Archive for November, 2014

Book Launch

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Literature

AD copy

I will be hosting a book launch for my short novel, Nostalgia.

My good friends, Ken Turner and Glen Hammond, will also be launching their collection of short stories.

If you’re in the area, come on out for coffee and enjoy some live readings and live music!

Ken Turner – Old Habits and Other Stories
Glen Hammond – A Little Piece of Eternity
(Both available on Amazon)


Discipline and Punishment

Posted: November 8, 2014 in Education

berry cartoon school discipline

There is a difference between discipline and punishment.

As a teacher (and as a parent too, so I hear), it’s important to understand the difference between those two terms. In an age of “helicopter parents” and “bulldozer parents,” correct consequences for behaviour is very important to the character-building of a student.

I want to focus on four areas of both terms: 1. purpose, 2. focus, 3. attitude, and 4. resulting emotion ( Essentially, these four areas are different depending on the term being discussed (either discipline or punishment). The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offence, whereas the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. The focus of punishment is on the past misdeeds, whereas the focus for discipline is on future correct acts. The attitude of punishment is hostility and frustration, whereas the attitude of discipline is love and concern. Finally, the resulting emotion from punishment is fear and guilt, whereas the resulting emotion from discipline is security and understanding.

It is quite clear which one has a positive effect and which one has a negative effect.

The word discipline is still often seen as negative. Personally, as long as the consequence correctly matches the misdeed, then discipline can help to mould and shape young minds who will, inevitably, make poor choices. Whether my students want to admit it or not, they crave discipline and structure. The human mind works on conditioning – this is why our immediate belief is that if I’m not receiving a consequence for an action, then the action must be permissible. This is dangerous. Students need to be shown a clear line between what is permissible/acceptable behaviour and what is not.

In my grade 10 course, we talk a lot about consequences (theme of the course is [in]justice). I give my students this example: Sam walks into class with his baseball hat on and I don’t bother telling him that it’s not part of our uniform. Tomorrow, Brad walks into class with his baseball hat on and I ask him to remove it because it’s not part of our school uniform. It’ll only take seconds for Brad to realize how unfair that is. Just yesterday he witnessed Sam not being told about his hat, so Brad was under the impression that it was acceptable to wear his – no one can blame him for that –> that’s how our brains work. Therefore, it is crucial to be consistent with our rules/structure in order to draw that line for students.

These days, the issue that is constantly discussed is how students are being coddled and protected from making mistakes and when they do, the “consequence” often doesn’t fit the misdeed – it’s not too harsh, it’s too soft.

Example: A student approaches a teacher and admits that they didn’t study for the test because they had sports the night before. The student bombs the test. What is the appropriate action on the part of the teacher? Are they to simply allow the student to accept that mark? Should the teacher allow the student to re-write it? Is there a third option? Certainly there are times when the why a student hasn’t studied is a bigger issue – in those situations, our professional judgement is required. However, shouldn’t the student in this case simply deal with the fact that their poor mark now reflects their lack of organization and preparation? Is the hope not that they will better prepare for the next test? I think so.

I was going to comment on the four types of parenting, but I’m not a parent and therefore don’t feel like it’s right to comment on that front. But I will say this, it’s okay for students to fall because they will learn to pick themselves back up. Punishment keeps them down, discipline helps them learn. Allow your kids to make mistakes and what’s even better, allow them to make mistakes early! Let’s fail those tests, fail those courses, lose in sports, and act inappropriate NOW! In high school is when your child will have teachers that care enough to build them up, as opposed to University or college or the workplace when very few people will be interested in their well-being enough to try and develop their character.

They say that the single raindrop never blames itself for the flood…maybe it should.

Foul Language

Posted: November 4, 2014 in Education, Literature


I can’t wrap my head around literature that is banned in schools, but that’s just me. I mean, there is a line somewhere, but if you examine the list of commonly banned novels, the list is quite silly. For instance, The Great GatsbyThe Catcher in the Rye1984Lord of the Flies, and Of Mice and Men constantly find themselves in the top 10. Is it the love story of The Great Gatsby that upsets people? The violence in Lord of the Flies? The unceasing use of the n-word in Of Mice and Men? Surely we can all agree that Fifty Shades of Grey can be left off the curriculum…

When I read Lord of the Flies with my class (grade 10’s) – or have them read – we can make it through the majority of the novel without a hiccup. Unfortunately, Golding uses chapter 11 as a way of giving his reader unnecessary insight into the character of ‘Piggy.’ When Piggy is arguing with boys from a different tribe, he is trying to convince them that it’s better to be civil than uncivil if they want to survive and be rescued from their deserted island. He asks: “Which is better – to be a pack of painted niggers like you are or to be sensible like Ralph is?” (Golding, 199). Yikes. I always read through those lines with ease (always feeling internally uncomfortable), but students will always hesitate reading the word. Golding throws us a curve ball – it took us 11 of 12 chapters to realize that Piggy’s a racist? What I tell my students is that it signals Piggy’s downfall from a once-intelligent being to a marginalized and mentally-weak child. His racism comes through with his frustrations with the rest of the boys. The foul language here serves a purpose – though, arguably unnecessary.

The blatant racism in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men serves an obvious purpose too – it’s simply a commentary on the time period (1930’s). It doesn’t make the language any less uncomfortable, but Steinbeck is presenting a very real depiction of life during this time. I will go ahead and assume that Steinbeck wasn’t willing to hold back on the racism simply to ensure that his novel would be read with high levels of comfort… In fact, Curley’s wife threatens Crooks (only Black character in the novel) that she could have him “strung on a tree so easy…” It’s supposed to make the reader uneasy.

Sheltering these students from these words doesn’t help them, it hinders their understanding. Instead of teaching these students how the language conveys meaning, we simply allow them to miss out on the classic entirely – that’s a shame. Perhaps the worry is that students become desensitized to the language, but I’ll tell you from experience, reading Jim be referred to as “nigger Jim” throughout the majority of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn’t any less uncomfortable in the end than it is in the beginning…take my word for it.

Embarrassing Moments

Posted: November 2, 2014 in Education

I was in grade 12 and my philosophy class was just before English lit. My philosophy teacher was telling us about the meaning of dreams and had felt comfortable enough telling us that if you have flying dreams then it could mean that you’re sexually frustrated. Well, the planets aligned and my grade 12 English lit teacher in the very next class had randomly mentioned that she’d been having dreams lately. When we inquired as to what they were about she mentioned that they were flying dreams. I took it upon myself to raise my hand and tell her and my classmates that “we just learned that flying dreams means that you’re sexually frustrated.” The class laughed and my English lit teacher went red. I’ll be honest…I didn’t do that to embarrass her – I just thought it was so cool that we had JUST learned it the class before and was simply stating what I thought could be factual. My filter was missing. Years later I was able to do my practice teaching at my old high school and happened to now share a workroom with that very same English lit teacher (one of the best I had). I reminded her of that little story. She claimed she didn’t remember, but I sure did. I apologized, as I never meant to embarrass her.

Over the years, I have embarrassed myself in so many ways that I think I’m now immune to embarrassment – just ask my wife. I have no shame. My sister once asked me (in front of the family) what colour Michael Jordan’s hair was…when I responded with an emphatic “BROWN!” her and my family laughed so hard that I cried and left the room.

In fourth grade we had to complete this math exercise called “Mad Minute” and you had to see how many quick multiplication questions you could answer in one minute. My teacher (who I disliked immensely) held up mine [I had completed 4 questions] to Kaylyn Belcourt’s [she completed the whole sheet] and asked why I was so slow…Long story short, my parents enrolled me in Kumon and by grade 8 I was better in math than her. I was still embarrassed.

I have many other stories (most cannot be shared on here), but the point is this: I promised myself that I wouldn’t embarrass my students when I became a teacher. I told myself that I would never have them read aloud if they didn’t feel like it nor would I put them on the spot for an answer. I just wasn’t going to put my students through that. HOWEVER, that is much easier said than done. Now, I am not out to embarrass anyone, but I often use humour to build a rapport with my students. I know which students I can pick on a little and which ones I need to be more sensitive with.

Just last year I was teaching my grade 11’s when I stopped my lesson, as I hovered over the garbage and recycling bins with my Tim Horton’s coffee cup. The conversation went like this:

Me: I never know if the cup is to be recycled. I know the lid does because it has the symbol on it but the cup part doesn’t.
Student: It does. They probably assume it’s common sense because it’s made out of paper…
*Class laughs…and I can’t help but to laugh too* He totally got me.

I think teachers constantly walk a fine line when using humour. At any moment with the wrong student and a joke intended to be light-hearted can equate to a disaster pretty quick.

What made me think about this was lately I have been bugging a student about his flirtatious ways with a female student in the same class. They are obviously great friends. Every-so-often I bug them about how they are in love with each other, which garners laughs from them and their classmates. Just to be sure, however, I took the young student aside and asked him privately if I were taking things too far and if he wished me to stop. I was happy to hear that everything was fine and that it was okay. I needed to hear that – I’m not out to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but often I worry that a line is crossed.

What is an embarrassing classroom story of yours? We all have one.