Some wonderfully new (to me) blogs

As always happens just after the end of the school year, I am finding I have more time (and guilt-free time, at that!) to read what others are writing. Here are some of the blogs I have found over the last few days, written by people I am looking forward to reading again.

L’espace à Zecool – Technopédagogue, par choix et par passion…
(roughly translated to ‘Zecool’s space – tech educator, by choice and by passion)

The author is Jacques Cool, an educator from New Brunswick, who works in the area of creating and delivering learning systems for students, mainly online. The blog’s attraction for me is in the area of French resources, which he finds and shares with his readers. It is written in French.

Jim Burke: The English Teacher’s Companion – thoughts about teaching teens and English in the twenty-first century

I found Jim’s blog in a roundabout way this morning. My stats page showed his feedburner link as an incoming link to my page, I clicked on it and found some wonderful writing. Anyone that uses gardening as a metaphor for self preservation and as a method for keeping sane at this insane time of year (or at least what was this insane time of year a mere few days/weeks ago) is someone I need to keep reading.

Notions and Potions – Thoughts about teaching and learning

I think I found this blog through the one above, sometimes the route to a site is quite circuitous! The author is Dea Conrad-Curry, an educational consultant who owns Partner in Education, a company that specializes in professional development opportunities for educators. Lucky for us she also blogs and this bit of writing I found today is what will bring me back to her blog tomorrow, living in farm country it resonates with me.

…I was thinking of how farmers and teachers are alike. They both are responsible to nurture valuable commodities. Their work is both science and art. They both possess intrinsic passion, returning day in and day out to work over which they have limited control, facing the vicissitudes of nature: mother nature and human nature. And they are both being moved to change by the combined forces of technology and science.

The French Corner – the blog that’s all French, all the time

Well, it is written in English but Samantha’s posts are consistently about French, whether it be learning or teaching the language. Samantha is studying to be a high school French teacher and obviously loves the language. This blog is rich in resources and ideas. It is also beautifully presented and I think she designed it herself, which is always a bonus in my books. Samantha will make a great teacher. I’m looking forward to going back.

FSL Mania!

Yes, another fsl blog :) What got me with this one is that the author is sharing books she wrote for her Kindergarten classes, along with some accompanying workbooks. Sharing is good :) The blog is written in English, the materials en français.

Autodizactic – I really like learning

Zac Chase is currently sharing his experiences in Africa with us – his trip to the grocery store reminds me of my first trip to a grocery store in Beijing. I, too, had never seen ‘long life milk’ before then. Now I buy it at home, it’s great to keep in the cupboard for those mornings when I ran out of milk the day before and forgot to replenish with a fresh carton. It saves me and my coffee. When he isn’t in Africa he shares stories about teaching high school students, in particular about the projects they create and how he sets up the space in which to create them, in Philadelphia.

Do you have any wonderful new blogs you are reading?

ps – just found a new one, a few hours after I wrote this post but I have to add it in. It’s Classroom in the Cloud, written by John, a teacher who advocates for ubuntu in education. How could I not love him?

Passion exists inside me, not inside a job

This blog post has been in the works for a couple of weeks now and was coaxed out by Dan Callahan’s post One for the Record Books over at Geek.Teacher. His post reflects on the mixed feelings he has around changing schools, changing positions.

My own recent job change has had me thinking along the same lines.

Dan writes:

I’ll admit to being very conflicted that I’m abandoning a lot of the core elements that have defined my first eight years as an educator. My new position is going to be so drastically different from what I’ve been doing on so many different levels, and it will differ in a lot of ways from what I set out to do when I got my first job.

* I’m going to be moving from a semi-urban district to a much more suburban environment.
* I’m going to be moving from middle school to elementary school.
* I’m going to be leaving special education to work with a much wider portion of the student body.

In my darker moments, I’ll admit, it feels like I’m selling out. While I know that my new position will have its own challenges, I have to admit that those areas highlighted above feel important, and it feels like I’m abandoning them.

As many of you know, I loved my last job. It was infused with ideals of teaching I believe in strongly – working with students who have been marginalized much of their lives and showing them it doesn’t have to always be that way, putting the student before curriculum, the necessity of relationship, the heightened sense of making a difference in students’ lives.

I used to teach students in grades 10 and 11 at an alternative program, kids who were at risk to not graduate high school but were identified as bright, needing a different environment. Close to half of my students were Native students (Mohawk from Kahnawake). I now teach French in an elementary school in a rural area of Eastern Ontario and at first I, like Dan, thought that I was abandoning those ideals I held close by leaving that job.

Those feelings are also entangled with the sense of real abandonment I fear I’ve left my students. You see, I took the new position with 4 days of teaching plus an exam period left in the year at the old school. The decision wasn’t easy but necessary to gain experience in the Ontario school system. I was able to take it because of the tight teaching team that exists in that program. I didn’t leave my students to flap in the wind with a random substitute teacher. I left them with some of the most caring people I know. That is another fear I have, attached to another one of my ideals, that I have left a teaching team that embodies collaboration, caring, and raising the bar for ourselves and our students.

So, while I was excited to be starting something new and to be on the track to better work/life balance by working at a school in my area of the world, I was also thinking about everything I just wrote about. Not to mention the fact that all of this was happening in June, not usually my most energetic month!

Soon into my new job, however, I began to make connections with my colleagues and with my students. The first time a student came to me on the playground, “Madame Tracy, please help,” I thought, “All is good”. I realized that I am still excited about helping kids to learn, though in different ways. And I remembered, it is not my job that defines me but me that defines my job.

I find inspiration when I need it and at the end of my 2nd week at the new school was intrigued by a tweet in my twitter feed from Elona Hartjes:

The link led to a talk on TED by Srikumar Rao called Plug into your hard-wired happiness. The line, “passion exists inside you, not inside a job,” seemed louder than the other lines that were spoken in the video. And I realize that everything is going to be ok because I love and am passionate about working with kids and teachers, about being part of a caring community dedicated to the children within it, about creating hope for the future within community. My job helps me to live out my passions but it isn’t the sum of them.

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:]
From The Pull Forward EP Vol.2 by Scholarman, available for free download here

What it takes.

To help others to make a better world is healing.” Harley Wylie (Huu-ay-aht First Nation and American in ancestry. His mother went to a residential school in Port Alberni where she was regularly beaten for speaking her Native language. from After the Settlement Comes Healing, Closure by Carlo Pablito)

Male fireflies flashing in unison, from The Millenium Bridge Simulator Project of the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering (2000)

Male fireflies flashing in unison, from The Millenium Bridge Simulator Project of the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering (2000)

I just commented on Jose’s rich post What Will It Take? and my comment or, rather, the feelings that were stirred in writing it, are rising in me.

Cynicism poisons my motivation for change. I know this about myself so I purposefully disallow it. I shake it off when I feel it coming. I have to. Some have called me a blind optimist and I’ve become comfortable in that. I refuse to allow any part of me to believe that something I see as necessary won’t happen. I think that is why I became a teacher… “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism. ” (Colleen Wilcox)

George Carlin also said “And then there are the times when the wolves are silent and the moon is howling.” The challenge is to maintain hope and positive energy until it is our time to howl again.

As I prepare myself for a new school year – one that is certain to be rife with challenge – I am paying attention to what I read, what I listen to, what I feel, what I add my voice to.

I’m filled with struggle and hope. I am deeply cut by how we can treat each other.

In June I wrote about the pride I felt for the Canadian government’s apology to residential school survivors and families of survivors. I felt it was a step toward a positive future. I still feel that way, though differently. I am confused about this apology. I hear accounts of healing, I also hear accounts that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a sham, a tool wielded by the Government and the United Church to ensure that the truth never really does come out. That the Aboriginal leaders involved in the commission and the acceptance of the apology are working in tandem with the Government and the Church for these secretive and shameful ends. That the apology comes from a misguided place. That until genocide is acknowledged it means nothing. That there are mass graves of children across Canada. That those (i.e. Kevin Annett) who try to point out these facts are lying or crazed.

When I look to the centre of my confusion around this history – and the agonizing, wretched, ripping and at the same time damming effects that continue to resonate in our rivers and hearts – and dredge out my feelings I find myself focusing on the people and the acts that represent hope. On the healing journeys. I believe that by focusing on hope for the future we have it. And we will see more of it. This is how I am preparing myself for the new year.

Recently I asked readers, ‘What are you looking for?’ and Michael Doyle (go read the post I linked to with his name. do it. he’s awesome) created a strong image in response

I am not sure I can answer this question directly, but I will tell you that I am closer to it when I am sitting at a pond’s edge at dusk watching lightning bugs attracted to their own reflected light than when I am in my cortex, trying to approach this rationally.

I am attracted to your light. That’s what it takes.

homework revolution

I just read a post by Elona Hartjes at Teachers at Risk on homework and came across this wonderful twist on homework:

I like Damion Frye’s approach to homework. He teaches grade nine, and for the last three years has been assigning homework to parents. Yes, that’s right. He’s been giving homework to parents. So how does this work? Well, students work on assignments in class, and then parents are expected to respond to their child’s work via an on-line blog or email. If parents don’t do the homework, it can affect the student’s grade. Why give homework if it isn’t going to count. He believes that involving parents in their children’s education improves the children’s educational experience. Frye says that parents complain they never see their kids’ school work. Now because of his homework policy, parents know exactly what their kids are doing , at least in his class.

When I think of it, most of the homework I have ever assigned has been for parents anyway! It makes so much sense to make this purposeful. Involving parents instead of merely appeasing them is much more relevant to student learning and success.

My students work really hard during the day in school. They take work home when, really, they’ve been goofing of during the day or if they have preparation to do in studying for an evaluation situation. I have no control over work that goes home. So in the past, when parents complained that there was no homework, I sent home ‘busy work’.

Lately, I have been doing something a bit different. The homework I give my students has to do with gaining exposure to the world around them (by watching, listening to, or reading the local news) and conversation with their families, as part of the homework is to report on a conversation they had about something that happened in the news.

I really like Damion Frye’s idea, as presented by Elona above. I have at least 2 students in my class who do not have computers at home, so I need to think about that. Though they can certainly go to the local library or even come by school to complete the assignment…(don’t mind me, thinking out loud here ;) )

Thanks for the idea Elona and Damion!

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