A Teacher’s Plea: I Don’t Care If You Listen To It, Though.

For the first time in my teaching career, I will be leaving students I’ve taught for a few years. This has hit me really hard in a lot of ways because, for the first time, I’m not going to see the amazing students I see every day. I know there will be new students, but there is an overwhelming grief that comes when you are leaving students who you’ve made a connection with. I’m grateful for this grief mindset because, honestly, I don’t know if I would have had this moment of clarity if I was returning next year. At the time of writing this, my students did not know I was leaving.


I had a very vulnerable moment with my  students today. Over the course of my four years of teaching, I’ve seen an increase of students coming into the classroom saying, “I can’t do it.”

This comes in a variety of forms. “I don’t know what to write. I’m bad at this.”

“I just don’t understand math.”

“Man, I’m not an artist. How can you expect me to do this?”

So, when the phrase, “I just can’t write essays,” came up today. I saw what I have seen time and time again. The student did something that drives teachers absolutely insane: behaved with complete disrespect. There seems to be a variety of things students do because kids are just “plain ol’ disrespectful these days”: going on their phones, talking loudly to distract others, not starting their assignment, putting their head on your desk and leaving a strange greasy sweat mark (who knew their heads would be so greasy?!) coming in late, or worse not coming in at all.

I get it. This is super frustrating as an educator. And I’ve reacted the way I’m guessing many of you have: trying to help, offering extra time at lunch, getting frustrated, stress eating the snacks in your class so that you can’t tell them the internal monologue in your head, telling them to be responsible and do their job as a student, repeating the expectations, asking for respect, kicking them out of class, sending them to the office. My reactions are always based on a lot of things, and it usually depends on what’s going on in my personal life, like not getting enough sleep.

But today, I had a different reaction (because I’m leaving, so what’s to lose?). I didn’t react.

I simply said, “Can I ask you guys a question and just be honest with me…. Do you feel you can either do something or can’t and that’s that?”

And there I saw it: a classroom of students, simultaneously bopping up and down. Yes. Yes. We feel like we are either good at something or not.

You don’t have to take my word for it, but they knew exactly what I was talking about it. These grade 9 students knew already.


So, there a couple reactions that might immediately come to mind…. Things like, “that’s crap. I gave you clear instructions.” Or maybe, “I told you if you needed support to come and find me. So that’s on you.”

Those are totally normal reactions as educators, by the way. I’ve had them before and will likely forget this letter one (or several) days in June and react like it again.

But my reaction today was heartbreak.

No one wants to be bad at something. That goes against human nature. Every person wants to feel successful in what they’re doing, even if it’s not their strength. Why choose to be unsuccessful? That doesn’t make any sense. So why are students saying this, time and time again?

If you’ve lost interest in this story already, then you might as well stop reading at this point because it won’t matter. You’ve already decided. You’ve already decided I don’t have enough teaching experience to know the realities of the profession, or one simple story with my grade nines does not an all-knowing teacher make. It’s fine; I get it. You’ve already decided this doesn’t matter, even though I haven’t finished, and that’s the problem.

You just went through what students are going through every single day in our education system.

The students have already decided that they “can’t do it” before they enter your classroom. That’s not your fault. It wasn’t your choice. You didn’t cause it. You can’t change it.

I really want to make sure you get that part. You can’t change it. You can’t change the past. You can’t change that kids won’t stop talking about Fortnite or the fact they have cell phones. So, let’s stop talking about it, okay? No, seriously. Stop talking about it. You are wasting your energy on complaining about realities that exist, regardless on if you agree or not. Think of what teachers could do if they used the energy they have on what changes they could make. Yes, it’s going to require you to rise above the various things you disagree with, but you can’t change them anyway. So,what can you change?

What can YOU change?

What can you change tomorrow? What can you change in a year?

The truth is everything we do is a choice. It’s a choice that I react the way I do with students who “can’t do it.” My students make the choice to misbehave in class. The difference is they don’t know they are making a choice; they honestly feel like trying isn’t worth it because, let’s be honest, our society doesn’t reward trying; it rewards doing.


Well, here are the choices I made today in my grade nine classroom.

    • I made the choice, despite being an “expert” English teacher, to tell them that I was at a grade 3 reading level in seventh grade. I usually choose not to admit that because it’s not something I am very proud of. Again, no one is proud of not being successful. And I am their English teacher, so I want them to think I can teach them with my super, amazing “expert” knowledge that I seemingly got out of nowhere.
    • I made the choice to tell them that I got a 51% in chemistry in high school. And that’s okay because it was the best I could do. I went to class. I tried. I didn’t get it. That’s alright though because there is another guy in the school teaching chemistry– sweet!
    • I made the choice to explain that there is a very big difference between not being able to do something because you can’t and not being able to do something because you aren’t trying— a message students don’t seem to be getting.
    • I made the choice to tell them I’ve never failed a student who was genuinely trying their best and just couldn’t quite get it because I knew that student gave me the most they could give. By the way, I’ve never had a struggling student who tried their best for the entire semester because they’ve constantly been told by society that trying doesn’t count for anything, and they don’t believe I’ll be different (because sometimes I’m not, but at least I am trying).
    • I made the choice to tell them the next time they have the urge to say, “I just can’t do xyz” to try and have a different reaction. I told them changing their reaction will be difficult to do, and they might fail at it the first couple times, because it’s a habit. But it’s okay because they will have opportunities to try again.
    • I made the choice to say it’s okay that English class isn’t their strength because they’ve got some pretty amazing talents elsewhere. It’s fine if they can’t do the assignment, as long as they give me all they got. I chose to mean that and not just say it.
    • I told them the way they are feeling is not their fault and validated what they told me. I said I believed them. I said the system has failed somewhere because, at one point, they tried really hard, and it wasn’t their strength, so they failed. It didn’t matter that they had tried. And then they stopped trying (shocker).
    • I made the choice to write this letter for my  students because their opinion is more important to me than anyone else’s.
    • I made the choice to be potentially laughed at in staff rooms because teachers think I’m disillusioned with the education system.
    • I made the choice to have these authentic conversations with my students, which you may think aren’t very insightful, even though I could have chosen an easier path of blaming them for not being motivated.
    • I made the choice to read this letter to my classes before posting it because I don’t want to speak up if it’s not their truth, and, if it is, I want them to hold me accountable for my words. Their response when I asked them if I should post it was, “SEND IT!”

 

 

Now, this is what I’m choosing to work hard on doing for the present and future:

  • I’m choosing to be vulnerable and share this letter because I believe I have something valuable to say that’s not being talked about in society.
  • I’m choosing to publish this, before having another teaching position next year, knowing it’s a risk. Because if I don’t get hired at another school due to what I’ve said in this letter, then I won’t be a good fit in that environment and my administration might as well know it now.
  • I’m choosing to write this to keep me accountable for my words to my students, future coworkers, and administrators.
  • I’m choosing to collaborate and support co-workers who are struggling with some of the things I’m strong at simply because it improves students’ lives.
  • I’m choosing not to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” when a student comes to me complaining about an assignment because it 1) does not express remorse and 2) makes it clear I think my student’s reaction is irrational.
  • I’m choosing not to blame my students for their lack of motivation in learning because it completely alleviates my responsibility as an educator to meet their needs.
  • I’m choosing to seem naive to others because I honestly believe students want to learn and their behaviours are a result of oppressive, invisible forces that perpetuate the idea they aren’t intrinsically motivated.
  • I’m choosing to put students’ mental health before any curricular outcome.
  • I’m choosing to outwardly state how grateful and proud I am of students when they meet the high expectations I know they’re capable of.
  • I’m choosing to have honest, open communication with students who aren’t meeting those expectations and, rather than lowering them, construct a plan together to reach their highest potential.
  • I’m choosing to use my position of power that I’ve been given in society to make decisions with the students’ best interests at heart because I am beginning to understand why they’re drowning.
  • I’m choosing to make my struggles visible, so they know it’s okay to mess up or not understand something as long as they are trying.
  • I’m choosing to never become a mediocre version of myself for other people because my students deserve me at my best.
  • I’m choosing to believe what my students are telling me is how they are really feeling and do my best every day to listen to them with an open heart and the respect they deserve.

You might not believe a single word I am saying right now, and that’s your choice. Honestly, I respect it. I’m glad we live in a society where people can make their own choices, or I wouldn’t be able to write this letter right now.

Heck, you might be questioning my motives for writing this letter to begin with. That’s your choice. I don’t care because I know the only reason I’m doing it is to support my students who said they’re struggling.

Believe it. Don’t believe it. Read it. Don’t read it. Digest it. Don’t digest it. Think I know what I’m talking about. Or don’t.

I can’t change any reactions I get to this, so I’m not wasting my time worrying about it. You can choose how you react.

I really don’t care. I mean it. It’s your choice.

But I will say this for the sake of students, and because they asked me to be their voice: I hope some people in the education system start making different choices. It’s okay if you fail because you’ll have tomorrow to try again.

I want to apologize to my former students for the choices I have made in the past that made them think trying wasn’t important. I want to ask them for forgiveness because I am now making a choice to do better, even though I will screw up sometimes.

Back At It Again

Hello, EC&I 834 people!

My name is Katherine Koskie and I am a teacher at Melville Comprehensive School. This is my third year of teaching. I have taught nearly every humanities class in existence (SOC 10, 20, 30; ELA 10, 20, 30; LT 30; PSY 30; MST 20) and I love it! I decided to start taking my Masters because I missed being a student, and, also, I don’t have a lot of responsibilities going on right now. I don’t know how the parents out there can do it; I am struggling, and I eat my mom’s roast beef dinners on the regular. Shout out to Dad because he is a pretty sick cook too.

For those of you who haven’t taken a class with me, I have a pretty unique classroom that lends itself to blended learning.  The classroom has four televisions connected to Chromecast, four whiteboards for student-use, and students have access to 1-1 devices!

21st Century Classroom

I know I am incredibly lucky to have this technology and the opportunities it brings. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to create enough lesson plans and blended learning environments to use my classroom to its full potential. I feel like I am neglecting it. This is partially due to the normal crazy-ness that comes with learning new curriculum, starting my Masters, and extra-curricular activities. Anyway, I’m not here to make excuses. I’m determined to see this beauty up and running for second semester!

Three goals I have for learning in this class are:

1) Find alternatives to Learning Management Systems (LMS), so I can create resources and content that is open for anyone. I think technology creates some amazing opportunities for people to learn free-of-charge!

2) Create a blended classroom, not using a LMS, for a minimum of one of my classes. I need to find simple ways for students to submit assignments and create a coherent and intuitive way to organize my classes. (Pretty stoked this ended up being one of our assignments in this class– Thanks Courobrandt).

3) Learn from other’s experiences, failures, victories, and knowledge with blended and online classroom environments, as well as collaborating with people to create open-education resources. Gotta expand that PLN, if you know what I mean (*cough please follow me by hitting that link*).

Stoked to be back and learn from ya’ll.

Also, I’m bringing back the word ya’ll.

  • Koskie Out!

Getting “Caught Up” in the Chaos

So, my students are now in full swing with their Major Digital Projects. A few of my students wanted to change their skills and I kept telling them it was too late in the semester.

Mistake.

One of my students asked me why they could not change their skill since the rubric was  about assessing and reflecting and not about mastering a skill.  Good point. I guess I kind of got caught up in the assignment for this class and how we couldn’t change our skill. You know what I always say in English class? I don’t care about your opinion unless you can back it up with evidence. OK, I don’t think I come across that harsh (I probably do).

The student brought up a good point and used my rubric as evidence. English teacher win? I certainly don’t want students to struggle with an assignment that they will do throughout the entire semester.  I hear a collective sigh of relief from people who were dreading “faking” their progress reports. I had a total of four students change their skill so they were able to assess on something they were passionate about.

The progress reports I am getting have improved since I decided they were able to change their skill. I did let them know that it would be cool to see progress on a skill, which requires them to do it for a longer period of time. So far, I haven’t had a student switch their skill again.  Amazing how treating young people like adults leads to better classroom management. I guess it’s hard to break the habit of valuing process as much as product. After all, I am a byproduct of how I was taught and I am struggling to resist the temptation of the end product.

  • Koskie Out!

Hello, it’s about that time / that we start summarizing

WHO IS TIRED OF HEARING ADELE’S SONG “HELLO”?

I decided to write a song for my Summary of Learning because I thought it would be a challenge for me. It’s difficult to summarize knowledge from an entire semester and give an accurate idea of what was discussed (never mind doing that in a song). I definitely had some issues with fitting the words “misogynist” and “pedagogy” while keeping the same rhythm to the song. Here is the final product:

I struggled mainly with two things:

  1. Adele knows how to sing hard songs without making them sound difficult. This song is really soft in some parts and then really loud during the chorus. The microphone I was using wasn’t a big fan of this change of dynamic so I had to sit far away from the microphone.
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Take note of where the microphone is and where my face is.

2. Making a lyric video is not as easy as it looks. The first few attempts cut off important lyrics and/or the lyrics didn’t align with my song. It was frustrating. I’ll give you an idea of how I created the lyric video below.

In order to make the lyric video, I used a few different programs:

  • The first website I used was called LRC Generator. This website creates .lrc files with the lyrics to whatever song you choose. I always wondered how people would sync up words with music on karaoke videos and now I know. Family Christmas will never be the same again.
    • The process is rather tedious because you need to write lyrics line-by-line with ~ 3-5 words per line. Want a longer sentence on your lyric video? ABORT. The program I used to make my lyric video would cut off lines that were too long.
    • The generator I linked also allows you to download your lyrics as a .txt file, which you will also need to create a lyric video.
  • The second program I used was called YouTube Movie Maker. This program requires your .lrc and .txt file and generates the font and background of your video.  It’s a pretty simple program to use and this video tutorial shows you how create a final lyric video.

That’s it my lovely EC&I 831 people!

I had an absolutely blast learning from all of you.

  • Koskie Out!

Quieting that Inner Voice: Slacktivism DOES Promote Action

Sometimes I hate that inner voice. The inner voice that tells you “Ugh, instead of changing your Facebook picture to have a deep blue, red, and white flag filter could you actually take action to prevent terrorism?” or “can you please stop posting pictures of yourself ‘getting fit and happy?” I’ll be the first to admit I battle this voice all the time. Now, I stand back and think why am I having this reaction? Is it because I promote social justice on social media in a more meaningful way? No, I don’t think that’s it. Do I have a negative reaction to people becoming fit because I am currently balancing Cheetos on my stomach as I type this? OK, that one may be true.

We are born in a world where we feel the need to compete with each other. I’ve met a select few people who don’t seem to have this need, or maybe they can simply hide it better than most.  Part of the problem is that people internalize the dominant narrative in order to fit in.  An example of this happening is how women will call other women derogatory terms as much as men do. Unfortunately, what ends up getting lost is the message or issue we are trying to fight for.

The simple fact is that slacktivism does promote social agency. Who cares if you disagree with it? If it’s helping people spread awareness of a cause, it’s better than the alternative (balancing Cheetos and doing nothing else). Do I wish people would become more involved and take action? Yes, I do. I wish we all had time in our days to help the less fortunate and work towards a world where people can meet their basic needs with dignity.

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For those of you who don’t know what slacktivism is:

“Slacktivism is actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.”

The Wikipedia article has a negative definition of slacktivism that emphasizes how it does nothing at all but make us feel better about ourselves: “It is the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism.” Woahh, calm down Wikipedia. I don’t speak for the entire population, but I certainly don’t feel like I’ve changed the world by sharing or tweeting a social justice issue. Scott Gilmore argues that slacktivism makes people less likely to donate to a cause because we get instant gratification from a “like” or “share.”  In fact, Gilmore goes as far as shaming people who engage in slacktivism while other researchers suggest that people are more likely to donate to a charity after they’ve signed an online petition.

Well, Mr. Gilmore and other slacktivist critics, here are a few things that slacktivism has helped spread awareness of and/or raise money for:

  • ALS Bucket Challenge (raised $115 million in six weeks w/ more searches for A.L.S in 2014 than in the entire previous decade)
  • #YesAllWomen – brought awareness to street harassment, and specifically bystander intervention
  • #NotYourMascot – addresses the “misappropriation of Indigenous identity, imagery, and culture.
  • #IdleNoMore – honouring Indigenous sovereignty and protecting land and water rights.

I’ve even included a few hashtags that are no longer widely used (and some would argue show how slacktivism is not effective). Here is the thing, though: These hashtags or “slacktivism campaigns” have led to some meaningful conversations in my classroom where students want to know why people are “sharing” or “liking” a cause/issue. Social media is especially important because it provides an opportunity or “buy in” to show students how historical issues are still relevant and have implications for today. It makes my social studies heart happy. Awareness is the predecessor to action; so, instead of wasting your time complaining about slacktivism, start having conversations around the issues that matter.

I don’t know about you, but I think we have bigger things to complain about.

  • Koskie Out

 

Trolls, Bullies, Racists, and Misogynists …. and Procrastinators?

Oh boy, the semester is over and I have fallen behind. I’m just going to post this here:

Tim Urban discusses something called an “instant gratification monkey” which I seem to have, but it’s more than that: Teaching is exhausting.  I will not have to experience the less-than-ideal circumstances of many students who make it to school. Building relationships with students is exhausting. Supporting students mentally, physically, emotionally, and intellectually is exhausting. I’m tired.

It’s also the most important part of this job and the reason I come to work every day. Students are amazing. I mean this. Wow, some of the conversations around racism, feminism, and media representations never would have been mentioned when I went to school. It is so easy to shift responsibility and not address social issues today; it’s one of the rights I get because of my privilege. Privilege gives me the ability to say, “This student isn’t trying because (s)he is lazy” rather than trying to understand and support them.

Privilege allows me the opportunity to stay silent and be still.

I can’t deny that the internet allows for some very hateful rhetoric to be spoken.  I think Donald Trump’s campaign is an example of how effective fear-mongering tactics still are.  Muslims and violence was one of the biggest issues discussed on social media this year. At the beginning, I found myself going on some pretty extensive Facebook sweeps and deleting a lot of people who were promoting racism and discrimination.

Stop. Wait. What are you doing? I think about what I’ve just done– I’m shifting responsibility. I decided not to engage and disrupt something I care deeply about. Why? Well, honestly, sometimes I don’t think it’s worth it. Sometimes you know that you are fighting a battle with someone who will never change their minds. Other times I feel like I am not educated enough on an issue to defend it. Man, I wish there was a device where experts were posting about misconceptions about IslamI decide to save my efforts for when I think I can make a difference. But lately I’ve been engaging more in educating others on social media. I don’t make people feel guilty for believing in something. Instead, I explain the reasons behind why they think the way they do and what we can do to combat it.

Just recently I entered into a discussion on a Facebook page called Roses and Raspberries from my hometown. The basic function of the page is to award “roses” for good things that people do in the community and give “raspberries” if people/places/events did something wrong or hurtful to someone.  As you can imagine, posts can range from “Roses to person who bought my coffee at McDonald’s” to “Raspberries to the city for putting up snowflakes on our light posts instead of the Christmas trees, that were 30 years old and falling apart. Why do we have to get rid of Christmas because of a few immigrants moving to the city?”

OK, although I exaggerated the wording on the last example, it really did happen.  It’s frustrating, but it gives me a platform to disrupt hateful rhetoric.  And, after entering a discussion about teaching residential schools, I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people advocating for educating about residential schools much higher than those who were trying to either:

  • a) shift responsibility – “We shouldn’t teach that until we teach Ukrainian history.”
  • b)  forget about current racism – “What about white people who were abused in the past? You don’t see us complaining about it.”
  • c) guilt us – “Talking about residential schools paralyzes us from moving on and living in a Utopian society that would otherwise exist.”
  • d) colourblind us – “We shouldn’t focus on our differences. We are all the same.”

It was interesting to see all of these ideas come up. I didn’t feel uncomfortable entering this discussion either (I am often wary of entering social media discussions when I am public figure in the community). I didn’t make people feel bad for feeling the way they did, rather I described why they were saying these things. And I’m not going to pretend like people said “Oh, man. Koskie, you just changed my world.” I have no idea if I helped one person in that single conversation question why they thought the way they did. All I know is that, in that moment, I did not shift responsibility to someone else to fix it.

Deciding to take action is not always an easy thing to do for people, especially women.  John Oliver discusses things like revenge porn, direct threats, sexism in the video game industry, doxing, and how dangerous it is for women to speak out on social media.

Sometimes I think people can paint people as either good or bad, based on whether they speak out on social media or not. I think there is a lot of grey area here. Women are afraid to speak out because they don’t want to put their safety at risk. I will not shame people who decide not to be outspoken about something because they fear for their life (a very real fear to have when you look at cases of doxing).  It’s a terrible cycle– I can’t blame people for wanting to be safe, but I know that we need to speak out in order to change things. I also recognize that, if anything that I said on social media did have severe backlash, it wouldn’t reflect poorly on my entire race. I do feel like I am in a position where I need to speak out.

What’s the solution?

I’m not sure. The internet is a tool and people who are violent will condone violence and people who are peaceful will speak out about injustice and enact positive change. Sometimes I think people get a little lost in examples of much bigger problems. We need to explain the why. Instead of calling Beyonce a terrible feminist, we should focus more on institutionalized “isms” and why people have the tendency to blame victims.  As I was typing that, I came to the realization that instituionalized “isms” will likely not be a trending topic. So,  is it better to simplify things in order to gain a bigger audience?

What do you think?

  • Koskie Out!

Digital Literacy Skills in da Formative Assessment House

Why didn’t I think of including 21st century digital literacy skills into my formative assessments? One of the most valuable things I have been talking about in my classes this semester is how we can focus our energy when surrounded by so much technology.

In a previous blog post, I discuss an epiphany I had related to educational technology.  To sum it up in one sentence: Technology and the ability to access information that is distracting is never going away. Students will always be able to ignore what they should be focusing on at school, work, or their home so there is no point complaining about it. It’s time we start teaching students how to focus their attention WITH technology rather than putting a band-aid on the problem and temporarily taking it away.

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Let’s be clear here, I am not perfect. I used to take away phones without a second thought. Now, I have started reminding them to focus their energy and explaining why it is important to do so. I’m not going to pretend like I still don’t take away phones sometimes. However, the amount of times I have to take phones away has decreased exponentially.  I keep reminding them that focusing their attention on what is important is a skill that many employers are looking for in the workforce.

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As a social studies teacher, I always try and make content engaging and relevant for my students. I never like to hear the question “why do I have to learn this?” However, I have neglected to explain the relevancy and purpose of learning specific skills– whether it be digital literacy, researching, citation, etc. I love making meaningful connections with literature and content, but I’m beginning to recognize that skills are being left behind.

I decided to include a row on my rubric that addresses 21st century digital literacy skills. For the first couple of weeks, I am going to give them reminders to focus their attention. I am hoping I will continue to see a decline of students using their technology inappropriately.

  • Koskie Out!