Professionally Speaking welcomes letters and articles on topics of interest to teachers. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and to conform to our publication style. To be considered for publication, letters must provide the writer’s daytime phone number. Address letters to: The Editor, Professionally Speaking at firstname.lastname@example.org or 101 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 0A1.
Health, reason and praise
I have just read with great interest Melodie McCullough’s article Support for Healthy Minds (December 2010).
The school is a privileged environment in which to set up programs for helping young people who suffer from mental-health problems. As children spend a great deal of time at school, it is a place where all children can be reached.
When we acknowledge that health disorders among children and adolescents have increased in recent years – and research forecasts a 50 per cent increase by 2020 – we realize that it is crucial to identify disorders early and treat them appropriately, as quickly as possible.
Mental health problems not only entail a huge social and economic burden for society but also – most of all – deprive human beings of happiness and quality of life.
Caroline Cantin, OCT, teaches kindergarten at Académie de la Moraine in Richmond Hill.
Bill Boyer’s letter on the “higher responsibility” of teachers (December 2010) represents a troubling trend in education discourse, all the more so because, on the surface, it seems so reasonable.
Boyer takes issue with John Douglas Hume (June 2010), who expressed uneasiness with a teacher being admonished for procuring, possessing and giving a colleague 1.5 grams of cannabis (not on school property). The admonishment was made because “it was considered the member’s responsibility to be a role model at all times.” Boyer endorses this stance, arguing that “students should be able to count on us for this higher order of responsibility.”
I describe this case as troubling because I believe that, with some thoughtfulness, we can see how this kind of moral policing leaves the teaching profession in an untenable position. First, if a colleague or a manager should wish to wage a vendetta, they would no longer need to limit themselves to focusing on the individual’s professional performance, for which there is reputed to be evidence-based criteria of competency. Instead, they may now troll through all and any aspects of the person’s private life in search of an act or a tendency, from however long ago, that fails to meet the nebulous standards for being a “role model” – standards whose centre of gravity is always in the more conservative realm. The potential for abuse here is enormous, as is the danger that we could precipitate an informant culture whereby, particularly in the age of mobile technology, every teacher can feel publicly scrutinized.
Secondly, a professional environment that is morally policed in this fashion fails to protect the professional from nefarious tendencies in the legal world. Boyer makes much of living in a democracy and of democratic laws and standards. These, of course, are subject to change. Homosexuality was not decriminalized in Canada until 1969. Had the above approach been in effect prior to that, every gay teacher could have received a warning and been admonished for behaviour seen as contrary to the law.
Thirdly, and most seriously, however, the idea that teachers have to be role models in the exacting fashion supported by Boyer places them at odds with their humanity. This requirement would add to a culture where professionals feel an increasing split between their classroom identity and their real-world identity, and where their teaching is rendered ever more safe, dry and divested of the personal. Such a situation would constitute a serious disservice to our students. At the heart of all good teaching is authenticity. The best teachers I ever had taught from their whole personality. Some had individual failings and shortcomings we knew about, but these were neither broadcast nor denied. This took them off a moral pedestal but kept our respect for them. In effect they became role models for their authenticity and humanity and not for some Boy Scout, goody-two-shoes persona. The creeping tendency for teachers to be greater moral role models than other people projects an unattainable and unhealthy ideal of perfection that students are sure to either fail to meet or, more likely, fail to find even credible. We initiate this ethos of the role model as a way of relating to students, but in this guise we will only further disaffect them.
Finally, who would be attracted to teaching in such a morally sanitized workplace? I submit that it will be consistently the most safe, conservative and untested who will be drawn to such an environment. Is it an attractive proposition that our next generation be taught by those attracted to a myth of moral perfection as fictitious as it is damaging?
Our students deserve to witness people teaching from who they are – faults and all. They deserve to experience full humanity in the classroom. A culture of moral policing threatens our students’ quality of education.
Donal O’Reardon, OCT, taught high school in Ireland and the UK and at the university level in Canada. He currently works as an independent education consultant in Toronto.
Applause for approaches
I am a retired teacher. I had heard about the self-directed learning approach at Mary Ward Catholic SS and I must say that my initial impression was, “No one’s in a class!” After reading Setting Their Own Goals and Schedules (December 2010), I now realize that the school and its teachers and students really are something special.
I’m interested in learning about new trends and approaches to teaching and for engaging young people. I think it’s a much more difficult job teaching today than it was in my day, and I applaud the fantastic efforts of OCTs in schools throughout the province.
Frances Long, OCT, is a retired French, Spanish and Latin teacher who worked in the Toronto Catholic DSB.
This is to let you know how much I appreciate the services offered at the Margaret Wilson Library. I live in Stratford and therefore am unable to visit the library in person on a regular basis. However, with the mail-out system that is in place, I have been able to have many valuable, up-to-date resources delivered to my home or to my school.
When I have had a question regarding a resource, its availability or other information, the support from the staff at the library has been outstanding. Olivia Hamilton is the person that I have been in touch with on these occasions. I have used a number of books from the library for courses I have taken over the years.
Thank you for continuing to provide this valuable, easy-to-use, efficient service. Kudos to the library staff!
Denise McCarroll, OCT, is a Special Education resource teacher at St. Michael Catholic SS in Stratford.