Tag Archives: middle years

My Path

Dear Team,

Today was the first time I have felt this undervalued as a teacher.

And the truth, that’s not the case.

It is just the case today.

I was trained in the middle years program. This is a program with a focus on kids and curricula grades 6 to 9.

Though the province lumps us in with the elementary bunch, we’re a different breed. And I don’t necessarily mean the educators, I mean the learners.

There’s a different set of needs here, a different set of behaviours. Okay, now maybe I am talking about M.Y. teachers.

So here’s where I am now:

I went through the M.Y. program. However, I knew I fit grades 9 to 10. I just knew this. I still feel this way. I love being in the midst of all things grades 9 to 10! I obtained a teaching contract immediately upon graduation. I taught senior ELA, grades 9 to 12. And though I’ve changed schools and I’ve taught other grades and other subjects, I have been hired mainly to teach senior ELA.

Fast forward to today.

I am in the middle of my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, focus on stories-to-live-by, thesis route. That’s a mouthful, I know.

My classrooms have always been inquiry based learning spaces.

Last week I completed the ELA accreditation seminar. At the end of the week I realized a few things: first, that of 22 ELA teachers, only two of us use inquiry in our classrooms and second, few of us use quarterly student led conferences (conversations) as part of our assessment.

At the end of the week I also realized that I will likely not qualify to become an accredited teacher in the Province of Saskatchewan, not today.

I need more classes specific to the subject.

I have called the Ministry and the Associate Dean at my university is looking into it.

Today, for a long time, I stared at my transcripts. It really doesn’t matter how high these mark are.

What do those marks mean?

What do the past years mean?

What does all of it mean?

Ironically, I was originally registered for the secondary program but decided I’d go the M.Y. route because there were more methodology classes; I wanted to learn how to teach.

I won’t list awards and accolades. I won’t list notes from kids, parents or administrators. I suppose it doesn’t matter what I learn on my own time in order to grow as a Language Learning educator and student.

However, I’d sure like to know – take me out of the equation, what do you think?

Is good teaching enough to become accredited? Is teaching more about process or more about content? When do we value one over the other? Should we? Doesn’t this situation resemble the assessment debates we have among educators, around our accreditation tables? When do we honour a person’s lived story? How do we assess a person’s narrative? This is, of course, our lived curriculum. I know my worth. How or when can someone claim to know mine?What privilege grants this lens?

I value your thoughts…




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Like They Owned The Place

Today was spectacular. The Middle-Years kids laughed. The Middle-Years kids stayed behind after class like they owned the place!

See, Tuesday was our first day together. I’ve not been with the M.Y. crew for a year. Oh, sure, a few of the kids know me. They were in my Arts Ed class two years ago when they were part of group of kids who taught pre-service teachers about student-led learning. These same kids were the group who created installation art, braking away from their classmates, visiting the Dean of Education’s Office, and leaving a wee sculpture resting on someone’s desk!

But Tuesday the entire group sat frozen. While some might like the idea of sensing fear within their students, this is not me! Afterwards, at the staff table, I nearly cried. And I sulked all evening!


Most of the students I teach are high school kids, and I am comfortable among them. Yet at the same time, I have ached for our middle-years kids.

That first day, with three grades together, four subjects wrapped-up into an hour a day, every time I shifted or began to speak, the room fell deeper into what felt an irretrievable silence.

They were scared. Oooh!

The second day I tried to ease us into our first project, and though the kids were trilled to be up and moving about the room, it was still me leading.

I teach in a small school, and sometimes it is easy to overlook the stresses that jumping into the higher grades and/or spaces brings. Though for the kids I teach, the higher grades might simply mean a stroll of forty feet, the journey is real. The change is profound.

There is a great deal of pressure in the elementary-high school shift, metaphorical or tangible. I tell all our kids I want them to leave happier then when they arrived to school in the morning. For the first two days of this new year, our M.Y. kids did not leave with joy.

About 40 minutes into today’s lesson, I had had enough. What walloped me in that moment was that I had recently taken a class where my learning needs, where my narrative had been silenced.

If I can help it, I will listen!

I asked everyone to drop what they where doing. I asked our kids to join me in a circle.

What’s our question?

Why is this important?

How would you like to go about figuring this out?

To my left a student said he’d like to think with rock climbing.. I said that sounded thrilling! Then, the room exploded.

Their homeroom teacher had told me they where excited to be hanging with me. If I had stopped long enough to listen to them, to remember their stories, to recall that they are experts at leading the way (in the circle discussion today the group talked about race &privilege, and began to critique how whiteness affects them ) and stopped trying to teach them we might not have waisted two and a half days!

The lunch bell rang and the kids where making plans. Outside, the senior kids had to wait, their space had been changed!


The best part: A grade seven student had sat red-eyed hunched over for most of the three days. All of a sudden she was beaming! Here were smiles and words and questions and joys! She asked if she could bring her tablet to our class…


She asked three more times making certain I was telling the truth. She smiled as she left the room. Our room, chairs in disarray, no one in assigned spots, excited to jump into different and difficult discovery.



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Good Morning and Hello Story Starter

Fresh out of the shower this fine morning, I sat down to check my Google Reader updates.  However, before I could started reading, there on my Google homepage slid in nicely in the National Geographic POD slop was this fantastic image.  Aahh, I am in the midst of planning my first I-will-actually-teach-it-ELA-unit.  With The Mysteries of Harris Burdick on my brain, and the joy of my second unit lurking in there too – Mysteries (rethinking it all, the funny side) – I can’t help but think, “Hey hey, lookie here, what a great story starter!”


1 of 6.  Dear Fin,  I know it’s been ages since we’ve spoken.  I have ever so much to share.  I know my behaviour was slightly rash the last time we saw each other, especially taking all 11 lemons, the talc and the tractor, but at least the talc has come in handy.  It holds nylon really well.  Oh, btw …  


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Exactly What is a ‘Social Justice Focus?’

About two months ago, and a week into ECMP 355, I knew I needed to have my own personal tech advisor.  Or, at least I had thought I needed to.  I found Jeremy Schubert, (don’t google him) a tech type from Alberta.  Anyway, as Jeremy and I were exchanging emails about setting up my blog, he asked about the Middle Years program, to which I

Middle Years Interns, 2009

Middle Years Interns, 2009

replied, it had a ‘social justice focus.’ 

 Jeremy asked, “Exactly what is a social justice focus?” 

Middle Years Grads, 2009

Middle Years Grads, 2009

 Wow.  A good question.  In fact, I thought it was such a good question I decided to ask my peers and post the copious replies that I was certain would fill my inbox.  So, I sent out emails to all the post-interns (now, by the way, all individuals with shiny new teaching certificates, and many with teaching contracts) and to the upcoming interns, asking what their take was on our program’s social justice focus.  I had one response.

Chris McCullum is an intern and a clever, level headed guy.  He’s the kind of fellow who goes home to help with the family farm and gets teased a lot for it, who is a self-declared-I-don’t-read-books-kind of guy, but a person who knows more about current events than anyone I know.  He was our go-to-guy at university for anything going on around the world, and his social studies lessons knocked my socks off.  He’s a CBC listener, and, I dare say, a more reliable source for history than Wikipedia.

 Here’s Chris’s reply:Chris cropped

“I really don’t know what the party line is for social justice but for me it’s about teaching kids to think critically and be aware of other people and situations around the world.  I’m not sure if that’s close but I really think that critical thinking is the key because then it’s not about indoctrinating kids to see things my way but rather to thinking things through, questioning, challenging and then coming to their own conclusions.”  Chris McCullum, Thursday, May 21, 2009 12:54 PM

 So what is the Faculty’s ‘party line’ on the social justice focus of my middle years program?  Many of my instructors, and certainly my programs’ department head, Dr. Meredith Cherland, have offered this take,

 “[T]eaching for social justice… here [at the Faculty of Education,] is both a process and a goal.

 The goal for social justice is the full and equal participation of all groups in a society mutually shaped to meet their needs; this will require the equitable distribution of resources; a healthy natural environment and sustainable ways of living; and

 Processes for working toward social justice are inclusive, participatory, and democratic; they affirm human agency, and encourage a sense of collective responsibility for the good of the whole.”   Adams, M., L.A. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.) (2007) Teaching for diversity and social justice, second edition. New York: Routledge.

 Yet, in her own courses, staying closer to her own party line, Dr. Cherland also offered the following quotes to help her middle years students shape our emerging understanding of teaching for social justice. 

“The voices of indignation and protest have resounded through the years in response to injustice and human suffering…social justice is a concept contingent on particular historical circumstances. It does not exist in some supersensible realm, anymore than in the minds and souls of individual human beings.”  Maxine Greene. 1998. Introduction. In W. Ayers, J.A. Hunt, & T. Quinn (Eds.), Teaching for social justice. New York: The New Press.

“The struggle for social justice is nothing less than the struggle for a reduction of human pain and suffering.”  Franklin, U. (1999a) Address to the “Made to Measure” National Symposium on Designing Research, Policy and Action Approaches to Eliminate Gender Inequity. Halifax, Nova Scotia. October 1999.

I have emerged from my Middle Years program with the understanding that teaching for social justice is about empathy, critique, hope and action.  But, these words are trite, easily recited, yet must be more than goal and process, or teaching.  I believe, like a belief system, to teach for social justice, it must first be a lived practice.

At the end of April I reflected on my university experiences and my emerging perspectives on teaching and learning in an article I wrote titled The Absolutely True Ramblings of a Reduced Course Load Almost Intern.  In the article I reflected that:

“I did not sit idle; I stayed true to being critical, and to being engaged in the teaching learning process and to believing in equity.  I’ve learned that there is no authentic social justice in the environment of learning, whether that be the learning environments of my past, the one I’m in now, or probably not the ones in which I’ll be part and this saddens me.  Learning is so cloaked in privilege and power.”  Cori Saas, April 15, 2009, EPS 390

logan with snakeWas I too harsh?  Too pessimistic?  No, I know how I ended my piece, and I know I athree kids workingm an eternal optimist (though, you likely can’t believe that now).  I believe in kids, I believe in difference making, and learning.  Yes, that’s my hope for living a social justice lens, an unshakeable belief in kids and an unshakable belief in difference making and an unshakable belief in learning.

Now, like Jeremy, I want to know, what exactly is your understanding of a social justice focus?

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