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June 1998

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No More Teachers, No More Books:
Money, Technology and the Future of Canada’s Schools

Heather-jane Robertson

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1998

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Reviewed by Mary Beam

I have been involved with technology for the majority of my teaching career, so I approached Heather-jane Robertson’s latest book with enthusiasm. I have painful experiences with inadequate funding, wrong purchases, malevolent software, muddled administrators and poorly-conceived training.

While I realized these problems are inherent in the introduction of computers into the conservative culture of Ontario schools, I looked forward to reading about the experiences of other provinces. I was disappointed.

The author works for a national organization – the Canadian Teachers’ Federation – and evidence suggests that she reads the national newspaper – the Globe and Mail – but the book focuses almost exclusively on Ontario.

Much of the book is more informative and thought-provoking than the preface and title would suggest. Robertson’s discussions of politics and education, the movement to standardized testing, and the role of private industry in teaching and testing were particularly interesting.

The author has a wealth of information and a grasp of the complexity of the context of education and how it happens. Her linguistic style and structures are polished. But when she stretches to tie issues in education to the business community, computer company leaders and the policy changes of NAFTA, she lowers the discussion of this timely and complex issue to the level of old NAFTA arguments.

Robertson makes the point that William Thorsell of the Globe and Mail is not an educator and that his writing on education and technology does not have an authentic feel of the issues of computers in the classroom. However, she herself falls prey to the same problem, as she bases most of her discussion of technology in the classroom on reports from the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow project.

The book would have been much more substantial and authentic if Robertson had interviewed practising teachers for real reflection from real classrooms.

And finally, I was angered when, half way through the book, she writes, "What are we to make of these teachers, these librarians, these administrators – the entire profession? Are teachers who unthinkingly promote the same goals as the techno-corps naïve, or are they negligent? Unconscious or unconscionable?…Anyone unaware of the overselling of technology is choosing not to know."

Teachers have been dealing with the private sector for years. We cope with computer companies, book publishers and scientific equipment providers. We are neither stupid nor in need of protection. We are highly-skilled professionals who reflect on the best possible teaching methods and resources for our classrooms. We are energized by world change. This condescension is an insult.

Educators need not stop here for ideas.

Mary Beam is a teacher of science, computer studies and business with the Waterloo District Catholic School Board. She has been seconded to the Education Network of Ontario as director for the last four years.

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The Inside Track:
Getting Hired to Teach in a Canadian School

Barlow S. Patten

Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, 1998

Reviewed by Margaret Dempsey

This book is a comprehensive resource for prospective teachers eager to present themselves as caring, competent professionals to employers needing to hire the right teachers to staff vacancies within their schools.

The author, who is an Ontario school principal, examines in-depth the composition of the resume, the presentation and content of covering letters and numerous thought-provoking and frequently-asked interview questions.

Patten provides contacts throughout Canada for departments and faculties of education, and teacher federations/associations. Other useful appendices include the types of contracts teachers work under and – for a reflective teacher applicant – the personal and professional characteristics of teachers.

But the book is more than a rich resource of the basic nitty-gritty of applying successfully for a teaching job and entry into the teaching profession. Patten appropriately raises the status of the profession of teaching to one requiring the most-skilled and best-suited people.

Teachers must be strong, effective communicators and convey at all times to children and their parents a passion for learning that will inspire children to become life-long learners. Teachers must combine humanism and skill as they teach and be ever-progressive in their own quest for knowledge to keep the inside track with their students. The failure of teachers to do so could mean that students and parents will look elsewhere for a classroom or school setting which embodies the true spirit of partnership in education.

Patten acknowledges right up front in the book that the quality of a school is largely determined by the people who work in it, so the most important decision made by a principal or school board is the selection of school staff.

While Patten provides many concrete suggestions for prospective staff to implement, he also challenges them to consider their personalities, their reasons for calling teaching their profession and their ability to communicate to both children and adults.

The Inside Track should be read by administrators and teacher candidates alike. Our schools and our students deserve the best people as their staff.

Margaret Dempsey is principal of Hopewell Avenue Public School in Ottawa and a member of the College Council.


The Learning Circus

Lloyd Dennis

Toronto, Umbrella Press, 1998

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Reviewed by Mary Storey and Joan Wideman

"The underlying aim of education is to further man’s unending search for truth…." Lloyd Dennis has spent his entire lifetime searching for this truth.

His autobiography, The Learning Circus, is a personal journey through the wonderful world of education and should become required reading for all Ontario teachers.

This book is full of humorous anecdotes, heartbreaking stories and poignant reminiscences of an educational career spanning 40 years. His analogy to a circus leads us through fantasy land, the high wire act and other tales and even takes us into the den of lions.

Lloyd Dennis began his career as a teacher in Toronto, became a social studies consultant, then a principal, but is best remembered for Living and Learning – most often referred to as the Hall-Dennis Report. He ended his formal career as a director of education, but he remains active – writing, speaking and bolstering the morale of teachers.

He writes, "The worthy public school has suffered a multitude of arrows of fact and fancy over the years." His book explains the realities of the classroom, the Ministry of Education and the upper echelons of administration. Dennis looks at the role of the press, the public and the taxpayer over the years, and reminds us that the problems confronting our society are not those of the school system.

His reminiscences about former students, a childhood in Muskoka and a career in the public eye gives us a glimpse into the life and times of Lloyd Dennis. He calls Toronto the Big Top, a recent Minister of Education the Lead Clown, and Living And Learning the Holy Writ. The book will intrigue, educate you and affirm you as it weaves it tales and comments.

Where would we as teachers be without field trips? Have you heard the buzz words ‘experiential learning’? What hooks do you use in your classroom? Lloyd Dennis had the answers to all of these and more in 1968 and he tells how these concepts evolved in this book.

His analogy of education in this province to a circus is insightful and thought provoking. Educators will find this book hard to put down. It constantly reminds us that the role of the teacher is to inspire, motivate and enlighten students. As educators, we are constantly striving to build a better learning circus and this book lets us know it can be done.

Mary Storey is a curriculum consultant with the York Region District School Board and Joan Wideman is a diagnostic and resource teacher at Coppard Glen Public School in Markham.

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For the Love of Poetry

Nancy Lee Cecil

Winnipeg, Peguis Publishers, 1997

Reviewed by Laurie Goodman

Teachers are always on the prowl for good resources, so I was happy to be introduced to Nancy Lee Cecil’s latest book, For the Love of Poetry.

This sequel to Cecil’s popular book, For the Love of Language, offers teachers of junior and intermediate students a valuable resource. Much of this book’s value lies in Cecil’s reason for writing it – to help teachers teach poetry in an easy and effective manner to students of various backgrounds.

Teachers who are faced with highly diverse groups of children will be able to use Cecil’s literacy scaffolds to help students experiment and discover much about themselves and their classmates through their poetry writing.

For the Love of Poetry helps students to find relevance in their learning of language and other subject areas. Several of the literacy scaffolds are free-verse poems, without a set rhyming scheme, allowing students to take their stories, thoughts, feelings and imaginations anywhere they want to go.

Cecil has provided other interesting poems with specific formats for students who need more structure. Some of the poems are based on familiar songs, like Mockingbird, which increases their appeal and makes any rhyming scheme very apparent to the listener and to the writer.

For the Love of Poetry provides a fresh and simple perspective of the value of poetry on the ever-changing make-up of the classroom. The book’s philosophy, content and organization make it relevant and meaningful to a wide spectrum of students in Grades 4 through 12. As you read the 35 different literacy scaffolds, you can almost envision the vast potential they have to be successful with your class.

If word gets out that you have a copy of For the Love of Poetry, it may just go missing!

Laurie Goodman is an occasional teacher with the York Region District School Board.


What’s Worth Fighting For Out There?

Andy Hargreaves and
Michael Fullan

Mississauga, OPSTF, 1998

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Reviewed by Rick Chambers

Jennifer Lewington, the Globe and Mail education reporter, recently told a group of teachers and university professors that accountability is the watchword of the 90s.

She went on to catalogue many of the issues in education that we, as teachers, need to be accountable for – things like the high cost of education, the pedagogical fads that appear to come and go, the polarized debate that’s developed around education reform, Canadian students’ poor test results, teachers’ defensive stance about those results and the educational community’s apparent inflexibility.

Lewington could have been reading from the first chapter of Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan’s latest and last addition to their "What’s Worth Fighting For" series, What’s Worth Fighting For Out There?

With depressing clarity and documented evidence, the authors detail many of the woes facing education today. And even though much of it is not uplifting, the first chapter does give a context for the rest of the book.

With equal clarity, Hargreaves and Fullan lay out their prescription for teachers, parents, politicians and the community to remedy the current education reform dilemma. "It is time we had a new kind of accountability in education – one that gets back to the moral basics of caring, serving, empowering and learning."

The relationship that children have with their school is significant. "After the family, most children’s next meaningful community is the school." And if the purpose of schools is to facilitate learning, then teachers must be continuous learners themselves. "Students become good learners when they are in the classes of teachers who are good learners."

"If you don’t get better as a teacher over time, you don’t merely stay the same. You get worse … Professional learning must be made integral to the task of teaching, with time for it built in by the system and ongoing commitment to it regarded as a basic professional obligation of teachers themselves."

Hargreaves and Fullan aptly lay bare some of the political frustrations that teachers in this province have endured in the last few years. Change requires pressure and support, but governments exert far too much pressure in short-term political timeframes, and provide not nearly enough long-term capacity-building and support for teachers.

The authors spend much of the latter part of the book on the importance of reculturing the teaching profession. They urge teachers to come out of their shells and to be authoritative about their expertise and open about their uncertainties.

Teachers must have more direct contact with the media, parents and their school community. Fullan and Hargreaves say that even though many of us are uncomfortable with the topic, we need to become experts in testing because it is here to stay. "Teachers need to become highly skilled and knowledgeable in those very areas where they feel most vulnerable to government and media attacks."

Teachers have to be able to explain what they’re doing and why they’re doing it that way. They have to know the theory and the practice. Because parents and the public are well-informed, teachers’ explanations must demonstrate clarity, integrity and accountability.

When reading What’s Worth Fighting For Out There?, one can’t help but think of the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the two heroes come charging out of the café with their guns blazing, only to be met by the overwhelming and deadly fusillade of the Bolivian cavalry.

But that is one of the curiously uplifting moments of that film – Newman and Redford’s characters’ last act was one of either fatalism or hope.

Hargreaves and Fullan say, "Hope is the ultimate virtue on which a decent and successful school system depends . . . All is lost if teachers succumb to pessimism and cynicism." What’s Worth Fighting For Out There? encourages hope, not fatalism.

Rick Chambers, who taught English for 27 years, is a program officer in the College’s Professional Affairs Department.