Archive for January, 2018

Practical Skills

Posted: January 12, 2018 in Education

I was driving my wife’s SUV the other day and the warning came on to charge her battery. I knew I had a battery charger in the basement that was still in the box and had been collecting dust for years. All I had to do was find it, connect it, and let it charge. I found the charger, popped the hood, connected the positive end, and then paused. Within minutes I had my dad on the phone. “Soooo, where does the black end connect to?” I love my dad. He never mocked me once (not over the phone anyway). After about ten minutes of conversation (I had to find a part of the engine that was metal, which proved to be difficult) and sending him pics of various parts of the engine I could possibly connect it to, I finally got it.  I’m pretty embarrassed (as I should be), but also, I realized I clearly wasn’t taught this at any point during my education. It led me to think what else I hadn’t learned and what my students were also not learning.

You can Google almost anything these days, but I was thinking about what practical skills I missed out on and what my students may also be missing out on. I came up with a short list:

  1. As mentioned in my embarrassing story – how to charge a battery or boost a car: A long time ago a buddy also showed me how to jump start my standard car without cables…I don’t remember how to do that, but it was really cool when he did it.
  2. Wilderness skills: I’d last about an hour. However, I’m proud to say that I know how to start a fire…as long as I have matches or a lighter 🙂 I should also mention that a colleague of mine recently booked a trip with his students to the local provincial park where he showed them how to start a fire, cook their own food, and set up a tent.
  3. How to prepare a decent meal: I mean, I can follow a recipe okay, but my knowledge of food preparation does not extend much past that. I probably make the best KD (Kraft Dinner) though. Seriously. I probably do. Like, seriously.
  4. How to complete a tax return: Yep. I pay someone to do that for me. I don’t need CRA on my back because I forgot a comma…
  5. Knowing the tricks of the trade: What I mean is, I’m not too sure what a good deal is, typically. If something is “on sale”, I just assume it’s a good price, which isn’t always the case. My wife, however, is amazing. So at the grocery store, she price matches and coupons like a boss. The same goes for buying a car (for example). I have no idea when I’m being swindled and sweet-talked. So, again, I call in my wife to help me.
  6. Proper etiquette: For this life skill I am actually pretty competent, but I listed it because it’s never really taught and is severely lacking with today’s youth. For example: Giving up a seat on public transit for a parent with a stroller, a woman, or someone elderly.
  7. Time Management: Again, I am good at organizing my time. Most students, however, are not. It’s a tough skill to teach. This could be a lack of understanding how to prioritize items or simple procrastination or the uncertainly of how to finish tasks well, yet efficiently.
  8. How to fail: In some professions this f-word may be replaced with a more positive phrase like “learn to succeed”. This generation of Millennials are coddled. Too often do we try to remove their road blocks, stop them from falling, and instil them with the “everyone’s a winner” attitude. Students need to be shown how to be resilient and pick themselves up after they’ve fallen. Moreover, that not only is it okay to fail, but it’s normal and it’s an opportunity for growth.

Anxiety and Stress

Posted: January 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

Exam Meme

Recently, my wife and I were chatting with some friends over sushi about the rise in student stress and mental health issues in general. “Do you notice,” a friend asked, “that kids seem to be stressed out these days? What do you make of that? Like, are you seeing that in your classes?”

I’ll begin by saying that stress and accompanying anxiety are real. Other mental health issues are also real. I believe I can safely say that teachers try to walk that line between “suck it up” and sensitivity. Example: A student says they can’t write my test because they are experiencing stress or anxiety. What do I do as a teacher? Do I tell them, “You’re right. Tests are stressful. Good luck!” or do I tell them, “I’m sorry that you are feeling that way. Write it when you are feeling better.” Life is filled with stressful situations, so at what point is the stress too overwhelming and when do students need to simply “deal with it”?

I mean, is the student in the above example trying to get out of my test or are they really struggling? My suggestion is to engage in a conversation about how they’re feeling. A simple, “Tell me what you are most anxious about when it comes to the test” can uncover a quick “I didn’t study” to more complex and deeper explanation as to what is really going on.

But why now? In other words, why are stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues such big issues all of a sudden? I’m not THAT much older than my students and I don’t remember this ever being discussed when I was their age. Does life suck all of a sudden? Can we blame this on technology too? (Actually, in our sushi conversation, this possibility was brought up by my wife – her point was that many students don’t know how to communicate well with each other in order to get help. Their emotional fix is through “likes”). Are students putting too much pressure on themselves or is there pressure put on them from other means?

I assume there is simply more research on the subjects, so the awareness is becoming more important. But then we are faced with over-diagnosis, unhealthy drug treatments, and pathologizing what would be considered “normal” behaviours.

I watched a video, which I immediately shared with my students, by Dr. Mike Evans (an associate professor of Family Medicine at the University of Toronto – he is currently helping with Health Innovation with Apple in California). In his short video, he highlighted the differences between positive and negative stress. Too much stress is obviously negative, but healthy stress can help you perform at your best (he references athletes), as well as develop your coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills.

So, perhaps the key is *drum roll*…EDUCATION! Maybe we need to teach students HOW to cope with stress and different strategies that may be helpful. My school has recently hired (as of September 2017) a professional in the field of mental health who is on-campus every day and is available for students to seek help from if need be. Our school has also adopted a wellness week (timely, since exams are next week), which includes a variety of activities during lunch that are free for students to engage in. These activities range from sports to therapy dogs.

If you Google coping strategies for stress, there is a long line of suggestions (less caffeine, more sleep, breathing exercises, keep a diary, etc). However, it never seems to be that easy of a fix. As Dr. Evans suggests, we need to change the way we think about stress and understand that it’s normal, but that we cannot escape from it.