Posts Tagged ‘People’

The Heroic Life of a Selfless Teacher

March 4, 2011

If there is something one can get out of the absolutely tragic story of a teacher who drowns in trying to rescue his students, it is the selflessness of teachers, heroically displayed by maths and science teacher Paul Simpson.

A schoolteacher has drowned in an apparent attempt to save his students from a rip at the notorious Bells Beach.

The man, believed to be aged in his 30s, died yesterday while supervising a group of Year 11 and 12 students from Shelford Girls Grammar, in Melbourne’s east.

The girls, aged about 15 years, had been snorkelling at 4.30pm when wild surf and a rip tide turned conditions dangerous.

The group of 19 students and three adults had been walking in knee- to waist-deep water on a reef when a wave knocked them off their feet and into deeper water, Ambulance Victoria spokesman John Mullen said.

Police said it was believed the teacher had been trying to rescue the girls before he drowned.

Paramedics tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him on the shore of the surf beach near Torquay, 105km southeast of Melbourne.

Several teenagers had to be rescued from the water. One received treatment for an asthma attack. Others had minor injuries.

The distressed students, who were in shock, had to be helped to make their way back up the beach to a car park to be taken back to their camp at Torquay.

The teacher is question works at a school within walking distance of my home.  His bravery and unflinching desperation to rescue his students shows us what sacrifices a brilliant teacher can make for the safety and security of his students.  I extend my condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and students.  May his brief but meaningful life inspire others to strive to make selfless decisions whilst looking out for others.

If you have some time I encourage you to read tributes written by his former students on a special Facebook page dedicated to the memory of this incredible person.


Losing the Control of Your Class and Sanity

February 25, 2011

One of the most important qualities of a good teacher is patience.  Teachers, no matter how experienced or adept they may be, struggle at times with behaviour management issues in the classroom.  The loss of control at the hands of cheeky and disobedient students happens to the best of us.  It’s just a matter of how well we deal with it.

The trick is to keep your emotions settled, think calmly and find an appropriate way to address the issue as well as administer a consequence that fits the infringement.  Unfortunately, for some, all clarity and common sense goes out the window when faced with classroom management stresses.  Take this unfortunate case for example:

A TEACHER at a primary school was sacked after ordering pupils to wear a picture of a child with a noose around its neck as a punishment.

Ama Bankah, 31, had been working as a supply teacher in class of children – many with special educational needs – at Shaw Primary School, South Ockendon, Essex, England, when the practice came to light.

The General Teaching Council‘s professional conduct committee heard Ms Bankah claimed the placard was used as a “behaviour management technique”.

Every time she rang a bell, all the children had to sit quietly and those who didn’t would be “caught” by the “hangman” which was the name of the picture on the placard.

The GTC heard the image on the placard was of a child dressed in the colours of the school uniform. When Ms Bankah did this to one of the boys on February 1, 2008 he burst into tears and the matter was brought to the attention of the headteacher Linzi Roberts-Egan.

She then quizzed Ms Bankah, who had been in the post for three months, before asking her leave the school.

“Ms Bankah’s behaviour on 21 February 2008 was demeaning to the pupil concerned, caused him some harm, and had the potential to harm other pupils,” GTC committee chair Sashi Sivaloganathan said.

The committee also heard that some parents were so concerned about what had happened that they considered taking their children out of the school.

Whilst a story like this illustrates a teacher using terribly bad judgement, I can’t help but consider the difficulties she must have been facing to come up with such a desperate and inappropriate response.  Teaching is a difficult profession, and no formal training prepares you for unruly and disrespectful students.

Structures need to be put in place to support the teacher well and truly before they lose their mind and make terrible judgement calls like this one.

An Obsession With Success Leads Tiger Mother to Failure

January 26, 2011

As a teacher, it is my policy not to judge parents on their parenting styles.  I do this for three reasons:

  1. It is rude to judge another person when you haven’t walked in their shoes.
  2. Negative judgements against parents would inevitably cause me to lose focus on my responsibilities to the child; and
  3. Parenting is extremely difficult. I know this because I am a parent.  It is so hard to find the right balance for your child.  Judging others would distract me from improvements I need to make to my own parenting skills.

But every so often you find you have no choice but to make an exception to your rule.  My exception is  Amy Chua, the so-called “Tiger Mother”.

When a person writes a book about parenting they open themselves up to public criticism.  After reading her essay in the Wall Street Journal (I will not be rushing out to buy the entire book) and finding myself cringing all the way through it, I feel that it is the right time to dismiss my “no judgements policy” and respond to her disappointing advice.

The Tiger Mother’s methods are particularly extreme. Swapping one set of extreme methods (The Western methods) for another is unworkable.  Why does everything have to be so extreme these days?  The Education System operates like this.  One day the trend will be all about Teacher Centred Learning, and when that strategy falls flat, the answer then becomes Child Centred Learning.   And back and forward we go between the two very extreme strategies.   The same applies here.  Yes, Western style parenting features some methods which leaves a lot to be desired, but the answer is not its polar opposite.

Why not find “balance?”  That’s right, neither far left or right.  Why not try to focus on what works in different styles of parenting and mould them together?  Surely that’s preferable to going in the extreme opposite direction.  In truth, extremism comes about from insecurity.  The  Tiger Mother’s methods of parenting is both extreme and riddled with insecurity.

By not letting your child go on play dates and taking part in school plays, you are preventing the child from being involved in healthy social activities.  The fact that the stereotypical Asian parents see mingling as a waste of time is very sad indeed.

Pushing a child to not only achieve, but achieve beyond the rest of the class is such a terrible goal for your child.  It forces the child to see their friends as threats and rivals instead of human beings.  It emphasises selfishness and makes it difficult for the child to relate or empathise with others.  Her policy of not letting her kids be anything less that number 1 in their class is quite distressing.

“Chinese parents believe their kids owe them everything.”  This line stunned me.  Why would kids owe their parents everything?  Because their parents sacrificed for them?  Well, what are parents for?  Would it be alright for Amy’s child to approach her and say, ”Mum, how about we make a deal?  I’ll let you enjoy life a bit, and in return, you can let me live a less restrictive existence”?

Amy’s husband is spot on when he said, “Children don’t choose their parents.”  Her response to this more than reasonable point was, “This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.”  Whilst I think that parents are owed respect and honour, in return, I believe parents owe their children love and support.  I’m not looking for a better deal than that.

Whilst I don’t agree with the Tiger Mother’s approach, I understand that there are people out there looking for strategies that will improve their parenting.  However, when she happily recounted the time she called her daughter “garbage”, I couldn’t help but worry about the effect this book was going to have on others.

Amy’s father once referred to her as “garbage”, and although upset by it, she understood where he was coming from and the point he was trying to make.  That is why she had no qualms with repeating the dose on her poor daughter.   So comfortable was she about referring to her daughter by this term, she goes on to recount how she upset people at a dinner party by frankly discussing how she called her daughter by this name.

Amy, a professor at Yale Law School, should know better.  “Garbage” refers to something that is both useless and worthless.  Calling your child useless and worthless is just not acceptable!  How can a parent be proud of calling their child by such a terrible name?  I don’t care if that type of putdown turns the kid into a Nobel Prize winning scientist, it is not acceptable.

What the Tiger Mother’s  of this world have all wrong is their definition of success.  Success isn’t outdoing people, becoming famous, obtaining wealth or becoming a prodigy.  A successful person in my opinion is somebody who lives with integrity, cares and empathises with others and uses their gifts and qualities to help improve the lives of other people.  Anyone can be successful. Receiving  an A or a C for a maths quiz is not a determining factor.

The Tiger mentality is an extreme one, that combats poor aspects of Western parenting with another equally dismal style of parenting.  What you are left with is a maths whizz that may never enjoy maths, a musical prodigy that never got to enjoy music or properly express themselves through music, a person who thinks parenting is about entitlement rather than love and who is brought up to believe that a friend is anybody that doesn’t dare perform at their level.

It’s time that we preached balance and perspective rather than extremism, we dispensed with “dog eat dog” in favour of “dog support  dog”, and motivate our children without the use of put downs.

Am I a Hypocrite or Just Human?

January 19, 2011

As I teacher, I frequently encounter students who are struggling with fear.  Fear of failure, fear of not measuring up to others, fear of loneliness, fear of losing popularity, fear of not seeming smart enough and fear of public humiliation.

It is my job to notice a student who is fearful and help them manage their anxiety with strategies, words of encouragement and ongoing support.  In these situations I am quite adept  at knowing what to say and the steps required to deal with the issues at hand.

Only trouble is … I am also fearful.

  • I am scared of death (both myself and my family and friends).
  • I am scared of driving.
  • I am scared of rejection.  I have been fine tuning my manuscript for ages out of fear of being rejected by publishers.
  • I am scared of taking risks, doing things that seem beyond me and leaving my comfort zone.

Whilst I am constantly working on myself and have improved over time, it feels strange that I am giving advice for issues I share.

Am I a hypocrite or just human?

Think Before You Medicate Our Children!

December 30, 2010

Dear Medical Profession,

Whilst I am no expert and don’t pretend to be, I am bewildered at the rate in which kids are being prescribed medication in the US especially.  I read the Wall Street Journal article about prescription drug use among children and teenagers in the US, and I just shook my head in disbelief.

Below are some of the passages from the article that disturbed me:

These days, the medicine cabinet is truly a family affair. More than a quarter of U.S. kids and teens are taking a medication on a chronic basis, according to Medco Health Solutions Inc., the biggest U.S. pharmacy-benefit manager with around 65 million members. Nearly 7% are on two or more such drugs, based on the company’s database figures for 2009.

Doctors and parents warn that prescribing medications to children can be problematic. There is limited research available about many drugs’ effects in kids. And health-care providers and families need to be vigilant to assess the medicines’ impact, both intended and not. Although the effects of some medications, like cholesterol-lowering statins, have been extensively researched in adults, the consequences of using such drugs for the bulk of a patient’s lifespan are little understood.

But children and teens are also taking a wide variety of other medications once considered only to be for adults, from statins to diabetes pills and sleep drugs, according to figures provided to The Wall Street Journal by IMS Health, a research firm. Prescriptions for antihypertensives in people age 19 and younger could hit 5.5 million this year if the trend though September continues, according to IMS. That would be up 17% from 2007, the earliest year available.

So, one-quarter of kids in the US are on medication.  Is this acceptable?  Is this not far too high?  Is it going to get higher in the future?  Are we going to have half of our kids on medication?  Why don’t we put all kids on meds?  That’s where we are going, aren’t we?

As I stated, I am no expert.  I just find it hard to believe that so many kids rely on medication.  It doesn’t sit well with me.  Am I just behind the times, or is this generation of medical professionals comfortable with prescribing medication to kids in such high numbers without adequate research?

Yours sincerely,



Are We Obsessed With Obesity?

December 29, 2010


Sarah McMahon, a specialist on the subject of eating disorders, claims that our obsession with obesity has resulted in increased cases of eating disorders.

“Children are being given maths assignments where they have to count calories,” she said.

“Education is helpful for some people but for some with certain personality characteristics, it can tip them over into a disorder.”

Eating disorder support group Butterfly Foundation chief executive officer Christine Morgan said most anti-obesity messages had a high focus on dieting.

This could lead to disordered eating including binge eating and possibly bulimia or anorexia.

I agree that we may be a little obsessed with the term obesity, but I just don’t see the link between obesity and eating disorders.  I imagine that kids are worried about being larger than their ideal size, sometimes much larger, but I don’t think kids are worried about obesity.  I’m no expert, but I don’t think obesity takes up much of our kids head space.  I think they are worried about not being thin enough to be considered attractive or feel pressured to lose weight to fit in.  But obesity?  I can’t see the link.

Regardless, kids should not be hounded by horror stories on the dangers of obesity or made to count calories.  Instead they should be given the reassurance they need to be comfortable in their own skin, the education they need to make healthy choices and the support they need to be self-assured, confident and happy.

The Christmas Film That Inspired Me To Become a Teacher

December 26, 2010


Ok. Confession time. The above picture is highly misleading.

I was in the first year of an Arts degree, and like many teenagers, wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.  I hadn’t even given teaching a moments thought.  Too many bad memories from my own school days to give teaching a single speck of consideration.  But then one night I happened to watch the Jimmy Stewart classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and within hours that all changed.

The movie portrayed a character on the edge of his tether who attempts suicide when he realises he is worth more dead than alive.  Enter an angel named Clarence who shows him how he, without even realising it, touched the lives of the people around him.  Everyone wants to leave the world having achieved something – having made the lives of others more enjoyable and secure.  I started thinking about what I could do to make a contribution to society and in what area is there a need for someone with my limited talents.  Within two hours I went from never coming close to considering teaching to having the burning desire to teach.  This desire kept intensifying throughout the rest of my Arts degree and the Teaching degree that followed.  My passion has never cooled.  Actually, I love teaching more every day.

I’m interested to find out what inspired you to become a teacher.  Was it due to a brilliant teacher you had growing up?  Was it out of a love for a subject like Maths or Music?  Did you just want to offer the next generations something better than you had growing up?

Michael Grossman is the author of the hilarious new children’s book, My Favourite Comedian. You can buy a copy by clicking on this link. Thankfully, he has nothing to do with the utter disaster that is Christmas with the Kranks.

Pressure in the Workplace

November 26, 2010

I feel under extreme pressure in the workplace.  My colleagues want us to join the Education Union so we can make a new enterprise agreement with the school.  My colleagues want improved work conditions and the union wont represent them unless the whole staff sign up.

I am not a huge fan of the unions.  I don’t like what they do with the money they have, such as splurge on campaign donations.  I don’t like the unfair rule that staff who have paid their fees will not get full representation from them unless they get their colleagues to do the same.  I hate the lack of scrutiny they have for current Government legislation because of their political leanings.

Yet, I am faced with a conundrum.  Do I give into the pressure and pay the thousand dollars a year membership fees, or do I stand my ground?  I do feel conditions aren’t up to standard.  I do want my colleagues to be well served and looked after.

Would not joining the union be selfish?

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