Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Love Affair With Auctions



The sound of the gavel hitting the desk top is one of the sweetest sounds in my world. 

As I was sitting having my breakfast this morning, gazing out into my peaceful back yard my mind got to wandering, as it often does these days.  If you would have been inside my head the sound of my thinking would have been likened to a pinball bouncing off the rubber bands and dinging the bells.  My thoughts flittered around looking for a place to land.  For some reason, they landed on auctions.  Might have been something I read or saw or heard or none of these things.

Auctions.  The mere word gets me excited.  My dad has always been a bartering kind of guy.  He often came home from the bar on Friday night with a new acquisition.  One time it was a row boat with a hole in it and that's when we all learned how to fiber glass.  I'm pretty sure he traded that boat for my first car, a 1957 Hillman Minx.  It was a beauty.  The clutch however, was a problem.  So much of a problem that my dad insisted if I was going to drive it that I would have to learn how to change the clutch (which went every 3-4 months).  Aside from the clutch, the windshield wipers flew off at random and we had to park on a hill in case it wouldn't start.  I was a master of the clutch-popping car starting method.  Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  I don't remember my parents (my dad in particular) ever paying full price for anything.  I was slightly embarrassed one time when we were in Sears and my dad bargained with the salesman for a coffee table with a slight scratch in it.  To my surprise my mom and dad bargained the price down to something they could afford and hauled the table out to the station wagon to take home.  My embarrassment didn't stay with me, my love for bargaining, however, did. 

In my early teen years we moved to Comox, B.C.  Aside from the magical beaches, stunning mountains and year round recreation, there was an auction.  To be precise, the Cumberland auction.  We used to jump into the car on Friday nights and head to the small village with the big auction (where my future husband resided little known to me at the time) .  The Ilo-Ilo theatre had long disappeared and in its place was the famous home of the Friday night auction.  My parents picked up their paddles and headed to different spots in the theatre.  I think my mom was sometimes perplexed by the things that caught my dad's eye so they seldom sat together.  One of my favourite things in the world was to watch my dad bid on the cardboard boxes labelled 'various items'.  Now, to be honest, you could go into the auction ahead of time and preview the items, including the cardboard boxes and their contents.  Pretty sure my dad found it much more exhilarating to bid on the unknown.  I completely understand the fun in taking that box home and digging through it hoping to find some magical item that you didn't know you needed or wanted. 

On one of those Friday nights my parents did the usual, picked up their paddles and headed in opposite directions.  I often didn't sit with either of my parents and just hung out watching the fun from my own spot on the sidelines.  During one frantic bidding session I realized that my parents were bidding against each other and before I could catch the attention of either one of them my dad had outbid my mom.  When she realized what had happened she was NOT happy.  As usual, this didn't bother my dad a bit and in fact probably made it that much more fun for him.

Honestly, I cannot remember one thing we brought home from those auctions but what I do remember are the sights, sounds and musty smells of that old theatre and its contents.  I remember it usually being a pretty cheap evening of entertainment.  I remember the smile on my dad's face and the puzzled look on my mom's face when she realized what they had spent their hard earned money on.  I remember being a people-watcher and loving the exciting atmosphere of the auction.

If you think my dad's bargaining skills were saved for Sears and the auction though you are wrong.  Along the road between Courtenay and Comox sits a well known seafood stand known as Portuguese Joes.  You can even buy  a t-shirt there that says, "I got my crabs at Portuguese Joes".  I've seen these t-shirts from Fernie to Agassiz so Joe had a good idea I guess, even though it didn't appeal to me.  When my dad got a hankering for a good shouting match he used to pull in at PJ's.  As our car pulled into the parking lot I swear I could see a smile twitching at the corners of Mrs. Joe's mouth.  My dad made his entrance, checked out the display case and always started with, "I'm not buying any of that old stuff, where's the fresh fish?"  Mrs. Joe got outraged and the party was on.  After 15 minutes of insults and yelling between Mrs. Joe and my dad, my dad would pick up his fish, let out a loud laugh and we'd be on our way home.  I'm sure Mrs. Joe loved to see our car in her parking lot.

Since those early days auctions have always grabbed my attention.  Mostly I just like to watch the people and the things they buy but sometimes I like to buy as well.  One of my favourite auctions was always the auction on the Saturday night of the Agassiz Fall Fair.  Any entries that weren't picked up from the craft, baking, jam etc. exhibits are auctioned off at the end of the day.  It was a family affair for us (minus my husband who was usually watching a Yankees game).  I loved it that Bob Ford auctioned the pumpkins in increments of 5 cents.  He ALWAYS made sure that every child there got a pumpkin to take home.  He was also acutely aware of how to pander to his audience.  A loaf of bread, a dozen eggs and a jar of jam was always 'tomorrow morning's breakfast'.  A bunch of potatoes, carrots, celery etc was always a 'tasty soup in the making'.  Bob knew how to make the auction fun and inclusive.  For me, he always made sure he yelled 'SOLD!' at just the right time so I got a bottle of wine and a bunch of prize-winning flowers.  When Bob passed away his son Rob took over and the tradition continued.  We have so many fond memories of packing a box into the car (to bring home our goodies) and heading over to the hall about 7:00 after a day of visiting, reminiscing, eating corn and chicken and just hanging out at the fair.  We tried the auction a couple of times after a new auctioneer took over from Rob but it just wasn't the same.

Chilliwack hosted a great auction for a few years but those too have gone the way of the dodo bird.  I tried another auction in Chilliwack but it was antiques and the buyers were serious and the prices were beyond my idea of 'having a little fun at the auction'. 

Whatever caused the idea of auctions to pop into my head this morning has brought back a lot of fond memories and I'm hoping to now go out and locate another good auction so I can share the experience with my grandchildren!  What a great idea.  SOLD!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Three Questions to Mr. Fassbender (and Ms. Clark) (Or another way of defining "wide gap")

A teacher friend of our family's recently had the untimely task of driving Peter Fassbender (sorry, I just can't call him 'honourable') around in a golf cart while he was at the Golden Eagle Golf Course in Pitt Meadows last week.  We all wondered how THAT conversation went.  Later that evening we watched as members of the BCTF and support staff did their best to hold him accountable. 


My husband and I are both retired educators.  All four of our children hold Education degrees. Three of them are employed in lower mainland school districts.  As we were discussing James' opportunity we all wondered what questions we would have asked in that ten minutes alone with the Minister of Education.  So, after much thought, these are my questions:


#1 - Do you really believe that class size doesn't matter?


I had a quick google of the top 10 schools in the very controversial Fraser Report and examined the top five.  I stopped there as the trend was imminently visible. 
Southridge - Kindergarten classes of 16, Grade 1 and 2 classes of 18, Grade 3 classes of 20.  These are not significantly different than a lot of public schools.  When we get to the higher grades there is a shocking difference!  Grade 4 classes of 22 and grades 8-12 of 18.
St George's - couldn't find any numbers on their web page.
York House - "Little School" (Jr. Kindergarten & Sr. Kindergarten) - 8-10students, Jr. School (assuming Grades 1-6) - 20 students.  Senior School 10 - 17 students.
West Point Grey - stated their average class size as 22 students.  AP (Advanced Placement) classes - max 17 and their Student/Teacher ratio is 8:1
Crofton House - advertises small class sizes (but no numbers)
If class size doesn't matter, why do these schools who consistently rank high, put this information in their school profiles?  Do you believe that the small class sizes have a direct impact on achievement for these particular schools?


#2 - Do you really believe class composition does not impact student success?
Again, using information from these five schools.  Each of these schools has VIGOROUS application processes. 
Southridge - "An applicant's academic record and aptitude are significant, but not the sole factors in seeking admission to a university preparatory school. Our process also considers other significant criteria such as participation in extra-curricular activities, involvement in citizenship, and personal motivation."
St. George's - "Admissions is highly selective and students are expected to meet rigorous entrance standards and demonstrate excellence outside the classroom. The school does not offer English as a Second Language (ESL)."
York House - What kind of student thrives at York House?
"Someone who will succeed in a challenging academic environment, enjoys participating in music, art, drama and/or athletic programs, and shows compassion and interest in the world around her. We aim to enroll students who are enthusiastic learners, keen to actively participate, willing to take risks and who will live our motto Not For Ourselves Alone"
West Point Grey - "We thoroughly assess each applicant's interests and potential. Children of good character, dedication and promise will be invited to join the school, space permitting" "Written entrance tests are required for students applying to grades 3 to 12. Students are tested in reading comprehension, writing and mathematics. Students entering grades 5 to 12 also write a general cognitive test."
Crofton House - "All applicants for junior kindergarten through to grade 5 will be invited to the school for testing. Applicants for grades 6 through 12 are required to take the SSAT and have the score submitted to Crofton House School directly from SSAT. For more information, please visit www.ssat.org"
Admission to Crofton House is based on:
•Application Form Responses
•Letters of Reference and Support
•SSAT Results
•School Reports
•School Interviews
Each of these schools report 0%ESL in their Fraser Report documents.  While each of these schools offer counselling and Learning Resource support, none of them report having EA's/SEA's as part of their staffing.  So, Mr. Fassbender, tell me again that class composition is not important to student success.


#3 - Do you really believe that "throwing money at the system will not fix it"?
Again, let's use these "top" five schools as an example.  As it has been widely reported, private schools do receive public funding, so I am making an assumption that they receive some level of public funds.  Now, for the fun part.  On top of the public funding (even if it is a small percentage), parents pay in the ballpark of $17000.00 for each child they send to these schools.  Let's see now $6 000.00/child in the public system, $17 000+/child in these schools (interesting that that's about the same funding as our inmates get). Public schools have had to cut specialist teachers (fine arts, special ed, library, counselling etc.) due to lack of funding.  These schools promote their use of specialists; Outdoor ed, 2-3 extra language classes starting at Kindergarten for some, dance, music, debating, math, pe. and on and on. 
Public schools seriously lack technology, these top 5 schools are technology trend-setters.  Public schools lack space and facilities, these top 5 schools have AMAZING facilities.  Mr. Fassbender, are you seriously going to tell me that increasing funding  to public schools will not address some of the bigger problems related to class size/composition/school funding?


Those are my three questions.  I think the answers are evident and I hope that the teachers walking the lines and the parents and general public that are supporting public education can help to alleviate the "wide gap" (where have I heard this term used before????) between public and private education in this province.  I hope that all children are able to achieve their full potential within a school system that recognizes and values all students, not just the ones from wealthy families.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Good-bye Dear Friend

Yesterday the community joined together to say good-bye to our dear friend, Ingrid.  Ingrid was my friend but she was so much more than that.


As a teacher, she was my colleague and mentor.  We learned much from each other and always knew that our professional collaborations strengthened our teaching and our students' learning.  She learned about giving choice in assignments and I learned about how to make my assignments more relevant, enjoyable and effective. She knew more about tailoring assignments to individuals and I knew more about cooperative learning.  As a high school teacher she had always taught 'on her own'.  As an elementary teacher I had team taught many units and grades.  I had an elementary background, hers was high school.  She came to the profession as a single young professional.  I came much later as a wife, mother of four and was not so young.  We had a healthy respect for each other and weren't afraid to say how much we admired what the other brought to our practice.  I loved discussing education with Ingrid.  We had different approaches and experiences but we shared a passion for 'our kids' and their learning.


Ingrid was single throughout her teaching career and her career and her students, along with sport and photography, were her life.  Her geography and history courses brought the world to life for students from our very small town.  At her memorial yesterday a former student, encouraged and challenged by Ingrid, had just a couple of weeks before stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, a life goal inspired by Ingrid some 13 years earlier.  He e-mailed her that night to share his experience with her only to find out she had passed away that day.  Her travels and her magnificent photos of those travels brought the world into the classrooms of that small town. Many of our local students were inspired to see the world because of Ingrid's own travels.


Ingrid taught all four of our children.  They were very different students with very different personalities and very different areas of strength.  As only a gifted teacher can do Ingrid identified those strengths and pushed each of them to fulfill all the potential she saw within them, not just their academic strengths but their personal strengths as well.  As my oldest daughter spoke, through her tears, she thanked Ingrid for seeing the leadership within her and for pushing her to both recognize and apply that leadership.  Our other kids didn't speak but they could have and I know in their own minds they were also thanking Ingrid for seeing their potential, insisting they work to that potential and for supporting them both inside of school and out.


More importantly Ingrid was our friend.  When we moved to our small town in 1978 with two small children in tow Ingrid opened us with welcome arms.  She invited us to her apartment just down the hall to help decorate her Christmas tree that year and a lifelong friendship was forged. When our two babies arrived a few years later she welcomed them like they were her family.  Through all of our kids' growing up years Ingrid was there.  She attended anything and everything they were involved in.  She cheered them on and patted them on the back.  She was proud of each of them.  She told us repeatedly how blessed our family was and what wonderful people we were raising.  As parents you can't hear that enough times.  As students and young people you can't hear that enough times.  Ingrid attended family dinners, wedding showers, weddings and baby showers.  Her eyes glistened with love through all of these events. 


Our children were all athletes and I don't recall Ingrid every missing a game.  Didn't matter what the game was or where it was being played, she was there.  She cheered them on from the gymnasium stands and on the sides of fields.  She was often there when my husband and I were playing sports as well.  She cheered less for us than she did for the kids :)  Ingrid specialized in field hockey and our three daughters were so lucky to have had such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic coach.  She taught them the game but she also taught them about responsibility, sportsmanship and dedication.
Ingrid and I were also team mates.  We played ball hockey for many years together on a team full of women with passion for sport and quirky senses of humour.  She encouraged me to play field hockey, not my forte, with a bunch of seasoned players.  After a game or two we realized it would be to everyone's benefit if I just stayed in the goal.  Her friends from field hockey were my friends from fastball, basketball and volleyball.  Ingrid and I golfed together as well.  As mentioned by many at her memorial, Ingrid loved to talk.  She was the only person I ever golfed with who never stopped her conversation while approaching, lining up and hitting the ball.  She loved the game and was fun to play with.


As mentioned above, Ingrid was a consummate photographer.  We spent many hours looking through the pictures of the many trips she had been on.  I envied her widespread travels and her photographic talent.  I have just taken up photography in the last couple of years and remember so many of the conversations we had around her beautiful pictures, particularly in the areas of lighting and composition.


Ingrid had a large circle of friends and it was nice to see them at her memorial.  Each of us had a story to tell, whether we told it or not.  Each of us had a connection to this amazing woman.  Each of us spent time on Sunday remembering a particular memory of how she had touched our lives.   Each of us felt our world was just a little smaller without her in it.  It's so hard to say good-bye to the people we have loved, especially when they have touched our lives in  a special way.  Ingrid never missed an opportunity to pass on a positive comment.  She is one of few people in my life who will have left this world with nothing unsaid.  We knew how Ingrid felt about our family and she knew how our family felt about her.   When I think of her I will always be reminded to say what's in my heart.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Beginning Teachers

I have followed your posts with deep sadness.  I feel your frustration, anger and passion.  I too felt all of those feelings in my 25 years in education.  I am retired now and every January 1st my pension cheque  reflects a cost of living increase.  I don't have to bargain, picket or face the court of public opinion for that raise.  I thank all of those frustrated, angry, passionate educators who went before me every time my pension cheque lands in my bank account.

I have walked picket lines (and still do).  I have (and continue to) curse a government that has such callous disregard for the students in its care.  I have been involved in more strike votes than any employee should ever have to face and yet, the battle rages on.

Having said all of that, what I want you to know is that this is not what I think of when I look back on my incredible career.  These are not the moments I remember.  The politicians, educational pundits, angry parents, negative media personnel and most of all, those people who tell us to get a 'real' job, move to another province or simply give us the international one-fingered wave, they are not the people I remember.

I remember shining faces, excited learners, moments of discovery and mastery.  I remember coaxing angry students out from underneath their desks and watching them build trust with me and their classmates.  I remember hugging (yes, hugging) students of all ages and sizes when they were happy, sad and on occasion, even grateful.  I remember watching their faces the first time they saw the ocean or went to the city or gathered bits of nature to make our special picture frames.  I remember students who were so grateful to have a teacher who recognized their strengths, not just the academic strengths but also their strengths of determination, creativity, friendship, leadership, service, empathy and kindness.  I remember their excitement when they came to see if they could start a school garden or a drama club or a chess tournament or a musical production or a basketball team or an environmental club . . .and knew that I would be a sucker, like most of you, for whatever they wanted to take on.

Last weekend I went to a local event where many of my previous First Nations students were performing; dancing drumming, canoe racing and providing leadership and support.  I got lots of hugs (this might be the part of teaching I miss the most).  These former students proudly pointed out their sons and daughters who were following in their footsteps.  As the chief spoke I heard him say, "We were not always proud of who we were as a people" and I was glad to hear the  past tense being used.  I remember that being true early on in my teaching career.  Our FN students were shy and quiet and tended to stick together.  There was no drumming or dancing or Halq'emeylem language class in our school in those days.  I am proud of the changes that the parents, staff, students and community  initiated to make these changes happen.  Public education is full of these kinds of challenges that are often not part of the private school system.  These are the rewards that you will also have in the years to come.  You are making a difference.  Not even the government can take this away from you.

I want to remind you of the joy you feel when a lesson you have spent hours preparing reaches that one student and you can see the lights go on and the confidence start to build.  I want you to think of that  project or presentation or report or essay that resonated with new knowledge and deep understanding.  I want you to remember, even through this ridiculous lockout, that you may well be that one person who inspires a future scientist, ballet dancer, poet, artist, mathematician, chef, musician, entrepreneur or astronaut.

I am hoping  for your sake, but more importantly, for my grandchildren and all the students who rely on public education that this fiasco ends soon.  I am not hopeful that this will be the end of the conflict but I am sure that your anger, frustration and passion are a reflection of strong, caring individuals and I know that your hearts are in the right place.  And trust me, this profession that you have dedicated yourselves to requires heart!

What I want you to know is that at the end of the day the memories you have will be filled with wonderful people, wonderful experiences and wonderful accomplishments.  Hang in there.  You really ARE amazing!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Homework - 11 Questions

I've really enjoyed reading other peoples' "homework".  These questions were sent to me by Chris Wejr.  I am now working on my 11 people to send this to.
First:  10 things you probably didn't know about me:
*I was a military brat.  I think my ability to adapt to new situations is a direct result of regular moves during my childhood years.  I also learned to be good friends with my siblings because of the many moves.  Many times (leave this one alone), they were my ONLY friends :)


*I was a tomboy.  If there was a game on, I was in it; football, hockey, baseball, red rover.  I remember so clearly how it sucked that girls growing up during my era could not dream about being a professional athlete (other than golf or tennis which required rich parents, which I didn't have )


*I married my high school sweetheart.  Our first date was on my birthday and he bought me a necklace and earrings.  What a keeper! 


*I have four adult children (now there's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one).  They are all happily married  and are responsible for our amazing grandkids; Elizabeth (9), Kai (5), Austen (16 mos.), Ava (16 mos) and Nico (6 months).


*I had no university until after our four children were born.  My husband talked me into giving university a go and I started my teaching career at 34 years old.  From my first course to the end of my Masters degree took me 21 years with only 1 summer off from coursework.  It was ALL worth it!


*I would love to have an old home with a big garden, a great tree for climbing, a large front porch and big windows (that someone else would clean) for the sun to shine through.


*My BEST holiday ever was a bike tour of Southern Ireland.  My husband and I did this to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.


*This summer I will go to Haida Gwaii and cross that off my bucket list.


*Really?  Is that only 8?   Hmmm. . . . I could read books 24/7.  In fact I do.


*We have plans to do extensive travelling but I think the holiday I look forward to the most is the one we will take (some time in the future) with all of our family.  There, that's 10, not interesting, but 10~

1. What was the biggest AHA moment that changed you as an educator?
Without doubt the biggest AHA moment I had as an educator came while participating in Diane Gossen's workshops, Restitution: Creating the Conditions for Change.  The big shift was viewing discipline as something done 'to' another person in order to control them to viewing discipline as an opportunity for empowering students/adults to fix the mistake (because we ALL make mistakes).  If the solution to the problem doesn't make the individual stronger, then it's not a solution. If it's easy to do, it's not a solution. 
2. Provide an example of an activity you do that symbolizes your family tradition or culture.
I wouldn't say that our family has any special traditions.  We spend a lot of time together out of choice. I love the time we have with our grown children, their spouses and our grandchildren.  We have four adult children and they all have family and they all have busy lives. That they choose to spend the free time they do have with us is an honor we don't take lightly.  We help each other out when we can.  We holiday together when we can.  We share our problems and our successes and I believe we all make each other stronger because we know our love is unconditional with each other.
3. Do you like the use of school-wide awards?
YIKES! Chris Wejr, did you really just ask me this question?  Now that I've over-reacted, I will say that I love to honor the gifts that all children bring into our lives, inside of school and out.  If the honouring is sincere then yes, I do like it.  I think on-going legitimate praise and recognition are more valuable than one big ceremony.  I think taking a child aside and recognizing the gifts they share with us at that moment, is more effective and meaningful than award ceremonies.  There, now I can breathe again.  That question just riles me up!!


4. Left or right handed?
When I'm adventurous or pushing my creative limits I try left-handed.  If I don't want to hurt myself I use my right hand.  I love it that my son brushes his teeth and shaves with his left hand.  Now that's living on the edge.  I love it that when my daughter was in grade 12 and got tendonitis in her shooting hand (basketball), she simply switched to her left hand.  No problem.  Me? I may as well cut off my left arm :)

5. What is your favourite line from a movie?
"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills."  This just makes me close my eyes and feel the power that people who make these choices in life must have.   Followed closely by, "There was a wandering Chinese named Chang Wan…and a girl named Shirley who spoke perfect Chinese which she learned from her missionary parents.  Chang Wan lived alone in a room on Formosa Street above the Blue Lantern, and he sat at his window and in his poor, listening heart strange echoes of his home country." Storytelling, what an art!


6. If someone has to share a concern with you, what is the best way to do it?
Straight up!  No beating around the bush!  Get right to it and let's see if/how we can solve it.


7. If you could retire tomorrow (or are already retired) how would (or do) you spend your time?Spending time with family and then travelling, reading, golfing, creating, knitting, biking, reading, creating, cooking, reading, travelling, reading, hugging my wee ones, reading and travelling.  Not necessarily in that order :)


8. In your final days/minutes, when you about to take your last breath, and you think back to all that you have done or going to do… you will be most proud of
MY FAMILY and my passion for life.  I don't tend to do things, feel things, see things, experience things in small ways.  I love this quote, "Never touch anything with half of your heart".  I'm not always easy to live with because of this but, oh well!
9. Which book is next on your “to read” list?
The one that's closest to me!  Seriously, I consume books.  I LOVE books.  Next on my list?  To Dance on Sands: The Life and Art of Death Valley's Marta Becket.  Now THIS was a passionate woman who danced to feed her own soul!  Also, maybe Dream Big Dreams, The Jack Donahue Story.


10.  Describe a moment on social media stands out to you as something that has had a significantly positive impact to you or someone else?
I LOVE Social Media.  For me, that mostly means Facebook.  The number of articles and creative ideas and powerful moments that I have witnessed because someone shared them on FB is incredible.  Now, the BEST one (aside from TED Talks) that someone shared with me was the documentary called, I Am,  by Tom Shadyac. A must-see!


11. How do you make the time to be quiet, still and alone?
I'm working on this one.  Other than when I'm reading, I don't really do "still" very well.  I like to have lots to do and I am a busy person.  The other time I'm "kind of" still is when I am creating.  I did not know I had an artist within me until I was in my middle 40's.  I have learned to honor that artist and love to journal, paint, create statues from t-shirts (yes, it's true, stinky old b-ball t-shirts into beautiful statues) and I am an on-going student of meditation.  Now that I'm retired and have a lot of free time I am able to practice 'still' but it is definitely a 'work in progress'.  These are my wee ones and a couple of my statues. ENJOY!


 








Friday, March 21, 2014

The Calm Before the Warm

 Each spring as I shake the laziness from my winterized self and get out on my bike for the first ride of the season I find my thoughts, like my muscles, get a bit of a workout.  I am always amazed and grateful when winter begins to lose its grip and spring is about to burst forth. 
As I rode along our country roads this afternoon the first thing I noticed was the mud.  In every field, on every road and in every ditch there was mud.  At first glance it all looked so dormant, so still, so anticipatory.  But my wintery eyes adjusted to the sunshine and I began to really SEE what was around me.  The blue skies were filled with marshmallow-y clouds.  Yes, the bottoms were definitely flat and more grey than white but there was a fluffiness to them that you just don't see in the winter.  And even more miraculously, in between the clouds the sky was a beautiful spring blue.  There wasn't a trace of that inky, flat grey that surrounds us from the end of October until the middle of March.  In the large barren trees you could see mama and papa eagle, sitting beside their nest which grows larger and larger each year.  The fields are filled with puddles that are in turn filled with ducks and snow geese and swans.  The odd robin flies by and I even catch a glimpse of the stellar jays that we just don't see during the winter months.  Daffodils and snowdrops push their way through the mud and the tulip trees are loaded with buds.  As I take it all in I almost miss the telltale signs that spring REALLY is here and I swerve quickly to avoid the track of slick, slimy, brown splotches left on the road by the manure spreaders.

 Spring.  Spr"ing".  I think it's more like spr"ing".  All around me "ing's" are happening.  Blooming, bike-riding, manure'ing, singing, planting, walking, enjoying, breathing deeply,  you get the picture.  All the 'ing' words I can think of are floating through my brain as I ride.  My legs are pumping, my lungs are filling, my muscles are tiring and I am thankful for all of the beauty and peace in my world.

 While that beauty and peace are always around me I am not always aware of it or appreciative of it, especially during the dreary days of winter.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Fraser Valley.  I just don't love winter in the Fraser Valley.  I know it's hard to complain, particularly in light of the winter that has gripped the rest of the country, but I am SO, SO glad that spring is making inroads. 

While March 20th/21st are considered the 'first' day of spring, in my world it isn't official until I've taken that first longer bike ride of the season.  So, now it's official.  Welcome Spring!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Idiots, Losers and Non-Achievers

The debate is on again.  A middle school in Calgary has decided to end the practice of year end awards and replace it with a broader system of recognition.  The responses to the article in the National Post  ( http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/10/29/calgary-school-axes-honour-roll-saying-it-often-hurts-self-esteem-and-pride-of-students-who-dont-make-it/) are very negative and perhaps those responses themselves point to a need for change.

The comments that support this traditional practice use statements and language such as the following to support their argument:

"Thank our "progressive" education system, we don't reward those who work hard instead help the mediocre fool themselves into believing we are all "equal" (from an achievement / skills point of view)."

"Why demote the winners, our future, to appease the losers?"

We should push the non-achievers to emulate the performance and behaviours of achievers, not the other way around"

And my favourite. . .   "The world has their share of winners and losers, and geniuses and idiots. No amount of PC bull can change the fact that some are more able than others."

Winners and losers.  Non-Achievers and achievers.  Hard workers versus the mediocre.  Geniuses and idiots.  Is this what these people have left school believing about themselves and their classmates?  Is this what they want to perpetuate?

These statements make me even more sure that it is time for a change.  Contrary to what many people believe the education of our children is not meant to be a competition full of 'winners' and 'losers'. 

I was raised to do my best, to work hard and to be a good person.  Sometimes I won awards, sometimes I didn't.  This never changed how hard I worked, how much I achieved, how I viewed myself and my classmates.  Education is not about having one winner and twenty-nine losers every time an assignment is completed.  Working hard is not about being the best.   Working hard to be your best helps you live a fulfilling life and makes you proud of yourself.  You don't work hard because you want to 'win' some award or even view yourself as the 'best', you work hard because it's the right thing to do.

"There is no success. No failure. Only a fuzzy middle." Not winning an award should not be synonymous with failure.  There are many successful people who have never won an award.  There are many successful people who are successful because of their talent, their passion and their dedication. They are not motivated by looking over their shoulder to see where they are on the 'winner' and 'loser' scale or if they are stuck 'in the fuzzy middle'.

"Psychologically, humans crave praise and feedback, which serve as motivating incentives for further, future performance."  This quote was used to support the continuance of awards programs when I believe it does exactly the opposite.  If praise and feedback (this is a whole other blog) serve to motivate, shouldn't schools be using this for all students.  Don't we want all students to be motivated?

The perception of people that the goal is to make everyone 'equal' is also ridiculous.  Do you really think that by removing awards students won't know where they stand.  The outstanding athlete, academic, musician, artist, problem solver, scientist and world citizen will still be outstanding.  Nothing will change the fact that students (and adults) are all blessed with different talents and that those talents will shine through regardless of whether or not awards ceremonies exist.  Most of us know we are not 'the best' but it doesn't stop us from striving to be 'our best'.

Nothing will change the fact that some students come to school with full bellies, freshly cleaned clothes and an army of support behind them while others come hungry and dirty with only a few supports in place.  Our job is to support all of these students, to educate all of them, to motivate all of them and to help all of them recognize their own strengths and talents.  Not just the 'winners', 'geniuses' and 'achievers', but ALL students.


I have no understanding of how recognizing more students in more meaningful ways can create such negative dialogue. I am ashamed of being part of an education system that has produced thinkers who believe that children who do not step onto that podium in June (and that's the majority) to receive their 'award'  are 'idiots', 'non-achievers' and 'losers'.  And by the way, school is the 'real' world for everyone within its walls.

It's time for a change folks.  It's time.