Forward!

Funny how one thing can lead to another. The other day, while taking lunch, I was talking to a group of students seated nearby my desk who were working on a term paper entitled, “The changing lives of Teachers.” ‘Write us a forward,” Joked Ben.

So I obliged…

Kathryn, Maggie Aileen and Ben sat and slaved—
I believe they also did plot and scheme.
The result was this fine piece of work
built around one singular theme.

And the topic of how teachers’ lives are changed
by the jobs to which they aspire
became a paper, built line by line
as their faces, they did perspire.

And, to my surprise, I must assert
that this semi-tome is quite fit to read
and assure you as you prepare for what’s ahead
their word-count they did not exceed.

And there’s no errors in grammar or in spelling
no gaffes like that escaped their careful screening
now, as for the content, I’ll say but nought
for I didn’t take the time to grasp its meaning.

But I know one thing to be perfectly true
and for data I have thirty-two years as a teacher:
you may start your career filled with arrogant spunk
but you’ll be transformed to a much humbler creature.

 

But then I overheard Chris, who was also seated at that same table, mutter sadly to himself, “what about me? I’m not part of that group.”

sooooo…

 

The title of the paper was, “Teacher Negligence”

I did a foreword for Ben and the Guys
which made poor Chris go and fuss and sook.
“Well Ben asked,” I said, in my own defence.
But all that I got back was a sad, sorry look.

And so, with a heavy sigh I turned back to my screen
thinking, “what can I say to introduce poor Chris’ piece?”
After all he’s bitten off a chunk of work
hard enough tie up all the ancients in Greece.

But still, in truth, I must admit
that, he’s nothing if not extremely brave
the whole topic of negligence
would send most sane students back to the cave.

And liability—well in fair to all it should be said
that it’s been the causal agent for so many things
like sounded corners, soft edges and constant vigilance
there’s no end to the bother defending against it brings.

And, so perhaps the best that I can do is this:
tell Chris I wish him well and to him remind
that there’s but two weeks left in this here term
so for God’s sake don’t do more than you’re assigned.

 

Marc, who was working away just to my right, was looking on with interest and shaking his head so I thought, “why leave him out?”

Why indeed? 

The title of the paper was, “The Issues Faced by Beginning Teachers.”

The Issues faced by teachers starting out
are never hard to find—
Things like getting work from feral kids
could make you lose your mind.

And coupled with the simple fact
that Marc’s a busy guy
with lots more papers and other stuff due
it’s a wonder it hasn’t all gone awry.

But, to his credit, he’s done a right fine job
of teasing out the main stressors
and has avoided mentioning most of the strife
is instigated by his professors.

 

I got distracted (by work–hey lunch is only so long) before finishing this piece and so it was not until the following day that I handed Marc his copy. Andrew, who was seated in the booth behind me asked, “What’s that?” I figured that was enough for him to rate his own.

The paper title was “The changing Role of School Discipline in Canada.”

It has been wisely stated by those who know more than do I
that everything changes except change itself;
and nowhere is it more true, than with school discipline
in fact, books on it, from times past, are best left on the shelf.

Perhaps there was once a time when our young were seen
as things wild and feral, creatures to be tamed
so being strict, and enforcing harsh discipline—
the strap and such were things of which we were not ashamed.

But now we live in times best marked by acceptance of
the diversity that exists between us all
and, besides, we have vivid memories of
lessons learned from times when we let our standards fall.

So we find ourselves in the midst of a time
when even our national identity is a thing we do not “get”
and, as such, our schools will continue to struggle on…
THAT journey’s far from over yet.

 

I did this one over lunch and handed it to Andrew, who was back in the booth. He chuckled and read it.

Jamie, who was seated next to him said, “do one for me, Maurice!” How could I say no?

The paper title is, “The Changing Lifestyles of Teachers”

When asked to introduce topic of teacher lifestyle
my first sarcastic thought was, “what life?”
For, thinking of the long hours and expectations
I could only envision a lot of stress and strife.

After all, the teacher, as a public figure
gives up much that should be under their control,
their every action under scrutiny,
existing in the proverbial fish bowl.

And as such, at least at first blush it seemed
that every waking moment could be consumed
simply tending to the affairs associated with the job
but then I wondered, “is that as true as I’d assumed?”

After all a teacher’s life is the one I have too
and upon reflection, it’s been not too bad at all
sure, at times it can seem tough, even constricted
but it’s rewarding and good when viewed over the long haul.

No, teaching’s not for you if you aspire for the lifestyle of the rich.
You can’t afford the trappings, all the “stuff”
but you still are afforded dignity and respect,
and while you won’t be rich, you’ll have enough.

And best of all, a teachers’ life is filled
with the joys that come from doing work that’s real—
growing lives –bodies, minds and hearts—
gives the teacher’s lifestyle a unique and special appeal.

And, of course, you know these were all done just for fun. Jerome, the course instructor, who also happens to be an oooolllldddd friend, will only get a laugh.

To the Student Teachers

G                                                   D
Best practice, Curriculum guides, Cooperative learning, Think, Pair, Share
Am                                     C
Differentiated Instruction,  Bloom’s Taxonomy
G                                                     D
Flipped Classroom, Manipulatives, Formative, Summative
Am                                  C
Scaffolding, Rubric,  Accountability

G                              D
To be teachers we aspire
Am                                 C
always yearning for the place of learning
G                                              D
but we don’t know if we’ll get hired
Am
and to be forthright
      C
it has us all uptight

Multiple Intelligence, Professional Development,
Certification, Short Attention Span
Critical Thinking, At Risk Students,
Lesson, Unit, and Assessment Plans

Authentic Assessment, Blended Learning,
Comprehension, Methodology
In Loco Parentis, Methods Courses,
Professional Learning, No Zero Policy

G                                   D
Nobody Excluded, Schools Act, Literacy,
Am                               C
Program of Study, Busing Schedule
G                          D       N.C
Pedagogy, IEPs, SCOs, ESL, UDL…
N.C
…Bunch of other terms as well
N.C
that now in your teacher brains do dwell

(to the tune of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel)

Reconsidering Programming in Schools as a Mandatory Course

Earlier this week I heard a piece on the CBC St. John’s morning show regarding the assertion that computer programming is something that should be taught in our public school system. Later on I read much the same article off the CBC NL website. The spokesperson for Code NL asserted that existing public school courses within our province were “a joke” and noted that in giving people the training in computer skills we could move away from our reliance on natural resources.

While, at least on the surface, this sounds reasonable, the reality is much more complex.

First some of the assertions are inaccurate. The spokesperson stated that existing courses were “a joke” and, besides sounding rather condescending to both teachers and students alike, without data to back up this assertion it must be considered to be only a personal opinion. The belief that the courses are only offered “in the Metro” area is also false. They are, for example, available in Gander, Clarenville, Corner Brook, Stephenville, Goose Bay, as well as in a host of smaller communities both locally and through CDLI. There is academic life “beyond the overpass.”

But there are more important things that should be stated in reply to the story.

Chief among these is the fact that schools do not exist for the sole purpose of preparing people for the world of work. While that is certainly ONE of the aims of public education it is important to also realize that the full picture is much broader. Schools exist because we wish to have individuals with the attitudes, skills and knowledge necessary to lead happy, worthwhile lives—at home, at work and within the community at large. Yes, of course we need people who contribute to the economy—after all, bills, both public and private, have to be paid and for that we must all do our part: earn money and pay our taxes. That said, it’s important to remember that as a society what we really need are people who lead good, personally meaningful lives, and who also live out their duties to the community.

Added to this is the reality that we live in a diverse, vibrant society. Young people come to school with varying interests, abilities and values. Sure, we are all citizens of a single community, a single province and, at least at first glance, it makes some degree of sense that an intricate knowledge of those little electronic gadgets that so dominate our lives seems to make some sense. But just think about our already busy schools and consider the value of additional mandatory publically funded courses in:

– Plumbing, because running water and sewer are vital parts of our public infrastructure;

– Carpentry, because, shelter is important, especially in our nasty cold environment;

– Cooking, because we all have to eat on a regular basis;

– Embalming, because we’re all going to need it.

Of course not! That’s silly in the extreme. Schools cannot be expected to do everything and, besides, one of the benefits to living in a large diverse society is that we have the critical mass needed to ensure that levels of expertise exist, to the necessary extent, across any given community.

We don’t all have to be able to do everything.

So, too, with programming: It’s a vital part of our economy and its effects within our personal lives are too broad to even summarize. Still, we don’t all need to be programmers to appreciate the technology or to use it effectively.

There’s something else: it’s naïve to assume that taking a course or two, in school, in programming, is something that will prepare a young person for a career in that field. Programmers do much more than just write code. Sure, that’s a vital part of the enterprise and, besides, it’s fun to write code bits and have computers do clever things. That said, the fact is that only a few of the students who would be forced to take that mandatory course (or courses) would see the value in it and, thus, put in the required effort. The result would likely be a halfhearted thing leading to jaded teachers and students; in sum a waste of time and money.

The reality is that computer science is not something that can be sparked and ignited like your backyard barbecue. It is, rather, a complex skill that takes many years of personal investment of both time and effort. Besides knowing the basics of a code’s “language” the programming professional also understands logic and structure. Most importantly the programmer sees it all within a complex, disciplined problem-solving framework, something that only happens in an environment specifically created to doing just that—namely a computer science academic unit or a well-run enterprise dedicated to that pursuit…

…and specifically NOT a public school that is already over-burdened with unrealistic expectations from its governing agencies and from the public at large.

Still, the sentiment is a valid one, albeit a bit misdirected. Instead of trying to create yet another course, along with its attendant monetary costs (and they will be steep; computer hardware and software, along with the required training is costly; a bottomless black hole into which one pours money) perhaps those interested in promoting the cause of programming should do what others with similar interest have done, and continue to do: forego advocacy for outreach.

Instead of publically shaming governments and schools for not teaching the stuff, work alongside of the various partners: government, districts, the university and the NLTA.

Instead of asking them to do what you feel is important, offer free workshops for students and teachers. Visit schools and participate in professional development activities. Focus in integrating some of the skills and knowledge within the existing educational framework. Add vitality rather than simply grafting on something else to an already overburdened structure.