Reframing for Our New Reality

Copyright 2020, Maurice Barry, Performance Rights Waived

Our spirits strong; our strength not deadened,
we somehow survived a snowmageddon.
But twenty-twenty sneered crying, “Here, you! Hold my beer!”
And now, locked in with this pandemic,
the issues are much more than academic.
One thing for certain is the challenge that is our next school year.

The change will happen across many layers
so please don’t listen to the sad nay-sayers
who think remote teaching is a wasted effort, a mere fool’s game.
For our young ones are far from feral
and their education won’t be in peril
so long as we are willing to let our world-views be reframed.

Yes, once we viewed a learning space
as a room where we gathered, face to face;
a thing; a structure that owed its existence to it’s physicality.
But in this time of social distance
we must create a new existence.
The virtual ties we build together will form our new reality.

New ways to be present; you’ve heard of Zoom?
Maybe Collaborate, Webex, even Messenger Rooms?
No doubt by now you’ve taken one or more out on a trial,
all decked off in your new headset.
But a session or two left you knackered, I bet.
Seriously: getting used to this mode is going to take a while.

“Why is online so tiring?” you may have mused.
Well, we we’ve had whole lives to become used
to our normal senses. Now our attention is also slapped
with stattaco audio, and a video soup,
text chats, both individual and group;
these are add-ons, and to them our brains will need time to adapt.

So as you set out to make plans for the fall
it’s important to keep both your eyes on the ball.
Achievement trumps all but what matters most is what students do.
So don’t lecture and “cover stuff” at great length.
We’re not entertainers; our greatest strength
comes from creating the success path and steering them all through.

Rather than preventing all distractions
focus, rather, on interactions.
Employ your breakout rooms and maybe bring in virtual guests.
Use Collaborate, Meet, Webex or Zoom
in tandem with your Google classroom.
And find other ways of assessing than reliance on pen and paper tests.

Yes, breakout rooms may leave you vexed.
Why they’re so cumbersome, leaves us all perplexed.
Still, with practice it doesn’t have to feel all that contrived.
They accomplish more than idle jaw.
Organize; double up for a jig saw!
And with practice your small groups will surely come alive.

When the whole class contributes to the same Google Doc
and then views it as one, it’s a gallery walk!
Or, given one minute and each student with their own blank page,
encouraged by you to contribute their thoughts,
each attending as well to their own unique spots.
Your students’ minute paper will not fail to amaze and to engage.

With Xmind, FreeMind or maybe MindMup
groups in breakout rooms, can do a concept map up.
Or turn them all loose on a Doc to create a cool Graffiti wall.
And also, since you can share your desktop,
the whiteboard with software then you can swap:
Lab interfacing, Desmos, Geogebra, whatever: your class can have it all.

And, as for the chaos. It’s not a rat race.
Al hands will settle in once routines are in place.
Set rules around cameras and use a hands-up as a talking piece.
Don’t hog the mike, encourage debate.
After questions are asked allow a sufficient wait.
Then your class participation is guaranteed to only increase.

And always remember, if you’re patient and kind,
your students’ needs and yours will remain quite aligned.
And if on one slow, frustrating day, for sanity you are reaching,
remember it’s straightforward; the order’s not tall
so long as one truth is remembered and kept above all:
It’s not science, or math, but students that you are teaching.

Maurice Barry has been a practicing educator since 1983. He is currently the coordinator of MUN’s Teaching and Learning Commons.

This was the recitation I did for the 2020 MUN Education Grads. Just realized I never shared it.

Thing Three

©2021 Maurice Barry. Performance rights waived.

Martin stood alone, outside the big school doors and almost cried.
How could he make a difference in this isolated island place?
But this two-room school was his last chance, even though it was happenstance
that created this new circumstance he was trying to embrace.
The year was nineteen thirty three, a time historians do agree
Education in this province had finally reached its poor nadir.
While Martin knew within his heart he really needed a new start,
he wondered what fates had played a part to finally bring him here.

He pulled one door open with a creak and inside he took a furtive peek.
A porch with open classroom doors at left and right.
The dark, cold room with desks in rows “That one’s mine” he did suppose.
Still he wished his was the other one that looked so warm and bright.
“Here. You can have this box of splits!” Martin jumped; almost lost his wits.
Turned to see the other teacher’s smiling face, and a box of birch in outstretched hands.
“I’m Anna and if I can bring more wood or help with anything?”
“I’m fine,” he muttered, to himself wincing, knowing he really had no plan.

A short while later he heard the bell and childrens’ voices arriving as well.
Looking up he saw about thirty standing by their wooden desks and chairs
“You’ve work to do, so grab your books.” The students shuffled about, exchanging looks.
“You heard me. Get to your studies. Why else would you be here?”
One tall slim lad with short dark hair said, “Sir we haven’t said the prayer.”
Martin muddled to his feet, aware of how his own cheeks did burn.
Without thinking he then said the Grace, then sat back down red in the face.
But the students still remained in place, their heads slightly upturned.

“We don’t have our books,” said the same slim lad. “Will I give them out?” he then did add.
“No, I’ll do it,” answered Martin. “And, boy, what is your name?”
“It’s Pat, Sir,” he said, his cheeks now aglow. Martin wondered why the others chuckled so
as he rummaged through the books, so slow, with no one but himself to blame.
The books finally doled out, Martin looked around and to no great surprise he found
most quietly staring at their texts except for, well guess who.
Yup. Pat again, my oh my, going from seat to seat like some gadfly.
Martin thought, “Something’s wrong with that poor boy; he hasn’t got a clue!”

After what felt like years the morning passed and when the dinner bell rang at last.
Martin chose to remain behind. “Should I make a swim for it?”
“Could you use some help, by any chance?” He jumped, almost soiled his pants,
then stood up straight, hoping his brave stance masked his non-existent grit.
“No one makes it on their own and, Martin, you are not alone.”
Anna’s soft insistent tone almost broke through Martin’s funk.
Still Martin could not his past eschew and so he responded with great ado,
“No I’ll be fine. I’ll make it through,” but his spirits further sunk.

And so it went, day after day, Martin fighting to get his way
with his reluctant charges making it increasingly tough.
And Pat, the worst one of the lot, going from seat to seat ‘til Martin’s nerves were shot.
Until one day when he decided he’d finally had enough.
“Pat, sit down!” he roared through anger pent. “And stay after school for punishment!”
Pat complied, though red eyes couldn’t hide behind a soggy sleeve.
When the bell rang Pat got up to go. Martin refrained from shouting “No.”
“Who needs this?” he thought, although he was galled to see him leave.

For the next few days there was one empty chair. Wherever Pat was he wasn’t there.
And there surely was a difference felt throughout the whole classroom.
Nobody spoke, no not the one. The students like mopes. Not much got done.
“My goodness,” Martin remarked at length, “This place is like a tomb.”
Next Monday Pat returned at last, head hung down, arm in a cast.
“What happened,” inquired Martin but Pat offered no reply.
“Please tell me?” “No it’s nothing Sir.” With a twinge of shame Martin inferred.
Pat’s parents crossed a line for sure, so there could be no turned turned blind eye.

“Anna, where does Pat live to?” “Next door to you. I would have thought you knew.”
He grabbed his hat and coat and soon was pounding on the door.
“I’m Ellen and this is Richard,” though he hadn’t asked. “Lovely to meet our neighbour at last.”
“That so? Well, I’m there, aghast, because of your actions which I abhor.”
“Pat’s bad in school, that’s true enough. But there’s still no need to treat him that rough.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ellen. He replied simply, “the cast.”
“On blaming us you seem hell bent. But it was a boating accident.”
Shocked, Martin turned to make himself absent, but Ellen continued, “Not so fast.”

“Pat loves to fish and most every day takes the punt out jigging on the bay.
But a few days ago the starter pin let go, and the flywheel broke Pat’s arm.
But how would you know that locked away, in that lonely house day after day?
Instead of thinking we had hell to pay you should know we do not harm.”
“Dreadfully sorry. My mistake.” Martin turned away; his whole self ached.
“One more thing.” an edge in Ellen’s voice turned him back around.
“We don’t hold grudges neither Richard nor I and if at some later time you’d like to try
finding some on whom you can rely, you know where we can be found.”

Hurt feelings he could not assuage he wandered down by someone’s stage,
sat himself down, his legs hung over the side.
Clearly, even through his disgrace he had no business in this outport place.
Next steamer and he was gone he did then and there decide.
“Want a penney for your thoughts?” he turned around, guts tied in knots,
Anna was right beside him sot there on a pile of buoys.
“I realized I do not belong.” “No, Martin, I do believe you are wrong.
You just need to stop being so headstrong and open up your eyes.”

Martin stood to go and then with that, through the door of the stage, who emerged, but Pat
clad in rubber boots and weathered old oil clothes.
Offered “I’m heading out to jig a few.” Anna asked, “Mind if we come too?”
Pat answered a bit shyly, “It’d be fine I suppose.”
Martin started, “I should go home for sup…” But a look from Anna shut him right up.
Soon they were all aboard with Pat trying to start the make and break
“Patricia, kindly step aside.” Anna started the engine with just one try.
“Pat’s a girl,” Martin himself did chide. “How stunned am I for goodness sake!”

Pat stopped the engine by and by. Passed him a thing, “Give the Jigger a try?”
Martin answered, “No, I think I’m fine for now.”
“Wrong answer!” Anna, to him demured. Something buried within him stirred.
“I will,” he reconsidered. “But Pat, please show me how.”
Pat’s face lit up and she beamed with pride. Coaching Martin as to fish he tried.
All the while, he thought of how she acted just like she did at school.
If I could take it back, he wished as the bottom of the boat filled up with fish.
“Oh my! She was only trying to assist and I am such a fool.”

“I think we’ve caught enough for now. We’ll be ‘til dark cleaning ‘em I allow.”
Anna started up the engine and Pat steered back for the shore.
All the while Martin’s spirit grew. He looked all around, and it all seemed new.
The place–so much more inviting and warm than it had seemed before.
“Want to learn how to clean and split a cod?” “I do!” Martin’s return smile was broad.
“See you in school?” Anna’s question was tinged with a little dread.
“You will,” he answered. “And after today I could use some help in finding my way.”
She nodded, “You will be okay,” leaving Martin hopeful for what lay ahead.

(Note–there are ten ‘things’. This is but one.

Get Out There!

You did all the work.
You conquered your fears.
And now look around,
you’ve made it to here.

But where, then, is this “here”?
Oh, it may seem unclear.
Especially after this past
pandemicy year.

You came in with a dream,
or a plan or a scheme.
We saw it, how from the first
In your eyes it did gleam.

Collaboration–our theme.
You were made one of the team.
And at first it was hard.
Not at all what it seemed.

Remote classes to attend.
Ten-page papers to be penned.
Soon the weight of all the work
On you did descend.

But your colleagues became friends
You learned to trust and to depend
on their support for grappling with
what you all had to contend.

Labs, talks, presentations,
quizzes, tests and learning stations
Open ended projects along
with unforeseen vexations.

Building new and strong relations,
conquering all those frustrations,
But what really were the most
important of foundations?

Was there really more besides
the endless slew of curriculum guides?
Can you say that your walks through them
were your most important strides?

Something else? Don’t you agree?
With a closer look it’s there to see:
you picked up a lot of other stuff
while earning this degree.

You very quickly did discern
there’s no one best way that students learn.
No doubt the knowledge of this fact
at first caused you some concern.

You tried and tried your very best.
Endless hours you did invest.
Until you learned that differentiation
was what got the thing addressed.

So learn your learners with style and grace,
creating an open welcoming space.
Differences should not be ironed out
but rather be embraced.

As for winging it? Man, oh man!
A truism? Nothing nothing truer than
that people never plan to fail
but they simply fail to plan.

Planning? By now you’ve done your share
while reading guides, tearing at your hair.
And we bet you also found it’s best
to always have a spare.

From time to time things go awry.
Enough to make you cuss, or cry.
At times like that you’d appreciate
Having a backup in supply.

And while you’re at it, for goodness sake,
go easy; cut yourself a break!
Nobody expects perfection.
It’s okay to make mistakes.

Sometimes the world has you outgunned
We’re all human and you won’t be shunned.
There’s always something in it to learn
even when you feel a little stunned

And now, as you prepare to take your turn
remember there’s still lots to learn.
Who knows what new challenges you’ll face
and other degrees you’ll earn?

The future that you look towards
may have chromebooks, iPads and SMART Boards,
but, toys aside, we know you see
the real and meaningful rewards.

You’ll build bonds that will never sever,
make days better through your endeavours.
And best of all will be those who insist
you were the bestest teacher ever!

And for our part, we, here at MUN
know you, our grads, are second to none.
And we cheer and applaud you now
that your careers have just begun.

And the one thing we say to you fine crowd—
the thing we holler right out loud
is how much faith we have in you
and how you make us proud.

You know your maths, reading, science and arts
Letters, numbers, figures and charts.
And best of all your secret weapons:
your collective brains and hearts.

So go now; give it your best shot.
Apply the things that you’ve been taught.
And remember kindness counts for more
than just an afterthought.

So ring on phones. Knock on doors.
Apply, apply, apply in scores.
There’s jobs out there we guarantee
So go and make them yours.

And when you do keep this in mind:
always remember to be kind
never forgetting how all our lives
are so totally intertwined.

Now your brains and talent you must showcase.
So get out there! Go forge your space!
Go on, get going and make the world
a kinder, smarter, more loving place.