Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Three Questions to Mr. Fassbender (and Ms. Clark) (Or another way of defining "wide gap")

A teacher friend of our family's recently had the untimely task of driving Peter Fassbender (sorry, I just can't call him 'honourable') around in a golf cart while he was at the Golden Eagle Golf Course in Pitt Meadows last week.  We all wondered how THAT conversation went.  Later that evening we watched as members of the BCTF and support staff did their best to hold him accountable. 

My husband and I are both retired educators.  All four of our children hold Education degrees. Three of them are employed in lower mainland school districts.  As we were discussing James' opportunity we all wondered what questions we would have asked in that ten minutes alone with the Minister of Education.  So, after much thought, these are my questions:

#1 - Do you really believe that class size doesn't matter?

I had a quick google of the top 10 schools in the very controversial Fraser Report and examined the top five.  I stopped there as the trend was imminently visible. 
Southridge - Kindergarten classes of 16, Grade 1 and 2 classes of 18, Grade 3 classes of 20.  These are not significantly different than a lot of public schools.  When we get to the higher grades there is a shocking difference!  Grade 4 classes of 22 and grades 8-12 of 18.
St George's - couldn't find any numbers on their web page.
York House - "Little School" (Jr. Kindergarten & Sr. Kindergarten) - 8-10students, Jr. School (assuming Grades 1-6) - 20 students.  Senior School 10 - 17 students.
West Point Grey - stated their average class size as 22 students.  AP (Advanced Placement) classes - max 17 and their Student/Teacher ratio is 8:1
Crofton House - advertises small class sizes (but no numbers)
If class size doesn't matter, why do these schools who consistently rank high, put this information in their school profiles?  Do you believe that the small class sizes have a direct impact on achievement for these particular schools?

#2 - Do you really believe class composition does not impact student success?
Again, using information from these five schools.  Each of these schools has VIGOROUS application processes. 
Southridge - "An applicant's academic record and aptitude are significant, but not the sole factors in seeking admission to a university preparatory school. Our process also considers other significant criteria such as participation in extra-curricular activities, involvement in citizenship, and personal motivation."
St. George's - "Admissions is highly selective and students are expected to meet rigorous entrance standards and demonstrate excellence outside the classroom. The school does not offer English as a Second Language (ESL)."
York House - What kind of student thrives at York House?
"Someone who will succeed in a challenging academic environment, enjoys participating in music, art, drama and/or athletic programs, and shows compassion and interest in the world around her. We aim to enroll students who are enthusiastic learners, keen to actively participate, willing to take risks and who will live our motto Not For Ourselves Alone"
West Point Grey - "We thoroughly assess each applicant's interests and potential. Children of good character, dedication and promise will be invited to join the school, space permitting" "Written entrance tests are required for students applying to grades 3 to 12. Students are tested in reading comprehension, writing and mathematics. Students entering grades 5 to 12 also write a general cognitive test."
Crofton House - "All applicants for junior kindergarten through to grade 5 will be invited to the school for testing. Applicants for grades 6 through 12 are required to take the SSAT and have the score submitted to Crofton House School directly from SSAT. For more information, please visit"
Admission to Crofton House is based on:
•Application Form Responses
•Letters of Reference and Support
•SSAT Results
•School Reports
•School Interviews
Each of these schools report 0%ESL in their Fraser Report documents.  While each of these schools offer counselling and Learning Resource support, none of them report having EA's/SEA's as part of their staffing.  So, Mr. Fassbender, tell me again that class composition is not important to student success.

#3 - Do you really believe that "throwing money at the system will not fix it"?
Again, let's use these "top" five schools as an example.  As it has been widely reported, private schools do receive public funding, so I am making an assumption that they receive some level of public funds.  Now, for the fun part.  On top of the public funding (even if it is a small percentage), parents pay in the ballpark of $17000.00 for each child they send to these schools.  Let's see now $6 000.00/child in the public system, $17 000+/child in these schools (interesting that that's about the same funding as our inmates get). Public schools have had to cut specialist teachers (fine arts, special ed, library, counselling etc.) due to lack of funding.  These schools promote their use of specialists; Outdoor ed, 2-3 extra language classes starting at Kindergarten for some, dance, music, debating, math, pe. and on and on. 
Public schools seriously lack technology, these top 5 schools are technology trend-setters.  Public schools lack space and facilities, these top 5 schools have AMAZING facilities.  Mr. Fassbender, are you seriously going to tell me that increasing funding  to public schools will not address some of the bigger problems related to class size/composition/school funding?

Those are my three questions.  I think the answers are evident and I hope that the teachers walking the lines and the parents and general public that are supporting public education can help to alleviate the "wide gap" (where have I heard this term used before????) between public and private education in this province.  I hope that all children are able to achieve their full potential within a school system that recognizes and values all students, not just the ones from wealthy families.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Good-bye Dear Friend

Yesterday the community joined together to say good-bye to our dear friend, Ingrid.  Ingrid was my friend but she was so much more than that.

As a teacher, she was my colleague and mentor.  We learned much from each other and always knew that our professional collaborations strengthened our teaching and our students' learning.  She learned about giving choice in assignments and I learned about how to make my assignments more relevant, enjoyable and effective. She knew more about tailoring assignments to individuals and I knew more about cooperative learning.  As a high school teacher she had always taught 'on her own'.  As an elementary teacher I had team taught many units and grades.  I had an elementary background, hers was high school.  She came to the profession as a single young professional.  I came much later as a wife, mother of four and was not so young.  We had a healthy respect for each other and weren't afraid to say how much we admired what the other brought to our practice.  I loved discussing education with Ingrid.  We had different approaches and experiences but we shared a passion for 'our kids' and their learning.

Ingrid was single throughout her teaching career and her career and her students, along with sport and photography, were her life.  Her geography and history courses brought the world to life for students from our very small town.  At her memorial yesterday a former student, encouraged and challenged by Ingrid, had just a couple of weeks before stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, a life goal inspired by Ingrid some 13 years earlier.  He e-mailed her that night to share his experience with her only to find out she had passed away that day.  Her travels and her magnificent photos of those travels brought the world into the classrooms of that small town. Many of our local students were inspired to see the world because of Ingrid's own travels.

Ingrid taught all four of our children.  They were very different students with very different personalities and very different areas of strength.  As only a gifted teacher can do Ingrid identified those strengths and pushed each of them to fulfill all the potential she saw within them, not just their academic strengths but their personal strengths as well.  As my oldest daughter spoke, through her tears, she thanked Ingrid for seeing the leadership within her and for pushing her to both recognize and apply that leadership.  Our other kids didn't speak but they could have and I know in their own minds they were also thanking Ingrid for seeing their potential, insisting they work to that potential and for supporting them both inside of school and out.

More importantly Ingrid was our friend.  When we moved to our small town in 1978 with two small children in tow Ingrid opened us with welcome arms.  She invited us to her apartment just down the hall to help decorate her Christmas tree that year and a lifelong friendship was forged. When our two babies arrived a few years later she welcomed them like they were her family.  Through all of our kids' growing up years Ingrid was there.  She attended anything and everything they were involved in.  She cheered them on and patted them on the back.  She was proud of each of them.  She told us repeatedly how blessed our family was and what wonderful people we were raising.  As parents you can't hear that enough times.  As students and young people you can't hear that enough times.  Ingrid attended family dinners, wedding showers, weddings and baby showers.  Her eyes glistened with love through all of these events. 

Our children were all athletes and I don't recall Ingrid every missing a game.  Didn't matter what the game was or where it was being played, she was there.  She cheered them on from the gymnasium stands and on the sides of fields.  She was often there when my husband and I were playing sports as well.  She cheered less for us than she did for the kids :)  Ingrid specialized in field hockey and our three daughters were so lucky to have had such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic coach.  She taught them the game but she also taught them about responsibility, sportsmanship and dedication.
Ingrid and I were also team mates.  We played ball hockey for many years together on a team full of women with passion for sport and quirky senses of humour.  She encouraged me to play field hockey, not my forte, with a bunch of seasoned players.  After a game or two we realized it would be to everyone's benefit if I just stayed in the goal.  Her friends from field hockey were my friends from fastball, basketball and volleyball.  Ingrid and I golfed together as well.  As mentioned by many at her memorial, Ingrid loved to talk.  She was the only person I ever golfed with who never stopped her conversation while approaching, lining up and hitting the ball.  She loved the game and was fun to play with.

As mentioned above, Ingrid was a consummate photographer.  We spent many hours looking through the pictures of the many trips she had been on.  I envied her widespread travels and her photographic talent.  I have just taken up photography in the last couple of years and remember so many of the conversations we had around her beautiful pictures, particularly in the areas of lighting and composition.

Ingrid had a large circle of friends and it was nice to see them at her memorial.  Each of us had a story to tell, whether we told it or not.  Each of us had a connection to this amazing woman.  Each of us spent time on Sunday remembering a particular memory of how she had touched our lives.   Each of us felt our world was just a little smaller without her in it.  It's so hard to say good-bye to the people we have loved, especially when they have touched our lives in  a special way.  Ingrid never missed an opportunity to pass on a positive comment.  She is one of few people in my life who will have left this world with nothing unsaid.  We knew how Ingrid felt about our family and she knew how our family felt about her.   When I think of her I will always be reminded to say what's in my heart.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Beginning Teachers

I have followed your posts with deep sadness.  I feel your frustration, anger and passion.  I too felt all of those feelings in my 25 years in education.  I am retired now and every January 1st my pension cheque  reflects a cost of living increase.  I don't have to bargain, picket or face the court of public opinion for that raise.  I thank all of those frustrated, angry, passionate educators who went before me every time my pension cheque lands in my bank account.

I have walked picket lines (and still do).  I have (and continue to) curse a government that has such callous disregard for the students in its care.  I have been involved in more strike votes than any employee should ever have to face and yet, the battle rages on.

Having said all of that, what I want you to know is that this is not what I think of when I look back on my incredible career.  These are not the moments I remember.  The politicians, educational pundits, angry parents, negative media personnel and most of all, those people who tell us to get a 'real' job, move to another province or simply give us the international one-fingered wave, they are not the people I remember.

I remember shining faces, excited learners, moments of discovery and mastery.  I remember coaxing angry students out from underneath their desks and watching them build trust with me and their classmates.  I remember hugging (yes, hugging) students of all ages and sizes when they were happy, sad and on occasion, even grateful.  I remember watching their faces the first time they saw the ocean or went to the city or gathered bits of nature to make our special picture frames.  I remember students who were so grateful to have a teacher who recognized their strengths, not just the academic strengths but also their strengths of determination, creativity, friendship, leadership, service, empathy and kindness.  I remember their excitement when they came to see if they could start a school garden or a drama club or a chess tournament or a musical production or a basketball team or an environmental club . . .and knew that I would be a sucker, like most of you, for whatever they wanted to take on.

Last weekend I went to a local event where many of my previous First Nations students were performing; dancing drumming, canoe racing and providing leadership and support.  I got lots of hugs (this might be the part of teaching I miss the most).  These former students proudly pointed out their sons and daughters who were following in their footsteps.  As the chief spoke I heard him say, "We were not always proud of who we were as a people" and I was glad to hear the  past tense being used.  I remember that being true early on in my teaching career.  Our FN students were shy and quiet and tended to stick together.  There was no drumming or dancing or Halq'emeylem language class in our school in those days.  I am proud of the changes that the parents, staff, students and community  initiated to make these changes happen.  Public education is full of these kinds of challenges that are often not part of the private school system.  These are the rewards that you will also have in the years to come.  You are making a difference.  Not even the government can take this away from you.

I want to remind you of the joy you feel when a lesson you have spent hours preparing reaches that one student and you can see the lights go on and the confidence start to build.  I want you to think of that  project or presentation or report or essay that resonated with new knowledge and deep understanding.  I want you to remember, even through this ridiculous lockout, that you may well be that one person who inspires a future scientist, ballet dancer, poet, artist, mathematician, chef, musician, entrepreneur or astronaut.

I am hoping  for your sake, but more importantly, for my grandchildren and all the students who rely on public education that this fiasco ends soon.  I am not hopeful that this will be the end of the conflict but I am sure that your anger, frustration and passion are a reflection of strong, caring individuals and I know that your hearts are in the right place.  And trust me, this profession that you have dedicated yourselves to requires heart!

What I want you to know is that at the end of the day the memories you have will be filled with wonderful people, wonderful experiences and wonderful accomplishments.  Hang in there.  You really ARE amazing!