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

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

Grateful for Principal's Support

If you have read my recent posts, you will know that the teachers in Ontario, Canada are in a strike position. Today, all 83 000 members of the elementary union (k-8) are walking out of schools to show support for the following: small class sizes, maintaining the current kindergarten model, and protesting cuts to special education for children with needs. We are picketing this morning in rotations of three hours no matter what the weather. This morning it is snowing (with chances of sleet) and the temperatures are below 0c. I know the ice, snow, and cold are not going to be pleasant.

Yesterday in our mail boxes, all teachers received a package given to us on behalf of our principal. I could not help but feel emotional when I picked it up. The package shows her care and support – so important at a time like this. Included in the package were some snacks and – most important – hand warmers. These will definitely come in handy for today’s below 0c temperatures.

I am certainly grateful for the support of our principal, and of the admin staff in general. It means so much to have their support and to know that we, the teachers at the school, do not have to butt heads with those people who supervise us from day to day.

What are you grateful for this week?

© 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.)

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

Grateful for A Quiet Moment

Tonight is the school concert and it is happening in a couple of hours. When my class is not performing their song, I am expected to supervise them in my classroom while the parents watch the show. The day of the concert is a long one; especially when it is filled with excited children. I am hoping that tonight they will be a little calmer than during the day; and that they will bring something interesting with them to keep themselves occupied.

This week I am grateful that for the few moments of quiet that I will have in my classroom before it is filled again with twittering children.

What are you grateful for this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is part of my weekly gratitude reflection. You are welcome to join in and share your post in the comments.)

Grateful for Showcase

Yesterday I attended the Pembroke Publishers Showcase. This is an event organised by the Pembroke publishing house for interested teachers to attend. At the showcase, authors speak for 20 minutes about their recent publication and while speaking, give us an insight into what the book covers. While listening, I am often inspired and think about ways in which I can improve my teaching practice.

A quick bite to eat before the event begins. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

This is the second year that I have attended the event and returned to the workshop as I find it inspiring. I also enjoy the day as I get to spend some time away from the classroom with other teachers. As a result of the day, I now have a teacher book that I want to read to add an extra layer to the literacy component in my classroom.

This week I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the Pembroke Publishing Showcase. The day was interesting and inspiring – and I look forward to next year’s event.

What are you grateful for this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is part of my weekly gratitude reflection. You are welcome to join in and share your post in the comments.)

A Gift of a Rose

For some reason we were talking birthdays in class – maybe because there are a number of birthdays happening in the next few weeks. One of my students (whom I have known for a number of years), asked me when my birthday was. He was very upset that he had missed it as he had planned on giving me a gift. He must have expressed his disappointment at home because, a few days later, he gave me the gift of a rose for my birthday.

Gift of a Rose © Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

I could not help but smile when I received his gift. He was grinning from ear to ear and was so happy to see that I was pleased with the rose. And me? The gesture had certainly made my day – and is still making me smile when I look at the rose placed on my side table.

What is the sweetest gift you have received?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post was inspired by Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)