Category Archives: Mentor/TEAM Teachers

Spelling Counts

download-1I am trying to decide if it is my advancing years or if it is society in general but I am getting less tolerant when people either do not do what they have promised or change their minds about something that was once important.

I first noticed this with some of the suppliers with whom I deal as the administrative principal of the schools. Rather than wanting to work to keep my business, I was surprised that there was a sense of entitlement to it and I was the last person on their list of customers to satisfy instead of the first. Other times, I would get a quote for work to be done and it was me (not them) who wanted to get the last few pieces of the project completed. The only thing that was prompt was the issuing of an invoice and their expectation that I would pay it immediately (even if I had been kept waiting for the service to be completed).

School Employee Fired for Correcting Students’ Spelling on Twitter

This story is a great example of this. A school board realized that their Twitter feed was “a bit flat” so they hired a 34-year-old as their Web Experience Coordinator to get “some more engagement” with its customers (students). Student focus groups said things were working well and that students were getting more involved because the Board was responding to their tweets. Everything was fine until a student tweeted “close school tammarow, PLEASE” and the response was “but then how would you learn how to spell tomorrow” (with a requisite smiley face emoticon). Personally, I think the tweetmaster could have worded the response a bit differently to reduce the potential for people to be offended (“being offended” is another thing that is either a by-product of my age or society in general) but the “damage” was done. Even though most of the responses were positive before and after the tweet, the employee was terminated for doing exactly what the Board expected!

When it comes to our relationship with our parents and students, we hope that you do not get the feeling that we are “entitled” to your continued support…whether you have been a parent at the school for 15 days (eg: started school in January) or 15 years (eg: have students here at the school and also off in university). We also hope that when we say we are going to do something (phone you every month, prepare your child for post-secondary education, etc.), you not only see that we follow through on those promises but also know that from the teacher all the way up to Mr. Macdonald, we will listen to your concerns if you feel that we are not keeping up our end of the bargain.

Parlez-vous français?

wertman-r-2When I first decided in Grade 6 that I wanted to be a teacher, my Mom (a teacher) told me that I would always have a job in the field of education if I was qualified to teach French. I heeded her advice and got a minor in French at university and even though I have never used it, I am qualified to teach French and have always had a job in education. You will, however, want to move your kids to a different school if I am ever transferred into a French teaching position at Mentor as I was barely able to order a sandwich at a Mr. Sub in Lévis the last time I was driving through Quebec! The old saying …”if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true about languages.

This past week, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about the French Immersion programme at nearby Mineola Public School (or, to be more precise, about the English programme there). The Peel District School Board starts French Immersion (or “FI”) in Grade 1 at selected schools and at Mineola, only 2 of the 62 students are in the English stream. The Board is hinting that in schools like Mineola might need to become solely French Immersion and that the English stream students will need to be accommodated elsewhere.

I knew FI was getting more popular but I did not know that in the Peel Board, close to 25% of all Grade 1 students are in the programme! At last Saturday’s Open House, I spoke to two families with students in FI who are looking for a change so I got more curious about it. I admittedly do not know much about French immersion (I thought it was when someone fell into the Seine River!) so I spoke with Rebecca Wertman. Mme Wertman is a French teacher at the Primary Campus, is a Mentor College graduate, and spent the first 4 years of her teaching career in French Immersion.

Starkey: The article suggests that parents are looking for a “competitive advantage” in French Immersion. What do you think the competitive advantage is?

Wertman: Many of my students were first or second generation Canadians and the parents didn’t know the extent of the bilinguality of Canada. They believed that job prospects would be better with both languages and for some people (like my sister, a unilingual research scientist) this is true but FI is not for everyone…particularly those for whom French may actually be a third language. There is also a perception that FI is like private school with small classes and specialized programming so just like our parents say “my son goes to Mentor/TEAM”, there might be some saying “my son is in French Immersion”. I also think that the term “competitive advantage” refers to a programme that has a higher perceived level of difficulty.

Starkey: So is French Immersion more difficult?

Wertman: In Grade 1, 90% of the instruction was in French so the students were getting most of their other lessons (science, social studies, etc.) in a language they were just learning. That is hard. Then in Grade 2, the split was 50/50. We had literature stories that we studied in both French and English so you never knew as a teacher if the student knew the material in French or not. We had to make the French/English switchover either every other day or at lunchtime so that was difficult. For students who are not hard-wired for languages and are not independent learners, it can be difficult to the point of frustration. If the student does succeed, the ultimate goal of FI is the “certificate of bilingualism” but so very few students actually earn it.

Starkey: If that is the goal, why don’t more students stay in French Immersion?

Wertman: Lots of reasons! Grade 3 (after the EQAO) tests was usually the first big drop-off as parents realized that their child might need more work on literacy and numeracy. FI was pretty new to the Board when I was there and parents got frustrated with the programme bouncing from school to school. I taught at 3 different schools in 4 years! I think the perception was out there that more resources were devoted to FI but I remember that we would only get the phonics textbook every 3rd day because we were sharing with other classes in the grade. I think some parents saw that it was a challenge to teach the two languages without some amendments to science, math, and all the other subjects as well. Most students just kind of faded away. The certificate of bilingualism isn’t awarded until after Grade 12 and I know that some parents realized after a few years that they weren’t prepared to make that long-term commitment all the way through high school anymore.

Starkey: Are you considering French Immersion for your own children?

Wertman: No, they will be Mentor kids. I wouldn’t put my own kids in French Immersion, which is ironic because we live right across the street from an FI school! Not only does Mentor give our students the academic advantage of starting French at JK, Mentor has amazing French teachers that make the language FUN. We are allowed to use music and drama and we have the freedom to explore themes that the kids love both in and out of the curriculum. When it comes time to audition for the school musical and I hear students say they are too shy to try, I tell them they have already been in so many French plays in front of students and parents already!

Starkey: So because you went to Mentor, does that mean you are not bilingual?

Wertman: I did not get a certificate in Grade 12 but I would still say that Mentor is the reason I am bilingual. I loved my French teachers here and as I got older, I gained confidence in the language. Without them, I wouldn’t have chosen French for my university major and would certainly not been brave enough to spend a summer living and working in rural Quebec. That’s also why I know my kids can be bilingual (if they choose to be) without French Immersion.

Starkey: Speaking only as a teacher, what is the biggest difference at Mentor?

Wertman: When I was in a school with FI and English streams, there were some teachers who wouldn’t even talk to each other because they didn’t view each other as being part of the same school. What I love most about Mentor is that the entire staff works together to help each other out. Whether the staff member is teaching French, a homeroom, science, or working as a supply, the atmosphere is just so positive!

Starkey: Well you are definitely a part of that positivity! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Close Encounters of the Alumni Kind

img_0699When I was a student, I would see my teachers outside of school quite a bit. The fact that I was from a small town with one mall and two grocery stores was the main reason; there were relatively few places to go so you were bound to see people you knew. During my first summer of university, I would frequently serve former teachers when they were looking to cool off as I was the proprietor of the “Tin Roof Ice Cream Hut” and also worked part-time at the Brewers’ Retail.

I have enjoyed several alumni encounters and heard of others recently. Myna was my waitress at a local restaurant (earning money to pay off student loans accrued while getting her MBA). Virginia popped into the school today to tell us that she is the head coach of the U of T cheerleading team. I congratulated Shahir on his new gig as a co-host of the CBC show “The Goods” when he tweeted a photo of himself with Peter Mansbridge (who was a part of our school for a few hours as a participant in our “Speaker Series”. While I was umpiring this summer, I re-connected with alumni-turned-slopitch-players Shawn (now a lawyer) and Mitch (who at 28 years old is the senior staff member of an online app company with almost 100 employees!).

It wasn’t just me; three of our high school teacher had this happen to them as well. Mrs. McRae enjoyed a night with some members of the high school Class of 2006 in August, Mrs. Zorec ran into the three Paterson sisters at a restaurant in Niagara and Mr. Miller, while participating in a Tough Mudder race on the weekend, found himself being helped over a wall obstacle by his former student/wrestler, Gianni.

In each case, the former students remember their time with us fondly and always ask about their “old” teachers. We encourage them to return to the schools for a visit and in some cases, they stay for more than a quick chat. The teachers in the photo (Ms. Towey, Ms. Benak and Ms. Brownridge) are just the latest in a growing list (nine) of former students who now work here!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School

Emulating Our Mentors

A high school friend of mine who chose an army career posted a video on Facebook yesterday. It was an address by Canadian Army Commander Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse to those in a senior leadership course.

He started by saying “Welcome to THEY”. He clarified by saying that the leaders were now those referred to in “They made the decision” and “They don’t know what they’re talking about”. He then told the commanders that while it was important that they need to be the person in charge, they also needed to give as much influence as possible to the “chief”. His reasoning was that “when you take your parade every morning and you look at all of those soldiers…most of them don’t want to be like you, you the CO. They want to be like your Chief”.

This analogy works on all kinds of levels. It certainly applies in the business world with CEOs, executive officers and management teams but I think it also works at a school like ours. Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Philbrook have their principals, the principals have their teachers and the teachers have their students. Each level strives to emulate the example given to them by the person or persons just above them and thereby become leadership models for the group below them. And at a school like ours where we have Pre School to Grade 12, the older students are exemplars for the younger ones. I look at our high schoolers and see excellent role models for our junior and intermediate students. They in turn are a wonderful template for what a primary student should strive.

Do you remember your favourite teacher from your school days? For me it was my Grade 8 teacher, Mr. Snell. He was the first teacher who did not allow me to just “coast” through the year; he would not accept anything but my best effort and my “best” kept getting better as the year progressed. I didn’t have another teacher like that throughout high school but I know that my daughters have a number of teachers here at our school who were mentors to them. These teachers both continue to inspire them to do their best and force them to re-evaluate what their “best” is each year.

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

A Tale of Two Siblings

I was having a nice chat the other day with a group of five parents and during the conversation, the talk turned to the “preparedness of Mentor’s high school students for university”. One of the parents has been a longtime Mentor Dad with three children who have graduated from Grade 8 in the Intermediate Division. Each child was given the choice to go to any high school with the first two choosing Mentor and the youngest opting for a local public school. The stories of the first and third children were particularly interesting.

Dad reported that the eldest was in a residence apartment of four roommates in first year university with similar (eg: excellent) entrance averages but at the end of the year, two were asked to leave the school because of their poor academic efforts. Two of the roommates were Mentor grads and the other two were not.

The youngest is doing very well at the public high school and has an excellent average. Dad is not surprised (genetics!) because of the solid academic skill set acquired at Mentor but he is really surprised at the student’s request to return to Mentor next year. Why would a teenager getting 90s (“and doing nothing!”) ask to return to a place where we ask more of our students (and get it)?

Based on the experience of the eldest sibling, the youngest has reasoned that having a high average and loads of free time is just a short-term gain. The Mentor grads couldn’t figure our why university roommates wouldn’t work harder but the other two must have felt that their 90% Grade 12 marks would be enough to get them through. We have said for years that “it’s not the marks to get you INTO university that are important, it’s the skills to get you THROUGH university that count.” If you want a 95% grade in math, we have a growing list of schools who will give that mark to you with little to no effort. But if you want a solid academic base and real skills like time-management, homework completion, communication and studying, our list of schools is pretty small…

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School