As an adoptive daughter, my mother bought us a book that told the story of a family that chose a child. It was a heart warming story. It helped me feel the joy and the love as my parents welcomed me into their home. As a school teacher I often began a lesson, with gr. 1 or gr. 8s, using a picture book that helped me set the theme for the lesson. It gathered us all together, as we hunkered down for a good read. Such stories can help young people understand issues and topics range from bullying, having Down's Syndrome siblings, to dealing with sociological issues such as divorce. As a teacher of those who fled the Gulf War books helped children understand what another goes through. My favourite was Petronella (now out of print): the story of a child leaving Grandma overseas to come to our Canadian Prairies. These kinds of stories give context and meaning to a child's situation. It lets them know they are not alone and they are not at fault. Health issues concern the entire family. When a parent is caring for their parent time is taken away from children. I was adopted late in my parent's lives for the time, and my children were all in their twenties when my parents became ill. That said, many families are facing serious health issues that take much time and energy. I happened upon a book in our Huntsville bookstore: Still My Grandma. It is a lovely book, with sensitive drawings and text that helps a young child, and their parent, understand that Grandma is still Grandma.
If a loved one is in LTC, there are still many things you can do with them. They subtly give suggestions on things children can still do with ailing family members: looking at old photos, hugs, memories, holding hands, sitting on her lap. It says that while "most times Grandma forgets my name, we still have our traditions".
I spent months feeding my dad meals. It was a poignant time, when he no longer could understand the function of forks and knives. He looked forward to my visits, I found out later, while the dementia increased and his brain cells died.
Back when I was on my local teacher union executive, we found that what with more sexual information on the Internet, access to blue movies, and children who were victims of abuse, neglect, and the increase of oppositional disorder due to these issues, many more teachers were being charged with abuse.
More cases of sexual touching and sexual relations seem to come up in the news. I tend to think that we have simply underreported them, but I could be wrong. Either way, it must be stopped. These children will be impacted for the rest of their lives.
During my 3 years on executive, we had approximately 15 false accusations of child abuse. Some included alleged improper hand touch, one included a child claiming a hand on a knee, under a very low kindergarten table. Most cases that go to court are older cases, back from days when we knew less than we know now.
Boundary issues are blurring with the Internet and cell phones. You must carefully examine your interactions, less is better.
In my case, I found that I would often react as a parent. For example, with three children I might tap their hands in mock play. One time I was bribing students with the cookies they had made in our home economics class. When they handed me their work, they could take a cokie from the cookie jar. One student reached in when he shouldn't have and I tapped that top of his hand. This is what I would have done with my own children, as a wise and judicious parent, and I immediately went to my principal and told him what happened. Just in case.
There are things to do to protect yourself.
Never touch a child. Simple as that. Children do not understand good touch and bad touch, especially when they go home and complain to parents.
Ensure that you work with several children in a classroom at a time. Never alone.
Keep your classroom door open when working with only a few children. Encourage volunteers, especially parents who seem strangely hostile. Let them see the great job you are doing. Make them part of your classroom.
If you do e-mail students, do so with an understanding that you place yourself at risk. (Save all your e-mail.) I had one student, who would send work to me to print for her, who began sending me bad jokes, and then gag photos that included revealing body parts. I had to tell her to stop, and that I found the jokes offensive. This is a teachable moment, for both of us.
If you hear of a colleague who is overstepping boundaries, talk to him/her. They may need help and you must protect our children. Talk to your principal.
If you have an incident write down everything you remember in an Aid Memoir. If it is a minor incident, tell your principal. Prepare them, just in case your actions were misunderstood and there are ramifications. If it is a more serious incident, call your union immediately. Talk to no one.
Make sure that you are well, and well rested. Behaviour that is normal, may be intolerable when you are tired, stressed. Take mental health days when you need them.
Take advantage of EAP programs. Many school boards offer them. It is helpful to talk to professionals. They are bound by confidentiality and will help you if you find your life overwhelming.
Many have created Absence Management Counsellors, in harmony with unions, who will help you determine how to get healthier and get back to work.
Eat well, exercise, balance your personal and professional life. A tired, stressed teacher can make mistakes. You health is not worth it.
I find, in this April's poetry month, that it is a great way to nurture yourself, in this greening of our world. New things are growing; new writers are budding. Internet 'is causing poetry boom'
Writing poetry is a great way for students to launch into the world of writing. Poems are short and sweet. They summarize a thought or idea. They need not take weeks to write and rewrite. And, once you are done, you need not look back!
What I did was to use a teacher resource book that taught a different poetry style each day. Each lesson provided an example, a prompt, and a frame from which to start. Students were free to explore their own topics, or simply follow the frame.
We began with rhyming and non-rhyming. We counted syllable and metre and rhythm. We studied favourite song lyrics, and analysed rap, for example, to understand how they are created and how that makes them sound.
Eventually, by the end of a unit, students would have a collection of poems they could publish on their web page or collect in a writing book. Sometimes we even bound them, just for fun.
STANZA: A formal division of lines in a poem. The most common are • Couplet (two lines) • Sestet (six lines) • Triplet (three lines) • Septet (seven lines) • Quatrain (four lines) • Octave (eight lines)
The other option with writing poems involves taking a poem, as a frame, and having the student insert more personal and meaningful language into it.
Students should, of course, have a duotang or section of their binder totally devoted to writing practice. Within the duotang should be copies of rubrics as a beacon and exemplar.
Students should know what they are aiming for in their work. The image above demonstrates the rubric creation before an assignment begins. We brainstorm what a reader might look for in a piece of work. This can be applied, as well to a poem assignment. I do expect that students should participate in this process and include this as a model of a process, the final product can be rewritten, but it is the process, not the product, that is important. We know how important it is to draw from what the students already know, then they can assimilate new information to the old.
You can facilitate the practice of cursive writing, and grammar and language skills, by asking students to copy a poem into their writing booklets. Then, ask them to rewrite, using images and metaphors that they created from their own lives. Most writers write from what they know. This is the place to start.
We brainstorm words we might include, kids call out words they want to spell, we create a word bank on the chalkboard or word wall...
I found this poem, see the image, perhaps in a newspaper? It surely replaces the timeworn, What I did on my holidays... prompt!
This is a time of dread Our long weekend of woe, As, come Tuesday, Back to school we go
But the worst is yet to come It stands to reasonWhen......Will close for...
It is vital that teachers be vigilant for stress and stress responses in children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect. Fully 60% of children who witness domestic violence, for example, develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), while 50% of their mothers develop it. Children may be victims of community or domestic violence, war, accidents, natural disasters with lasting impacts on their physical and mental health. In all of these situations they are victims of abuse and neglect.
In Ontario abuse MUST be reported to the Children's Aid Society. Students experiencing such stress are in a constant ‘fight or flight’ mode. Even in infancy, children who have witnessed domestic abuse, or have been victims of violence, abuse, or neglect, are at risk for social, emotional, physical, and psychological issues. If a woman and a child under the age of 11, witness the same violent event, the child is 3x's more likely to develop PTSD.
Students who have PTSD, includes those who witness abuse. having extremely high cortisol levels. This effect is worse on the brain than victims who are sexually or physically abused.
At a presentation at a DART conference, Dr. Diane Benoit* provided definitions and an historical perspective of PTSD and domestic violence as it effects children as young as 3 months. She outlined the effects of early attachments, or their absence in families in which infants are not protected from violence, stress and domestic assaults.
Under 'normal' stress, cortisol gives us a burst of energy, heightened memory, a burst of increased immunity, and helps the body function. This hormone, in early humans, increased the ability of an adult to escape a potential risk. Under normal circumstances, it is secreted by the adrenal glands and helps with metabolic rates, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, immune functions and inflammatory responses. Under prolonged or extreme violent situations of violence or abuse, the impact on the child can be lasting.
Stress responses are similar to being clinically depressed: low-self esteem, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, negative life view, emotional instability, impulse control, physical self-abuse, eating disorders, substance abuse, poor social skills, illnesses, low academic achievement, and impaired moral reasoning.
Teachers should look for extreme reactions to normal stress levels. Students who demonstrate abnormal fearful responses in incongruent situations: anger when another child does not cooperate, extreme reactions to accidents, sudden loss of temper, violent reactions, the appearance of the whites of their eyes.
Children can regress after a violent incident. They can exhibit bizarre reactions to normal stressors, as their brain attempts to protect them from further stress. These children need to be identified early and get appropriate help from qualified therapists. We must endeavour to understand how children perceive trauma, respond early and appropriately and find help for them.
Dr. Benoit gave tips for law enforcement and early responders to child victims
check to see if they are physically hurt
get down to their level
acknowledge that something terrible has happened, "You must feel pretty scared."
Refrain from dissing either parent
Assure them that the situation is NOT THEIR FAULT
Keep them with familiar, safe adults
Check in with Victim Services responders to keep them safe (escape plans, court orders)
Provide them with more information
Explain the next steps
Children need help facing their fears. This post, on Children and Grief gives some help, and this, on The Grieving Process, provides further information for all ages. ~~~~~~~~~~ *Diane BeNoit, (M.D., FRCPC), is an associate Professor in the department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, www.nssot.ca/documents/20080505-AttachmentGoneAwry.pdf
Often your classroom is impacted by a death in a family, or in the community. If it is the death of a student, the impact is great. If it is the death of a family member, or grandparent, for example, there are many things a teacher must do. In the event of a teacher passing away, many will relive deaths of parents, or have to deal with older incidents. When a teacher's colleague passes the event will be most difficult. In my previous school board, we had a colleague die suddenly of a boating accident. All of us felt the grief. Many schools helped this teacher's peers and teachers were dispatched to cover the classes in order for them to attend the funeral.
Children who have witnessed violence, whose families are impacted by trauma, divorce, moving, sudden death, all suffer grief. It is important to respect their response. Feelings are not bad, it is how we deal with these feelings that changes us.
The first thing is to sit down with the children and talk about their fears. Some will want to talk. others will want to listen.
Deal with issues as they arise. Talk to the Trauma Response team, which school boards have created across the province. They offer professional help.
Listen to their concerns.
Let them you you are upset, too.
Model the means by which you deal with your grief, i.e., talking to others, crying, being honest about your feelings, which could include denial or anger.
Do not tell the answers if you do not know them.
Respect individual spiritual beliefs. Some answers must come from their families.
Clear up faulty misperceptions, if they arise. (When I was teaching during 9/11 children became fearful and di not want to walk home. Children feared for their pets and relatives.)
Let them tell their stories: Music/Art/Dance/Drama by drawing pictures, sand play, creating poems, writing letters.
Make a fear box. Cut out pictures or words, from newspapers and magazines, that represent fears.
Write down their fears (scribe for them if they cannot) and assign them a priority number and send this home so that families may discuss these issues.
Help others. Fundraise and give donations to relief agencies, or causes, i.e., Cancer Society.
It was with great joy that we wrote poems. I have found a great site readwritepoem:
Prompts are a great way to encourage writers.
Happily, this month, April, is poetry month. I have been playing along: here are my poems. The prompts are a terrific support for any teachers who are unfamiliar with this process.
Goldberg suggests timed writing. (This works well for prose as for poetry.) Ms. Goldberg* has many such prompts, but teacher's curriculum and resources publish such ideas.
Give a class a prompt - "I remember..." or "The first time I..." and they write for 5 minutes at a time. Each time they finish the sentence, taking up a new thought as they go. Spelling does not count. Punctuation and grammar are for later edits, but for Heavens' Sake you MUST teach this at some time...as you must teach 'traditional spelling' and editing. There is nothing that diminishes a piece of writing than to see errors. One must question the authority of the writer.
But back to the writing process...After this 5-minute period of time, ask them to take one section. Seek a volunteer who will willingly write up a section on the board or chart paper.
I remember the first time I saw my cat. He sat inside his cage in the pet store. Happily rubbing up against the cage, he watched me. He meowed at me, and anticipated that I might pick him up.
Then, take your chalk, draw a line through the unnecessary words, as such...
Then, the words have to be rewritten. Ask them to try to use adjectives, to be specific about the kind of cat, what is it that they see, hear, smell? Make it present tense, if you wish...
I rememberfirst viewmeowing cat inside metal cagehappily rubbing on the barshe watches memeows againanticipationpick him upenfold him into my life
I hope that helps! Let me know! Pair up strong reader/writers with weaker ones to help with editing. Have them read them aloud. Go for strong language and deep meanings. You will find that our students are our best teachers.
* If you need more help in learning about writing poems, or any other genres, read Natalie Goldberg's work. She teaches well. These three I would recommend. Her latest is a reprise of her original ideas, but any one will set you on your way. The last one: Thunder and Lightning, pairs poems with drawings. This, too, engages the artist as well as the writer!
Welcome! Brought to you from S. E. Ontario, Canada!
Happy to have been a teacher.
In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have. -Lee Iacocca, automobile executive (b. 1924)
"Ignorance is not knowing. Stupidity is the active pursuit of ignorance"
This blog is based on my 25 years as a teacher in Ottawa, and a couple of years with NNDSB. I have time to reflect and put my experiences and opinions out there for others. Teaching is a collective experience, best shared. Visit my resume for more about my teaching background and credentials.