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Showing posts from 2013

Teaching For Social Justice: 2013 Recap

I wanted to complete one more blog post before the end of the year, but couldn't figure out a topic that made sense. As I was scrolling through my twitter feed I saw a lot of "year end wrap up" posts and decided to poach the idea for myself. I write this blog as a way for me to reflect on issues in teaching and education that I care about. If it gets read by anyone other than myself, then that's just a bonus!

2013 was a really productive year for myself. I have had the privilege of teaching full-time in a classroom for three and a half years now. I view each day as a challenge and opportunity to grow as an educator. I love that I get to teach social studies every day and have the opportunity to work with at-risk youth. Working with this population has its challenges and benefits, but I have found that it is a job that compels you to act outside the classroom to advocate for the rights of students.

Since most recap posts use lists, the following is a list of accompli…

The Problem with Education is...

Everyone has been a student at some point in their lives. Everyone has had to endure bad teachers and benefited from great ones. Many of us (including myself) have felt marginalized by the education system as students when we had to memorize useless facts for a test or fought against the tyranny of the "hat rule" as high school students (I really love hats and hate that rule!)

It is because of these experiences that many of us feel we can comment on the education system and the teachers within it, as there are many stakeholders involved. Teachers, parents, students, and the greater community are all impacted by the success of our schools and our students. However, I think it is time that teachers need to stand up and claim our status as the proficient professionals and intellectuals that we are. For too long have we sat idly by having to endure bad education policy and the dictates of failed theories that came before us.

All of us, including parents and teachers, often rever…

Our Problem is Obedience

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” -Howard Zinn
The historian Howard Zinn always had a great way with words; simplifying complex issues into a popular language that would connect with anyone reading it. His mantra in the quote above has resonated with me for a long time. However, the longer I teach, the more value I see in his thoughts on obedience within the teaching profession.

For far too long, teachers have obeyed harmful policies and practices that have had a negative impact on our students and education system. For example:


What the Hell is Critical Pedagogy?

Sorry for  the crude title of this post, but it's a phrase that I often get when I mention critical pedagogy with other educators. I'm a big believer in the idea of 'praxis' as coined by Paulo Freire, which states that understanding theory is essential to our practice as educators. I remember being in teachers college and having conversations with classmates about how they didn't think theory had any value to us. I must admit, when I first started, I also thought that the time we were spending in philosophy class was taking up valuable time that I could have been using in the classroom to learn 'how to be a teacher'.

However, my appreciation of the theory of education drastically changed while in a philosophy of education class and I learned about Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy. At first, I wasn't immediately drawn to Paulo's ideas of critical instruction and his critique of the banking theory of education, as I could barely understand what he me…

An Open Letter to Teach For Canada

Dear Teach For Canada,

How are you doing? I just wanted to take the time to welcome you to Canada's education community..........and also address a few concerns that I have with your program.

You have recently embarked upon the Canadian education landscape hoping to fix education inequality with the work of the 'future leaders of Canada'. There is not much information on your website (, so it is difficult to ascertain as to how you imagine you will use the 'future leaders' to overcome the education gap. I assume, due to your name, that you will be based off of the 'Teach For America' model where you'll throw top graduates from university into remote and difficult school settings after a short period of training. Unfortunately, since you have created this organization, I am worried that you have not understood the failures of the Teach for America program. If you're unfamiliar with this concept, I'll direct you towards e…

Teaching, White Privilege, and Curriculum Control

I'm a a white male of privilege. I am acutely aware of my privilege as I teach mostly marginalized Aboriginal youth and other disenfranchised students. I was reading Paulo Freire's great book "Pedagogy of Indignation" the other night and the words in the preface (written by Donaldo Macedo) struck me quite hard. He said that critical pedagogues must be challenged to eliminate the savior mentality from white teachers who teach disenfranchised youth. He gave examples that we must challenge educators who take their youth to conferences to "show them off like trophies of accomplishment" and tear down the mindset where educators have an over inflated ego because they're "helping" youth who are living in difficult circumstances.

This hit me incredibly hard as I am a white educator working with at-risk youth and have recently taken students to a conference. Over the summer, I assembled a team of 3 students to help me develop a workshop about poverty a…

Becoming a Teacher - A Lifelong Dedication

Teaching is tough.

Teaching is hard.
Being a teacher is the best job I could ever have. 
The first week of classes has been one of the most difficult in my short career. I have classes with too many students and not enough desks, which is causing major frustration for both myself and students. I have been overwhelmed by administrative paperwork that has kept me from individualizing and assessing my new students work. In a nutshell, it has been a tough, hectic, and exhausting first week of the school year. 
However, teaching seems to be one of those rare jobs that can give you highs and lows all in the same day. In the midst of juggling everything that was thrown at me last week, I was able to experience the first real learning moment of the year. In my overcrowded grade 10 social studies class I have had difficulty creating a learning environment that is going to work in the small space I have. After rearranging the desks and chairs and creating alternative work spaces outside the cla…

I am a Teacher: I am not Neutral, Unbiased, or Objective

“Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." -Paulo Freire

I like to read this quote at least once a week to keep me focused on what the core of my teaching practice should be about. I often talk to teachers who feel that it is important that teachers are neutral, objective, and unbiased. Well, as you can probably guess from the above quote, I don't agree with that sentiment at all. I am a social justice teacher who believes that it is absolutely impossible to be a neutral and objective teacher.

Before we get into the politics of teaching, I want to explain my thoughts on what it means to be a social justice teacher. Social justice is a difficult term for a lot of us to really wrap our heads around. For me, it has always meant that my job as a teacher does not end when the bell rings. It means that if I truly believe in a socially just world, then I have to create the conditions in which t…

Why I Love Teaching, But Hate Diploma Exams

If you already recognize the title to this blog post, you may have noticed that I basically stole it from Suli Breaks and his great spoken word poem, "Why I hate School, But Love Education" ( I think almost every student at one point in their lives has uttered the phrase "I hate school". As I teacher working with at-risk youth, almost all of my students come into my class with extremely negative feelings about school, teachers, and anything related to it. It takes a long time to work through the "educational baggage" that students have in order to help them understand that a truly good education can benefit them in many ways.

Working through this "educational baggage" is one of the many reasons why I love being a teacher. I love the long term process of breaking down student perceptions of school, teachers, and the purpose of education. It literally keeps me up at night trying to invent new strategies …

Hip Hop, Sociology, and At-Risk Youth

Hip Hop is awesome! When  used in my social studies classroom, a simple hip hop beat can move the most apathetic, uninterested, and alienated of students to pay attention and proclaim, "this is pretty sick!" It has been a tool that I've used  more consistently as I work with youth who are emerged in hip hop culture. At the best of times, I have been able to use the music of Nas, Krs-One, and Eminem to illustrate concepts of poverty, social alienation, and questioning authority. So it only made sense to develop an entire course at our school entitled "Hip Hop and Social Justice" in order to use the elements of hip hop to transform the classroom and learning experience of the students.

At my school, I work with at-risk youth who enter our classrooms with severe gaps in their education. Most have a reading and writing level at a third to fifth grade level as they enter grade ten. Our students are deemed "at-risk", which can basically be interpreted as yo…

Why Do You Teach?

What is the purpose of education? This question is constantly ringing in my head with every decision I make within the classroom. This question, inevitably leads to more: What is the purpose of this lesson? How will this idea affect students? Am I empowering students?....and it goes on.

I believe that asking these types of questions is essential for teachers to be critically reflective of what they are doing within their classrooms. Far too often teachers are led to believe that their role is to make sure that their students are prepared for the 'real world' in order to be 'competitive for the marketplace'. Though this may not sound destructive at first glance, it can have detrimental effects on our students education. 
If our role as teachers  is to make sure our students become employable, then we are missing and ignoring what an education truly is. When we only focus on the employable aspects of our students, then we are merely reduced to training students to succee…