As my school-board colleagues were sending me "happy summer" texts this past week, I got thinking back to my first few years of teaching, and the sincere but often misguided efforts I made to promote equity in my classroom...
You might think that in a lesbian family, Mothers' Day is kind of a big deal. Two moms, right?! But having come out later in life, I never got to experience first-hand that lovely, two-mom relationship I often admire with some envy when I come across a young family lead by two women.
My co-parent didn't arrive on the scene until my kids -- who still have a regular relationship with their dad -- were 6 years old. (They're 13 now!)
And although they often joke that she is the best "Second Mother" (not "second best", they explain) around, and even tell her that she is the only step-mom they have ("no questions asked", as one kid affirmed in writing in his mothers' day card to her this morning), she is, still, after all, "just" a step-parent, with all the self-imposed guilt and other emotional drama that entails.
In terms of my relationship with my own mother, that also comprises its fair share of emotional drama: Orphaned at 21, I don't have any instagram-worthy photos to share of my beautiful adult relationship with my mother, because I don't have one.
So I'll spend today's blog post instead sharing my reflections about some observations I had the unique opportunity to make this weekend, while attending a Girls CAN Fly event at a nearby airport.
Canadian Aviation Pride, an organization I volunteer with, had been asked to set up a booth in the hangar.
We did our usual assortment of pre-made rainbow airplane necklaces to sell, and also set out other beads so that kids and their families could make their own necklaces, rainbow or otherwise, before or after their flight. This afforded me the opportunity to observe how families would "help" especially their youngest children with a self-chosen task.
With so many colourful beads on display, most children wanted to string their own necklaces, and it was remarkable how many parents simply could not let their 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds do the fine motor practice until they worked it out. Each necklace included a chain and 6 beads, and barely a child got to the third bead before a well-meaning parent took over the task and just did it for them.
The first steps to the learned helplessness I witnessed so very often in my middle school classrooms!
Watching a child struggle with a task is hard, no question, but with encouragement and time, most children can complete many "difficult" tasks on their own or with limited support, and the research shows that it is actually good for them to engage in this struggle.
The other thing that amazed me was how many of the parents basically vetoed their kids' choices of bead colour, style and placement in order to make the necklace as they (the parent) thought it ought to be, rather than how the child herself envisioned it. I kid you not, I witnessed one parent keep telling his kid to choose different beads than she was choosing, because that would "look better", and watched in amazement while another dad fully removed four of his daughter's six beads, and replace them with different ones, to make a pattern he thought looked better!
It's easy to watch and judge, of course, and so I spent the rest of the weekend pondering my own influences on my kids... of course I want to guide them and expose them to things I deem "valuable", but am I making sure to honour their individual choices as well, even if they differ from my own?
Working so much with the Kindergarten Program this year in my new job, I am well familiar with how important it is for teachers to support students' development of their own identities as learners. I wonder how well I have done with this as a parent? I am determined to renew my commitment to developing my own children's resilience, strength and confidence!
I haven't flown as much as I'd like to since earning my PPL a few years back, largely due to financial restrictions (it's not a cheap hobby, flying, especially in Toronto!), but recently an old friend was bringing his new beau into town, and wanted us to take them flying.
Someone else footing the bill is the kind of flight that works for me, so off we went for a local east and city tour.
The beau, it turned out, wanted a chance to try his hands at the controls, so he rode left seat while Tats played PIC, and I squished into the back seat of the old 172 we had rented, along with our friend.
Although I enjoy flying, it is also nice to just sit back and enjoy the flight, especially when one hasn't flown in a while. Flying hands off the controls also afforded me a rare opportunity to take some actual photos while flying, rather than having to focus on maneuvering the plane.
One of the many things I love about flying out of CYTZ is that the airport is shared with mid-size commercial operations. Seeing Porter's Dash 8s up close is always exciting, and this time I got to photograph an aircraft taxiing pretty much right in beside us as it came of Taxiway Foxtrot after landing on Runway 26, the same runway we were preparing to take off from....
As we completed our pre take-off checks and approached the hold short line for 26, another Cessna was just coming in for a landing. Again, having no flight responsibilities myself this flight allowed me to snag a rare close-up from my perch in the back seat of our own aircraft, of the company traffic on short, short final, just before that aircraft's flare!
Soon we ourselves were on the roll, and our new pilot-in-training (under the guidance and watchful eye of our PIC) did the take-off while that familiar feeling of "wow, I'm actually flying" hit me.
As we turned crosswind, I pointed out the naked beach (which -- with the sudden arrival of the crisp fall weather -- was itself now naked), and then we turned downwind to enjoy a breathtaking view of the fall foliage on the island, with the spectacular Toronto skyline as its backdrop.
As the boys wanted to fly out to the east end of the city a little and enjoy the areal view of the Bluffs and Frenchmens' Bay, we did that, and then returned for a touristy but-it-never-gets-tired city tour, circling the tower while the passengers snapped photo after photo from our vantage point in the sky.
An interesting thing that happened was when we opened the window so our friends' beau -- who had with him a very professional looking camera -- could take some photos without the glare... I stuck my iPhone out the window, too (holding on tight!!) and snapped a few shots. The wind, however, distorted things a little, and all my "outside shots" ended up with the wonky-looking sort of effect below, on the right!
It had been several months since I had seen the city from on high, and I really enjoyed our flight, even from (or perhaps especially from) the back seat.
Despite a slightly heavy load (with the exception of Tats, we were all pretty "bulky" people, and Tats had insisted on a 1/2 tank fuel restriction!), we made it back onto the runway in one piece. Back on the apron, we took the obligatory "we did it" group snapshot in front of our plane, then headed out to Queen West for dinner at the Beaver.
P.S. About the election, I will say that I played Clinton's concession speech for my kids, because I want them to see what taking the high road looks like, even in the face of such a devastating loss. We had an excellent, mostly child-driven conversation about inclusion vs. exclusion, misogyny, fear, love, Trudeau and the importance of being an ally, especially during challenging times like these, and I highly recommend facilitating a conversation like this -- if you haven't already -- with the children in your life!
If you are a pilot and southern Ontario, it is customary, when flying to the Lindsay airport, to eat some of their famous butter tarts, and to pick up a few for the folks back home.
Having never flown to Lindsay myself, I decided to finally make the pilgrimage this past weekend, with my partner and kids.
In order to give one of the boys a chance to set up front in the Captain seat, I elected to sit in the back of the Cessna172 we'd rented for a few hours, with the other boy. It was an interesting vantage point; typically when I am flying or co-piloting, time for photos and reflection is understandably limited. Sitting in the backseat, with no navigational or pilot obligations allowed me to contemplate the southern Ontario landscape as we exited the CYT Z control zone, and flew east along the shoreline and then north over Lake Scugog to Lindsay.
Once on the ground and Lindsey, we hurried to the restaurant to get our take-out butter tarts, so that we could hop back in the plane and get back to Toronto on time. We needn't have rushed; our flight plan was shot to hell by the fact that another pilot, one who had landed just after us, had a flat tire, and needed to be towed off the runway!
While waiting, we devoured a few of the butter tarts not ear-marked for others, and the boys took a washroom break and worked their sillies out before making the trek back to the city.
Alex also got into the spirit of things, and helped Tats check the fuel before take off…
And then it was time to head back to CYTZ.
It was a beautiful day for flying, and we encountered a number of other small aircraft on the radio. Happily, everyone made good position reports, and we avoided any collisions!
Before too long, the familiar Toronto skyline came into view...
we woke up the children, who had fallen asleep, and Tatsy made a smooth landing (as always!) on runway 26.
The butter tarts were great, and so was the flight!
Decided to kick off pride month by celebrating last weekend with Canadian Aviation Pride's "Northern Escape" in Toronto.
Friday's festivities included an aviation themed art show featuring the work of photographer Laird Kay, at Akasha Art Projects on Church St.
This was followed on Saturday with an aviation job fair and a cocktail reception at the 519. While Tats chatted up the HR folks at various airlines, I loaded up on swag for my students!
We opted to skip the late night at Woody's, and made it home to bed before midnight.
This meant we were awake and alert enough to enjoy the next morning's brunch at the Hothouse Grille, along with a little Sunday jazz.
Then it was off to the airport to admire the two planes that had arrived on the island, flown in by members in the US for the "Queen of the Fleet" Competition. (Actually, the were three entries, but the third was a Falcon jet, and since jets are not permitted to land at CYTZ, they had to park their plane at Pearson instead!)
Both planes on the apron were very nice, and one even had a custom made banner swinging from its propeller! In the end, it was decided that everyone was a winner.
While the first group of boys went up for a tower tour, Tats and I said or goodbyes to some new friends, promising to investigate the possibility of flying to their Province town event in Sept.
Then we forewent our own tower tour and the aviation themed drag show that was to follow, and headed to the city's northern region, to attend another performance instead; one of our sons was participating in a dance recital!
After grabbing a quick bite with a friend on Albert's Real Jamaican on St Clair after the show, it was time to head home, walk the dog and face the fact that this thrilling weekend was finally drawing to a close.
Happy Pride Month, Everyone!
"I came from Montreal in '88", said my cab driver on the way from Thunder Bay Airport to the hotel, "and I never left". I could see why.
I knew that in theory getting kids interested in something results in higher achievement. I may have even glimpsed it in practice a few times, for example when I "Tony Stead-i-fied" my classroom library a few years ago, and sat back in amazement as hitherto reluctant readers began to engage in reading eagerly and often... but it's been a while where the link between student buy-in and the work they produce has hit me so squarely in the face as it did yesterday...
In lieu of the horrible holiday movie and festive party that invariably results in mayhem and leaves a classroom strewn with wrappers, empty drink bottles and general mess in its wake on the last day of school before winter holidays, I opted instead to take my students from Mississauga to Toronto by public transit.
Prepared as I was for their pre-trip excitement and a fun day on the road in small groups (we had subdivided into 4 groups of 5-7 students plus one adult), I was not prepared for the content the students would spontaneously produce while engaged in the field trip.
It was true that I'd had them plan the trip themselves, everything from finding the most efficient route, to calculating mileage and average speed per km while in transit, to finding fun and free activities to do while in Toronto. So to say they were invested would be an understatement (one student had even researched helmet laws in Toronto and rental fees at Nathan Phillips Square, so that a few of them could go skating -- it's $5 per helmet, and $5 per 2-hour skate rental, btw).
What amazed me, though, was the amount of self-directed effort students were putting into completing both their pre-trip assignments, as well as their "on the go" work.
While some took endless selfies, others pointed out street musicians and urban art as I had requested, and still others noticed and commented on a variety of observations (why the other subway cars on the Yonge line look like they're turning when you're going around a curve in the tracks, while the one you're sitting in always seems to be straight, for example!)
One student -- a child who barely writes two sentences in class without constant redirection -- self-selected to blog as she went along. Screens and screens of text she wrote: Everything from impressions of the bus and subway, to sights, smells and sounds on the streets of Toronto. She wrote and wrote and wrote, until her device ran out of battery.
Another student gave some coins from his pocket to two of the many homeless people we observed while in the city, explaining to me that he was fulfilling his duty under the Muslim pillar of Zakah. (He ran out of money before Toronto's streets ran out of a supply of homeless for him.) A lively conversation ensued, about the religious and secular responsibilities to look after one another as members of society, who was responsible (government vs. people), and what that might entail in different contexts.
When the class dispersed to check out Chinatown or visit another activity they had pre-selected after visting the Christmas windows, my small group hopped back onto the subway and headed down to Union station to catch the shuttle to the Island Airport.
Students were extremely engaged, as we had recently read a debate about this very airport in our literacy textbook at school, and had looked at photos of some of the homes on the island in class. They also had a million questions about the underground tunnel (oh how I wished I'd had this infographic at the time!!), and more generally, about the concept of an island so close to the city.
We'd also just finished our study of flight in Science, so when we arrived at the small flight school next to the Porter terminal and were offered a tour of the hangar by Ms. Kachira, who happened to be working that day, the students were quite excited to participate, marveling at being able to name some of the airplane parts they had memorized from a diagram in real life now. As one student remarked, as he looked at an actual airfoil (wing) up close, "Oh, now I get it!"
Each student also had a chance to sit and be photographed in the cockpit, which they enjoyed a great deal, and which I immediately posted to parent accounts on Edmodo.
Almost before I could post the suggested "After" assignments for the field trip when I got home, the student-initiated content started appearing on Edmodo: "Best trip ever!" noted one student, who accompanied his post with several selfies and group photos from the trip.
"We saw...." followed by a long, descriptive string of paragraphs from a student in a different group.
Questions and responses amongst the groups ensued, focused in ways I have rarely experienced in class!! They were genuinely interested in hearing about one another's adventures, and learning from their divergent experiences of the city.
The blossoming self-confidence I had observed earlier in the day, as this group of loosely-monitored 11-year-olds navigated public transit (many of them riding subways and public buses for the first time in their lives!), was evident in their writing, and I am looking forward to using their self-initiated work when we return to school in January, and building on it to develop and refine their writing and media skills.
The world is a big, exciting place. Bigger and more exciting by far than worksheets and textbooks. Following students' leads, and building on to their existing strengths and interests, can help educators foster a growing understanding of the world for their students and encourage them to demonstrate their understanding of said world in a more inspired, pain-free manner!
Inspired by the greens, reds and blues from above, we decided to head to the beach in the afternoon, snapping a few photos from the ground along the way...
Gosh, PEI must be the prettiest place on the planet!
Lucky me, I got to go flying this afternoon, and the weather was perfect for practising climbs, descents and turns (including steep turns, which we did out over Frenchman's Bay)!
On take-off, we noticed a purple tent out on the island... what was going on?!
We decided to do a few circuits when we came back from our local east, and I managed to snag some photos of the commotion from the air. It seems there is some sort of runway run tomorrow they are setting up for, and a music festival or some such today.
Another thing we worked on today was slips and slipping turns. It's amazing how much one forgets when one doesn't do it regularly!!! (Makes me think of the importance of purposeful practice for our students at school -- once or twice is not enough... and it has to be context-embedded.)
I will do my best to review visually in my mind over the next 24 hours: Pull out ALL power before initiating the slip, make sure airspeed is in the white arc (don't overspeed the flaps), and developing automaticity with my overshoot procedures, especially remembering to put the nose in the climb attitude!!!
Oh, if only I had more time and money to practise regularly!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.