education station

So I Think I Can Teach.

Still. In spite of everything. In spite of being an overly-sensitive dreamer.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve worked for  my local school board. In that time I swore I was done with working in education for good. If only I’d known that this week my Little Demon Chickens would have come home to roost.

I remember when I first graduated from teachers’ college in 2005. I was naive. I was also incredibly in love with education as a profession. I applied repeatedly to various school boards but to no avail.

Over the years, teaching broke my heart again and again. I began in the realm of substitute teaching. Although qualified at the Intermediate/Senior level, I never really felt equipped to deal with jaded teenagers—I simply didn’t think I wasn’t strong enough. There was the odd unprofessional colleague who was nasty enough to put me off of my game. And worst of all, in spite of the hope I had after working on one brief contract, I couldn’t secure a permanent position.

The possibility of working overseas beckoned to me. In fact, it still does. But I kept telling myself that I wanted to to work at home. That hasn’t changed.

Nevertheless as I said, I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I left the insecure pastures of substitute work for good in 2013.

I went to Toronto and studied television for a year. After that I returned home, to nothing.

Well…Not exactly nothing.

I’ve done some temp work, and a bit of freelance writing. I’ve recorded a few podcast episodes. Still, I haven’t hustled as hard as I should.

I’m not yet the woman that I want to be.

Something’s been missing.

And so, on the morning of a Wednesday that was already off to a craptastic start, I watched this:

The speaker, Jameelah Gamble, is a professional educator and television host. She works with children who have special needs. Around eleven minutes in, I broke into tears and had an epiphany.

In spite of everything, I still want to teach.

When I first graduated from teachers’ college, I felt unstoppable. My fellow classmates and I were in a cohort devoted to diversity and social justice. We joked about wearing a symbol on our chests like a bunch of educational superheroes.

And then reality hit.

No one told us what the teachers’ job market is really like. For some reason after I left OISE, I thought there’d be a position waiting for me at the end of my pedagogical rainbow. Boy was I wrong.

Back then, nepotism was the name of the game. Teaching jobs were widely advertised, yet the majority of administrators hired educators that they or their colleagues already knew. Never mind a rookie’s skills. If you baked Ms. Stevens’ kids cookies and had your OCT certification, chances are, you were in.

Since then, just as I exited the system, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Regulation 274 was created to ensure that teachers were hired due to seniority. Right now I’ll admit I wonder how effective it’s been. (I have the feeling that certain school boards find ways to circumvent this policy.)

Nevertheless, in 2013, leaving teaching felt like the next logical step in my life. What point was there in trying to participate in a profession where I clearly wasn’t wanted?

And yet, in spite of all of this, Ms. Gamble brought me back to the single reason that I thought I could be a teacher.

Love.

I love helping people learn—regardless of age. I want them to have faith in themselves, no matter what their circumstances may be. It breaks my heart to see humans lose hope. I may not be a parent, but I had hoped to influence the next generation for the better one way, or another.

Meanwhile, I know why I walked away. I’ve been wrestling with the words to explain the ways that I was challenged. It’s been a long time since I first tried to teach, but I think my soul is ready. Stay tuned.

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Books, education station

Books: See Me After Class

Well, guys. I still want to work in education.

I’ll tell you about that another time. Long story short–yesterday I had one hell of an epiphany about my career. Last night I went and shopped my basement for teaching books. Thank God I didn’t burn them like I’d once planned. I found most of them. Among the pile, I was happy to see one in particular: See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden.

seemeafterclass-cover

This was the first authentic book on teaching that I’d ever read. The teaching-book landscape can be tough. Some volumes can seem polished to the point of stiffness. And don’t get me wrong. Those sort of books have their place.

Yet that’s not the only thing that new teachers need. When you’re in or out of the classroom and you feel like you’re losing your mind, you need a voice that can offer you perspective. You need someone who knows that classroom management issues don’t correct themselves as magically as they do in the movies.

I have a ton of other books, like Teaching to Transgress and When Kids Can’t Read. But I think Ms. Elden’s book is going to be the first one that I re-read as I get my mind back on track. Her work covers a variety of scenarios–dealing with colleagues, your “teacher” personality, marking assignments, etc. And of course, there are the myths. Have any of you teachers out there heard the phrase “don’t smile ’til Christmas”? (If you don’t work in education, you should know that some people advise teachers not to smile until before their first major holiday. No doubt, this is supposed to show students that we are serious professionals.)

Man.

If I followed that rule, my face would fall off.

See Me After Class offers readers a realistic look at teaching. I recommend it to anyone who’s new to the profession.

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Creative (Non)Fiction, education station

Elementary, Dear Claire.

School’s out.

So I can talk about it, no?

The following is a creative non-fiction piece. It contains some solid memories melded with echoes of shenanigans that I’ve witnessed over the years. 

Enjoy!!

 boyandbooksSource

Dear Readers, lend me your ears and your sympathy. I work as a substitute teacher. When I first started, all I wanted was to help kids. Now, all I want is to run away.

Years ago one morning I was summoned to an elementary school. I was elated. I figured a class of Grade 7s would offer a nice break from the teenagers I usually worked with.

Before I arrived, my heart was filled with hope.

Hope that the kids would like me.

Hope that we would all get along.

Hope that I would lead the students’ math lesson without breaking into hives.

I arrived just in time. Carefully, I reviewed the teacher’s plans. Then I waited for her students to appear. I breathed deeply and thought positively.

Yet in spite of my optimism, the kids weren’t happy to see me.

“Where’s Ms. Stevens?!?” One of them yelled.

I didn’t have a clue, and I actually told him so.

“You don’t know?! Whaddayamean ya ‘don’t know’?”

I sighed and got the class started.

As the kids began to work, in a corner, a gaggle of girls giggled.

“How old are you, Miss?”

“Um, what…?”

“You look like you’re 20.”

I made a face. “Uh…Thanks?” I tried to look stern. I wanted them to know that flattery would get them nowhere.

Just then, a paper ball sailed past me.

I turned around. My eyes ping-ponged across the room. I couldn’t tell where it came from.

I bit my lip and headed back to my desk. Paper or no paper, I was determined to persevere.

Within seconds, my resolve was shattered by another unidentified flying object. I saw something shiny, then heard a clang on the floor. What was that? A penny..?!?

“Boys!” Thinking I recognized the culprit, I shouted in his direction. “Stop throwing things!”

I gave them my best death-stare—which I have since learned resembles an angry puppy—then looked back at my schedule.

I wish I could say things got better. But I’d be lying.

At one point, I left the room. I slipped into the hallway, looking for a lifeline.

Friends had told horror stories about leaving purses alone with students. But I didn’t care. I would have given away all the fantasy-funds in my bank account if these kids would sit down and be quiet for more than two seconds.

My mission proved unsuccessful. The two nearest classrooms were empty, and in the third the teacher was busy. It looked like he would’ve blown up if I’d interrupted him to ask for help.

Dismayed, I went back to my room. I needed an Advil, and it wasn’t even 11 o’clock.

 *****

After 3:30, I visited the principal. She blamed me for the day’s events. When addressing me, she actually used the words “Because of you…”

Right. I’m the one who told Johnny and Jasmine to throw random papers and laugh as I nearly cried.

I left, alarmed. And I never worked in an elementary school again.

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education station, Television

Mr. D and The Day Job

The other day I had the chance to sit in on some great conversations about television.  One concept that was brought up was the magic that happens when a show “gets it”.  That’s when a program is able to connect to its audience by offering a realistic portrayal of its audience’s life.

Currently, I work in education. Apart from a few semi-steady gigs that I do not talk about I have spent the bulk of my time as a substitute teacher.  Still. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never taught a day in your life.  If you have friends who teach, surely you’ve heard stories. All sorts of crazy things can happen, both in and out of the classroom.

On that note, let me introduce you to Mr. D–a program that airs on my nation’s broadcaster, CBC Television.  Here’s a clip from last year…

My first instinct is to say that no teacher is ever that bad when they mark. And yet…I know otherwise.

I love this show! If you haven’t seen it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Granted, there are some darker aspects of teaching.  But I’ve already seen and had a taste of Boston Public. A spoof of some of the lesser-known parts of the profession is a refreshing change.

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