Opening Statement



Thursday, 20 October 2011

7 Hopefully Helpful Tips for Teachers

Tip #1: If anybody tells you they've figured out the teaching profession they are mistaken. With this in mind please take what you will from my post. I make no such claims. Indeed, after 26 years teaching I still scratch my head and wonder just what the heck I'm doing and what is really going on. I do know this: I teach an autism class of very challenged and aggressive students in a very disadvantaged part of town. Day in day out. Year in year out. I am perfectly happy with that. At OECTA TSU, your teacher union, I have reached and stayed put at the Third Vice President position. I'm a small wig, rather than a big one. I suppose I could get all rah rah rah and chant "I'm number three! I'm number three! I'm number three!...." Somehow it lacks a ring to it. :-) Be that as it may please know I love my job at school and at TSU. I feel quite effective in both cases. Overall I am very happy and content with how everything has worked out. Sure, I'll never be the Minister of Education. Nope. It's true! And by golly nobody but nobody called me up when they were looking for a new Director of Education recently at our board. Oh well. Good luck Bruce! Alas, I never have and never will at this stage of the game find fame and fortune, let alone the Rosetta stone explaining all we need to know about teaching. Still, I'm happy with my lot and suppose I learned a few things along the way. I hope against hope that these tips might be of some help to others, especially for our BT's, new Beginning Teachers. Use them or ignore as you see fit. This is just how I see things.


Tip #2: Every few years there will be the "newest latest greatest plan to save the education system". Perhaps it's a new philosophy of learning or a new type of pedagogy. You name it. They invariably come and they go. Names and claims will be made. You could slavishly and uncritically jump on board. You might even be expected to do so by admin, the public, or the education powers that be. Warning! Please beware! In every such new education plan there's usually some very good ideas and a whole lot of nonsense. Think critically. Feign interest even if it makes you shudder. Try to give it a good shot. Find out what sometimes works best in some situations for both you and your students. Add that to your long term inventory of teaching strategies and beliefs. Otherwise smile and bide your time. Nothing is everything. All things come to pass.


Tip #3: Promotions and careers can be made through uncritically heralding, aiding and abetting even the most stupidest of these educational "theories". Warning: "Yes people" do not make for a healthy educational system. Brown nosers are useless in the long run. Would you want to spend the rest of your career pretending everything is great! We just end up with dysfunctional  administrations and school boards. As the latest greatest people and ideas come and go, you may very well just end up getting dumped down the road when they move on or lose favour anyway. Maybe you'll be delegated to the sidelines in some crummy admin role. You'll be expected to jump through ridiculous hoops to prove yourself for the rest of your career. Very futile. You might  just end up accomplishing little more than compromise yourself and the integrity of our profession. Yes, there's some money and glory in it, for some people some of the time, but is that why you really went into education? If so either get a life or try the business world instead. In our profession you will end up pretty petty and small minded at best if that's how you think. Don't be afraid to speak out in a constructive manner. You will be doing us all a favour and have little to loose.


Tip #4: Success doesn't necessarily mean coming out on top of the education heap, at school, the board, or the Ministry of Education. Success can mean feeling happy and fulfilled through simply teaching and helping others in a direct and meaningful way. A teaching vocation, at it's most grassroots level starts and can even end in the classroom with your students years later when you retire. Think about this: Suppose everybody just tried to make their own little corner of the world a better place for the others they find there. Would it be more successful than a grand plan to change the whole world or even save it from itself? In Ontario teachers get paid enough to live a comfortable life. You will never be rich, famous or very powerful. It's unlikely you will ever command large armies of staff and students to great acclaim but the holidays are great! Success, whatever that's supposed to really mean, can basically lie within ourselves, through serving others and being true to yourself and your higher instincts. It can happen whether you end up the Grand Poo Bah of Education or just another teacher making a small difference in your students lives. You are never "just" a teacher. Yours is no disgrace.


Tip #5: As a teacher you are a professional, and in Ontario Canada, a highly qualified one at that. The board must've realized that when they hired you. The competition is pretty stiff. There are a lot more teachers than jobs these days. Plus the standards are very high and the work is quite demanding. In Ontario our schools are easily amongst the most diversified, challenging and yet the best in the world by most any international standard. You wouldn't be here unless you are a professional teacher! Act accordingly, but also, don't take any guff, be it from admin, parents, your students, or even the average man and woman in the streets. In the final analysis be true to yourself, and your students. Think critically and stand your ground. Often everybody thinks they know best what you should do, but you are going to be the one who has to go do it. Good teaching is a pretty serious responsibility. Hopefully the rescue party is on the horizon. The Ministry of Education is now focusing on the importance of our professional decision making skill in our classrooms. Then again, this could end up to be just another "latest great plan" [See Tip #1]. Stand up for teachers when you are speaking to strangers or friends. If in doubt about what you are being told or forced to do at school, please contact your teacher union. We know the contract and the education act. We adhere to board and ministry policy and of course school law, maybe more than anybody else these days, including the school board. We will advise you accordingly and offer assistance or meet with you and/ or your superiors when need be.


Tip #6: New teachers have verve and zest. You revitalize the whole education system, especially at your own school. If anybody could keep that up for their whole career, we wouldn't need to be revitalized, right? Pace yourself accordingly. What takes forever and is trying to the umpteenth degree will with time become manageable, if you don't snap and lose it or burn out first. Enjoy your holidays without guilt. Your salary is spread out over the whole year, not just your time at school. Contrary to popular opinion you do not get free holidays. You earned them. It all averages out. If you were just paid during the months you work, each paycheck would actually be a lot higher, but then you would get nothing over the holidays. Also, you put countless extra hours into fulfilling your many professional duties at school and home. That includes evenings weekends and holidays. Don't forget teaching is one of the highest ranked jobs in terms of stress too. Have a life outside school with time for yourself, family and loved ones, or you will go nuts. It's hard sometimes but very necessary for your long term health and well being to survive and flourish.


Tip #7: It's very important to know you are a teacher union member and also to understand and appreciate our contract and our teacher superannuation retirement plan. Get involved early in your career to find out more. OECTA TSU is not some vicarious communist plot. It is your elected teacher union, and we are here to serve you. In the most basic terms, you get a contract that sets your salary, benefits and working conditions. They need to be negotiated with the board. The agreement does not come by the grace of God or the sheer generosity of the TCDSB. Also, your principal and colleagues might be great right now. Everything seems to be hunky dory and anyway you are just so busy teaching class. Everything can change with time! Sooner or later odds are you will need TSU for help or as a resource. Your Principal's responsibility is to perform a very difficult balancing act between the needs and interests of the students, the parents and the teachers at your school. Sometimes they may very well feel it's important to make decisions that are not in your favour. The decision might even seem downright wrong to you. With even the best of intentions they and even your colleagues might not be able to help you. You elect a teacher's union, with a staff rep in each school. We are here to serve as your advocate at school when need be. This is not some mad threat to your freedom and our way of life. We are a big part of the process at work in our schools. I will address the issues of teacher unionism further in another upcoming post. Suffice to say it's good to get involved in TSU and find out more. Please know you have both a great pension and a pretty good school contract through years of hard union work. There are a lot of folk out there in our mean old world who do not think that should be so. Snooze and you lose. For starters please join your TSU BTC: Beginning Teachers Committee. I sent you an email application, or you can get one online at http://tsuoecta.org/


Give joining our BT new teachers group some serious thought. A BT is any TSU member with 5 or less years of experience with our board. Stay Tuned. There's definitely more to come yet in this blogspot thread.

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