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Ritalin not the only possible answer for ADHD?

What is ADHD?
(attention deficit hyperactive disorder) kids usually aren’t difficult to spot in a classroom. They can’t stand or sit still. They can’t focus on their work because they’re too busy playing with items in their desks. They are easily distracted from their work. They cannot wait their turn when sharing items.. They fail to complete a task before moving to another one.  They continuously lose items they need for a daily task (et. pencils and erasers). They talk rapidly and frequently change subjects. They often have a hard time making and keeping friends because of their abnormal behavior. The list goes on and on.

What Causes ADHD?
brookhaven_brain_scan_adhd_childThis unfortunate and often aggravating condition isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s abnormal neurology that causes children to develop and express the many symptoms of ADHD. Children with ADHD experience a phenomenon in the brain that affect  neurotransmitters, which comprise communication pathways in the brain. Neurotransmitters constantly bombard everyone’s brain with messages and communication. They are responsible for behaviours such as attentivity, hyperactivity, and emotions such as arousal, fear and excitement. In the ADHD child these neurotransmitters work differently than the non-ADHD brain. They are over-stimulated. Ergo, the ADHD symptoms appear. watch this video and take this “test”

adhdThere is debate over whether ADHD is genetic or not. It is also argued that environmental factors such as early exposure to lead or pesticides, can cause the onset of symptoms, although not the onset of the disorder itself. Babies with low birth weight have an increased risk of ADHD. The same is true for children who have experienced head injuries, particularly an injury to the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe regulates emotion.

ADHD symptoms always begin in childhood before age 12. Children are born with ADHD. They don’t learn it. It isn’t the result of careless parenting or a difficult personality. For some people, though, ADHD is not diagnosed until adulthood. That means adults who are newly diagnosed have actually had ADHD for years, and have had to endure symptoms as they’ve matured. Consider the long and difficult road they’ve travelled through Elementary and Secondary School. Teachers have probably been impatient at best, and making and keeping friends can prove to be very challenging for the ADHD child.

Co-Morbidity and ADHD
Many times a person with a neurological condition, a mental illness, or a learning disability has comorbidity with another condition. For instance, people with ADHD may also have dyslexia, mental illness, or Tourette’s Syndrome. This exasperates the problem. ADHD then masks the fact that the child isn’t suffering only from ADHD but from another condition. This is problematic, since knowing about both (or sometimes three) separate disorders or disabilities can be key in teaching the ADHD child. When a child demonstrates difficulty with literacy, for instance, ADHD may be blamed since the child cannot focus. However the actual problem could be a learning disability and ADHD has nothing to do with the child’s difficulties in literacy.

The Problem with Ritalin
As soon as a child is brought to a pediatrician for a full assessment (usually when extreme behaviours have been emphasized by the classroom teacher), people assume the child will be placed on Ritalin or another stimulant. This isn’t always true. Some pediatricians begin with a change of diet for the ADHD child along with an interesting protein and vitamin drink (flavoured like orange soda), that is packed with amino acids and other helpful chemicals naturally produced by the body. The drink works wonders in some children in eliminating ADHD symptoms.

70e4f54ba6fa1caa57a34be299d08350Diet is an important factor in treating the ADHD child. Certain foods needs to be avoided as often as possible and these aren’t always sugar-based. Caffeine is a toxin found in children’s foods, ie. cheese, that has a negative effect on ADHD children. Also, increasing certain vitamins and minerals can provide impressive, almost immediate results.

When a pediatrician turns to a stimulant medication to help the extreme ADHD child, she knows what she is doing. I don’t feel qualified to argue with a medical doctor who has 30 years experience in the field. Often Ritalin is a last resort for ADHD children. Many times pediatricians will use the protein drink and change the child’s diet before turning to medications. Medication generally seems to be in use when absolutely necessary. The extreme ADHD child isn’t helped by a change in diet and an orange drink. I’m referring to the child who cannot sit still and falls off her chair now and then. I knew of a little girl who was so distracted by her environment, she could only write the date in her journal from the start of school to first recess, a 90-minute period of school. She was able to learn very little during that school year.

The drawback of Ritalin however (or other stimulants such as Adderall), is that it has been linked to the use of cocaine by adults who used Ritalin as children. It is reported that 33% of adults who develop a cocaine addiction were placed on Ritalin long-term as children. Whether there is a true cause and effect at work in this scenario is difficult to say but research suggests this is a distinct possibility. Clearly, no one wants to induce such a sad outcome in the ADHD child.

One alternative may be in home schooling, or attending a private school where class numbers are particularly low, offering the teacher more opportunity to work closely with the ADHD child and assist him in maintaining focus on curriculum and classroom activities. Homeschooling has obvious benefits: it is easy to allow for movement and play time during the day instead of constant study. There are no rushed mornings to get out the door to the bus, causing the ADHD child to begin the day feeling agitated.

Unschooling is another method some parents use to educate their ADHD child. This type of schooling allows the child to select what, where, when and how she learns subjects that adhd_causes_128134353_std-1are of interest to her. Unit studies use a hands-on approach to learning that presents a topic from several angles. If a student studies water, it will be explored as chemistry (H2O), art (a painting of a beautiful waterfall), history (the Red Sea), economics (a bill from the water company), theology (baptism), and so on. Actually this integrated method is frequently used in classrooms in mainstream schools and this is put in place from Kindergarten onward.

Unschooling also hinges on using the ADHD child’s strongest traits; if he is a visual learner, art, graphics, tables and the like may be the best way for him to learn. If she is a kinesthetic learner (body) then sports and dance might be incorporated into curriculum. This is also old news in teaching. It hinges on Howard Gardiner’s 9 Multiple Intelligences. Referring to this type of teaching as unschooling is unorthodox to say the least, but do whatever works.

Let’s not overlook negative consequences of homeschooling. Children don’t learn social skills when they are schooled on their own. We learn social skills by interacting with our peers and unless a child is participating in extra-curricular activities, or has a circle of friends within her neighborhood, this is a large gap that isn’t filled in the home.  Some people however report that their child’s social skills improve significantly when homeschooling is used as an alternative to traditional schooling. I don’t know how that works but I would like to know more about it.

The Holistic Approach
Some people resort to meditation or hypnosis to deal with ADHD. These are holistic approaches to ADHD. Like any approach to ADHD, results vary from person to person. Personally, I believe there is more power in the human mind than most of us will ever know. If I was challenged at school or work with ADHD symptoms, I would certainly consider a holistic approach to ADHD, as well as natural remedies. What have you got to lose?

Herbal Remedies
Some people swear by natural remedies such as such as Gingko Biloba extract or Brahmi, a wild marsh plant from India. Ginseng, Green Oats, and Pine Bark have been associated with improved memory and lowered stress hormones in some people. Overall, children and teens reported significant improvement in social skills, anxiety and personality issues.

Home Vs School ADHD
1g1ycozThese two locales offer very different experiences with ADHD. A relative of mine suffered from both ADHD and Tourette’s Syndrome. He was quite a handful for the teacher and for peers. He did make friends and was a kind-hearted little boy, but his parents heard that he was a constant battle in the classroom from various teachers over the years. Home was a different environment altogether and it wasn’t because the family was lax with household rules. The child was held to the same norms and accountability for behavior as his non-ADHD non-Tourette Syndrome siblings and his behavior was very good. He didn’t behave abnormally at home so the symptoms that aggravated the teacher were not noticed within the family.

This is not because the symptoms disappeared at home. It’s because home and school are two very different environments. There is much more freedom and self-expression at home. And parents don’t have to discipline and teach 25 children at a time. This is one reason why families can be quite surprised when schools inform them that they are raising a “problem child.” What problem? He doesn’t have any at home. Truthfully.

No Easy Answers
There never is one single, easy answer to neurological conditions. The best most people can do is to experiment with alternatives, whether they be homeschooling, natural remedies, Ritalin (yes Ritalin can and does benefit many children), counseling, and close, ongoing communication with the classroom teacher and school. Whatever the case, as long as it works for the child and family, I wish you the best. A positive spin on ADHD







A Viral Twist on Bullying

Lizzie Velasquez is now a 21-year-old woman who is both a motivational speaker and the survivor of an extremely rare, somewhat debilitating physical syndrome. Velasquez’s condition in fact, is so extreme that medical researchers have no idea

lizzie-velasquez-motivational-speaker-worlds-ugliest-womanwhat to name her syndrome, since she and only two other people out of 7 billion on this planet have it. Lizzie was born without any amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac that surrounded her in mother’s womb. As a result, she is blind in one eye and cannot gain any weight on her tiny, skeletal frame. She weighs in at 64 lbs and will probably never be any heavier.  However none of this is the real problem. Lizzie has the insight to find positives in her condition. She jokingly brags “I can eat anything at all and never gain weight!”  The disability she suffers from is her body’s inability to gain weight. The handicap was the ceaseless bullying from people worldwide. And it all began, where else, inelementary school.

During a TED Talks appearance, Lizzie detailed her first experience entering school. She recalled it was Kindergarten. She arrived “decked out in a Pocahontas outfit and my knapsack looked like a turtle shell on my back because I was so small.” Lizzie walked up to a little girl and asked her to Lizzie-Velasquez-jeuneplay. When the child looked at Lizzie she “reacted like I was a monster.” Until that moment, Lizzie had no idea she was different. Hoping the rest of the day would improve, Lizzie set about trying to make friends but all of the children in her class rejected and avoided her. When she went home Lizzie asked her parents why other children didn’t like her. They told her to hold her head up and go to school knowing she was loved. Soon afterward, children at her school called her names such as Skinny Bones. In spite of her family’s advice, Lizzie was a lonely, unwanted schoolgirl.

When she reached middle school, Lizzie often woke up thinking she wanted to wipe lizziethe disease off of herself. Why couldn’t she just wash it away? In high school, someone made an 8-second video of her and placed it on Youtube with the caption Is this the World’s Ugliest Woman? 4 million viewers eventually saw it and there were countless cruel comments directed at her. A few of the meanest:

  • Lizzie why don’t you do the world a favour and put a gun to your head?
  • Lizzie if your parents knew you were going to be so ugly why didn’t they get an abortion before you were born?

lizzOther comments offered her instructions on how to kill herself. They called her “it” and “monster“. This video was the final straw in Lizzie’s life and “nearly broke her”. Even after public media has focused on the rash of teenage suicides in recent years due to excessive bullying, this video went viral and people reacted with ignorance and indefensible cruelty. Thankfully, rather than give up and choose the tragic fate of so many teen suicides, Lizzie did the opposite.

She got her supporters to rally around her and devised a personal campaign not only Lizzie-Velasquez1-638x425to survive the horrendous video but to strive toward success. Lizzie decided to become a motivational speaker for people like herself, with obvious physical differences. She researched “her brains out“in college, learning how to be a motivational speaker. Clearly, her efforts paid off. Within months Lizzie’s success went as viral as the cruel video that initially inspired her life’s work. Her books, detailing her struggle with her unknown disease, are worldwide bestsellers. She speaks to sold out audiences as a motivational speaker. Currently she is appearing in a documentary called FRET, which features celebrities Lee Ann Rimes, Adam Lambert and Richard Simmons. Lizzie has appeared on talk shows such as Entertainment Tonight and The Today Show. She also uploaded her own video onto It Gets Better, Dan Savage’s site for LGBT people who live with bullying due to their differences.

lizzieFamily, friends, fans and readers of her books offer her ongoing emotional support and are also the cheerleaders of her very successful life. In a wonderful irony, Lizzie has made her career in a highly public profile. It took a video that bullied and humiliated Lizzie Velasquez to change her life and in doing so, become a worldwide, visible celebrity. Take that, internet bullies.

Is Technology Making Our Kids Cruel?

You’ve heard about the rise in the number of teenage suicides at middle school and high schools in the previous 8 years. Students have been cyber-bullying each other and making the kind of terrible comments they once made in person except now, with the anonymity accorded the through cyberbullying, it’s easier not to get caught. Sadly most teens aren’t reporting their victimization to their parents or their teachers. They suffer silently until one day they commit a drastic act and the community and their families are left asking themselves “why?”

Rebecca Sedwick, 12, Whitehaven, Florida
12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick was cyberbullied for one year and finally succumbed to suicide in October 2013. One of her tormentors blatantly rebecca-sedgwicktold people she didn’t care about Sedwick’s suicide or her role in it. The suspects, ages 12 and 14, were charged with felony aggravated stalking. This came as no surprise to police. Even though the accused girls’ parents were contacted by police about Sedwick’s death, the parents did not cooperate with police and the girls were still allowed to use their social media accounts.  One girl who began dating Sedwick’s ex-boyfriend, posted comments on the Internet saying Sedwick should “drink bleach and die.”

The father of the 14-year-old told The Associated Press that his daughter was “a good girl” and he was “100 percent sure that whatever they’re saying about my daughter is not true.”

“The parents were not doing what parents are supposed to do,” Sheriff Judd said. “My goodness, wake up.”

Judd said Sedwick was “terrorized” by as many as 15 girls who ganged up on her and picked on her through online message boards and texts. Some of the girls’ computers and cellphones were seized in the investigation. He said the two girls arrested were the major culprits. On Sept. 9, young Rebecca Sedwick climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and jumped to her death.

Amanda Todd, 15, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Amanda Todd
was in the 10th grade at Coquitlam Alternate Basic Education in Coquitlam. Todd shared a topless photograph of herself with a man in an internet chat room. Unfortunately he couldn’t suicide13n-2-webbe trusted and the picture ended up making the rounds at her school. After Todd’s suicide, the suspect proved to be a 35-year-old man who was officially charged in April 2014 in the Netherlands in connection with Todd’s suicide.

The unidentified suspect was charged with extortion, internet luring, criminal harassment and child pornography. The police mentioned the suspect is involved in other abuse cases and not just the Todd story. Todd was lured into sending a pedophile a semi-nude picture of herself over the internet and it cost Todd her life.

A peer made the photo of her breasts his Facebook profile photo. A student punched her. The resulting cyberbullying tormented Todd so much that she made a heartbreaking Youtube video where she explained the reason for her impending suicide. She held up placards with messages that included “every day I think why am I still here?” and “they said I hope she sees this and kill herself.”

Todd was mercilessly bullied, forced to change schools, turned to drugs and alcohol and began to self-mutilate by cutting herself. Todd tried to kill herself by drinking bleach, but was rushed to the hospital and survived. The school was aware of the YouTube video before Todd’s suicide and had “support in place,” according to Cheryl Quinton, a spokeswoman for the district. Grief counseling was provided to students at the school. Whatever supports were in place they were clearly ineffective.


The Survivor
Now and then, a teenager manages to overcome their bullies and survive. Riyadh1_640x345_acf_croppedThis young man, Riyadh, who was bullied throughout high school for being a homosexual, posted his own Youtube video claiming “after time passes your bullies just end up being normal people. They’re not evil people. It’s not some scar that should remain there forever.” However when he placed a telephone call to his former bully he admitted “Im actually shaking.” The bully was surprised that the young man had been afraid of him and said “you were there at the time….me personally if you pulled me aside I think I wouldn’t have kept going at you kind of thing.”

I disagree with Riadh’s defense of bullies. Some people are lifelong bullies. They thrive on insulting people and they need to be in control of other people’s autonomy. Consider a tyrannical boss or co-worker who targets employees in order to feel superior. These people are bullies. And bullies raise bullies. It’s that simple. And that tragic.

To be sure many teenagers use social media and they don’t bully people. They usually post nice comments about themselves and others. I believe for many people bullying is a choice and with or without technology, they would still be bullies. But the internet makes it much easier to attack people, ergo it makes it easier to bully. It’s doubtful anyone anticipated cyberbullying as an outcome of technological advancement. In spite of our technological advancement we are still taking one step forward and two steps back.


Your Child isn’t the Best at Everything

It used to be that good parenting involved telling your child things like

  • you can do anything you put your mind to”
  • “you’re the smartest kid around”
  • “you’re the prettiest girl”
  • “you’re better than everyone at ________”

These statements, although well intended, are false. (Of course the road to hell is paved with good intentions). No one is the best at everything. No one can do anything he or she puts their mind to. No one is the prettiest or the most handsome, talented, brilliant, what have you. These are lies.

successGood parents want their children to feel good about themselves so they say nice things like that. But that’s doing a child a disservice. That child grows up thinking “I’m the best at everything” until that child meets a few people who are even better and has a rude awakening. That hurts one’s self-esteem. It’s a shock when whatever Mom or Dad told him or her is a lie. My parents lie? Really?

A friend of mine grew up in a really great family. Great but a bit elitist,  a bit, well, snobby. They were always telling her how wonderful she was and how special and how she couldn’t fail at anything she did because she was so great. She actually was gorgeous, smart and she had a talent for classical piano. At that time in our sheltered little corner of the world she really was a star. Then she went off to college and met other stars and was staggered by this. At first she didn’t notice. She thought she was superior to everyone else. Then over time she realized other people were just as pretty if not prettier than her. They played piano better than she could. They got better grades.

Her self-esteem plummeted. She had been taught to play the comparison game. Everything was a competition. Her parents had set her up for great disappointment and when she spoke to them on the phone while away at school they changed their tune. Well now she was an adult, what did she expect? Of course there were other terrific people around. Grow up. That was something we told you to get you through your high school years and because we love you. All parents think their kid is the best. Didn’t you know that?

angryShe was angry and betrayed. It was as though they threw a bucket of ice water at her. She didn’t trust her parents for a long time. She felt that the rug had been pulled out underneath her feet. After a while she got it together and stopped playing the comparison game with other people. She did the best she could for herself and worked to meet her own standards, which at first, were ridiculously high. Over the years she realized she couldn’t do everything and she had to re-think that pedagogy. A long road to be sure. But then again that’s what a transition to adulthood is about – pain and success.

Still it might have helped her a great deal had her parents been honest with her. Rather than saying “you can do anything you put your mind to“, why not “you are very strong in  (whatever subject). Why not pursue that for a career?” And rather than saying “you play piano better than anyone else,” why not, “you are a very good piano player,” and leave it at that?

We set up our children to always be great at everything they do when we tell them falsehoods about themselves. That just adds more stress to an already stressful teenage experience. We’re well-meant but that doesn’t mean we’re doing well. We aren’t the absolutely, undisputedly greatest parents in the world, after all.


Adam Lanza also a Victim

You recall the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary schooting, of course. Lanza visited the school one sad morning and shot and killed several little children and one teacher. It was a devastating piece of news that rocked a nation so badly that even Obama responded promptly in a nationwide address. I remember watching a television program that was interrupted suddenly by Obama’s speech. Not knowing what had happened, and not realizing it was an emergency, I was about to click off the television when I saw the captions on the screen. I certainly listened then.

Adam-LanzaI’ve blogged about this tragedy before and today my memory was jogged by an odd incident with a very disturbed mother and child in our school community. This made me think about Lanza and the relationship he had with his mother, Nancy Lanza. She was fond of bonding with her son, a good thing. Guess where she chose to do most of her bonding with him? At a gun range. Not a good thing. Nancy was described as a “long-time gun enthusiast,” had “numerous weapons as well as ammunition” in Nancy Lanza’s home. In a twisted irony, her son used the weapon she had provided him, and relied upon the shooting skills she had coached him in, and he shot in her the head the day he slaughtered the children and adults of Sandy Hook Elementary. Later the devastated boy shot and killed himself.

Back to the disturbed mother and son at my school. She’s the mother I blogged about who has tattooed herself as “Hustler’s Wife,” (even though she is single, never married). She is teaching her son, (let’s call him Sherman), to abuse his peers and disrespect authority. She provided him with a lovely example a week ago Friday when I mistakenly thought she was a high school student picking up Sherman and (very politely) asked her to leave the yard. When I realized my mistake I apologized profusely, but alas, in her mind, the damage had been done. In front of her child, the choice words she used at me were “fu–ng bi–h” and “fu—ng wh—e.” Apparently being mistaken for a young person was a dire insult.

The next day, Sherman arrived at school, punched another child, and had to spend time in the principal’s office. Hmmm. A connection there perhaps?

Last Friday Sherman knocked out another child’s tooth when he got him in a chokehold. The classroom teacher informed “Ms. Wife” about the incident. Her response was “holy sh–t!” Well, at least she believed the teacher. However, she was annoyed by the consequence imposed on Sherman: that he take all of his recesses indoors this week. She called the school to argue with the principal who happens to be out of the school today.

Ms. Wife is a mother who supports her child’s every action, no matter how disturbing. She chooses to believe the stories he invents about other children as the reason he has to lash out and physically injure them. Her child can do no wrong. Neither can she. One day, Sherman is going to pose a more serious threat to the children in this school, and possibly, although I pray this isn’t the case, to the school itself.

Nancy Lanza bonded with her mentally ill, ostracized son at a gun range. There were many factors aside from Nancy’s “gun enthusiasm” that contributed to this tragedy, to be sure. But bringing this violent obsession into her son’s life was a decision that proved to be fatal. Ms. Wife defends all of her son’s violence, and shows extreme disrespect for authority figures in his presence.

thiefAesop had a tale for this pathetic phenomenon called The Thief and His Mother. Just before the thief is to be executed for his crimes, he tells the onlookers, “had [my mother] given me a sound flogging, I should never have so grown in wickedness as to come to this untimely end.” Although I don’t recommend flogging one’s child to anyone, the message is clear and I’m inclined to agree.

Undisciplined children, especially those in extreme homes, are tragedies waiting to happen.







Ridiculous Rally Turn-Out Empowers the Liberal Government

On-strike-sign-350On April 9 at the PowerAde Centre in Brampton, Ontario, teachers from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board were invited to rally by OECTA – the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association union. The union put forth information about ongoing negotiations between the provincial government and OECTA. Since last June, Catholic Elementary teachers have had no contract with the Ministry. This is due to a lack of agreement and compromise between Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario premier and butthead, and OECTA.

Some of the issues that OECTA is not willing to compromise include:

(1)   Ontario Elementary teachers providing the funds for FDK (full day Kindergarten) in all of the Catholic Elementary school boards in Ontario. We the teachers (not the general public) have been paying for other people’s Kindergarten children to attend full day JK and SK. Ridiculous. It wasn’t our idea to extend Kindergarten into a full day.

(2)  Frozen Salaries – it’s cold out here in the frozen tundra. Under our previous contract we also agreed to allow for a freeze in salaries for two years. This didn’t apply to new teachers or teachers who hadn’t reached a certain salary amount. Once these teachers reached this maximum, their salaries were also frozen. But those of us on the pay grid who are not at our cap (and should be) are paying the price, again for Ontario’s deficit, with Wynne’s insistence that we remain locked into the current salary we had two years ago.  This time, Wynne wants to continue to freeze salaries for three years.

(3) Absentee Support Program – this one is just wrong. Teachers are allotted 10 sick leave days a year. 10 sounds like a reasonable number, I’ll admit. However, children are little germ factories and highly contagious ones at that. This year was a very difficult one for me personally. I got my flu shot in October. I got the flu promptly 2 weeks later and it lasted for 8 days.  I had to take 6 days out of my 10 days to recover. After I was on my feet, I got food poisoning (I kid you not) and it was nasty.  I had to take another 3 days to get on my feet again.  Now I have accumulated 9 out of my 10 sick days which absolutely goads me. Now, should I need any further sick days (pray no) I will receive 66% of my regular pay on any needed days.  I still have to pay 100% into my pension however, regardless of the decrease in pay on those work days.

(4) Elementary school principals will be able to dictate how much planning time elementary teachers get. Meanwhile secondary school teachers are allotted about 2 hours daily.

There are many other issues on the table that are too numerous to list here. They are no less significant however and will all bear a significant impact on teacher’s work conditions in the following year. It has been 8 months of negotiations between OECTA and the Ministry with no end in sight. It was expected that 8,000 teachers would attend showing their support of our union in its ongoing negotiations with the Ministry. Instead a whopping 1500 teachers attended many of whom were LTOs (Long-Term Occasional teachers).  It seems to me that the rest of our educators are quite content to let those of us who have serious concerns about contract negotiations to carry the torch and do all the work.

Haven’t these people heard there is strength in numbers?  If we don’t take a stand against Kathleen Wynne and the Ministry of Ontario our demands will not be taken seriously and in fact, won’t be heard. We voted on April 23 – 24 about a strike for September – October and the result was 94% in favour of a walk-out. I don’t know how many teachers voted. Perhaps at this point it doesn’t matter.

Science Squares and Sex Education

punnett3Why is it that everything I seem to be reading in the headlines lately about educators is, well, none too heartening. This story made me guffaw, albeit in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” kind of way. In Henrico County, Virginia, at Harry F. Byrd Middle School, a grade 7 teacher put a new twist on punnet squares. Do  remember punnet squares? Science teachers use them to explain very basic genetics, 101. They look like little tic tac toe boards, except rather than playing with X’s and O’s, physical characteristics are written into the squares to determine the odds of a living organism inheriting certain characteristic. Punnets don’t just apply to humans. They can apply to animals and plants. Anyhoo.

The example I included in the blog shows the genetic contribution from both a mother and father for a child. Let’s assume the B means brown eyes and the b means blue eyes. The punnet results suggest that if these two people have a child, the odds of it having either brown or blue eyes are 50%. The capital B suggests that this trait is dominant and the small b suggests that this trait is (no, not submissive – stop that, you) recessive – that is, where you see the Bb, the child is supposedly destined to have brown eyes, since brown is a dominant colour over blue (at least it is in this punnet).

Of course this is far too simplistic to truly explain the how and why of genetics, but it’s the very beginning step in explaining genetic inheritance to children. This teacher wrote a scenario on a science test for her/his 12-year-old students and included this question:

“One of Opal’s children is born with shocking red hair. Is Orville the father of this child? But wait, Opal swear she has been faithful and claims that the hospital goofed and got her baby mixed with another. Is this a plausible explanation?”

homework4-1Seriously. The teacher might as well have written “Opal had sex with another man and is trying to avoid a divorce by insisting her child was switched with another child at the hospital.” For all intents and purposes (and I don’t really know what the purpose is here – maybe to stir up suspicion in some of the school community’s married families) that is what the teacher presented to her or his students.

Of course it wasn’t long before a parent, Patricia Galvan, contacted the school. “I was appalled, I was very bothered by it. I’m now having to explain to my child about being unfaithful, why do I have to explain that to my 12-year-old?”

Hold on, it gets better. Galvan’s son’s class was given a social studies assignment where they had to research a character from the 1920s and speed date with other class members. The students also had to make a fake profile. Say what? I guess the social studies teacher never heard the names Jeffrey Marsalis or Wade Ridley. So, the teacher’s approach was to first teach children about sexual infidelity, then introduce them to

Maybe the teacher should have used Ashley Madison in the curriculum instead.


And Why School Bus Drivers Shouldn’t Use Facebook

518646041_2_570_411Seriously. It’s all so out of control now (this is sarcasm). Check this article. An Ohio school bus driver’s Facebook photo appears to show her drinking alcohol on the bus, and it’s landed her in serious trouble.  The driver herself of course took the pic and posted it onto her account. She seems to be holding up a bottle of booze and drinking it on the bus when there are no children on board. The thing is, the cap is still on the bottle. I mean seriously, shouldn’t the company overlook the picture and give her a break (more sarcasm)?

One parent commented, “Oh, she doesn’t care. She obviously doesn’t care about her job … Why do you have it there in the first place? It is inappropriate.”

I’m inclined to agree. Maybe the cap is on but if the bottle contains alcohol, why is it on the school bus at all? And in what parallel universe would that driver think this pic would prove amusing? The woman was an employee of First Student Transportation. According to a statement the driver has been “removed from service.”  Here’s a happy thought: FST is the region’s largest school bus operation.

111914_bus_driver_640The sad thing is, the woman is probably a good employee who was a very good driver and kept children very safe during her probably short-term career. But again, this is stupidity in action and the powers that be had no choice but to fire her. She isn’t the only school bus driver to be caught drinking on the job. The picture on the right shows an elderly woman driving a Texas school bus who is enjoying a can of beer as she drives along with popping pills – anti-depressants and painkillers. Kathy Legrand, 61, was arrested and charged with felony DWI after she nearly destroyed the bus with 30 children on board. She hit a curb and a tree. You can’t make this stuff up.

Her explanation to the company as she drove? “My bus is kind of all out of kilter,” said Legrand on her bus radio. Later, she told an official, “Something is going big-time wrong,” she said. It certainly was…in her head.



Keep Music in the Public Education System

Best comment I ever heard about curriculum in all of my career. Currently I teach music, dance and drama to 355 children in my school and have been for five years. I completed grade 9 classical piano with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto when I bnlwas 17. Quit after that, got bored. My parents – the opposite of most families where music and education is concerned – weren’t pleased. I have no regrets. Ultimately they were right to insist I continue to learn piano long after I hated practicing. It got me a job.

That’s the issue with public education and music. During the Mike Harris years in Ontario when Snobelen was the Dreaded Minister of Education  (and just about destroyed the system in Ontario), the Juno awards took place on television. At that time the Barenaked Ladies actually won a Juno – not so much because they are talented, which is questionable, but because of their long-standing success insofar as Canadian pop bands are concerned. (Pop? Rock? What do they call themselves, one wonders). The best comment that the band ever released was during that award night. It was Steven Page, still with the band at that time before his crack cocaine habit (it wasn’t straight cocaine, it was actually crack), eroded his music performance, who stepped up to the microphone and stated, “everyone here has become successful in music because of our high school education in music. Keep music in the public education system.” Sadly his music education and professional success wasn’t enough to prevent Page from developing a drug habit but the legitimacy of his perspective is undeniable.

It was a deliberate political statement. Financial cutbacks to the Ontario education system were at an all-time high and schools were suffering. Usually the first subjects to receive the least amount of funding and qualified teachers are the fine arts. Teachers who had been hired specifically to teach music – such as myself – found themselves back in regular classrooms. Schools could no longer justify paying a teacher’s salary simply to teach the arts. Page didn’t have to point fingers at Snobelen or Harris. His quiet statement was a powerful one. Whether or not it had an impact on the powers that be in the province, who knows. But music never did leave the curriculum and hopefully never will.

It’s parent-teacher interview night. I have zero interviews but I intend to remain at school as late as everyone else in the hopes that somebody would like to discuss a child’s progress in music. You never know what the future holds.


Why Teachers Shouldn’t Use Facebook

I’ve already blogged about Facebook. This is part 2, you might say.

article-0-0D1335F0000005DC-930_468x286_popupOf course educators have the right to use social media, like everyone else. The problem is, so many teachers use it for stupid reasons. That is, they Book to complain about their employers, students and school community. Or they Book to show off drinking and carousing whilst on vacation. “So what?” you may ask yourself. “Everyone does.” Well, not everyone.

The problem with teachers Booking is this: like it or not, we are public figures. We are role models for students. And as such, we can’t reveal our real lives when we get to act like everyone else. Most of you have heard of Ashley Payne, the American secondary schoolteacher working in Apalachee High School, in Winder, Georgia, who posted a picture of herself in 2009 holding a mug of beer and a glass of wine whilst on vacation in Europe. She wasn’t actually drinking the alcohol as you can see in the pic.

Back at school the head teacher called Payne into his office: ‘And you know, I’m confused as to why I am being asked this, but I said, “Yes”,  and he said, “Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?”‘ He then offered her an option: resign or be suspended. Foolishly, she chose to resign. I should imagine she reacted in a moment of shock and shame. School officials also objected to her use of the “B-word” (bitch? bastard? boobs? booze)? In hindsight I am quite certain Payne learned that she always has another option regardless of her situation: a lawyer. The lawyer she eventually retained, Richard Storrs, correctly said: ‘It would be like I went to a restaurant and I saw my daughter’s teacher sitting there with her husband having a glass of some kind of liquid. ‘You know, is that frowned upon by the school board? Is that illegal? Is that improper? Of course not. It’s the same situation in this case.’

originalThis case, although obviously more offensive, angers me because of the preferential treatment of the male teacher in the photo. An Idaho high school basketball coach, Laraine Cook, 31, was fired after the school district discovered a photograph of her fiancé, Tom Harrison, grabbing her chest and deemed it as “immoral.” I am inclined to agree that this was a stupid picture to take and even stupider to post online, although I don’t think it warranted her dismissal. A suspension perhaps, but not a dismissal. Harrison, the school’s varsity football coach, kept his job. Say what? The school insisted it was her Facebook page that also got her fired. Cook removed the offending photo less than 24 hours later after the school’s athletic director told Harrison he should have Cook remove it from her Facebook account. That’s all the time it took, however, to do the damage.

“Obviously, I don’t want to see my fiancé to get into trouble but I was a little bit discouraged. They told me it was because it was on my Facebook account that I was being terminated…..District policy says anything obscene or immoral is fireable and they consider the photo immoral. I don’t consider the photo immoral. My players have never said anything about the photo.  The parents had never seen the photo until it came out and blew up here recently.” I agree with Cook. The picture is neither obscene nor immoral. Just stupid. And so was she for posting it, but I’m on her side. I hope she gets her job back.

Keith Allison, Smithville, Ohio (finally a male teacher who gets sacked) was fired from his job teaching second grade after he posted a comment about being a vegan on his Facebook page. Seriously. The comment went thus: “As someone who grew up feeling parental love and support, and now as a parent who gives love and support, I reject the claim that separating babies from loving mothers to raise them isolated in boxes can ever be considered humane.” Alright the comparison of human babies to animals is a bit odd, but what the heck is wrong with his view?

Vegan-Facebook-PostWhen it came time to renew his contract, Allison says he was told that the farm had complained about the picture, and as such, he wouldn’t be re-hired. “During the meeting with my superintendent, I was informed we live in a large agricultural area, which is true, and that a lot of our money for the schools comes through residents of the community. And that I needed to be very careful of what I put on [Facebook] because I might offend the community and the economic interests of the community… I was also told that I could have any personal beliefs I want to have, but if I want to be a strong vegan advocate, I might want to look into doing something other than teaching.”

That is a reasonable viewpoint, considering much of the school’s funding comes from the farmers in the surrounding community. I can see the conflict of interest. Personally,  I can’t see not re-hiring the teacher. A warning during his employment was warranted if this was going to be an issue. If Allison had the type of teacher unions we have in Ontario, Canada, his dismissal would never be tolerated. In fact, the board wouldn’t dare fire him over that minor escapade. I say make Allison remove the photo, retract the statement, and print an apology to the agricultural community of Smithville, Ohio, but let him keep his job.

grand-chief-derek-nepinak-april28I’m less sympathetic about a Winnipeg, Canada case involving Brad Badiuk, a technology teacher at Kelvin High School, who was suspended during an investigation into his Facebook posts about local aboriginal people, wherein he stated that aboriginals were lazy people who sought money from non-aboriginals. Ouch. Pure stupidity and racism is the foundation of Badiuk’s comment. How could anyone have the audacity to post such bias on social media?

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs also said he is planning to sue for defamation.  Nepinak’s comment was, “To think that there could be children being subjected to this kind of thinking is appalling, and we have a responsibility to seek the full scope of available sanctions against persons making racist and hateful statements towards our children.”

This Facebook post has a dual impact: it encourages racism among non-aboriginal children and it has resulted in a lawsuit by a powerful aboriginal official against the Winnipeg School Board. I can only speculate that in Ontario, the teacher might be suspended, have his/her teaching certificate revoked for a period of time, sent for sensitivity counseling, have the information posted to OCOT (Ontario College of Teachers), which indicates whether or not a teacher is in good standing with the college, and have the matter reported in the teacher’s industry magazine Professionally Speaking. I could be wrong. It’s possible an Ontario teacher who posted racist views would be dismissed.

socialnetworkingFrom the article Social Networking Nightmares, published by NEA, Mike Simpson explains that information about teachers belief that the First Amendment right to free speech leaves us legally able to post anything we want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss, is completely wrong.  Worse, newspapers are trolling social networking sites for embarrassing and titillating postings by local teachers. You have to wonder why that is. Admittedly, many of these posts are idiotic. And it would appear these are the stories that earn pathetic paparazzi their income:

  1. Two probationary teachers faced termination for their Facebook musings that “I’m feeling pissed because I hate my students,” and I’m “teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”
  2. One 25-year-old female bragged on her MySpace site about being “sexy” and “an aggressive freak in bed.”
  3. one DC teacher’s Facebook page: “Teaching in the DC Public Schools—Lesson #1: Don’t smoke crack while pregnant.” A special ed teacher wrote on her page to a student, “You’re a retard, but I love you.”

In the Pickering v. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court held that it’s not a First Amendment violation to dismiss probationary teachers for what they post about personal matters, or if the speech “[disturbs] the workplace. The First Amendment as a defense applies only to probationary teachers, however. Permanent teachers don’t have to rely upon the Amendment to secure their positions after posting ambiguous opinions or pictures.

I used to have a Facebook profile. Now I don’t. I just didn’t think it was a good idea. There are so many seemingly trivial matters that a teacher can post that will result in conflict, discipline, suspension or dismissal that I didn’t want to tread in dangerous waters. When you think about it, is it really worth risking your job as an educator to hop aboard the social media train like everyone else? Maybe many people don’t have as much to lose as educators. That’s a chance I’m not willing to take.