In Solidarity at Queen's Park

On Friday 21 February, all four teacher unions in Ontario united and walked out of classrooms – that is a total of 200 000 members – to show solidarity. The members working in my locale were asked to go and picket at Queen’s Park for one shift. The day dawned with blue skies and crisp air. It was chilly – but not as cold as it had been for previous walkouts.

When I arrived at Queen’s Park, the crowds were already gathering and by 10:15am people filled the closed off streets around the park. The flags of the four unions waved above the heads of educators fighting for the right of a decent public education programme.

I was proud to be standing with the others (it was reported to be over 30 000 bodies at Queen’s Park – including some parents with their children). Children in the province have a right to a decent education without having to pay for it and I was proud to be their voice at the rally.

We walked the route at a slow pace with each turn taking about half an hour. At the end of the day when I arrived home, my feet were aching (winter boots are not made for walking!) but I was satisfied with making a stand.

The teachers of our union, ETFO, have now entered phase 6 of the strike action. No walkouts have been planned but some physical and online picketing are to occur within the next two weeks. Time will tell whether these efforts will make a difference.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Beginning Structures

Yesterday in class, we began my favourite unit of the year. I enjoy teaching structures as the children have the opportunity to build with a variety of materials – and enjoy it. Even all the girls get into it – though some of them tell me they are not good at it. It saddens me to hear a 7 year old already inhibited by the social expectation that girls are not good at building and at math.

Yesterday I gave my students the opportunity to build with blocks and lego. The classroom was buzzing with activity as the children tried to build what was in their mind. I love seeing their creativity. The structures that they build also give me an idea of where they are in understanding three dimensions.

I spent the day stepping over lego and blocks but I did not mind. Learning was at work – even in their attempts to draw what they had created.

The children in my classroom were exploring and learning today. I am sure that they went home and told their parents they played with lego the whole day but hopefully, by now, the parents will understand that the day was more than just play.

What structures did you build yesterday?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

A Valentine’s Wish

Each year, my students hand me cards for Valentine’s Day. My favourites are always the homemade cards with a personalized message inside. This year, I received one that I will have to keep.

I have a binder filled with cards that I have received in the past from my own children as well as the children I have thought. Looking through them always makes me smile and this card will be an added smile.

Did you receive any homemade cards this Valentine’s Day?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

An Electrifying Experience

Yesterday, on 12 February 2020, the elementary teachers of Ontario walked out of their classroom for the fifth time this academic school year to protest the changes proposed to public education by the current conservative government. Elementary teachers are protesting the proposed cuts to special education, the increase in class sizes, and the wish to change the current kindergarten model. In addition, teachers want the government to address the issue of the violence in the classroom which is on the increase.

Yesterday, I joined the picket line at the Royal York Hotel where the Minister of Education was to speak to the Canadian Club. When I reached the venue, I was stunned at the number of people already at the site. Teachers had already begun picketing outside the hotel, and the vibe in the area was electrifying. Once all my colleagues had arrived, we joined the demonstration happening in front of the hotel.

As we marched, we chanted and made some noise with our tambourines, shakers and cow bells. There were a number of leaders at different points of the line that lead us in the chants that kept us going. The feeling of solidarity I felt energised me and gave me the zeal to continue for the next three hours.

I was happy to see that we were being noticed. The TV cameras were there: the protest was live streamed and seen in the media – unlike so many other protests that had been ignored. Our local communities had seen us, but not the larger. Yesterday, we were noticed. Yesterday, we made our voices heard.

The police presence was strong – though we did not create any problems. After all, teachers are a group of people who are used to following both the rules and the dictum “safety first”! Ours was a peaceful protest despite there being so many people in one space.

Yesterday was the most electrifying experience that I have had on the picket line. That energy has charged me and will help to keep me going on with the fight. Today, I walk into my classroom and work with the children for whom I am protesting.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Two Walkouts in a Row

Despite the cold temperatures this past week, the teachers working in Ontario, Canada participated in walkouts to protest against the cuts to public education that the current government is proposing. On Thursday, the walkout was province-wide and included the 83 000 teachers that work for school boards across Ontario. Teachers bundled up and made their way to their designated picketing site.

My school was instructed to meet outside the constituency offices of Vincent Ke. We milled around on the sidewalk outside for a while but the cold drove us to walking. We spent the time walking up and down a section of Sheppard Avenue East. Not only did the walking warm us a little, but it also helped to pass away the time of our three hour shift.

When my shift had ended, I walked another 15 minutes to the subway station to get home. While on the train, I could feel the tingling in my toes as they slowly started to warm up. Getting off the train was difficult and, during the walk home, I constantly thought of the warm drink and meal I would be having. Once home, it took me the rest of the afternoon to warm up.

Yesterday it was our turn to take part in the rotating walkout action. My colleagues and I joined up in front of our school and walked the short bit to Yonge street. We had received permission to picket on the main street so that we could get more exposure – our school is in a small side street that is quiet during the day.

As we were standing on the corner, we were covered in snow. However, the group did not let the cold get them down – the music teacher had brought with her a speaker and prepared playlist which encouraged us to move to the music. We were also shown a lot of support from the community. The coffee and sweet treats given to us by parents were welcomed – the hot coffee arriving at an opportune time as it warmed my frozen fingers.

As of this morning, we have heard no notification that the government is going back at the bargaining table and more walkouts are planned for next week. I would rather be in my classroom teaching my students – but this issue is too important.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Walking the Picket Line

Yesterday my colleagues and I participated in the fourth phase of our ongoing strike by withdrawing full services. The day dawned with the frigid temperatures of -18c but we were determined to stand up for what we believe is important.

Our bodies constantly moving to keep warm, we gathered together in front of the school where we teach. The school is not at full capacity, so the group was small. However, we cheered one another on as our bodies got used to being out in the extreme cold. As someone mentioned, it was a little like yard duty – but for an extended period of time.

I am proud to be working as a teacher for our school board. I know that we have an important job to do – a job that some in our society do not appreciate. However, the parents at our school are very supportive and understanding. They realise that the reason we are standing up to the government and the cuts they want to enforce is for the good of their children, our students.

A few parents brought their children over to show them that yesterday was not just a day away from school; these parents had explained to the children what it is we are fighting for. Two of our students yesterday morning walked the picket line with us to experience strike action. Definitely a learning moment.

It is not often that we were able to catch the sunlight and stand in its warmth. Our neighbourhood has been changing over the last few years as condos are sprouting up in its streets. We became sun seekers, searching for any spot in which to stand. Sunlight was rare, though, and we walked up and down a section of the street to keep ourselves warm (especially our feet!).

We are hoping that the government ministers see the light (did you see what I did there Becky 😀 ) – but we do not have any hope that they will. Today the secondary schools are going on their third walkout and, thankfully, the temperatures have risen by 15c. Hopefully the next time we walk out of our classrooms for the strike action, it won’t be so cold.

Have you walked the picket line?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This post is linked to Becky’s Square Challenge.)

A Visit by the Classroom Elf

This week Jean-Jean, the classroom’s Elf on the Shelf, made an appearance. As per tradition, I read the story about the elf to the children on Monday and some children in the class shared stories about the elves that are visiting their home.

Each morning I place the elf in a different place, often linked to what the children are currently doing in class. I remind the children that they are not to touch the elf as he will lose his magic and return to the North Pole. Those children who have an elf at home already know about this admonition.

As always, there are children who don’t believe – which is okay. However, there were some children this year who decided to touch the elf in order to test whether he was magic or not. So Jean-Jean was put away much to the dismay of some of the children. Hopefully the class, as a whole, will learn the lesson to follow the instruction given and not spoil the experience for others.

Do you have an Elf on the Shelf who visits your home or work space?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

Something Old, Something New

This year a student has been placed in my class who has in the past exhibited violent behaviour towards her classmates as well as the adults in the room. In order to prepare me for dealing with her, my principal sent me on a workshop yesterday to learn a way in which to deal with the child if she has a violent episode. The CPI training focuses on nonviolent crisis intervention and has, at its core, the safety of all the people in the room.

As a teacher what you want is to prevent the child’s behaviour from escalating. We were reminded of signs that we, as people who work with children daily, already know. She showed us an interesting video to remind us of the importance of non-verbal cues:

The instructor mentioned some techniques that can be used to calm a child down: holding a hand, a stroking, or even giving a hug. I could not help but notice the irony of this as when I was first hired with the board, we were told not to touch the children under any circumstances. I do prefer the message given yesterday as it acknowledges the healing power of touch and how we, as humans, crave the touch of others.

In the afternoon, we were introduced to ways in which to deflect the violence aimed at our bodies. We were also given permission to move away and remove ourselves from the situation that could harm ourselves. We were shown holds to contain a child if necessary – holds that are to be used as a last resort. We practiced them for a while. I do feel, however, that I need to practice it some more. And I hope I never have to use them!

I found it interesting to speak to the other participants at the workshop who are all special education teachers. Their job is to deal with a group of children every day who may display violence. They are accepting of this part of the job and seem adept at dealing with it. I could not help but think as I was speaking to some of them that the CPI training is what an ordinary classroom teacher like me needs as not all children who display violent tendencies have had their behaviour officially documented (especially in the younger grades).

Yesterday was an interesting day. I was reminded of things that I already new; and learned a few new things. Hopefully the CPI training will help me cope with a volatile child in my classroom.

What are your thoughts on non-verbal cues?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

Colouring to Celebrate

Last week Thursday was World Penguin Day. The Penguin is our school mascot so every year the entire school focuses on these wonderful creatures. In my classroom, my students worked on a number of activities that I had prepared for them – one of which was colouring in a beautiful penguin mandala that I had found.

Colouring Penguin Mandalas. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

Colouring is a great way for the children to practice holding and manoeuvring the pencil. It is also a calming activity which most children love to do. I am sure that by the end of today, all the boys and girls will be done with the task and I will put them up on the board for us all to enjoy.

Do you enjoy colouring mandalas?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to The Escapist Colouring Club. You are welcome to join us and share some colouring work)

Art and Math Combination

I am always looking for ways in which to make my lessons interesting and when my colleague came up with an idea to combine Math and Art, I knew that I was on board. Our aim was to test the children to see their understanding of symmetry. Incorporating the winter theme as well as their knowledge of lines for visual arts, we asked them to design the patterns of a mitten. The children were then expected to draw the symmetry of their design on the second mitten.

I was happy with the creations of the children as I am clearly able to see their understanding of symmetry. Their designs will definitely help me with writing their report cards this week.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and Just Jot It January challenge. The prompt art.)