her first professional activity day of the school year, Bunny Karen Wei’s
focus is on all the new things around her. She’s a new face on staff at
Randall Public School in Markham, still getting to know her co-workers.
Though this is her sixth year of teaching, it’s her first teaching Grade
3, so she has new curriculum requirements to build into her lesson plans. A
new school board has hired her, and two weeks into the year her principal
has assigned her a new classroom.
She’s glad her class will be in the main school building instead of the
portable that doubles as a day care centre. The daycare noise and commotion
after 4:00 p.m. makes it difficult to do her marking and lesson plans. Now
she’ll be able to get a lot more done before heading home at around 7:30.
This morning, there is a brief gathering in the staff room, a little sendoff
for former colleagues. Then, Wei teams up with the school caretaker to move
her classroom contents. She drags a bag of gym toys down the hall, staples
up more instructional material and fun decor on her corkboards, and
totes pupils’ desks into position with a mind to which students should
Wei starts her kids off in rows. She will move them into groups later in the
year. This helps them get focused and stay serious in the first few months.
"There were a lot of discipline problems at my other school, so
that’s why I’m extra careful," she says.
Wei has learned that good classroom habits developed right from the first
day pay off later. Setting an example is important. At this age, says Wei,
kids want to imitate adults. "If you’re organized, your students want
to be organized. If you’re respectful, your students are respectful."
At 10:30, Wei joins a meeting of all the school’s Grade 3 teachers. They
discuss ways to make best use of special education resources and balance the
benefits for students of spending time in a regular classroom versus
spending time getting help from the special education resource teacher.
Randall Public School uses Reading Recovery, with one teacher and a
vice-principal specially trained in this remedial literacy program. The
teachers review tools and tips to evaluate student reading ability,
with emphasis on how to get an unbiased assessment and not "teach to
The group moves on to discuss launching a math and science activity program
for students called Structures that fosters skills and learning through
hands-on building. Teachers share ideas about how to scrounge the supplies
they’ll need for the program. Didn’t somebody have an extra cart that
could hold materials? Perhaps the community will pitch in. The photography
store has lots of surplus plastic film containers. How about using spools
The teachers shift from the mundane to the esoteric. Should you prompt
students with specialized vocabulary such as "diameter" and
"stability"? Perhaps it’s better to wait for students to pipe up
with words and concepts from the taught curriculum, then record their
observations for all pupils to see on a "word wall." The teachers
weave different pedagogical components together: verbal commentary, hands-on
kinetic exploration, students’ written accounts of what they thought and
A second meeting for all the primary division teachers has been postponed
for two days, so Wei heads to the library to get her school e-mail and
computer access up and running.
Later she drafts a math test for her students. They will have to write
province-wide math and language tests this year, so she designs all her
lesson plans with particular attention to provincial curriculum
expectations. Wei has decided her students will get heavy exposure to a
test-writing environment long before the formal assessment in the spring. As
a result, her students take a written test every Friday. Plus there’s
always the regular paperwork: each of her students gets a written
progress report from her every week for their parents to sign and return.
Wei also spends time today reviewing each pupil’s Ontario Student Record (OSR)
and getting more familiar with the children in her care. At the beginning of
the school year she reviewed all the OSRs briefly to identify children who
had significant problems in past years, or who have special medical needs.
But she intentionally waits a couple weeks and observes her students
firsthand before reading their records more closely. She doesn’t want a
preconceived notion about a child based on a paper file. This way she has
subjective and objective data on every student and today she works on
balancing the two.
"What I hope to get out of a PA day is to be able to have an
opportunity to share with the other teachers," says Wei. She always
likes to collect examples of lessons and activities that worked for her and
drop them in colleagues’ mailboxes. They do the same for her. But during a
regular school day, Wei rarely has time to talk much with other
teachers. There are three more PA days this year, but they will be taken up
mostly with parent interviews.
On regular school days, Wei is typically involved in a huge amount of
after-school clubs, teams, and special events. She admits, "I have a
tendency of overdoing it." At her previous school, she ran the student
talent show, the soccer team, volleyball team, French club, chess club,
girls’ softball, cooking club, computer club, Future Aces, Hawaiian
dancing and multicultural student fashion show. "I loved it!"
But she has found a limit to her energy. "My life has just been totally
encompassed with teaching, and now it’s starting to hit me." Her
vice-principal suggested she was doing too much, and she can see how it
affects her ability to teach well. "By Friday, you’re dysfunctional.
You have to go home and recharge or you’re not at your best for your
"I was doing summer school every year too; I still do. I thought,
‘Something has to give me some kind of balance,’ so now I make sure that
I take two weeks’ vacation every year. My first two years, I didn’t take
a vacation." She laughs, embarrassed. "Before I was a teacher, I
Wei has made a few rules for herself this year. She will spend at least 15
minutes in the staff room at lunchtime to talk to colleagues. She expects
she’ll still be at school from about 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every weekday,
but vows only to take work home on the weekends.
Randall Public School
York Region District School Board
Certified in 1996
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto