Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Helicopter Parents

Posted: October 20, 2016 in Education


*The above image is taken from Jeremy Skow’s Mental Health Counselling website. It is hilarious*

I’ll begin by stating that I am not a parent. So, my thoughts are generated solely from a teacher’s perspective. I am well-aware that my wife and I (she is also a teacher) are in no position to judge the actions of parents/guardians when we have no children ourselves. I’ll just get that out of the way. Also, my objective is to present a view…not judge.

First of all, the term “helicopter parent” is used to describe an overbearing parent who makes decisions for their child(ren) by imposing their will upon them and/or taking an “excessive” interest in their lives (according to Google). I don’t know when a parent’s interest in the life of their child becomes “excessive”, but I find the latter half of that definition intriguing.

Parents should take an interest in their child and there are times when they will need to make decisions for them, so the question becomes: When does a parent need to back off and when do they need to take a more hands-on approach? Is there an age we can label students with or is it a maturity label that we need?

The statistics from a Michigan State University study (2015, I think) claims that:
1. 4% of parents attended their child’s interview for a part-time job
2. 12% of parents were the ones who setup their child’s interview for a part-time job
3. 15% of parents made complaints to businesses when their child was not hired
4. 31% of parents submitted their child’s resume for them

Again I’ll ask, at what point should a student start advocating for themselves?
I don’t have the answer for that.

A “helicopter parent” can lead to a “teacup child”. A teacup child is: a cherished possession of their parent; capable of breaking easily; always on display for others to see; only fed high-quality tea; and a reflection of the status of the parent.

Essentially, the child could end up more maladjusted to life even though the intent of the parent is pure and good-hearted. Though, as the saying goes, best intentions do not guarantee desirable outcomes. This is where the “bubble-wrapped generation” term comes from – It is a reference to children who don’t fall down because they don’t take risks because they were coddled for far too long or far too often. The future consequences of a child incapable of taking risks or knowing what it’s like to fail and try again can be insurmountable. Helicopter parenting can also cause anxiety in a child and it can be a detriment to a child’s ability to problem solve – the latter being a key component in most careers and often a quality more sought after in a candidate than grades.

To revert for a moment back to the “teacup” analogy, the overall belief is that a child from an over-bearing parent can do no wrong, but the reality is that they can and those parents should let them. They are human. There needs to be room for personal growth through self-discovery and perseverance.

But again, what do I know?




Orwell v. Huxley

Posted: March 9, 2016 in Education


*The caption for the cartoon above states: Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance* – the visual is part of a series by Stuart McMillen (2009)

I am currently teaching George Orwell’s 1984 to my grade 11 class. We’re into chapter 5 (of 24) and they are enjoying it… I’m pretty sure. They’re engaged and that’s as much as I can ask for at the moment. It’s a novel written in 1949 that highlights Orwell’s fears of what the world would look like 35 years into the future. The novel is about a 39-year old man living under constant surveillance being run by a totalitarian government. Every part of the protagonist’s life is controlled by the government, including (but not limited to): when he eats, what he eats, when he exercises, when he works, what his job is, and what rations he is entitled to. The history books are filled with lies, sex for pleasure is a rebellious act, bonds between people do not exist, and faith/love are shown only towards the leader (Big Brother).

“This world could never exist,” says a grade 11 student.
“It has,” I say. “And it still does.”

This morning I showed the VICE documentary on North Korea…

In any case, 1984 is an interesting study since our current culture exists in a world of surveillance – everyone seems to have a cellphone these days, there are cameras on every street corner, and even in Minority Report fashion, department stores are starting to cater their advertisements to specific people based on facial recognition. Is there a private world anymore? I reference Shawn Simoes – a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University who recently lost his Sunshine List job due to a comment he made (FHRITP) while on camera at a Toronto FC game. Hydro One (his now former employer) claimed that his on-screen antics didn’t match up with the company’s ethical standard to which its employees were expected to uphold. I, personally, agree with the dismissal.

Years prior to the publication of 1984, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World (1932). In this novel, Huxley wrote about his fear of the future. The visual at the top of the post highlights one of his many worries featured in his novel – the ‘sea of irrelevance’ that seems to have taken over our culture.

Here is how McMillen broke down the thoughts of each author:
Orwell – He feared people who banned books
Huxley – He feared that one day books would become irrelevant
Orwell – He feared that governments would keep information from their citizens
Huxley – He feared that citizens would be hit with too much information
Orwell – He feared that the ‘truth’ would be concealed
Huxley – He feared that the ‘truth’ would be drowned by insignificant news
Orwell – It is evident in his novel that people are controlled by pain
Huxley – It is evident in his novel that people are controlled by pleasure

To sum up, Orwell feared what others may do to us, but Huxley worried about what we may do to ourselves. Both authors have valid arguments, as both sets of fears are relatable to our current culture.

What values are we aligning ourselves with and how do those values make their way into the classroom?

Being Good and Individualism

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Education, Humanity


*The above photo is the name of a book I had to read when I was the Assistant Manager of the campus nightclub at University. Bob Farrell is the author of this text designed to teach employees (specifically those in the service industry) how to simply be an effective employee and a leader*

Recently, I asked my grade 11 students whether or not it’s important to be a good person. It was nice to see that none of them said it wasn’t important, and the responses (if I may say) were not at all shocking. According to my students, it is important to be a good person because it makes you feel good; it can create a positive change in the world; it makes others feel good; it can help you gain respect; it makes Christ happy (for those that have a Christian lens); and it can make it easier for you to exist as a part of society (both local and global). These responses were exactly what I was looking for and it was nice to see young minds having such a positive outlook on being a generally good person.

I should also mention that this particular group of grade 11’s are quite bright and many of them are leaders in their own way – hence why I expected their shared responses. They are a very keen group who are willing to learn, can show respect for themselves and others, and they know when to have fun, but also know when to do their work – trust me when I say that this isn’t classroom-specific, but their grade in general. So, we spoke about being “good.” I then asked them, “As a rather solid group of grade 11’s, do you have a social and academic responsibility to set an example and contribute to how the school is run? OR, are you fine with being at school as long as your own teacher, your own classes, and your own grades are just fine? Their responses were shocking. The majority of students were fine with the latter…

So, the question then becomes, how are you supposed to be a good person and care about what happens out in the world, when you can’t even care about what happens in your own school?

Bob Farrell, in his book mentioned above, makes something very clear: That sometimes what you do when no one is looking can be more powerful than when you are being watched… This powerful message makes me consider where the source of our motivation comes from in doing good works for others. For example, if a student is walking through the halls of their school and notices a leftover lunch bowl laying around, do they: 1. Walk by it? 2. Pick it up because a teacher is nearby? or 3. Pick it up whether there are people around or not?

There’s no argument, we live in a very individualistic society whereby we look after ourselves and those close to us, but seldom do we venture further past that. I am certainly to blame as well.

How do you teach active citizenship? We have a difficult time reconnecting to each other in a time where the ability to connect is more plausible than ever! How do you teach someone to care? How do we learn to love each other?

Banning Energy Drinks

Posted: January 9, 2015 in Education


I caught the tail end of a news broadcast about making the sale of energy drinks to persons under the age of 19 illegal. This would also mean that vending machines in high school hallways would also be energy drink free. This caused me to assess my own school and what we offer our young minds.

Doctors Nova Scotia are the ones that are pushing for legislation to pass the above law. On their website, they indicate that they have support in this venture from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) – that’s pretty good support. In a study conducted in Nova Scotia, 50% of grade 7 students admit to using energy drinks in the 12 months prior to being surveyed and this increases to 71% usage by grade 12. Some students (they cite 25%) even mix this with alcohol…surprise surprise. Could it be that living on the east coast ain’t such easy livin’ after all? Are east coasters more wound up than their stereotype depicts? Do these statistics simply show that east coasters are putting in long hours and therefore require the beverage to keep awake? Who knows.

I have a limited connection to energy drinks. They were certainly not popular when I was in high school and Red Bull only became common when I was in University. I worked at a nightclub, so naturally shifts that lasted until 4am required a drink like Red Bull. I never engaged in more than two a night and I’ve never been a fan of mixing it with alcohol…

I can’t say that I am for or against the motion to ban energy drinks, but I’ll say that the benefits of keeping energy drinks in-school don’t seem to outweigh the downsides to it.

Advantages: Energy drinks, obviously, give students a kick in caffeine. Therefore, it may help students to stay alert during class. I’m not too sure how long the kick lasts, so their crash may be worse. The energy drinks are also high in carbs, so for athletes, this may be an advantage for increasing performance. I suppose the last advantage is that by offering the drink, students can make the decision on their own whether the drink is something they’d like to engage in or not.

Downsides: Energy drinks are packed with sugar, which can be both good and bad. The ideal consumption of sugar intake a day is about 37grams and most energy drinks contain about 35grams in one beverage. This high sugar content can lead to obesity. Also, students who do not have good self-control can partake in too many beverages leading to heart issues because of the high-caffeine content. By offering students only healthy drink choices forces students to make the right choice. Too much caffeine can lead to headaches due to caffeine withdrawal and can even lead to insomnia if the beverage is consumed too often.

My school offers no pop or energy drinks in the vending machine nor do they sell it in the cafeteria.

As a fun fact…webmd published an article in 2012 directly linking heart attack, suicide, a miscarriage, vomiting, and psychotic disorders to energy drinks. Is that enough to scare off students from drinking them? Probably not.


I’m Like A Coat

Posted: January 8, 2015 in Education


Yes, I Googled “coat on coatrack” and copy/pasted the first image that showed up.
I do believe it accurately depicts how a teacher can feel just before the semester is over and exams quickly approaching.
“I’m Like A Coat” is not as glamorous as “I’m On A Boat,” but I bet I could come up with a good parody…

Teachers spend the majority of the semester urging students to seek help if they are lost. I know that for me, I spend much time repeating to my students to come and see me if the material becomes too difficult or overwhelming. Typically, I hear from the odd student now and then over the course of the semester, but they are few and far between. I am a coat on a rack – not needed and certainly unwanted. THEN, there is that magical time RIGHT BEFORE exams where I am popular and suddenly I am worn daily, on lunch breaks, after school, and through continuous messages needing my help. I will be expected to look my best (assist to the fullest) by ensuring that my coat has no holes, no pulled thread, and certainly no discolouration/fading. This all comes with the territory of being a teacher.

“Is it ever too late for them?” my non-teacher friends ask.
“It can be, yes.” I tell them. “When a student wants a 90% suddenly and there is a week left, but they are sitting at a 62%…I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Let’s be realistic.

But yes, I am always willing to help – it’s my curse.

I’ll tell you what really grinds my gears lately, though. There was a recent article published by Ali Parrish on Edutopia. Her article was entitled, “3 Ways to Help Student Writing.” I thought to myself: Hey! That’s for me! I could probably use that!

Her article simply acted like one of MANY articles published recently – these step-by-step guides to becoming a better educator. All I’ve read lately are articles like: “10 Steps to Remember with the Flipped Classroom,” “5 New Ways to Re-Think Learning,” “8 Pathways to Every Student’s Success,” and, most recently, Ms. Parrish’s helpful tips…
I think what bothered me the most was her three “ways” to help student writing…
#1. Transcribe what the student says (they talk, the teacher writes)
#2. Have the students audio record themselves and then write their response based off of their recording (not bad)
#3. Basically the same as #2 except use dictation software…

Did you catch it? With the exception of #2 (kinda), none of those “ways” just had the student PRACTICE writing! I totally get it – using technology to assist is a GREAT method, but it’s not the only method. What about getting back to basics by putting a pencil into the hand of the student and assisting them with writing on the line and helping them formulate ideas? I’m also not adverse to technology – why not even have the students use their laptop and type out their sentences and ideas? From there, I don’t mind helping them with some editing.

I understand though – Ali Parrish wasn’t trying to develop a quick fix for student writing, she’s just trying to provide some alternative ways. I don’t mean to be so negative, but I often think that educators often try to use technology for every learning issue when sometimes getting back to basics can be the best option of them all.

The more students are exposed to reading, their writing and development of ideas will improve – read, read, read and practice, practice, practice.

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.