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Passing Time

You won’t be getting any lesson plans or teaching stories out of me for a while, because my husband and I were blessed with a beautiful baby boy in February. My life has changed from taking attendance and searching out innovative ways to teach Shakespeare to tallying wet diapers and searching out innovative ways to get a baby to sleep.

I have been responsible for young lives before, but not like this. Never one whole life for one whole lifetime. So it’s been an adjustment. In a card from a friend, she shared age old words of wisdom with me to help me get through the adjustment and the challenges that come with it – “this too shall pass.” I had heard this phrase before, and had been clinging to it in the days following his birth. When his cries of hunger, boredom, and sleepiness were indistinguishable to me, making me feel helpless and inadequate, I whispered, “this too shall pass”. When he hit a growth spurt and was eating every hour, making it a challenge for me to shower daily or even eat regularly, I mumbled to myself, “this too shall pass”. When he was up every night crying until one in the morning, I said with assurance to him, “this too shall pass”. When he refuses a soother he was happily sucking the day before, I reminded myself, this too shall pass. When he kicks his feet and flails his arms and screams for no apparent reason, I cry to the Heavens, “this too shall pass!” and I dream of a day I will finish a meal or sleep for more than three consecutive hours.

But there is an ugly side to this truth. When he falls asleep in my arms and his little hand squeezes my finger, I realize with a start – this too shall pass. When he smiles at me simply because I smiled at him…..the little noise he makes before and after a sneeze……when we sit and ‘talk’ to each other……the look of wonder in his eyes as he discovers the ceiling fan, a blanket, his hands…….when his chin quivers as he coos. This all shall pass. My heart is stricken with joy and grief as each new stage passes by. And suddenly, the cries in the night do not jar me as much. When he wakes up immediately after I put him down, I am not as frustrated as I once was. The memory of his smile tempers his cry, with the bittersweet knowledge that it is all passing much quicker then I could have imagined.

So I don’t rush to put him down and sweep the floor or do the dishes anymore. I let the laundry pile up. I let the dust gather and the meals stay last minute. Because our little boy is learning to roll over , and this too shall pass.



I’ve been working through an issue for a little while now: late marks. Let me walk  you through my journey.

Semester one, last year. I, like most teachers, started off the semester with an overview of policies and procedures, including that on assignments handed in late. I had a late policy in my internship, as did my co-op, and most teachers I’ve talked to have one. Some are 5% a day, some are 10% a day, some won’t allow late assignments to score higher than 50%, so on and so forth. I don’t remember exactly what my penalty was, but it was something like a few marks for each day an assignment was late.  I ran into a few problems fairly quickly, the most troubling being that of inaccuracies – sometimes, I didn’t know how many days late an assignment was, due to a variety of factors, so it seemed like I was arbitrarily reducing their mark. What about when an assignment was late but the student told me it was due to family issues, or sports games? How did I know the other students with late assignments weren’t struggling with similar issues but just didn’t tell me? How did I know some of the students weren’t just using reasons like that as an excuse? Half-way through the semester, I gave up out of sheer frustration.

The next semester, I started really thinking about late marks. I had taken for granted that it was just something that teachers do – I feel it’s expected of teachers both within the profession and outside of the profession to teach the students about deadlines and due dates. But here’s what it really comes down to – is that my job? When I look at my particular curriculum, I don’t see any outcomes or indicators that outline anything about students being able to submit work on time. Other English teachers and I can dicker about AR9.1 and how it possibly has a place there, as it has students looking at their own personal strengths and needs in regards to the English strands and their contribution to a community of learners, which one could argue in certain cases involves being prepared, but that’s a mighty stretch and would not apply to every single assignment. So I’m thinking now that  for me to give a student a 4/10 instead of a 10/10 because of late marks is  malpractice*, because what I should be assessing and evaluating is their achievement of the outcome/indicator, and a mark of 4/10 does not reflect their ability in regards to that outcome/indicator, but rather their ability to hand things in on time. And if that ability is affected by a Learning Disability, the student needing extra time to complete assignments because they are slower processor or ‘outputter’, home or family issues, or other factors, then that 4/10 is a reflection of something entirely different than the outcome/indicator I am being employed to assess.

Now, for those of you who just heard me say “teaching students responsibility isn’t my job”, I would like to be clear on that topic, as I believe it is a part of my job. But for the reasons outlined above, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will end up reflected in assignments – in fact, most of the time a late penalty policy ends up doing the exact opposite; the more time that passes, the less motivated a student is to complete the assignment. And they are right. You would think that a student would reason, “I had better get this assignment done today or it will be worth even less tomorrow!” But what happens more often than not is the student reasons, “This assignment is only worth X% so it’s not worth doing anymore.” The thing about late penalties is that their whole reason for existing is to motivate students to hand assignments in on time, but it has been my experience that they don’t do that at all. So that is the second flaw of late penalties – they don’t actually do what they are meant to do.

So what do we do for late assignments? Well, I’ve been doing nothing in the way of reducing their mark. And you know what? Compared to when I did, I have the same average number of students handing things in late. I still have due dates, and I still hound students who don’t hand things in on those due dates. If students don’t hand something in on time, I inquire as to why they have not. For my Grade 9 students, I escort them to the homework room at lunch to get done assignments. I call parents and I email them with assignments attached. And if/when that assignment is handed in, I evaluate it based on what it is and not on when it was handed in to me. The fact that a student is chronically late with assignments is something that will show up in student comments rather than their mark. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but it’s working so far.

For those of you about to protest, with the outcry of, “That’s not fair! You’re not rewarding students for handing things in on time and punishing those who don’t! How is that going to prepare them for real life?” My responses are threefold.

1.The “real life” we warn them about often does not exist. You aren’t going to get fired if you show up late for work once, and with some jobs, even if you show up late all the time. There are plenty of times in my own job that I’ve been late with a deadline and been met with grace rather than punishment. I’ve even been “past due” on paying some bills, without any penalty other than “great, now I have to pay two month’s worth of this bill this month.”

2. “Real life” will teach its own lessons in a way that I never can in high school. Go ahead, pay your credit card bill late, and you will have to incur the financial penalty. Lesson learned. Show up to a meeting late, and your boss may have words with you. Or, show up to work late all the time, and you may get fired. Lesson learned. A situation like this happening once will teach a student infinitely more than my late penalties ever will.

3. If I really wanted to prepare students for “real life”, I would sometimes have a late penalty, sometimes not, and sometimes reduce assignments at random. I would enforce very strict and unwavering deadlines for certain assignments, while allowing for re-submission on others. I would penalize students for the most minor of mistakes on certain assignments, and allow for gross error on others. I would do all this to teach students “life ain’t fair, get used to it.”

My point is that there are situations in life where you really can’t be late, but I believe that students will learn those situations and adjust accordingly. My silly 5% reduction will NEVER hit the students as hard as a 5% interest fee will.

I welcome your thoughts, criticisms, and feedback. Submit them before Friday, October 25th. Late comments will be considered 5% less valid for each day late that they are submitted.

(*If you think “malpractice” is a strong word to use here, read “Fix 2” in Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit for Grading. I borrowed the term from him.)

I recently attended and presented at the IT Summit in Saskatoon, with some wonderful colleagues. You NEED to see the presentation. We talked about digital citizenship, BYOD, Skype in the classroom, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Glogster, Xtranormal, Animoto, and so much more! I know that I will be pulling resources from this until the end of the school year. Which is approaching at an alarming rate.



Lead a Horse

In the realm of School, in the land of English, there stands a group of horses. They have been assembled by the Head Horse Herder to be led through this land of English, by one who has traveled it much. They are a diverse group, ranging in size, colour, shape, and running speed. As the sun breaks over the horizon, the Horse Herder sweeps her hand across the land and explains that this will be their domain for the day. It is a barren land, with cacti and bramble bushes and thistles, but there are throughout the land Pools of Knowledge. It is these pools the horses must visit with the Herder, so they can gain knowledge of the land and make it through the harsh terrain alive. “Some pools,” explains the Herder, “I will lead you to. Some pools, you will discover on your own. But you must surely drink of the Pools of Knowledge, or our time in this land will be wasted, and you will not make it to the end.” She explains the rules in the land of English, how they will start out as a pack and learn about how to drink from the Pools of Knowledge, how they must never splash each other, and that the land was tough and unsympathetic, but together, they would make it through. “And the most important thing for you to know about this land,” she went on with a heavy voice, “is that I can lead you to these pools, but only you can decide to drink of them.”

Things started out well. They followed the Herder to the first pool. They listened to her instructions and most horses followed them. Some of the horses were already showing rebellion, though, because they jumped and splashed in the pool when they should not have. The Herder went over to one such horse and explained why the rules were in place: “I have led many horses through this land, and I have seen horses who did not make it. You must follow my instructions to survive the day. My rules and teachings are for your good, because I know what it takes to make it through this land.” The horse nodded its head and ambled off to join the others drinking from the Pool. The Herder smiled and a mist filled her eyes, and she knew that the “Horse Whisperer” training had served her well. She watched as the herd drank, albeit tentatively, from the first Pool of Knowledge. She could see that some of them were used to drinking from Pools, and some were not. She noticed that some horses were very skinny and had clearly missed drinking from some Pools of Knowledge in other lands, while others were strong and well nourished. She knew it would be a challenge to lead these horses through the land, but she was prepared and excited for the challenge.

Some of the visits to the Pools of Knowledge went very well, while others did not. She talked to many more horses about the rules and about the importance of drinking from the Pools of Knowledge. “Your survival in this land depends on it!” she would say with fervor.  She learned new things, too, as some of the horses had different ways of drinking. Some of the horses didn’t know how to drink, and she took a lot of time and energy teaching them how. She noticed that some of the horses weren’t coming to the Pools of Knowledge. Some of them were running around playing, while others were just standing in the distance. She always made the trek to talk to these horses and herd them to the Pools, but as time wore on, she grew weary of her journeys to meet these horses, especially because some of them whinnied and neighed at her quite loudly. But she did not give up. She had met horses like this before, and knew that sometimes, with the right amount of patience and correction, these horses would come to the Pools and drink. And some did. But some ran and played no matter what she said. She tried to herd them still, but hoped that some day they would realize their own need to drink from the Pools and join the herd.

Some of the horses ran away and the Herder could not find them. She grieved this deeply, and searched for them every chance she got.

By noon, the hot sun hung high in the sky and the horses – and Herder – were feeling worn down. The horses grew restless of visiting the Pools. They wanted to run and play and chase each other, and the Herder would sometimes let them, but she knew that they had a long journey and they needed to stop at the Pools, or they would not survive.

There was one horse in particular the Herder was worried about. This horse came near all the Pools of Knowledge, but did not drink. Pool after pool, the Herder watched the horse; it did not drink. Was the horse scared to drink? Did it not know how? Did it already drink from this Pool? The Herder prompted and persuaded the horse closer to the Pool. She gently pushed its head nearer to the  Pool, until its lips touched the cool waters, thinking that if it felt the water it would realize its own thirst and drink. It did not. She took some water in her hand and held it up to the horse. It did not drink. She threw the water onto the horse’s lips. It did not even lick them. She grew frustrated with the horse. She got out her “Horse Whisperer” training manual and read about similar situations. She wrote letters to the Head Horse Herder and asked for suggestions. She consulted other Herders who had led this horse through their lands. She tried everything they suggested.  She got out her canteen and filled it with water from the Pool, pried the horse’s mouth open, and poured the water in. It did not swallow. She filled four buckets with water and put the horse’s feet in them, holding one up to its mouth. It did not drink. She brought another horse near it, letting it watch that horse drink. It did not drink. Out of sheer frustration and defeat, she jumped in the pool and splashed the horse, yelling, “Do you not know your own thirst?” It did not drink.

The Herder continued to lead the horses to the Pools of Knowledge. As the sun ambled slowly down from its peak in the sky, the horses ran throughout the land, selecting Pools to drink from. The Herder smiled; then the horse that would not drink came into her sight, and her smile faded. With desperation, the Herder went to the horse that would not drink and dragged it to a Pool. She went through the familiar routine they went through at every Pool. It did not drink. She sat down, defeated. Her “Horse Whisperer” manual fell out of her bag as she sat. She felt like a fraud, and threw the manual at a cactus in the distance.

As the sun slipped slowly into the horizon and the last light began to fade, the horse that would not drink looked at the sky. It furrowed its brow. It looked at the other horses drinking their last Pool to its dregs. It looked at the Herder and said,

“Hey, is there a way I can, like, quench this thirst of mine?”

The Herder passed out.

Time to Report

It’s that time of year again! Students frantically run to your desk and ask if there’s anything they can do to boost their mark (calm down, you have a 92%), or cooly saunter over and say “Hey. So is there like something I can do to get my mark up?” (um, hand your assignments in). It’s interim half-midterm mark reporting period time!

This time of year will inevitably lead to one (or more) students (or teachers, or parents) requesting an assignment from you. I don’t know about you, but this usually annoys me. When I photocopy an assignment, I make at least 5 extras that I leave in bins at the front of the room. Yet when someone asks for an extra copy, it seems like there are none in said bin. I either have to print another one off or dig through my binders and find one to photocopy*, which is a hassle because the student/teacher/parent request will usually fall at the most inconvenient time of the day, likely causing me to forget what I was doing, only to remember much later when my name is included in the scornful “you-forgot-to-do-your-attendance” list. I was in such a moment recently when I remembered that one of our consultants mentioned something about a way to link assignments in gradebook. So I tried it. And it worked. And here’s how you can do it too!

Side note: I’ll warn you now: this isn’t a five minutes and done deal off the start: it takes some time to set things up and convert files and whatnot. But once it’s all set up, it will be a five minutes and done deal to do each new assignment, and it will save you from ever having to go photocopy an assignment for sick kids or send work home or give a copy to a homeroom/tutorial teacher, and it puts responsibility for catching up where it belongs: on students. Win-win-win.

1. Upload your assignments: Our school has a website with the ability for teachers to have blogs and upload assignments.  It’s basically a place to house the assignments online. If your school has a website, get a login and upload away! You could also use a blog site, as long as the uploaded assignments will provide you with a URL to copy. I would suggest you create a few pages or bins for assignments, one for each grade you teach. It is a bit of time to invest uploading your assignments, but the nice thing is that you will only have to do it once, and you can use the assignment links in subsequent semesters. I would also suggest you convert your documents to a .pdf file so they can’t be changed. (I can see it now, “Johnny, are you sure your English teacher assigned a personal case study and research project on “The Hangover”?). In case you aren’t familiar with that process: the easiest way to convert files is to right click on a file and choose “convert to adobe PDF”. Allow a screen shot to illustrate. (Mostly because I feel fancy when I use screen shots. But it also feels a bit like someone looking in my junk drawer, so don’t judge).

2. Link in gradebook: Now that you’ve uploaded your assignments, each assignment will have a URL that you can copy and paste into gradebook. Go to wherever you’ve uploaded your assignments and click on one. Once it opens, copy the URL in the address bar. (If the files download rather then provide you a link, you’re going to have to find someone much more tech savvy then myself to help you with that part of the process……). Now, open gradebook and find the assignment you are wanting to link. Under “Description” there is a button that says “Link”. Click it. It will open a box that prompts you for a URL and “Link text”. Paste the URL into the first box, and put in whatever title you want the assignment to show as in the second box. Done and done. If you assigned it in more than one class, you could do that again in the other class, or you could just use the ‘ol “copy assignments” option. By right clicking on the assignment. Now, for some more tantalizing screen shots.

Copying the URL of the assignment:


Linking in gradebook:


As you can see, once you add an assignment link, it shows up as some wonky garble (yes, that’s the professional term for it). When you look at the assignment as a parent/student/teacher in powerteacher, it will show up as a link you can click on. You can also add more than one link for any one assignment, in case you have some sort of crazy assignment that requires more than one sheet of paper.

*Side note from way before all the screen shots: Do you ever give away your mater copy of an assignment or something you had in a binder and then have to go back to square one? With a yellow (and yellow only) highlighter, write “master” on such sheets. The word won’t show up on photocopies and you’ll never give your master copy away.

Another thing about reporting periods: comments. I never know if I should be writing a comment to a parent/guardian (such as, “John is doing really great in English”), or to the student (such as, “John, you are doing great work so far”). Perhaps it’s time to use the “poll” option wordpress has been advertising to me.

Of course, now that I’ve asked, I’ll probably get some email from a higher power telling me they instituted a “student friendly comment language” policy five years ago, and did I miss that memo? Evidently, yes. But look at my fancy screen shots! (To all of you who do screen shots for breakfast and are scoffing at me that I feel fancy because of it: don’t read my blog anymore.)

Giving Thanks

I am thankful every day that I’m not an elementary school teacher. Granted, if you closed your eyes and came into my classroom, some days it would sound like an Grade 2 class – with all the “he’s bugging me!” and “I don’t have a pencil” comments – but most of the time, students are able to get to class, do their work, and use a washroom on their own.

There is one area of elementary school I wish to bring to high school, and that is colouring. You have no idea what joy registers on students’ faces when you mention colouring. I think it’s because they invest years and years into making cards for every occasion and entering colouring contests, only to be cut short once they reach high school – they’re suddenly too old to colour! It’s hard to quit cold turkey. They try to cover their dissapointment by acting like they’re too cool to colour, when really their insides are screaming for a Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown and Atomic Tangerine to express themselves with. So when I suggested we do the following colouring activity in our homeroom class, the students were at first surprised. They lauged it off. They tried not to act excited. But every one of them sat silently, focused on the work at hand.

Go make your own hand turkey thank you card for someone special. I promise they will be thrilled, and you will enjoy making it.  Happy thanksgiving everyone.

Something I’m Sometimes Good At

Sometimes, I’m good at stuff.

The students don’t necessarily notice, so I need a forum in which to share my successes. Isn’t that what blogs are for?Bragging? Sharing ideas?

In Grade 9 English, we are learning about reading strategies. For each strategy, we teach the student what it is, model it (I do), go through an example together (we do), and then have the students practice it on their own (you do). We also talk about criteria for ‘simple’ and ‘higher level’ answers. For example, yesterday we (and I don’t mean the royal we, I mean myself and my teaching partner, Ms.S) took the students to the lunch room for the “we do” phase. The students asked questions about pictures posted around the room, then in partners classified the questions as ‘simple’ or ‘higher level’. We then asked the students to come up with criteria for what makes a question simple and what makes it higher level. It was so interesting to see that they could almost alway accurately identify which questions were simple and which were higher level, but they had a lot of difficulty understanding how they knew, and were totally confused when I asked them what the criteria for a simple question is.

This is where the thing I’m sometimes good at comes into play: explaining stuff. I asked the students if they knew the difference between boys clothes and girls clothes. They looked at me funny, but nodded their heads. I asked them if I gave them a bag full of clothes, how could they tell which were men’s and which were women’s? They listed all sorts of things: size, colour, pattern, brand, style, fit, amount of jewels on it, etc. How we recognize men’s clothing or women’s clothing is based on a criteria for each. Bam (do you think I can say that in the classroom, or does it only apply when cooking?).  Now we apply that to questioning – how do we recoginze a simple quesiton, and how do we recognize a higher level question? What’s the criteria for each? Considering they came up with some answers, I’d say my explanation was a success.

I also can’t wait for the “Digital Citizenship” unit coming up in Grade 9, mostly because I’m going to compare them using their smart phones just to text to using your car just to listen to the radio. Bam.

Back in the Saddle

Welcome back to another school year!

The year kicks off with the usual jitters – will they like me? Will I like them? Will I say or do something awkward that will mar me for the rest of the school year, and result in an embarrassing nickname that I won’t be able to shake? The back to school outfit is scrutinized – it needs to be professional, stylish, comfortable, and resistant to any possible mishaps that would result in the aforementioned mar and nickname. Shoes are critical – the first few days of school are spent giving many tours, finding classrooms for new students, opening stubborn lockers, and going to and from and to and from the office and photocopy room. By the end of day one, my feet were blistered, I had talked for over an hour giving four consecutive 20 minute “welcome to class and here’s what it’s about” speeches, and been told by the photocopier that I had “insufficient funds” and so my job was deleted. And I was in love.

For some students, it takes more than one day. But for some, it takes only a few hours of their smiling little (or sometimes pudgy) faces and sparkling personality for me to feel that familiar twang that I know will result in unabashed love, of the students and of my job. My throbbing feet were somehow eased when a student thanked me for helping him find his classroom. My scratchy voice didn’t matter so much when I overheard a student say of me, “You have Evenson for English? Oh, she’s good.” My latent desire to push the photocopiers off a bridge was momentarily forgotten as I witnessed a Grade 10 boy extend his hand and offer to show a Grade 9 boy where the woodshop was.

I’m well aware that this is the honeymoon phase. But it’s a necessary phase. I will look back on this week in the cold of November – when lessons I was excited for have flopped, when students I like have clearly established it is not mutual, when hearing “you never taught us that” results in tiny rage blackouts – and I will find the desire to teach another day. I will rework my lesson plans, keep smiling at the students who roll their eyes at me, and explain once again what ‘infer’ means. But I may still push the photocopier off a bridge.

An English Teacher’s Summer

What does a teacher blog about when she’s not teaching? Food, of course.

Summer is the season of many weddings, and this summer my bestie is getting married. As matron of honour, it is my duty to throw a shower for the couple, which is coming up this weekend. I decided to make golden cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing.

I’ve made buttercream icing a few times, and have never been 100% happy with it. So I combined a few recipes together, and am pretty happy with the results. Let’s proceed.

The best of icings start here:

Melt a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave. Not your handful, my handful. Which I estimate to be a 1/4 cup.

I’ve made icing with just butter before, but found it to be too stiff, especially when from the fridge. I’ve also made icing with just shortening, but it turned out too rich and greasy tasting. Solution? Use both. Start by whipping 3/4 cup room temperature butter until it looks like this:

Add 1/4 cup shortening and whip until it looks like this (which doesn’t take long):

Sift in 1/2 cup cocoa powder and whip it. Whip it good. 

I know it looks temptingly delicious. But trust me when I say don’t taste it. At this point, the chocolate you melted should be cool enough to add, so mix that in.

Still don’t taste it. Add 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups of icing sugar, one cup at a time. Mix it in well after each cup. It will be crumbly and thick.

You can taste it now if you want. I would encourage you to.

Here’s the important part: when adding the liquid, do it very slowly. Add 1 tbsp. of whipping cream and mix it in. Then add another tablespoon and mix it in. Do this until the icing is the consistency you want, but only add a bit at a time, because it can get too runny very quickly. All told I added about 3 1/2 tbsp. of whipping cream to get it fluffy and smooth.

Ice away! I put some in my trusty piping bag with a 1M tip to ice the cupcakes. Make sure you taste test the finished product as well.

Delicious! I need to go eat some chips now to balance my sugar/salt level.

Chocolate Buttercream Icing

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening, room temperature
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 melted semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 1/4 – 3 1/2 cups icing sugar
2-4 tablespoons whipping cream