Archive for the ‘Humanity’ Category

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?


The 21st Century “Man”

Posted: September 23, 2014 in Education, Humanity


*The above cartoon is from Cyanide & Happiness and meant to be funny…*

In a 2013 article, entitled Why Chivalry is Dead, writer John Picciuto clearly states that he believes chivalry (the medieval term in reference to showing honour, respect, and one’s morality) is dead.

From my grandmother to my mother, you better believe I learned my lessons, either verbally or via the wooden spoon. But why now does it seem like it’s completely impossible for men to do what I would consider the ‘normal’ thing?

Picciuto goes on to state that this new “hookup culture” (he calls it) has altered a man’s perspective of what it means to court a lady, date a lady, and ultimately respect a lady. Towards the end of the article, however, Picciuto puts the pressure on the women – he claims that they need to start acting like they “hold the cards” if they expect their man to change.

I have seen how the young men of today (teenagers) treat the opposite sex. I see this in my classroom, I see it in the halls, and I see this out in public. This is not a commentary on a specific group of boys from a specific school; this is a commentary on teenage boys in general – and not all, but many. Yes, we can blame technology for this one too because technology sure has changed how we interact with people, but certainly holding doors open, speaking respectfully, and conducting oneself appropriately are antiquated notions.

Now, I’m not the most romantic guy nor do I always say the right things to my wife (but what husband does, am I right?), but I am always respectful. This respect is transferred to all women I interact with like my colleagues, my friends, and anyone else. I mean, I’ve heard boys telling girls to ‘shut up,’ seen boys be overly aggressive with girls, and watched as these young men tell inappropriate jokes and conduct themselves unmannerly in front of their female counterparts. Have times changed that much?

I often joke that there needs to be a course in schools regarding character development, but the obvious rebuttal is that character development can happen in any course at any time. I immediately think back to my time in high school (as teachers often do) and wonder what kind of a young man I was. Was I just as off-putting as the young men of today? Were my teachers back then hoping they’d have a class to teach on character development? I shudder to think that the answer to both of those questions is ‘yes.’ Are these boys just being boys?

Perhaps the idea of a “man” has changed. A funny, informative, and oddly accurate depiction of the 21st century man was documented in a film entitled Mansome (which I have watched three times). It shows how men have become a manicured (and often pedicured) mix between attitude and leadership, but also sensitivity and vanity. No young man wants to be a tough John Wayne or even a romantic Robert Redford – in fact, the young men of today aren’t sure who they want to be.

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that respect for the opposite sex needs to be at the top of their list of manners and perhaps it begins with thinking about the kind of man they want to be. Of course, the flip side is to take our cue from men like Chris Brown and Ray Rice…Maybe this is a call not only to young men, but to adult men as well.


The sChOOL Uniform

Posted: July 24, 2014 in Education, Humanity

School Uniform Joke

I started wearing a school uniform in high school. I had no issue with it. As far as I know, my friends never had an issue with it either and if they did, I certainly was never made aware of their displeasure. I attended a Catholic high school and our school colours were maroon and grey… ‘nuff said. We had to wear dress shoes (I wore a heavy pair of Dr. Martens) and they had to be brown or black. The strictness of my school’s policy never fazed me. As far as I was concerned, if I didn’t want to wear the uniform that badly, I would have just gone to a different school. It was nice not having to choose what to wear every morning and I assume some students benefitted by this as well by, perhaps, not having the most popular brands of clothes. Though, if I remember correctly, no one really cared about that kind of thing.

The high school I teach at is also a uniform school. I have no sympathy for my students who complain about this because they are allowed to wear whatever shoes they’d like. “If you want to express your individuality,” I tell them, “then wear colourful laces.” They have no idea how lucky they are to be able to wear their own shoes. Moreover, starting in September of 2014, my school is offering a new line of school wear, which includes (but is not limited to): a hoodie, a sharp-looking cardigan, and sweatpants – these students are sooo lucky!

15-year old blogger, Chloe Spencer, claims the school uniform “may not be the ingredients for [her] favourite outfit…but if [she] were given the choice, [she] wouldn’t throw away the idea of school uniform. Wearing a uniform is a badge of pride.” In Spencer’s post last October (2013), she vehemently declares that wearing a school uniform not only “teaches students to dress smartly” but that it shows students “buying into what the organisation is all about.” I would agree. This is why the majority of businesses require a dress code of sorts whether it be a cashier at McDonald’s or a lawyer entering his/her firm.

According to Spencer’s research, roughly 160,000 students miss school everyday out of the fear of being bullied or intimidated because of their clothes. Perhaps a uniform keeps students focused, keep students equal, and keeps students from being lost at field trips.

Just get used to being told what to wear…that’s your life now.

The point of a uniform is to remain uniform – to remain the same, unchanging. Both a uniform and a dress code go hand-in-hand. Wearing both communicates something about your character within a certain environment. Think of why you would wear one thing and not another on a first date or for an interview or while working as a doctor or teacher or car salesperson. What we communicate through our dress (whether we like it or not) is received either positively or negatively by those around us. Does it mean I can’t trust a doctor who decides to wear jeans or that you can’t learn from a teacher with a stain on his or her sweater? Not exactly. But their choice of dress will dictate how those around them will act. When a student wears the uniform and wears it well, they communicate respect for themselves and their school – there’s that badge of pride Ms. Spencer was talking about.

I suppose when students dress together, they learn together, and it perpetuates the idea that learning is community, not an individual process.

Teacher Gifts

Posted: June 27, 2014 in Education, Humanity


*The following photo is taken from artist Dave Granlund. Though, my “Today’s Words” would be different: Coach, Lacoste, Jack & Jones*

On AM640, they had yet another segment on how horrible teachers are – this time it was regarding our acceptance of teacher gifts at the end of the semester/year. I don’t really mean to bash AM640 since I am an avid listener, but every time it’s a topic regarding education, it’s parents calling in to explain the awful things their child’s teacher has done recently.

Up until yesterday (when I first heard the segment), I had no idea that the giving and receiving of teacher gifts was such a debatable topic…and a heated one at that! My parents were those who had me give my teachers gifts when I was in elementary school and I am pretty sure that continued into high school. When I began my teaching career as a grade 7/8 teacher and I received my first teacher gift, I was very surprised. I think I can speak for every teacher when I say that gifts are NEVER expected, but ALWAYS appreciated when they are given.

The point made numerous times on the radio yesterday was that teachers shouldn’t be awarded extra for simply “doing their job.” That reminds me of a Dwight Schrute quote from The Office when he says: “Why tip someone for a job I’m capable of doing myself? I can deliver food. I can drive a taxi. I can, and do, cut my own hair. I did, however, tip my urologist because I am unable to pulverize my own kidney stones.” I suppose the big question then is: Are teachers really just “doing their job” or is it not as simple as that?

Teachers are asked to be guidance councillors, psychologists, parents (to some degree), babysitters (in another sense), and role models on top of being granted the authority over a child’s education. Of course the rebuttal to all of that is…teachers knew what they signed up for. So, with that all being said, I am not on one side or the other. I am certainly against receiving money (never have, thankfully), though I have received Tim Horton’s gift cards and the odd time a gift card to the LCBO (liquor store) – I suppose that’s receiving money, to a certain extent. Other gifts include thank you cards, bottles of wine, gift baskets, and other tokens of appreciation.

Are teachers just “doing their job”? Absolutely. Though, it is one of the most important careers out there (if I may say so in the most biased way possible). I mean, you wouldn’t tip your doctor – but again, the rebuttal from some teachers would be that they are well-compensated for their career choice. Another argument is that servers are just doing their job, but then again, the rebuttal is that they are not well-compensated for their job.

So…the age-old question: Who is tip/gift worthy?

I’ll repeat again – never expected, but always appreciated.

“Sign Your Name”

Posted: April 11, 2014 in Education, Humanity


On AM640, there’s been debate lately over the skill of handwriting and whether or not it should be taught in elementary schools. From what I’ve heard, there are a variety of opinions: 1. Teach it early (grade 3) – ensure the students practice it by enforcing that their work be handwritten, 2. Make it optional – in other words, teachers can teach it if they want and can enforce it if they want, 3. Don’t teach it – it’s a dying skill and everyone types on a computer these days anyway.

The picture above is very similar to what I saw as a young student (I can’t remember what grade, but it was early). My teacher taught handwriting, made us practice it everyday (we had a handwriting workbook), and made sure our submitted work was handwritten. We were never told why we had to learn it (we were probably too young to understand why anyway), but this has certainly become an issue with parents. From the sounds of it, parents want their child to learn it, but with some teachers not teaching it, parents have taken it upon themselves to teach their child themselves.

The advantage to learning handwriting is that it develops fine motor skills in young children (the ability to control the movement of fingers and manipulate small objects). It also helps with brain development – our brain receives feedback from our motor actions along with the sensation of touching a pencil/pen to paper; this feedback is different than when we touch our fingers to a keyboard. Finally, the advantage is that it’s simply quicker than printing – when you print, you’re forced to take your writing utensil off of the page a lot more often than with handwriting. These are three very solid reasons for learning handwriting.

With that being said, I don’t handwrite – even with the amount of practice I had as a child, I slowly transitioned back to printing. To me, my printing was neater than my handwriting. Nowadays, my writing has combined elements of both printing and handwriting into one catastrophic mess. It’s true, though, I tend to type these days more than write.

Anecdote: Every-so-often I supervise the S.A.T testing at my school. Students from the surrounding area spend their entire morning writing the S.A.T’s – a very tough set of tests designed for Canadian students to enter post-secondary education in the United States. Though these tests may be difficult, many students struggle with one aspect: handwriting their acknowledgment not to share the test questions with anyone. Allow me to explain. At the culmination of their testing, students must handwrite a few sentences agreeing not to share the test questions. Students will ask me how to write a capital “F” or a lowercase “r” and by direction of the S.A.T institution, I am not allowed to help them. This part of the day takes much time to complete simply because students, these days, have no idea how to handwrite. What makes matters worse is that because students do not know how to handwrite, the S.A.T institution changed the instructions, which clearly state that if students do not know how to handwrite, simply complete the acknowledgment to the best of their handwriting ability.

I’ll admit, I’ve told certain students of mine to start typing their paragraph responses to me, so that I can actually read their work and mark it. I don’t feel too bad about this. Otherwise, I’ll have to pop an Advil every time I have to grade their written work (exaggeration).

My opinion? It’s a dying art form, but what’s going to happen when they have to sign their name on a government-issued document?…

Poetry: The Lost Art

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Humanity, Literature

I was at the staffroom lunch table on my prep trying to type out a poem – some ideas came to mind and I never pass on an opportunity to get some ideas out. Some colleagues soon joined me when I remarked that typing a poem on my computer at a lunch table in a staffroom seemed…odd. It wasn’t in a candle-lit room, with a feather-pen, and paper (one vision) or with a journal, a pencil, and sitting up against a tree out in nature (other vision). Who says I can’t be at a lunch table? That’s just it though, isn’t it? This is where poetry has arrived. Really? Ew. In all honesty, I don’t think poetry has to be written/typed in one room or another…but, poetry has changed.

When I teach poetry to my students, they always ask why it’s not popular anymore. My response: Poetry used to be a form of rebellion – it was a way to voice an opinion regarding social issues like politics or religion, or it was a way to communicate one’s thoughts regarding love, death, and all of those other themes of life. So, why use poetry anymore when we can tweet, update our status’ minute-by-minute, blog, or even create a personal website? Where does poetry fit in the many mediums available to us now?

Poetry is meant to be felt and blah blah blah, but I teach poetry very methodically; not on a scale like Robin Williams pokes fun at in Dead Poet’s Society, just…methodically. I teach students how to locate literary techniques and how locating them can help in understanding the poem. We also examine the poet, the title, and the time period to see if those can lead us to a better understanding of the content. They do, in most cases.

Joshua Block, author of the blog post (Re)Creating Poets, says that one of the ways to engage students with poetry is to encourage students to read poems aloud and respond creatively. I wholeheartedly agree, yet this can be difficult when some students simply want to be told the meaning of the poem and are unwilling to take the time to figure it out on their own.  I do, however, ask them to bring in poetry of their own choosing (self-authored or other), which may also include song lyrics. In some cases, students can explain why they’ve selected the piece, while others cannot get past “I just like it.” Are we becoming lazy (as I’ve suggested in a previous post) or is it that poetry is simply unappealing because we all have a voice?

At the very least, teaching poetry challenges students to think in a different way and connect in a way that only poetry and art can inspire.

Poetry is not turning a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have a personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.  – T.S. Eliot (playwright/publisher/literary critic)

Portrait of a Dead Girl – by Dmitri Lee

There’s lots in the eyes that are looking,
There’s much in the heart of the mind.
But if ever the eyes stop looking,
She’d ne’er be a lover of mine.

A face that is now made of canvas,
And lips that no longer taste wine.
My chances, my chances, my chances,
Are off on the clouds floating by.

A frame that is detached, dull, and dead,
I shake with fright and desire.
With Romeo’s soul I am lead,
And down on this world wreck’d of fire.

She watches until I descend there,
And back in a moment or two.
To fight ‘gainst the demons that dwell there,
Then garnish her darkening hue.

But all love’s lost when love starts to peel,
Through this I’m entirely sure.
I will descend, back on my heels,
Then hung on the wall next to her.

Deep into the Rabbit Hole

Posted: January 2, 2014 in Education, Humanity

Students, parents, guardians, teachers, admin…we’ve all heard the same scary news: The state of education in Ontario is suffering. University degrees no longer secure graduates with a job, the arts are being cut, and the idea of “success” isn’t changing. Even my friends in fields not having to do with education (specifically, teaching) know that “things are changing” and not for the better. I’ll admit to this: When students are scared by the media telling them that there are no jobs, I’m not too sure what that really means. Are we having difficulty procuring cashier jobs at McDonald’s or is it just that all of the CEO positions are taken? The fact of the matter is that graduates want to be paid what they feel they are worth, so having to work at the local Shoppers or Tim Horton’s seems ridiculous for a recent University graduate. Let me tell you, it’s not. I worked at a night club and Sportchek before I was hired into my first teaching job and even THEN, I taught full time at an elementary school that paid next to nothing. I went in everyday simply because it was a teaching job and it got my “foot in the door.” The downside is this: graduates are living at home longer (sometimes into their late 20’s) simply because of the lack of jobs, but jobs that, specifically, allow one to move out and live comfortably.

I know this much – there are very few teaching jobs. I think we can still blame the lack of retiring teachers for that one and I’m not afraid to say it (type it). Not to mention that Ontario makes it next-to-impossible for new and energized teachers to fill a position. These new and energized teachers must put their time in supply teaching and covering maternity leaves while the old and out-of-touch teachers (who, mostly, couldn’t care less about connecting with the students of today) get to teach and collect that pay check. This, however, will end soon. I am personally witnessing a influx of newer and younger and fresher teachers occupying spaces in schools – it’s nice to see. Sidenote: I work in the private system where the best are hired and continue to strive to be the best to keep their position – it’s competitive and I like that.

Canada, as a whole, was third in sciences, mathematics, and reading (as of 2010) – that’s pretty good. I’ve heard, though, that many elementary schools (and maybe high schools too) are trying to cut the arts (music, drama, art, dance), which are ever-so-important to the creativity and curiosity of a young and developing student. I believe that all students want to learn – they really do. But, as I’ve argued before, when too much thinking is involved, the drive to learn is curbed (pun intended). My argument is that the arts allow students to, of course, be creative and expressive (blah blah blah), but it also makes students stop, think, create, pause, think, create, alter, and so on. It teaches patience and it helps with motivation.

The last point is that the idea of success hasn’t changed for years…maybe decades, and that is that success equates to wealth. University students don’t want to think, they just want to the piece of paper for the job and the job for the wealth. I can’t entirely blame them. We are so deep into the rabbit hole of education that it’s tough to change both mindset and the process by which education is taught. My advice: though the hard skills are important (reading, writing, etc…), the soft skills will set you apart – ORGANIZATION, RISK-TAKING, CREATIVITY, AND DECISION-MAKING. I’m sorry to say, but you’re not just competing with your neighbour anymore, you’re competing with everyone around the world.