Friday, 30 December 2011

"To the left! To the left!"

In the past month I have attended various schools for trial lessons/interviews for potential teaching roles in January. During these visits I have observed a vast range in student compositions, leadership and teaching approaches.

It makes me sick. The all-boys school…
… “GET TO THE LEFT OF THE STAIRS!... I SAID, GET TO THE LEFT!!... TAKE OFF YOUR JACKET!” The sharp, booming voice commanded.  Young boys scattered quickly to the left, into file. They don’t dare challenge the authority figure.  Feeling unsettled, tension rising inside of me as my ears are assaulted by the angry, domineering bark, I observe the boys’ faces and body language.  I see confusion, rising anxiety, responding from a place of fear… Sympathetic nervous system response: “Fight, Flight or Freeze”… Their glazed over expressions and startled, unfocused, programmed movements in response to the punitive command look “frozen” to me. Paralytic.
I am horrified. Feel sick as I witness this. I will NEVER teach here.
Later that same day

Sitting in a theatre style room amongst the whole year 7 population (grade 8 in Canada), the composition: a mass of young, energetic boys, still very much children, large ethnic diversity, minority white, a high percentage of Muslim. The student body is informed that they are to be respectful and participate in the practicing and singing of Christmas carols. Highly Jesus-focused, Christmas carols.
Now, I want all the Muslim boys to be respectful and sing today. Last time we practiced I was very happy to see all the Muslim boys participatingTry not to think about what you are saying. Think, ‘it’s just a song’. 

As the practice progressed I witnessed that this “request” was more of a demand, and those not complying received punitive response from angry Mr. Conductor. As I suspected.
This whole scenario might be ok, if the students had the choice to participate or rather if the school invested some time and energy into celebrating the diverse beliefs and cultures of whole year 7 class.  If the student body sang songs in celebration of a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds throughout the year? However, I am about 99% certain this is not the case.
I THINK NOT!!!!!!!!
To make matters worse
An eruption of laughter, fingers pointing, some boys standing to scrutinise their peer in the back row, the target of the outcry, who is sinking into his seat in utter humiliation. The “conductor” stands facing the persecuting mass and the humiliated boy with his arms tightly crossed in front his chest, resting upon his bulbous belly, a smug expression- “that’s what you get”- on his face. Ugly.

Moments ago… Teacher/conductor…oozing with condescension…  Hey you.” The student bodies heads all turn in the direction of his sour, ugly glare.  “Put away your lego or whatever it is you are playing with over there
Complete and utter horror.  Did that just happen?
Boys need to be kept in line
Boys respond to the commanding approach… It’s what they need.
HUH-BLAH!!!!!! *hypothetical vomit in disgust*
This perspective is held by a good number of educators.  Based on the hypothetical vomit, I sure it is quite apparent that Miss Lame’s viewpoint and approach to teaching is NOT in line with the above.

Key Questions to consider:
1.       What is the purpose of this approach? What does it achieve?
The “key-ist” of questions…
2.       What does this approach actually TEACH the young boys?

My new, BRILLIANT book, “Information is Beautiful” shares information through visual representation. I have literally spent over 30 minutes on one page, completely engaged, following the visual leads, drawing connections and understanding concepts through images and their thoughtful placement on the pages- Ideal for Miss Lame’s attention span and learning style. What a GREAT teaching resource.
Interestingly and related to my above mention of teaching style, I came across a page in this glorious book illustrating the contrast between “Left Wing” and “Right Wing” political perspectives and the general attributes and approaches associated with each…  An overload of visual information I have to work my way through the illustration, a sort of mind-map representation. As I decipher the web of information, what jumps out at me is the piece that highlights the role and approach of adult figures in child rearing and education. I quickly placed myself VERY LEFT on the spectrum.
A summary:
The Expectation- A two way street:
·         Giving and receiving of respect
The approach:
·         nurturing love
·         “Relationship built on respect and trust”- mutual respect
·         Education: “Learning- to ask questions, to relate to and cooperate with others”
“THE SELF-NURTURING CHILD” openness, empathy, self-examination
Miss Lame example:
I don’t appreciate the tone with which you are speaking to me (the infamous “crusty senior sass”). I don’t speak to you that way. I act respectfully towards you and should be able to expect the same in return.

The Expectation- Just the way it is:
·         You must respect adult figures… cause…?...?...? Their older?
The approach:
·         tough love”- strict
·         “Relationship built on respect and fear
·         Education: “Skills- to succeed, to compete, individualism
self-defence, moral strength, self-discipline

I get that everyone has their own approach to teaching and leadership and that there is a spectrum between these two punctuated wings.  There are perhaps times which call for reactions and/or approaches that lean left and sometimes which wriggle right. None-the-less, it seems that in Britain, there is a prominence of a right wing approaches.
Expecting respect, just because, is wrong to me. Again, what does this teaching youth? It doesn’t promote empathy and self-monitoring of behaviour. It doesn’t display respect and common decency, which I fully believe everyone deserves. Young and old. If we don’t develop these aspects of emotional intelligence, we are limiting youths’ capacity in the social and work world. I believe that success in career and social/emotional life is linked to ones’ ability to collaborate, empathise and gain respect through demonstrating respect.
The Canadian education system, particularly the curriculum and approach to education in Toronto, is highly forward thinking and quite “left wing” in comparison to the British system.
Common words and concepts used in the Toronto District School Board:

In the wise words of Beyoncee: “To the left, to the left!”

Getting shit done.

The story of Miss Lame’s life.
People often comment on how much “courage” it must have taken for me to pick up and move to another continent all by myself to start up my career, teaching in a new country and culture. To make my life happen. Just like that.
I am proud of the move and my ability to progress and make my life happen as I need and want it to.
I'm sure that confidence and some courage plays into all this, however, I must admit, much of my “getting shit done” abilities have a lot to do with my inability to sit still. I am hyperactive and a tad impulsive. I hate waiting- my impatience and need for things to happen when I want them to drives me… sometimes bonkers!  I like when life is exciting, with new opportunities, people, experiences and I just hate waiting or worse still, missing out. So if I just make it happen, the pay-off is much more immediate. 
Getting shit done- A recent example:
The man who lives above “my” café.
A moment of interaction. A brief smile of acknowledgment and a “Have a very nice day!”
The next day- Returning to my café for my morning coffee before heading to school…
My sweet baristas- Ramona and Nicholetta. Excited: “SOMEBODY HAS A CRUSH ON YOU!!!!!!”… They launch into an eager explanation, informing me that their neighbour living above the café was asking about me.

The weeks to follow… “you tell Rob I say hello…”… “Rob says hello back”…
This can only go on for so long. A week left of teaching before Christmas break and no accidental interactions in the café.
Miss Lame wants a date.  
A scrap of paper, my name, my number, coffee?, smiley face.
The outcome: Flattered café man + Coffee date in the New Year… SUCCESS!!!

Climbing…  In a castle!
Hands shaking, muscles all over my body twitch and fire as I balance and cling to the wall 15 feet above ground. I feel the urgency in my grip and the burn in my muscles as I contemplate the next rock I must reach, thinking, “this vertical route was obviously not designed for a 5’2 woman”. Without complete certainty that I will even be able to reach the next target rock, I go for it. I power up from my legs, extending from my sharply bend knees, pulling through my arms and back to straighten my awkwardly contorted body, driving my hips toward the wall to minimize the Lame bootie mass fighting to pull me down toward the earth. I take a leap of faith as I release my tired, but safe death grip and reach for a rock that is potentially out of grasp.  Momentum, my friend. My strength, my savour. I manage to barely grasp the small piece of rock protruding from the wall and feel my fingertips grate against the rock. Rough like sandpaper. Barely hanging on.  I throw my other hand up. In the nick of time, my other hand contacts the rock, and I use my last remaining ounce of strength to pull myself in and readjust my grip. Stable. My brain has a moment to catch up. The thought: “I’ve made it.” Shaking- The adrenaline buzz. Overcome with excitement. Pride. Grinning ear to ear- The endorphin high. Victorious.

 Rock climbing- applied to life…

1. take risks.

2. if first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

3. when you make it to the top it feels fucking great.

A TRULY Miss LAME moment…
Feeling quite confident in my preparedness for my early departure from the “Chaudrey” homestead the next morning, bound for Canada for the holidays, I decided to go for a drink at the local pub on Broadway with those flatmates whom were still around.
A lovely little visit: some laughter, smiles, cheers, a tame drink or two.  All the while, my head is in this lovely haze of excitement as I think about the first moment I see Mom, the first instant I see Dad… I see my dear brother- Erik…. My sister, sunshine- Kate.
12am, perhaps we should head back home now… The remaining folks, “the cool kids”, flatmate- Rachel and her boyfriend Dave and I, venture towards home. As we approach the front door, I am suddenly overcome with a sinking feeling as I contemplate seeking my key, which I instantly know is sat in my floral, vintage purse, safely locked away in my bedroom along with some fairly key pieces required for my trip home… You know, luggage… passport… No biggy.
Panic stricken, I launch into a tizzy of “shoulda, woulda, couldas” and “self-bashing”…
If not for Rachel and Dave, I would have been a LAME, useless puddle of tears on the floor… They kept me grounded… Together we worked out the steps we must take to ensure my departure for Canada only hours later.
Firstly, with very little expectation, I called douche-bag landlord, hoping that somewhere deep down inside his sexist, dick-ish soul he will find in his heart to help Miss Lame out… Nope.

Next step. Break into my room.
Option A) Attempt to break in through the window.
*Risk factors… This approach may be seen by neighbours and either encourage their attempt to break into my room or may result in a little phone call to the local police department.
Option B) Break down my bedroom door.
*Risk factor… I will DEFINITELY be required to replace the door. Any damage would come out of my pocket.
...A wonderful realisation.
Option C) Unfasten the excessive amount of screws stubbornly holding a haphazardly placed plank of wood across the sliding doors dividing my room from the kitchen/lounge. The ultimate security frontier!
*Step one- obtain a screw driver at 12:30am…
·         Check with a neighbour. Result- grumbly, displeased neighbour- “no, I do not have a screw driver. It’s kind of late you know.”
·         Back to Broadway Market. Corner shop. Just in the nick of time before closure. Miss Lame purchased a set of 4 screwdrivers.   


*Step two- break into room.
·         Miss Lame still a little flustered and useless is asked to make some hot chocolate and a snack of toast, while Dave and Rachel tackle the inordinate amount of screws standing between me and my departure for Canada 5 hours later. So lovely.
·         1hour later… Success.
·         Miss Lame can breathe

Home- Through a new lens
The View
The country side as we travel, London Ontario, the Niagara Escarpment, has never looked more gorgeous.  Things are so spaced out, vast.
Heading home from Collingwood, a stark contrast from the drive up. Two days of heavy snowfall between drives. I was worried I would return home to the other London without the good ol’ Canadian winter wonderland experience. But it came. I am taken aback by the Canadian beauty. New found love and appreciation. A new lens. Coniferous tree branches bow and lull under the weight of fluffy heaps of soft white. Rolling hills, soft cotton blankets, patched with old farm houses, standing peacefully. Calm.
I am grounded.
Family and old friends bring me back to earth. Not that Miss Lame struggles with being herself. I am very comfortable in my own shoes and don’t pretend to be anything but me, however, going home to Canada has brought out, highlighted, parts of me that I haven’t paid attention to or appreciated for some time. Being with those who know me to my core. Love me unconditionally. A refreshing, revitalising experience. I'm more ready than ever for my continued Miss Lame adventures in London England.  

NOTE: Any words that are bolded, italicized, underlined and in red are suggested/preferred words by Mom. She doesn’t like me saying words like fuck, shit, ass (etc) on the internet… I feel these words better illustrate my feelings as times, so just imagine them in there if you will.
Sometimes you just have to swear.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Gecko-inspired Robots and No Humility.

I have loved teaching at the all-girls school for the past two months and will be sad to finish up my time there come Christmas break.
Such a lovely staff (for the most part), particularly the science department who have been incredibly supportive and encouraging during my stay. I feel like part of the team. In fact, last Friday I could be found melting, my posture caving with pleasure into a stool upon which I was propped as I received a reflexology inspired massage on my tired, semi-sweaty, semi-stinky feet from one of the staff.
Not only do I feel I am part of the Science Department team, I also feel I’ve contributed to it… My energy and lame-ness seems to add a certain something to the crew. You know, some singing, dancing, providing many opportunities for “taking the piss” (translation: making fun).
Also, I am currently working on developing a newly introduced unit on nanotechnology????
Science-dork interlude:
Bear with me I’m still trying to get it… Nanotechnology is the use or control of “nanoparticles”….
  • Tinsy-weansy particles (nanometres in size… nano = 10^-9… 0.0000000001 )
  • Smaller than cells (micrometres in size… micro = 10^-6…)
Why the heck do we need to work with particles so gosh darn small???? … What’s the point?????
…Something about how the smaller particles have greater surface area to volume ratio and that has an effect on the properties/behaviours of that particle/technology.  Also scientists can manipulate the particles so that they fulfil particular roles…??
Think about having a lovely little tea party in the garden (that is to be read with a British accent by the way)...a sugar cube vs. sugar granules… How they behave differently…The granules dissolve much more easily/quickly than the cube.  What if we split the sugar granules up into an even smaller collection of atoms??? What then?
  • A ridiculously cool, potentially horror movie provoking example of nanoparticles/technology:
It has been discovered that the Gecko has naturally occurring nano-scale sized hairs on its feet. This means the hairs have MAXIMAL surface area, which is the reason for the “stickiness” properties of the gecko’s feet. I.e. This is why they can climb and stick to walls/ceilings with ease. This discovery has inspired researchers to develop wall-scaling robots…!?!?!?!?!??!??!? HOLY SCHNIKIES!!!!
… Ok, ok… Science-dork interlude is done… However, FYI, Lameness is bound to continue…
Generally speaking, the staff at my current school are lovely, however, there are those teachers/staff that should pull that stick out of there bottoms. It amazes and disappoints me to no end when I get the cold shoulder or a raise eyebrow, straight lipped response from a TEACHER when I offer a friendly ‘hello’ as we pass each other in the staffroom/hallway. I suppose they think I am a young, naïve, overly energetic teacher that will one day be broken and despise “those children” and my job like them?
It is too bad that these individuals are to play a key role in the intellectual and social development of youth.
Even after a long, emotionally draining day full of haphazard lesson plans and unengaged students, walking toward my bus stop, although sunken, teary… toast, I am still able to say, with absolute confidence:
I love my job. I can’t believe I get to do this the rest of my life.
I get to be true blue Miss Lame every day. I get to move, frolic, play, explore, express, joke, bond, create, learn, grow, care for a living. I am so fortunate.
*Student: “Miss, do you know why we like you so much?? Because you smile at us
I am sad that this is a novelty to students.
I am so glad that I can provide this positive experience.
I am happy to represent an approach to teaching which encourages mutual respect and common decency.  
Miss Lame IS edgy.
Those who know me know that I am incredibly edgy.  I do bad-bum, b-girl moves on the dance floor, I swear like a fish sometimes…and I even scare students with my “Miss Lame is NOT impressed face” and make misbehaving students cry. 
The bully and her tears:
Miss, she would tell me if she really didn’t like it. I don’t know why everyone is making such a big deal about this.
Miss Lame: “I don’t think anyone would LIKE having someone palm their face and push them back and down. This behaviour is bullying. Abusive.
As soon as the word “bullying” was mentioned, Rachel, suddenly very upset shot back:
Don’t even start talking about bullying.
Miss Lame: “Well you may not have acknowledged to severity of your actions but you need to think outside of yourself more or put yourself in "Afia’s" shoes and consider how you would feel to have someone feel they could put their hand in your face and push you down. Your actions can definitely be considered a form of bullying.”  
As I spoke Rachel body language read “very uncomfortable”. Arms crossed her chest. Refusal to meet my eyes with hers. Staring down at the gravel. Tears developing.  She turned abruptly and hurried away.
I started after her. The urge to comfort and support. I stopped myself. It’s ok for her to feel sad and process this. Feel remorse. Recognise her actions and how they make others feel, something she hadn’t contemplated properly until now.  I can understand that it’s very upsetting to feel labelled as something as negative as “a bully”.  I don’t think the Rachel is a bully. I think her actions were a form of bullying and she didn’t acknowledge them as such.
Either way, Miss Lame makes students cry. Edgy.
Miss Lame in Action:

One of my favorite lessons:
Year 9 students in the midst of their physics unit, the lesson was about consolidating students’ understanding of time-distance graphs and interpreting them.
We did an activity called “Walking Graphs”. Students were given a series of 7 graphs illustrating different travel patterns. Students were to understand what the different patterns communicated through their own movement down a straight line 10 meters in length.
I “Miss Lamed” this activity up of course…
The students were to perform their interpretive walks down the line as though they were on “the catwalk”. The sassiest/most creative (but also correctly demonstrated) “walk” took the prize!!!
Student: “Miss, what is the prize?!?!
Miss Lame: “You’ll see!”… I held them in suspense.   
The following are 2 of the 7 graphs that the students were required to demonstrate in swagger form.
What the heck  does that graph mean?

Graph is:
Speed is:
In a straight line
Constant speed
Changing speed
Curving towards the y- axis
Curving toward the x-axis

Imagine, Miss Lame and a gaggle of twenty-something bouncing, weekend ready, 13 year old girls pouring out of the science block following my lead and collecting in the centre of the small school campus, which is a big square of uneven, course cement that could rip an exposed knee to shreds in a single spill.  A select few help me place the cones (UK folk don’t know what “pylons” are) to mark the start and finish line, 10 meters apart.

I turn around to see a dispersed, disorganized blob, some girls chatter away, others attempt to joust with meter sticks, one or two fold and weave their body awkwardly through and over the rail to the side of the cement square.
What we call “disengaged” in the teaching world.
Miss Lame fighting to gain their attention, her booming voice lost in the great outdoors, carried away by the gusts of wind that heave through the yard.
Ocean, a bigger black girl, her disposition a beautiful mixture of sweet with sass, steps in, her voice roars over the excited giddy chatter and laughter of her classmates…
Silence. Attention.
Continuing on…
The activity was a smashing success, the girls swaggered, posed, spun and shimmied down the gravel catwalks, all earning Miss Lame’s ultimate prize!....
“HIGH FIVEEEEEE!!!!!”  I ran around energetically bounding and dodging from student to student sharing the prestigious reward.
Miss Lame’s Sankey Diagram:
“Step to the Line”

Over 100 year eleven students stand distributed into two “3-girls-thick” (OR MORE) lines approximately 25 meters long, one “3-girl-thick” line facing the other, chatting and wondering about the two tracks of tape running across the width of the Assembly Hall before them.

Their attention than shifted to Miss Lame as she galloped and shuffled energetically down the track between them, calling out for their attention (“please!”) preparing to give instructions and start the game.
Two CRUCIAL Rules:
1.    RESPECT for peers
2.    LISTEN carefully to Miss Lame’s instructions
*These two rules are far-reaching and several different misconducts could easily fall under one of the two… Keepin things simple.
It is MOST important to set a tone of mutual respect in this activity as to generates the most honesty and benefit from the activity.
Miss Lame starts with an easy one: “Step to the line if you enjoy a daily dose of vigorous dance
…Laugher. Some girl step forward with smirks and complete confidence. Others shimmy forward a little more apprehensively. A number of girls stand, steadfast at the start point, most looking entertained as they observe the responses of their peers, whilst maintaining an expression of “I DON’T dance”.
Miss Lame: “Step away from the line please.
…a few questions passed... Starting to get into the reflective stuff.
Miss Lame: “Step to the line if you consider yourself creative.
Mr. O: “Kadija! Why did you step forward??? YOU’RE not creative.
The room of year 11 girls erupted. Laugher.  Jovial dismay. A collective “ooohhhhhhh!!! WHHHAAAA!!”… Kadija’s face is rosy with embarrassment, confusion… Bewildered and not prepared for the diss.
I wait for a good moment to take the lead again, when the shock value of “Sir’s” comment starts to wear, and gallop down the tract between the two gigantic lines… asking the girls to hush. They take a moment to settle (rightfully so!)…
Once all is quiet I turn to “Sir” and say “Mr. O. I think you forgot my number 1 rule. What do you think girls???” The girls energetically erupted again. Cheers of support, fingers pointing, shaming. The word "RESPECT" is hurdled at Sir as he recoils and removes himself from the side of the tract where he stood amongst the raging year 11 girls. His expression: laughter, remorse, "I surrender". As if to say "yes, you are right... Ive been bad..."  
 “Step to the line” activity invites participants to question and reflect on their own lives, while relating and finding common ground with their peers. Soul searching. Community building.
The year 11s (Canadian “grade 12”) are wrapping up their secondary career. They are currently in a VERY stressful, confusing, anxiety-provoking, yet exciting time in their life.
  • They are making decisions about their futures with many life changes/transitions before them- college/uni/work/career paths/relationships
  • The momentous series of GCSE exams loom before them, Jan/Feb.
The “GCSEs” are OFFICIAL, STANDARDIZED exams that play a pivotal role in year 11s future educational and career avenues and options.  PRESSURE. STRESS. There is FAR too much riding on a single STANDARDIZED tests.
How does such an approach in the education system encourage learning for the sake of and enjoyment of learning? How does it promote understanding information from a variety of perspectives?
...This is a whole other discussion. Miss Lame must get back on track… “Step to the line” if Miss Lame is ranting…
Ultimately, the “step to the line” game gave the year 11 students an opportunity to relate to one another on this current stage in their lives.
The assembly hall, two 25 metre “3-girl-thick” lines of year 11 students. As the questions continued they became more reflective and more emotionally exposing/challenging…
Step to the line if you know what you are doing next year”…
Step to the line if your educational/career/personal decisions are in line with what your family wishes for you”…

The year 8s, in their “Energy” unit were learning about conservation of energy and how energy is not gained or lost but transfers to different forms… For example, in a light bulb, electrical energy is transformed into light energy (useful energy) and heat energy (wasteful energy).  This energy transfer is illustrated in a Sankey diagram (see image comparing a regular bulb and a fluorescent bulb).

And of course I had to “Lame-it-up”…

Student: “Miss, you don’t have any huuu.. huuummmill….” struggling to find the right word...
Miss Lame: “Humility?
Student: “Yeah, that's the word!!!

NOTE: Any words that are bolded, italicized, underlined and in red are suggested/preferred words by Mom. She doesn’t like me saying words like fuck, shit, ass (etc) on the internet… I feel these words better illustrate my feelings as times, so just imagine them in there if you will.