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Showing posts from 2014

All I know is that I don't know nothin'

I stole the title of this blog from one of my favourite songs growing up from a band called Operation Ivy. The song is called "Knowledge" and the chorus has been in my head for days now as I reflect on the past year.

Today was my last day of teaching in 2014. I've never felt as tired, exhausted and burnt out as I currently do. It's been a more difficult year than most so far but one in which I've learned a lot and attempted to grow as a teacher.

As I reflect on the ups and downs of my work this year there's lots to be proud of and quite a few areas that I need to continue to work on. No matter what I do at work each day, for better or for worse, I like to think that I put in an honest days work each day and give the most love, support and guidance I can to my students.

However, what I am noticing as I get older and more experienced as a teacher is how little I actually know about everything. I feel that with age comes a realization that there are so many dyna…

Community Politics

If you've read my blog in the past, you'll know that I work with marginalized youth in Edmonton's inner city. A majority of my students are First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit with other students making up a diverse amount of backgrounds and ethnicities. Working within a culture and community that is not traditionally my own has been an utter privilege and honour. To be given the chance to work with youth who have not found success in traditional school settings has been a great challenge and opportunity to be able to demonstrate to youth that they have the skills, knowledge, and ability to complete their high school education and follow their passions later on in life. In short, I am one lucky and privileged teacher to be able to do what I do.

However, working within Edmonton's inner city community is not without its challenges. I am a firm believer that my role as a teacher is to be present within the community I teach and build relationships with different community part…

Education is for Democracy

The purpose of education in a democratic society is to instill the values of cooperation, fairness and justice into the hearts of our students. I would argue that these values are essential to maintaining and improving a functioning democracy in any country. In Canada, our democracy is in serious need of a shake up. We have rising inequality due to an economic system based on competition and profit, we have a Prime Minister who is acting more and more like an authoritarian dictator and we have followed pace with the United States in dismantling the public good over the last forty years.

As a social studies teacher, and a concerned citizen, I often ask myself what do I want my students to be able to contribute to in their lives. Of course I want them to have successful lives in which they are able to follow their passions but I also want them, regardless of their profession, to be able to contribute to our democracy in some way. Democracy is at the heart of my teaching practice as I se…

Education and Activism

Teaching is an all encompassing profession. We often work late hours preparing lesson plans, staying after school or working through lunch to help a student out with academic or personal issues and often spend hundreds of our own dollars on classroom supplies to assist students in their learning.

And now, on top of what we already do as teachers, I'm asking that teachers AND community members get more involved in education activism. Now I know what you're thinking and don't worry I'm not trying to to install a Stalinist reform movement in Alberta's education system. What I mean by "education activism" is that teachers, parents, students and community members need to amp up our work towards a progressive and sustainably funded education system here in Alberta.

There are many great teachers within our province doing incredible things for our students. However, with increased student population and no predictable funding for our education system we are seein…

Teaching Climate Change

Teaching about climate change and climate justice in the social studies classroom is perhaps the most important task of our times as teachers. In terms of threats to the human species, it doesn't get more intense than the impact of climate change on our lives. As climate change accelerates we will see an increased melting of the Arctic, rising sea levels, the wiping out of entire island nations, and increased severity of severe weather. All of these events can lead to and have caused human casualties.

It is essential that teachers take up the task in the climate justice movement and understand that climate change is interconnected to our social, economic and political aspects of our lives. We cannot afford to "debate" if climate change is real or not with our students. It is time that we teach the truth as represented by 97% of climate scientists. Not only that, but we also need to be working on solutions with our students on how we can limit and stop climate change befo…

I'm Not a Perfect Teacher and I Make A Lot of Mistakes

I love teaching. I love everything about it. I love the challenge of engaging youth in the learning process, working with students who have behavioural and/or learning challenges, and just having the opportunity to build relationships and community with the youth I serve every single day. 
As a former student who struggled in the classroom, I carry a perspective about what it's like to struggle and resist teachers. This perspective motivates me to make sure that each lesson I teach is well crafted and that I try my best each day to be "on" and engaged with my students. However, this is not always the case. 
I have many days each school year where I have failed to engage my students in my lesson. I have days where I am way more irritable and unable to have the patience and understanding to work with students who are difficult or challenging. I work with high-risk youth who have had horrible experiences in the traditional school system and often spend their first few month…

Teaching Residential Schools

I've just spent the last eight classes working with a group of four young men in my grade ten social studies course learning about residential schools in Canada. I have to admit, residential schools is the hardest topic that I teach. It always brings out a variety of emotions from students and myself. Everything from anger to sadness to feeling the urgency to act is displayed in my classroom when we learn about residential schools.

For those outside of Canada, and even those within Canada for that matter, Residential schools were a genocidal policy committed by the federal Canadian government in order to "kill the Indian in the child". The government's goal was to assimilate Indigenous children into the white mainstream society by forcibly removing children from their families to attend church run residential schools. Students at residential schools were not allowed to speak their traditional languages or practice their cultural traditions. If a student attempted eit…

Teaching with Privilege

Think back to when you took your education program and you were asked time and again to write "reflection papers" for your courses. I remember looking around the room and seeing the avalanche of eye rolls work themselves around the room much like "the wave" at a sporting event.

Even though this task required us to reflect upon our roles as educators and how our experiences shape how we view education and learning, there were never many of us who enjoyed this practice. However, even though I didn't always love writing these papers, they were an essential task that forced us to evaluate our practice and behaviour as an educator and learner.

In both my personal and professional life, I have made a point to be constantly reflecting on how my role in society has impacted the way I teach and conduct myself as a person. There is no doubt that my white male privilege has benefited me economically, socially and politically. To get a deeper understanding on this issue I …

Teaching For Change

Why are you a teacher?

What is the point of doing the job you do? 
Teachers really need to think about those questions and hopefully reflect beyond the surface answers of wanting to "inspire" students. I doubt any of us really got into teaching to "fill gaps in the labour market" or decided that their true passion in life was watching students fill out multiple choice tests. 
For most of us, I would say that at some level we decided to be a teacher to affect change in the lives of students and the communities in which we serve. We felt a connection to a profession in which we could work with children and youth to promote qualities that may have been lacking in the world as we saw it. 
However, for any of us that have been teaching for any length of time have probably seen how the inequalities of our world have impacted our students and their ability to learn. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and homophobia, amongst many more forms of oppression, infilt…

Five Social Justice Challenges to Teachers

As the new school year is about to get underway, I just wanted to take a moment to urge teachers to think about how social justice issues impact their classrooms. I've listed 5 social justice challenges to teachers below to encourage us to think about how we interact, teach and organize our classrooms to promote equity and justice.

Too often, and especially at the beginning of a school year, I see teachers becoming concerned about having the "right" posters on the wall or trying to become an expert at the latest "technological innovation" in teaching. As great as technology can be in a classroom, teaching and learning is about human interaction. At the heart of that interaction can be a shared commitment to learning through a social justice framework.

Here are my five social justice challenges to teachers:

1. Create a safe and equitable classroom for LGBTQ students. If we want to create an inclusive classroom where students care for each other, we must instill …

Ferguson and Edmonton Inner City Youth

I've spent the last few nights watching the live streams from Ferguson, Missouri and witnessing the injustice that is taking place there. I've read countless articles and watched countless commentators explain and analyze this issue. I'm not going to go into the details of what is occurring in Ferguson, as there are much more competent folks that can give you a more detailed analysis than I can.

However, as I watch the events unfold in Ferguson, I can't help but think of my own students and how Mike Brown could have easily been one of my own. I work in Edmonton's inner city with marginalized youth. 95% of the student population identifies as First Nations, Metis or Inuit. Within the white dominant society that we live in, my students often feel that they are pushed to the edges and do not have the same opportunities as other youth. This feeling of "marginalization" that they have can be described in their interactions with Edmonton's police. Students …

Lessons from "At-Risk Youth" and Social Change

For those who aren't regular readers of my blog {btw, I appreciate all 12 of my regulars ;) }, I work at a school for "at-risk/marginalized" youth in inner city Edmonton. Students often come to my school because they are not successful in the traditional school system for a variety of reasons or/and because they are often dealing with many of the issues that are connected to poverty (addictions, violence, homelessness, etc.).

My school is designated as a special needs school to help accommodate students with high learning and behavioural difficulties. Because of this designation, my class sizes usually do not go over 15 students at any time. Most of the time my class size fluctuates between 5-10 students due to attendance issues for most youth. Again, issues of poverty trump coming to school for many of my youth as it is more important to find housing and access to food than coming to class. After all, you can't "eat" a high school credit.

For the students…

The Long Journey

At the end of this week, I will have completed my fourth year teaching. I've taught in  Edmonton, Alberta for three years now at Inner City High School and I taught for a year in Halifax, Nova Scotia at a school for students with learning disabilities. I could have never predicted back in 2009 that my teaching career would take me across the country in my journey to become a teacher.

Before I get to that, I should mention that my aspirations to become a teacher started specifically in grade 10 as a 15 year old kid in Math class. Historically, I never loved Math. To this day, looking at numbers causes me confusion and insecurity and despite what my former Math teacher said, I have yet to use Pythagorean Theorem in a grocery store. However, my grade 10 Math teacher was awful. He had little inspiration to teach but he did end up being my main motivation to become a teacher. Let me explain.

After failing the first test of the year (33%!!) he pulled me aside and told me to just drop th…

Education is Political

Everything we do as teachers is political. 

And I don't mean political in a partisan identification with a political party, but in a way that as teachers we have a choice to either reinforce the dominant narratives and ideologies of our time, or offer an alternative. 

For example:

- Teachers make a political decision when they choose to be authoritarian instead of democratic. 

- Teachers make political decisions when we view students as a mind to be "filled" rather than a student who has ideas to offer and knowledge to share. 

- Schools make political decisions to enforce a dress code to establish uniformity amongst the student body.

- Governments, administrators, and teachers make political decisions to decide what is to be learned within the curriculum and who has a say on its input. 

I believe that our profession needs to have a greater understanding of our political actions. Too often, schools have been places that have reinforced the dominant and sometimes oppressive aspec…

Edmonton's Inner City Youth

Edmonton's inner city communities have long been abandoned and neglected by the larger Edmonton society. You may often drive by without stopping or just read about the issues those communities are facing in the newspaper. However, if you haven't taken the time to stop and learn about your neighbours, you would be missing something really special.

If you visited Edmonton's inner city communities, you would see how resilient the youth are. You would be amazed that despite the barriers and obstacles that have been put in their way, many of them are overcoming these issues through education, the arts, and involving themselves in a variety of community programs.

If you visited Inner City High School or Boyle Street Education Centre, you would hear youth tell you horror stories of how they were treated in the traditional school system. You would hear how the issues of poverty have impacted their learning. But you would also see their determination to succeed despite the hand t…

Why Social Justice Education Matters

After reading about the Isla Vista killings, which you can learn about here and here, it got me thinking about my role as a teacher and what  we can do to combat  injustice and inequality within the schools, communities and even classrooms that we occupy. The role of a teacher is complex and multi-layered but we must ensure that teachers have the ability and curriculum to have serious discussions with students about the issues they will/have/are facing in their worlds. Social Justice Education is not only learning about specific topics, but it is a framework for interacting with students, establishing classroom culture, and inviting students to become active participants in their worlds to make it a better place. If we don't engage students in this type of learning, and only prepare them for the labour market, then we are failing to engage them with the task of making the world a more just and equitable place.

In short, social justice education matters because....

1. It challenges…

A Pivotal Moment for Alberta Education

The warning signs are there, you just have to look.

1. Corporate input on Alberta's curriculum redesign

2. Corporate backed "21st Century Learning Skills" as framework for Alberta's "Inspiring Education"

3. John Manley's influence within Alberta Education.

These three aspects of "Inspiring Education" in Alberta are making me lose sight of any possible benefit that the original inspiring education plan had. It is becoming more obvious that Jeff Johnson, Alberta' Education Minister, is using Inspiring Education to push through a corporate vision of what education should be.

Today, Alberta Education released the "Task Force for Teaching Excellence" report outlining a number of recommendations that the province should move forward with in order to improve "teacher excellence". This report outlines an extremely "managerialist" approach to monitoring and deeming what an excellent teacher is.

This blatant attack on …

My Journey as a Teacher and the Future of Education

I was never a good student. I didn't get along with many of my teachers and didn't take the majority of my education that seriously until I was in my early to mid-twenties when I decided to become a teacher. My experience as a youth who struggled academically is what motivated me to become a teacher and hopefully add to and push the profession into a place that would be more accommodating and inclusive of students needs.

It is the memory of resisting teachers and struggling in school that informs my perspective of how and why I teach. I come from a school of thought that believes that the purpose of public education is for social and political action. It's the idea that we should equip students with the tools to participate in democratic life and be active citizens within their worlds.

This is the reason I teach. It's what motivates me to work with youth to hopefully empower them to create a more democratic and just world for themselves.

As I began my career in teachin…

An Open Letter to Jeff Johnson/Gordon Dirks

Dear Jeff Johnson Gordon Dirks,

I am writing this letter in hopes that you will strongly consider the issues that I describe below about Alberta Education. I am a teacher who works with some of our provinces most vulnerable students. The youth I serve have been neglected and abandoned by the society they live in. Poverty, addiction, and violence are a regular part of many of my students lives, which as you can imagine, can interfere with their ability to succeed at school. Despite this, my students are remarkable survivors and extremely intelligent students who could greatly benefit from a more caring educational system. It is this experience that impacts how I view education and what we need to do to make "Inspiring Education" work for all students.

I appreciate many ideas presented so far in the "Inspiring Education" plan. Opportunities for more student inquiry and a less prescriptive curriculum will give students a much richer learning experience and give teache…

The Silence is Deafening

Over the past month, I have become involved in researching, understanding, and advocating against ANY corporate involvement in Alberta Education's curriculum redesign. I'm not going to re-hash those arguments but you can read about them here, here, & sign up to join me here.

As I've become more involved in talking to teachers throughout the province on this issue I understand that there are a wide variety of opinions within the teaching community. Some teachers have told me that they fully embrace corporate input, others see them as a stakeholder to be consulted, and many teachers have questions, concerns or are completely against corporate involvement in the curriculum redesign.

The truly frightening part of these discussions is that many teachers who question corporate involvement in the redesign fear that if they publicly voice their opinion, there is a high chance that they could face repercussions from their employer. They feel that the risk is too great to public…

Let's Talk About Alberta Education and Corporate Influence

Are you a teacher, parent, student, or a community member who is concerned about the corporate influence over Alberta Educations curriculum redesign? If you are, myself and a number of other teachers/community members are looking to organize meetings (on-line or in person) to provide a space for Albertans to discuss the issue of corporate influence within the curriculum redesign.

If you're not familiar with this issue, here are a few articles to get you up to speed:

If you would like to be a part of these discussions please take a few moments to fill out the form below to sign up for a meeting (in person or on-line). Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this important issue. I look forward to (hopefully) hearing back from a lot of great people across the province!

Sign-Up Form:…

Pop Punk to Punk Rock & DIY Teaching

I love music! But not any kind of music. I'm not really into Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd and unlike my contemporaries, I'm not jamming to Arcade Fire or any other band "who I haven't heard of" either. No, unlike the aforementioned bands, I like a band and style of music that doesn't get me much "cred" in any music scene. I am, and have always been, a fan of pop punk and punk rock music.

The first record I ever picked up was Green Day's "Dookie" and it stuck with me for the next 20 years. I loved everything about it. The snotty vocals, the 3 power chord structure to songs, and the lyrics of teenage alienation and frustration. Green Day was just the first of many bands who formulated a large part of my identity when I was a kid.

Now, before all you musical purists role your eyes to the back of your skull, just take a minute and hear me out. I like a band who are simple and straight forward. I don't like listening to the greatest guita…