An Interview with Will Gourley


It seems that I’ve known of Will Gourley for quite some time now.  His blog posts have been regularly featured in my Friday This Week in Ontario Edublogs post.  He offers an interesting take on educational issues and is always good for some original ideas to make me think.

He was good enough to take the time to be interviewed so that we can learn more about Will.

Doug:  Thanks for doing this Will.  I seem to have always had you on my radar.  Do you know when our paths first crossed?

Will: Thank you for the opportunity Doug. I would have to say we have known each other for almost 10 years since I joined Twitter and then from ECOO and other conferences around the province. It seems like you have been there almost since the start of my teaching career.

Doug:  And the last time we actually met face to face?  It seems so long ago now that the past few years make it easy to lose track of time.

Will: We were at the Edtech/Googley summit in KW where we sat together with the group of students from Northern Ontario who had created the Ojibway keyboard. A very cool session.

Doug:  I remember that session distinctly. It was so innovative and just made you feel so proud that our education system could product such an original idea.

On my blog, I had the opportunity to interview Shyama Sunderaswara who indicated that you were one of her host teachers.  https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2022/05/16/an-interview-with-shyama-sunderaswara/ That’s got to be kind of neat to have her words paying it forward for you.  What would being paired with Will Gourley look like to someone new to our profession?

Will: I love Shyama. Her spirit as an educator was strong from the get-go and continues to turn into a force majeur in the classroom. Each teacher candidate’s experience has been really different over the past 10 years. Happily, I think all of them are connected to a board and working as we keep in touch. One thing that is guaranteed, they do not sit on the sidelines for more than an hour before I am asking them to lead or support in class. Always best to empower teacher candidates to jump in with both feet rather than gradually. I would not put them into a situation that they could not handle.

Additionally, there are many daily conversations about approaches, a file of notes made throughout the day, a tonne of resources to reference, and reflection time for next steps. If anything, I want to make sure that TCs are relationship builders and not curriculum pushers first.

Doug:  Be still my heart! In all of my career, there have been so many pedagogy pushers and self-proclaimed game-changers. The one thing that remains constant has been those relationships between teachers and students in the classroom.

Teachers, students, and schools have been through a great amount of discomfort (to say the least) with Covid.  How did you personally cope and keep your sanity?

Will: I am not sure I did all that well when it came to my mental well being. I know that writing my Heart and Art blog was definitely a release valve that not only mirrored my own experiences, but also those of others. I took more time away from school at the end of each day. I vowed not to work past a certain hour or take on too much. I baked and consumed my share of comfort cookies too.

Doug:  Was Covid your first opportunity to teach online? 

Will: Since the advent of digital classrooms, I have always used Google Classrooms as a means to communicate and share lessons/work. Once the pandemic hit, it necessitated that I teach to rows of faceless icons online

Doug:  How did it go?

Will: It went as well as could be expected considering everyone was jumping off the same cliff hoping there was something soft to land on below.

Doug:  How did you prepare yourself for lessons delivered this way?

Will: Interesting you should ask. I soon realized that what took 10 minutes to work through in class was taking 30 minutes or longer to achieve online. Students struggled with output from the get-go and I had to adjust expectations and stick to shorter and more precise instructional asks.

Doug:  Did all your students have good technology for this purpose?

Will: There were some who struggled with tech, but our school was able to provide them with a device to support them at home.

Doug:  Did you “lose” anyone in the process?

Will: Yes. Sadly the disconnect was real and it showed when it came to participation. I think I would have checked out too. It became an impossible dream to expect students to sit through virtual school from 8 to 2:30 each day and believe it was the same as in-class connection, delivery, learning, and affirmation.

Doug:  Was going back face to face a relief or more stress on you and your students?  Or maybe a little of both?

Will: Definitely a combo. We had 2 immuno-compromised family members at home and the stress was real. I was really thankful to have a basement where I could work while we all kept our distance. There were so many unknowns and that was amplified greatly until the vaccines were rolled out and the number of reported cases decreased. Messaging/directives from the province et al did not help. I am thankful no one in my school was seriously ill through those times although I am not naive to think that the risks are still not high.

Doug:  You recently guest hosted This Week in Ontario Edublogs with Stephen Hurley and me.  We kind of alluded to one of your previous lives and you did work in commercial radio.  Where was this and what was your role?

Will: I started off as a volunteer DJ at CKLN 88.1 FM and then DJ/newsreader at CHRY 105.5 FM in Toronto. In 1994 I took a job at CJAV 1240 AM in Port Alberni, BC. There I was a reporter, newsreader, DJ, ad copywriter, and voiceover dude. Oh and coffee maker.

Doug:  Was the experience doing a podcast a step backwards?  What are the similarities between doing commercial radio and amateur podcasting?

Will:  I think podcasting is a step along an important yet different path. I’ve never viewed it other than a step forward to furthering conversations and sharing ideas. I appreciate the intimacy and immediacy of podcasting and wish there was more time for it in my life.

Doug:  Have you ever done podcasting with your students?

Will: It is on my to-do list. We have done broadcasting (news stories, ad creation) as part of Media Literacy, but not specifically podcasting.

Doug:  You know that you’ll have support and advice from Stephen if you make that leap.

You’ve had your own blog for a while but have shifted instead to writing on the ETFO Heart and Art of Teaching Blog.  What made you make the switch?  Do you have an idea of the number of readers that might read any of your posts?

Will: I still post on my own blog from time to time, but it has become more difficult these past years to keep the content coming on two platforms. I joined ETFO Heart and Art in the Fall of 2015 and have written almost 150+/-  posts for them. I have found it to be a great way to share/amplify the feelings, concerns, and voices of other educators.

With regards to numbers, that is tricky. I know that since I started in 2015 reads have gone up from 30 000 to over 100 000 annually, with readers in over 80+ countries. I think it has largely been a benefit of broader access through social media. I find that very encouraging to know that educators in other parts of the world are accessing the blog.

Doug:  Are you free to blog about whatever topic you want?

Will: Let’s say that I have a pretty free rein to write about what is on my heart/mind although a few posts have been pulled due to their inflammatory nature. In those cases, I usually move them to my personal blog if I feel that the message needs to be shared regardless of it being canned in-house.

Doug:  Your blog titles are always in lowercase.  Since you have a person checking your work, that’s got to be a personal choice.  Can you tell us the story behind it?

Will: This past year I decided to differentiate the titles a bit more and it kind of stuck. I recently finished a book by author/educator bell hooks and kind of liked how she chose to keep her name lowercase. It removes a barrier in my mind almost as if asking readers to come in rather than waiting at the door.

Doug:  I know of whom you speak. She definitely stands out in a crowd just by that one simple move.

As we start this interview, it’s the first of August.  All teachers, I suspect, see this as a starting point to think about September.  Is it different this time around?

Will: As of the end of September it is definitely different this time around. I love how we are collectively excited to be back and reinventing the new normal that is so necessary in our schools. There is a conscious effort to reconnect, to re-establish relationships, and to relish the moments we are now all (well most of us) are all finally back together.

Doug:  Teachers in the province will be negotiating a new collective agreement for September.  What does your crystal ball reveal about how negotiations will go and will an agreement be in place for the start of the school year?

Will: I was thinking about this a lot over the summer and it equates to driving a car with the gas light (pun intended) on. Everyone in the vehicle knows that a stop to refuel is imminent yet the driver (let’s call them the current MOE) chooses to see how far past empty they can go. No one wants to disrupt school when negotiations could have taken place far sooner. No one wants to be gaslit by a government and their sycophants committed to undermining our profession. Look at how they are trying to stick it to CUPE right now.

Doug:  The Minister of Education and the Premier have indicated that they want students back in classes and extra-curriculars / field trips to happen.  Can all of this be negotiated?

Will: Extracurriculars happened last year. We ran 2 TED-Ed clubs over 6 months in 21-22. They are already happening this year. I play and have played in the boxes they put me in. If they want to pay us extra for the time that they seem intent to mandate then so be it. That goes for after-school support programs such as OFIP which this current government killed when they took power in 2018.

Doug:  Is there anything else that you think we should be talking about?

Will: We are stronger, smarter, and better together. Take time to share your lessons, encourage the emerging, and experienced teachers in your building. Take time to build your CRRP anti-racist tool kit. Take time to host a student teacher or CYW candidate. Take time to chat with /support the CUPE staff in your building.  Read blogs, listen to podcasts, and create. Phew.

If any educator wants to learn more about TED-Ed they can hit me up on Twitter.

Doug:  Thanks for taking the time from your summer to be interviewed.  I wish you all the best in September.

Thank you for all you do to support educators in the #onted family. I am humbled to know you. I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and adventures in the year to come.

You can connect with Will on Twitter at:  @WillGourley

The Heart and Art of Teaching where Will and others blog can be found here: https://heartandart.ca/

Will’s personal blog can be found here: https://medium.com/@WillGourley and https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Will.  You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

Advertisement

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It was good to be back Wednesday morning on voicEd Radio and talk about some blog posts. Amanda Potts guested this week and we talked about a number of things; one being the incredible flower pictures that she shares on Facebook. I figured she had a full set of camera gear; it turns out that she uses her smartphone. I feel so unworthy. I need to up my game.


Presenting

This was a reminder for me that there’s a first time for everything. In this case, Amanda partnered with Melanie White to do a presentation. She notes that, as teachers, we do it all the time but the big difference here was that people paid to go to this conference and hear her among others.

I thought that this was a wonderful discussion of anguishing over and tweaking a presentation before going live to make sure that it’s perfect. Amanda, I can tell you that now you’re on the speaking tour <grin>, you’ll do it all the time. There’s nothing so embarrassing as reusing an old presentation that has reference to a previous location. I always appreciate it when a presenter goes that extra mile and you can tell that there’s a reference to the presentation’s current location or audience.

Nerves are always good, I find. It keeps you at the top of your game.


Getting Ready for School: A Television Interview

Speaking of nerves…

When you’ve written a book, that opens a lot of doors for you. When you’ve written THE book on students and social media, you’ll get people like Global TV wanting you to appear on their television show to share your expertise.

That was the case for Jennifer. Good choice, Global.

Her post dovetails so nicely with Amanda’s because she shares her own nervous moments. There were five four points that she wanted to address. The whole interview was a 2-minute deal and Jennifer was a part of it, not all of it. So, in typical television fashion, things were edited to meet the time allotment. Her enthusiasm does come through loudly and clearly.

Anyone who has ever done something like this knows that you walk away saying “I wish I’d said that” and Jennifer was no exception. Her extra thoughts appear bolded in this post.

Her book SocialLEADia is something that every teacher needs in their arsenal when dealing with students and social media. It should be in every school library.


Those Last Three Years

I suspect that everyone is thinking about the return to school in a much deeper manner than normal this year. Will this be the year that things return to normal or whatever normal will be going forward?

The true professional gets better every year in the profession. They understand students, teachers, and learning, just that much better with experience. Matthew questions whether he and other educators are better now than before.

Maybe teaching during the pandemic didn’t make me a better teacher in the moment. But maybe it has the potential to make us better educators tomorrow.  

There’s no doubt that educators will have become better in their use of technology. Nerdy me hopes that that translates to better things in the classroom now that everyone is headed back there. Time will tell, I suppose.

Educators that read this blog know that they’ve been thinking about the return all summer. For those not in education, Matthew shares insights on what’s really going through an educator’s mind as September looms.


BACK TO  SCHOOL: POST-SECONDARY EDITION

I never had the opportunity to teach my own kids and I suspect they’re eternally grateful for that. It actually wasn’t possible since I never lived in the community where I taught.

For Vera, this will be the third time teaching students that are the same age as her own children. That’s an interesting observation and I wonder how many other educators have made that it. I know that it never occurred to me.

Vera points out that her twins were very helpful in giving her insights as a parent about their growth and development and how it helped her understand those students in her class.

The other takeaway for me what that I had no idea where Holland College is. I do now.


August Interlude

August is always an interesting month for me. My birthday was mid-month and from that day on, it was a family reunion, and then gearing up for the return to school – both as a kid and later as a teacher.

We spend a great deal of time these days just sitting on the patio and listening to music and lately the crickets have been singing along.

In the post, Sheila shares some quotes about August and one included the crickets.

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.” – E.B. White

I thought it was an interesting tribute to a month that isn’t quite July or quite September.


Slice of (Summer) Life

Here’s a post that brought a big, big smile to my face.

As parents, I think we all try to make special moments for our kids. In Lisa’s case, it was to take them to swim in all five of the Great Lakes this summer.

This is a wonderful story about how the family met that goal.

I know that Lake St. Clair isn’t one of the five Great Lakes but it’s a pretty good lake. I could take her to some pretty cool beaches if she’s interested in doing that next year. We walked the dog at Belle River yesterday and the beach was packed. A little further north, Mitchell’s Bay is a favourite location as well.


Magic? Or Is It?

If you need a song to listen to while you read this. Maybe we can see why some students are hesitant to participate.

A wise person once told me that teaching is the nearest thing to performing real magic that you can get. It seemed a little hokey at the time but I came to appreciate it. Quite frankly, I’d forgotten about that until I read Aviva’s latest.

There’s an interesting story about a “camper” who was in the hallway and how things changed for her. It’s a great read; make sure you do it.

Once you get the whole context, you’ll appreciate Aviva’s closing thought.

While we might not have a wand or a magic spell to address all of these scenarios, Ms. Ung shows us that with love, time, support, and a combination of deliberate decisions, we can all work a little magic of our own.


I hope that you can find to click through and read all of these wonderful posts. Are you inspired to write your own? If so, reach out and let me know.

And, make sure that you’re following these bloggers.

  • Amanda Potts – @Ahpotts
  • Jennifer Casa-Todd – @jcasatodd
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Vera Teschow – @schlagzeug_usw
  • Sheila Stewart – @sheilaspeaking
  • Lisa Corbett – @LisaCorbett0261
  • Aviva Dunsiger – @avivaloca

This week’s TWIOE show on voicEdRadio

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s another Friday, a sad one for education and society, but still a chance to get inspired by some writing from Ontario Edubloggers. So, here goes.


Prom Project Hamilton

This is an interesting and wonderful project. Not everyone has the resources to be able to go out and buy something brand new to wear to the school prom. That shouldn’t be a reason for people not to go.

Kelly shares her work for this project gathering lightly used clothes, sorting by size, and making them available to students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the outfit. Not only does it give them the clothes but it would raise their esteem and allow them to celebrate the end of a school career with classmates.

I had to ask my wife what we did for the prom. Her mother made her a fancy dress. Me, apparently, I wore my church clothes.

This initiative would be nice to see replicated in all school districts.


How do we develop students for democracy?

Paul’s post was my thinker for the week. He reflects on the writing of Westheimer and Kahne (What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy, 2004) where they identify two approaches to developing students. Of course, it’s all theory until you see it in action and then analysed. That’s where this post comes in.

Paul looks inwardly and recalls a field trip to the Dominican Republic and highlights the poverty and yet the attraction of the beaches to tourists.

He also talks about Police Officers coming in to the school to talk to students. At one point, he was a fan of the concept. Now that we’re looking at a contemporary approach to evaluating authorities in the country, he has changed his opinion. He’s not alone – a lot of schools districts are rethinking things as well.

This is a great post that he me thinking and that’s a good thing.


If a student asks for poetry…

I knew the answer before I clicked.

Teacher goes out and buys it.

As teachers, we’ve all done that. The school district support for curriculum only goes so far and the rest is either ignored or researched/funded by teachers. Been there, done that.

That’s not the best part of this post though. Amanda didn’t know this poet and so did some research to bring herself up to speed. Student teaching the teacher. What a golden moment!

Have you ever wondered though – should students have a voice at the purchasing table to help made education richer? It happened in this case.


Day Late, Dollar Short (again)

Lisa weaves a nice story and observation as per usual although as she notes, a day late. But the wait was worth it.

She shares with us an observation about things not being accomplished on time this year. I suspect that so many teachers will have the same observation from their classroom. Lisa shares how she coped with her students with an interesting classroom activity.

I love the part when a student noted how much they’d improved in the work over the course of the year and got to show her progress with the school administration. Success!

And, “nobody cried in art”. Success? ! Maybe the ? goes away when it’s done again.

Lisa wishes this success had happened in November but the key is that it did happen. No matter when, there really is a high when things all come together.


Virtual Presentations

You know that something ain’t right when a teacher makes this statement.

On my bucket list of things to do as an educator, one of my wishes has been to have students attend a live concert.

Understandably, it’s been impossible the past couple of years. Heck, many adults can’t get out to a live concert.

In my high school years, I remember going to Stratford on a field trip to take in a concert and a play. There’s nothing like being there in person.

So, Stephanie, things will get better and you’ll be able to scratch that from your bucket list. Soon, I hope.

In the meantime, traditional places offer virtual experiences and Stephanie outlines some of them. To that, I’d add https://www.stahome.org/2016. Not a concert but a good example of a good organization doing good.


I’m Getting Used To This

We’ve established expectations this year just like how we established expectations in past years. We stand up for the national anthem, ask for permission before leaving the classroom, stay quiet while taking tests. I’m used to that. Again. And that’s where I think my problem truly is.

I’ve mentioned this before. With all the COVID teaching, maybe there would be a great deal of thought about it and education would come out better as a result. Did we have it perfect in the past. Was there no room for improvement?

Matthew notes that what so many have wanted – “a return to normal” just doesn’t feel right to him.

If the school system isn’t making massive changes, then maybe the answer lies in those little steps. Close the classroom door and change what needs to be changed there.


An Interview with Shyama Sunderaswara

When I started this blog oh so many years ago, I had no idea what I would do. I think I was probably considerably more geeky back then and wrote about computer things. Over the years, I’d done some experimentation and one that I’ve come to love, although it’s a lot more work than a regular post, is to interview what I call “interesting people”. All the interviews can be directly found here.

I had the chance to interview Shyama and it came back powerfully. She pulls no punches about being a Planning Time Teacher, or her use of the phrase “all lives matter”, or her vision of getting Ontario educators together. It’s one of the longer interviews that I’ve done but I think well worth the read.


Hopefully, this weekend you can find the time to click through and read all these posts.

Then, follow these people on Twitter.

  • Paul McGuire – @mcguirp
  • Amanda Potts – @Ahpotts 
  • Lisa Corbett – @LisaCorbett0261
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Shyama Sunderaswara – @ssunderaswara

This voicEd Radio show can be found here.

An Interview with Shyama Sunderaswara


I’ve never actually met Shyama face to face although we have considerable interaction on Twitter when she tags me in messages.  She does claim to have a passion for teaching and it comes through loudly and clearly as she shares her philosophy, opinions, and pictures of learning in action from her school regularly on Social Media.

I invited her to be interviewed and, voila, here she is.

Doug:  So, my first question is always the same – how did you ever find me and decide that our paths needed to cross?

Shyama: @WillGourley was my “Host Teacher” during my practicum at Niagara University. I had seen his “Retweets” of your weekly “#FollowFriday – Active Ontario Educators” in which his name had been mentioned many times. From that, I started following your tweets and blogs.  Also when I tweet I tag people whom I think are relevant to that tweet. So I started tagging you whenever I tweeted anything related to education. The first time when I saw my Twitter handle (@ssunderaswara) tagged in the same “#FollowFriday – Active Ontario Educators”, I literally freaked out! I have made many entries on the same list since then, but it still gives me a big sugar rush, every Friday when my name makes “the cut”!  😊

Doug:  You were paired with one of the best, that’s for sure.  I find it interesting when I’m tagged and debate whether it’s an FYI or if you are looking for a response!  As for Fridays, it’s just my attempt to try to make connections.

You have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Pondicherry University.  I’d never heard of this university so it took me down a bit of a rabbit hole exploring its website.  It was easy as it presents in English and I was impressed with the large number of study offerings for students.  Can you tell us what was the appeal of Pondicherry for you and a bit about the campus?

Shyama: It brought a smile to my face to know that you did some digging about my academic background. Pondicherry itself is a very small coastal city that a lot of people in Canada are not familiar with. Believe it or not, when India was “ruled” by British people, Pondicherry was a French colony and to date, one can see a lot of French influence in Pondicherry. 

If you ever visit India, keep Pondicherry on your itinerary. Or if you are an armchair traveler, then check out these 2 videos: The first one (25 minutes) gives you a good historic overview of Pondicherry and the second one (5 minutes) is a bird’s eye view.  Pondicherry is a very unique eclectic destination that is very different from the rest of India.

I was born in Pondicherry and did all my schooling, college, and university there. So it is not like I chose it out of many options that were available.  Also in those years, my parents would not allow me to go “out of state” to pursue my higher studies. It was just a default option for me.    

Doug:  I confess that I did not know of Pondicherry until we did this interview.  I was more of a Mumbai, New Delhi type of person when I think of India. Already, you’ve made me smarter. I enjoyed the videos and I love the idea of closing the promenade in the evening. Our town did that last summer and it transformed it. It was so popular that they’re going to do it again this summer.

The past couple of years hasn’t been kind to anyone.  How has COVID affected your personal and professional life?

Shyama: I don’t want to offend anybody since I know many people around the world were negatively affected by COVID. At the same time, I have to portray a different side of the story because it is MY story and it is true. 

I went through a very dark phase in the first 10+ years of my project management career in GTA. I was very innocent and did not know how to swim with the sharks. I was academically and technically qualified but did a very poor job in playing corporate politics. Discriminatory treatments, Unfair business practices, and profit (not consumer) driven products/services all started having a toll on my mental health. I still carry a lot of trauma from those years and am trying my best to heal. 

Changing careers to become a teacher is the second-best thing that ever happened to me (the first one, being a mother). Thank God for that. Yes, there have been a lot of changes in the education space during covid times… but as far as my personal and professional lives are concerned I am having the best of both worlds for the past 4 years, (covid or no covid) and I am grateful about it almost every day. My students, my friends, and family see me being happy and positive (irrespective of all the external turbulence) and it is contagious.  Having gone through a lot of bad times in my personal and professional life, especially in Canada, I am finally in a better spot and I am cherishing every moment of it. At the same time, all those experiences have shaped me to become a mature, open-minded, humble, flexible, empathetic person with a lot of clarity and purpose. In retrospect, I am grateful for those hardships and lessons learned. 

Doug:  I don’t think you have to worry about offending anyone.  I appreciate the fact that you were so honest about it.  I’ve never been in that position so can only nod my head sadly.  I’m delighted to see that you landed in education and you’re so positive about it.

Now that students and staff are back in school, how has the regular routine changed?  

Shyama: The major change/challenges during covid used to be huge uncertainties around communication from various directions last-minute pivoting,  and social distancing protocols. But now that things are almost trying to get back to the “pre-covid” times, it looks like we are getting back to some type of normalcy. 

If there was one thing I hated during Covid times, it was the mask. Not being able to smile at my students and not being able to see their smiles or facial expressions was a big “turn off” for me. I am a French language/Music/Drama teacher. Mask was a big punishment on a daily basis. I know it is still a controversial topic. So please note that this is just my personal view. We are not discussing what is right or wrong. I am not disputing or devaluing the rationality of masks, but just saying that it was really hard to go through that phase.

Doug:  I’ve actually talked to some elementary school students who hate the mask as well.  As only a child can, the comment “I think they hate me” comes through because it’s tough to read facial emotions.  

Using your crystal ball, will it be better in the fall?

Shyama: I am an optimist. I hope and pray that things get a lot better for everyone around the world!

Doug:  You’re relatively new to the teaching profession.  What lured you to the classroom?  Any regrets?

Shyama: As a licensed teacher, I am comparatively new to this profession in Ontario. I was a lecturer in a community college (affiliated with Pondicherry University) when I was 24 years old. My mother is a retired teacher and my dad was an extension educator in the health department in Pondicherry. Many of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and sisters are teachers, college professors, and lecturers in India and internationally. So it is not an exaggeration if I say “it runs in our family”. I have been tutoring French and English for the past 10+ years and most of my students are through parents’ word of mouth referrals. My daughter was born in Canada and did all her schooling here. I was a very involved parent who never missed a parents council meeting or volunteering opportunity at school. Education has always been part of me, it is just that I never took it seriously and was chasing a career in Project Management. My biggest regret is not choosing this path as my career when I came to Canada in 1998. My whole story would have been entirely different. 

I must add something interesting here. They always say the first three years are the hardest for a new teacher. This is the timeline of my first 4 years. (2022~2023 will be my 5th year with PDSB)

  • 1st year: Planning time teacher @ Ingleborough PS, Brampton. I went to 28 different classrooms in a 10 Day Cycle (teaching Core French, Drama, and Dance from KG to Grade 8). That year I had to write more than 500 report cards each term! I did not have my own classroom or a workstation to work on a daily basis. Trust me, my PMP background really helped me to survive that year.
  • 2nd year: Planning time teacher @ Silver Creek  (A school with 4 pods and no walls between classes). I did not have my own classroom or a workstation to work on a daily basis. This was the year we had Union Strike/Job action-related changes that impacted many of our regular school activities. We were walking on the streets with placards in our hands during the peak of the winter. I was thinking what did I get myself into! 😄 😆 😋
  • 3rd & 4th year: Covid. “Online”/”Back in school” chaos.  Still a planning time teacher with no own classroom. 

I have heard from many experienced veteran teachers that the last few years were the toughest for them in their careers and those were just my first few! You can imagine how it must have been. 

Irrespective of that I completed 2 FSL AQs, attended many PDs, and workshops, was active in PETL committees, did multiple events with my students, hosted a student-teacher from OISE, upgraded my skills, and still continue to be the best version of myself on a daily basis.  I am loving it. 

When I am in the classroom, It does not matter what I teach, I forget everything. I belong there and I know my kids love me. I don’t teach nor do my students learn. I inspire them and my students get passionate about the subjects. I am a gardener. I plant seeds, water them and nurture them. Students bloom. 

Not everyone who reads this is going to believe all this I have said. Also, as a planning time teacher, neither my admin nor my peers take me or my subjects seriously, but that is OK too. I am not doing anything to impress anyone or to get recognition. (But that might help too)  😋 😃 😆

Doug:  So, if those three years are the hardest, it should be smooth sailing from now on!

Where do you see yourself headed in education?  You work for a big district in Peel – are they appealing options for movement for you?

Shyama: I have been thinking a lot about it lately and I still don’t have a clear vision yet. I don’t want to think along the lines of “career” or “promotion” or things like that… Those types of titles and fancy words don’t appeal to me anymore. 

I feel very strongly that I have a lot of potential and have a lot to offer. Oftentimes I feel stifled and feel like a BIG FISH in a small pond. I want to evolve as a leader, a change-maker in education – globally. Sometimes my head is so full of ideas, thoughts bursting to explode and I just don’t know how to channel them. I am desperate for a mentor but don’t know how/where to find one. There is an old saying: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”. I am waiting for my teacher! My expectations are very high, for myself and for others. 

I signed a contract with PDSB for being in the “French pool” for 5 years. That contract is ending next year. I have lived in Ontario for about 25 years. Had enough shares of winters too. Next Spring, I will start looking for international opportunities. I want to give back. I am a strong advocate of mental health, promoting children as well-rounded individuals with life skills, rather than academic/materialistic robots. I love the story of aboriginal people, and their history and feel very strongly about how we have been very unfair to them. You will be surprised to know how similar Native American / Indigenous peoples’ cultures/belief systems, practices, lifestyles, and of Indians from India are.  What we did to indigenous people, we are doing that to many countries in the world today. Uprooting cultures, habits, languages, and practices in the name of “globalization”. That is a separate topic for another day. I am digressing. 

My daily mantras are “One day at a time”, and “Que Sera, Sera”. I also have a lot of interest in Spirituality (Especially the topic of “Death” – a taboo topic in the modern world). So it may even happen that one day I decide to call it all quits, and simply retire! 

The best thing is, my canvas is blank and I am thrilled and ready with more clarity than ever to start painting!

Doug:  From your Twitter timeline, I’m going to quote you in your reference to Pav Wander and Chey Cheney’s book.

“Since I came to Canada, I always felt (still continue to feel to some extent) exactly how the 2 main characters of this story feel: Unheard! “

One of the things that you wanted to talk about was how “brown” is the new black.  That has a strong message in the United States but a different message here in Canada.  Can you elaborate from your perspective?  Why is this important?

You have the floor here – what do you want the world to hear from you?

Shyama: I don’t really know the reference to “brown is the new black” in the USA. When I googled that after reading your question, I only came across a title of sci-fi fiction. My understanding of this expression comes with a question. Now that we are taking care of the sentiments and rights of many groups that feel being treated poorly historically (black, indigenous, LGBTQ, Muslims, etc.) – Is it the turn for brown people yet? Because our experiences are quite similar.

As I said earlier, I have lived in Canada for more than 25 years with active involvement in lots of personal, social, and professional networks (Toastmasters, PMI chapters, Tamil associations, etc.) and this is a strong feeling that the majority of people from India feel. Especially the Indian women. I am not talking about the very few individuals who have made it big or become successful in any given field. I am referring to the massive number of Indian women whose voices are never heard in staff meetings, whose ideas are never appreciated publicly, and those who just hide or do not use their actual talent or potential because they were never given that opportunity or already know that it is going to be of no use. I don’t remember if it was @PavWander in one of her podcasts or somebody else who once said, “I would give ideas, solutions – but the entire room would go silent or move on – as if I never spoke/existed”. It has happened to me many times in Canada. Guess what, I have stopped sharing my ideas/solutions. 

Indian women are smart (mostly educated), creative, reliable, sincere, hard-working, and also by nature humble and passive. We don’t wear high heels (because we are practical and do not want to end up with back problems in the long run) nor mini-skirts “to appear professional”. It is very cultural. The irony is women in India these days are much more aggressive, and assertive and are breaking traditional barriers in many different ways. But when it comes to the older generation (like me) who have been living in Canada for decades, our stories are the same. We are discriminated against and have never been treated the same way. In my past interactions with ETFO and ACENET I know it is just not Indian women, all minorities feel exactly the same way. In your personal or professional life, if you feel you are a misfit – and live your daily lives feeling excluded, disrespected, not valued, or appreciated – it will affect your mental health. Why is mental health such a huge problem in today’s world? Think about it!

Yes, for the past few years a lot is changing due to all kinds of social changes happening around the world. Lots of buzz words like inclusiveness, anti-racism, etc..etc… The theory, awareness, and noise are everywhere but in reality, not a lot has changed. Media, News channels, politicians – they all play us. I can give you specific examples of things that need a big shake-up. But I am sure I will not be the first person to list them. In Canada, you have to sugarcoat everything. It is all about numbers, the majority, and the number of votes. 

That is why personally whenever I hear expressions that divide people my only response/slogan is “All lives matter” – Does not matter if you are black, white, brown, green, or blue, irrespective of religious background, gender identity, etc. Identities are important. But they are not the only things. A true leader of any country must unite everyone, not divide them based on their identity. I am not sure if I am communicating my thoughts clearly or not. I am a puritan in heart and anything that is not fair – bothers me a great deal! 

I hope OCT does not come after me for saying all this.

Doug:  In case you didn’t mention it above, I’ll have a separate question here – you have definite opinions about “planning time teachers”.  What are your concerns?  How would you fix it?

Shyama: I don’t even know how to start answering this question. It is a big topic. I have enough material to write a stand-up comedy on this topic. Thank God you did not give me a “word limit” for my answers. I will really try my best to keep it brief.  😆

Most of the planning time teachers teach “à la carte”. In other words, we do not have any designated classrooms and have to teach from class to class. Teaching in another teacher’s classroom is not conducive to effective pedagogy.  

The following are some of the struggles that Planning Time Teachers (PTT) go through on a daily basis go to many different classrooms to cover other teachers’ planning time:

  1. If a PTT teaches dance or drama in a regular “homeroom”, it is very impractical to move the desks and chairs to create a space to move around every single time for a 40 minute period
  2. Every homeroom teacher has his/her own computer that they want to use during their planning time since all their resources are housed in “that computer” in their own folders etc (and not centrally so that they can access them from anywhere). So most of the time they want to use their computers which restricts the use of technology for the PTT. As you know, there is usually one teacher’s computer that is connected to a projector et al per classroom. 
  3. I am not going to include the minor convenience of logging in/logging out, and security/privacy-related issues here. (Case in point: a lot of homeroom teachers usually don’t even log off when they leave their classes – which is a security risk, but PTTs are nice people, so we usually cause no harm)
  4. Core French teachers would love to have our own rooms with beautiful visuals, provocations, mini library corner, word wall lists, students’ work displays, etc. to give that “Ambiance Française” every time the students come for their French classes, rather than looking like a “Homeless Hobo” wheeling around a candy cart!
  5. Mandated to follow the homeroom teachers’ routines, rules, seating plan, etc.
  6. There is also a lack of respect for PTTs in many different ways: 
    • No place to put our own resources anywhere in the classes we go to 
    • Coats, Jackets, overflowing personal stuff on homeroom teachers’ desks, chairs, etc. that will prevent PTTs from having thier own teaching space in those workstations!
    • Homeroom teachers walk in and out of the class randomly while the PTTs are teaching
    • Homeroom teachers walk in and talk to students (without seeking permission, even as a courtesy) randomly – while the PTTs and the students are 100% engaged in teaching a lesson
    • Homeroom teacher working in the same classroom while the PTT is teaching – homeroom teacher’s buddy walks in and they start having a “party” filled with loud giggles and gossip – completely discarding the fact that there is another teacher (as qualified as they are) trying to teach a lesson
    • PTTs are referred to as “Floaters” by homeroom teachers

One of the reasons PTTs have put up with this type of treatment (and no one has ever done anything about it) is because 99% of PTTs are brand new teachers. They are still learning their ropes and do not want to rock the boat or create conflicts with their peers or admin. Also, they know that there are other bigger challenges/problems that exist in our education system (that this particular issue is like “collateral damage”) that they simply put up with!

If I get a proper workstation next year @ Silver Creek, I will consider myself to be very lucky! 😊

Doug:  You’re right; there is no word limit as it’s important to share your message.

I like the other suggestion that you wanted to talk about “an annual gala celebration idea to bring all the best educators of Ontario irrespective caste, color, or creed – totally unrelated to boards or unions or political flavors!”  

What do you have in mind?  How would it play out?  Who would take the lead on it?

Shyama: As a first step, if we can bring together some like-minded individuals and brainstorm some ideas, I am sure we can come up with a fantastic event that will truly celebrate education/educators. It is not about promoting one’s “personal agenda” but collaborating that would result in an achievement that is larger than life. 

Few ideas: 

  • Panel discussions to point out the things that need to be “fixed” in our education system (provincially / federally)
  • Recommendations to eliminate outdated practices and policies
  • A “to-do list” to the Education Minister
  • Revisions to existing curricula to make them meaningful, relevant, and contemporary
  • Shake-up OCT to be more “educators-friendly” than alienating itself from the grassroots voices
  • Role of Admin in schools 
  • Burnt out/rusty/bitter (but well-paid) teachers and the unspoken problems they pose

Doug:  As we do this interview, the school year is winding down.  For most teachers, this will indeed be a summer like no other where recharging and taking care of oneself becomes so important.  Can you share your plans?

Shyama: I am leaving for India on Jul 3rd, and returning on Aug 15th. It is a trip that got delayed for the last 2 years so I am really looking forward to it. 😊

Doug:  Now that’s quite a trip.  I hope that you have your chance to recharge abroad and that it’s as exciting as doing the EdgeWalk.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.  I know that times are incredibly busy and time is at a real premium.

Shyama: Doug, you have no idea how appreciative I am of this opportunity. Whatever I shared with you today, the intention was not to make myself look superior, boastful, or overconfident nor to offend anyone. I truly wanted to share my personal views and be honest/genuine about it. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in fear. I sincerely hope those who read this interview take me for who I am and do not judge me or try to put me in a box! Thanks once again. I look forward to our next interaction. 💝

You can connect with Shyama on Twitter at:  @ssunderaswara

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Shyama.  You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Is it really a Friday the 13th?

What a great weather week it’s been. Also a great week for reading blog posts. Check them out.


It’s Never Just a Bike Seat

Sue has been on fire recently on her blog. I had originally pulled a post from her about assessment but this one caught my fancy.

If you’ve been to EdCamp London, you’ll have been to Sir Arthur Currie Public School. It’s really new and is in the middle of a community that is building houses as quickly as they can. Consequently, there are 17 portable classrooms onsite and the school appears to be desirable for transfers. They had 22 candidates apply to move there and Sue takes us through the process she uses. I can’t do it justice but Sue certainly does in the post. Teaser – it involves a bicycle seat.

I think we all have interview stories. One of my favourites was a school board trustee who tries to distract interviewees by wearing one shoe and one boot. I don’t know for sure whether it’s one of those legends but I still wonder how I would have reacted.


Post-Covid Educational Reform

As ever, Marie’s writing will have you thinking.

In this case, she has a cautionary message about the desire to return to “normal”. Was it always that good? She gives us her thoughts on the writings from Jonathan Kurtz. Could we make school systems better by learning from the pandemic?

She shares her thoughts about

  • TIME
  • EMPOWERMENT
  • ACCESSIBILITY
  • SCHOOLS, NOT PRISONS

I found it interesting reading and I wonder if all teachers and administrators shouldn’t take a reflective look at these things in the manner that Marie did. Also, don’t forget to read the comments; the discussion continues there.


Survive and Advance

Matthew’s post took me well back with his reference to Jim Valvano.

Interestingly, most professional sports have playoffs that are series. Best 3 of 5, 4 of 7, etc. Baseball, Hockey, Basketball…

It’s only professional Football and, as Matthew notes, NCAA basketball where your ability to move to the next level is based on the results of a single game. It does make for an exciting experience and “do or die” is the way it’s done.

Or, as Matthew notes, Valvano called it “Survive and Advance”. He then applies it to his personal situation in education. I think that many will nod their heads while reading it but it’s particularly disturbing how Matthew now answers the question “How are you doing?”


the eyes tell our stories

The best and most powerful part of education comes from discussions with a student and you do your best to see them “eye to eye”. What happens when the eyes that you’re looking at have been clearly crying?

That’s the message from Will’s post where he describes an interaction with a student who would normally be described as “bright and optimistic”.

With a lack of mental health support in schools, teachers are supposed to pick up the slack. But they’re feeling it too – Will makes reference to 9 teachers away at his school on a particular day.

Will has made a commitment to check-in more frequently with the student but it begs the question – who is checking in on the teachers?


SOS: TACKLING MID-CAREER MALAISE

On the TESL blog, Heather sends out a reminder that mid-career, which she describes as someone in their 40s, can be a difficult time. Have you made the right career decision? Is your career indeed plateauing? Are you feeling overwhelmed and lethargic?

She identifies five areas that you can look at and some suggestions about what to do.

  • Discover the root cause of your discontent
  • Consider the mindset you adopt at work
  • Consider the ways you can have your microenvironment altered
  • Consider how your motivations have changed
  • Consider what non-work-related activities give you self-worth

I know that, personally, taking or leading professional learning activities was always a good pick-me-up. For a while at least.

While this is posted to the TESL blog, the message is applicable to everyone.


LearningInTheLoo: Curating Instructional Videos for Interactivity

It doesn’t happen often but sometimes you know that someone is reading your blog because they write about it, a reference is made, and you get a ping back. That was the case with Laura. It wasn’t something that I had written but a reference that I had made to the EduGals about curating educational videos.

They had listed 10 and Laura zeroed in on three more that she thought would be applicable in her situation. Between the two sources, there definitely is a leading towards using Google products and that’s probably just a result of their board’s decision making. It’s frustrating when you recommend something that can’t be used for one reason or another.

I love it when a conversation is started and then a followup which makes it deeper and more valuable.


The 500 – #318 – Back Stabbers – The O’Jays

Marc is actively keeping up with his posting about the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. This post took me to an album with music that I hadn’t heard for far too long. I would have gone with this song.

Instead, he chose this one.

That’s an equally good suggestion. I think I’ll take his suggestion and use it for the TWIOE voicEd show next week.

Thanks, Marc. That took me back.


I hope that you can find the time to read and reflect on these great posts.

Then, follow these folks on Twitter.

  • Sue Bruyns – @sbruyns
  • Marie Snyder – @MarieSnyder27
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Will Gourley – @WillGourley
  • Heather Donnelly – @TESLOntario
  • Laura Wheeler – @wheeler_laura
  • Marc Hodgkinson – @Mr_H_Teacher

This Week in Ontario Edublogs on voicEd Radio