Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interview Questions

My friend recently interviewed for a Science EOT at a high school in Ottawa. Posted here are the questions he was asked in his interview. Practice makes perfect, right?

1. How would you design your lessons to take into consideration all the different learning styles displayed by students today (ie. kinesthetic, auditory, visual etc.).

2. How would you plan your assessments and evaluations to devise a mark and level for a student in your class?

3. What are some strategies you would use to engage apathetic students?

4. How would you deal with difficult parents?

5. The science department at (this school) is divided into teams based on courses. What would you bring to the table as a member of the team to which you were assigned? What would you expect to get out of your team?

6. Science classes can be very dangerous environments (in labs etc.), what kind of safety measures do you put in place and enforce from personal experience?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Interview with Ms. M, The Woman in the North

In YSHM's first interview, Ms. M describes the challenges and rewards of teaching in a remote, Northern community. Many new teachers are making their way north, where the snow, cold winds, bears, and teaching jobs abound. The sometimes high cost of living in the North is compensated by a Northern allowance, and most relocation costs are covered. Some of the more remote areas offer generous bonuses for signing on. Follow the links below the interview for information from the provincial governments of the North on teaching opportunities.

Thanks for the insight, Ms. M.

November, 2009

Why teaching?

I wanted to have the same positive influence my teachers had on me. The opportunity to affect change, be a part of a system that I believe in and hope to someday expand upon. Teaching is always evolving and there is always an opportunity to learn something new.

What motivated you to seek employment in Northern Canada?

There were three main factors: opportunity, adventure and money. There are very few opportunities for new teachers in Southern Ontario and I was hired in the North almost immediately. I love to travel and see different parts of the world; the North seemed like the perfect way to see a part of Canada many people never have the opportunity to experience. Last but not least, the financial benefits of moving North are fantastic. As a first year teacher I make just short of $100,000; more than double what I would make in the South.

What incentives are offered, if any?

There are unlimited opportunities in the North. Every teacher is offered $2,000 in professional development every year. There is a “Professional Improvement” week in February all teachers in Nunavut will be flown to Iqaluit to attend. The pay scale and benefits are an obvious incentive. There are also many additional opportunities I often wonder if I would be open to in the South. There is a convention in Oslo in May I am being considered for, I stand on 6 committees, there is ample funding for almost any endeavour and most principals are elated to give funding to enthusiastic teachers.

What PD would benefit a new teacher going to work in the North?

Special Education (Nunavut is 100% fully inclusive), English as a Second Language, and at least 2 grade ranges (primary/intermediate or intermediate/senior) so ABQ in an additional grade.

Where are you living, what is the day to day life like?

I live in a brand new home in one of the most Northerly communities in the world. We have running water just like down South which is rare, many communities are trucked in clean water and have to be very cognizant of their usage. Our heat is included in our rent so we keep our home quite balmy considering it is usually -50C outside. We’ve had 6 snow days in the first 2 weeks of November. School starts at 9:00 and it is about 500m from our front door so most days I get up at 8:10 and am at school for 8:30. We have eight 45 minute periods a day and an hour at lunch where the school is closed and everyone has to go home. School is out at 4 and all teachers stay until 5. I usually stay later to get marking and planning finished. Night time is fairly dull but as a first year teacher I find I am exhausted so it is not so bad.

What has been the greatest challenge in the classroom/school?

Many of the classes are multi-grade. Learning to differentiate lessons to teach across 4 grades in one period is exhausting at first but it gets much easier once you learn where all of the students are in their learning.

Are there occasional teaching positions available? Who fulfills the sub needs?

There are quite a few sub positions available but they are filled first and foremost by locals. Since most schools are small (5-10 teachers) there are sub days when they go on conferences or are sick, but not nearly the same amount of sub days as a large school in the south. The absolute only prerequisite you need to sub in the North is that you don’t have a criminal record. Most of our subs are local people who did not graduate high school themselves. Moving to a community to sub would be pointless because it does not occur often and they hire local people first. Unless you were in a large center like Iqaluit or Yellowknife, you might have more luck there. It’s unfortunate because for a certified teacher supplying in the North you make ~$400/day, uncertified people make ~$300/day.

What resources are available to support your teaching?

Our school has fantastic resources, and it is my understanding that most schools in the North are similar. The Internet is great, nearly as good as down south. My classroom came with an insane amount of previous teacher’s lesson plans, notes, ideas, etc. (almost too much, at first it was very overwhelming). The staff are often the best resource, they have good ideas all teachers seem to love to share. There are an abundance of textbooks and materials. If there is ever anything I think could be useful I tell my principal and she orders it, I usually have it within 3 weeks. I’ve ordered close to 100 items since September and received them all already.

How have you had to shift your preconceptions of what teaching is to be successful up North? If at all.

It is a huge adjustment shifting your preconceptions of teaching from South to North. The biggest shifts for me are:
• There are no bells, so there is no such thing as being “late”. It can be difficult when you’re halfway through a lesson and 50% of your class wanders in.
• The students can be very attention-seeking, much more than I have seen down South. This is good as most are keen, but tiring and difficult to get work done.
• There are no curriculum documents for Nunavut to follow.
• You have to often let things go. Issues that seem huge to me are nothing to the students and the school. One of the nice things is that if you have to discipline a student they have forgotten about it 20 minutes later so there is no holding grudges.
• Nunavut is 100% inclusive at all times no matter what.

If someone reads this and decides to join you up North, what is the last thing you would like to advise them of?

Have and keep a very open mind. You cannot change the way things run in the North, it’s best to embrace everything as it is, go with it, and enjoy it!

Click here for Yukon teaching information

Click here for Nunavut teaching information

Click here for NWT teaching information

Friday, October 30, 2009

Comics in the Classroom


The potency of the picture story is not a matter of modern theory but of anciently established truth. Before man thought in words, he felt in pictures... It's too bad for us "literary" enthusiasts, but it's the truth nevertheless, pictures tell any story more effectively than words.

- William Marston

There's a scene from the movie Ice Age that I've always enjoyed. The misfit gang of mammals crossing the arctic landscape in search of greener pastures find themselves in a mysterious, magnificent cave. Adorning the walls of the cave are human pictograms depicting the life- struggle of the humans inhabiting this ancient world. The mammals start "reading" the sequence of pictures and magically the images come to life on the wall and enact the story. The story is a revelation for both the characters and the audience and a new perspective on the plight of these characters is achieved, all without uttering a single line of dialogue.

Reading a comic is exactly like reading cave paintings; the sequence of images, how they are placed next to one another, alters our understanding of each individual image. For students, understanding how one image impacts another, is precisely the same practice as reading a literary text where one word can drastically alter the word that either follows or precedes it. "Reading" is not an act of following a sequence of words, but rather it is an act of following a sequence of symbols, and the stories being told breathe life into the subject. Comics should be used not only as an option to engage visual learners, but as worthy and legitimate texts to be explored. Comics create visual connections with words and readers begin to see vocabulary and sentence structure for the art that it is.

The strength of comics as pedagogical tool goes beyond their ability to engage the visual learner; comics activate the basic human impulse of storytelling. I once heard Thomas King, Canadian literary giant, say that "stories are all we have. They are everything we are." Telling the story of the discovery of the atom, or Einstein's perspective on his work being used for warfare, adds the emotional resonance to a topic that could very well be reduced to a technical drawing. Telling these stories, depicting them both in image and text, connects the reader emotionally to both the topic and the person, or people, who brought it to life.

Take Mr. Yang's introduction to factoring as an example:

And just as we ask students to read comics, we should also encourage them to create comics to express their knowledge. There are a number of excellent resources available to help teachers implement comics in their curriculum. Comic Life is a web-based software that enables the user to use digital pictures as graphics in their comic. They also provide tutorials for educators on how to use the program to its full educational potential. Click the logo below to visit the Comic Life website. and CLICK HERE for a guided tutorial.

Bitstrips is another web-based software that allows the user to build their own characters and insert them into panels to create a story. Users can build stories and entire books and share them with other users. The software is very easy to use and there are a number of pre-created characters, backdrops, and props to help build interesting, rich and humourous scenes. Click the logo below to visit the Bitstrips website, and CLICK HERE to read a Globe and Mail photo-story of students using Bitstrips in a Toronto school. For an interview with the creators of Bitstrips CLICK HERE.

Gene Yang, high school teacher and cartoonist, researched the strength of comics in education while completing a Masters of Education degree. Click the image below to read his research and thoughts on comics and education.

As an occassional teacher, I always keep a few comics handy in case of emergency. Some are about grammar or science, others are funny or insightful strips that I've collected along the way, but all are educational and have helped me engage students in thoughtful dialogue. And you would be surprised at the number of conversations students have prompted with me when I'm walking through the halls with a comic tucked under my arm.

Click here to read more about comics in the classroom

Click here for a list of suggested comics for the classroom

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recommended Viewing: CBC documentary

Wired for Sex, Lies and Power Trips: IT'S A TEEN'S WORLD

Last week CBC aired this important and revealing portrait of the social and sexual lives of high school students in the wired age. In this documentary, Toronto high school teenagers explore complex issues that both weave and tear the fabric of their social lives. How has media transformed the image of the responsible teenager? Is the objectification of women in hip hop responsible for male students abusing their female counterparts? Can our moral standards catch up to the speed of technology's progression? Are cell phones a distraction from reality and instruments of gossip or tools of independence and empowerment for youth?

What is particularly effective about this documentary is that most of the commentary, the criticism of social issues among teenagers, is provided by teenagers themselves. They are perceiving the same problems we as educators, responsible adults and role models for youth, perceive as disturbingly normalized behaviour. This is crucial viewing for anyone looking to better understand the impact that technology and media are having on today's youth, and for those who find the consciousness of today's youth a mysterious Pandora's Box of questions. This is a portrait of their wired world, still full of humanity, reflection, and empathy.

Cleverly, this documentary subverts the damaging effects of technology's progression by empowering its filmmakers with video cameras, computers, and editing software. Teachers everywhere are being implored to incorporate technology in the classroom and this film is a shining example of why they should do so.

Many of the issues explored in Wired for Sex parallel ideas discussed in Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity. Tough Guise creator Jackson Katz argues that most of the problems plaguing the social dynamic of western culture can be traced to the narrow image of masculinity presented to boys and young men. If you enjoy the CBC documentary, I suggest you watch Katz's film, I'm sure you'll find the parallels compelling.



Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ottawa Secondary School Start Times

On more than one occasion I've woken up to my alarm knowing I had to work at a school somewhere but not sure exactly when they start. Unfortunately it's not the easiest information to find on the school websites and it can lead to some anxious, rushed mornings.

Problem solved. Here is a list of all the Ottawa area public secondary school start times (click on image to enlarge). Thanks, Derek.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interview Questions

I recently interviewed for a Long Term Occasional position in Ottawa but did not get the job. After the interview, I was debriefed by the principal and she instructed me on how I could have better answered the questions. It was a very useful conversation as I have had very little experience interviewing for teaching positions and have come to recognize the very unique skillset required to be successful at it. Now all I need is practice. A few days after my interview, I met with some fellow teachers, people I graduated the Education program with, who are also working on securing permanency at a school. We met to discuss interview techniques and strategies, share some resources, and brainstorm on possible answers to the questions we had been posed in interviews. It was extremely helpful and I would encourage anyone who is applying for temporary or contract work to do the same. Or, share your thoughts and reactions to this post.

What follows are the five questions I was posed in my interview, some notes about my answers, and the suggestions from the principal. Following that are five more questions that my colleague received and some notes on our discussion of possible answers. (in teaching interviews in Ontario you are given five questions and fifteen minutes to prepare your answers. Then, you enter the interview room, the principal reads each question back to you, and you recite your answer based on your notes)

Interview for 100% English LTO position

1. Describe your teaching experiences and why you are a good candidate for this position.
- two parts to the question, be sure to address both: teaching experience, why you are a good candidate
- briefly outline teaching experiences and main skills/philosophies you developed during
- include experiences outside of teaching that contribute to good teaching skills
- good candidate because: enthusiastic, professional, team worker
- mention personal interests and hobbies and how you can contribute to extra-curricular happenings
- if younger, plug age as an ability to relate to youth. conversely, plug age as life experience and wisdom

2. Explain a time when you collaborated with a colleague to improve student learning.
- an ongoing process
- use a couple of specific examples, or specific instances when you plan to work with others and for what
- collaborating and communicating with colleagues on students' progress and work in every class
- developing lesson plans with others results in thorough and dynamic lessons

3. Share the ways in which you plan assessment and evaluation to accommdate for student learning and success.
- backward design concept, plan for evaluation
- multiple intelligences, recognizing diversity of learning styles, languages, culture, etc.
- differentiation: know what students are to achieve by end and offer choices to achieve those end.
- use of technology in classroom
- formative assessment
- communicating with other staff on student assessment

4. Explain how you communicate effectively with parents/guardians to keep them informed of student progress and achievement.
- start at beginning of course, open lines of communication: phone call, letter, email
- communicating when student is succeeding/exceeding expectations
- invite parents to be part of the learning process

5. What are some ways in which you have shown leadership in a school community?
- specific examples of how you make the school and your classroom a welcoming environment
- school teacher not a classroom teacher: recognize that job does not stop after leaving the class
- mention outside community participation, volunteer work: recognize the importance of "community"

Interview for Social Studies EOT position

1. Explain your philosophy of assessment and evaluation.
- assessment is FOR learning, always trying to improve how students succeed
- backward design, working towards an end
- recognize diversity in students AND between classes
- student centered
- culminating tasks: problem based learning
- evaluating most recent and consistent performance

2. How would you plan for teaching _______________? (in this case the blank was filled with "social studies", but this question could use any course title)
- informing yourself of curriculum expectations
- backward design, create culminating task first
- talking to other teachers, collaborating
- differentiation: providing choice, opportunity to exercise skills
- recognize classroom consciousness and have plans for altering material/lessons
- technology in class, field trips, guest speakers, specific materials

3. What is your classroom management plan?
- create boundaries and rules with students
- have clear expectations at beginning
- spend time establishing routines
- teaching importance of learning communities: mutual respect, building relationships
- creating a learning environment
- engaging lessons that address student interests and culture
- importance of body language and eye contact
- always be a role model for good behaviour and composure

4. What would you do if a student was not meeting the expectations?
- review expectations together, one on one
- talk to other teachers, communicate recognition of problem
- offer opportunities to make up work at alternate time (after school, lunch, etc.)
- offer incentives for performance
- communicate with parents: not putting child down, looking to work together
- be a reflecting practicioner: show how you assess your own learning as an educator

5. How can you enhance the school community?
- outside experience, volunteer work in communities
- other work experience and professions, the skills you learned and how they can help the school community
- working with other teachers, recognizing importance of socializing in building a friendly atmosphere
- personal hobbies and interests and how they can help the students/staff

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: Children's Mind, Talking Rabbits and Clockwork Oranges

I'd like to add "& Strange Coincidences" to the title of Kieran Egan's book. I started to draft up this book review on Friday afternoon and took a break to prepare dinner. I turned on the radio in the kitchen, CBC radio one, in time for the end of the six o'clock news. My ears perked up when the host mentioned "kids across the country getting back to school" and I turned up the volume to hear the story of an elementary school in Langley BC where students in grade one are assigned a single topic that they will explore for the following twelve years of their education. The idea, the host informs, comes from the research of Kieran Egan, an educational theorist at Simon Fraser University. Check out the radio clip here (the feature is near the end of the clip, move the cursor 1/4 from the end).

And after you've heard the news clip, go out and find a copy of this book. Egan's essays will enlighten your thinking about the education system and force you to ask yourself how you can better teach children and youth by addressing their emotional and cognitive states. On the title of his book, Egan explains that "Children's Minds" refers to how the thinking of children and adolescents is both similar to and different from the thinking of adults. "Talking Rabbits" is a symbol of the imaginative worlds that children have the capacity to so easily create, and which prove to be "the most engaging features of their thinking, and the ones least easily dealt with by the dominant conceptions of children's minds and their development that have influenced curricula" (xiv). "Clockwork Oranges", as Egan so eloquently phrases, "refers to the confusion that inevitably follows when we treat organic things as though they are mechanical" (xiv). What follows after an introduction from Elliot Eisner - who reinforces the importance of Egan's claim that knowledge is not an object, it is a process - is a series of essays that move from theoretical understandings of children's minds; to issues in curriculum design and an advocacy for the arts and social sciences as a primary learning platform; and finally to an analysis of educational research and the systems that neglect the thinking of children. The book, while heavy in theory and analysis, also includes clear examples of lesson plans that illustrate the ideas discussed: for example, a lesson on punctuation that engages the romantic mind of the adolescent learner by having students research the history of each punctuation symbol and what new punctuation developed as culture shifted and language transformed. Egan's writing challenges, inspires, and excites. You will look at the thinking of students in a new way and will have a new perspective on your role as a teacher.

Shortly after reading this book I taught a summer school class, ENG3U make-up, and put some of the theories into practice. I was looking to equip the students with critical thinking, research, and organization skills that would help them succeed in their 4U classes and would develop into effective habits that they would carry through their adult learning. Lofty goals, I know. One day I gave a lesson on note-taking. I was inspired by Egan's idea of engaging the romantic minds of adolescent students in something that traditionally seems mundane and trivial. I had the students clear their desks of everything but a clean piece of paper and their pen. I then romanticized their paper for them: I had the students pick up the piece of paper and instructed them to study it. They turned it over, most haphazard and listlessly, and sent waves rippling through it. I told them that what they were holding was someone's legacy, the product of a life's work of research and development, and I asked them to imagine the person who designed and created what we know today as lined paper. We discussed why paper is important, how paper is different from culture to culture, and why the lined paper that we know is designed the way it is (the blue lines specifically spaced, and the red margin in the location that it is). I then instructed them on how the design on the paper can help us with our note-taking: title at the top, our ideas and comments in the margins, a new line for a new piece of information. Before they practiced their new skills, I further romanticized their paper, telling them that once they have written on the page it will never be the same and will forever be a record of their thinking. They watched a CBC interview with Russell Peters to practice their note-taking. We then discussed what everyone had written, what they had included and why. Their assignment at the end of the class was to listen to another interview with Etan Thomas, an NBA player, poet, and activist, and to use their notes to construct a personal response to the issues Thomas addressed. Their responses were passionate and well-supported with quotes and information from the interview.

Egan's ideas, that learning is an organic and lifelong process, is important for today's youth. Media has become increasingly chopped-up; commercials last only a second, music is consumed by the song rather than the album, and internet video streaming of clips lasting only a few minutes is the go-to form of entertainment. Against this the idea of researching a topic for twelve years seems unimaginable, but perhaps the success in Langley shows us that children are hungry for an approach to learning where their knowledge is not as disposable as a computer file.

Egan's homepage here

Buy Children's Minds... here

Egan Youtube discussions here

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Employment Insurance for Occasional Teachers

Occasional teachers may apply for employment insurance with Service Canada. CLICK HERE for information on the terms under which you might be considered if applying. What should be a nice security net during times when teaching is not an option (summer and March break) is a more difficult process than it makes itself out to be - but if you do have all your documentation in order, I guess it would be a somewhat reliable source of income. Consider this an advice piece, please learn from my mistake.

I do have to commend Service Canada for assembling an online application process that is very easy to use and leaves little room for error. CLICK HERE for the application in English. Service Canada indicates that once your application is processed and sent for approval there is a minimum 28 day waiting period. Here is my caution: be sure that you have all of your documentation collected and prepared - records of employment especially - for when you complete the application. My application, completed at the end of July, is still hanging in limbo as I await a final record of employment from the University I worked for last year - a case of "check back early next week". I've contacted Service Canada and unfortunately no further action can be taken with my application until this R.O.E. is acquired. In my case, because I've worked several jobs (camps, tutoring, part-time contracts with StatsCan) I forgot about this position and did not foresee any serious difficulty in collecting the R.O.E. It will likely be nearly October before I find out if I've qualified, and closer to November before I see any compensation for my time unemployed this summer.

So, if you're as forgetful as I am, review your employment history over the past year well before you begin your application for E.I. Luckily, and this I did not know, you can request that your R.O.E.'s are uploaded directly to Service Canada, and you can access them online after setting up an account - CLICK HERE to do that.

On an unrelated note, it felt like fall today in Ottawa. It's right around the bend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Welcome to "Yo, Sir! Hey, Miss!", a site that aims to unite individuals lost in the battlefield of occasional teaching in Canadian schools. Here is a place where you can share resources; learn about new issues pertaining to the teaching profession; voice your opinion about educational topics; share lesson plan and unit ideas; and, most important of all, connect with other occasional teachers from around the country and learn what they are doing to achieve success in the teaching profession. Here is a community for the lonely, nameless occasional teacher, who floats from school to school, never really becoming one of the team, erupting with ideas and driven to fulfill their pedagogical vision. Teach on, brothers and sisters!

As this site grows, both in content and population, there will be a number of changes to help you more easily access the ideas and resources shared. Ultimately, it will become a storehouse of go-to lesson/unit plans and classroom management techniques, a well-established list of critically reviewed resources, and a forum for intellectual discussion of educational issues. All teachers, even the seasoned, comfortably contracted ones, are welcome to share their ideas and success stories. What did you do, or what are you doing, to make your presence known in your school community? And what have been your most important and revealing educational experiences? I hope you feel free to share your thoughts, it will no doubt go a long way.