sabotabby: (teacher lady)
 Almost right on schedule, my first back-to-school anxiety nightmare of August. It was not as bad as most, probably because I've been in school-anxiety-mode for a year now and my brain hasn't had a stretch of not being stressed out and anxious. Anyway, it was almost interesting so I'll share it.

First day of class. My classes, as per usual nightmares, were huge, and the kids kept drifting in and out and coming in late and wouldn't stay still or give me their names. One girl had recently lost her brother in a shooting, another had lost her mother three weeks earlier. Her mother's grave was located right beside the classroom, and she had brought several large bouquets of purple lilies that clashed with the red and white flowers on the grave. She kept getting up to shift the flowers around, or curling up in a fetal position to cry.

The principal had decided that class would begin with a personal address from her, and so I was supposed to wait until she arrived to start. But she was late, and the kids were already complaining that they were bored, so I did an icebreaker activity. It was called Millennials Are Killing X and you had to go around a circle and say a thing Millennials are killing and why. For example, "Millennials are killing the housing market because they spend on their money on smashed avocado toast and lattes. I thought it was hilarious but the kids didn't get it, and then I remembered that the Millennials had been years ago and the kids didn't know what they were.
sabotabby: (books!)
As promised/threatened, I spent my weekend in part reading YA fiction for work and writing down my recommendations as to which books I felt would work well for senior-level English classes. Because I basically have no life, I ended up writing a bunch of mini book reports about them.

Important note: I think I kind of hate YA fiction. There are some very obvious exceptions, but I find a lot of the tropes insufferable. I wasn't interested in reading YA when I was a YA, and I don't think that books written at a low reading level, regardless of how mature their content might be, are necessarily the best way to engage students in the study of literature. If I never read another story about a teenage girl who doesn't fit in at school, it will be too soon. (So here are three such books.)

I've also included a recommendation for something that does the thing that each book does better. Only one of these could remotely be called YA fiction.

Also, here be unmarked spoilers.

3 reviews )
sabotabby: (teacher lady)
DeVos is the actual worst. It's as though everything I hate in the world took a massive shit and then someone made a shit golem out of it and appointed it Secretary of Education.

Still, I ought to point out that both sides of the Billionaire Party had a hand in this one. It's not like Arne Duncan didn't thoroughly gut public education, and the Democrats love their charter schools, standardized testing, and industry disruptors as much as the Republicans.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (eat flaming death)
If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I have serious issues with Free the Children and its corporate wing, Me to We. I have issues with them because they take jobs away from the very communities they claim to help, because they appropriate the language and form of activism to guide impressionable children through meaningless activities designed to make them feel like they're "raising awareness" rather than self-organizing, because they are a for-profit company allowed to set up franchises in publicly funded schools, and because the smug faces of the Kielburger brothers are the very reason why the Germans coined the term backpfeifengesicht.

But you know me, I'm an extremist of the loony left, so of course I'd have issues with liberals. However, this organization is so perfidious even liberals should have problems with it. Case in point: They are litigious bastards who quash every critical media piece published about them. Seriously, try Googling "free the children + controversy" and see what happens. No supposed charity is free from controversy—except this one. Reason being that they are very good at getting criticism of themselves scrubbed, up to and including pulping a Toronto Life exposé about their corruption.

Now they've managed to get a CBC documentary about voluntourism, Volunteers Unleashed, yanked. The very excellent Canadaland has the scoop, including the two clips that the Kielburgers don't want you to see.

Just a little reminder that censorship doesn't need to look like jackboots and burning books to effectively silence dissent. Go watch them before Canadaland gets sued too!

:)

Jan. 12th, 2015 02:55 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (socialism with a human face)
Today has not been utter shit! This is gr8 because I expected utter shit.

Most important is that things are looking up for our hospitalized kid. He is stable and they were going to try to get him off life support today. So, fingers crossed.

It remains a tragic situation. The family is cash-strapped; we are taking up a collection for them. Both parents work and the mother isn't even getting any time off. I can't even imagine.

In less life-or-death news, my film class continued to be pants. Tomorrow is their last chance to demonstrate to me that they can actually use a fucking camera, so hopefully they'll get their shit together.

On the plus side, a good many of the kids in other classes are in proper panic mode and actually getting work done. So. Yay?

I did nothing all weekend except solder a thing. I fuckered my legs and spine running up and down the stairs, and fuckered my brain worrying about my kids. Bah. At least I'm in proper panic mode and finally getting things done.

I just really hope I don't need to flunk more than half of my film kids.

Pens

Nov. 21st, 2014 07:28 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (cat teacher)
Normally, the Ontario Teachers' group is dull as shit, depressing, and/or rage-inducing, but I'm trying to take my mind off of furnaces and so I was perusing it.

Some teacher, in all earnestness, posted that he kept losing his red marking pen, i.e., the kids keep stealing it. Which is a thing. You need to nail down all your stationary supplies or they go missing, though tbh the supply teachers are far worse than the kids. Pens and pencils in classrooms are like cigarettes in prison. It's a thing.

After some equally earnest helpful advice, the thread immediately devolved into, let's just say, really bizarre advice, followed by protestations of everyone involved being Serious Teachers Who Do Serious Teaching, and increasingly strange ways in which teachers protect their writing utensils from light-fingered children.

I may have won the thread with the suggestion that he buy this and ensure that no one will steal it because they are too terrified.



...so how bad is it that a) I kind of want one, and b) was stupid enough to go to ThinkGeek and see what their pens look like?*

(I mean, I barely ever use pens anymore. I need a pencil for marking down attendance on the scan sheets, but all of my feedback is online, which has resulted in 99% less angrily crumpled assignments stuffed into desks and behind computers.)

ETA: It's now the morning after and the pen discussion is still going on and has descended into Dada pranksterism, with helpful advice involving Scottie attack dogs, sticky tack, and keeping a tampon in with your pens. Teachers, man.

WAH! Want! Don't need!
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (cat teacher)
I was arguing with a Stupid Person On the InternetTM on a friend's post about John Tory, which led to a digression. Basically, John Tory, who likes to promote himself as a reasonable centrist* believes that creationism should be taught in schools and wanted to funnel public funds into religious education. Another person on the thread brought up that, as potential mayor of Toronto**, he would have nothing to do with education.

Very well, I (and several others) replied, but it's indicative of a stupid way of thinking. And I pointed out that, if he was willing to fritter away my tax dollars—I really do sound like an arch-conservative sometimes—on religious education on a provincial level, who knew what he might get up to at a municipal level. At any rate, he couldn't be trusted with the budget.

Somewhere during the course of this discussion, I found myself arguing against the Catholic school system and Tory's proposed publicly funded religious schools on the grounds that this was an inefficient use of public resources. This is true, and it is, but it's not the primary reason why I don't support tax dollars going to religious schools, and Stupid Person On the Internet immediately jumped in with, "well, it's not like our public schools are models of efficiency now."

Which is true (though they are more efficient than a multitude of little Bible camps and Branch Davidian compounds and yeshivas and madrassas would be), it occured to me that I needed to amend my initial statement. Schools should not be models of efficiency. Education and health care are the two big areas that I can think of that can never, and should never, be efficient.

Is it, for example, a practical use of money to extend the life of an aging cancer patient by five years? It is not. But if that aging cancer patient is your loved one, you understand that while not practical, it's a correct use of money. Likewise, it is expensive and inefficient to ensure that special needs kids have EAs, adaptive equipment, and a lower student-to-teacher ratio. We pour a lot of money into kids who won't necessarily put back into the economy what they give in. From a purely financial perspective, it is not cost-effective to educate them. But we should, we absolutely should, because the intangible social good of an educated and socialized populace transcends numbers. And because it's morally right. The alternative is barbarism.

Efficiency is the worst lie of late-stage capitalism. The economy has never been leaner or more efficient or more productive. And yet we work longer hours and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. We buy into it because on an individual level we're told that it's good to be productive, and most people can't think past the individual level. On a macro level, inefficiency and redundancy are actually beneficial. We already have enough stuff.

There's, of course, a world of difference between pouring in resources that we won't get back (which is necessary) and deliberately taking money out of the system to duplicate services that don't need to be duplicated, and have a bunch of mini-systems that do a shittier job than one big one would do. Bureaucratic and lumbering though public education may be, it is the best of a series of worse alternatives.

* My least favourite political position, incidentally; well below Westboro Baptist Church and the RCP, who at least can be arsed to take a stand on things.
** And dear readers, you have no idea how much it pains me to even write that sentence; Ford More Years would actually be better than fucking Tory.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (fuck patriarchy)
So if you've been out of school for awhile (or maybe it doesn't happen in other countries like it does in North America), you may not know that dress codes are a big thing. As soon as the weather turns, the harassment starts. Girls (and while the odd boy gets coded over a pot leaf graphic or baggy pants, it's girls 90% of the time) get sent up to the office, get phone calls home, get sent home in some cases, over what they're wearing. Teachers are ordered to scrutinize every item covering each teenage body to determine if skirts and tops are long enough, if necklines are too low, if bra straps are too prominent. For teachers like me, who have zero interest in looking at teenage bodies and were raised to be polite and look at people's faces and not their asses, it's a situation that can range from awkward to my feminist principles are in conflict with my job.

By the way, the heteronormative, cisnormative, misogynist, victim-blaming thing where administrators tell young girls that their clothing is distracting the boys happens in pretty much every school as far as I know. I don't know if they teach that in principal school or what, but it's not an aberration. You'd think, because we are supposed to teach responsibility, the emphasis would be on the boys (or, hey, maybe girls are attracted to other girls, or not everyone identifies as one or the other, and by the way to teenagers everything is distracting and it doesn't actually matter what you wear) to keep their eyes in their own heads, but it's always the slut-shaming. Always.

(If you're wondering, I don't enforce a dress code. I do tell the boys to take off their hats, because it is an obviously visible thing if an admin walks in, and also because baseball caps are fugly. And if I can see a kid's entire ass, I will tell him to pull up his pants. But I do not feel comfortable telling a girl that her bra strap shouldn't show, because I feel like my bra strap shows a lot of the time and it's no biggie.)

There have been a bunch of good articles lately about dress codes in schools, but this is my favourite thus far:

It really bothers me how schools insist that girls wear bras (this starts at, like, age 8-14 when girls start budding. Many girls and/or their moms have embarrassing stories of female teachers quietly pulling them aside, and delicately suggesting that she get a training bra), but then simultaneously decree that bra straps are inappropriate. This is like insisting all boys must wear socks, but the tops of socks sticking out of the shoes are inappropriate.  It’s just… so arbitrary.
...

It’s yet another reminder, and reinforcement, that a girl’s appearance is more important, and demands more attention, than her other, non-visible qualities. You know, qualities like intelligence, perseverance, athletic ability, tenacity, creativity, a hard work ethic… attention to those attributes seem fade away rather quickly once an inch of skin is exposed.

Instead, it teaches her to view herself in a sexualized gaze, from an outsider’s point of view. At an increasingly young age, getting dressed in the morning turns from “does teal clash with yellow?” to “is this too much shoulder? Can someone see down this shirt? Would someone be able to look up this skirt on the stairs? What happens when I sit or bend over? I should test that.”

Anyway, the whole thing is worth a read, as is the link to Impression, which is an excellent photo essay about the impressions that clothes leave on women's bodies. I'm sort of tired of the argument where I work. Weirdly, Colleague Who Shall Not Be Named, not known for his progressive views in general, actually said some of the things I was thinking at the last staff meeting, which is that the adult obsession with teenage bodies is fucking creepy.

This is our culture, though. This is how we're raising young people to think—that girls are objects to be viewed, scrutinized, judged, that boys are the ones doing the watching, and if one doesn't see the connection to more violent forms of misogyny, one isn't paying enough attention.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (cat teacher)
I taught my kids about the Tab key and how to quickly format documents in Word using styles.

It was an interesting experience. I did a poll. Most of them considered themselves proficient in Word. Exactly zero of them had ever had a single lesson about how to use Word. They were just sort of expected to pick it up.

In my day, we had keyboarding classes, not that I ever took any of them. Anyway, it's probably one of the more useful things I've taught lately.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (cat teacher)
Never attempt to draw an LED on the chalkboard in front of a class of 14-year-old boys.

If you find yourself having done so, do not under any circumstances add rays coming out of the top to show that it's lit up, or, God forbid, shading.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (yay)
Last day of school today, which is actually going to involve a lot of work for me and possibly a sugar high.

Then it's off to Pennsylvania first thing tomorrow to kill zombies and spread Communism.

I think a "YAY!" is in order.
sabotabby: (teacher lady)
So remember back when the Ontario Liberals took away our collective bargaining rights with Bill 115? And I said at the time that I thought my union's strategy in fighting it was haphazard, disorganized, and ultimately doomed to failure?

Well, it turns out there was a reason: OSSTF's now ex-president's future career as a Liberal MPP. That's right: After the Liberals completely (and predictably) screwed us over in the name of austerity*, the union leadership swooned right back into its arms, and Coran jumped ship entirely.

On the plus side, his campaign isn't going well, seeing as he's a lying liar who lies and isn't even skilled about it.

Here's a memo from Coran back in September, advising teachers to withdraw financial support and membership from the Liberal Party in response to Bill 115:

memo from coran photo 969503_10152966848860640_223295993_n_zps45b0b9e5.jpg

And look, now he's chumming it up with his best buddy, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne:

kathleen and ken otp photo 1006149_10152987070970534_173544190_n_zps03baec37.jpg

I don't even feel betrayed because some of us saw this coming from a mile away, and I expect our leadership to be horrible and corrupt at this point. Ain't labour relations grand?

* Not that it actually saved money; austerity seldom does. Instead, it led to an increase in sick days, which cost money, because if you can't bank your sick days, there's no motivation not to max them out.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (sleep of reason/goya/wouldprefernot2)
I was assigned to teach Grade 12 Applied English. I had 50 students in my class. The assigned novel study for the year was Atlas Shrugged.

I was dismayed at first, then realized that I could make the curriculum subversive by deconstructing the text. But then I remembered that the book was a million pages long, and you had to pretty much read novels aloud to get Applied kids to read them, and the kids would never sit still long enough to participate in a critical analysis.
sabotabby: (teacher lady)
Did you know that I work for an actual fanatical Marxist school board that teaches kids horrible things like class warfare, anti-racism, and not beating up hookers?

Oh, SUN News, you are precious.

TDSB day of significance : Prime time : SunNews Video Gallery

The answer, as always, is "scrap public education and give the money back to the parents."

Meanwhile, Crackgate continues, with the Honourable Wife-Beater still refusing to comment (I watched almost the entire City Hall proceedings yesterday, where he appeared hungover but not inebriated and did not answer any questions about crack). Jon Stewart's take is, of course, great.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (learn2grammar)
I'm very much on the go today (and all weekend, argh) so here are two rantlets with accompanying links that have little in common beyond being about phrases I hate.

Broken homes

In the midst of an otherwise quite good "don't pick on teachers" editorial, Peter Mansbridge says:
We send teachers children from broken homes, from abusive homes, from negligent homes. We send teachers children from homes where both parents work, or where the only parent works, or where no parent works.

Which reminds me that I don't think I've ever ranted about how much I hate the term "broken home."

I was one of those pitiable children who came from a broken home—and, as a bonus, a home in which the only parent worked. (A trifecta, even; I have some memories of coming home from school when said parent worked late, making me—at least according to the media, a "latchkey kid, raised by the television." Woe is me!) In fairness, up until I was a certain age, one could conceivably call my home "broken." I'd argue that my parents' separation and later divorce fixed that rather handily, however; my home was certainly a better place to be with a single parent than it was with a traditional nuclear family.

The divorce rate in Canada is approximately 41%, and presumably many of them have children. For the sake of argument, let's say four in ten students I teach come from families where the parents are divorced. I'd bet you anything that those four aren't the ones causing trouble. As much wailing and moaning as there is about absent fathers and such*, of the children I've taught who experience some form of abuse that I know about (i.e., Children's Aid was involved in some way), all but two experienced that abuse at the hands of a father or step-father. So—whose homes are "broken" again?

Can we have a moratorium on "broken home" and "single-parent family" being shorthand for "troubled kid"? It's sexist and heterocentric (after all, it assumes the supremacy of the nuclear family) and obscures the very real problems of high unemployment, poverty, ableism, and marginalization that are typically behind the failure of kids to thrive in school.

Creative class

Looks like this one's been dealt the death blow by the man who coined it in the first place, Richard Florida. The article has its problems (the author is way too gleeful, for one thing, though that's not surprising given what a douchenozzle Florida is), and stops well short of proposing workable solutions. But it's nice to finally see an admission of the failure of what's basically polite class warfare.

So beyond the obvious—an influx of artsy young professionals with no kids does not a thriving urban centre make—let's examine the assumptions inherent in the term itself. Are working class people not creative? Are there significant numbers of people who can earn a living through "creativity" without either being supported by their upper class parents or working as a barista at Starbucks? Is the separation of this group of people into a single city or neighbourhood a desirable outcome?

It's dumb enough that Florida said it in the first place, and even dumber that it's spawned a culture of TED Talks and institutional conferences that take the existence of something called a "creative class" as a given. I should hope that this foolishness will stop now that he's admitted it's bunk.

* This usually comes with a big helping of coded racism as well: If black fathers would only stick around, black boys wouldn't join gangs or something.
sabotabby: (teacher lady)
So the union has decided that we'll go back to extracurriculars now.

Um, that's good, I guess? A lot of school activities have already been disrupted, and many of my co-workers are not exactly enthused about going back to volunteering so much of our time. I can't say that I'm thrilled myself, since I'll be getting the kids all excited only to abandon them in April again.

The official rationale is a bit confusing. Our new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has made no promises and is continuing along with her predecessor's austerity party line. The new education minister has said flat-out that she won't tear up the contracts imposed under Bill 115. So it's business as usual as far as the government is concerned.

It's also business as usual as far as the union bureaucracy is concerned. I mean, they donated $30,000 to four candidates in the Liberal leadership race, three of whom had voted for and supported Bill 115. That's $30,000 of union dues paid by the rank-and-file who got ass-reamed by the bill.

There is no word about what's happened in closed-door negotiations between the union and the government, and no reports of any concessions made on the government's side. The union leadership's official line remains: "Trust us."

But as a rank-and-file member active in the union, I don't. Why should I? That's been their line since the beginning. Their strategy was to put a bunch of eggs in the Liberal basket, a neoliberal centre-right party largely unconcerned with Ontario workers. Then, when the Liberals betrayed us, they acted all shocked and put on a militant face. The strategy was supposed to be to stop everything we could short of extracurriculars while we were in a legal strike position, and then strike extracurriculars when the government brought Bill 115 down on us. Instead, the provincial leadership blew its load early, making it appear that the government used Bill 115 as a response to our striking extracurriculars, and leaving us absolutely nothing left to bargain with.

Then they went and donated $30,000 to the party that had just fucked us over.

Meanwhile, we lost the critical support of the public by cutting extracurriculars. There were attempts at community outreach, creative strategies, even talk of a walk-out, but the union leadership nixed all that and insisted on colouring within the lines, much to our detriment.

While we protested in the freezing cold on Jan. 26th, our chief negotiator was reportedly inside the Liberal convention, cozying up to her friends in there.

Basically, all of this sabre-rattling has proven the impotence of organized labour in Ontario against an effort by the government to outlaw collective bargaining. It has highlighted our greatest weakness—what ought to be an organization of workers is a bloated, flabby bureaucracy incapable of thinking strategically or acting on behalf of its membership.

I was against the extracurricular ban as a strategy because it puts pressure in the wrong places and hurts the students while giving political leverage to the government, which is the exact opposite of what we ought to have been doing. It hurt. I actually really love doing extracurriculars. My classroom at lunch is a refuge for kids who dread the noisy, crowded cafeteria, for whom sports teams have little appeal, artsy, nerdy kids, kids who don't have computers at home. It hurt most of my co-workers too, teachers who love coaching or producing plays or running yearbook. But we did it, not because we thought it was a smart strategy, but because any strategy would be completely ineffective unless we all stood together.

And I would have said that it was worth it if we'd got something out of it. Sick days. A fraction of the wages they took from us. Something. But as far as I can tell, we did all of that for nothing, and that makes it so much worse.

So I've been a Wobbly since 2001 (dues paid up and everything, even if I can't be arsed to attend meetings) and agreed in theory with their critique of business unions. But it takes getting sold out this dramatically by one's own union to really illustrate the failure of the model. Our union increasingly resembles the official unions in Mexico, an additional layer of bureaucracy that takes money from below and protects the interests of those above. We need to take a long hard look at the compromises we've made and the people we're in bed with if organized labour is ever to be a force for positive social change again.
sabotabby: (teacher lady)
It looks as though we'll be holding a wildcat strike on Wednesday. Ex-premier (ex? I dunno; dude is still talking for some reason) Dalton McGuinty is threatening to slap us all with $2000 fines, which was not even done during the dreaded Harris years. All together now: "Christ, what an asshole."

Is a strike still illegal if the contract itself is illegal? I guess we'll see. Also, is a guy who prorogued Parliament, essentially deciding that politicians should be getting paid to not work, really in a position to criticize anyone else for walking off the job?

Anyway, dear friends, your presence on the picket lines (don't know where they will be yet), letters, and other gestures of support are vastly appreciated.

I am enjoying some schadenfreude at the moment, as TDSB director Chris Spence (responsible for—oh, all kinds of stupid shit; want a list) resigned today after it turned out he'd plagiarized several opinion pieces. I am also enjoying watching my kids react to the scandal—as you might imagine, they're finding it completely hilarious.

Interesting times, to be sure.
sabotabby: (teacher lady)
There's been a lot of news that I've wanted to blog about over my semi-hiatus, and I will catch up. Let's start with the thing that affects me personally, though, which is the latest Bill 115 debacle.

Last we heard, Dictator of Education Laurel Broten had vowed that if we didn't negotiate contracts within the framework of the bill, she would impose contracts by Dec. 31. As one astute writer put it, we had the choice of being shot in the head or pulling the trigger ourselves. Most locals chose to not pull the trigger. Meanwhile the union fumbled around for a protest strategy, finally putting in place a number of passive-aggressive strike rules and boycotting extracurricular activities.

Well, obviously the deadline has passed, and what has our Dear Leader done? She has imposed contracts that rob us of our sick days, freeze our wages, and forbid us to strike, and then said that she'll repeal the bill. As [livejournal.com profile] frandroid put it: "Kill the guy and then throw the gun under the bridge. The gun did it, not me!!"

Now we can't legally strike, though, which means that our only legal option is to continue to boycott extracurricular activities. (Which is the last thing that anyone wants!) Naturally, some extralegal ideas have been floated around, which is really what we should have been doing in the first place had the provincial union leadership not expected the government to play by the rules.

Lest you think that austerity measures are necessary to combat the debt (I know you don't think that) and that teachers are greedy, etc., on the same day that the government imposed a bill limiting workers in germ factories to 10 non-bankable sick days a year, it also handed out $21 million in Christmas bonuses to its top bureaucrats. It also continues to protect the trades council that charges $143 to screw in one pencil sharpener in public schools. (Read that article; it will make your skin crawl.) There are, no doubt, places where money could be saved. It doesn't need to come at the expense of our collective bargaining rights.

Incidentally, isn't the government still prorogued? (Not striking, of course; government doesn't strike.) Which makes me wonder how this is all even happening. There's an impending Liberal leadership election—like Broten, Premier McGuinty favours the approach of farting, leaving the room, and crying "whoever smelt it dealt it!" (Not that this has shut him up; he resigned as premier and yet he still keeps talking.) It's a pity Gerard Kennedy is with the wrong party because, as usual, he has his head screwed on straight. Probably doesn't matter who wins the leadership, though; the Ontario Liberals are done for a few years given their string of fuck-ups as of late. We're likely to end up with the monstrous Hudak Conservatives, who want to bring in chain gangs. Only Andrea Horwath can save us now!

At any rate, I'm walking into a very uncertain situation on Monday morning.

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