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Archive for May, 2013

A Teacher Who Made a Difference

May 21, 2013 2 comments
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Miss Ritcey, circa 1981, Alderney Elementary School

Her name was Miss Ritcey. She wore tweed skirt suits, sensible shoes, and a hint of a smile.

A few of us were pulled from our classrooms once a week and taken to the library to spend the morning with her. We sat in table groups, hardly believing our luck.

On our first day, she called us into a circle, and said quietly, “A boy wants to go home, but there is a man with a mask in his way. Who is the man in the mask?” We were allowed to ask her questions with yes or no answers. We fell over ourselves coming up with possibilities, before realizing the key to the answer was asking the right question. We finally got to the idea of sport, and then baseball, and the answer: the man was the catcher for the other team – the boy was afraid of being tagged out. It was drastically different from the Halloween or horror ideas that initially popped into our collective heads.

From then on, we were hooked. Unaccustomed to learning being fun or engaging, her class was like a mirage to a delirious desert traveler. Days spent in our regular classroom dragged by, while we waited for that quiet knock which signaled her presence in the building.

She lead us in discussions ranging from books to science. We did the talking. She mostly listened. Everything fascinated her.

When she did speak, she was quiet and deliberate and began all of her sentences with, “Now, people.” As though we were adults. As though we were important. As though she was giving the Throne Speech instead of addressing a motley group of kids aged ten to twelve.

For those few hours each week in the library, it was cool to be a geek. No idea was ridiculous. No question was stupid. No contribution went unnoticed.

We became our very best selves. Freed from chalkboard pointers, we dared to dream. We learned what it meant to think outside the box. We were encouraged to be different. We were encouraged to be daring. Miss Ritcey often smiled, but never laughed. We emulated her, and listened carefully to our classmates, used our powers of critical thinking to debate ideas rather than dismiss them out of hand.

She didn’t need to raise her voice. Robbie and Jennifer – prone to misbehaving – sat quietly for a change. We were all in awe of our wise teacher, mesmerized by her serene aura. Lulled by the calm oasis she created, despite it being in the basement of the school, where three rows of books amounted to the library. Her presence induced a pavlovian response to learning, cobwebs cleared from our brains and we readied for takeoff.

From grades four to eight, Miss Ritcey parachuted into our school, a Mary Poppins amongst mortal teachers. After that I never saw her again. I never kept in touch. She was constantly on the move, rotating schools around the city, and it was long before email existed. Dropping by to see her wasn’t an option. I haven’t seen or heard of her for thirty years, but I will never forget. Her voice was one of reason, her body was one of composure, her pores reeked wisdom and the palest scent of Chloe, and especially the unwavering respect she showed each and every one of us.

Miss Sally Ritcey, wherever you are, you encouraged us to believe in ourselves, instilled in us a hunger for knowledge, and a desire to be different. Thank you.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates

Who was the teacher that made a difference in your life?

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Ask.Fm: Where Wild West Meets Social Media

May 10, 2013 5 comments

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Another day, another social network to monitor. I first learned of ask.fm from my friend last week. She was in a flap. Generally, she is unflappable. My interest was piqued.

It’s horrible and nasty, you won’t believe what kids are saying on it, and ALL the kids are on it. Check it out.

So I did, and my unflappable friend was quite right to be flapping.

Ask.fm is an anonymous platform that allows users to post questions or comments to a user’s profile. It’s the social media equivalent to the wild west: anyone can follow anyone, and users don’t have access to who is following them, they can only see their number of followers.

In other words, it is a hotbed breeding ground for bullying, harassment, and inappropriate comments. If I could sound alarm bells here, I would let them ring.

You should know I’m not a helicopter parent. I have somewhat liberal views on social media, I believe it will play a role in our children’s lives and we need to keep an eye on things, while understanding that we don’t fully understand its (important) role in their lives. Whether we like it or not, it’s here, and it’s big.

That being said, I created an alias on ask.fm and followed my kid and her friends.

The questions and comments range wildly from inoccuous compliments to ranting insults, and everything in between.

Interestingly, as dismayed as I was with the content, I was impressed with the way she handled the insults, basically by laughing at the caustic comments or posting silly YouTube cartoon videos as a response. I suppose a sidebar of these social network sites is kids learn to deflect and stand up to haters. (I’m not sure I have the same capacity.)

But inevitably, others will fall victim to its nasty nature. Ask.fm is being blamed for the suicide of at least one teenager in England last month.

Apparently, you are able to block a user that is being abusive, and if you don’t respond to a question or comment, it won’t show up on your profile. This article, aimed at parents and teachers, will give you the lowdown on this potentially caustic site.

I can’t see the point of this network – it seems like nastiness personified to me, but I guess that is also its charm. My daughter tells me it’s just silly fun. When I was her age my friends and I stuck jellybeans up our noses for silly fun, but there you go. The times they are a changin’.