I can not change what I tolerate

This morning I yelled. But big. At my dogs, at my cat, at my house, at my students.


I adopted a cat (Betty) a few weeks ago because of the mice. Not into mice. But my big dog (Toby) stalks her and my little dog (Jacob) alternates between ignoring her, stealing her toys, and barking his head off at her. Things have broken (teapots, my pepper plant, wine glasses…) as Toby chases her into the kitchen. This morning I set myself up in a spot in the sunshine to do some coursework and, after a few forgot my coffee, pen, post-its, battery is dead need the charger, trips back into the house I finally settled in to do my readings for this week’s class discussion. Then Toby darts into the house and I hear a crash. I’m guessing that Betty, thinking it was safe (dog-free) ventured out of her hiding spot on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets and into the house. Toby must have heard this, at which point he chased her back up on top of the fridge, where her food bowl was, which she hit and it crashed onto my ceramic countertop, hitting the coffeemaker, and so I was left with coffee soaked cat food all over the place. Then of course Jacob came in to eat it so I yelled at him, Don’t even think it, but he did, and I threw a towel at him, so he jumped away right into the dog bowl full of water, spilling it everywhere, including on a vacuum cleaner which is impossible to dry with all of its parts and wires.

So that is when I yelled at the dogs, cat, house, my life. One of the things I yelled was, All I do is clean up what is left after you creeps (ok, the actual word was different but I prefer not to repeat it here) destroy my house and I do the same thing at work. Everything’s a mess! Everywhere!

The other day Jacob tore apart a down comforter in my bedroom. Take a moment. Imagine the scene.

Yesterday I only taught 2 periods and managed to get myself all worked up over the blatant disrespect I witnessed in some of my students. Students feeling they could just sit themselves down at any computer and use it – including teacher computers – without permission. Students taking things from my desk or from the top of a pile of my books on a table in the hallway. Not even just to look at or to borrow. Taking. Students leaving newspapers, plastic wrappers, napkins, broken pens, wherever they last were. Students having their own conversations while other students/teachers are addressing the group. Then continuing even after the class is stopped to get silence for the speakers. I have other students also complaining about this, that they can’t focus in class because of a chatty climate of disrespect. I walked into my classroom after lunch and just about lost it when a student was sitting at my desk, checking her email on my computer while behind her I saw written on my white board a student’s name with a few different phone numbers and the caption – Man whore, call after 12.

I am exhausted. I was supposed to go to a New Year’s dinner with my family last night but instead I stayed home. I went to bed at 7:30. I was so tired I could not imagine driving. I didn’t think it was safe.

What is tiring me out is that I am acting reactively. Responding reactively to these annoying day-to-day activities requires way more brain power, brain power that should be conserved for more important activities, than if I approach my life proactively. Instead of yelling at my students, my dogs, my house when something goes wrong, I need to prepare for things to go right. If I tolerate the disrespect, if I tolerate the canine craziness in my house then I certainly can’t change it.

So what can this look like?

At school. I’m starting over on Monday. As if it were day one. Since a third of our students are returning students I assumed that the climate of respect that we worked towards last year would continue. It is mainly those students however that are acting as if my classroom was their private gaming hall. I love that my students are comfortable with me but they are too comfortable. They need reminding and the new students need more structure than I provided them based on my initial assumptions. I need to set them up to succeed, not to get into trouble. At the same time it saves me from turning into a crazy teacher. By exploding once in a while and not changing systems, it shows that I tolerate the behaviour for a while, until I get angry, and then I tolerate it again until the next time. I can’t change my environment if I tolerate what is going on in it.

At home. I need to keep my house tidy. Some things broke because they were on the counter instead of away in a cupboard. But mainly I need to crate Jacob when I am not at home. I don’t like crating dogs, I prefer to teach them where to be and how to be. But that’s not working so much with Jacob. By allowing him to roam the house even after he eats the comforter, poops in the living room, destroys a kleenex box I am tolerating the destruction. And when I don’t want to be interupted I need to tie the dogs up so they can’t dash into the house all goofy-like to chase poor Betty.

In myself. I get frustrated at myself for being so tired and not having the time to do what I want, for having a messy house, for not being able to find that brown blazer I want to wear 5 minutes after I was supposed to leave the house in the morning… I’m hoping that some of the changes I make at home and school will help in this area as well. At least, I’ll start on those two areas and see.

You’re in control you know. It’s your life and it’s up to you to make it what you want it to be. Tolerate nothing. You are in control. This is your life, not a dress rehearsal. – Jim Donovan

Phew. Needed to get that out there.
Enjoy your day. And now that I have cleaned up the coffee flavoured Chicken Soup for the Kitten Lovers Soul and broken glass from my kitchen floor, wiped up the water from all over the dining room, and tied the dogs to trees in the yard, I am ready to get my reading done. Just in case you are interested, it’s on the reliability of oral histories for my course called first nations peoples.

****note added just after posting….****
As I returned to my spot in the sun outside I noticed that, though I could hear Jacob yip, I couldn’t see him. He is now stuck under my deck. He managed to get under it and get his leash wound around something under there. I need to take apart part of the deck to rescue him. Looks like I won’t be getting to my reading this morning.

Cherishing the quiet moments

A day with similar temperatures, about 2 years ago. It was frigid, as it is today. So cold smoke froze in the air. Click image for source.

A day with similar temperatures, about 2 years ago. It was frigid, as it is today. So cold smoke froze in the air. Click image for source.

When I went to bed last night it was -1 degree Celsius outside. This morning Montreal woke to a temperature of -23 with a wind chill factor of -36 and the news that it will stay that way, maybe even getting colder, until Monday. Cold as all get out.

It wasn’t easy getting started this morning, but now I’m in my classroom alone at my desk with a warm cup of green tea steaming in front of me. My students are about to start a Science exam in another room – it’s needed to graduate and all of the kids have failed it at least once already, some up to 4 times. But I didn’t teach them Science this year, so their Science teacher is with them while I have a few precious hours to myself in my classroom. Wow. That hasn’t happened since … hmmm … last term maybe?

So I am cherishing this time I have to clean my desk, organize my papers, and even update this blog during the day. Wow!

I teach Grade 10 English and Grade 11 English, so I have two sets of different written productions to go through and assess. I also teach Grade 11 Student in Society and I have their end of term written reflections to read and assess.

And of course, I need to prepare for the final History tutorial that will take place at 2:30 today because tomorrow morning Collin will have his precious classroom time while I invigilate a History exam that the students are all writing for at least the 2nd time, some for the 3rd, 4th, or more time. Not to mention begin preparing the Economics course that replaces the History course once the exam is written.

Is it end of term for you as well? How is it going for you?

students students students: the moon is howling

Moon howling tired.

There are nights when only the moon is howling and the wolves are silent. ~ George Carlin (image by oceandesetoiles on flickr, click to view source)

There are night when only the moon is howling and the wolves are silent. ~ George Carlin (image by oceandesetoiles on flickr, click to view source)

At school last night until 5:30, working with students, correcting, planning. Woke at 4:30 to finish correcting history review assignments before class today. Will probably be at work until 5:30 or later again today.

I crave my weekends so I can sleep in and not feel like I need to pack every single second of my spare time with planning and correcting. The time usually allocated to that during the day is spent with students. Yesterday I had 45 minutes in which to do some planning during the day. I spent 35 of it talking with a student, sorting out an issue, during which time I was called the rudest, most disrespectful teacher ever. And was told that she wants to quit school because of me. Nice.

At the end of the day I read a piece of poetry by another student that brought tears to my eyes. Her younger brother is dying. It was a love poem for him.

For the first time ever my weakest student stayed after school and admitted she needs help with her work.

A new student started this week, she confided something personal and scary to me.

It’s so easy to feel tired when holding all of these stories.

Learning from my students as I rise

Listen to a podcast about this post here [audio: learningfrommystudents.mp3]


image from maniobras de escapismo by Ma Vera on Flickr

image from maniobras de escapismo by Ma Vera on Flickr


My students inspire me

“I have learned more math this week than I have so far in all my years of high school.”

“Today I don’t feel complete. I did not get to the gym yesterday because I was working on homework and I didn’t finish the homework because I didn’t get some of it. So I’m not feeling complete.”

“I’m weird. I get the math when it is in a word problem, but not when it is written as straight math.”

“Today I am tired. I had another fight with my mother last night and didn’t get to bed until late. Tonight I am going to party.”


Because I learned that even though the math scares me a bit, I can teach it. And I think that is because I teach my children first and then the math. I also learned that we do such a disservice to students when we stay focused on basic skills rather than going on to learning that requires higher-order thinking skills. If she had not told me that she was ‘weird’ I may have made her do more of that ‘straight math’ instead of letting her think. I wonder how many other ‘weird’ students are out there. I learned where my students are coming from when they put their heads down during study hall, the last 45 minutes of the day, instead of reading a short story or trying to figure out the equivalent resistance of whatever.

and I learned this:

To you, 17-year old Cody

Each morning we check in
in a circle we sit
we shoot the shit
we state where we are at
so we can clear the path to where we are going
so we can clear the path to the part of our journey that will take place today.

“I feel tired”
“I feel happy”
“I did not finish my homework”

On Thursday morning you, 17-year old Cody, said
Today I do not feel complete.

and you went on to say why.

all eloquent and concise.

And I learn that it is not my job to make
you feel complete.

I think to myself of what stops me from feeling complete – of my boundaries, my hard lines, my fears.

No, it is not my job to make you feel complete. It is my job to learn from you how to rearrange my own boundaries, reorganize my own hard lines into rungs as I rise to my own completeness.

And that is why I say to you, 17-year old Cody, thank you.
Tracy, Sept. 13/08


Everyday Real (moment of truth 2008) [audio: http://www.tracyrosen.com/leadingfromtheheart.org/wp-content/uploads/podcasts/everydayrealmomentoftruth2008.mp3]
From The Pull Forward EP Vol.2 by Scholarman, available for free download here

First 2 days: the forensic report

Student teams building bird houses on the first day of school

Student teams building bird houses on the first day of school

Hugh asked yesterday, “So, how’d it go? :)

It rocked. For real.

So here’s the skinny – > I have found the pot of gold.

Directions Teaching Team

I work with an amazingly committed, dedicated, and caring group of teachers. Add that to the fact that they have a talent for teaching that includes an understanding of curriculum that is rock solid and flexible at the same time.

Walter – Grade 10 core teacher (brand new curriculum this year!) and Grade 11 remedial math teacher. His second year in the program. One of my students wrote that she never in her life thought she would meet someone who would support her the way he did last year. He teaches a straightforward curriculum with humour and caring. Every time I run into him in the hallway he says, “I love my class.”

Collin – Grade 11 core teacher, Grade 10 remedial Science teacher, and head teacher. He’s been with Directions for 7 years (I think). Always full of energy, no matter how tired. He’s been at the school until 9 or so each night, planning and meeting with kids and parents who may still want to join the program. I can tell he’s got a spark burning on the inside at all times for what he does. He’s a strong believer in tough love and performs it well. Every day so far this week at least one graduate of the program has wandered in asking, “Is Collin around?” and he gives each of them a big hug no matter how busy he is.

Marie – Our special ed technician and CEO :) She’s been working with Directions for 12 years (I think). Throughout the day you hear the phrase, “Where’s Marie?” asked constantly because she holds the key to everyone’s answers. She will be working with our students who need extra assistance. More importantly she’ll be working with us in our classrooms. How freaking lucky are we?!

Tracy – That’s me! Grade 11 core teacher, Grade 10 math teacher, and Grade 10 Remedial history teacher. 1st year at Directions. Exhausted after this first whirlwind week of meeting new students, working with a new team, and starting my own new semester at Concordia University (Here’s the course website for one of the courses – it is going to be a hot year of work and learning). I teach with a smile, yet I hold firm to my expectations. Trying to teach outside of the box for these kids who need it – though sometimes unsure as to what exactly the box is to begin with (in particular for math)!

Genevieve – Grade 10 and 11 French teacher. She is a godsend because apparently last year the Directions teachers had to teach French as well as everything else (read – had no breaks during the day). She seems to be already making even the students who can not (and don’t want to) speak French comfortable. She is also very open to the flexible scheduling we need in the program, agreeing to meet with us each Friday after school to set the French schedule for the following week. She admitted that she was wary of the Directions groups at first (other teachers told her they were the ‘bad’ kids) but she is bubbling over with enthusiasm after having met each of the groups once so far. (Especially compared to her 38 student regular Grade 11 class! THIRTY EIGHT students who need to pass a Provincial French exam at the end of the year IN ORDER TO GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL! That’s a whole other post…)

Kara and Max – the Physical Education teachers. 2 more godsends as Phys Ed was also part of the course load for Directions teachers last year! The kids haven’t yet had a Phys Ed class, but so far they both seem eager to work with us as part of the Directions team and we’re working together on ways to provide appropriate learning situations and consequences for the students when they are at gym. (We don’t use the principal’s office as a consequence in Directions.)

Directions Learning Team

55 students – 19 in Grade 10, 16 each in the two Grade 11 classes. My Grade 11 group is the best :) hmmm…but my Grade 10 math group is also the best…and I’ll be meeting my remedial History group on Monday and they’ll be the best too I’m sure ;)

Seriously, these are kids who have not been successful in the regular public school programs for one reason or another. Mainly they are kids who need more support and care on a daily basis than a teacher with a class size of 30+ can generally give them. One of my girls was asked to leave her classes 4 out of 4 periods a day last year. Other students left theirs on their own accord (skipped), others were quietly failing, though standardized test scores showed they had the ability to perform at or above grade level. Many of them have already learned how to self-medicate in order to survive.

I have one student who just may be the most hyperactive student with ADD I have ever met – and I’ve worked with special needs kids in alternative settings for most of my 12 year teaching career. Yesterday as he came bouncing back into class after the millionth Friday afternoon errand I could think of to send him on I announced that we were so lucky to have his energy in our classroom. As the other students looked at me in disbelief (some were already frustrated by his constant movement after 1 day) I added, and we need to work together to find a way to channel it!

I have another student who immediately warned me that he couldn’t do math, and then proceeded to demonstrate (unbeknownst to him) his logical-mathematical mind when we did this activity (scroll down for the cup stacking activity) as our first math class. In fact, I quoted him on the follow-up handout I gave out the next morning. Following that success he actually worked on the algebra review with another student who understands it a bit more than he. And he asked me to teach him how to ‘get’ algebra. Good thing because we are meant to be starting linear equations next week…

One of my girls’ best friends called the school on Friday morning to let us know that my student had had a rough night, including a fight with her mother in which she was afraid of getting physically hurt. My student looked tired, but showed up on time, kept her head down, and did her work. This is the same girl who last year was asked to leave just about every class each day of the school year. I can tell already she is committed to changing her patterns and I love her for that.

I can go on to tell you about my quiet math student who came up at the end of the 2nd class to make an apointment to meet with me after school on Monday to do extra math, and how my big tough loud almost 18 year old, who failed just about everything last year but is committed to graduating this year, instinctively knows to include the shy quiet boy in our class when we break down into smaller learning or work groups. I can also tell you about my student who told me that an activity I asked them to do was retarded…and you know what? it ended up being a pretty ineffective lesson. He gave me some good feedback and I let him know it. (I also let him know that we are going to be working on more tactful ways of providing feedback).

I can tell you about all of them, but I think you are starting to realize by now why my classes are the best :)