering if you should tell someone.

Stop giving up because no one will do anything. 

Stop thinking you should be PHYSICALLY assaulted and VERBALLY berated at your job.

Stop thinking that having intense anxiety and depression surrounding your workplace is normal. 

It is not okay. This is not what we signed up to do. You are a wonderful, caring, amazing teacher who has the biggest heart for wanting to help little people, but don’t think that it is okay to be abused and taken advantage of at your workplace. We would never tolerate it in any other area of our lives. 

This is no different. 

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: Leaving Hell Once In A While

City life. What does that entail?  For me in Toronto it is the constant noise, light, motion and interacting with both nice and rude people living in a large metropolitan city.  There are many benefits to living in the city but in recent years I have come to grow tried of the endless droning of the sounds, sights and troubles of the city.  It has almost become a white noise in the background. Unfortunately it is also the place where I must earn a living and it has turned into a necessary evil of modern life.  

Yet occasionally there are those times when I can leave the city behind and enjoy the tranquility and present people in rural Ontario.  Many of my visits are places like Midland, Stratford, Niagara Region, Waterloo and Guelph Ontario.  These places are islands of tranquility in a sea of chaos.  More and more I find myself seeking refuge from the chaos that is Toronto.  

Perhaps it has something to do with me being a supply teacher.  Everyday I go into a school and there I am constantly interacting with people. Not simply the students but parents and staff. I enjoy interacting with them and I find that it gives me strength and helps me bring purpose to my life. However there are times when I see the ugly side of the world.  Students harming each other, parents being rude to other parents and staff members and even teachers struggling to teach students who do not care about anyone but themselves.  At times I can feel the stress rising in the staff.  I have even seen signs of staff members suffering from PSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).  When I see all this I can feel my own stress level rising and I need some way to help me deal with it all.  For me it is diving into my art projects.  I draw, paint, sculpt or write and I can feel the stress melting away. Yet sometimes I need to put a little distance from the reality of things, to truly immerse myself into my art.  

That is when I hear the call of the open road.  I sometimes leave for a small community for the day, at other times a few more.  But during that time I always take my art supplies with me.  I always bring my drawing or sketchbook, yet on those longer journeys I bring my painting supplies.  In resent weeks I have been fortunate to travel to Midland and St. Jacobs Ontario.  Both times I was able to relax and indulge in some art but also to leave the troubles and chaos of the big city behind and simply create.   

Living in the big city might be a necessary evil but even Lucifer was able to leave hell once in a while.  

Ailish Sinclair

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