Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Practical Skills

Posted: January 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

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 thinking what else have I not learned and what are my students 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 ūüôā 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.
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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.

 

Shhh!

Posted: November 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

A whole year since my last post… I guess I wasn’t bothered by much in the way of education. However, a recent situation has come to light. I am currently in the middle of Orwell’s¬†1984 and I am trying to teach my students that our culture is not THAT far off from what Winston is experiencing. It’s scary. For example, we live in a society where we are constantly surveilled what with the rise of technology and every Tom, Dick, and Harry whipping out their phones to capture the slightest odd behaviour to post or send to their friends. Now, we are experiencing a hush culture (I came up with that myself) where if the opinion you’re sharing is even slightly uncomfortable or unpopular, you are quickly silenced. Winston Smith (protagonist in¬†1984) would be shaking his head.

Lindsay Shepherd, a TA at Wilfrid Laurier University (my Alma Mater) recently came under fire from Administration for sharing a clip from Jordan Peterson (Psychology Professor at the University of Toronto) when he appeared on the show ‘The Agenda’. Peterson has been outspoken about his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns in reference to transgendered people. He claims that these gender-neutral terms only help to perpetuate the over-sensitivity of our culture. Shepherd showed this clip to her students to illustrate “the complexities of grammar…she was trying to demonstrate that the structure of language can impact the society in which its spoken in ways people might not anticipate. To illustrate her point, she said she mentioned that long-standing views on gender had likely been shaped by the gender-specific pronouns that are part of English’s fundamental grammatical structure.” (The Toronto Star, Nov. 21, 2017).

Shepherd was reprimanded by Nathan Rambukkana (Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Laurier) and Adria Joel (Acting Manager of Gender Violence Prevention at Laurier). Rambukkana tells Shepherd that showing the clip to her students created a “toxic climate” and an “unsafe learning environment”. Joel accuses Shepherd of violating the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. When Shepherd asks how, Joel tells her that she has caused harm by belittling the identity of transgendered people. This meeting with Rambukkana and Joel was recorded secretly by Shepherd who immediately shared it. The President of WLU and Rambukkana have recently issued apologies to Shepherd, admitting that the sharing of the video, as well as her intent was of no harm to any peoples.

My worry is the impact of this hush culture on our young adults and future leaders. Shepherd’s situation is similar to Winston’s experience in¬†1984 because of his inability to speak openly without getting in serious trouble (and possibly killed). This stifling of freedom of speech (which is much different than hate speech) is an on-going trend across Universities. For example, last August (2017), the same Jordan Peterson (as well as Gad Saad and Oren Amitay – behavioural scientist and psychologist, respectively) was to appear on a panel discussion at Ryerson University and this panel was effectively cancelled. Not only was the nature of their talk a concern, but also the possible outcry from protestors. It was simply easier to cancel the event.

“University” is a term with Latin roots meaning “community of teachers and scholars”.¬†Traditionally, a University was established for a means of unhindered academic freedom; a place to share educated ideas respectfully, be heard openly, and debate freely. Contemporarily, it seems, Universities have become factories to get students in (even by lowering their entry standards) and spit students out (by leaving them with crippling debt). The aforementioned would be fine, perhaps, if the acquisition of knowledge and great debate were still held in high regard.

Syme, in 1984, is in favour of the government turning the people into robots Рcitizens who only speak in prescribed statements with no original thought of their own. Perhaps we are closer to this than we think.

In the Public Eye (pt 2)

Posted: August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

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Back in October of 2013, one of my first blog posts was about Toronto’s Mayor – the late Rob Ford. I commented about his personal life and how that affected his position as Mayor of one of the largest cities in the world. To sum up: It was my position that when you’re a public figure, what you do outside of your profession directly impacts your career.

I stand by this. Now, I am not, nor will I ever be, as public of a figure as Rob Ford was, I believe that my actions outside of the classroom directly affect my career, my workplace, and my students. In short, I am careful with the way I behave – it’s not like I’m all that crazy anyway.

As of this month (Aug/2016), Nadia Shoufani (a teacher in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board) was suspended with pay for speaking at an event in Toronto last month (Jul/2016). She spoke in support for Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Рa group classified as a terrorist organization by the Government of Canada (publicsafety.gc.ca).

I’ll admit, I am slightly torn.

My initial reaction: I was happy that Ms. Shoufani was suspended and, ideally, she should be fired too. She teaches young and impressionable minds (she teaches elementary school) and though she may not speak on this subject in-class, her actions outside of the classroom affect her students.

My reaction afterwards:¬†I don’t know exactly what was said by Shoufani at the event, so it is possible that she was not advocating violence (as we often associate with terrorist groups…hence the name). Moreover, if they are a classified terrorist group, why is it that they were even allowed to host an event in the first place? It is possible that Shoufani was simply exercising her freedom of speech – as long as no public harm or threat of violence was issued. Right?

Therefore, I am torn. On the one hand, the Government of Canada must have a good reason for classifying such a group, but on the other hand, there is a bit of a slippery slope here. At what point can Ms. Shoufani speak her beliefs without the threat of suspension and/or termination from her profession? At what point is the private life of a teacher separate from their public life in front of his or her students?

I believe I have landed back on my initial reaction – I need to trust that my Government has classified correctly and justly and that Ms. Shoufani should then be careful with which groups she associates herself with. Moreover, if she’s willing to risk being a part of such a group, then she needs to be prepared for the consequences.

Two Quick Thoughts:
1. 
The above incident reminds me of Shawn Simoes – a young man fired from Hydro One back in May/2015 for yelling ‘FHRITP’ on camera at a Toronto FC game. Hydro One eventually fired Mr. Simoes for not adhering to company conduct. They hired him back in late 2015.
2.¬†An idiot phoned into AM640 to comment on the Shoufani situation and said that civics (and politics, in general) should not be taught in schools because teachers always try to force their beliefs on their students. He went on to say that it is “hard to find two conservative kids graduating these days.”

New Cover

“The Fall of Icarus” – is a collection of short stories and is now available for purchase through CREATESPACE and soon to be available on AMAZON.

A boy’s brother and father go off to war; a man purchases items from a hardware store; some kids continuously ring a doorbell; and a young boy recounts his time in a small cottage with his uncle. These, amongst other stories, aim to tell accounts of youthfulness, innocence, naiveté, and even revenge.

Please visit the “Publications” page for the link. OR click here

A Little Taste 3

Posted: July 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

Misanthrope

This is from Misanthrope Рa short story included in my collection set to be published this year (The Fall of Icarus).

My Biggest Fear

Posted: June 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

Poets often talk about peering into the darkness or they’ll mention something deep about their souls – the dark and disturbed poets do, anyway. Cheerful poetry hardly sells.

All I know is that I¬†could live alone, but I don’t want to. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to fall in love, grow old with someone, and share every secret I’ve ever had just so that I can tell that person: you know everything. But that wouldn’t be the end. We’d grow and we’d continue to share. It’s not enough to say we’d share one soul (there’s that reference), I want to say that we’d both place everything we are into each other’s hands without fear, anxiety, worry – we’d just do it and do so freely.

What scares me most is doing this, then growing old, and then dying to leave her here or her dying to leave me here simply because neither of us would know how to exist without the other. That’s not dependency (some would argue that’s the definition), it’s love. Then, we’d be told by friends and family to “remember the good times,” but I won’t want to – I’d want the real thing. I’d want to continue making memories that I’ll never have to relive just to remember her or for her to remember me. If she were to go first, I’d literally stand there peering into the darkness – into nothing – making no attempt to recapture my soul because it’d be useless – she’d be gone.

That is my biggest fear. It keeps me up at night and made me hesitate to meet her.

But I did.