Friday Two Cents: It Takes A Village

‘What has changed is that people have stopped working together.’ Michael Bloomberg

‘Whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load.’ Queen Elizabeth II

For the past month I have been taking additional qualifications in an online course for kindergarten.  The course was very informative and during my final independent project I made an important realization.  I be honest I had already come to this understanding serval years ago, yet I have never seen it inside government educational documents.  It has to deal with the education team within the kindergarten program.  

With schools in Ontario and most of North America reopening due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this insight could be invaluable to parents, educators/teachers and administrators.

I may have a unique perspective as I worked as both an early childhood educator (ECE) and teacher in the kindergarten program within a school board. I have seen the good, bad and ugly of both.  

I have felt the sting of being discriminated as an ECE and a as teacher. Yet when I worked as an ECE in a classroom I was treated as a support staff and told to do whatever the teacher told me to do. This continued in many classrooms with many teachers and parents.

In many government documents they refer to the the two people in the kindergarten program as ”educators”.  Both the teacher and ECE are equal in the learning process of the students.  Even though the education policy says that the teacher and ECE are seen as equals, many do not put this into practice. 

Once when I received my teaching licence I continued to work as an ECE while I applied for a teaching position. The treatment continued until the teachers found out that I was a licensed teacher.  I was seen as a second teacher in the room, asked for observation notes, documentation and/or to plan lessons.  

In my discussions with other teachers, whenever I mention the reference of educators towards the two people in kindergarten, they say they do not like it.  They prefer the title of teacher.  When I became a teacher I was told and I had to, give up the ECE title and go with Primary/Junior Teacher.   For some reason the “teacher” title is what people (teachers, administrations and parents) wanted.  I always thought that this was a bit petty.  

When I became a licensed teacher I made sure I would not see the ECEs as lesser, as many people I have witnessed have done.  The education of the students is done by both educators in the classroom.  A fact that many forget.  

Perhaps it has to do with human nature and how we measure people.  Do we measure them by their status in a society or by their actions?  All too often I have seen people measure others because they see them as inferior to themselves and they devalue them.

During this pandemic we as a society have learned that nature does not discriminate.  Anyone can get the Covid-19 virus.  When schools are reopened in September, we as educators (Administers, ECEs, teachers) and parents need to work together as a team for the betterment of the students.  

I learned a lot of different things during his course and how to implement them.  Yet I think the biggest realization is that educating students is not done in a bubble.  We as educators must look to the team (teacher & ECE), parents, all of the other staff in the school and the community at large to help “safely” educate the children.  An African proverb says it all. “It takes a village to raise a child.” 

   I would add; “… and keep everyone safe.”

Two Great Educators or One Great Education Team

Friday Two Cents: Time for a Societal Reflection

This week I received an email saying that as an occasional teacher I can volunteer to work at  centres for children who may need help.  I would be getting paid for the work but after a few moments of thinking about going in to help, I refused.  You are probably saying I am lazy and I would rather stay home and receive government assistance than work.  But I have two very compelling arguments for saying no at this time.  The first is that I live with my senior parents and I am the one going out for them and making sure they are kept safe during this difficult time.  The other is I do not trust the system to support me or my family if I got sick from the Covid-19 virus for looking after the children of front line workers.  Why do you ask, well, let me spell it out for you.  

You see, I have been seeing a lot of news stories about how the front line workers are coping with the pandemic.  Stories about doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, truck drivers and the list goes on.  They all deserve praise for the tremendous jobs they are doing. The media seems to be fixated on these areas of the pandemic yet in all of these stories, not one was about the area of the workforce where people put their lives on the line every day looking after other peoples’ children.  They are also front line workers and yet no one cares about them.  I am talking about the early childhood educators (ECE) and teachers who work in the childcare centres where the other front line workers drop off their children. 

ECEs are dismissed and undervalued by many people in many fields and sometimes in the very education system itself.  They are expected to preform miracles while looking after other peoples’ children, all the while they are under paid and dare I say abused by many people in and out of the system.  Here is a recent example; in Toronto a childcare centre who took care of front line worker children was closed down.  Several staff members and children contracted Covid-19.  This week they are reopening after 14 days yet during that time not once did they inquire about the health of the staff.  The media and parents’ biggest concern was that where would the other children find care.  No-one, not the different level of governments, media or parents expressed concern for the staff, the ECEs/teachers.  Though knowing something about the ECE field I should not be surprised.  

Before I became a teacher I was an ECE for many years and I worked in several centres.  I felt undervalued be the parents, government and other teachers in the education system.  Yet I am not alone with these feelings.  Every ECE I talked to expressed the same sentiment.  If you do not believe me I will recount a story about what happened to a fellow ECE not one year ago.  

This ECE was supervising a group of students tobogganing when another student rammed her with the sled and she fell over and received a concussion.  She had to be off for a a while but during that time the centre gave her no lose of salary compensation, they blamed her for being off and tried to rush her back early.  In the end she had to return before she was fully  recovered simply to make ends meet.  Not once did the centre, government or parents help, all they cared about was who were they going to replace her with.  She was an expendable person.  As were those ECEs in this current childcare centre in Toronto.  

 A year ago and today, these childcare workers, are forgotten and undervalued.  No one cares about them, all people care about is their own self interests.  Now you know why I will not go in.  I would be putting my parents lives at risk because others want me to look after their children, their self interest.  I am my parents care giver and if I get sick, no one will help me or care about what happens to me or my parents.

Many things have happened recently because of the pandemic, most importantly the way we treat others.  The deplorable why we treat seniors in long term care homes and the underpaid workers they employ.  Well, the childcare field is no different.  There are regulations and government oversight but still the ECEs are underpaid and undervalued.  I for one have been reflecting on my life and the different aspects within it.  I am making changes hopefully for the better.  I think it is time for society to take a long hard look at how we treat people who look after our family members.  From elderly parents to our children. 

Remember people, these are YOUR flesh and blood and you are asking other people to look after them.  Yet you are willing to nickel and dime their care.  What does that say about us as a society. What does that say about you?   

Friday Two Cents: Just Give Up

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that parents should not worry about recreating school at home, that they should enjoy their time with their children during this stressful time.  Then the school boards setup classes and lessons into their homes through online learning.  A noble effort by all involved.  Yet from talking to educators and parents they are finding it difficult to motivate the students into doing the work.  Recently more articles have been written about how parents are feeling even more overwhelmed by the work load that the teachers have been assigning.  Some are starting to complain about the teachers giving too much work.  That the children are also feeling overwhelmed by the work. 

Parents, its 1-2 hours of work a day, if that, depending on you child’s age.  Yet if you want the true reason why they are not doing the work, it is because most of you actually did the work for them when school was in session.  Oh don’t give me that innocent look, I have seen project after project from students who could not have done it without the parents doing the work for them.  Now when you have your own work that needs to be done, you cannot do their work for them. Of course they aren’t motivated, you never let them try before and now they expect you to do the work for them again.  It’s called Learned Behaviour.   

I know what you all thought when I wrote about playing with your children and not recreating school at home, “No. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.”  Yeah I guess my decades of experience, not to mention my several degrees and diplomas mean that I do not know what I am talking about.  I get it. 

 However, you know what parents, some of you are listening to me.  There is a new trend that I have been reading in several recent articles.  Its call giving up.  Yes parents are saying ‘That’s it I have had it.’, to teaching their child at home and doing other things.  And this is not simply a Canadian thing.  Parents in Europe, the United States and Canada are throwing in the towel.  They are instead enjoying their children.  Interacting with them instead of confronting them.  They are doing what teachers have been saying and doing for years.  They are listening to their children and finding out what they like and then fostering that interest.  That is what educators have been doing in a formal setting for years and yet people put down teachers as just playing with kids.  

So parents join the trend, give up. Stop trying to recreate school at home.  Make home what it is suppose to be.  A safe environment for your children to be themselves.  Happy Playing.  

Friday Two Cents: Rotating Students For Class Instruction

With the Covid-19 pandemic changing every aspect of the world that people are use to, many are wondering, no chomping at the bit to know; when society can return to a sense of normalcy.  Sorry to bust your bubbles everyone but it will never return to what it was before the pandemic shutdown. And once it does, in some small way, it will take a long time.  

This week some provinces in Canada may be opening parts of the economy in stages.  Slow small steps as they were.  In the case of schools, I am sorry to say this parents but expect schools to be closed and this school year is over. 

Using Saskatchewan’s model; they do not have childcare centres opening until phase 3 and schools are up in the air and considered to be high risk.   This is a prudent response yet the need for childcare for employees of businesses would appear to be essential.  How can people go to work if they have no-one looking after their children.  In many cases parents see school as childcare, though they are discovering how important it is beyond simple childcare.  I believe that people are beginning to see the true value teachers and early childhood educators (ECE) have in our society and in, dare I say, the economy.  

However let us play devil’s advocate and say they will open schools soon in conjunction with the opening of businesses.  I believe, do to the risky nature of the close environment within schools, do to the classroom sizes models used in Ontario, there needs to be a gradual introduction of school to the students.  

The reality is that in the primary grades (1-3) the classroom size is 20 – 23 students to one teacher.  Kindergarten is totally different with one teacher for 15 students or one teacher and one ECE for a class up to 33 kindergarten students.  The older you get the worst the numbers are.  Junior – intermediate grades (4-8), I have been in classes of 35-39.  High school is another thing all together.  In truth how can anyone, let alone a teacher focusing on teaching, enforce social distancing in a room 5 metres by 5 metres.  

Therefore I suggest we use the manufacturing industry model to help.  The auto industry will be using a 24 hrs, three shift rotation to limit the number of people on the floor but people will be working and the production gets done.  Why not use something similar for schools.  

No I am not suggesting a 24hr school situation. I suggest that the students come in to school in shifts or blocks during school hours.  Here is how it would break down …

Block 1 – starts at 8am until 10am.  Teacher instruction for the first third of the class attendance (alphabetical).  Students leave at 10 am allowing the teacher to clean and sanitize desks and have a break. Total time 30 minutes.  

Block 2 – starts at 10:30am until 12:30pm.  Teacher instruction for the second third of the class attendance (alphabetical).  Students leave at 12:30pm allowing the teacher to clean and sanitize desks and have a break. Total time 30 minutes.  

Block 3 – starts at 1pm until 3pm.  Teacher instruction for the final third of the class attendance (alphabetical).  Students leave 3pm.

This breakdown allows for the teacher to instruct 7-10 students at a time allowing for social distancing.  Currently the teachers instructions are in math and literacy.  This can continue in a two hour block.  Music and gym teachers can teach all three blocks, once for each group for one hour out of the two during the block. This way each student will get gym and music instruction once a week and provides variety and gives the teacher prep time as well.  

I realize that this is not an ideal situation for many but this would provide the students valuable teacher instruction, which many students are asking for.  As well it allows the students to have a sense of routine while giving the parents piece-of-mind about their education.  

Barack Obama once said … 

A good compromise, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.’

Barack Obama

The key is compromise.  The true test is if people are willing to compromise.

Friday Two Cents: The Power Of Play

Play, a simple enough word but what does it really mean?  There is the definition; 

Definition : Verb – engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose:   

Yet what does it mean, and more importantly what does it mean to a child, an adult.  Well for a child play is they way they explore the world and imagine different theories and solutions to countless scenarios they come across in their life.  The important thing to keep in mind is no matter how old the child gets the use of play is an invaluable tool they can use to help them.  

Intricate Kapla Tower

Many people, parents included, do not question the value of play in infants and toddlers.  Yet the older the child gets the more they see play as unproductive and focus more on academics.   They begin to doubt the effectiveness of play and focus on worksheets, instruction, workbooks and children sitting still doing work.  Something similar to what parents do in their own workplaces.  However play is work to a child.  

Play based learning is the cornerstone of the early years learning in kindergarten; and should be part of the learning environment throughout the students’ educational lifetime.  Thanks to the school closures due to the pandemic, parents are beginning to learn the value of the kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators (ECE) and how they implement the play based learning in the classroom.  

I am not advocating for the parents to try and recreate this in their homes, but there are strategies that parents can do to help encourage their children. Help them to make discoveries and solve problem.  An example is while washing the dishes ask your child to sort the dishes and cutlery, count how many of each.  Ask them to put them away.  This gives them a task and an opportunity to problem solve and learn about their own abilities. 

Encourage them to try new things and make choices.  

Pay attention to what engages your child and encourage that interest.  Ask questions and let them make their own discoveries, then offer comments about their discovery.  

Do not be afraid of letting them fail.  If they are interested in making a paper airplane don’t automatically make one for them.  Have them try to make one on their own and then guide them with online designs or in other books.  Then challenge them to try and come up with a design that could beat your plane.  Failure only encourages people to try harder to get it better the next time.  Remember what Thomas Edison said …

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

Thomas A. Edison

Friday Two Cents: Parents … Make “Play” Your Life Lesson

So parents and people of the public in general.  Many of you have stated in the past that you can easily teach children.  That teachers are a bunch of whiners.  That you can do a much better job than any teacher and seriously how hard is it? 

Well you have had 2 weeks, three if you include the spring break.  So how is it going?  From the many posts on social media and family and friends I know it looks like the world is about to end.  I have seen and heard parents ranting and raving about their children.  “They are hungry all the time!” “They say they are bored.”  “They won’t listen to me!”  “They won’t do the work I give them.” And on and on they go.  Some I cannot repeat do to the vulgar language they use.  

So parents, it’s not that easy after all.  Hmm … This seems vaguely familiar, oh yes its exactly what teachers have been trying to tell you all these years.  Yet for teachers they continue to teach the students and the children continue to learn.  What is the difference? 

Parents think that school is fun and full of play, where in fact it is a place of work.  I keep telling parents that school is work for the children.  They have expectations and things they need to do just like you do when you go to work.  There are also consequences for you when you do not do your work, the same is true for the students. So what is the problem.  Quite frankly, parents are trying to teach their children the way they think they should be taught, with no education or training on how to do it.  

They are giving worksheets and math problems they got when they were younger.  They are trying to turn home, a safe environment where children can be themselves, into work places.  That might be alright for adults who know how to focus and work on their own.  But truthfully  isn’t it a little hard too.  

Parents are worried that if they don’t work on the basics that they will “fall behind”.  That it will be harder for them to catch up later when school starts again.  

Well parents, I have one thing to say to you.  STOP!!  Stop worrying about them falling behind.  There is no evidence that supports this idea of “falling behind”.   Since the 1990’s parents have over scheduled, over-tested and put more undue pressure on their children to succeed and achieve more and more.  The results is an entire generation of children and adolescents over stressed, medicated, alienated and depressed.  STOP what you are doing. 

 This is not the time for worksheets or math tests.  You should not be worried about the curriculum or how to teach it.  In other words don’t try and recreate school at home.  

You should not be worried about how quickly school can reopen.  Instead insist the government put in supports for the teachers so they can help your children when school does reopen.  

We are in a unique situation where we can ‘pause our lives’ from all the stress “we” have placed upon ourselves and our children.   Instead, paint or draw a picture with your children.  Bake something with them.  Go bike riding.  Read a favourite book with them.  Work in the garden if you can.  In other words … Play with them.  Your children are only little once and you will be surprised on how amazing they truly are.  I will leave you all with a quote and a poem to help inspire you into action with your children.  

Inspirational Quote 16
A verse by an unknown author at the entrance of the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans

Make “play” your life lesson for your children during these unsettling times.  For what we do today will be with them for the rest of their lives and maybe generations to come.  

Friday Two Cents: The Language Of Art

This past week I had completed my Additional Qualification course (AQ) on Visual Arts Part 2.  During this entire course I had the opportunity to learn new and exciting things to bring into the classroom for the students.  Some included techniques in areas that people would consider traditional art forms like painting, drawing, sculpting.  Other practices would be considered in new areas of art such as photography, Photoshop, digital art and word art. 

The one area I liked and was intrigued about was the language we would use to help the students express them selves in art.  In other words, it’s the language used in the art class.  Many classrooms have word walls for the students to help them understand, write and spell the words mostly used for literacy. Yet for other subjects, like math, there are other word walls that help the students understand the words or concepts within the subject.  To use math as an example …

Sum– the total amount resulting from the addition of two or more numbers.  

This helps the students use the language most used in the subject.  During this course I found some words that works with the Art curriculum.  I made a chart that can help students and other educators.  For just as Hippocrates once said …

‘The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.’ Hippocrates

Art Word Chart Page 1

Hopefully these words can help others understand and create wonderful and meaningful pieces of art.  

Friday Two Cents: Art Is Everywhere

‘The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.’ Pablo Picasso

For the past week I have been fortunate to be taking an Additional Qualification course (AQ) on Visual Arts.  I have already taken Part 1 and now I am continuing my art education with Part 2.  

In the course we are learning new techniques and art mediums to bring the world of art to the students.  I’m not talking about crafts like making Mother’s day gifts, but well thought out art that the students did.  Yes we are learning the traditional art techniques but we need to help the students think more on why they create the art.  I have had many discussions with people that we should be looking at the process of art with the students and not the final product.  This course centres on that governing principle. 

We had wonderful experiences with art this week and we have one more week to go but we were also fortunate to go on a field trip to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg.  They have wonderful art pieces that are all created my Canadian artists.  They also have a large collection of First Nations art on display as well.  We were able to have a wonderful tour that helped us explore works from the Group of Seven, First Nations art and other pieces including works from a Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis.  

After had a workshop were we would be able to create our own Art pieces in the same style of Maud Lewis.  We had about 30 minutes but I think my creation was pretty close.   Her work is considered by many as folk-art and to some it may seem simplistic.  Yet exposing her pieces to the students could encourage them to think; if she can paint these works them maybe I could too.  In the end isn’t that what art is supposed to do?  Encourage conversation and inspire others.  

I have always thought so.  

Friday Two Cents: Oh The Places I’ve Seen

In Canada it is the final week of classes in the elementary school system.  This month also marks the 2nd anniversary that I started as an occasional teacher in a school board.  Yes I have been working with students for several years but those years were when I was an early childhood educator (ECE).  I have worked in many different classrooms as an ECE and I learned a great deal.  Yet nothing has been a greater learning experience than working as a certified teacher in these classrooms.  

Since the beginning I have kept track of how many different schools and classrooms I have been in.  Partly because it helps me with Additional Qualification course requirements, but also when someone asked me how many different classrooms I have been in I had to stop and think because I was not sure.  Amazingly, in the two years I have been in 80 different classrooms.  

I started in 2017 and since then, I have been at about 25 different schools and 80 different classes.  Over this time I have been in some classes that had the same teacher, but from year to year they had different students.  The students’ personality differences change the dynamics in a classroom wherever I have worked in with a similar teacher; therefore I see the class as a different classroom.  In some cases I have been in 14 – 18 different classrooms at the same school. I even have been in several French immersion classes during this time period. 

Yet reflecting back on the past two years, I can say with one thing for certain.  Kids are kids no matter where you go.  They are all very curious; they love to ask questions on topics of their interest and personal questions about your life. They all enjoyed my drawings and creative work with them and of course they loved George and my other puppets. Whenever I go back to a school or a classroom they always ask about George.  

However even though I have been in all these different classrooms it sometimes feel like a hollow victory.  I look at this number and all the experience I have accumulated and yet I am still looking for a permanent position, even an LTO (long term occasional) as a teacher of my own classroom. On top of it all there are times I feel that there are sometimes-unrealistic expectations on me from everyone around me.  Students, parents, teachers and others all want you to be Superman to fix everything and be whatever they want me to be instead of being myself.  

In the last two months I have worked in 20 different classrooms in 30 days.  Mind you I am grateful for the opportunity and I do enjoy being with the students but it does take a toll on you.   There are days when I feel like I am making progress and advancing in my career.  Then there are days when the harsh reality of my situation sets in and you are only as good as your last job.  The saying … “It’s not what you have done for me that counts but what you have done for me lately”, comes to mind.  On several occasions I have felt that no matter how good I do my job, I feel unappreciated.  That for all my helping and hard work, to make a class and a school that much more enjoyable for the students, it falls to the side like leaves falling in the autumn breeze.  I feel like no one notices … no one cares. 

However those feelings pass as I try to be positive and think of the most important aspect of my journey into the different classrooms.  My observation and learning from the different teachers and their teaching styles.  I have observed and conducted many lesson plans they have left me to do and what is great is that I have been asked to conduct my own lessons in these classrooms. Lesson plans for math; language, art, technology and science just to name a few.  I even helped out a school with their science project on the life cycle of the butterfly.  I don’t have my own classroom but it feels good to do some lesson plans to keep my teaching juices flowing.  

Below I have created a logo of a blue silhouette male teacher holding the hands of two students.  Each of these silhouettes’ represents a different classroom I have worked in.  On the top left side I placed the grade or subject I was teaching and on the right side the year I worked in that classroom. The font is unique to the school year; Helvetica was used for 2018-19.  The classes that I worked in French immersion are represented with a white fleur-de-li because the majority of the classes I work in are English.  Directly beneath the logo you can see a tally chart of all the classes I have been in.  The 25th is shaded in silver and the 50th is in gold.  

Saying I have been in 80 different classrooms is pretty impressive.  However, I have to remember to think of the positive side of my journey and remember those famous words written by Dr. Seuss. 

“Oh, the places you’ll go!
There is fun to be done!

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So … get on your way!”  
Dr. Seuss

I’ve already moved a few mountains, what’s a few more.   

Friday Two Cents: Valentine’s Day Kindness

This past week many students had a lot of exciting things happening at school. Monday was the 100thday of the school year; Tuesday we had a rare snow day and the schools were closed; Wednesday report cards went home and Thursday was Valentine’s Day.   Yet I saw something during Valentine’s Day that I thought is worthy of mentioning.  In a school I work at, the kindergarten teachers decided to do something different and dare I say daring.  Instead of giving parents a class list for the students and parents to make Valentine’s cards, they helped the students to each make a card and have everyone in the class sign it.  

When I heard of this idea I loved it right away.  I know that it would be a lot of work for the teachers to organize but I thought this would teach the students so many things in the process. First off it is Eco (environmentally) friendly. How many of us would go out and buy or create cards for February 14thto simply throw them into the trash on the 15th. Second it is in line with the idea of inclusion in the classroom.  The idea is that everyone gets a card but we have all seen that not everyone gets one and that one child feels terrible when they do not get a card.  Or worse specific children are targeted to not get any cards because someone else tells everyone to not give them one.  Along that same idea not everyone can afford to purchase cards and if they make homemade ones they are ostracised because of it.  

Valentine’s Day Card

I was so impressed with the idea I suggested it to other teachers and parents at other schools. Yet their response was less than enthusiastic. Many flat out rejected the idea. They said that many of the parents are into doing the cards and they go all out with cards, candy and other stuff. In fact many students are not writing names or messages on the cards but the parents are.   

I found this interesting and a bit disturbing.  Yet from what I have observed in our society I should not be surprised.  There are a lot of people interested in only showing off and making themselves feel good at another’s expense.  These cards would alleviate all these problems and self-centredness for many people. In short it gives a small act of kindness to everyone in the class and I know that even a small act of kindness can make you feel amazing.    

Inspiring Words from my Colleagues

When I was in teacher’s college many of us, myself included, was stressed out and at our breaking point.  Yet during a class a colleague handed out pieces of paper each with our names on it. The sheets would go around the room and everyone would write one thing, a phrase or one word about what they like about that person or what best describes that person. After we each got the paper and I can tell you once I say all the comments the feeling was amazing.  When I heard of these valentine’s cards, it reminded me of that activity and how I felt receiving it in the end.  Yes the cards involve simply writing your name, but your classmates still took the time to sign your card.  To a child that simple act of kindness, signing their card, would go a long way to making them feel amazing.  

In the end isn’t that’s what Valentine’s Day all about.  Sharing love and kindness with others.  I am reminded of the famous quote by Aesop …

‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ Aesop

My deepest thanks and highest praise to my colleagues in the kindergarten program for implementing this wonderful Valentine’s Day act of kindness.  

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