A Tribute to my Dad on his Retirement from Education

24 Jun

As a parent of young children, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and articles (too much time if you ask my mother!) and although many theories change and evolve over time, one constant idea is that “a parent is a child’s first teacher.” So how lucky am I that one of my first teachers was my dad? 

My dad is amazing but everyone in this room already knows this fact. I’m going to share my observations about how my dad came to be such an amazing educator as well as human being. 

Some of my first memories involve my dad and his love for teaching. I remember how my dad used to come home from school so energized and excited by what had happened in his classroom that day. He would have such a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from something his students said or wrote or presented or thought which made it more than obvious how much he loved his job. Of course as in any job, some days aren’t the greatest which caused him to reflect. As many of you know, my dad isn’t a loud, boisterous man and I remember many days watching my dad think and reflect.

It was through this reflection that I feel my dad went through an evolution. Before I got into high school, my dad would let me help him mark. Of course I was only doing the true/false or m/c questions but he would sometimes share and discuss the answers with me. One discussion was very poignant for me. I remember dad showing me how some students didn’t follow his directions and wrote outside the lines for which he docked them marks. In more recent discussions dad has reflected on how he was so strict about such little things and in fact what we should be doing is encouraging our students to think outside the box which demonstrates to me, how much time my dad spends reflecting and thinking.

His views about education have changed and evolved throughout the years and I have spent some time contemplating why dad has gone through such a radical change. I have looked for the catalyst and have come up with a couple theories. 

The first is that dad has two polar opposite children. I loved school and was excited by book style learning, but Ben was not. Ben has always been an outside the box thinker and loathed the way school “was done.” (unless he was in Mr. Robiliard’s music room where being an outside the box thinker was encouraged if not mandatory) I’m sure it must have been very frustrating to have two such completely different views on school (when you work in education) and yet again, I’m sure my dad reflected on why it was not engaging for Ben when he obviously had a passion for learning as demonstrated by his multiple interests outside the classroom.

The next catalyst came from when my dad went into administration. I know as a vice principal and principal, dad probably had thousands of conversations with students who had been sent to the office and I’m sure two very common themes that emerged were students were not engaged in the learning and that they didn’t feel what they were learning is relevant to real life. 

The final catalyst, I’m sure, was that my dad is a learner at heart. My dad discovered the education guru, Will Richardson, as well as many others and his views on education really evolved into the forward thinker that he is today. Dad spends much of his free time reading current relevant articles and books related to education and he is always striving to learn more.

My dad and I have always had deep meaningful conversations but when I went into education, the conversations moved from father to daughter to teacher to student. Over the past nine years, my dad had taught me many valuable lessons about being an educator and I would like to share a few.

The first is my dad’s main classroom management strategy and that is to have an engaging and meaningful lesson plan. Dad was the kind of teacher that liked to shake things up and so he had a variety of activities planned for any given day so that he could engage all the students in his classroom, not just the keeners.

But, the second lesson always superseded the first- if a teachable moment arises, take it. Go off on the tangent and explore that realm especially if the students are engaged in the topic and using their critical thinking skills.

The third and most powerful message that my dad taught me was to know the students in your classroom. Take the time to talk each student about how they feel about the class but also what they like to do outside school. Treat them like human beings and they will (most of the time) treat you with kindness and dignity. And in my experience, he is absolutely right. One comment that I regularly hear from my students is that they like how I am real with them and I attribute that quality to my dad.

Now that I am established in my career, our relationship has become that of also colleague to colleague and learner to learner. Even though his experience in education is triple that of mine, our conversations are that of equals and it’s an amazing aspect of our relationship. I think it’s wonderful that I can teach my dad new things and in fact, I think he’s secretly proud of that as well.

In considering my dad as a human being, he is one of the greatest men I know. (I am definitely biased in that regard, but all of you here will support my opinion I’m sure) He is one of the most kind, caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met and I’m sure many of his former students and colleagues would say the same. One quality that he possesses that not many people know about because he is very discrete is his generosity. Many people see his outward generosity through the vast time commitment he makes to everything he does in life, but monetarily, dad is the most generous person I know. He is always donating to charity with most recently being the cancer society, but I know my dad has donated countless dollars to students in need. My dad is a true champion for children and now that I’m a parent, I understand why my dad would buy lunches for kids who didn’t have any food in the house or keep snacks in his office for those whose parents couldn’t afford food or just didn’t care enough to have adequate amounts of food in the house.

Dad also has the amazing quality of being able to see the good in everyone. He would often tell me that the ‘bad’ kids are really just misunderstood or have the potential to be really amazing people, but yet their circumstances prevent them from demonstrating their true selves. The reason that my dad knew this about those students was because he had authentic, genuine conversations about life, not just about bad behaviour, missed assignments or failed tests. Even as a vice principal and principal, dad would take the time to get to know those ‘bad’ kids to find their hidden talents or qualities. I recently had one of my good friends comment that he respects how I am able to see the goodness in everyone and that comes purely from my dad.

Finally, my dad is one of the most supportive people I know. He has gone out of his way so many times to ensure the happiness of his family, students, colleagues and everyone in his life even when it is inconvenient or at a personal cost. He wants the best for everyone and I could not be more blessed to have that champion in my corner.

So congratulations, dad, on a wonderful and satisfying career in education. And even though you are done with education, in a formal manner, I know that you will continue to inspire others to be lifelong learners and I am excited to observe and be a part of the new learning journeys you embark upon in this next phase of your life. On a side note, I also know that Lexie and Cali are excited that when Grammie sporadically comes to babysit during the school year, that Grampy will be coming too.

So please raise a glass with me to toast dad ; a true inspiration in education, learning and life.

22,700 Education Jobs Lost #osstf #etfo #onpoli

11 Jun

The election is now less than two days away and I am nervous. Politics is usually not one of my focuses, however, if Hudak wins, my career is in jeopardy. I am quite certain I would be one of the 22,700 people to lose his or her job if the Progressive Conservatives come to power. And quite honestly, this scares me.

One of the most frustrating elements of the whole “fire 100,000 people to create 1 million jobs” is that the human element is nonexistent. I wonder if people have sat down and considered who (colleagues, neighbours, friends, family, etc.) is going to be impacted by his cuts.

As an HSP teacher, the social scientist in me is curious to see how the people of Ontario would react if actual faces of people who would be fired by the PC’s were to be on display for a day.

So here’s my experiment: I’m going to write this and include my photo with the hashtag #humanelementhudak . It would be awesome if others were to join in to promote the human element of this whole platform.

Thank you in advance,
Jamie

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An open letter…

24 May

Dear Mr. Hudak,

I’m a high school teacher in Ontario and I am deeply concerned with your plan to slash education.

I have been a teacher for eight years and I’m quite certain I would be let go if you are to come to power. The truth is that I left a contract job of five years so that I would no longer have to commute. I have two young daughters and having a fifteen minute drive to work as opposed to one hour makes an incredible difference in our family.

I love my job. I can’t fathom my life without being in the classroom and working with students on a daily basis. I’ve also worked really hard to make it to where I am today and it would be absolutely heart-breaking if my dream is shattered by you and your party.

In considering the students, your plan intends on increasing class sizes. You have done a really excellent job of keeping the truth out of the media in focusing on the elementary class sizes as opposed to secondary sizes. I currently teach a grade twelve university class of thirty-four students. They are lovely students and I really enjoy teaching them, however, I think if we had another two students, it would be a detriment to the education those students receive. I thoroughly believe in taking time to talk to students one on one and even two more takes time away from the amount of personal feedback I can give each student. At the grade twelve university level, that is a huge loss to those students.

I also teach two classes of grade ten applied English and each class has twenty-four students. With your plan to cut 9,700 “non-teaching” positions, or as we call them, educational assistants, you are really hurting these students. My educational assistant, Kim, is an integral aspect of our classroom. She works with small groups of students or one on one and the students are receiving a higher quality of education with her in the classroom. Twenty-four students at this level is wonderful and I truly love teaching these two classes, however, many of these students need additional support in order to be successful and between the two of us, we are able to help so many more students than if it was me on my own.

Another consequence of fewer EA’s would be the success rate of EQAO as students would no longer be receiving the assistance required to be successful on these standardized tests. But, the skeptic in me wonders if that is your ultimate plan as then, of course, it would be the fault of us the teachers for not doing our job…

In planning to cut educational assistants, you will also be lowering the quality of student schools produce. You see, one of the largest roles educational assistants play is that they care deeply about these students and are another positive adult role model that these students need in their lives. Depending on home lives, teachers and EA’s can be the only adult role models and by cutting them, the quality of our Ontario citizens will decrease.

I can’t stress enough how vital educational assistants are to the success of our students.

The final aspect I want to mention is that I am worried that the focus on learning is being lost in your plan. Children have an insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge, but with your plan, those amazing qualities are going to disappear and Ontario is going to suffer. To me, education is about encouraging the love of learning and this plan will make it very difficult to foster that love.

In closing, I know I am only one person and that this message is likely falling on deaf ears, but I believe in sharing my thoughts as we have the right to do here in Canada.

Sincerely,
Jamie Reaburn Weir

Thankful

14 May

Every now and then when there’s a lot of negativity around, I feel compelled to write a post counting my blessings. I find that sometimes I spend too much time in my head and this helps ground me. So here goes:

I’m thankful for:
– my family: it’s been an easier transition back to work than I had anticipated. My little girls are really happy with their caregiver and I know because of how she reacted when Cali was sick, that she is an excellent fit for them.
– my job: I’m really enjoying Cameron and am so thrilled to be a permanent member of the school!
– the supportive people in my life: I’ve been so blessed to work for a wonderful principal who believes in my abilities even though I’ve only been at the school for a couple of months. I’m also working with amazing colleagues in the English department at Cameron who have been there for me both professionally and personally. Finally, I have some excellent colleagues throughout the WRDSB who have encouraged, collaborated, and taught me so much in the last few months

Finally, I’m thankful for the students I teach. I’ve had some really interesting and engaging conversations with students and I have been so impressed with the citizens they are at such young ages. Cameron tends to have a bad reputation in terms of behaviour, but it’s an unfair judgement. So many of my students are kind and caring individuals who have demonstrated that they possess compassion and empathy and it is the students I teach who make going to work everyday a privilege and honour I hold dear.

Grandpa

4 May

This was my memorial speech for Grandpa Reaburn.

I’m a very lucky person. I have wonderful children, a great husband and amazing parents and for over 30 years of my life, I had all four of my grandparents as a part of my life.

Grandpa Reaburn was a really special man. As a kid, I have wonderful memories of grandpa. I always appreciated his quiet ways and warm smiles. He was also a really good listener and tried to make us happy. He knew that I am a fan of homemade items and when I asked him to make anything, he did. One of his special creations for me was a night table. I loved that night table and when I got older and no longer lived at home, he made me a second one so I would have a matching set and although they are now a different colour, Jeff and I still use them as our night tables.

As an adult, I also have special memories of grandpa but a deeper connection developed through our love of the field of education. I think grandpa was really proud when I became a teacher as it was an extension of him. In reading the messages people posted on his obituary, I know that his reach was far. I also learned that even though we didn’t have too many pedagogical discussions, he and I shared very similar views on education. He was more concerned about developing students into responsible citizens and good human beings. A view I also share. Many people commented that he always made them feel like they mattered regardless of their abilities in school. He had a smile, joke or kind word and ultimately, showed many students that he cared which is one of the elements of a teacher’s personality that many students desire. I’m so proud that my grandfather was one of those educators.

Finally, I had the privilege of seeing grandpa as a great grandpa to Lexie and Cali. Lexie has an unbelievable memory and after we would visit grandma and grandpa, Lexie would remind us that grandpa got down on the floor and played blocks with her. It’s pretty special that she had that opportunity to interact with her great grandfather like that. One of the moments I will treasure, however, is from the weeks leading up to his death. On one of his last weekends, many members of his family were with him and he was all smiles. It was obvious he was in his glory being surrounded by so many people he loved. But the most precious aspect of the visit was when he tried to play with Cali. She was playing with the blocks in front of him and he was watching her. Even though I know it physically took a lot for him, he tried to get down to her level and play with her.

That is how I will remember grandpa. A man who made a difference in the lives of so many.

A Societal Change?

29 Apr

I’ve really tossed around the idea of writing this post but it’s something that I need to clarify in my head and writing does that so here goes…

I’ve been thinking a lot about our new AER policy in WRDSB and I think it has a lot of merit. I do not like the concept of late marks. I am not punitive and to me, handing an assignment in late is representative of work habits and learning skills rather than the student’s actual ability.

What I’m concerned about is the growing trend in some of my classes to hand assignments in at the very last minute (or not at all). The learning of the student is then out of his or her hands and put into mine. Some students aren’t owning their learning, it’s still just a means to an end and this concerns me. Even in the teenage years, I want students to be in charge of their own learning and to learn to be advocates for themselves.

It also makes the sociological aspect of my brain curious. Is this a growing trend in our society? Are we shirking responsibility? Are we spending too much time making life comfortable for our kids that we don’t force them to own learning and mistakes? Are we too afraid of failure? Is this the message we are sending to our students and children?

Stress

25 Apr

I had a student remark to me today that I haven’t blogged in a while and it made me stop and think about why this is the case. It’s not that I don’t have things to write about – I’ve started numerous posts in my head – it’s more that I’m stressed and writing even though I find it cathartic, just hasn’t been a priority.

I’ve been more concerned about my family with the passing of my grandfather, my girls as both of them have been sick with Cali being extremely sick earlier this week, and then we just had report cards and all the marking, nagging for assignments, and general frustration at the situation. (That’s another blog post…)

It’s all lead up a writer’s block for me.

It’s also not that I haven’t had good things happen to me too. I’ve found out that I have a permanent home now at Cameron which is amazing! I really love working there and I’m surrounded by really caring and kind individuals (both staff and students). I’ve also joined the Futures Forum group here in WRDSB (my dream!) and am loving the collaborative and creative spirit from this passionate group of educators.

Taking a few minutes to reflect on this aspect of my life makes me think about the really powerful effects of stress. It’s been especially apparent this week as I’ve really been thinking about Cali and have been distracted. It’s hard to focus as I find my mind constantly slipping back to her and thinking about if she’s okay or what I could have done to make her situation different. It’s a good reminder for when students come to my classroom and they are dealing with issues unrelated to my class. It also reminds me that I have to be a role model when it comes to dealing with stress as it is an aspect of life that we all deal with at some point. It’s just not one of my favourite aspects of life…

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