Turning Tedium Into Adventure

It was actually warmer this month than it was last as I headed over to Erin for a monthly meeting.  I thought I’d had my last ride then, but instead I’m still at it as November begins.

The commute in to work starts
before sunrise these days, it’s
often below zero.

Since we haven’t had daylight savings time yet it was already past sunset at 6:30 as I headed out.  Coming back late it was a starry sky that kept me company.  While riding through an inky black countryside full of skeletal trees, a bright flash suddenly lit everything up as a fireball burned across the Milky Way.  Never would have seen that in a car. Riding a bike is awesome.

I was asked why I’d keep riding as winter approaches.  The answer is simple.  Driving a car over to Erin and back is ninety minutes of tedious commuting.  Riding the bike over and back turns it into an adventure.  Just because something is easier doesn’t mean it’s better.  I’m going to miss the adventure when the snow flies.

Trying out some unusual angles with the 360Fly.


It has snowed the week before on River Road.
There are large patches of sand all along the road.
Not to mention the wet leaves… exciting!

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Winter Project Wishes in Absurdist Ontario

Trawling online advertising for a next level winter project and I’ve come across an interesting option, but then I remembered where I am. 

1968 Triumph Tiger 

An old Tiger built the year before I was born?  You have my attention.

This is a brown Tiger with a hundred sixty plus K on it?  They say it runs and it’s stock but it needs work – that might be the understatement of the year.

Either that 163,908kms isn’t accurate or this thing has been run into the ground.  If that’s the case, it’s not stopping them for asking four and a half grand, FOUR AND A HALF GRAND (!!!) for it.

Canadian prices for bikes, even old ones that look like piles of shit, never cease to amaze me.

Just for giggles I set FB Marketplace to the UK and had a look at what’s on offer back home.  Here’s a lovely, well restored and ready to ride 1961 Triumph Tiger with less than 2000 miles on it for £2100 ($3645).  Luckily I live in Ontario where a steaming pile of pooh will cost me a thousand bucks more before I then have to pour that much into it again to make it work.  I live in an absurd place.

The other nice thing about the UK is that they tend to honour their history and keep things going.  Canada has a much more use-it-and-chuck-it-in-the-bin approach.  There are some lovely pre-war bikes kicking around on UK’s bike marketplace.  If my novel took off and I was minted, a pre-war Triumph Tiger like the one my hero rides in the book would be on my wishlist.

Here’s just such a thing!  A 1938 Triumph Tiger 80.  It’s meticulously looked after and I’d greatly enjoy being the steward of this piece of history before passing it on to someone else who would keep it rolling into the future.

It ain’t cheap (dream machines never are).  They’re asking £12,000 ($20,828) for it, but it’d only go up in value, unlike a new Honda Civic (they cost about the same).  It’s been on sale for a month.  Bet I could get a bit off.  It wouldn’t be a daily rider, but on the days I did ride it, oh baby!  The project would be keeping it going and learning the maintenance and repair on it.

In Ontario this bike doesn’t exist.  If it did exist, some berk would want half a million dollars for it.

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The Politics of Pandemics: Quadmestering Schedules

A smart friend this past summer described last year as being a lobster in a pot as the temperature was slowly turned up to boiling.  It’s a good metaphor – I didn’t realize I was in the boiling water until it was too late.  This year I’m making a conscious attempt to understand my circumstances so I don’t end up in that boiling pot again…


Last year’s last minute emergency schedule was a mess.  With little central planning or leadership from the Ministry, school boards had to cobble together a pandemic compliant quadmestered schedule and the end result made for radically inequitable work expectations.  For some it was an easy year of half-day instruction with afternoons at home.  I wasn’t so lucky, teaching over twice the face to face instructional hours of some colleagues while also simultaneously having to cover twice the online instruction because my school couldn’t provide qualified support.

I ended up throwing myself into the gaps in that cobbled together schedule last year to the point where I hurt myself and my family.  That isn’t happening this year.  Alanna had a colleague who said, “this year my extracurriculars are going to be me!” in reference to being run into the ground in order to keep our politically sabotaged public education system running.  That sense of self-care is prevalent in a lot of teachers I follow:

What was most difficult last year (other than the constant switches to fully remote learning because safety precautions in schools obviously weren’t working) was trying to teach a 110 hour course in 52.5 hours of instructional time.  The expectation that students would work on the other half of the course remotely was more of a daydream than a reality, especially in my case where I never once had a face to face relief or online instructor qualified in or with any experience in my subject area.  This had me producing 5 hours of daily instruction while simultaneously trying to cover face to face and remote student needs.  My principal has moved mountains this year to resolve that inequity and I intend to lean on that support.

Teaching in class is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this gig.  Prepping for class is a big part of the workload and then assessing and marking student efforts is on the backend, so when I’m buried in instructional hours I’m also buried in additional prep and marking.  In a typical school year I’m responsible for three seventy-five minute instructional periods.  This means I’m teaching for 225 minutes (or just under four hours) per day.  Because I teach technology, much of my prep involves preparing electronics, computers and software in our lab for students to use.  Sometimes I can streamline this process (which is good because I also get on-calls where I covering another absent teacher’s class), but I typically spend about thirty minutes prepping for each instructional period.  This gets me up to about 315 minutes of focused work each day (that’s just over five hours).

A five hour work day?  Must be nice, right?  Well, you’re forgetting the marking and you’re also forgetting that a teacher’s work day doesn’t end at me instructing my own classes.  There are duties which can range from covering other absent teachers classes (this can be if they’re sick but also if they’re away coaching a team or taking a class on a field trip).  There are also lunch duties and other extracurricular expectations that take up hours in the day.  What the regular schedule allows for is teachers covering each other off and enabling a rich ecosystem of additional learning opportunities for students.  There are very few teachers in my building who aren’t coaching teams, running committees ranging from graduation planning to career pathways and curriculum development, or managing school productions, clubs or other enrichment.  With all that piled on your typical teacher is at school from 8am to 4pm and then working on it outside of time at school too.

The good news about this year’s adjusted schedule is that we’re no longer pretending that cohorted hybrid classes are sustainable or credible.  Face to face instructional hours have been restored to something like normal but in order to do that our workplace (and our union) has demanded a radical increase in teacher productivity – during a pandemic where everyone is exhausted and more likely to be away ill themselves.  In order to make this condensed schedule work the contract was scrutinized and every possible moment of instructional time possible was stuffed in.  This timetable not only buries teachers under increased instructional workloads, it also thrusts students into marathon two-and-a-half-hour classes while removing any capacity for absenteeism or enrichment, which is contrary to what the Minister of Education said would happen in the summer.

We’re still quadmestered, though why we are is a bit confusing.  The argument is that there is less mixing of students in a quadmestered schedule, but this is a shell game in terms of student mixing and it isn’t true for teachers at all.  In a regular semester I’d be mixing with three classes of students every day.  In our current system I’m face to face with two classes in quadmester one and three classes in quadmester two – so the solution is to put me in front of more students during a pandemic?  And my union agrees?  My dues are too busy being focused on provincial political careers for me to expect support, I guess.

In the case of students, they might only have two instead of three classes per semester but they are also being encouraged to leave at lunch because we don’t have the capacity to seat them all in class cohorts in the building, so any concept of cohorting students to reduce transmission evaporates at lunch time.  Even if they stay in the school to eat they are doing it unmasked in large rooms full of other unmasked people.  Even before they get to school, 80% of our students arrive on school buses with up to 37 students shoulder to shoulder on board.  In that environment there is little adult oversight (the adult on the bus is driving the thing), so masking compliance will be minimal.  If students aren’t being cohorted at all other than in their classrooms, why run quadmesters with onerous productivity demands for teachers and untenable (and pedagogically questionable) marathon two and a half hour classes for students?

Why we’re not back in a regular schedule is beyond me.  It would reduce workloads for teachers, enable the promised extracurriculars and give students that sense of normalcy that everyone keeps saying is so important.  With busing and unsupervised lunches off-site in the plan, we aren’t strictly cohorting students when they’re at school anyway.  This incoherent and absurdist COVID theatre is what I’m finding most draining about the pandemic.  We have absolute rules designed to protect everyone at all costs at certain times of the day and then do things that directly contradict them when we run out of capacity.  You don’t dare contradict the rules unless you’re the one making them.  And all this in a schedule designed to offer no overhead in terms of absenteeism or extracurricular capacity.  That my union is silent on this is something I’m finding increasingly impossible to forgive.

When we first got our new schedule (last week, a week before school started because once again we were given no central direction or support from the provincial government – actually it was all just cuts this summer), I was immediately concerned about how this year had been pieced together.  Our contract is based on a semestered system, so 225 minute instructional days are written in, but because this is written for semesters it doesn’t recognize the imbalances implicit in a quadmestered system.  In my first quad I’m responsible for 2 x 2.5 hour classes – that’s four regular periods of prep and assessment or a 25% bump in my workload.  They get around exceeding the contract’s time limits by dropping other teachers into my classes and giving me a 37.5 minute prep time in each 2.5 hour class period.  When I finally get out of the always on quadmester I’m thrust into a coverage quadmester where I’m still having to prepare 2 x 75 minutes of instruction but I’m also expected to cover two other teacher’s classes so they can get prep time.  I’m also supposed to cover unmasked students from many classes eating lunches.  There is a limit to how many coverages I can do in our contract but to get around that they’ve decided that the coverages we’re doing aren’t going to be called coverages and don’t count as such.  The words in our contract literally don’t mean anything any more and no language around quadmestering has been added even though we’re in our second year of them.

My preps are now cut to confetti and reduced to 37.5 minute blocks covered by another teacher.  I also won’t have access to my classroom to prepare equipment because students are already in it with another teacher, so my physical prep will have to happen outside of school hours.  My admin has done backflips to provide qualified support but we computer technology qualified teachers are thin on the ground.  I’m working with a new teacher in my department but he hasn’t finished the senior qualifications for comp-tech yet so he’s not qualified to cover and my afternoon class has a business teacher covering, so despite best efforts I still don’t have qualified coverage.  On top of that, the schedule is so tight that there is no travel time for covering teachers doing these extra duties (but we’re not going to call it extra duties and instead we’ll use quadmestering as a means of ramping up work expectations), so my prep times will never be 37.5 minutes anyway.  When you stuff everything to capacity in a tight schedule leaks are inevitable, but don’t worry, teachers will just jump into the gaps again even after already being pressurized systemically.

This always on schedule means there is no time for extracurriculars, or sports, or field trips or anything other than always on teaching.  And don’t get sick and be away… during a pandemic.  I can’t help but think this schedule is built on the assumption that we’ll all be fully remote again.  If that sounds impossible, do a bit of research on Delta Variant“the Delta variant is more transmissible than the MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu, and smallpox viruses and is as contagious as chickenpox…  74% of infections with Delta took place during the pre-symptomatic phase, which means people spread the virus before knowing they are infected”   We’re still doing daily screening even though Delta works around it because we’re still clinging to the systems we developed last year to fight an entirely different COVID19.  More alarmingly, the provincial government has downgraded all masks for staff to level one ASTM and cut extra cleaning, so we’re not even fighting spread as well as we did last year – against a variant that spreads significantly more efficiently.  Maybe overloading the schedule with the expectation of going remote (again, more than any other province in the country) is just the sort of cynicism we should all get used to.  I don’t have time for cynicism as I’m more interested in not bringing home a pandemic to my medically compromised partner.

It was suggested to me that we can’t back out of quadmesters now because they align with the in-again out-again needs of elearning students who might want to move between courses presented remotely and face to face as it suits them.  You can’t do that in a semestered system but cut the schedule to confetti and you can have people dropping in and out of elearning as you like.  Sure, learning for everyone suffers, but quadmestering helps make mandatory elearning the new normal.  I don’t know if this is true or not but it does align with the current government’s intention to force elearning on all students regardless of whether it suits them or not.

I only have sympathy for the people at the board level trying to make this work.  It’s like trying to weather a storm on a boat with no captain.  The sailors are doing the best they can with next to no direction and the ship has no one at the helm.  We’re lost in rough seas and land it well out of sight.  With no control of my work situation, I’m slogging away on the lower decks as water rushes in.

This year I’m not going to climb back into the pot without realizing that it is a pot and it’s being set to boil.  For the sake of my own sanity and the well being of my family I have to take a step back and recognize that the only person who will save me is myself.

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A Numbers Game

Can’t say I’m a big fan of Marx, I’m more of a
Leibniz guy, but he’s a useful tool for examining
the blind spots around systemic privilege.

One of the perils of having a degree in philosophy is that it provides you with a wide range of tools for dismantling bureaucratic doubletalk.  One of the most dangerous of these tools is Karl Marx.  I can’t help but apply Marx’ aggressive economic analysis to any idea being floated as, ‘dismantling systemic prejudice’ in order to parse bureaucratic language couched in privilege. This week in PD this reflex was twinged by how the upcoming destreaming of grade 9 mathematics is being framed in Ontario education.

The way destreaming was portrayed to us (in keeping with current educational value theory) is as anti-racist pedagogy.  We were earnestly told that destreaming destigmatizes our students of colour and sets them free from educational oppression.

It helps to live in a rich area that offers
limited access to specialist schools that
don’t admit the proles if you want to science!

I’m no fan of streaming.  The myth of STEM and many other educational prejudices are founded on a university focused system being run by academics from that same university system.  I was writing STEM curriculum in the spring when the doctor/president of a STEM focused organization dismissed my intent to focus on technology subjects because, “no schools run them, they’re irrelevant.”  This academic prejudice made it difficult for me to continue working with a group that casually dismisses all but the streamed super-students they teach at their specialist urban school.

I believe that there is a distinct advantage to running de-streamed classes.  The neuro-diversity in an open level class offers all students insight into how people other than themselves think and also offers a qualitative performance advantage when students in groups can leverage many different thinking approaches rather than all following the same (terrifyingly tedious) route to a singular solution.  This implies open level classes are at least (if not more) pedagogically rigorous than current, streamed academic classes.  Having said all that, my last principal said that my open level classes ‘were too difficult’ and that I ‘should make them easier’ (even though we hadn’t had a failure in years).  I’ve never found an open level de-streamed class an excuse to do less.  It’s an opportunity for students to escape their intellectual ghettos and understand the world and how to solve it from many perspectives.  If only de-streaming were treated as a pedagogical tool rather than a financial one, we’d see real advantages to de-streaming, but the cynic in me suspects that pedagogy isn’t actually the focus of de-streaming.

I teach technology courses and all my classes have been de-streamed forever.  Even my ‘M’ level supposedly post-secondary focused senior classes are typically filled with 10-20% essential students and an even split between applied and academic streams (I’m still capped like an academic class at 31 though).  What this means is that the system drops high-needs essential students in my class while offering no increase in resources to support these children.  In my experience, de-streaming is an excuse to offload more work onto teachers while pulling funding in sections and resources that previously existed.

Ontario’s current push to de-stream grade 9 mathematics is, I believe, a good idea, but I have little faith in the system doing it for the high-falutin equity ideals they claim are motivating them.  When equity is used as a marketing tool for financial oppression, no one wins, and when we’re all sitting in larger classes with more diverse, higher-need learners and less resources to help them find their best selves, I can’t help but wonder how the people marketing this can sleep at night.

The current representatives in Ontario government
are taking educational oppression to new heights.

A brutally honest Marxist analysis might look like this:

A school has 20 sections of grade 9 mathematics, 2 essential level, 10 applied level and 8 academic level classes.  Essential classes are currently capped at 21 out where I am in order to provide more support for these high-need learners.  Applied classes are capped at 23 and academic classes at 31.  I imagine you can see where this is going but I’ll take you there anyway.

In our imaginary school this would result in 2 sections for 42 essential students, 10 sections for 230 applied students and 8 sections for 248 academic students.  That’s 20 mathematics sections serving 520 students.  In our system, open level classes are capped at 27 students, so our 520 students would find themselves in 19 sections once de-streamed, which begs the question: are we doing this to save money or help students find success?

I don’t know what the caps are for these new, de-streamed classes, but if the system ignores its own class caps for open level classes and magically sets the class cap for de-streamed math at 28 or 29 students (changes like this always offer an opportunity to get more for less), suddenly our 520 students are being stuffed into even fewer sections and larger classes, which makes the whole ‘we can decolonialize and produce greater equity in education by destreaming’ angle look a bit disingenuous.

Ontario’s de-streaming is being heavily marketed as an anti-colonial escape from systemic oppression.
It could be, if it isn’t actually cost cutting under an equity marketing banner.

There are genuine benefits to destreaming.  Prompting more neuro-diversity in a learning context offers rich alternatives to rote learning catering to the neuro-uniformity prompted by streamed classes.  Struggling students are surrounded by peers who can show them better habits and capable students can soak up rich opportunities to mentor while also exploring alternate pathways to solutions.  There is also an equity benefit in that everyone is humanized and formerly streamed students are less likely to look down on their peers or turn into teachers who dismiss blue collar subjects out of hand.

These advantages are predicated on de-streaming happening in order to nurture student success, not as the result of hidden financial imperatives designed to cut costs while marketing the whole exercise as the enlightened removal of systemic oppression.  If this really is a numbers game then everyone loses, and who loses the most?  The kids with less social privilege to begin with.

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Caution, Fear & Risk Aversion in Students

The first ever post on Dusty World from way back in 2010!


Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
Bertrand Russell

… but we don’t set up schools to nurture a love of learning, we set them up like 19th Century factories.


I’m teaching a grade 12 class on computer science. If my computer science teacher knew I was doing this he would roll over in his grave. I haven’t coded since the ’80s, I’m a technician. I got knocked off coding by that same computer science teacher who could only approach coding from a mathematical/logical direction. My hackering/tinkering/non-linear approach to generating code depended on a natural fluency with syntax and a willingness to break things in order to come up with something new. I never cared about solving for x, I was always about the why.
So here I am in a class full of students who my old compsci teacher would have adored:  math wizes who have learned how to learn so well that they can’t do anything else.
Lisa Simpson (during a teacher’s strike): I can’t take this anymore! Please, mom! Grade me! Grade me! Validate me!!!
That’s at the bottom of it all. These A students are so trained to the system, so inured, that they can’t possibly get unplugged from the Matrix. The idea of learning for sheer curiosity’s sake has been beaten out of them by a dozen years of positive reinforcement enforced by their spectacularly successful student careers.
When I suggest we take a left turn instead of doing more pointless actionscript programming that no one else on the planet except Ontario Elearning finds valuable and go after C++, which none of them have any experience in, only one is even willing to try it. The rest are paralyzed by fear of failure, or even worse, not being able to demonstrate consistent mastery because that’s how you get that high average. You only get perfect if you’re already ahead of the material. You can’t get low marks at the beginning, continually improve (and actually learn something), and end with an A+.  Those early failures that produced learning are considered failures and factored into your grades; we penalize learning in the classroom. There has been some change in this, formative/summative and such, but the vast majority of grading still follows the broken example above. Learning is a non-linear process, experimentation, failure, reassessment, reattempt, fail in a new, more interesting way… but we train students to think it’s an inbuilt ability which you either have or struggle with. How we grade them enforces this.
Even the one student willing to self-direct his learning and take on a challenging new language (one that his university uses extensively and we’re pushing him toward with no experience whatsoever) sent me an email anguishing over his grades if he cannot demonstrate fluency in C++ in the 5 weeks we have left. I’ve approached this a number of ways. Firstly, by working with him to set attainable goals (this still freaks him out, he can’t see the grades for the learning trees in setting the goals to a reasonable level so feels his marks will suffer). Secondly, I’ve gotten him into a course of study that leads him through the beginnings of C++ in a clearly defined and logical fashion. The end result should be a working familiarity with a language he’s never seen before demonstrated by some basic scripts that show him coming to terms with the material. Thirdly, I told him to forget the numbers. He is putting hours in on this, not because he has to but because he wants to. The end result is irrelevant, he is directing his own learning – a dead art in an education system designed to force conformity in order to keep costs down while appearing academically credible. He’s doing something no one else is willing or able to do. He’s also learning something that will immediately assist him in university next year. How is any of this not 100%?
I only wish I could overcome the caution and apathy born of risk aversion in the other students and set them free. We feed them a steady diet of caution then wonder why they aren’t willing to take risks in learning.
I’m not the guardian of knowledge, I shouldn’t even get to decide how they learn, I should do everything I can to ensure that they do though.

Update:  I just ran into this student at the Grad ceremony a couple of weeks ago.  He’s in his first year at Waterloo U doing computer science (a wickedly difficult course to get into).  It was nice to hear that the C++ really payed off in a way that the actionscript stuff never would.  He’s finding it difficult, but he’s seeing success, and his greatest advantage?  Taking a run at the programming language they use at university before he got there, errors and all.