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...
"What colour?" asked the lady at the chocolate shop (I was buying some treats to go along with the gift cards I had gotten the kids' teachers, and she wanted to know what colour ribbon she should tie the little boxes with).
When I hesitated, she helpfully offered, "male, or female?" as though a particular gender "owns" any particular colour scheme.
The best part was when I challenged her by asking nonchalantly whether we were really still asking those sorts of questions in 2017, she responded completely unfazed with, "well, I just wouldn't want to put like a pink ribbon if it were for a boy, you know?"
I didn't bother to tell her that one of my boys regularly wears pink yoga pants.
Someone I work with was telling me last fall about their experiences in the middle east, and about how "deviant behaviour" (they were referring to anyone who loves someone of the same sex as themselves) was looked down on.
Although my colleague is not violently homophobic, and tries hard to say the "right" things, they are blissfully ignorant of their heteronormativity, and of the general annoyance (at best) and internal pain (at worst) caused by some of their comments.
Recently, another colleague -- who also identifies as LGBTQ+ -- and I were debating the merits of "tolerance". I don't want to be tolerated, I explained, because someone thinks they're "supposed" to be "okay" with who I am because some law says so, but really they think there is a problem with the fact that I am gay. Rather, I want to be accepted as I accept others, the same as any straight person is accepted, because I'm a human being same as they are, with human rights same as they have.
To be "tolerated" stinks of "deviant behaviour". And while my thoughts and actions as Vera may be deviant, who I love is not!
Aren't We There Yet?
A colleague of my partner's scoffed at me last December when -- tired of the small talk in the kitchen at the holiday party, and eager to forge richer conversational fodder -- I raised the issue of oppression in Canada.
We were discussing pay equity (men and women getting paid the same -- or not, as the case still often is, shockingly -- for similar jobs), and he was surprised that I would suggest such a thing is still an issue in Canada in 2017.
This white, male, straight, able-bodied colleague went on to suggest the usual "gender/racial/LGBTQ, etc. bias isn't really a thing anymore" line, that allegedly we'd solved all these problems, at least in Canada.
My partner tried to engage him in data-based conversation at work later in the week. She soon gave up. Like white people of privilege in response to last year's Black Lives Matter protest at Pride, he could not be convinced with facts and logic.
We're into July now, and I've been meaning to write a post about Pride Month all through June. But every time I sat down to write, I just get so darned tired of how far we still have to go... despite how far we've come.
OK, so perhaps not my most rational use of time ever the night before the last day of school, but…
Sweating my way through what was possibly my final set of report cards ever (!!!), I suddenly remembered the "teacher" report card I often give students to complete on me at the end of the school year; I managed to dig it up from the depths of the digital abyss that comprises the files on my computer, and made a copy for my students to fill out last week.
Reading student feedback is always an interesting learning experience; while most of it tends to be predictable, and -- if you're a purposeful and passionate educator -- much of it provides a healthy ego stroke, sometimes things can be a little surprising and/or strike a raw chord!
A few of my favourites are pictured below (click to enlarge)... Not many surprises this year, but a few funny bits, funnier, perhaps, when one has come to know the students and their individual quirks intimately over the course of a year!
I especially like the third one… You can probably guess what kind of kid wants me to stay "a little less in contact with parents", hehe!
Another good one is the one below… I'm pretty stellar at everything, according to this respondent, but somehow despite all that, my expectations are not clear, and I don't help kids learn, really. No specific feedback though, as you can see from the comments, I just need to generically "improve a little".
There's something to be said for specificity.
Perhaps my most fulfilling comment this year is the one below, from the first student I (knowingly) had that came from an LGBTQ family.
Frequent and brutal previous bullying, along with a few other personal issues, had caused this dear child to shrivel up somewhat, academically, and produce very little written product this year. But for this particular assignment, the student wrote even more than the minimum I begged for, continuing well beyond the five lines suggested, and giving voice to the internal hurdles faced by children growing up in a still somewhat unconventional (at least, in the suburbs where I teach) family.
I really felt quite vindicated reading this student's comment; I know that sometimes I feel as though I struggle to find the balance between the overt and covert curricula in my teaching practice, but it's students like this one, who can't get to the overt curriculum until they become comfortable with their own underlying learning roadblocks, that remind me of why it is so important to do what we do the way we do it.
If you've never asked students for end-of-year feedback, I encourage you to give it a try this week... you'd be amazed at what you can learn about yourself as a teacher!
How do you talk to students about a homophobic Muslim walking into a gay nightclub during the month of Ramadan, and killing 50 people and wounding dozens more before being shot by police? This question holds particular significance if you yourself happen to identify as queer, and if you happen to be teaching in a class where a good chunk of your students are Muslim!
Today's average middle school is rife with both homophobia and islamophobia... and not just amongst the student body!! I have spent a great deal of time this year working with my students to develop a growth mindset that I hope will serve them well both as academic learners and as citizens of the multi-cultural, pluralist society we call Canada. An event like the one that happened this weekend in Orlando, FLA, will for sure test their mettle, so to speak.
Regardless of your teaching or parenting context, I think it's an important news story to unpack with students, and thanks to several colleagues who shared some timely resources with me, I would like to offer some ideas for how you might do this with your own students, Grade 4 and up...
Begin with a "Third Point"
After a brief introduction summarizing/acknowledging the events of the weekend, you might share a news article and brief video like this one, from CP 24. While students are watching, I would have them consider certain questions or ideas. Below are some examples I'll be sharing with my class:
Letting them watch the clip twice may be helpful in allowing students to dig a little deeper.
Provide Open Space for Dialogue
Classrooms come with a diversity of opinions and personal biases. Encourage students to consider their own biases as they explore their reactions to what happened. Building in structures like "think-pair-share" may allow students more opportunity to talk with others about their feelings.
While you want students to share authentically, it's also important to reinforce the respectful "talk moves" you've hopefully been teaching students all year. It's okay to disagree, but it must be done respectfully. Questions, rather than openly stated disagreements, can be powerful ways to find out more.
Inviting parents and families into the conversation helps to extend the dialogue at home.
Unpacking isn't enough... students need to feel empowered to do something. Taking the conversation further is one idea, especially for older students. Here is a newscast by Desmond Cole. In it, he addresses the massacre, and talks with various guests about the multiple facets of one's identity, and intersectionality. This might be assigned for students to share at home with family, thereby extending the conversation beyond the classroom walls.
Students might also be encouraged to write a letter to the survivors, encouraging them, or to the family members of some of the victims. Other ideas include researching homophobic laws in the US and Canada, finding out more about Islam to combat the stereotypes out there and reading up on prominent allies in the LGBTQ and/or Muslim communities.
Finding ways to celebrate diversity and challenge homophobia and islamophobia at school are additional important extensions to the conversation.
How will YOU be unpacking this with the young people in your life? I look forward to your responses -- feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly.
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!
After more than 20 years, I finally succumbed (succame?) to one of the many Alumni invitation emails my Alma Mater sends, and registered to attend a few events for this year's Spring Reunion at U of T.
The first, a "Soiree" for LGBTQ alumni, was held at the 180, near Bay and Bloor.
The 180, a resto-bar-lounge atop one of Toronto's tall buildings, offered a lovely view of the city, and since the weather was so fine, we soon installed ourselves at a table out on one of the venue's two decks.
Sadly, this first reunion event was a bit of a bust socially, as I had to run off within an hour of arriving, to attend the keynote of a conference I was signed up for with ETFO. While that conference itself was amazing (and the guest speaker in some sense ironically suitable for the evening), I was sad to have missed the opportunity to get to know some fellow graduates from my "tribe" in a focused social context.
After registering at King's College Circle (and picking up some U of T swag for my students at school), Tats, the boys and I headed over to the archaeology department, where we were invited to explore some skull replicas, and identify which skull did not belong (one was a chimp skull, it turns out). Then we had to order the remaining skulls from oldest to most recent.
Next it was off the astronomy lab, where we were treated to an amazing, 1/2-hour presentation by a grad student whose specialty was exo-planets, and who led us to awe and wonder with his digital show displayed on the dome of a mini-planetarium in the form of what looked from the outside like a large, black bouncy castle (sorry, didn't think to snap a photo of that one!)
After the planetarium, we got to check out the old telescope and take in the view atop another of Toronto's tall towers...
As we exited the telescope show, we found ourselves outside the next "family" event, an array of physics experiments and hands-on activities in the lab next door. The boys really enjoyed exploring and learning about fiber optics, superconductors and more. There was even an invisible light bulb!
Following our brush with science, we stumbled upon the BBQ tent, where a wide array of free lunch (yes, even for vegetarians) awaited us. Tired, hot and hungry, we gratefully sat at a flower-adorned table under a large, airy tent, and ate lunch together.
After a quick stop at the photo booth, we left Spring Reunion, and headed up to Spadina and Bloor, to grab an ice cream at Greg's (which I had first discovered when I was doing my undergrad at U of T!)
We didn't have a chance to talk with many other alumni, but I felt really good about the students we spoke with. They were bright, engaged in their topic, and seemed like interesting, kind people. I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of at least few students' understanding of equity and social justice -- while I myself loved the university experience at U of T, I also know that University in general is a class divider, and I was pleased to see that at least some of my alma mater's current science students were aware of and could speak articulately about the impact of social structures on such things as gender, for example.
Tats laughed at me when I got a little teary-eyed while eating a burger during lunch... "They just want you to make a donation, you know!" she reminded me.
Maybe so, but given the manner in which we were well and authentically dined and treated as a family on Saturday and as a lesbian couple at the event the week before, then isn't this the kind of university I would want to make a donation to?
A colleague and I got our classes together today to watch and respond to a variety of media texts today in preparation for Day of Pink. First, we asked students to share what they already knew about this particular day, and then we watched a video summarizing the Canadian story:
I was first introduced to the "single story" concept when I was shown Ngozi Adichie's Ted Talk at a diversity course I was taking a few years ago. What affected me most poignantly was how this articulate, well-educated black woman who had grown up on the continent of Africa had -- as a child -- developed a schema of fairy tales being about white girls who ate apples, a fruit she had never seen in her native Nigeria.
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera now focuses most of her written attention to prolific blogging, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and, more recently, SMARTbansho and Homeschooling 4. 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.