Perception of the teaching profession

Today a teacher posted an article about the ways that teachers are perceived and some of the things that are said about teachers specifically in regards to the Education “reforms” that are happening in America. The writer, a teacher himself, brings up many valid points about how teachers are judged and treated differently than other professionals.

The fact that this and other responses to criticism of teachers, for example the popular and inspirational video by Taylor Mali about What Teachers Make, are even necessary baffles me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of teachers. Not just any run of the mill teachers either, I grew up around hard working, dedicated teachers.

Of my aunts, uncles and parents pictured here, 5 were teachers and/or administrators and several of my cousins are now teachers or work with children in some way.

 

My mother in particular, showed me how hard it was to be a teacher. I saw how much work she did. I saw how much she cared about her students. I saw how much extra time she took to make sure that she was the best teacher she could be for her students by researching the newest teaching methods, keeping up to date on technology and constantly changing things up. I heard her say over and over that she “didn’t teach for the money, she taught for the kids.” And I strive to do the same thing as a teacher now.

I was under the delusion that everyone knew what I knew. I felt that since everyone went to school and was taught by these teachers who were passionate about their careers and worked so hard, that they all knew that teaching is not an easy job but  a very worthy one. And yes, I’ve heard people say “Those that can, do, and those that can’t, teach” but I just always chalked that up to people talking about artists who couldn’t make it as artists or something which I suppose is a broad and unfair generalization as well.

The first time I started to hear and read people saying things about teacher salaries being too high, or that we have too much time off, I thought they were kidding. High salaries? Really? Who has these high salaries? I mean sure, we make a decent salary, certainly enough to make a good living, but so much of that money goes back into our classrooms, and as a profession, in comparison to other professions with as much education required, we don’t make that much. And the whole “having the whole summer off” thing… it is nice to have so much time in the summer. And it’s nice to have March Break and Christmas vacation. I won’t argue with that, but they’re very rarely true vacations. They’re often time to work on professional development, learning about new teaching methods, planning for changes in grade levels or subject, lesson planning, unit planning, all of that happens when we’re on “vacation”. And we can’t choose when to take our vacation. We get it at those times and at no other times. We can’t just decide we want to take a week off in April to go away with our families when the rates are lower. Or even for special occasions, we can’t just take days off. For my own wedding I took a day without pay so that I could get ready for our wedding. And in what other profession do you have to spend hours working on a lesson plan just to take a day off sick?

I’m not saying that these are things that should change, I’m saying that every job and every profession has its perks and draw-backs. Someone working an office job can go to work at 9 and leave at 5 and never take home any work but they don’t get their summers off. I go to work at 7:30, leave at 5 and often take work home with me, but my summers are my own time and I love my job. I would hate working in an office and teaching is something that I feel that true teachers are called to do, and maybe that’s why non-teachers don’t understand?

 

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Reflection on a day after a storm day

I’ll admit, I was pretty happy to see that there wasn’t going to be any school yesterday. It was a Tuesday, my day without a prep, I had supervision before school and at lunch, and I was meant to have what was most likely going to be a long meeting in the afternoon. Instead I got to stay home, get some house work done, help my husband, who just had some moles removed off of his back, had the meeting and moved this blog over.

But at the same time I knew that this was a double edged sword. Having a day off is nice… that day, but the next day tends to be not so nice. As of right now we have one week and two days left of Intensive French. Somehow in the next two days I have to make sure all of my students have completed a new piece of writing, prepare for our grade level assembly on Monday and get ready for the writing assessment which starts on Monday. I was hoping to get through our unit on clothing before we make the change over to English but I can see that this is not going to happen. We’ll continue the unit on clothing for a while longer when we have our two French classes a week. But the other things, the writing samples, the assessment coming up so fast and the grade level assembly are now, just because of one day off, so much closer.

Today I really wanted to keep things moving. I wanted to have the students working hard on their writing. I wanted them to feel the urgency that I’m feeling. I wanted to give them brain and body breaks to help keep things going. My plans didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. A day off of school meant a day away from their friends so they were quite chatty today. The general Wednesday calm that comes after two days of reinforcing expectations was mostly lost. There were more than a few nodding heads from staying up too late. It was more like a Monday and I didn’t feel like we had time for a Monday.

But we soldiered on through and got as much work done as we could. Before recess we focused on speaking, working on our question “Qu’est-ce que tu portes?” which we used and re-used until almost all of the students were able to say what they were wearing and what other students were wearing. We played a game where a student’s name was chosen on the name selector, they’re sent out to the hallway. Then another name is chosen and that person needs to tell us what the student in the hallway is wearing. They enjoyed this game, though it was hard to keep the others from shouting out the answers sometimes.

After recess we focused on writing. We wrote a story as a class, a difficult feat on the best days, then I had them spend the rest of the time writing “independently”. One of the things about writing that my class, and I would suspect most language learners, struggle with the most is that they don’t have the words to write their great ideas. They have the words in their first language but not in the language they’re asked to write in. So they end up trying to write stories about pirate ships and cannons when they don’t have the vocabulary to write about those things. I tried to impress upon them that they need to write using words and phrases that they already know because “Madame n’est pas la dictionnaire” especially during the assessment.

After a false start, we did manage a pretty good short story about a birthday. It still had some moments of silliness but it was done with words that they know. Here’s the story we wrote today with the names changed:

Le voyage

C’est la fête de Britney. C’est le 19 juin 2017.

Chad dit « Bonjour, comment ça va? »

Mme W. dit, « Ca va bien. »

Britney dit, « Je suis excitée parce que c’est ma fête. »

Ils sont allés à Alaska pour sa fête. Ils font de la natation parce qu’il fait chaud.

Ils nagent à Madagascar. Ils sont fatiguées alors ils dorment avec un tigre, un hippopotame et un crocodile. Ils sautent sur leur ami, l’hippopotame, et ils sont allés chez Nigel.

La fin

As I said, very silly but it was all in sentences that they could say. Now I did help a little with correcting grammar of course but for the most part, this is their work. It took 45 minutes to get this much. I’m hoping that tomorrow they will be a little more settled and we will be able to get everything done in time.

New Blog

I’ve finally made the switch over to wordpress. I thought about it for a long time, looked at other people’s blogs, was annoyed that people told me they had trouble posting comments on my blogger blog and when I found out I could easily import all my stuff from blogger I was sold. I’m finding the format a little difficult but I’m sure I’ll get used to it as I go.

We had a surprize day off school today due to slippery road conditions. I had plans to get all sorts of things done but instead I got a few key things done, such as move my blog, have a meeting at school that wasn’t cancelled, get groceries, exercise and try out a new recipe. I had hoped to do some more planning for teaching English, but that will have to wait for another day. We only have a week and a half left of Intensive French! I can’t get over how fast the time has gone and I know that this week and next will go just as fast.

Alons-y! 

Schedules and routines

We have two weeks left of intensive French before we switch over to the English half of the year. I’m excited for the change and I think most of my students are too, though I was surprized and a little pleased when a few of my students today said that they wanted to stay in French.

In anticipation of the change-over, I started looking at my schedule for teaching the Compacted Curriculum. I had to decide when I was going to teach what and how to squeeze all those subjects into what seemed like too few minutes. There were two possibilities that I came up with and after talking it over with Mrs. W, I’m happy with what I’ve chosen to do, even though it sounds a little odd at first.

In order to explain my new schedule, I have to tell you that I love routine. I like starting the day the same way every day and I like knowing what is coming next and I know that my students do too. I try to be aware of which students are able to handle changes easily and which have a hard time with even the smallest change in our routine. When I move my seating plan around, I try to keep some students in similar spot while others get moved around the room.

I have a dream schedule in a lot of ways this year. Right now I teach Intensive French to my class all morning, uninterrupted by anything other than recess. After lunch each day (other than Wednesday because the students don’t have school Wednesday afternoons) my class has Math with another teacher while I go to teach pre-intensive French to one of the two grade 4 classes until 2pm. Other than Tuesdays, they then go to gym and/or music and I have my hour of prep time. Tuesdays we go to the library and then have art for the last half hour.

It’s a little hard because all of my preps are at the end of the day and I have no prep on Tuesday or Wednesday. But all of my preps are an hour and my time with my students is uninterrupted by taking them out in the middle of a block somewhere. And it’s very routine. We do the same thing or almost the same thing every day. I wanted to continue to be able to do that after the change over.

The grade 3 and 4 classes have their literacy block after recess. We may do some flexible grouping across our grades so I wanted to have my literacy at the same time, so it was easy enough to put literacy every day from recess until lunch. I was left with the time from first bell until recess and I somehow had to fit in 150 minutes of Science, Social Studies and French and 75 minutes of Health/PDCP. My first draft had blocks of 45 minutes or an hour of each subject in frustratingly random spots. I tried to make it somewhat uniform but it just wouldn’t work. It annoyed me to have French two days in a row with different subjects after each time.

In the end, what I’ve decided to do is to schedule 30 minutes of Social Studies each morning followed by 75 minutes of either Science, French or Health. I’m a little concerned about the short amount of time for Social Studies. I’m worried that it’s such a short time that we’ll just get into something and then we’ll be moving on, but at the same time, my plan, like the last time I taught this, is to give out a project assignment on Monday and have them present on Friday so they’ll be able to come in first thing every morning and work on their projects. I’m happy with this schedule and I think it will work well for almost everyone, the exception being those students who are chronically late and will invariably miss a lot of Social Studies time, however, I’m hoping that the projects will get them interested enough that it will encourage them to be to school on time more often.

The hard days

How do you get through the hard days?

Today was a hard day. Not in the way that days in September were hard, but it was hard on me emotionally. I try to keep the tone of this blog upbeat generally. I don’t like talking about the hard things in a public forum and I am very aware of trying to keep my public posts very professional as well but today I had to deal with a few things that I need to share because I know that many teachers deal with the same things.

Grade 5 is a very emotional year for many students. They are going to be leaving Elementary in half a year. For some, this is the first time they will be changing schools and they’re the oldest in the school. Also, their hormones are starting to ramp up as early puberty rears its head so I hear a lot of drama from my students. Sometimes the smallest slight can become a huge issue. I sometimes wish I took more courses on Psychology just so I could better navigate the twists and turns of pre-teen emotions.

And sometimes their dramas are not small. Sometimes what they are dealing with, either in school or outside of school is enough to bring me close to tears. Sometimes I need to take deep breaths, close my eyes, and be glad that I can offer them a space at school where they are safe, with a set routine and clear expectations. I can give them a listening ear and a hug. I can give them space to write what they need to say without pressure of evaluation or judgment.

My students are amazing, each and every one of them. I hope that I do enough to let them know how much I value having them in my class.

Test Prep?

I read a few teacher blogs of teachers from the States and when things like test prep or State testing come up I am very thankful that I teach in Canada. The insanity of some of the testing just makes me want to take someone and shake them. Luckily, Provincial testing in Canada hasn’t become quite that bad. We only have, generally, one Provincial test per year, though Grade 5 Intensive French has two, one of which is coming up in two and a half weeks.

Also luckily, the prosperity of my school and my job do not hang in the balance over the results of this assessment, in fact, in the past two years where I’ve had my class write this assessment I have yet to see any of the results of how my classes have done. I want my class to do well, but I’m not spending all of my time prepping my students for it either. Good thing too because that would defeat the purpose of Intensive French.

In a nutshell, the point of the Intensive French program is to have an intense period of only French to help our Anglophone students get to a level of French where they aren’t going to be sliding back in levels every year. Researchers found that with the old Core French program, especially in the older grades, the same concepts had to be taught and re-taught every year. Some students would make some progress, but the majority never did. Intensive French is centred around using and re-using phrases until they become ingrained. We also do reading and writing in French but the majority of our mornings are meant to be spent talking in French.

Some classes are assessed orally, but everyone is given a written assessment at the end of the Intensive French block. They’re given a story starter and are asked to write a fictional story based on the story starter. My opinion of this particular assessment and it’s validity is beside the point. I need to get my students ready to write this assessment.

My main focus to prepare them for this isn’t that I need them to do well either. I do want them to do well, of course, but my main focus this year is that I don’t want them to feel over-whelmed and stressed this year. My first year of teaching I had my class for three weeks before the assessment. I didn’t know what the assessment was going to be like and I did very little to prepare my class. I thought they might do okay on it but I wasn’t prepared for the tears and the frustration that both they and I felt. Last year was a little better because I knew what was coming so we could talk about it before. But still, they were frustrated. There were tears. They wanted me to be able to help them like I did normally when they were writing. I realized that I had failed them. I had talked about how to do this assessment, we had done practice stories, but I hadn’t had them practice writing independently. They were lost without me as their guide and as “Mme leDictionnaire”.

So this year, against my judgement, I decided to introduce independent writing, just like I do with Daily 5 in English Language Arts. We did an I-Chart, talked about what to do when they’re stuck, and I enforced the idea that they needed to stay where they were, working in their spot, using the resources around them, but not asking me for help. I would walk around and conference with them, but I was not going to translate every sentence for them. They can write about whatever they want. We did model stories together and model brainstorming and I let them go.

And they amazed me.

Their writing is not perfect. There are lots of mistakes and most of them wrote more descriptions of people or pets than actual stories (my mini-lesson for tomorrow is going to be on the difference) but they wrote. Not all of them wrote their own stories, some copied the model story and that’s fine. It’s a stage of learning, but they did it and some of them did an amazing job. Not only that, some of them ask for time to write and I happily give it to them.

We’ll continue with our “assessment prep” over the next two and a half weeks, enjoying their new-found independence and I will hope that there will be fewer tears this year.

Dressing like a teacher

It’s back to school tomorrow.

I have had a wonderful and well deserved vacation and I feel like I took advantage of every minute of it. I read a few books, went out to TWO movies (that never happens) spent time with my family and my friends, got lots of exercise and lots of sleep. I slept at least 8 hours every night that I was home. It was heaven. In fact, it felt like longer than two weeks which is amazing because normally the time passes so quickly that it seems like it’s over before it has begun.

So tonight I’m getting back into my routine of making sure everything is ready for the morning. My nightly routine involves making sure everything I need is in my school bag, my lunch is all packed in my lunch box (yes, I have a lunch box, in fact, I have four) and my clothes are all ready to go in the bathroom.

I’m not sure if I’m being quite accurate by saying I’m not a morning person. If absolutely necessary, I am capable of getting up and being in a decent mood and getting going at a decent pace. I don’t hit the snooze button. I get out of bed right when my alarm goes off, but I don’t like making decisions in the morning so I set my clothes, my lunch, my school bag all out and ready for the morning. And I eat pretty much the same breakfast, granola with frozen blueberries and almond milk, every morning.

As I was setting out my clothes tonight I was thinking about how it’s been nice wearing jeans for the past two weeks, but I’m looking forward to putting on my teacher clothes again. I would say that I dress relatively formally for an elementary teacher. I wear blazers or jackets almost every day, dress pants and blouses. Sometimes, when it’s warm, I like to wear skirts or dresses. I’ve always enjoyed getting dressed up nicely. I like how it makes me feel about myself. It’s like putting on a character. When I wear these clothes, I become a teacher, I put on my teacher costume and mask. I stop being Jeannie and start being Mme Chiasson.

I’m going to miss being able to lie around the house and read all day or staying in bed past 10 if I want to, but I’m looking forward to going back to school, seeing all my students and co-workers, hearing about their vacations and getting back into the swing of my routine. I, like my students, enjoy having that daily routine to fall back into. I’m hopeful that some of the routines that I’ve started on vacation, like exercising every day and taking time for myself, will continue with school as well.

What routines do you have to get yourself ready for the next day? Do you feel different in your teacher clothes than in your regular clothes? Are you back to school tomorrow to or already back?