Tag Archives: learning

In praise of interning-Yes! Why…

Been one and loved it! And I also volunteered and there is a big difference.  Volunteering is expected of High School students here in Ontario* but interning is still seen as a mixed bag of possible problems;  overworked, underpaid, with the “best” internships secured more often though connections than by any other means; bringing home the fact that sometimes hard work may not be enough.

Volunteering allows a volunteer to select a field, offer time and energy, and in return become more familiar through a hands-on approach that provides life experience, in addition to, required credit hours. 

Internship demands on the spot awareness of a field, a willingness to extend oneself beyond the written job description (brings to mind the character played by Anne Hathaway in The Devil wears Prada even though she was being paid**) and is expected to offer in exchange the integration, for a student or recent graduate, of the the theoretical with the practical.  It is only when the graduate finds the position to be so far from what his/her expectations of the work force had been, that cries of “exploitation” are heard.  Properly managed, internships provide connections, resume worthy experience and, ideally, a real chance to demonstrate one’s own capabilities.  Let’s not be too hasty then to dismiss internships entirely, but return to the concept of opportunity, and encourage more organizations to open doors to graduates and let the younger generation move forward


– *minimum of forty (40) hours over four (4) years.



real philosophy: takes time to note change

Was recently asked: what is your philosophy on/of Education?  To which I replied:  to bring out the best in others, to encourage others to learn and grow…

And then I sat down to give it some real thought.  We humans learn through trying, putting into practice what earlier generations have shared, absorbing the experiences of others, and yes- attempting to improve upon these experiences.  Slowly each of us evolves, changing into the expected adult behavior or questioning these expectations- but change we do- so as an educator I am always on the lookout for changes- putting into practice a simple beliefthat change is both doable and necessary for all of us.  And it is precisely because I expect change, that I am able to encourage students to move towards goals.  Without spouting pat phrases ( had fun collecting a few and pinning them on various boards- see http://www.pinterest.com/alibayer/ ) the bottom line is: achieving goals spurs success.  It isn’t that failure is good for us, but that resilience is good- and one way to build resilience is to celebrate the daily activities which lead to success.  My recent blog suggested testing in academics has a purpose, which it does- allowing a learner to discover what areas might require extra time, extra practice, extra energy towards deepening skills. Too often though we forget that little changes grow into bigger developments and haven’t shown students that there are multiple ways of achieving goals- rarely is everyone’s path smooth and easy. When tests loom as fearful dates, versus being formal opportunities, fear sets in.  At the same time, it seems that teachers too at times have forgotten that their goals for students need not be linear; teachers who celebrate the small daily changes can look back at a semester of accomplishments-beyond the major exam and the school statistics.  Perhaps if we allow more forums for these mini celebrations, and encourage administrators and teachers, while recognizing all the arguments and offering the sense of “play”, major tests can be put into context- one piece of the big picture; a picture that is meant to help learners learn, and grow.

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3

For the past month all I have read were disparaging remarks about the horrors of testing – Academic testing that is. Now here is my question – why do educators make testing seem so awful? I love cheering for hard workers – don’t you? And while no one enjoys doing poorly at anything, we all enjoy discovering that we can rise to challenges. When did the very thought of testing become anathema to Academics? Students, even the very youngest, are keen observers, and they know well when anything is a real challenge versus being given some fluff – they also rarely buy into adult attempts to remove grading and marks; the purple versus the orange versus the blue group translates to kids for exactly what it is – a colour coding assessment scheme – equal to an A group versus a B group or a C group – and ask any child or adult student to perform a self assessment and suggest where he/she fits on the scale, the student is often more accurate than the teacher –

To clarify – assessments, benchmarks, tests, be they Common Core, SATs, EQAO, or a test with any other name, are simply one form of allowing students to learn a process – Academics, like sports, involves challenges. This educator led anger at teaching students what an Academic test entails, reads after a while like dismay at actually asking students to use a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge – Note: variety of ways. Testing is one way. Like the actual playoff games (in almost any sport), even a tremendous amount of preparation and practice is not the same as the actual event; to understand the actual event one must participate in it! And no matter how many times a player, or team make it to the finals, each and every game holds weight. It is similar in Academics. The 100% final exam is rare, replaced with presentations, group and individual project work, and even the tests themselves encompass more than one skill. Over the years I have seen students thrill themselves with new found ability to work through a test; familiarity with the type of questions, an understanding of expectations, and an opportunity to have drilled – not a bad word- we use “drill” when speaking of sports – and even dance, we encourage students to practice a musical instrument, fine tuning their skills with the action yet balk at the thought of encouraging students to practice Academic drills? Memory may not be equivalent to understanding but without practice in memorizing, the brain muscle is missing a challenge, and the reaction to questions on a test can be much improved by recognition that the questions are following a pattern. 

Testing is healthy when approached from an expected position. When educators can extend the concept of positive challenges throughout a school week, and remove the taint of “bad” from the 4 letter word, “test”, then students will again accept that testing is part of growing, and see preparing as part of learning. 

Learning to learn involves so much more than any single test could demonstrate – Yes – but learning how to take a test is central to being able to demonstrate to oneself that the learning has taken hold.  Like the trip to the dentist that jokingly is feared, we all recognize how very helpful those twice yearly examinations are so why not smile at twice yearly or more Academic exams, and help our students “brush up” on the skills.

Reflections on “Apologies”, a Mayor/ and learning moments*

Maybe it is because I grew up in the 70s, when Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw  made famous the idea that “love means never having to say you are sorry”  in the film Love Story  (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066011/), but having listened these past few days and once again today to Toronto’s current mayor, Rob Ford, stating “again, I apologize” (he left out the part about “drunken stupor” today, replacing it with “acting on impulse”) it seems that his declarations of “Love for the city” while apologizing for his actions, are finally wearing thin – what then is behind apologies?  

First off, we teach children to “say you are sorry”, and dutifully, many will.  Any parent or teacher after a period of working with others can become familiar with the difference between the apology offered up because one was caught versus the apology offered generously when the giver genuinely feels remorse at hurting someone.   The first type of apology is, as stated earlier – duty bound – expected – and rarely results in an understanding between parties.  The action is done, period.  The second type of apology may be the result of deep communication between or among people, or it may be the result of soul searching on the part of an individual – and I will digress for a moment to put in a positive word for the Arts and how they can encourage empathy; many pieces of ‘great literature’ deal with this soul searching conflict.   Back to the  problem that we, too often, encourage that simplistic “say you are sorry”  educational construct, beginning in preschool and continuing.  And the message absorbed could be, that the statement itself is enough.  

Sincerity though is different from duty.  Sincerity suggests that a person has some understanding of the pain caused, and in this case, Mayor Ford’s numerous apologies sound hollow.  He appears sorry to have been caught.  Does he appear to demonstrate understanding of how damaging the actions may have been?  NO.  Back to school, and places where educators have the opportunity to discuss just this difference in the meaning behind or within an apology.  Mayor Ford has mentioned he has been in a “drunken stupor” as if this were an acceptable excuse.  If he is encouraged to join a 12 step program he may again be told to “apologize”.  As both a parent and a teacher I have seen and heard all kinds of apologies. Little is more heart wrenching than being privy to the sincerely felt sorrow of one individual or group of people who actually acknowledge where and when they acted, perhaps without thinking, or, yes, maliciously.  Rarely is that genuine apology the result of sanctions or threats; it arises from something else.  Sincere commitment to understand another’s feelings.  As adults, parents, educators and in the case of Torontonians, voters, we are in a position to not only “practice acts of kindness” but to also demonstrate empathy.  The learning experience that Mayor Ford’ s implosion offers is strong: we can show why empathy allows us to recognize each other’s emotion; we can show whether we believe the public apologies ( recall, apologies given under threat of sanctions ); and we can take it outside the Toronto arena and look at relationships between and among countries.  Finally we can speak among ourselves, with our children, about the understanding that is reflected through our actions, and how saying “I’m sorry” needs to be accompanied by an action that extends beyond the words.  

Back to Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw  – watch the movie …. 🙂

* learning moments are like teaching moments only even better ’cause they allow for insights on both sides. 

Do you ever get ” RUSTY? “

If I do, I know its time to change direction-

The rhythm of a school year is quite set- both students and teachers can feel the changes as May arrives- with June, there is a strong sense of completion- down time in the positive sense.  Here, in my place, I have one student graduating High-School, another just returned from studying, 5 months, abroad- and as mom, I love noting how these two young adults continue to challenge each other and themselves.

So…we are celebrating!  

All it takes to feel a little less stiff is a good belly laugh and hugs all around- school systems being what they are- hugs are rarely possible between students and teachers, so we have to hope that our students do indeed recognize the genuine warmth and best wishes that are offered along with the final reports.  Teaching privately to a range of ages gives me the chance to move to a different rhythm, in keeping with a student’s needs, and this in turn keeps me jumping- TRY it! Differentiated direct instruction makes one hyper aware of each student’s challenges and each student brings me a new perspective on what is meant by “learning” objectives.  ‘Cause as they grow- so do I. 

Tutoring also puts into practice the current “new phrase”,  bringing a “flipped” classroom experience to every session.  Students bring their questions, their curiousity and even their irritation to a lesson.  And while I would like them to “nail it” on quizzes and tests and any form of assignments they may have, I’m most impressed when they exhibit “polish” and shine with excitement as they share ideas-

“Polished”, “refined”, “sophisticated”; all antonyms to the original adjective in question; and the changes that I see over the course of months when working with writing skills.  But not at all “done”.  The challenge I give myself? To instill a genuine interest in improving, from an evolutionary perspective- at times. stochastic leaps, at other times, subtle, incremental steps towards a genuine understanding of self; not only how one learns best, but also how to keep learning.   

Tomorow I will be posting links to annotated book lists, by age, and to interactive websites.  So many students bring their cell phones to camp- I wish everyone would bring an empty journal and fill it with …what ever appeals. 

I teach throughout the summer, and bring a little bit of the outdoors inside whenever possible.  I also am known for encouraging my students and my children to recognize the truly symbiotic relationships between science and art; both require: dedication to a craft, working with tools and technology, practice and experimentation. 

Here is a link to an article featuring an artist who is combining the two fields and a potent reminder about the serendipity of innovation. 


Honour your kids

A friend sent me an email with a link to an older article published in The Chronicle for Higher Education in 2010- two years ago when I was starting this Tutoring venture.  The link opens to a story on a tutor who happily is a ghost writer for students- the friend had been worried that I might grow disillusioned quickly as this trend to hire tutors specifically to cheat on behalf of students appeared to be growing.  Fortunately I continue to connect with parents who wish to have their children grow and develop their own skills in Academics and Socially- not to merely purchase a paper or have me “just sit beside the student throughout his/her online exam” – as one parent did (not- so- subtly) request.   

Have you listened to your children lately? Have you heard them when they say things like “so and so is in the smart group”  and aren’t referring to themselves? If yes, please find an activity that you know the child excels at- or if not excels, then actually enjoys- for it is far more important to continue to help your child grow in his/her best fashion than to be grade focused.  I have heard students excitedly share insights about topics that they have become curious about but which weren’t directly on the school curriculum, and definitely weren’t going to be featured on a standardized test.  And I wished I could bottle that excitement and display it so the child would receive credit.

All of us are constantly picking up subtle clues about where we fit within different systems.  K-12, is a lengthy expanse of time and thankfully one in which students will be exposed to a variety of situations, teachers, classmates, and I hope, challenged by ideas.  With the “new” buzzword being “innovation” and the suggestion that perhaps emphasis on standardized tests doesn’t in fact encourage lateral thinking because, to do well on these tests students must respond to the tests in a particular fashion, problem solving is being seen only from one perspective.  Problem solving is not just the ability to combine ideas and “create” new methodologies- problem solving is also the ability to work through a problem – as basic as this sounds.  There is an irony in this situation for the student who is outspoken, who is generating personal connections, who may try to challenge a teacher or, without trying, be seen as challenging to the teacher, can find the confines of the classroom, stifling.  If your child does complain about the above, respect the complaint.  Recognize the grade for a score on activities presented within a classroom and not as a mark that a student (like the Scarlet Letter!) must bear. 

If your child’s “problem” is getting through the school year, some questions to ask the teacher(s) as this term comes to close:

1) Could you tell me something positive about my child?

2) What have you noticed my child enjoying in your class? Which activities did He/She seem most engaged with?

3) Have you any suggestions for what gaps you are noticing in his/her learning?

and finally 4) What could we do to organize differently for the coming September?

Thank you for honouring me with the opportunity to work with your children: I love tutoring and feel lucky being able to share this excitement for learning, together with students and their families.





The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
U.S. Supreme Court justice

 To me the quote suggests that wisdom sees the individual in a situation and is able to listen and put reason and context into a judgement.  

I joined Mothers against Drunk Driving before I became a mom.  I am the last person to be in a position to defend a student for being slightly under the influence- but I also know kids- and know that schools inadvertently encourage drinking when they set up rules and arbitrarily decide who will be punished.  I also know that kids have their own code of honour and expecting one student to call out fifty more is a ridiculous notion.   

“Zero Tolerance”- imagine if that really were put into place beyond the school system- no need for a legal profession then/ after all, no need to weigh the crime of a stealing of a loaf of bread ( Victor Hugo – yes- Les Miserables) against the crime of cold blooded murder- no need to weigh anything at all- no need for perspective, understanding-balance- just… punishment.    And no worries if the punishment fit the crime- OH – but that’s a dystopia-  can’t possibly be what one wants from or for an education system.  

Teach Literature to students really offering them an understanding of the issues at hand and sit back and listen to how much kids do care- and stop sending mixed messages.  As a mom, I know the difference between a small infraction and a major one, and silently or vocally as the occasion demands praise the positive and give thanks that the testing the waters of adolescents is, in the grand scheme of things, about generally safe exposure to new ideas and sometimes, new tastes.

Change-  Kids change – when adults let them; over punishment doesn’t allow for change and may in fact push the student in the opposite direction.  People -and kids are people too- need to feel a sense of control over their lives.  Remove that sense and all that is encouraged is rebellion.  I know of a beautiful young student whose participation at her High School has been exemplary, whose one indiscretion is being held up without being weighed or even set beside the four years of non-stop team school participatory action.  Zero-tolerance? As adults, as educators, as parents, we ought to be fighting tooth and nail against such an empty slogan; a zero-tolerance society is not going to create future leaders who are capable of recognizing exceptions. 

Responsive Leadership and Values in Practice

When I participated in a teacher training program a number of years ago, I was fortunate in being assigned to a magnet school on Manhatten’s Upper West Side- where I worked with two very different and very original teachers.  The two classes of grade four students were deemed gifted and housed within a regular neighbourhood school.  In reading recently about the rush of parents in New York to sign students up for  gifted programs I had the wonderful experience of recalling those days at the beginning of the Sarah Anderson School for the Gifted, when the school was still in its growth stage and when Principal and teachers maintained open doors.  I now live in Toronto, Canada,  and was pleased to note how this school, then occupying a few floors within the PS 9 building is today one of the most established programs for the Gifted and Talented in Manhattan.  Kudos to the Principal I worked with during that practicum period. 

– In one of the classes was a young fellow named Adam whose parents were NYC police offiers- the father had been killed in action, the mother, a single parent brought him daily to the school, entering the side doors as all parents of the magnet community did.  Young Adam was on the school’s cafeteria meal plan.  This meant that at lunch time he had to wait until the elementary classes were served- and would sit and watch the PS 9 students hungrily, while his classmates in the Sarah Anderson program ate their brought from home lunches- Adam was daily out of sync- and aware of it.  When I brought this observation to the Principle she acted immeadiately, arranging for Adam to be served upon entering the cafeteria and allowing him to eat with his classmates; a small gesture, but a strong one.  I as student, had access to the Principal, a Principal who valued input from her staff- even staff that was transient- the way a student is bound to be.  The concept of collaborative leadership had been applied directly- removing it from an ideal in a textbook to a living demonstration of care.  Not only Adam, but I too benefited from this example of responsive leadership. 

Dealing with the “Real” World

 Some have a belief that school is not real- that real life begins only upon graduation- I wonder, in today’s age of fast pacing and career switching, how any could still suggest that the place students are expected to spend at least 12 years of their lives is not “real”.  A microcosm perhaps, but nevertheless, very real in the social-cultural, and physical-material sense.  And is school an audition? another idea that appears to be floating – No.  School is the way in which the majority of children are socialized and when the fit is right- children thrive- when wrong the blisters not only burst but chafe so deeply the right space might still feel too constricting.

   While homeschooling may provide an answer and is increasingly an option for those who have the time to devote to not only searching out places that will provide stimulation and feed the curiousity of the learners ( museums, art spaces, public performances, lunch time forums, construction sites,  people watching ..) for the majority a school- regardless if private or public, remains the full time space where one’s children attend to daily rituals of practice- practicing communication skills, practicing public participation, practicing organizational skills, practicing physical skills, practicing the give and take of learning- practicing.

   And it is the curriculum that determines what gets practiced.  April is when many parents begin to question the past year’s choice of schooling and wonder if new arrangements ought to be made for the following September.  Things I encourage parents to look for in a school when touring a new space go beyond the basics- not just the physical structure and the size of the rooms, but importantly the sounds one hears when walking the halls; are the sounds coming from the classrooms representative of students’ voices? Do the walls feature student work? Is there an energy even outside the grounds?  For elementary students, what appears to be happening during lunch time recess? For junior high school students, are the activities/clubs posted of the type your child may express interest in joining? In a Senior High students should be visible- activities are ongoing and classes more individualized- visit at more than one point during the day and notice how students move about…

School is the “real world” for students while they are moving through it; help them understand and appreciate how growth in any direction can require a new fitting, and believe in them when they are ready to practice something new.

Value the Student, not the mistake!

 Schools claim to be teaching “values needed to become a part of a democratic society” – “values” – to me, this is a “heavy word” suggestive of concepts like responsibility, integrity, openness to new people, new ideas, and a recognition that students may make mistakes. What lesson will a student learn when a punishment for an action is much greater than the crime? Is it wise to teach students that one slip is never allowed? I am not perfect, and when I tutor I may be “encouraging excellence in those I teach” but  – why do some school administrations persist in believing that draconian measures might teach students “values”? When a punishment is so much greater than a crime, will a student really learn anything more than that bullying is allowed as long as the school administration is the group doing the bullying? And then what? When they grow up and the school years are long behind them do they practice empathy- or operate from a “holier than thou plateau” – the latter message implicit from their observations of their own school years.

Teachers and administrators model behaviour. How a school administration deals with students on a one-one or group basis sends a message loud and clear to the entire population- some student families have more clout than other student families. Unfortunately that is almost the only message that is transmitted. When a teacher continuously picks-on and embarrasses a student in front of the group – this is bullying. When a Vice Principal behaves in one fashion with a parent present only to do an about face when only the child is present – this is bullying. When a child contributes hours of overtime to school groups and causes , when a child actively works for the benefit of the group, that student is modeling positive behaviour. And students can see it. As a private tutor I am one step removed from the formal institutions, and an ear for both parents and students. I have learned to trust the students’ evaluations of what they are hearing and seeing taking place in the space where they spend so many hours- their school.