I’m an Ontario Certified Teacher!

Two weeks ago, I graduated from teachers’ college. Since then, I’ve been thinking of something inspirational to write, but I realized I’ve already written what I want to say.

Us teachers lookin' regal on graduation day.

Us teachers lookin’ regal on graduation day.

My first blog post ever explained why I want to be a teacher. It still captures best why I went to OISE.  It also explains what kind of teacher I want to be.

So, I’ve posted it below for you to read.

I have only one thing to add… a big ‘THANK YOU’ to all those people who stood by me during my studies! To start with, I thank my boss, Gilbert, for keeping me teaching part-time and tolerating my ‘pedagogical experiments’ in the classroom (Baroque music & other oddities…but they work).

I also owe a lot to friends, family, and teacher associates who:  drove me to bus stations, bought me Timmies, shared inspirational stories, or just understood when I disappeared under a pile of tests.

You guys are the best.

And big thanks to all the people at teachers’ college, enthusiastic and interesting, who often inspired me to keep going when the going was getting tough. Almost each one taught me something I’ll keep in mind—whether it’s laugh at the odd things, sing at the class, or eat salad on lunch break. And, finally, thank you teachers’ college…for introducing me to the wonderful world of baseball!

I’m excited for all of us teachers….the world is open to us, and not just for walking about in. We are going to teach it…and not everyone can say that.



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Why I’m a teacher (revisited post-graduation)

This is me.

This is me.

 Fresh out of teachers’ college, I still find this old post  about why I teach rings true…


People react to my telling them I’m a teacher in predictable ways. They all seem to assume the same things: I must enjoy spending time with children, living vicariously through teenagers, teaching a pet subject, or lounging about during summer vacations. In small part, these reasons are true. Alone, though, these reasons are insufficient: I’ve only nodded along with these people’s ideas about my choice of profession because I haven’t the time to explain my reasons. It’s complicated. It’s too much to explain in one sitting to a stranger who asks the inevitable: “Whatcha do?” and “Why you doin’ it?” expecting a few words wrapped in a smile. Let me explain now: Teaching is like being a stream in a forest. I want to be that stream.

A stream anywhere is a lifeline splitting the ground—wherever it goes, the birds, the bears, the bees, the trees—all visit the stream to drink and to survive. Plants shoot their roots towards it; animals won’t stray from it. A teacher is like a stream; wherever she is, there is life-giving knowledge. Teaching, I give students something to help them thrive. For Mark, I give the ability to read when he couldn’t. For Frieda, I give the ability to write. For Xinyu, I give the ability to debate, research, and vote. So, I nourish them.

And I nourish their families too. A teacher is also a judge, psychiatrist, manager, family and marriage therapist, social worker, and activist. If Mary’s family is troubled, I’ll likely be the first outside her family to know, and perhaps her only confidant. If Jason’s having mental problems and overdosing on prescription drugs—yes, I’ll be at his hospital bed too. If Yousuf’s family can’t be approved citizens after five years, I’ll write to government bureaucrats. I’ve seen teachers do all these things; I’ve seen them do it after a long day of school spent building up their students with kind words. That’s what convinced me teachers are like streams that nourishing and building up those around them.

But to be a nourishing stream and a model of humanity for students forty-five hours a week a teacher must not be burnt up inside—she faces, then, the challenge of bettering herself. This moral transformation is a perk of the job: struggling to explain a concept for the tenth time, a teacher develops patience; dealing with a student with behaviour issues, courage; knowing a student’s personal struggles, empathy; marking students’ papers fairly, a just mind; and, finally, dropping the I’m-a-university-grad-and-too-smart-to-teach-thirteen-year-olds persona, humility. Before the teacher knows it, she’s a pure stream:  a teacher with soul. Is there a better end?

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, made an observation about streams relevant to teachers.When he said “no man ever steps in the same [stream] twice,” he meant that as a stream is never the same, so too reality is always changing. Teachers, like Heraclitus’ stream, are constantly re-inventing themselves if they’re worth a sticker. At sixteen— I know only now— I was a new tutor, an illiterate, and a bad writer despite high grades. Then, I knew nearly nothing; now, I know much more. My profession demands it. I’ve learned about how the mind operates; how your mind differs from mine; how your family affects your learning; what your lunch tells me about you. And, apart from studying psychology, I’ve learned technology. Smartboards, ipads, elmos, blogs, and the like—these are my new blackboard. Because I’m a teacher, I’ve forced myself into the 21st century. Because I’m a teacher, I keep learning. I’ll always be a stream overflowing with freshness.

So, let this be my answer to all those who ask, “Why did you become a teacher?”: I’m a teacher, because it’s like being a stream. A stream is no small thing. It nourishes others; it keeps pure; it alters and reflects in beautiful ways. Though you can’t see a stream immediately when looking at the forest trees, or hear it in the racket of hoots and howls, you can be sure it’s there. It’s quietly bubbling along the forest floor, minding its own business, observing all around, seeking out roots. I know it may sound odd, but I want to do that for a living.

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Building self-esteem in students– have we gone too far?

Are your children spoiled? Quite possibly.

Our nation- wide, well-intentioned “grow self-esteem in students” movement has gone too far. Before you hurl stones, let me preface this by saying I’m a teacher committed to building strong self-concepts in students,  especially body-conscious girls. And I don’t think praising students is bad.

But I think some praise is bad.

Some praise is downright destructive.

Jean  Twenge’s “Me Generation”

generation me narcissism

This TIME article  claims there are nearly  3 times as many narcissists in their 20s than in the  65 + crowd

As an undergraduate sociology student, I studied Generations X and Y and this led me to read Jean Twenge’s book, Generation Me: a book that cautions too much self-esteem building programs have led to a narcissistic Generation Y. According to Twenge, the emphasis on building self-esteem in schools  really began in the Sixties, with the “Free to Be You and Me” mentality. According to Twenge, the 1960’s mass project to build self-esteem in students destroyed people born between the early 1980s to early 2000s– the millenial generation.

Using psychology and social surveys, Twenge and her associates found that members of this so-called millennial generation are overall more “confident, entitled and assertive,” but, because they’re trapped in their little worlds—centered around themselves, of course— they’re “more miserable than ever before.”

Growing in popularity, Twenge’s research has been republished in her new book The Narcissim Epidemic. Here’s an illustration of generation Y narcissism in her words:

“On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet. Five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures as ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous. High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention. And for the past several years, Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can’t afford.”

The real cause for all this madness, for Twenge, is epidemic narcissism:

“Although these seem like a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in American culture: the relentless rise of narcissism, a very positive and inflated view of self. Narcissists believe they are better than others, lack emotionally warm and caring relationships, constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance”[see Source 1]

Is Twenge right? Are our students narcissists?


Hey look ma! It’s a picture of me…looking at me, looking at me, looking at me…

One reason we might be concerned about building too much self-esteem in students is that we might unintentionally build cold, unfeeling monsters— Twenge’s narcissists. But I’m unconvinced this is our  greatest fear. From my observation, my students are not a pack of in-it-for-myself-alone types, but caring, feeling individuals who, like most teenagers, are idealists. That my students overall “constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance” is, however, undeniable.

You’re special– but do you have grit?

You need proof– let me tell you about the experiment I’ve run for the past three years. At the start of most classes, I take a student survey asking them about their ambitions. What have I learned? I’ve learned that most students believe themselves to be special. They see their future selves as being wildly successful–they are the future Bon Jovis,  the Freuds, the Obamas, the Trumps, the Spielbergs of our world. And what of their work ethic? I’ve learned that a scant few have the work ethic to achieve their goals, never mind an A average. The majority of my students have forgotten what Benjamin Franklin knew: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

That hard work usually equals success, I think, should be taught in every classroom. I propose these mottoes for every student: Effort multiplies reward. Sweat equals success. Practice makes perfect. Struggle builds character.

Perhaps you disagree. Maybe our students are indeed so special that their success is certain. Maybe they are so special they should get praise without cause.

As for me, I think we’re off the train tracks.  Here’s how our self-esteem building efforts have backfired:

1)      Students may become suckers for recognition

When we praise students and make it seem like only when they are praised, and only when they do well, that they are valuable human beings, we create attention-seeking addicts. Witness the countless Facebook self-portraits and un-private lives lived for the fleeting pleasure of being “noticed” and “liked.” Wouldn’t it be better if our students didn’t care much about what others thought of them? Wouldn’t it be better if they introspected for self-worth rather than grasping hungrily outside?

2)      Students only value some things, forget others

When we praise students because they get a great mark, win the student election, score a touchdown, win a scholarship, we are doing a good thing. But do we praise students when they do good? For example, when was the last time we praised a student for helping someone who was bullied, for volunteering, for sharing their lunch? If we praise academic or extracurricular excellence alone, we send the message that only material and academic achievement matters. Do we believe that? If so, why do we believe that?

3)      Students can’t correct their mistakes and live in ignorance—

When we praise students for every little thing—even when they are wrong—we are being dishonest. Worse yet, we are ruining their chances in life. For example, some well-meaning teachers have taken self-esteem building to mean “don’t correct mistakes because it’ll discourage students.” I’ve heard of teachers not correcting papers full of serious punctuation and grammatical errors because they believed their students’ writing still had “flow”—whatever that is. If jonny rites like this he, wont be getting a good job don’t U think??

generation me y bunny

Our students do not have to be this bunny.

4)      Students are unprepared for the real world, complacent—

In school, everyone thinks you’re wonderful and you get easy As! Then you get your first job. You find it very disconcerting that nobody praises you without cause. You have to work for it. We should prepare students for this. We should also never give students the impression that they’re so perfect they can’t improve; everyone can improve, because we all have weaknesses.

So, what is the balance between building healthy self-esteem in students, and building narcissists, attention-seeking types, ruthless go-getters and unprepared “princes and princesses”? I’m not sure, but so far I follow these three rules:

1)        I will praise students for a job well done, but only if they deserve it.

2)       I will not praise students for a job poorly done or ignore mistakes.

3)       I will not praise students for academic achievements alone.

Doing all this, am I being too harsh? I think not. I’m trying to be a good teacher, as I understand it.

For more about the “Me Generation” phenomenon,  Isuggest you go to this article recently published in TIME: “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” by Joel Stein

Or check out Source 1:Jean Twenge’s site

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Every teacher & parent should watch this!

Activist, author, and child prodigy  Adora Svitak  makes the case for childish thinking in her compelling TED talk.

She’s 16-years-old but eloquent as my 40-year-old aunt…and that’s eloquent.

I’ve taken the quotes that really stuck out to me and pasted them for you below.


[by Adora Svitak]

Straight from Svitak:

‘irrational’ thinking

“The traits the word ‘childish’ addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking.”

“…who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs?”

optimism & dreams

“For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things.”

“…we kids still dream about perfection. And that’s a good thing, because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first.”

control & care

“Now, what’s even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”

“…to show that you truly care, you listen.”


“But there’s a problem with this rosy picture of kids being so much better than adults. Kids grow up and become adults just like you. Or just like you, really? The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather better adults than you have been.”

my two cents…

I agree with Svitak about everything, except  for one thing; as a student, I don’t think she fully appreciates classroom control. It’s necessary.  No classroom can function well without some rules and guidelines. I know, because I once set very little rules or guidelines (not my thing, anyway), and my students were less focused and less successful because of it. It’s a fine balance. We teachers need to give as much freedom as possible so long as learning is not impeded.

one more thought…

Svitak paints an accurate picture of kids who “still dream about perfection.”Listening to her, I remembered a situation that captures the child mentality perfectly.

Once, I left my black handbag in a classroom over lunch break. I returned to the empty room to find a one of my grade 5 students, Emma, hunched over my bag. “Oh no!” I immediately thought. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I though to myself, “she must be taking something from my bag.”

Rushing over to Emily to “catch her” red-handed, I soon became embarrassed. I saw that she was holding a mop of soggy tissue papers, cleaning my bag from the grit it picked up from the floor. “What are you doing?” I asked. And then she looked up at me, a small mess of freckles,  and said in her slow, deliberate way, “Cleaning…your bag…” I thought she had been stealing, when she had just been helping me behind my back.

Kids do really think a different way, see the world differently. It’s a shame that we grow up.

Do you think you’re childish enough? Or, have you become too serious and narrow-minded to the see the big, bright picture? Have you lost your rose-coloured glasses?

Something to think about…

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Why do we un-teach intuition?

Last Sunday, fate arranged for me to eat burrito across from Ian, creative strategist, business owner, and writer. He taught me something in this school of life, and he can teach you. He taught me the value of intuition.

He came dressed in a sock

His sweater was a over-sized sock— trendy these days, I guessed. A pair of aviator glasses hid his bright green eyes. Despite his youthful look, I sensed his depth.

I wanted to know how he became a success reaching the top of every hipster’s dream, Mount Everest, Holy Grail – the advertising industry.

Ian had found his inspiration in some classroom, I was sure, or in some lecture hall, in some teacher. Armed with knowledge, he’d rough-housed in the creative marketplace.

Except he hadn’t. He started by selling shoes for Aldo. He became a manager. Then he became a producer, left, and opened his own company.

He never went to university.

“Didn’t need it. Waste of time,” he said, “school makes you complacent.”

I nearly choked on burrito.  Didn’t Ian realize he was talking to a teacher? Didn’t he realize he was wearing a sock?

This man was the annoying kid

In school, Ian was likely the kid we teachers struggle with. He was the dreamer; he studied in his own world. He didn’t have the patience for calculating, filling in blanks, or discussing the causes of the Great War. Yes, Ian was “the annoying kid.”

“He needs to pay attention in class,” teachers must have been complained of him, “he should write essays without the pictures or the poetry. He should…”

…be unimaginative? A bore?

Looking for salamanders

Students like Ian are on the search for the unusual, the unseen in everyday life.

As a boy, Ian looked for salamanders.

“When I was a kid,” he told me, “my mom took me to the forest to catch salamanders. She taught me not to look too hard when we pulled up a moldy log.  To catch a salamander, you have to be see the whole and the details.”

Now as a grown man, his powers of observation are occult.

“You see that man over there,” he nods somewhat discreetly, “he’s wearing a Zara jacket  bought two years ago.” At every moment in our conversation, he can list off the colours, the brands, the condition of every customer’s clothes.

He points to my tiny black earring lying on the black tile floor, and it creeps me out. Has he noticed the run in my tights, too?

This is only half of my encounter with the annoying kid.

We are made up of three things

“We are made up of three things,” Ian continues as he motions with his hands, “we have our mind.” His hand hovers over his head. “We have our soul, and we have our gut.” He pats his belly.

Ian followed his belly throughout life.  He paid attention to the voice within him; he ignored the voices outside him.

Intuition was his best friend.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat

Three-quarters through my burrito, Ian spots a homeless man passing by our window and asks, “What’s his story?”

I’m not sure; I know only he’s a staple here in Streetsville— the homeless man who looks like a black Cosmo Kramer.

“Let’s go,” he jumps up, “let’s go find his story.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I think, “just when the burrito is getting spicy, we’re on an adventure for a story, a story we can’t eat.” I think Ian is rude. Or a weirdo.  As I nod, and pack up my burrito, I mull this madness over. When the homeless man disappears out of sight, I sigh.

“It looks like he’s gone. Maybe we should just stay and eat our burritos.”

The classroom tug of war

We didn’t chase the story of the homeless man, though I’m certain Ian would have. He was more curious than I, and now I see it.

Our burrito affair was really a metaphor for the ongoing tug of war in classrooms across the country: it is a war between intuition and logic, exploration and structure.

The tug of war begins when a student points to a picture in a science textbooks and asks a question like, “What’s his story?”, and we teachers say: “I’m sorry. Now is not the time for stories. We talk about stories in English class, in period one. We will entertain that question and that story then.”

Often teachers win the tug of war. It’s sad that logic trumps intuition, structure beats exploration, curriculum beats awe. It’s also sad that we teachers have un-learned our intuition– here defined as  the random urge to know.

There is only one solution to this struggle.  We teachers must drop the rope once in a while; we must love and trust our own intuitions, and those of our students. We’ll be rewarded by the salamanders we didn’t see before, the tweaks in reality that make life a kaleidoscope of meaning.

And we’ll rest content. We’ll know we never trained a single child to embody that ugly,  beastly word—“complacent.”

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“Class Action” film: are we for social justice in our schools?

Last week was my final week of classes at OISE.

The final assignment for School and Society course was to create an artifact representing our commitment to social justice in the classroom.

To create my film artifact, I did some digging and found some stories. The facts I found upset some people. Others questioned them.

I embraced their emotions. Facts that are hidden and hard-hitting often stir them. Click to watch my social justice artifact here:

What is “social justice”?

When I began to create my artifact I first thought that the words “social justice” actually mean little to me– they’re too vague and abstract.

When I think of “social justice” I see things:

I see a smile.

I see a student reading a play in which he has the lead role.

I see myself  handing a student a book with a character just like them, a character which I know will get them excited themselves…about living.

I see…

“Class action”

Social justice to me is actions teachers take in  the classroom. It is not an anti-bullying poster. It is not memos. And it is definitely not an impassioned speech made in the staff room over tuna fish sandwiches.

Everyday in their  classrooms, teachers have the opportunity to cure kids from the illnesses that are indecision, shame, and self-loathing. I mean, teachers can bandage those kids who are rejected– because of what they look like, how they feel, or what they do– and help those who hate going to school.

Class action is nursing school rejects back to life. That is social justice.

The flip-side of “class action”

There’s another side to “class action.”

In legalese, “class action” is a case in which a large group of people get together and try to sue some wrongdoer.

“Class action,” with this connotation, also made it the perfect title for my film artifact. When I researched the  lot of the “school rejects” of today, I found they faced serious obstacles in school. These obstacles are not  the kind easily brushed off the shoulder like dust…they are constantly carried on student shoulders…and they are heavy. There is anger, some of it justified, against our school system.

There is much to be done.

Let’s make the commitment to class action today.

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Girls Part III: Why does the Sisterhood Circle Club cook chicken soup?

As a kid, one of my favourite rituals was steaming my cheeks over a hot pot of chicken soup, even if my parents thought it was nuts.

To me, the pot of soup was a world of little people, tossed about in the tide of life. You see, when I helped my mom roll matzo balls, I shaped and marked them in certain ways– a sprig of parsley here, a dent there– and gave each ball personality. This one was a doctor, the other a maid.

A pot of matzo ball chicken soup

This is not what you think it is.

When we threw them into the pot, I became invested in these characters’ fates and I desperately looked out for them; I wanted to know why the doctor fought with carrots and why the maid mushroomed to twice her size. It made for a rich story. It was a tasty soup. And when my family sat down to eat, it became a glue between us.

The experience was stamped in my mind as  the sacred chicken soup ritual.  Cooking the soup came to represent community, imagination, and survival in my life. Here’s how the Sisterhood Circle girls got a taste of the same:

1)      COMMUNITY– The Sisterhood Circle is all about building strong friendships between young girls so they can help each other in their lives. What better way to bond then over making and eating soup?

The girls were put into stations where they peeled onions, chopped carrots, and gutted celery. After fighting carrots with scraping knives, they were like warriors bonded through battle.

peeling carrot

Scraping carrots for the soup.

2)      IMAGINATION-  As I mentioned, kids take what is common and create extraordinary rituals. They are natural creators. They look at the world and say, “No, this is not just a bowl of soup. This is….”

Teaching girls to cook is giving them another medium for expressing their creativity.  A pot is a palette. A mixing spoon is a paintbrush. Spices are paints.  The soup is the masterpiece. It is a reflection of the creator and it tells some story.

Every year since I learned to cook chicken soup, I’ve add something to my artist’s repertoire. Today I’ll throw in a dash of paprika to this soup. Today I’ll add parsley. Now I’ll go to India, borrow some curry, and make something I’ve never seen before. Through cooking, I’ve traveled to different worlds and broadened my horizons. I’ve created something out of nothing.

3)      SURVIVAL+ – Cooking is a survival skill. When we are at home, we don’t realize the value of a home cooked meal. A friend of mine moved to the big city and feasted on ramen noodles. They say you are what you eat and they are right: she became a little more flimsy, a little more pale, a little more greasy— just like a ramen noodle.

Worse: she wasnot living, she was merely existing.

The sad situation could have been avoided altogether if someone had just taught her how to cook. Having made a pot of soup from scratch, the Sisterhood Circle Club girls are ready to eat!

chicken soup bowls

Our finished product.

4)      NUTRITION- While we were cooking, Ella gave the girls a talk about nutrition and we handed out food guide information packages. Eating disorders are becoming more common among Canadian girls, so we felt it important to talk about what healthy and unhealthy eating looks like. We stressed the need to eat three meals a day and exercise.

The girls really enjoyed the activity and the soup was fantastic! Here’s the recipe below, published in a school newsletter. Enjoy!

chicken soup recipe

Our chicken soup recipe. It has a twist!

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