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Emily Caruso Parnell | @teachontheverge

Emily Caruso Parnell | @teachontheverge

Emily Caruso Parnell is the Kindergarten Program Consultant in the Rainbow District School Board in Northern Ontario. Since beginning her teaching career in 2001, she has taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 12. She has taught in public, private, and independent schools. Emily is also a dance educator who holds an MA in Dance from the University of North Carolina Greensboro as well as a Bachelor of Education from the University of New Brunswick, an HBA from York University and is a Registered Teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance. Emily is also a student in the Ed.D program in Distance Education at Athabasca University. 

Posted by on in Teaching with Rigor

Grade 3 Concert Oct 28 2013 009 Wiki 5

Twenty years ago, Arlene Croce, writing in the New Yorker, declared that she felt that Bill T. Jones' work exploring his own AIDS diagnosis and the terminal illnesses of his performers made his work "undiscussable" - beyond the reach of criticism. She coined the term "victim art" and vented her frustration at the way she felt manipulated by art that seemed more about issues than it was about aesthetics.  Now, I don't agree with Croce, but I'm finding myself this morning sympathizing with her frustration.

I'm frustrated because I'm struggling with another type of performance that we do treat as undiscussable, performances we don't dare to critique, not because the performers are victims but because they're just so darn cute.  I'm talking about performances that are so far away from Bill T. Jones as to hardly be in the same universe.  I'm talking about the school concert.

I have been part of school concerts as a music teacher, classroom teacher, director, and parent.  I've spent long hours rehearsing kids for all sorts of shows, some good, some bad, some cringe-worthy.  I've toiled in the trenches of recorders, boomwhackers, and box steps.  I know how much work it is to put on one of these shows, even the worst of them.

So, I'm reluctant to criticize, really I am.  But, I just can't hold it in any more.  We need to take a hard look at this ritual and ask ourselves some big questions.  Like, why in the world are we doing this? What's the value? What's the point?

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Posted by on in Assessment

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When my son was in his first year of kindergarten, his teacher had an eight-level behaviour management system based on insects.  If you had a really good day you were a "coccinelle exceptionelle" (exceptional ladybug).  If your day was more average, you might be an "abeille qui émerveille" (amazing bee).  If you had a really bad day you were a "moustique qui pique" (biting mosquito).  When I first heard about it, I immediately felt tired, exhausted in fact.  As a parent, these systems are frustrating because they label kids as good or bad in a very public, often shaming way that rarely helps kids make better choices and often inadvertently reinforces undesirable behaviour by putting it in the spotlight.  As a teacher, they wear me out. 

When I think about the energy required to sustain one of these systems, I feel fatigue approaching like an incoming wave.  Focusing on and monitoring the minutiae of student behaviour, labeling it, and communicating those labels to parents on a daily basis is a tonne of work, work that, in my experience, rarely leads to any meaningful change.  The children who already behave according to school-based expectations get rewarded, the kids who don't have that fact pointed out to them even more often, and the many kids in between learn, pretty quickly, how to game the system.

My kids are currently placed into squads at school - colour teams that compete against each other to collect the most tickets each month based on whether they speak French in their classes, in the hallways, and outside.  When a teacher catches a student speaking French, they're rewarded with a ticket that goes towards their team's total.  Each month the winning team receives a special treat like a pizza party or an extra recess.

In March, my son's team was leading for much of the month.  So, when he came home on Friday, I inquired about how the day's colour assembly had gone.  "We lost mom" he answered dejectedly.  "Oh" I replied, "what happened?"  "Some people cheat, Mommy.  Some kids talk English all the time except when there's a teacher and then they talk French, then they get tickets.  I talk French all the time, even when there's no teacher.  It's not fair." 

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


The last several weeks and months have been busy ones as I've been getting used to my new job and figuring out how to manage all the competing priorities in my life.  How does she do it all? Well, I don't always do it all very well, so there's that!

It's been harder, in this new role, to tease apart the thematic threads of my work and to find things that are worth writing about.  It's not that they aren't there, it's just that every day is so different.  Just when an idea springs forward, another idea replaces it, in an endless loop of upstaging.  If I don't have time to write about it right away, poof... it's gone.  People ask me where I went in a week and I have to check my calendar to remind myself.  The whirlwind suits me but it isn't really conducive to thoughtful reflection.

But, as I looked back on my notes over March break, I noticed that one phrase has come up several times in my conversations with Kindergarten teachers.  We talk about their challenges working with an inquiry-based program, often for the first time, and they mention that they're frustrated because, it seems, the "kids aren't interested in anything." 

Now, I've taught a lot of kids over the years, I worked as a nanny and a camp counselor, and I have kids of my own.  I have yet to meet a kid who, literally, isn't interested in anything.

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Posted by on in Assessment & Grading


Sometimes inspiration comes from unusual places.  This week it came through the mail.  I don’t always take the time to read through my alumni magazine but when I do I’m never disappointed. This edition contains a particularly great quote from David Anderegg, a professor at my alma mater, Bennington College. I think every educator should read it 

He writes… 

“I give assignments to make sure that students are integrating on a deep level.  It’s easy to learn concepts superficially, to get familiar with the terminology and to speak in terminology.  When I assign something to the class, I’m looking to see if students are able to grasp a concept, if they understand its range and limits, what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and if they are able to apply the concept.

I think of class participation and assignments in tandem.  It’s all part of the same thing, and I require both.  Sometimes my students want to know why participation is required and that’s when I talk about Andrea Bocelli.

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Posted by on in General

see it

I have had a week of driving, of not sleeping enough, of wearing myself a little thin.  When you work for a school board that is roughly the size of Albania, you go through a lot of coffee.  It's been an exhausting week but it's also been exhilarating.  This week I got to be a fly on the wall in some amazing classrooms.  It's an incredible feeling to be in the zone as a teacher, to get that feeling of flow as you work with students whose attention is engaged and whose energy is focused on a common goal.  It's an equally amazing thing to watch someone else do it.  

This week, while supporting a teacher, I got to see exactly that.  This teacher was everywhere.  She was both exquisitely focused on the students she was working with while at the same time being totally aware of those on the margins who were trying to get her attention.  Her whole body was engaged; she was up, she was down, she was moving in and out of the group.  Her face was expressive and her body language was electric.  At one point, she had to remove a xylophone and mallet from a child who, after several reminders, continued to be disruptive.  Without ever letting on that she was monitoring him, she noticed exactly the moment when he had calmed himself and immediately gave the xylophone back.  If standing up and clapping wouldn't have completely ruined her lesson, I would have done it, I had to fight off the urge.  She was that good.  

On top of her amazing skills, the best part for me was that she clearly loved kids.  She found them engaging and funny, she was happy to see them, and she noticed their strengths first.  I left the school that day in awe and feeling refreshed, reminded once again about the importance of the work that we do and how critical it is that we do it well.  That magic interplay of personal disposition and teaching skills is like lightning in a bottle; you never know where it's going to strike and packaging it is a fool's errand... but... you'll know it when you see it. 

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