Browsing articles in "Questions"
May 31, 2012


As a teacher, what am I entitled to?

Am I entitled to inherent respect from my students? Silence when I demand it? Uncompromising focus of the tasks I deem appropriate?

Am I entitled to students who are never late? Absent?

Am I entitled to students who want to learn? Love to learn?

Am I entitled to students who leave their dramas at home? Have no dramas at home? Recognize when dramas are real or perceived?

Am I entitled to a cell phone free classroom? Facebook-free computer lab? Social media free interaction?

Am I entitled to laugh every day? A work environment free of politics? A work where your value is fairly acknowledged?

Am I entitled to a quiet space to do my work when not directly working with students? Access to the technology I need?

Am I entitled to a succinct, clear understanding of what my responsibilities as a teacher are? A set of protocols of which I must adhere?

Am I entitled to my own classroom? A teacher’s desk?

Am I entitled to time? Space?

Am I entitled to freedom to make mistakes? Freedom to try something new? 

Am I entitled to say no to change? Maintain the status quo? Be jaded, cynical?

Am I entitled to teach how I have been teaching for the past 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?

Am I entitled to sick days? Personal days? Family care days?

Am I entitled to stability? Job security?

Am I entitled to fair compensation for my effort? My success? A pension? Recognition of my aptitude?

Am I entitled to feedback? To offer professional feedback? To speak for myself?

It seems to me there are many questions about entitlement that are being asked explicitly and implicitly in education right now. There is an expectation of entitlement that is creeping into the daily rhetoric of educators.

The problem with entitlement is we’ll never receive what we are “entitled”. The problem with entitlement is that we’ll never be happy.

These questions can be asked from different perspectives as well. Parents, administrators, governments, students all have a feeling of entitlement.

So, who is entitled?

May 24, 2012
Comments Off on No Room to Charm and Disarm

No Room to Charm and Disarm

With the ubiquity of technology and a growing integration of online teaching, training, applying, and learning, our students are required to learn new skills of communication. We need our students to be able to express themselves succinctly in writing, be able to build connections with little to no face-to-face interaction and the ability to understand tone in writing. However, a colleague of mine made an astute observation a while ago.

The need to build the ability to charm, disarm and create empathy is fading. Here’s her example:

“Deadlines are more important then ever. No longer can these kids talk, negotiate and charm deadlines to be extended because more and more deadlines are a technology. The portal to apply, submit, connect shuts down. That’s the thing with technology, sometimes there is no human on the other side.”

Are we doing our students any favours by extending deadlines because they ask us?

I think of my high school experience where I know a few of my teachers let me by a course because I was a nice kid. I was charming, polite. These skills have served me well. However, more and more, as technological tools create a buffer between humans, are those skills less valuable.

The same colleague made note, “When working in an online work environment, you have to fulfill the requirements, there is no wiggle room. Not only that, you have to fulfill all the requirements.”

There are more and more instances where technology is removing the “soft” skills that are a key element to public education.

So, the two questions I’m left with are: Do we start enforcing tougher deadlines and institute technology to help students remove the natural human elements of charm and negotiations or do we start to rethink and rework our technology and online courses to ensure a more human element to it?

Apr 29, 2012
Comments Off on Counting to Mastery

Counting to Mastery

While sitting having lunch with some progressive, insightful educators, the ideas around assessment were being bandied around. The struggle between the quantitative and qualitative, the balance between formative and summative assessment, and how to find a balance of assessment that most benefits students.

This idea came to my head: A student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark.

I said it, knowing it may sound crazy, explaining that I hadn’t fully thought it through. However, here was my logic:

A student’s quantitative evaluation, according to Growing Success in Ontario, should be based on “observations, conversations and student product.” (39) Nowhere in Growing Success does it explain the necessity to calculate a student’s numeric mark. In fact, if you read through the document enough, there is considerable evidence to suggest that teachers should be considering what students do as demonstrations of their learning.

And this brings it back to my idea.

As the year progresses, a student can not un-demonstrate their skills. They can not un-demonstrate their knowledge. This is where it gets tricky. I believe that Growing Success wants us to look at the curriculum as stated and evaluate where each students’ skills are at that moment, thus “most recent, most consistent”. What that means is a student’s numeric mid-term mark, should be looking at that student’s demonstrations against all the skills necessary for that credit.

The idea that a student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark is contingent on the idea that the teacher is determining that mid-term mark against the entire curriculum, not just an isolated part of it.  I know the English curriculum and I would suggest that this idea works. Students at mid-term surely have demonstrated the various elements of reading, writing, oral communication and media studies. A more content driven curriculum, does not fit into this notion.

The one hitch: Growing Success still implies that a student’s final evaluation be determined from 70% of their term work and 30% from a summative. Therefore, at most, a student’s mark should only drop by 30%. However, Growing Success also states, “Determining a report card grade will involve teachers’ professional judgement and interpretation of evidence and should reflect the student’s most consistent level of achievement, with special consideration given to more recent evidence,” (39) which implies that summative evidence may be taken with more consideration.

I leave it to you. My question, considering the ideas, as outlined in Growing Success, is my idea accurate. Or is it the random nonsense of a radical?

Is a mid-term mark, the first instance of our counting to mastery and therefore an indication that a student has successfully demonstrated a specific level of the skills? 

Should a student’s final mark ever be lower than their mid-term mark?

Please comment, question, challenge, and be part of this conversation. I’m wrestling with this notion and would love to hear your thoughts.

Apr 24, 2012
Comments Off on Put It On Paper

Put It On Paper

In the next few weeks I have my Teacher Performance Appraisal. I will have it determined, in a single visit to my classroom, whether I meet the satisfactory requirements to be a teacher in Ontario.

Simply put, I’m not worried. Sorta.

You see, as part of the process, I have to show the paperwork of my teaching. Unit plans, lesson plans, assessment rubrics and accounting formulas. Now to say that this isn’t my strength would be an honest assessment of my abilities as a teacher.

But it is also the limitation of any one-shot assessment model, be it standardized test or performance task or examination. The definition of success must be limited. It must be limited because the time is limited. The space is limited. The assessment is limited. But more importantly, the learning from this performance appraisal is limited. What valuable feedback will I get from a one-shot deal? The operative word being valuable.

The thing is, I don’t think good teaching is a unit plan. Sure, a good teacher has a sense of direction, but that doesn’t always look like a unit plan. I don’t think good teaching is a lesson plan. Sure, a good teacher needs to know what they are doing today, but they have to just as easily have to leave it behind if the people in the room require that.

How do I put a student-centred learning model on paper? How do I provide the things that my VP will be looking for, when they don’t fit so easily in a box? How do I demonstrate the relationship of me being a learner as critical to my assessment plan?

How do I put what I do on paper?

Apr 15, 2012
Comments Off on It’s Easy on Days Like These

It’s Easy on Days Like These

The other day was one of those days.

You know, one of those days where I marvel that I get paid for this gig.

My students wowed me with their engagement. From an on-fire class debate about political power, economic power and our inability to sometimes know the difference, to another class “bringing it” in a major way on their spoken word poems, rants and raps. I was left beaming.

And the thing is, I can take very little of the credit.

The success of the class wasn’t because I had worded the learning goal most precisely or scaffolded the learning in just such a way. The success of the class was precipitated by students making other students better.  They inquired, challenged, cajoled and supported each other. Exactly what learning should look like. The thing is, I have no doubt the teacher matters, but the teacher matters less when students are giving time, space and opportunity to learn.

I did my job flawlessly, on that day, as I got out of the way. I was able, by fluke most likely, to know when to shut up. I just observed, provided minimal feedback, and stopped acting like I needed to “manage” the classroom.  This doesn’t happen often, especially the shutting up part.

Is the flood of “classroom management” techniques inciting us into a winless cycle? Is good teaching the small, unnoticeable details that build confidence and not the noticed lesson plans and scaffolds?

When talking about student success, how do we move teachers away from the conversation about themselves?



Apr 10, 2012
Comments Off on I Know So Little

I Know So Little

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” — Confucius

I just finished reading “Damned Nations” by Dr. Samantha Nutt. This book is all about the various social justice issues that are taking place and how we have, so far, not dealt with some of the overriding problems that allow war, terrorism, poverty and illiteracy to breed and grow.  Needless to say, what I thought might have been helping “change the world” may in fact be contributing.  Nutt is one of the co-founders of War Child. This book opened my eyes and is now, on my list, of books I will recommend over and over.

Ignorance of faculty

This book reminded me of my incredible ignorance. I try to be world-wise, yet I am foolish to think that reading is enough.

I am plagued with this ever-present question of whether I am “smart” enough to be a teacher.

If I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge, am I equipped to help students discover their own ignorance? Because isn’t this what we ultimately are searching for? A student who understands they don’t know everything becomes a self-guided inquirer, or a self-directed learner. That’s my goal.

To improve teacher practice, do we need a teacher-wide admittance of our knowledge limitations? Will this help re-frame the classroom away from the teacher as “beacon of knowledge”?

I do want to acknowledge that I recognize the difference between information and knowledge. The difference is an important element in our media saturated world.

I know so little, yet my ignorance is an important factor in my teaching. Should it be for all?

Mar 19, 2012

Disconnection and Isolation

March Break is over. Packed up and checked off. For some it meant a week in sunny places or for others a chance to spend days with their family.

For me, it was 10 days of disconnection and isolation.  I spent the break holed up at a cottage, with no internet, no television, a sketchy phone connection, alone.

It was the first time in a while where I was completely on my own.

It allowed me time and space to ruminate and reflect on the year that has been, but more importantly, it allowed me to develop/hone/enhance my thinking of what is to come.

It allowed me to organized myself, put myself in the proper boxes and ensure I’m ready.

It allowed me time to read, read read and write, write, write.

And so, I feel refreshed, re-centered, and ready to dive in to the murky world of connection and immersion.


But, when do our students disconnect and go into isolation? Is this only something we can appreciate as we grow older? Is the need for constant connection and immersion specifically teenaged?

My disconnection surely has me missing some Facebook status updates, lots of Twitter content, but generally, it is loads of information that is not essential to my self-concept. This is not the case for teenagers. Should we help them develop the ability to disconnect and to be comfortable in isolation?

We are incredibly social creatures, yet many of our deepest, most profound thinking is done solo. So, how do we foster this ability in our students?

I was disconnected and isolated for the past week and it has served me. When do our students get served this luxury?

Feb 28, 2012

But I Don’t Have the Time

In this profession it is so easy to run out of time.

In class, after school, at night. In a semester, a unit, whatever.

We are constantly battling with students telling them, “You need to know this for later.” “Get on task, you only have 20 minutes left.” “You need to find the time.”

It is the one non-negotiable. And there never seems to be enough of it.

That’s my excuse, when things get busy, something has to fall by the wayside.

As an English teacher, I think it is paramount that students read and that they are given time to read. For pleasure. It is too easy to let them read on their own, attach a project on to it, and call it school work. But time where students can engage in a book will not be found, save for a few students, unless we give it.

As a civics teacher, I think it is paramount that students be given time to know what’s going on. Sometimes it is an informal discussion of the news of the day and sometimes it is directed reading of an article. But that takes time. If I engage in these informalities and don’t attach specific learning goals, is it “wasted” time?

As a social justice advocate, I think it is paramount for students to witness the harsh realities of the world through media, conversation or connection. Again, it takes time. I often don’t want to attach these “learning” events to a specific project, because I want them to be authentic. Not something a student connects with for the unit, but instead a gateway for connection for a lifetime. But it takes time.

All these things that chip away at that precious resource. Time.


What’s the answer? If it is not in the curriculum, it should be extracurricular?

If it doesn’t have a learning goal attached to it, it isn’t relevant for that 75 minutes?

How do we fit the authentic learning in with the job of schooling? My initial reaction is to forgo the schooling, but that can’t be the right answer. Can it?

How do we create a more efficient delivery model to enable us to have more time?

How do we rethink the use of time in schools? No bells? Flexible classes? Longer days? Year-round schooling?


We all have the same 24 hours but I don’t have the time for everything I want to do, why doesn’t that work out?


Feb 13, 2012
Comments Off on Splitting the Task – Two Teachers Merge

Splitting the Task – Two Teachers Merge

It is rare in high school to split a class between two teachers at the same time. But we’re doing it. Tonight marks the first night in this experiment with HC.

We are teaching a night school course of Grade 12 College English. She’s teaching Monday nights, I’ll be teaching Thursdays.

The prospect of splitting a class has made me very aware of various elements of my teaching persona, my teaching process and my teaching organization.  It has forced me to verbalize, solidify my opening day plans and be accountable to someone else. These are all things that have challenged me.

And, most importantly, how does this split affect the learning environment for the students? Will it be overwhelmingly beneficial because there are now two people caring for the success of each student? Or, will it be detrimental that students will have potentially different learning environments each night?

And so, I pose the question to my readers:

What are some factors that need to be specifically considered for two teachers who are co-teaching?

Feb 7, 2012
Comments Off on Fresh Start or Keep the Community?

Fresh Start or Keep the Community?

A new semester has started. Day one, in the books.  I get a chance to meet all my new students and say goodbye to a bunch of the old ones.

It’s a chance for a fresh start. But, it breaks up the community of learners we’ve created.

For one student, who I taught last semester, whose circumstances caused her drop out. A new semester means a chance for renewal. It is a chance for her to wipe the slate clean. She said to me, “I’m so glad that the new semester is here. I now don’t feel buried in all the stuff I haven’t done yet.”

For another, the new semester is jarring. It upsets the equilibrium he’s come to expect. He’s forced to break a routine that was working for him. He came to me and said, “Mr. Kemp, I don’t want to stop having our class. It made me excited to come to school every day.” I know he’ll get over it, but his sentiment made me think.

How can we organize classes / learning communities / opportunities for learning that speak to both student’s needs?

Is there inherent value in constantly having a student re-integrate to a new community? Or are we creating an environment that develops unneeded stress and anxiety?

If you picked up and moved houses every four months, what is the likelihood you’d invest in building a relationship with your neighbours? What’s the likelihood that you’d shovel their driveway or trim their hedges? By constantly having students dropped into new learning communities are we diminishing the need/will/want of building connections with those that are not our friends?

On the flip side, if you live in the same house, beside the same people for 10-15 years, do you get neighbourly complacent? Will students stay in the role that they’ve developed for themselves and never have to step outside their comfort zone?

As much as I love have a fresh start, I love learning in a built community where culture has been developed.

So, where is the middle ground? How can we develop a system that speaks to both sides of the equation?

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