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A School-Year in the Life of a Laid Off Teacher – September

phone call from HR
new school
new resource team, new way of doing things
new teachers
new admin
new kids
new parents
job action
class organization
no staff meetings, but union meetings

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T’was – The (first) Week At School

This week I started a learning assistance position at my third school in as many years. I thought I had put my school jumping days behind me when I returned home. Guess again!

I wasn’t sure what to expect – but I’m getting pretty good at being the new kid on the block. This week teachers in BC began phase one of job action, following the expiration of our collective agreement in June. I haven’t been involved in a teacher job action/strike since my second year of teaching way back in 2002. Strikes don’t usually happen in the overseas teaching arena – if teachers don’t like their working conditions, they have the option to find a new school when their contract expires. It’s a whole different game for public school teachers. FYI- I’m so proud to be a public school teacher. I love my job. It’s not an easy job, but I believe it’s the best job out there.

At the end of last year, I was one of the many laid-off teachers in BC. Despite my 12 years of experience I don’t have any seniority here. It’s not a great situation – but that’s just the way it is. As my buddy Anni in Malaysia says “life is just not fair – and the sooner you get used to that, the better.”

So this year, a week before school resumes my phone rings and it’s the HR office offering me my pick of three temporary positions. I’m doing cartwheels and decided to take the job that has the longest contract. Obviously.

By the time school started a week later, I was buzzing with excitement. I realized that this would be my first “first day of school” since returning home in 2009, and my first “first day of school” in Canada in 10 years. Yep, my last start of the school year at home was September 4th, 2001. Anyway, during that week between getting the job and starting the job, I kept thinking about my new school and the people who I would meet there.

Would things be tense because of the job action? Would people be happy to be back to work? Would this school be a good “fit” for me?

So far so good. The school is a big old beautiful brick building (something I considered after hearing about Friday’s earthquake – which I did not feel). More importantly the faculty, staff and admin are ultra-professional, super dedicated teachers who decided last year to begin this year doing a full-school “sport fit” program. The grade sevens are running it, and every time I have been involved I am so impressed by the kindness and respectfulness that these kiddies have for each other, their school and their teachers.

People talk so much about school climate. And as someone who is now on my seventh school in 12 years – I’ve been in great schools and I’ve been in not-so-great schools. I’m sure that as job action is almost certain to escalate – the kiddies and people in my new school will continue to be their respectful, kind selves.

Strike or no strike, my fingers are crossed that I get to stay awhile.

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Do you believe in magic?

Today has been the best day I can remember in a while. And when I say awhile, I mean maybe a week or two.

People who know me will tell you I’m a pretty happy, upbeat kind of person. I like to challenge ideas and the status quo, and am prone to hyperbole at times, but I don’t think this makes me overly cynical. On Tuesday though, I did really feel like I was Chicken Little running around hollering that the sky was falling. My logical self told me to keep this in check. Stop rolling my eyes so much (a habit that I really do need to fix) and look for the positives. But my emotional side just couldn’t.

In my eyes the federal election went terribly, terribly wrong. In one week I’d be holding a pink slip in my hand that would come into effect at the end of the school year. And I can count the number of steady paycheques I have left on one hand, minus my thumb.

Then on Wednesday I came across Derek Miller’s blog, for the first time, through Twitter. It’s a blog written by a 41 year old man who died on Tuesday from cancer. The tears streamed down my face as I read his last post about his life, his battle with cancer and most importantly, his wife and two young daughters.

I had, have, nothing to complain about.

On Wednesday morning I got up early and coached shot putt with our school’s student teacher. Truthfully, I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I loved it! How great to start one’s day outdoors, playing, and coaching energetic kids with an enthusiastic colleague.

On Thursday afternoon I had a meeting with a parent of one of our grade one kiddies. This was a follow-up to a meeting in March where the parents expressed their concern about their child’s reading progress. Yesterday’s meeting was one of those great conversations where everybody is on the same page, everyone is seeing the same things and there were lots of smiles and appreciation for us as a team. Us being classroom teacher, resource teacher and parents. Awesome!

Today was magical. My daily reading group of four boys in grade one is clicking! All the work we’ve done this past year with letters and words is falling into place. The boys have become so enthusiastic about reading. Yay! My next block was meant to be spent doing guided reading with a grade two group. But when I went to pick them up, one of our student support workers was playing her guitar and singing with the most beautiful voice to this class. It was amazing! So I joined in and sat cross-legged on the carpet while we sang Simon and Garfunkel songs, I Am a Pizza (in english and en francais) and then she sang a lullabye that literally brought tears to my eyes. I’m such a softie.

Before lunch I helped a grade 3/4 class build models of forts found in Canada during the age of exploration, and learned that there was such a thing as a whiskey fort. Fort Whoop Up, Saskatchewan. Gotta love the prairies.

After lunch, my fifth grader crossed off another win on our Canucks countdown to the cup. Another kiddo is beginning to understand subtraction with regrouping. During my weekly prep time I called two people outside of our school to set up good things for a couple kiddies, and one of their teachers. And then, right at the end of the day a parent came in for a quick chat and a warm thank you.

And so it’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. I’ll be going home in 30minutes or when my desk is clear, whichever comes first, with a great big smile on my face… even knowing that pink slip is coming next week.

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Edcamp in Vancouver

Two days ago, I went to the best professional development day I have been to in a long, long time. It was definitely the most engaging pro-d I’ve ever attended. I actually tweeted that at the conference while listening to a discussion on Assessment for Learning. A couple of colleagues at the conference replied to my tweet asking “why?” I knew that I needed more than 140 characters to fully explain my thoughts.

This conference was unlike any I had attended before. Technically it was an “unconference” which is a movement away from traditional and/or expensive conferences. The day started at 9am, with all of us in the library of the school. I was so excited to be there. While it’s true that I’m more of a lurker on Twitter than a producer (that is starting to change), I was looking forward to meeting people whose blogs and tweets I’ve read and whose ideas about education are ones that resonate with me. Throughout the entire day, I kept hearing “oh, you’re “so and so”!” or “what’s your Twitter handle?” to be answered with big smiles and handshakes all around. A lot of the day felt more like a party than a conference. And the time just flew by.

The first part of the day included a welcome from the organizers (who did an amazing job), but even before that, people were busy chatting and developing discussion topics. Some ideas were percolating on the edcamp vancouver website in the days and weeks leading up to the unconference. But on that morning one person would write his/her discussion topic on a piece of larger construction paper and then people interested in meeting about that topic would stick a post-it with their name on it, onto that paper. From there the organizers could see which ideas were the most popular and then they arranged these sessions on a big schedule. The whole process, welcome included, took less than an hour and looked like this.

At the welcome, David Wees thanked his organizing team, gave us the low-down on how the day would work, including the hugely important hashtag for the day’s event. I looked around me and saw so many people with their heads down typing away on a laptop or on a smart phone. This was the first time for me, that it was okay to pull out my smart phone while someone was talking, and everyone was paying attention. Then we were set free. I waited around for a little while looking at the schedule and trying to commit to memory the order and locations for my sessions. I wasn’t listening well when David mentioned the link for the schedule. But I did get out my iphone to take a picture of the schedule.

My first session was led by a parent who is working to bring TEDXtalks for kids to BC schools. I thought this sounded like a great idea! I’d love to see this in schools, and so I volunteered, along with a bunch of others, to help organize the event.

Next I went to a session/discussion where we talked about award ceremonies in schools. Specifically getting rid of ceremonies where only a few become “winners” and the vast majority of students are “losers” because their own unique talents and strengths aren’t necessarily ones that are highly regarded or celebrated in most schools. Chris Wejr led this discussion along with a parent from his school (how awesome is that? – talk about modelling working together in parent – teacher partnerships!) who talked about the importance of celebrating each child and shifting the focus away from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. I just visited Chris Wejr’s blog and noticed a tab titled “Recognizing All Students – The Movement.” And really, it is the beginning of a movement… at least I hope it is. I plan on working towards making this happen for more and more kids.

This is exactly why, this conference was unlike any other I had ever attended. When I walked into each room holding a session that I wanted to talk about and think about, I was meeting people who I felt like I already knew on some level. Even though I haven’t yet put myself and my thoughts “out there” my thinking about teaching and my approaches to teaching are constantly changing and developing for the better because I have this network of inspiring colleagues. How lucky am I? Five years ago I was so fortunate because I was teaching in the same building as some of the most talented teachers on the planet. They became my friends and they held my hand as they taught me how to use technology in my teaching, and helped me to become a better teacher for my students. Now we’ve scattered to all corners of the globe, but now I have them, and others, in my online community. And on Saturday, many of us were together meeting for the first time.

It was during the third session, also led by Chris Wejr, on Assessment for Learning that I really started to feel the power of this type of conference. I was sitting there with my laptop open at a table between a principal from the Okanagan whose blogs and tweets I have been following for a few months and a teacher from Washington who I met, and started following that day. Chris gave a great presentation with his Prezi on AFL and from there the discussion just flowed. BUT there were at least two discussions happening. The one in living colour in the classroom I was sitting in, where one person got to speak at a time, and the second Twitter discussion where everyone got to speak at once and retweet other people’s thoughts, disagree, or discuss a point at deeper level. Perhaps some people would find this overwhelming, but I loved it. The two discussions, in person and on Twitter, were totally connected without being the same. The lively in person comments sparked some great conversations simulataneously on Twitter. And though I didn’t jump into the in-person discussion, I was actively engaged with the ideas and conversation happening online. My mind was buzzing throughout the entire session! I honestly didn’t want that session or those conversations to end. And they won’t. These ideas and conversations are out there and will continue through tweets and blog posts and hopefully next year’s edcamp.

So now I’m left to decide how I will use this experience to improve my teaching and to do good things for kids. I have lots of ideas and am excited to see where this day will take me.

Thank you to David Wees and the Edcamp Vancouver organizers!

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This year’s school

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No desks, no problem!

Earlier this week there was a little misunderstanding at my school. Two maintenance men came along and took away my classroom tables, and deliver (or so I thought) my new-to-me trapezoid tables that would be more suitably sized for my students.

The men seemed very nice when they came, we had a few words and I left to go grab my next group of kiddies. When I got back to my room, my tables were gone, but my new tables hadn’t arrived yet. No problem, they’ll come along soon enough. But the next day when I arrived at school, still no new tables. So I mentioned this to my VP and asked if my new tables were on their way. He was kind enough to contact the necessary people to get the problem solved, but in the meantime I’m without tables. Not really a big deal for most of my groups, as you can see below.

Who doesn’t love stretching out on the floor with a good book?

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