Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

LINKS: Blogger
Canadian Chalkboard
Coffee, Calculations and Colombia!
Progressively Unnecessary
TeacHer Finance
It's Not All Flowers and Sausages
So You Want To Teach?
Classroom Confessions
Teach Hub
Web English Teacher
Blogging the Renaissance

ARCHIVES: June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 March 2010

RE: Why we study English
Monday, June 29, 2009

I recently came across some old journals my mom kept from when I was a baby until I was about 4. She originally used them when I had a nanny and my parents weren't around to see everything I did all day, but she kept at it even when she started to stay home with us. At one point, in 1990 (I was 3), she spends numerous entries chronicling the challenge to get me to vent my frustration "in words, not screams."

Eventually, she records, I could be heard from afar yelling, "I am very angry!!" This was a victory of sorts for my parents-- I had learned to express myself.

Things get a little more complex for kids once they reach the Intermediate/Senior level. You kindergarten teachers out there will no doubt have the rare privilege of gently encouraging your students to use their words and occasionally moving sharp-edged furniture aside as a child gives in to an ear-shattering, limb-flailing tantrum.

Those of us in the older grades, however, have a different kind of challenge. We get to wheedle and cajole teens and tweens into writing their thoughts on paper, collecting their opinions for a speech, and heaven forbid, remembering it all for an exam. Teenagers whine-- it's what they do. There's always going to be at least one kid who says, "But Miiiiiiiiiiiiss, WHY do we have to doooooo this? Why can't we watch a movie/play a board game/go outside insteaaaaaaaad?" (the key to whining is the elongated vowel. High school students have perfected this.)

Luckily for us all, English teachers have been trained in the art of persuasion. We learn how to argue in a dissertation, and how to paint a picture with poetry-- great English teachers are able to translate this to convince our students to go along with our wacky reasoning for reading Shakespeare.

When it comes to teaching English, a subject that is (as Jon mentioned) mandatory in every year of school in Ontario, I tend to fall more along the flexible side of things. I want my students to learn to appreciate great works of literature, and I'll tailor the way I teach in order to ensure that this is achieved. I'm not going to give them fluffy or meritless subject matter in hopes that they'll understand better-- it's my teaching methods that will be modified, not the topic of study.

There's nothing wrong with creating a Facebook profile for Mercutio and Tibalt (been there, done that, the kids went nuts for it), or chronicling Atticus Finch's Tweets. If you have to create a virtual Big Brother in your classroom for the kids to truly grasp 1984, go for it.

The problem many kids have with studying English is that it's stale, it's old, they can't relate to it. Your job is to make it come alive. And once you've cultivate a passion (or at least a passing interest) for English in your students, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how they can begin to express themselves.

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Courtney posted at 10:47 PM - Comments (0)

Why we study English

We're going to use today's post to indulge our egos a little bit. And by "indulge," I mean we're going to post on something that is perhaps not relevant to every teacher. But Courtney and I are both English teachers. And this is a question that we come across time and time again, whether it was when we were high school students ourselves, university students trying to figure out why exactly we're studying English, or when we had students ask us during prac.

It's interesting. Because nobody ever questions the value of mathematics or science or economics when talking about academia. Tell people that you're a chemistry major or studying linear algebra or business management and people rarely give you the "So what are you going to do with that?" look. Of course, on the other side, English isn't the only subject that falls into the category of "subjects that the majority of grownups question in regards to practicality". As someone who took a good slew of electives in philosophy and sociology, I know that these subjects come under the brunt of scrutiny as well. And we do sympathize with our friends in these subjects, who have to constantly defend their choice of study.

But English is different. And I am almost positive it has something to do with the fact that English is a mandatory subject throughout all of high school. If you're an English student/teacher, not only do you have to constantly defend your choice of study from colleagues and grown-ups, but you have to defend your subject in school too! Unlike every other subject, which stops being mandatory at some point in high school, you must take ENG4U (that's grade 12 English) to graduate. The next closest subject (in terms of being mandatory) is mathematics, which you need to take up until grade 11. In grade 12, people only take subjects they WANT to take so they obviously don't question the classes that they themselves choose. But everyone - from aspiring doctors to lawyers to mathematicians - needs to take ENG4U.

So why is this? What is it about English that the government deems important enough to force everyone to take it, even in grade 12, regardless of their chosen path? What would YOU, fellow English teacher, say to a colleague/friend/parent/student, when questioned upon what could possibly possess you to study the language you speak everyday?

Why we study English

1. Verbal Communication. English students express themselves well. Studying English (if done properly) teaches you that when you say something, inflection, intonation, and clarity go a long way towards being convincing. Ever hear someone give a presentation in which every sentence ends with an upward inflection? Or listen to people who keep repeating themselves when they try to explain something? It tends to be difficult. Some people have natural knack for speaking. For those who don't, understanding what makes a natural speaker, a natural, goes a long way towards improving your own ability to communicate your ideas.

2. Written Communication. Think you'll never need to write an essay after grade 12 English? Well, maybe you're right. What about a cover letter? A love letter? An email? See, the thing about writing essays is that practicing formal writing improves informal writing. This has a lot to do with clarity. Writing essays forces you to write clearly. And when you can communicate clearly in the written word, this can be a powerful tool no matter what you do. This is particularly true because...

3. You realize that every word has a specific meaning. Still on the communication strand, this is one of the greatest things I learned when I studied English. There are a lot of words in the English language. But they're not just there to replace each other. Word choice is important to communicating clearly. Many of the problems we encounter and generate are due to a lack of communication or misunderstanding. Just because you don't need this kind of communication in your job doesn't mean you don't need to communicate clearly when you're interacting with everyone else outside of it.

4. You learn that things aren't black and white. A lot of criticism I get from people who are "forced" to study English in high school, against their will, is that we spend all our time interpreting and reinterpreting things that we can never full understand entirely. And my response to that is, "Isn't that what LIFE is all about?" English teaches you why you should always be careful when you read a newspaper. It teaches you how "Call me sometime" can have a hundred different meanings. And how real life is never as objective as a mathematical equation.

5. You learn to think outside the box. I was discussing a question once with my engineering housemate. And the question was "If an object were to be dropped into a lake, would the lateral (sideways) current affect the rate at which it descended." The answer, to him, was "No." I said, "That depends on the object. If it's an airfoil, then yes." This is not to say that there's no value in looking at problems strictly from a mathematical/scientific viewpoint. I'm just saying that English does encourage you to examine problems more holistically.

These are the 5 main reasons I'm glad I studied English in university. The big one is communication. You'll find that almost everything you study in English is geared towards thinking critically and being able to present your critical thoughts in a way that people will understand and respect. I once told an English class that writing an essay is like baking a cake. You take everything you've learned, throw it into the oven that is your brain, turn ON said oven (this is key), and turn out something that's both clear (looks good) and interesting (tastes good). English is how we relate to one another. It's how we share our ideas. It's the way we ensure that we're understood and that we've communicated. It's why we're able to put these ideas we have into a format that you, as readers, can understand when you read this blog. And it's why we will continue to teach English, all the way up through grade 12, for the benefit of our students.

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Jonathan posted at 9:21 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Extra time for extra curriculars and more...

I tend to look at my teaching career as an opportunity to broaden my horizons, extra-curricularly speaking. I spent my own high school career totally immersed in my involvement with Air Cadets, leaving me with almost no free time to join clubs in high school. I was a Student Ambassador and went to Leadership Camp, but I never found the time to join the debate team or Reach for the Top, help with our school's charities or apply to be on our Student Council. So, barring anything that requires me to be athletic (I can lead and participate in exercises and figure out strategy, but I'm by no means coordinated enough to be seriously considered a team coach), I'm enthusiastic about becoming a staff advisor to any number of clubs and student initiatives at my future schools.

When I filled out the application form for my B.Ed practicum, I made sure to mention my desire to help with anything LGBTQ- or gender studies-related and any kind of charity fundraisers. I also cited my interest in and experience with studying the First and Second World Wars as proof that I would be ideal to plan a Remembrance Day Ceremony. As you can see, I'm a joiner. I love to throw myself completely into interesting activities, and I love to feel like I'm making a difference. This is part of the reason I decided to become a teacher in the first place.

So tell a person like me that they should volunteer to help out with every activity possible, and they will be the first to do it, 100%. The only thing that worries me about my practicum location next year is that I might be placed in a school that doesn't need me to supervise 6 different clubs.

But putting every ounce of your energy into something can be as much a hindrance as it is a boon. I know I, like every other new teacher, am in great danger of burning myself out, especially if I spend all my nights and weekends at school and my few hours outside of school thinking about school. I've already sort of planned that my life will be on hold for my first two years of full-time classroom teaching, but life doesn't just stay on hold because you demand it. Complicated stuff happens, and it can and does happen when you're a first- and second-year teacher, regardless of what you try to do to keep the chaos at bay.

So what am I going to do to make myself invaluable to my school (so they'll keep me on staff) but still not burn out and make myself miserable in a job I actually love?

I'm not sure. I don't think I have a list for this yet, but I do have some abstract ideas. No, you know what, this is me-- of course I have a list!

How To Get Involved Without Burning Out

1. Find your passion. Instead of donating your time to every club that comes your way, stick to things you really love. If you live and die for volleyball, you probably won't resent spending a weekend at a tournament the way you might for a Mathletes competition. When you've identified your passion, make it your priority. You won't feel as bad turning down the captain of the debate team when you know you're giving your all to the Relay for Life committee.

2. Set limits. Sit down at the beginning of a school year and decide what amount of time and effort you're willing to put into your job. Make sure you subtract time for marking, lesson planning, and other administrative duties in addition to regular school hours. Of course include time for errands and tasks in your non-work life, too. Once you've subtracted these necessities, you'll have a better idea of how much time you can devote to extra-curriculars.

3. Leave time for you. So you've decided to spend Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings helping out with activities at school. Assuming you've devoted all of Wednesday night to marking papers, do you still have time for your yoga class, a date night, time to grocery shop? What about a night to just sit with a glass of wine and a good book? Don't underestimate the importance of a few hours a week set aside to do nothing. Even if every other hour of your week is spent on the go, that you time will give you back your sanity. So maybe cut your extra-curriculars down to two nights a week instead of three.

4. Find a guide. Whether it's your teaching mentor or a bible like The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, it helps to get advice from someone who's been there. When you feel totally swamped, turning to your guide will help get you back on track.

5. Commiserate. Keeping in touch with fellow B.Ed students is important! Grabbing a beer once a month with your former classmates will give you a chance to compare notes, get a fresh perspective, and feel like you're not as alone as you think. Hey, you know what else is a good source for all of the above? This blog! Keep reading about our experiences and chime in with your two cents-- I promise it'll make us all better teachers.

It's not very long, but those are my thoughts so far. If you think of other tips, use the comments to let us know!

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Courtney posted at 4:50 PM - Comments (0)

Extra time for extra curriculars and more...
Friday, June 26, 2009

Courtney recently directed my attention to this: "Girls in Urban Areas Face Unique Challenges in Playing Sports"

However, being the difficult people that we are, we're not actually going to use this week to talk about how girls in urban areas face unique challenges in playing sports (we might address this later... stick around to find out!). So why the link? Because Courtney had this to say about the article:

"What I was most intrigued by in this article was the teacher/dean of students, who sacrifices so much so that his students can be involved in sports. I think we can talk about this as being one of the marks of a really great teacher, but also discuss the limits that a teacher might impose on themselves in order to preserve a balance in their own life."

There are two ideas I want to take from this (I might not get to my second idea in this post). The first is the idea of limits. I was talking to my host teacher last year during the first week of school and one of the first things she told me, on the first day of prac, was "always take your lunch break". See, especially as young, upcoming, teachers, there can be a tendency to go into a kind of overkill mode when we start teaching. We want to plan the perfect lesson each day; we want to make very sure we don't fall behind; so we spend every waking moment marking and lesson planning. And while admittedly, I might have been guilty of this during my prac, I also recognized that I wasn't going to be called upon to sustain this otherworldly effort for 10 months. And even then, I took my lunch breaks. Because as Ms. V told me, this is the number one cause of the number one pitfall for beginning teachers: burning out.

It's like sprinting at the start of a marathon. You cannot do this; you'll find yourself limping at the finish line. And it all gets even more complicated when you factor in extracurricular activities. It's always good to get involved in extracurriculars. The students appreciate it, you feel good about it, and it shows that you're taking an active role as a faculty member. At the same time, that's one more thing you have to factor into your schedule. And you can't forget that your number 1 job is still in that classroom (assuming you don't have kids; if you do, your number 1 job is being a parent and being a classroom teacher becomes your number 2 job).

Dr. Morrison once told me that the most important skill in life is learning how to balance. And in order to do this, you first have to know your own limits. Part of this limit is how much rest you need. It doesn't matter how well prepared you are to teach your class or how many great ideas you have; everything boils down to execution and you simply cannot execute well when you're tired. This is a fact. And surprisingly, I'm fairly certain that most people know this; they just can't seem to find a way to do it. See? Balance. When most people find that they don't have enough hours in a day to do what they want, sleep seems to be "the odd man out" so to speak, even though we know it shouldn't be.

Another part of balance is understanding that there are many ways to be a great teacher. And you don't have to hit them all. Dr. Morrison was a great teacher because he inspired me to think critically and believe in the good (to condense what could easily be an entire post, all on its own, on why he's amazing). Mr. T was a great teacher because he was a great coach who took extra time to manage all the sports teams I played on. Mr. Currie was a great teacher because he took the extra time to mark our assignments quickly (but with care) so we didn't have to wait 3 months to get our marks. Mr. Fisher was a great teacher because he was willing to go off on a tangent during his lecture if we were all particularly interested in something that might not have been directly related to the lesson.

I could go on and on about some other great teachers I've had. But goodness knows, Dr. Morrison has never coached me in a sport; Mr. T has never gone off on an interesting tangent; Mr. Currie never inspired me to change the world; and I got most of my assignments back at the end of the YEAR when Mr. Fisher taught me. Does that make any one of them any less great? Of course not. The fact that there are so many different ways to be an amazing teacher means you can PICK an area you want to be particularly amazing in. Sure, Mr. Currie never did that many extracurriculars... but that's because he was using all that time to mark our assignments so we'd get them back soon (sometimes, literally the next day!).

This is why knowing your limits is so important. It's better to be known as an amazing teacher for one thing you do that's particularly good than attempt to be known as an amazing teacher by covering all the grounds. It's not possible. You'll burn out or get sick. Trust me on this one. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. So pick one thing at a time. Don't worry about running out of years to implement your ideas (seriously... this is your career after all). Set your limit at, say, 1 amazing thing a year (or even two years). And if you find that you can handle more, then add more as you go. I'm sure Courtney will have more ideas on balancing oneself (and she'll probably present to you in a cool list).

I might say more later. I am being hailed.

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Jonathan posted at 5:26 PM - Comments (0)

The Job Hunt - Part Two of Many
Monday, June 22, 2009

As our titles indicate, we will be updating out tips on job hunting as they come to us (you lucky lucky readers). But first, a bit of background...

From our personal descriptions atop this blog, you all know that Courtney and I are both English teachers. Courtney's second teachable is History (which isn't exactly a great deal more marketable than English) and my second teachable is Music (a subject that I have come to realize I am not altogether too keen on teaching though this may change in the future). But we have to be honest, we both love teaching English.

Without doing actual research into job availability (statistics I am not altogether too keen on knowing just yet), I am at least aware that job prospects are not looking too great. I once had a colleague who said something like "Being an English teacher is like being a pitcher in baseball - we're a dime a dozen." Now, while this may be true, GOOD pitchers also get paid over $20 million a year. As good English teachers, we are perhaps slightly less ambitious about our annual salary... but here's a good segue into my collection of tips (a shorter list because Courtney's list is already pretty awesome):

11. Be a good teacher. This might seem self-evident but you'd be surprised. It's a lot easier to enter the job market knowing that if you don't get hired, it won't be because of any personal fault in your aptitude/ability as a teacher. So be critical of your teaching style/technique NOW (I speak to teacher candidates particularly). Did your host teacher tell you an area you can improve upon? Are you constantly looking for new and better ways to engage your class?

12. Do the extra work. I remember talking to some teacher candidates during second and third year. And I remember them telling me that it got a bit boring because second year only requires you to teach 3 classes (not 3 days) in a 3-week teaching block and third year only requires you to teach 5 classes in the same 3-week teaching block. It doesn't take a mathematician to realize that if you only did the bare minimum, you would have been bored and unproductive. Host-teachers are only too happy to let you teach more classes (particularly if you prove yourself to be a good teacher; see tip #11 above) so take 'em! You get extra practice, it shows initiative, and it's just plain BETTER than sitting there. I don't remember how many classes I taught during third year prac but I was definitely working full days at one point (3 classes a day) and semi-full days at other times (2 classes a day). And if you can't find extra classes to teach, ask your host teacher if he/she can get you started on curriculum planning for an entire school year.

13. Stay in touch with employers/associate teachers. Every 6 months, I email a former camp employer (Arnie Garfin), a former host teacher (Ms. Valencia), a former host principal (Mr. Dickson), and a former professor (Dr. Morrison). Do not lose contacts with people who have seen you in action. These are the people who can not only vouch for your ability and initiative, but will be able to prove conclusively that you've been a good teacher for much longer than the past 6 months.

14. Have a good relationship with your parents. Surprised? Don't be. Parents are awesome. It's also nice to feel like you won't be living on the streets if you don't find a job the instant you graduate. I know this isn't exactly a tip on job hunting, but it does help reduce panic about unemployment.

15. Have confidence in yourself. This is far easier to accomplish if you've done #11 and #12. The reality is that there are more people looking for jobs than there are job openings. Come to grips with this early (Courtney and I are doing this now in hopes that we aren't caught off guard by this next year) and understand that just because you don't get hired doesn't mean you're a bad teacher! Unless you really are a bad teacher. Then I would like to redirect your attention to #11, which you must have skipped over in your haste to get to #15. This might seem self-evident too but I also recognize: get battered with rejection too many times and even the best teachers can convince themselves that they're not good enough. Don't do this. Like Courtney says, stay positive, persevere, and laugh at yourself once in awhile. If you really are a good teacher, you won't stay unemployed forever.

The job hunt is hard. We know. And we know that all the tips in the world won't take away the sinking feeling you get if/when you look at the statistics of our economy right now. And we know that all our reassuring words won't take away from the sting of unemployment (if it gets to that). And we know it's something that we're going to have to deal with sooner or later. But if it makes you feel any better, you're not alone. If you want proof of this, just talk to us. We're friendly people. Clearly, we're anxious too. So before we hit the world for real, let's bring out the best in us, together.

As always, comments are appreciated.

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Jonathan posted at 9:48 PM - Comments (0)

The Job Hunt - Part One of Many

Today is not a great day. It's days like this where I wonder how I'm ever going to have the energy and courage to go to school and explain to worried kids what's going on in the world. But that's a post for another time, when I'm feeling less... hopeless and overwhelmed and disappointed.

Part of this, I admit, I brought upon myself. I had some free time today and decided to start checking out the job market, both internationally and in Canada. I did this knowing full well that now is not the ideal time to find job openings, and that I haven't really learned about the ups and downs of job applications and interviews with school boards. I knew all that, but I looked anyway, so my anxiety is pretty much all my fault.

Instead of bringing this worry down on you, our few dear readers, Jon and I decided to harness our uncertainty about the future and come up with some tips for alleviating that gripping feeling in one's stomach that comes with the realization that real life is about to begin.

And because I adore a good list, my contribution will be in list form. Get used to that.

Things To Do When You Start Worrying About Your Post-B.Ed Job Prospects:

1. Take deep breaths. If you're anything like me, anxiety about the future won't just go away because you will it to. But to avoid a full-on meltdown, make sure you're attacking this problem at least marginally calmly.

2. Make a list. (See how meta I am? I advise making lists in my list!) Write down everything and anything you want from your first job. Some things to take into consideration might be location (do you want to be near family or friends?), job expectations (will you be ok with extra-curriculars every night of the week?), or salary (forget about being rich now and you'll save yourself a lot of grief).

3. Narrow down your list. Pick 3 things that you absolutely need (or don't need) in your life. Whether you decide that you're not flexible on changing your grade level, staying in the country, or teaching in a traditional public school, it's important to know who you are and what you want so you don't end up wasting time or worse, accepting a job that makes you miserable.

4. Reach out to those in the know. Especially at Queen's, administrators are experts and always happy to help. Pick a quiet time in the day (not lunch!) to make a call to the Careers office at your University. Ask them about resources, stats for recent grads, tips for getting ahead. It will do wonders to have a reassuring talk with someone who's seen it all before, and it never hurts to make those kinds of contacts.

5. Use your resources. Take this time to get familiar with the school boards' and job-searching sites' systems. If you eliminate the new-user confusion early, it will be a lot less stressful when you're actually applying.

6. Channel your energy. Instead of sitting worrying, build your portfolio. Go volunteer, join a club, read some education journals. Do anything you can to develop yourself professionally.

7. Remember your strengths. Revise your resume, think about who will be your references, ask for recommendation letters. Not only will you get essential stuff completed ahead of time, you'll get a boost of self esteem too. Because after all, you're awesome! You can do this!

8. Think of a back-up. If teaching fell through for some reason, what would you do? Personally, I have a background in event planning, and in the worst case scenario I have that to fall back on. If you can't think of anything you could do besides teaching, it's not a bad thing-- you now have the reassurance that you won't give up until you get that job in education.

9. Explore non-traditional jobs. Unless you marked it down on your "non-negotiable" list, think about a teaching job that you wouldn't normally have considered. Look at the HR departments of interesting companies, adult education, museums or art galleries, and non-profits. Even if you'd rather make a career of teaching in a school board, taking a different job that's still related to the field will give you a huge advantage when you go to re-apply.

10. Stay positive. Do whatever it is you have to do to keep from wallowing. Remember that the most invaluable assets in a teacher are patience, perseverance, and a sense of humour.

And on that note, here's a tiny something to make us all feel a little better.

And commenters, we would love to hear your tales of joy (or woe) with regards to finding and getting a job in the big wide world of teaching!

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Courtney posted at 8:08 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Violence in Schools
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Judging by the large number of articles I've found on this topic, we're clearly not the first ones to tackle it. All you have to do is type "teacher protocol breaking up fights," or something similar, into Google and you get a whole slew of results that address this same question - except for the page titled "Breaking up with facebook is hard to do" which locked onto the "protocol" for making up after a "Facebook fight".

There isn't a blanket protocol for teachers to follow in the event of a fight. I've been fortunate enough to have never had to break up a fight that involved weapons, but something tells me that, like Courtney, my first instinct would be to try and stop a fight regardless (at least, at the moment) of personal safety.

This is where it gets tricky. Teachers are not legally obliged to do anything that puts their personal safety at risk. However, teachers are legally obliged to do their best to resolve the conflict and ensure the safety of their students. You can see how there might be a... conflict of interest here. Examining this from a purely "personal choice" point of view (we'll get into legal/political ramifications in a minute), this is the part where idealism clashes with reality. SHOULD teachers have to endanger their safety for the sake of their students... on the whole, I would say no. WOULD we endanger ourselves for the sake of our students, well, it seems like Courtney and I would.

Like Courtney said, part of what makes a good teacher, a good teacher, is an instinctive inclination towards the good of our students. There isn't very much time to think when a fight breaks out. It's a judgment call a lot of the times. I mean, I would prefer not to... die, but it's something that I think we simply have to leave to the discretion of each individual teacher. A teacher who doesn't get physically involved shouldn't be blamed for looking out for personal safety; especially if weapons are involved (right? Because seriously, if two 9-year olds are going at it with their fists... just break them up... you'll live).

Personally, I think the most important thing/the thing we should try to do (or not to do, in this case)... I think we should be careful about assigning blame. The issue becomes infinitely more complex (needlessly so) if we try to establish whether or not teachers "should" get physically involved. Because as it stands, there isn't an answer; or rather, there are points to be made for both sides. I would be very hesitant to pronounce, in any case, whether or not a teacher "should" or "should not" have gotten physically involved. As long as they are using their discretion to act in the best interests and safety of everyone - including themselves - let them do what they think is right or necessary and instead of debating about what they ought to have done, as if there was 1 correct response, find ways to ensure that they don't have to make that same call again.

By the by, self-defense/disarming classes are probably not the worst idea for teachers. Also not the worst ideas:

1. Sending for help (ideally, you want more than 1 adult helping you).
2. Sonorously commanding them to cease and desist (recommended first step).
3. NOT getting between a fight - break it up from one end or the other (this, so I read, is important for ensuring personal safety).

And all this without the legal/political aspect to teachers being physically involved in fights! We are, after all, part of a community so it's not just our own beliefs we have to deal with, but the beliefs of everyone else involved.

First issue: being charged for injuring a student during the process of break up. This will, no doubt, vary from school board to school board (so check your protocol) but as a general rule, we are allowed to use force but... uh... no more than the minimal necessary force to ensure peace, safety, and order. In other words, I think we are protected from injuries (to the students) that may incur during the break-up process. But you probably want to double-check with your board policy on this.

Second issue: being charged for NOT breaking up a fight. Yeah, this is why breaking up fights can get complicated. Because while we are not legally obliged to put ourselves in harm's way in order to break up a fight, that doesn't mean we can ignore a fight. We are required (quite rightfully I think) to do everything in our power to stop the fight. So if we are perceived to not put in the required effort, we would be... I think "negligent" is the term used.

I, too, have probably generated more questions than answers. Such is life. Tell us your thoughts!

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Jonathan posted at 3:05 PM - Comments (0)

Violence in Schools

Read This First: "5 Hurt In School Stabbing"

(This will be a good indication of how we plan to structure the blog. If we're discussing the issue as a result of an article we've read, a picture we've seen, or a video we've watched, we'll link to it at the outset of our post.)

Full disclosure- my best friend, who is also a friend of Jon's, and another close friend of ours are alumni of St. Joseph's. We do know a bit about the school itself and the fairly affluent suburban neighbourhood in which it is located. However, since we know next to nothing about the incident today, we won't be going into much detail about the stabbings in Mississauga. Instead, we will be using it as a jumping-off point to a broader discussion on the issue of the safety of teachers in particular.

This is something I've considered a lot in theory, but don't actually know much about. I've never worked with high-risk students; my own high school did not need metal detectors or a frequent police presence. I've been through two bomb threats in school, but both turned out to be pranks and I was only aware of the situation in the second instance. In short, I'm not qualified to do anything more than speculate about this issue, and I hope that Jon or our commenters will be able to provide a more informed opinion.

The vast majority of teachers (I hope) go into this profession to make a difference with kids. Even when they're strict, they're acting in the best interest of their students. Yes, there are bad apples, but let's assume for the sake of argument that when I say "teachers," I mean "dedicated teachers." A teacher in a circumstance like the one at St. Joseph's is just trying to look out for the safety of her students, and she gets stabbed in the hand for her trouble.

So what I want to ask is, how far should a teacher go to protect his or her students? What kind of precautions can a teacher take to prevent something like this happening in his or her classroom? And at what point has a situation gone too far for a teacher to intervene?

I think, at least in my case, if there were students in danger I probably wouldn't be thinking about myself. But in that moment, as you're lunging to prevent the stabbing of a child under your watch, shouldn't you think about yourself? Many teachers go above and beyond, sacrificing their evenings to coach sports, their lunch hour to supervising debate teams, their weekends to grading essays-- sacrificing their safety seems like too much.

And yet I still think I would step in, just like the teacher did today. Luckily for her, there were other teachers around to help break up the fight. Sadly, a lot of teachers haven't been so fortunate, and have been seriously injured or killed by their students. If only these kids (and I do speak of a small minority here) would see their teachers as more than just people who stand in the way of their freedom, and recognize how hard they work to support their students.

It just doesn't seem fair.

So what do we do? Do we train teachers in self-defense and conflict resolution? Do we install metal detectors in an otherwise peaceful school? Do we sit the kids down in a dreaded assembly and explain why violence is wrong? Does any of that even work?

It's pretty obvious that I'm all questions and no answers right now. That's exactly why we created this blog-- to start a dialogue, whether it's an issue we're experts on or something that utterly baffles us. We want to know what you think.

(Another note on our blog's format: When Jon reads this post, he'll reply above with a response to what I've written. You can comment on one or both of our posts, and we may very well post again in response to your comment. We want Class Dismissed to reflect as many opinions and voices as possible, as well as to capture our own growth and evolution as teachers)

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Courtney posted at 1:47 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Launch and Intro
Monday, June 15, 2009

The blog has launched!

Well, it has unofficially launched. We'll be publicizing Class Dismissed in September, when we're actually starting our B.Ed year, and when we have a good archive of posts built up from the summer. We want to have something to offer, you see, before we start recommending our blog to anyone other than our friends, classmates, and colleagues.

Jon's introduction perfectly described our reasoning behind the creation of this blog, so I'm going to give a bit of background on us. We've both just completed our Honours BA, with a medial in English (both) and History (me)/Music (Jon).  We are incredibly excited to be starting our Bachelor of Education at Queen's in the fall, something we've been eagerly anticipating for years.

We first met way back in 2005, when we were tiny first years taking part in Queen's University's Frosh Week. Jon and I are in Concurrent Education, a program designed to produce highly trained and dedicated teachers over a period of 5 years. The ConEd program at Queen's has a 6% acceptance rate and not only requires exemplary marks, but also a diverse record of prior teaching-related experiences. In the past four years, Jon and I have bonded over a passion for teaching and a desire to hone our skills and take on challenges within the realm of education. And, as Jon so eloquently explained, that's what this blog is all about.

We decided to name our blog Class Dismissed, in honour of two very significant influences on our personal teaching style. I'm certain you'll hear much more about them in the future, but for now I will say only that these teachers, among others, have made a very powerful impact on who we are as educators. Our blog wouldn't really be right if it didn't include a tribute to Mr. George Feeny and Dr. Robert Morrison. You can expect a lot of coverage of our mentors, within the teaching profession and without (and sometimes even outside the realms of reality, as with Mr. Feeny), because we strongly believe in the importance of growing with and learning from role models and peers. Our former teachers are the reason we're in this profession, and we'd be woefully remiss to create a blog that didn't acknowledge and celebrate them in every way possible.

So, dear reader, if you are a teacher, we would like to thank you. Thank you for putting in those long hours to help with extra-curriculars, thank you for spending your weekends marking papers, for coming up with creative activities, for supervising recess in the rain, for repeating the definition of a thesis statement over and over until the whole class gets it. Most of all, thank you for inspiring your students to become the people you know they can be.

If you are a teacher candidate, as we are, always remember what it was like to be a student. Remember how it felt when your best friend had a crisis the night before your project was due. Remember how exciting it was to excavate the long-deceased class goldfish, how proud you were after earning a gold star. Remember how important those great teachers were to you, and do everything in your power to become one of those teachers yourself.

We hope you'll enjoy reading Class Dismissed, and we hope you'll be eager to add your own opinions to our commentary. We're going to do our best to follow our own advice, push our own limits, and make sure that every moment teaching is also spent learning. 


Courtney posted at 9:33 PM - Comments (1)

Launch and Intro

We figured now is a good a time as any other to officially start posting! But first, some introduction. See, Courtney approached me with a suggestion, back in May, about creating a teaching blog where we could... well, basically post about our experiences in our B.Ed program at Queen's and express our viewpoints on a variety of topics that pertain to our (future) profession. We've been discussing these topics/issues since we both started teaching way back in first year but our ideas/conclusions were always scattered across coffee dates, facebook, and other blogs.

Well, we figured that we could share these ideas/experiences with all our readers (all 1 of you, though we hope to at least triple that number soon) so that's why we're here at <-- not to be confused with This is important. Note the hyphen between "class" and "dismissed". Although logic dictates that if you are reading this, you've probably got the correct url, we just thought we'd point that out in case you forgot the hyphen one day and wondered why you were suddenly looking at dissertations on junk food and f-bomb counting during the year of 2005.

We will make our very best attempt to post at least twice a week on this blog. And we will make our very best attempt to be interesting, stimulating, and open-minded about everything we read - this includes comments! In other words, we will try our very best to be our very best, not only for the sake of professional development, but for the sake of all the future students we will hopefully have the privilege of teaching someday. So we hope that this blog will properly convey all the ideals we will try to hold onto as we navigate our way through our final year in our Concurrent Education program and into our future profession as teachers. And we hope you'll stick around to share the ride with us.


Jonathan posted at 8:10 PM - Comments (0)