Professionally SpeakingThe Magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers
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Governing Ourselves


The prospect of a new year invites reflection and hopes

Past teachers and current colleagues can be sources of inspiration and sage advice for your classroom.

by Don Cattani

At this time of year we teachers think ahead to the prospect of getting to know new students and being presented with an opportunity to renew our professional growth. Sometimes we remember other Septembers – even from long ago.

A few months after being elected Chair of Council I received a congratulatory call from someone I hadn't spoken to in almost 50 years – my Grade 5 teacher.

Her words of approval felt as good in 2007 as I'm sure they did when I was 10. After we talked, memories consumed me. I remembered my old school and thought of classmates, many of whom I lost track of long ago. I pictured the walk home from school, past the rink and corner store that no longer exist, past a mailbox that is still there, and home to my family, which in Grade 5 included a wonderful little dog who was to lose a battle with a milk truck later that winter.

“After being elected Chair of Council I received a congratulatory call from my Grade 5 teacher. ”

Miss Laschuk was very young when she taught our Grade 5 class, but our Grade 4 teacher was not. We were the last class she taught prior to retirement. Therefore, I am fairly certain I was taught by someone born in the 1800s. In turn, it is also likely that she was taught by someone born before Canada became a country. Two degrees of separation take us quickly to pre-Confederation times – and that is a point worth considering.

In 1867, Ontario's first education system featured practices like corporal punishment, repetition of grades, strict numerical evaluations, segregation of students and a remarkable ability to withstand great change for almost a century. With the release of the Hall-Dennis Report in the 1960s, however, change would at last come to Ontario education – and we have been immersed in a climate of change ever since.

Open concept, multi-level, Special Education, co-operative learning, whole language, literacy, numeracy, transition years, common curriculum, teacher self-regulation, compression of high school, streaming, destreaming, restreaming – these are only a small sample of recent initiatives in Ontario education. While some have been downplayed or even discarded, we should nevertheless be proud of changes that have been successful and now define education in Ontario.

When we look at the way we educated children over 100 years ago, we are struck by the many differences, but what remains the same? The obvious constant is this – teachers had to know then, as we still must today, how to manage a classroom.

Whether we teach primary phonics or senior calculus, it is still necessary to develop a method of practice that provides us with the surety and stability to become the most effective teachers we can be.

There are many places you can find ideas that promote successful class management. The Ontario Teachers' Federation and its affiliates have dealt with this area extensively. A visit to their web pages or a phone call should put you on the right track.

“When we look at the way we educated children over 100 years ago, we are struck by the many differences.”

Watching kindergarten teachers can be very instructive, as they must bring children to order in a completely non-threatening way. We all know colleagues who seem to have a knack for running a beautiful classroom – ask them for some ideas.

The best class-management idea I ever heard came from a principal who told me never to speak to a class until I had stood before them waiting patiently for all noise to stop – and then to address them in a very soft voice.

Remember, a successful class management technique will last you a career.

Have a great year. ps