Bunny Karen Wei, 

Peter Alexander

On 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 sit where.
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 test."
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 for pulleys?
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 learned.
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 students."
"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 was normal!"
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.

Karen Wei
Randall Public School
York Region District School Board
Grade 3
Certified in 1996
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

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