Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking back at 2014

A new year is just about here!  And so I get to think back to 2014.  And I have absolutely no complaints.  It was a great year…I almost don't have anything more to say… I loved being in Vancouver and I loved the trips I took-Florida, a Caribbean cruise, New Orleans, Christina Lake, Quebec, Ontario, Vancouver Island, Whistler, Seattle.  I got to see so much beauty, took so many wonderful walks,had good  times with wonderful friends.  I still loved living in my house and in my neighbourhood.

 Of course it is not always smooth sailing.  I have a garage still falling down, I broke my wrist, I got exasperated with the government during the teachers' strike, but in the end I just feel very lucky.  I loved teaching but I love the freedom of being retired.  And I still get to go hang out at school volunteering two mornings a week, mainly with those cute first graders.

And I have taken thousand of pictures…Because the world just is one beautiful place!  In all seasons!

So I have been reading others' great resolutions, goals for 2015 and I certainly can think of a few, but I just have these feelings of gratitude tonight.  And I look forward to new adventures in 2015.  I am quite excited that I will be going to a new continent, South America, this year.  Two left-Africa and Antarctica… So my word for 2015 is just to be open, open to possibilities, ideas, opportunities, adventures, to understanding.  

And wishing all of you the best 2015 possible!

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Christmas Playlist that just might come in handy...

A friend sent me a Christmas Playlist and I know Christmas is over for this year but you never know when you may need a playlist!!!  Literacy takes all forms here!

I thought it was really fun so here it is with his permission.  I have decided that it is still the holiday season so here you go and thanks for sending this, Michael C.  I just put in the hyper links as my contribution!  

I first met Michael in 1973 when we worked at a summer camp and he had just returned from a Rolling Stones concert so some things really don't change.  I personally might have other favourites such as Robert Downey singing Joni Mitchell's River but you are spared!   I could't resist a few comments in brackets but from now on the words are his! 

"Hi there, I just did this list because I was looking at the 2000 miles video and it led me on a search for a few others.I like 1,2,3 and 5 the best. I didn't include Band-aid which I really like because it annoys some people due to its being overplayed over the years.I would like to avoid annoying people wherever possible.There is no Mariah Carey or similar artists because it is my list and she is very high on my annoying list. No.s  11 and 12 don't have anything to do with Christmas but represent an opportunity to break away from the Christmas theme and cleanse one's soul through other means,like though fun.
   I didn't include Monty Python Christmas in Heaven which is rather funny and I like their Finland is the Country for Me which is even funnier but it has nothing to do with Christmas.( and 12 is a nice round number even if it is 11 plus a place holder).To be  completely honest I can't watch the Sting ones all the way though unless I was doing something else at the same time while I can watch my favorites over and over with no need for distraction.I have a CD with Sting and the Chieftains which kind of fits the overall theme and is very atmospheric but I couldn't find a YouTube clip except for Sister's of Mercy.
  There I have used atmospheric and haunting in the same email, I can tick that box off. There is a Kinks' Christmas song which is ok ,Father Christmas , but I left it out in deference to Chrissie Hynde and her opinion of Ray Davies. 

1.Christie Hynde : 2000 Miles , very pretty song and nice arrangement. Coldplay and others do a version. Her repetitive little riff is very catchy and her quirky voice fits so well.

Here is the original version, more electrified , with a goofy and dated video

2. Fairy Tale of New York, note the  Matt Dillon cameo.He like to play cops ,it would seem.Don't look at Shane McGowan's teeth.Beneath that drug and alcohol addled exterior there is or at least was a genius..this is the original version with the late Kirsty MacColl.

3.Dido. I really like her voice..haunting...the song is ..Christmas Day has a bit of Game of Thrones feel to it,horses Knights and fog,in the overall impression of it ,if not the words

3.Bruce S live ...Santa Claus is coming to town...he is such a good guy and a good sport how could anyone not like it.

4.Keith R "Keef" Run Run Rudolph. Keith doing a Xmas song seems odd but in his other life he is a regular guy, walks the dog and writes children's books ,therefore  he must enjoy Christmas...the song is a tribute to Chuck Berry in any event.Hail Hail Rock and Roll...good movie.

5.Emerson Lake and Palmer.  I believe in Father Christmas.Nice pipes from Greg Lake. I think that is him...actually it might be the solo version without E and P..I didn't see any drummer in the cliffs...I Believe in Father Xmas...They don't get much Air play these days but they were pretty good in their day...

6.  Queen...Thank god it's Christmas, I miss Freddie Mercury's voice.So over the top but so much fun.

7.John Lennon, Now this is Xmas. jangly edgy John with the Plastic Ono Band.

8.Enya …We wish you a Merry Christmas.  gothic gaelic swell music( as in swelling ,building up to a crest as opposed to the jocular " it is swell music").Seriously I used to listen to my one Enya CD a lot but not so much lately...Orinoco Flow anybody?

9. I looked for a Moody Blues  Xmas song but it seemed to be blocked. So this is a placeholder...their music seems to fit with the seasonal mood....Ride my see saw while on an sleigh in the snow? Never Comes the(Xmas) Day...(holiday) Nights in White Satin

(Now I am going to interject-I found this one which I kind of liked A Winter's Tale-I personally used to love the Moody Blues and went to a very nice outdoor concert here.  I did find links for the others but they might have been ones Michael would have picked-oh well..).

10. Sting with his wintry disposition deserves honourable mention...he is a bit pretentious but he is a serious musician and goes some places that other musicians would never go and that tantric stuff as well....he has my respect if not my patient listening. Soul Cake.

More Sting with talking explanation of his winter themed cd, Deutsch Grammophon already.  If on a winter's night.

11. Romantics , What I Like About You...old school one hit wonder.It has legs and what about those outfits and hair, makes you want to jump about.  (me again, I had forgotten about this one…)

12. AC DC Highway to Hell at River Plate ...what better way to blow away all that seasonal introspection and melancholy than watching Angus and Malcolm  in front of vast numbers of crazed South American fans singing along...kind of hypnotic, actually not kind of ,very very hypnotic, I might even wear those horns if I see them live. (let's hope he doesn't but kind of cheery I have to admit)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas letters

Christmas virtual bouquet
I have been writing form Christmas letters since 1986 when I had a really bad year and didn't want to keep writing bad news over and over so I thought this way I could write it once, photocopy, and send.  Then it became a habit-I threatened to quit doing it but I actually had people tell me I wrote the best Christmas letters.  It became one more Christmas tradition.  Now with email and Facebook it really seems redundant.  Also if you want to put nice coloured pictures in it, it is expensive to reproduce.  My letters tended to run to three pages which also makes it difficult to stuff in with a small Christmas card.

I could just email it off as most people have internet, but now that I have become the recipient of Christmas letters, I know that it is nice to have them on real paper to read I guess.

Now that I am retired, I seem to have blogs galore (just check the side of this blog) where I post pictures of Vancouver and of my trips farther afield.  I also am a bit addicted to Facebook sharing pictures daily.  So the whole Christmas letter writing process didn't really thrill me this year.  I whipped the letter off and managed to keep it to one page.  If anyone wanted coloured pictures they could check my blogs, and I had ideas of doing a better version that I could email.  Well it is now December 17th and that hasn't happened yet-it may happen today but not sure about that.

the day I was having my annual Christmas party
last year there was a snowstorm
Last night I worked on writing my Christmas cards.  And somehow it just seemed like such a chore, something just to get done.  I reread my Christmas letter-definitely not the best and I seem to have a lack of adjectives, lovely being used at least five times.  As a teacher I probably would have given it a C+ if that.  Just thinking-I think in the past writing the Christmas letter was a bit of a fun change of scene after writing report cards

And then there are the cards-I always buy my Christmas cards at post Christmas sales.  I try to buy nice ones, but somehow they seem to be small, hard to cram papers into those envelopes.  I keep thinking of doing my own and last year did all my overseas ones digitally (and that will probably happen again).  This is time consuming to produce the first one but the recipients get them as real cards and I don't even have to put a stamp on them.

I have been torn between actually getting the Christmas cards to people before Christmas or doing them more thoroughly and mailing them after Christmas.  And when I was teaching I often ended up writing them late-i think one of the best jobs  I did was the time I was writing them on the ferry on a beautiful Christmas Day going to Victoria.  I could justify my late cards because that way you got a personal note as well as that infamous Christmas letter.

my dining room looking Christmasy
Last year I had to take my car in for something and I was writing them in the waiting room at the Acura dealership-they provide cookies and coffee and The View so why not.  There is also a big coffee table and a nice sofa so I could spread myself out.  They might find it a bit odd if I just sat there when my car wasn't there though.  Writing them last night in front of some Christmas movie didn't seem to be working too well.

Well this is a warm up so I will let you know if I come to a resolution but right now I think it's time for coffee and an ocean walk!  Meanwhile Merry Christmas!

I actually do read Adult Books…the latest Ian McEwan novels, Sweet Tooth and The Children's Act

Sometimes when people ask me what I am reading I have to think… I used to read a book a week, sometimes less when I was teaching, and sometimes more.  I think I thought I would read more when I retired but that hasn't actually happened.  One problem may be the accessibility to all sorts of reading due to wifi and iPads and iPhones making it all so portable.  Now I do read books on my iPad especially when I am on holiday, but I still like real books.  Thinking about it, I think for me non fiction or something light works best as ibooks.

Anyway I seem to be back into reading.  It must be these dark nights and short days!  So here's a bit of what I have been reading in the last couple of weeks!

The Children's Act is Ian McEwan's latest book.  I am generally a fan and I love listening to him being interviewed because he is always just so interesting.  I had heard quite a bit about The Children's Hour before I read it.  And that is not always an advantage.

The last book of his that I had read was Solar which I really liked despite the both obnoxious main character  imaginable.  This time I couldn't help but wonder about his choice of a heroine or rather why he wanted to write in the voice of a woman.  I am still not sure I really am totally convinced by Fiona but that didn't stop me really enjoying this book.  Fiona is a a family court judge whose husband has just announced he wants to have an affair which makes her want him out of her marriage.  I guess that would put your nice safe life in jeopardy.  And then  she gets a case where a teenage boy not yet 18  has leukaemia and is supposed to have a blood transfusion but his family are Jevohah Witnesses.  She goes to visit the boy and discovers him to be an intelligent musically talented young man.  She does rule in favour of him having the blood transfusion and there are of course, unexpected results.

I liked how we saw into the world of judges.  I also like how Fiona feels confident about her ability to make good judgements until things begin to go very wrong first in her personal life and then it affects her professional life.

I recently heard an interview with a retired Ontario Supreme Court Chief Justice again looking at how hard it is to deal with some cases and coping mechanisms.

I think one thing I like about McEwan's books is how they make me think, question, as his characters are forced to do (well generally).

Since I was on a bit of an Ian McEwan roll, I started reading Sweet Tooth which actually he had written earlier.  I had read the first chapter as a preview on Ibooks, and it didn't grab me enough for me to want to buy it.  I heard him interviewed about the book and that was interesting.  At the library, I saw a copy of Sweet Tooth, and thought I would try again.  This time I am half way through and felt as if I needed a break.  I find myself wondering why McEwan keeps writing from the perspective of women. If I had difficulty seeing Fiona as three dimensional, I definitely have even more difficulty relating to Selena.  If I didn't like the main character in Solar, in some ways I think I like Selena even less.  And I just don't know anyone quite like her, but of course, since I don't really care for this fictional character, I guess I wouldn't be seeking out a real life version.

Selena, apparently quite beautiful and the daughter of a bishop,  ends up taking Maths and not doing particularly well,  at Cambridge (to strangely please her mother) although she would much prefer to be studying English.  She becomes involved with a young man who introduces her to one of his professors, and then she has an affair with this older married man.  He serves as a bit of a mentor to her and encourages her to enter the civil service, but after preparing her for this, rather unceremoniously dumps her much to her shock.  Confused and for her, heart broken, she does get a job in the civil service or rather to be exact MI5, in a branch that has one project fighting communism by infiltrating the intellectual world.  Her particular mark is a young writer whom she tells she works for a foundation that is encouraging young writers and will enable him to write without having to teach.  She reads some of his short stories before meeting him and is quite enamoured by his writing.  We get the replay of these short stories.  Currently they have embarked on an affair.  There is also a strand running that implies her mentor was a double agent.  It also comes out that he knew he had cancer when he broke things off with her.

It all seems so sleazy and far fetched-but no doubt based in truth.  It is interesting in that the setting is the early 70's and Selena is roughly my age.  Anyway as I write this I think I will return to finish reading the book.

I did finish the book.  And I got my explanation about why this book was written from my female perspective.  A bit of a surprise ending, but once again I have to appreciate McEwan's cleverness.  I also understood more about why we had to read summations of her mark's short stories and novella.  Apparently, these have plots similar to McEwan's own early work.  Using the work did  all made sense which I do appreciate when I come to the end of a book.  It had that quality of the spy novel of having to figure out what is real, not real.

It made me want to read more about this subject and era.  I found some things almost unbelievable in this book but life can be quite unbelievable so… And I actually did like Selena better by the end of the book as she "wrestled" with her conscience.  We also seemed to have been reading the same books then.  I also enjoyed going back to 1973/74 in Great Britain.  I actually was there in the late summer of 1974 for over a month but not sure how aware I was.  It struck me that life was a lot economically more difficult there than in Canada, but I really wasn't very well versed on British politics, more aware of North American politics.  I was basically skimming along as a tourist.  The England described in Sweet Tooth seems kind of grim while I had a certain feeling of that but as a North American felt the glitter and the history.

Now I just checked and McEwan is younger so was actually only a teenager in this time period. Hmm… Also a reviewer thought this was one of his happiest novels, well I found the mood rather bleak.

But  yes, in the end, Sweet Tooth, was well worth reading as was The Children's Act.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Two new alphabet picture books-Once Upon An Alphabet and Take Away the A, An Alphabeast of a book

I had a very nice time at Kidsbooks this week checking out some of the new picture books.  I am a lover of picture books and it is always fun to see new ones.

Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers has great short stories for all the letters.  Jeffers had a run away hit with The Day the Crayons Quit, and I liked this one as well.  How creative he is!  I loved this video about his creative process!  Even with older kids I think it would be fun to talk about the elements of a short story and have them create a short story about an alphabet letter.  A great starting point might be to read The Day the Crayons Quit for a bit of inspiration.  After that it would be great to share Jeffers' alphabet stories.  Or you could even read the A story and then have them pick a letter to work on…
Here is a sample from the book,
"Victor was used to being victorious.
But recently he was defeated
and retreated into hiding under
stairs where he sits, plotting
his vengeance"

And again there is a whole story which could be elaborated by the students-how was he defeated, by whom, and how we he get his revenge???  Lots of possibilities with this book!!!

Another fun alphabet book is Take Away the A, An Alphabeast of a book!  This one is written by Michael Escoffier  and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo.  And to give you a taste here is a video!

It is really clever and imaginative as you see the bride without a b go for a ride on a ferris wheel or a a chair without a c grow hair.  An aunt without a u becomes an ant.  This is a book that can really encourage word play and imagination.  The illustrations are totally wonderful.  I can see kids having fun coming up with their own Take Away the _____  Also with younger children a great way to get them to really notice letters and the differences they make!

I have more books to share so stay tuned!!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ashley Spires' The Most Magnificent Thing and other book treasures

I have been longing to write about picture books, but I was so upset about the teachers' strike that started in June and didn't end until late September, it was hard to write about anything else.

The strike is over, if not the issues so I am finally going to  write about picture books.

The last Sunday in September,  I went to Word on the Street, a fun event that takes place in major cities across Canada to celebrate reading.  There are lots of books, and authors reading books, and you can make books etc.  When I skimmed down the list of authors, I was pleased to discover Ashley Spires was speaking.  I fell in love with Ashley's book, Penguin and the Cupcake, when I was a consultant and there was a lovely little children's bookstore near me, on Main Street. called Once Upon A Huckleberry, and I was able to hear her speak there.  She just seemed so creative and fun.  I loved the finger puppets she made that went with her book.

Ashley moved to Saskatchewan, the store closed, and I became a grade six/seven teacher, but I still loved her books.  So it was great to see her again  at Word on the Street and to find out about her latest books.  And I was also please to find out that she was living in the Lower Mainland again.

She spoke mainly about two of her newest books Sunday.  The first was The Most Magificent Thing.  She was inspired to write this book having seen children at schools frustrated by their drawing so she wanted to help kids to realize that you don't have to create perfection.  It's a delightful book as the girl tries to create something magnificent but is not satisfied with each creation though in the end a use is found for all her creations.  To hear a bit more about this book and the hackable books she gave away at this presentation as well, just check out this video.

The book even inspired  the Property Brothers!

She also  talked about her popular graphic novel series Binky the Space Cat, the astronaut who never actually leaves home and her plans for a new series.

The other new book she shared was Edie's Ensembles.  Edie is so busy creating incredible outfits that she kind of forgets about her best friend.  And she gave out paper dolls of Edie with some of her ensembles!  She has plans for a sequel about Edie's friend, Andrew.

I just love Ashley's creativity, and I have been after my friends to arrange school visits!  For contact information just check her website.

Just a note- I have often used picture books with intermediate students, sometimes as a model for their own picture book writing or as part of a theme.  I think The Magnicent Thing Could be used in a variety of ways!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How one family baked to help local teachers!

I have read so many wonderful stories during the very long teachers'  strike that just ended.  It was as if there were sparks of light in the darkness.  This was one of my favourite stories from BC Voters Supporting BC Teachers and Public Education.  I am quoting Brooke Vasconseles and using her name only with her permission that this may inspire others to support/affect change.  Her note is addressed to teachers.

"Whatever you choose to vote today, you have my support completely. My 3 kids and I wanted to show appreciation for your efforts and support for your hardship fund and I wanted to let you guys know how it went. 

We offered to bake and sell some chocolate chip cookies as a fundraiser and the response was overwhelming. We spent a week in the kitchen and sold over 700 cookies! I wrote a cheque for $581 yesterday and we dropped it at our local Teachers Association office for deposit into the hardship fund. 

I have been awakened to the state of our public school system and the efforts of the teachers in it to provide my kids with the education that they deserve.

 I won't stop at baking cookies. I hope that this page remains open and continues to unify us in our efforts to better the conditions for our teachers and children. In short: thank you, thank you, thank you."
When I told a friend that it had been hard on teachers not being paid for five weeks plus, she answered that since they were on strike no wonder they were not paid.  I assured her that no teacher I knew would sooner be on a picket line than in a classroom teaching, but they felt that this was what they had to do.  Thanks to people like Brooke who really empathized and were patient, and supportive! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Teachers, how do I love thee?

This room was much more crowded when it contained 31 students
Another voice of a BC parent, NIcole Sims
"Teachers, how do I love thee? And all the staff, and hard-working PAC members, I love you, too. You've all worked so hard to give our children the best experience they can have, the best education money can't buy. But you've also kept us, the majority of parents, in the dark about how budget cuts are impacting our schools.
Please stop it.
I suggest that it's time to keep records of all that's not going well in our system, and to point out where the blame lies. No money for the hydro bill or seismic upgrading? Broken desks and windows, but no budget for repairs? Rats in basement? Fly infestations? Decrepit playgrounds? No paper in the supply cupboards? British Columbians need to know.
Find someone at each school to take photos, keeps tabs, collect information about all of these short-comings. Send it to all MLAs, the Minister of Education, the Premier, and all the media. Spread that information all over social media.
British Columbians need to know. They will care, they will help, but they need to find out about it!"

This was a post in BC Voters Supporting BC Public Education and Teachers Facebook group and it was followed by many comments. Teachers spoke of freezing cold classrooms, classes held in public buildings etc. By now many of you heard how teachers have bought their own supplies because there was not enough money for them in the school. As funding has been reduced parents are often expected to supply more as well.  I can still see boxes of Kleenex in cupboards that some teachers would collect from each student at the beginning of the year.  That was something I personally bought myself on a regular basis-I didn't have room for 31 boxes of Kleenex anywhere in my classroom!

Many classrooms are full of teacher owned resources. I tried to give up spending my own money but it was difficult. When I retired instead of a gift from people who attended my party I chose to have money donated to a charity my class had supported, Room to Read, and our school library because library budgets have been being cut for years.

As far as working and learning conditions I personally have taught in too hot classrooms, too small classrooms, and too cold classrooms. I taught in a portable where the outdoor stairs flooded regularly and I was sure there was mold, and it was destroyed the following year so I guess I was right.
I sometimes think teachers are a little crazy, they love teaching and do it despite it being a poorly paid profession and they often have to provide their own tools. Anyway a lot of parents because of this strike and online discussions have " woken up" and won't be afraid to continue to put pressure on the government and ensure that local trustees and MLA's truly care about and advocate for public education.

Are BC Liberals afraid of teachers???

The BC Liberals have been been planning some expensive fundraising dinners so a group of teachers decided that they would like to attend to try to get some people to listen to their concerns about BC education.  They bought tickets to a fundraiser with MLA Doug Bing and special guests,  and this is what happened!  I am quoting teacher, Melanie Harris,

"Well, friends, the BC Liberals did not disappoint. This morning, our $1000 was refunded and our table at Doug Bing’s fundraiser tonight was returned to the Riding Association. They won’t let us in.

Our decision to attend tonight’s event as guests came about after much conversation between friends and colleagues about how we could have a more impactful effect on our current leaders at a local and provincial level. The rallies have been great. The MLA meetings have been… informative. The letters have been powerful. But we needed to change our game.

We decided we needed to make this more personal. We needed to step away from fiscal frameworks and balanced budgets. We needed to stop talking numbers and statistics and start talking people. We needed to stop working against the government because it wasn’t working. We booked a table at Bing’s fundraiser so that we could connect with our community leaders and their supporters on their turf, not in an adversarial way but as intelligent, respectful professionals who wanted to work collaboratively with our leaders to enact positive change. Buuuut, true to form, they aren’t interested.

On Wednesday, Bing’s assistant contacted the person who purchased our table and asked him for the names of all his guests. She wanted to make sure there were no teachers attending, for security reasons. (Yes, we are dangerous. The pen is mightier than the sword, etc. etc.) Yesterday, he provided our names and shortly after we were advised that our donation would be refunded. This morning, it was.

Ours was a valiant effort, friends, but in keeping with the current trend of investments and returns, we seem to have put in more than we’re getting out. Thank you to all who supported us in our effort to change the tone of conversation around issues in education and other social services. Collaboration and networking won’t begin tonight, as planned, but the gig isn’t up. We remain committed to keeping the conversation alive and welcome you all to join us."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Six Year olds weigh in on social justice and the teachers' strike

from a Grade One class this spring
I read another great post today on BC Voters supporting BC teachers and public education and asked Elena, the author (university professor and parent) if I could share it here.

Overhearing our conversation about the strike (as we drove by our kids' school with the teachers picketing), one of my kids asked: "Does Christy Clark have kids?" 
 Yes, a boy. 
"So he isn't in school either, right? He must also be excited to be going back to school, right?" 
 I am not making this up. The conversation occurred this morning.
So far, we didn't offer the kids (six-year-old twins) complex socioeconomic analyses of the teachers' strike. So my husband decided to open up the can of worms and explained that, well, her son is in school, because there are schools that stay open during strikes for those who pay extra money. "But if you don't have the extra money?" came the logical question. -- Well, then you don't go to school. "That's not fair. You're supposed to share."
Conclusion: If six-year-olds get the basics of social justice, then where would one peg the intellectual level of the BC Liberals?

Elena Pnevmonidou

Choosing to send your child to a private school is a right of a parent, but obviously if you have less income you have less options. Parents who send their children to private school  pay public school taxes as well as these fees, but private schools are funded partially by tax payers' money as well. The school in Bountiful, a centre of controversy, is a funded private school.
  Also parents who send children to private school are often encouraged to make generous donations to these schools that are tax deductible. Public schools take everyone who wants to go; private schools do not.  Many many parents are barely scraping by financially and don't have money to make additional financial contributions then already required by the public school.
And one can not but wonder that if your child goes to public school you may care more deeply about public education, the right of every child, and the best investment anyone can make, in my opinion.


Great letter from a parent about BC teachers' strike

This morning I read this on the BC Voters Supporting BC Teachers and Public Education, a site that is really amazing and gratifying. Beverly gave me permission to share this post.

Beverly Grey-Westerby
1 hr · Edited
An open letters to the teachers of British Columbia,
I cannot claim to understand everything that the teachers have gone through these past few months. Though I have listened and supported and walked the line with you and educated myself about what you were fighting for, I never had to wonder when my next pay cheque was going to come and how I was going to be able to make that mortgage payment coming up at the end of the month. One day not too long ago, a teacher friend of mine told me that she was broken. She was tired of having to defend herself, tired of not being able to feed her family, tired of fighting, tired of being portrayed as greedy and lazy. I started to write the uplifting message that I had said to other teachers. Keep fighting, it’s worth it, we appreciate it, etc. etc. And suddenly I stopped and realized something. Who was I to ask you to fight for that for me? Who was I to say please keep fighting for my child at such a great expense to yourself and your own family? Who was I to say don’t give up because it will all be worth it? And I realized in that moment that we are all broken. Our government stole teachers’ rights away by ripping up a legally binding, negotiated contract and then launched a campaign of public ignorance to destroy the reputations of these amazing people who care for an educate our children every single day. And our government almost succeeded.
Even yesterday when I was watching Christy Clark take credit for all the “hard work” that she did during the negotiations with teachers, I realized that somebody uninformed about what really happened here would listen to that and go “wow, she’s great”. Behind her smile and her false caring for families in BC, she knows how to work a room and her carefully scripted words certainly come off as sincere. But our government did not win. They have woken many of the people of this province out of their apathy. One day, I hope this WILL all be worth it when we have a better than 50% voter turnout. When people educate themselves about issues and then take their responsibility as citizens seriously. The government has counted on people being uninformed and apathetic so they can push through their own agendas while hiding behind a smile and some insincere words. But we are smarter now thanks to our teachers.
I don’t want to get into the politics of this too much, but I hope that this is not the end of the conversations about government responsibility and the importance of the people of this province staying engaged. But to you, I say this. On behalf of my family, I will never be able to do enough to thank the teachers of this province for all they have sacrificed in this fight.
Thank you for holding the line. Thank you for enduring the misdirected anger. Thank you for standing up for not only the rights of students and teachers but the very constitutional rights that everyone in this province deserves. Thank you for helping me teach my children that not going out and voting in an election is NOT okay. Thank you for helping me teach my child that his teachers don’t just educate in the classroom. Thank you for showing my child that people can stand together and make a difference. Even though our children have not been in classrooms, their teachers have been continuing to teach. I know it has come at a huge expense to you, physically, emotionally, and financially. Thank for continuing to stand strong even while we were all breaking. I can’t claim to speak for everyone in this province, but I will say that I will never forget all that you have done for us and I will do what I can to ensure that others don’t forget either. I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow with the vote, but either way, Thank you.
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Questions that need answers about BC Public Education

Yesterday I went to a excellent rally, a rally organized by parents, a Rally for Arbitration. The crowd was special from grandparents to,very young children and with the music and sunshine there was a festive feeling although everyone there was angry that kids hadn't been in school for two weeks in September plus two weeks in June, as well as the underfunding to our public education system. I loved the students who spoke so passionately but I was really struck by a parent who asked some very significant questions so here I am quoting Enid-Rave Adams who at this point I will quote. She wrote these out in a post on Facebook so that I am sure I have this correctly.

"My being up there was totally unplanned and my comments were impromptu but I remember these questions clearly because I have been wanting answers to them. So have my friends. So have teachers...
1) Christy Clark and Mr. Fassbender, if you wanted a negotiated agreement and kids back in class as you say you do, why did you wait until the very end of summer to get back to the bargaining table with teachers?
2) You keep talking about affordability. Why is it okay for teachers in other provinces to make as much as $20 000 a year more and admittedly work less than teachers in BC? Other public sector employees in this province have received 2%-3.2% salary increases, yet BC teachers are fighting just to get 1.6%. That's not the affordability zone. That's the inequality zone.
3) Can you rule out that you are unilaterally setting the stage for a voucher system to privatize education in this province?
I also spoke about hovering around the poverty line for the first 10 years of my childhood. But in the public school system, I was treated as an equal and given the same opportunities as everyone else in spite of our socio economic background. I said that this current strike isn't just about education. It's also about worth. Our kids are society's best resource and I challenged Christy Clark to start valuing them."

I think many of us would like answers to these questions. One more note. Listening to CBC radio news right now I hear again about a group who,were anti BCTF who tried to disrupt the rally. The media put a great deal of emphasis on a very few people and most of us had no idea about this. All I saw were 2000 plus people who care about education and want school in session but with a fair, improved deal for their children and for teachers!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Guest Post from a lovely and not silly BC teacher re the current BC Teachers' Strike

I loved this post on Facebook and I really wanted to share it widely (hopefully).  Thanks to Kelsey Keller who wrote this in response to British Columbia's Minister of Education saying teachers were silly to be on strike.  This is posted with her permission.

This letter rings so true for many many teachers…

"I'm sure I can't be the only one sitting, waiting, anxious, cautiously hopeful that this weekend might be the end, and we might be back at work on Monday? I know its far from 'over' despite any negotiations this weekend, but I can't shake this SILLY hope... and it got me to thinking....
Fassbender said teachers were 'silly' last week and, for the first time ever, I agree with him...
I'm SO silly... that I spent $1247.20 of my personal income on my classroom in a single year (books, teaching resources, printables, supplies, shelving, cleaning, health and safety -bandaids, hand sanitizer, kleenex) so it was more functional, safe, and inviting for my students.
I'm SO silly...that I have left a "secret" laundry basket under my desk where my students who are living in poverty can leave their dirty clothes to be laundered. When parents can't afford this luxury, I take clothes home, wash/dry/fold, and return the the basket and under my desk.
I'm SO silly... that I am still brought to tears when I watch the bumbling (but proud) assembly performances by the kindergarten students each year.
I'm SO silly...that Ive stayed up past 2am trying to prep a SINGLE lesson to make sure that Ive adapted and modified to meet the needs of ALL my students... and then feel like I STILL should have done more.
I'm SO silly...I spend personal money (and personal time) to attend workshops specific to the needs of my students - supporting student with ASD, CAPD, Down Syndrome, ADHD, Visual impairment, anxiety, divorce, death of a family member... and more.
I'm SO silly... that I sometimes I short change my own daughters (5/3/1) the time they deserve with me. My "just give me 5 more minutes to do ... for work" are rarely just 5 minutes.
I'm SO silly... that when my students asked me if they could duct tape me to the wall I replied "If you can make a compelling argument, that clearly articulates how me being duct taped to a wall will significantly enrich your learning and measurably develop your global citizenry.... then yes, you can."
I'm SO silly... that Ive lost sleep, full nights, over court cases, abuse, custody wars, and neglect of my students. Ive sobbed heavily knowing I can't fix these situations...
I'm SO silly...that even after knowing the history of BCED; knowing the court outcomes; knowing the appeal status; knowing the government spin and deception; knowing the push for privatization; knowing the 'union busting'; knowing the slow, painful, degradation of recourses and respect; and LIVING the ongoing public vilification of teachers.... I still have hope that maybe this weekend will be different than the last 18 months, and maybe I will be back to work Monday morning.
I'm SO silly, that when my husband and I excitedly describe what our lives will be like when we finally win that $50Million ... my millionaire life still includes teaching full time at the tiny 9 classroom public school that is my second home.
So, I agree with Minister Fassbender. Teachers are a silly group. The difference in our views though, is that while he sees our silliness as a fault, I see it as one of our most powerful assets."

Looking at BC teachers' strike again

One day I hope to look at learning again but I am afraid that the BC government forcing teachers here out on strike and keeping them on strike for two weeks in June and now two weeks in September plus rotating strikes for several days prior to full out strike and locking them out during non instructional time and docking ten percent of their pay, has made it hard for me to think of much else on the learning front.  

Now conservatives (or to be exact B.C. Liberals and their supporters here)  could say it is the teachers who are choosing to go on strike but I won't bore you with all the details but here are a few.

Public school budgets are less and less each year.  Class sizes have gotten larger with no limits on class size or looking at composition so that you may have many special needs students in your classroom.  New classrooms are smaller so you trip over your students regularly when you teach grade seven.  Teachers haven't had any raise in three years.  Teachers spend their own money on supplies, their own computers, even food for hungry students, to basically subsidize the school system,  We have less school nurse time, school psychologists etc.  With just a few of the facts you can see how teachers are literally fed up and feel they  can't take it anymore so that they are willing to give up thousands of dollars in salary and not do the job that they love to do.  Anyone who thinks teachers are greedy just doesn't get it.  

I retired just over a year ago after 40 years after I began teaching.  All last year I volunteered two mornings a week at my old school plus coached two girls soccer teams and a basketball team (any note I would never call myself athletic) because I love kids and I felt for my wonderful former staff, especially the grade one teacher with whom I mainly worked because she had a class that had to be seen to be believed!  We loved them but how one teacher was expected to meet all their needs is beyond imagination.  

When the strike began I tried to help by baking and delivering treats to the picket lines.  Through my career I felt as if I had written many letters to newspapers etc. but I kind of had it with almost thinking anyone would listen.  I used to worry if I described what public school teachers deal with, more people who could afford it would just send their children to private school, and I so believe in public education and that it should be supported by all.

But last Friday I seemed to snap!  I could not believe that the schools were still closed and we had a government refusing to even look at binding arbitration which teachers had asked for.  I couldn't focus on much else.  

I spent Sunday just trying to think what more I could do.  I wrote up how one business woman wanted to support teachers and tried to get the message out.  I took to Twitter and I ended up with sore fingers.  I tried to contact BC celebrities to see if more of them would support teachers and my biggest hits on twitter were  when former Sex and the City star, Kim Cattrell and her fan club expressed support for teachers and "favorited my tweets".  A personal highlight was when children's entertainer Raffi retweeted my tweets.   Susan Braverman, the owner of The Flag Shop, was interviewed on CBC radio to champion teachers and challenge other business people to help, and my tweets of my blog on her to various local media I hope helped make that happen.  I picked up bumper stickers she made and donated them to local schools Thursday and Friday.  The strike drags on but apparently there is  conversation between the two sides this weekend.  One can only hope.  

It has been often utterly depressing.  On the positive side, the message is out that schools are underfunded and teachers really do have an almost impossible job.  NDP MLA's have been great!  Some journalists have done an awesome job on this.  I treasure the CBC in particular  and Stephen Quinn and his humour and probing questions has become a bit of a hero of mine.  Also The Tyee, The Observer and Georgia Straight online have reporters who are awesome.  And The Globe and Mail has done some good work as well.  The Vancouver Sun generally has made me wonder why I have a subscription and I am probably going to cancel it.  

But I can only wish these messages came out much earlier because many British Columbians don't have much to do with public schools currently personally.  And the government has delighted in spinning out misinformation.

The last few days I have read so many wonderful letters and heartfelt messages by teachers and parents and people who are neither, but value teachers and the education that they have received because teachers keep on teaching no matter what!  I want to share a few here because I know they often don't feel listened to by  Liberal MLA's and the cabinet, a government that spends little time in our actual parliament in session, but seems to have a lot of time for fundraisers etc.  

But thank you to all who value public education!  Keep the faith that change is possible! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Can the British Columbia government afford if not education?

This is an excellent summation of questions to ask the BC Liberal government when they say they can't afford to properly fund education and end the teacher strike with binding arbitration. This summary was done by a BC teacher, Lizanne Foster

Questions to ask about the new spin on the affordability zone:
1. If fiscal austerity is so important to this government, why did it increase the debt by $20billion since it took office?
2. Why are high salaries for CEOs of BC Ferries, BC Hydro justified with the "attract the best" argument but teachers, who educate future CEOs, are the second lowest paid in the country?
3. How is the payment of $750million for a legal mess that Powerex created affordable for taxpayers when funding public education adequately is not?
4. Can taxpayers get a refund of the $514million now that BC Stadium roof leaks?
5. Why is an immediate 18% increase in MLA salaries justified but a 7.5% increase in teachers' salaries over 5 years is not?

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How One Business Woman is Showing Support for Teachers

Many of us who are no longer teaching but have been teachers were shocked by how the government has treated its public school teachers this year and how education in the public sector has been underfunded for many years.  One woman who felt that way was Susan Braverman, owner of a well known BC business, The Flag Shop.  
She posted this post in the Facebook page BC Voters That Support BC Public School Teachers on September 6.

"I am a former teacher who owns The Flag Shop and I am disgusted with the lack of respect that our teachers, the people we've entrusted to educate our children, are receiving. I can't walk the picket lines with you or protest at your rallies, but I CAN make you flags for those who ARE on the front lines, fighting for our children's education. Everyone who is not a teacher can do something to help. This isn't just the teachers' fight, and yet they are the ones who can't make their mortgage payments because they are standing up for what IS right. And if anyone doesn't believe that the teachers are the heroes here or that they are being selfish and greedy, then they don't have all the facts. I would have lost my home by now had I not left teaching to take over my mother's business. And now it's time for me to stand WITH our teachers and SHOW them know that their fight is NOT in vain! Please email me at because I am ready to help."

She was given thanks and lots of ideas.  This is what happened next by this Monday.

"A few updates about products.

First of all, check out what our window is going to look like on Powell Street. It should be up by tomorrow.

The first batch of our bumper stickers will be ready on Wednesday afternoon. We will be selling them in the store for the general public, with proceeds going back to the teachers.

Our car flags will be printed tomorrow. We will start having stock available a couple of days later.

We are trying to get our paper stick flags made as quickly as possible. These have to get distributed to all the school districts as soon as they are made.

Buttons and tattoos are coming too. The tattoos are for the kids to wear. The message will be something like "We miss our teachers" or "I miss my teacher". My "think tank" hasn't met about this yet.

I will need a way to make sure that everything we are donating gets distributed. Once we are ready to look at this, we may have those discussions on our new Facebook page called The Flag Shop Supports BC Teachers. I don't know if it's public yet. But it will be.

What day. I haven't done any "real" work. This still isn't work, it's FUN. And it's absolutely necessary! I am horrified that more businesses haven't come forward and offered their services. Grumble grumble."

And later yesterday…
"I am having 2500 bumper stickers made. They are 3" x 10" (slightly narrower I think). On Wednesday, at the end of the day, I will have 600 ready, and then the remaining 1900 will be ready by late Friday afternoon. My new favourite project is starting to get costly, so I want to make sure that:
1) Every teacher in BC who wants a bumper sticker gets one for free; AND
2) Be able to sell these to the public. They will be $5.00 each, including taxes, and once my costs are covered, all the proceeds for these will go to the teachers.
Since I've never done this before (not quite like this), I'm not sure how many to put aside for teachers and how many to have available in the store.
With the first batch of 600, which will be available late Wednesday afternoon, would it make sense to put 500 bumper sticks aside for the teachers, and then keep 100 in the store, to sell to the public? And what will be the best way to get these 500 distributed?
And then there is going to be remaining 1900 bumper decals. I will also want to make sure that a good portion of these are given to teachers for free, and yet still have some to sell in the store. And then this batch, the ones for the teachers will need to be distributed as well.
And now that I have THREE ways for people to contact me - this group, our The Flag Shop Supports BC Teachers group, and my new email address, I'm even busier than I was yesterday. 
Suggestions please!
And I think I'm going to need a volunteer to be one of the administrators for our new Facebook page, and when there is important information that I should have, that it be forwarded to me in an email. Volunteers?
Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!"

All in all rather amazing!  

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Great Letter re Teachers' Strike and Affordability

I read this letter when Lisa Cunnian posted this yesterday on BC Voters Supporting Teachers' Facebook page and we weren't sure if it would be published in The Vancouver Sun or not...

Yesterday at 5:25pm
My dad, a retired research scientist for the Ministry of Forests, sent this letter to the Vancouver Sun. I don't think it's been published yet, so I thought I'd share it here.
Why is it that the BC government's attitude toward fiscal expenditures for public education differs so vastly from that regarding wildfire suppression? On Sept. 2, Education Minister Peter Fassbender was quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying "...we are not going to put our fiscal plan in this province into deficit to meet the unrealistic demands of the BCTF." His stance seems rather inconsistent with that recently voiced by Steve Thomson, BC Minister of Forests, who was recently asked how the government would pay for the 2014 wildfire suppression costs that have skyrocketed to $250 million - four times the budgeted amount. His answer was that there will be enough to cover the firefighting costs whatever the final amount will be. In other words, the government is prepared to spend whatever is necessary on fire suppression according to the need. It seems ludicrous to me that our government is willing to spend freely to put wildfires out, yet remains stubbornly unwilling to spend more money on an appallingly underfunded public education system that will benefit the children, and future leaders, of this province. Where's the logic?
Rob Brockley

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Trying to find a way to help BC's public school education

True confessions!  I feel guilty when I spend too much time on Facebook!  I didn't really spend much time on Facebook until I retired.  I was far too busy, marking, prepping, teaching, coaching, keeping up my class blog and moodle site plus trying to have something of a life.  But when I retired last year, some time was freed and I discovered just how fun Facebook could be.  I joined some interesting groups, I found I could follow interesting sites like The Atlantic, I could post my pictures and people would like them etc.  I also had a twitter account but that really didn't really excite me too much.

But this week I have just become more and more frustrated as the teachers' strike in British Columbia drags on and then this weekend when the BCTF's attempt to get the government to agree to binding arbitration failed, I really got angry.  Today I gave myself permission to focus on this and try to use social media as much as possible.  I tried to think of creative solutions.  I am noticing that my sentences seem to be getting shorter.  I think that is due to trying to keep the word count down twittering.  I notice my fingers are tired (kind of like when I used to cram for piano practical exams).

It's been quite a day!  Talk about online collaboration!  Just read a summary of what we learned about tweeting on my new favourite Facebook page.  Who knows how much was accomplished but at least I thought I was trying to do something other than deliver treats to picket lines.  Plus I was becoming obsessed and figured I could spend a few hours focused on this today!

I have been feeling as if the public school teachers in BC were locked in a room without a key and now without a door.  I kept thinking there have to be other ways we can unlock the door.  I came up with great ideas but not so easy to realize-e.g. BC celebrities standing up for teachers the way Raffi has.  I have sent out tweets, others have-now to see if we get anywhere!  I mean celebrities have a heck of a lot more followers than I do.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if BC celebrities made a video in support of public education.  Where is Matt Damon when you need him???  I keep thinking well social media got Obama elected.

I was watching a program on TV last night-where someone used the strategy of just listening to voters rather than trying to convince them of anything-I think we need to listen closely-not react-listen-because some people seem awfully angry about teachers-worried about their taxes going up if education properly funded.  Supporters of teachers need to disarm the critics…  I just keep thinking…but surely if enough of us keep thinking…

I just read this this morning and it's an excellent synopsis of the current situation.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What was supposed to be the first day of school!

Okay!  I retired a year ago.  This is my second time that I didn't go back to school since 1980 when I first moved out here so that meant 32 times in Vancouver that I went back to school in September.  Of course normally I was in several days on my own time getting my classroom ready before the students arrived.  I always loved how neat and clean my classroom would look before those pesky students would mess things up!

I loved the beginning days of school when I got to meet my new students and try to figure them out.  I loved those new school supplies (some of which I would have purchased with my own money).  I loved getting to see my colleagues again and catching up and hearing all about their summers.  I might have moaned and groaned a bit and I even had a party most years saying good-bye to summer. But I was honestly as excited the first day of school of my 40th year of being a teacher as I was my first day of school as a student.

By the end of the first week I was usually totally exhausted but still there was a satisfaction that I was doing real and very important work.

This year is very different.  There are no teachers nor students in the public schools of BC.  Teachers didn't get to even tidy up their classrooms at the end of the year and no decorating has occurred.  They also haven't been paid for a couple of months and due to the strike the last couple of weeks of June plus rotating strikes and the government locking them out at lunch hour and recess and docking their pay for that that last pay check was very little.

One reason I was always happy to go back to school that was I knew I would get paid in a couple of weeks!

I haven't really written about this strike, partly because I am not directly involved.  And one reason I retired when I did was I figured that this would happen (although not quite as dramatic as this).  Our contract was up two years ago and we were out three days then and basically went back in and our contract was just renewed for another year so it was inevitable that this would happen last year.

Teaching conditions have gotten worse ever since 2002 as has been mentioned repeatedly as we lost class size and composition guidelines that we had had previously.  Ironically the government made new classrooms smaller because classes were supposed to be smaller-but they weren't.  Young student teachers didn't get jobs because of those lost guidelines causing fewer teachers to be hired.  Back to smaller classes-try getting 31 seventh graders into these small classrooms especially if you happen to have a special needs student who needs special equipment!

Also even though the government has found by courts repeatedly not to have had the right to take away those guidelines, they refuse to comply to the court's decision because they can't afford it!!! Hmm...

Salary-well I think I was better off in my first years of teaching what with cost of living.  And if you compare teachers' salaries to other professions', I think only musicians do worse.  Many unions have much better benefits than we do.

I remember years ago, hearing someone on the radio saying what a great job teachers do, and I was amazed that it was the Minister of Education at the time, Moe Sihota.  I never remembered any education minister ever saying such a thing.  Sad but true.  Even though I think we did end up on strike then, he will always be my favourite education minister.

I have been asked by strangers if I felt that the BCTF really represented me.  I said that I may not always agree with everything my unions do, but yes I support the BCTF.

Money for education always seems to be being taken away and the working conditions in BC shocked me when I moved here in 1980 because they were so much worse than my conditions in Quebec.  One prep compared to seven a week for elementary teachers.  And I have a special education diploma and a Masters' in Education and these were basically almost fully funded by the government in Quebec.  That would never happen here.

We pay a price for living in beautiful British Columbia.

So I support my teaching colleagues all the way.  I feel so sorry for them trapped in a room with apparently no door out.  Or perhaps I should say, trapped on a picket line with no door into the school.  Just when I visited a picket line today, someone said it really got them how devalued our government made her feel.

Last year I volunteered two mornings a week at my old school and that was because mainly because of the incredibly difficult teaching load one friend in particular had.  Looking in at what I did, I wasn't sure how I did it.  Teachers generally love teaching and love their students but they are so tired of trying to do the impossible!

That is my rant today!!!