Against Common Sense – A Visual Representation of K. Kumashiro’s thoughts.

Visual Representation of Kumashiro 2015

When piecing together this visual, I thought about what stood out in the book to me the most. What made the most sense and what concepts would I renew within my practice and take back to my own classroom.

I thought about the core subjects he spoke to and which effected the most. I really didn’t speak too much to science in this course, so I left it out. I do however want to comment, that I know we need to make sure to create different perspectives in science as well. For example: Including First Nations teachings like picking sweetgrass or sage and their purpose.

In this visual, I wanted to represent what Kumashiro spoke to by the rain representing status quo and “common sense” pouring down on our students that we are losing to oppressive teaching. The rain starts off slow at the top and works its way up to a river, that represents how hard it is for some of those students to recover within their educational journey. The top part represents not only the gender discussions, but the use of the word queer in the text. Queer should have a double meaning here, where all the people below it are represented as going against the norm and the rainbow represents transgender students and where they fit into the picture.

The red around the teacher and student figure near the bottom, represents the chapter about good vs. bad teaching. The teacher dictating to the student and standing over them as they learn in rows, in desks. Hope is presented by the teachers that do some of the suggestions from the book that I have encapsulated in the umbrellas. Note, that one of the umbrellas isn’t working due to the lack of teachers actually taking risks in the classroom.

Students on the left and right side represent some of the problems and examples of students within classrooms and a few of my own thoughts that have emerged as well. Finally, the Anti-Oppression sign at the bottom should be noted as a protest sign. This is to relate to the idea and concepts that Kumashiro points to as he urges teachers to be activists in their own classrooms.

After reading this text, I have found that I still have quite a bit of learning to do, as a teacher who felt she has always been a true activist in the classroom. I love the idea of queering my lesson plans and want to move away from the status quo of teaching, especially when it comes to protecting and valuing the culture of my First Nations students. In a class that is based on social justice, I believe that all teachers should be just in doing what is right to take risks and enter those uncomfortable areas that inevitably could save their own students from heading down my visual river of destruction.

Music – Why emotions (and risks) are okay in lessons.

music1I always considered myself to be a music guru of sorts. I was the kid that had the walkman (click on the word if you are out of touch with this ancient technology) and made mixed tapes for everyone I knew. I cried the day they took Much Music away from local cable in Edam and gave us French Much Music and VH 1…why do you ask? I honestly found that music and the culture surrounding music was my outlet to the world. It allowed me to deal with emotions and changes in my life as a teenager that were overwhelming. I dare to say, I was probably not alone here and that students today still use music to overcome struggles in their lives.

One of the greatest memories I have from school, was with my Art and Social Studies teacher, Ms. Formanek. She took the time to really explore music in class and dive into the deeper meaning of the songs we would explore. We explored the lyrics and the history within many of the songs that were from previous generations and even our own generation’s music. It allowed us to unlock a piece of the world that was previously unknown to many of us. I honestly believe she is the reason why I can really understand the poetry and many of the pieces of writing that I give my own students today.

Kumashiro speaks to the importance of being able to explore those music3emotional realms with students, while taking risks. Going back to the previous blog post I wrote about queering the classroom, Kumashiro definitely aligns his thoughts here by discussing this. He encourages teachers to take the risks and without saying it, queer the boundaries of status quo, by allowing students to be emotional in the classroom.

In class, it was a risk in itself to start speaking about music lyrics. Poor Jaela was upset by being told what the song and story of her beloved “Puff The Magic Dragon” were about. I too, share a few songs that I was sure others in the class had no idea what the artists were singing about.

This takes me to my classroom, where music is  a huge part of our learning. Everyday my students share their musical worlds with me. It is a music2huge risk to have students introduce this part of their lives in the classroom. My students, in particular, listen to some really heavy music that involves sexualization of women, drugs and alcohol abuse and several
other themes that are definitely not appropriate. While other teachers would shy away from exploring these lyrics, I love to dive into them. There are uncomfortable moments while looking at lyrics and a struggle that is brought forward with retorts from my students like, “You really want to listen to my gangster music?” and “You don’t understand why I like this song, you just hear the swearing”.

There are many teachable moments within looking at many of the songs that my students listen to. The two themes above are great topics to bring forward to students and, in fact, would make great lessons in a health or social studies class.  Asking questions like, “Is it okay to go up to a women and speak to her like that?” and “Would you go to a job interview and sing these lyrics to your future boss?” Most of my students are completely caught off guard and have “AHA!” moments when looking at their music. As for the students who think I only hear the swearing, they don’t realize that while they are explaining and defending their choice of music taste, they are developing very important skills. Debate, insight and opinion. The skills that many of my students struggle to truly work on.

I presented an award to a graduate last year for technology innovation. When I did the opening speech to presenting it to the individual, I remarked how this student changed their thinking about music, because of the radio. A huge smile lit up on the student’s face – it hit me right there, a connection had been made. That student would remember those doors that were opened for him. The questions he was challenged with and it would continue to be a lifelong learning path in his life. The risk with that student, was very clear and precise about why it was worth it. For many of our students, we might not ever find out whether it was, but know that you are making an impact by challenging students in an emotional way.

So, when going back to thinking about what my former teacher had created for me, I want to thank her. She opened up my mind and allowed me to develop my emotional insight and upon taking those risks, made me a stronger learner. I hope that within my own classroom, I continue to always do the same.music4

Language and Culture – Why you shouldn’t teach about difference;

language barrier 1When thinking back on my old french classes, there is not much I can remember. I honestly have no connection to the history of the language or what is appropriate at all. I took French classes for at least 10 years. It wasn’t that I had a bad instructor, I literally just had no way to connection my world to that of a French background. There was no use for practice.

Today, as an educator, I am learning the Cree language and there is a difference, I am learning about the culture before learning about the language and it is sticking. I am learning about context of culture and not just memorizing the words. When asking about meaning, I can look at the history of the root words for the culture and the connections make more sense.

When reading chapter 9 in Kumashiro’s Against Common Sense,  he speaks about not teaching difference. I really liked language barrier 2
this perspective. It makes sense to me as someone who has been through two different styles of language learning. When he speaks about Nepal, it reminds me about my home economics class when we had to cook international food. Our instructor spoke to us about how different the countries were. We never looked at our culture in comparison for similarities. That act proved to be a stigma against everything that each of us could have to make connections with the countries that we were researching. As Kumashiro pointed out, those very differences helped mold the typical stereotypes that are formed when looking at difference.

The second problem with this, that Kumashiro suggests is the idea of “Other”. When “Othering” foreign groups, it creates that idea of different that we are one way ( most likely superior) and the other group is exotic and different, but often inferior. Our way of doing things is seen as normal and all other groups we learn about are “not normal”.  I particularly believe the example given by Kumashiro about asking, “Have you eaten?” vs. “How are you?” with Nepali culture, was an interesting example about how we could be ignorant and derive stereotypes about the people due to poverty that changes culture.

language barrier 3Another example that I recall from my own education was the making of bannock in grade 1. There was no context to it,
other than, First Nations people eat bannock. So as I carried forth in my life, I most likely would assume that all First Nations people would eat bannock and that was part of who they were. Small differences like this
really do come out as students are older. Last year, my students and I went to a play about Residential Schools. If students were not spoken to about Residential Schools, this sad event in time, could be seen as a stereotypical piece of First Nation’s culture. Involving both First Nations and Non-First Nations students together for this experience was key to the success about learning how we all make up a part of our own histories, regardless of our cultural background. No culture is above or below the other.

Overall, teachers should take the time to find comparison with culture and really point out that what similarities our languages have. That involving culture as part of language development is important for connections for students. They will find more meaning, success and have overall retention of that language, the more they connect it to their own world.

Disposable Kids – why is this happening?

struggling kids 1It is often not all too uncommon in my school to have a few students register at the beginning of the year that never return. They come for a few days, you greet them, you try your best to have them stay here, but they inevitably leave school never to be heard from again.  How many teachers often ponder what happens to these students? Do we even lose sleep over these kids? I know that most of us are stuck in the on-going train of thought that the student is probably at another school. Some even say, “Well, if they don’t want to be here, I can’t force them”    When we say that – do we reflect on the fact that the moment they walk in and out of the door we are setting them up for failure? If a student is not learning the way, WE, think they should….is that their fault?studentsuccess

In an ever changing educational world where we are often having several things being thrown at us as teachers, imagine the position of a student that has to be in a classroom, with that teacher, learning. We are stressed out and more often than not that stress passes on to our students. So are teachers to blame here, admin, curriculum developers, parents or even the students themselves? I think we have to step outside of the battle of dealing with world change and find our focus and bring the issues to the table of everyone. There is no blame here. Our focus needs to go back to the student.

Not fitting the mold.

Looking at education and how it is structured in our province, as much as we differentiate, something still isn’t sitting right with me. Look at these situations for instance.


  • kids who don’t learn academically – needing hands on learning
  • Kids that can’t handle desks – needing standing desks or laying down
  • Kids that need more supports than what schools can offer (ie. Mental Health and Addictions)

Now, don’t take this the wrong way and think we need to start creating jungle gyms of learning to meet all students needs. Yes, there has to be structure, but the time to look at those students who need those three areas needs to be looked at more closer. Specifically let’s address the last issue. We could have counselors in every classroom and one attached to each student. That would be great, but unfortunately, that is not reality.  The reality is, a student comes to school with an addiction problem and usually is sent home. Why do we send these students home instead of trying to get them help? If they have no one at home to help them…sending them away from the one support to help them stay in the classroom should be our goal right?

mental health

Having those conversations and taking those risks is a tough path to go down. Especially when we have parents that might lash back when a student with addictions problems is kept in the classroom.

Another example is my own school. We do not have a shop or home economics lab. In fact, we don’t even offer those classes. We have a science lab that is very disorganized and rarely used. What is the problem here? Teachers are not taking the risks to carry out the lessons that need that extra attention. Those lessons that will engage students. if you don’t have a shop or home economics lab – what can you do? If the science lab is there – why are the teachers not using it? Here, a few students are falling through the cracks because we are failing to provide them with the lessons they need and the hands-on learning that they want. How can we encourage students to go into the trades instead of being focused on a university track…if we never even introduce that world to them? Why do university destined students have to be our focus?

Why should I have to change my classroom for 1 student?

I challenge the teachers that believe this. Maybe, just maybe, changing your classroom for that one student, would allow the other students to grow and thrive beyond your wildest dreams. Creating a positive classroom where ALL students have a voice and they feel respected in their learning seems like the right thing to do. Encouraging your students to realize that they need to make all their classmates feel like they belong and are important, regardless of whether they can write the essay or complete all the math problems. The reality is, that end academic goal is not for everyone and our teaching environments need to exercise that.  A student should never, ever feel as though they are “not worth our time” or “will never go anywhere in life” because they didn’t get all their questions right or their assignments all handed in. Surely, if those assignments are not coming in – you should be asking a student, why? Maybe they can’t understand you or the work looks like a huge mountain they will never be able to climb. Teachers, we need to be the rope, the person who creates hills for students in place of mountains. neverhappen

The student is gone – how do I get them back?

There is nothing wrong with admitting to your students, that you need their help. There is nothing wrong with being part of their community. Interestingly enough, many teachers never take the time to truly see a student’s world. If they are not at school – why not stop by their house and ask them why? Don’t just phone their parents, parents most likely will do anything to get you to never call back. Go to the student. Their future is the one that you are worried about – but make the parents realize that you should be a team.

I recently had a student come back to my class. He tried to be brave, but I knew he was scared. Instead of getting after him for being gone from school for over a month, I greeted him with a smile and said, “Hey, we missed you! Are you ready to pick up where you left off?”  There was no lecture. I further went on to model to my other students the idea of a positive community by saying, “Hey everyone, look who is back, say hi! If any of you can help them get back on track, please let him know.” Two of my students got up and shook his hand and one said, “Hey, you got this man, I will help you!”

That made me smile. That student is going to make it, I just have to make sure I give him my best.

Reading Suggestion:

disposable kids

Queering the classroom- a reflection on activism

I always thought of myself as an activist for change. I like to see human beings in general challenge the status quo and make sure that we don’t fall into uncreative lulls and norms that are unhealthy not only for the classroom, but society in general. Upon reading Kumashiro’s chapter 5 from “Against Common Sense” it was interesting to to reflect on the word ‘queer’. I found myself thinking about what I defined queer as in my head and what the chapter was saying about it. I fell into the normality trap of assuming it led to a group of people that were not normal. So when exploring how Kumashiro approached this word, my mindset on this word has shifted.queer-theory-3-638

Where do most people hear or see this word?

Queer was more often than not seen as an offensive word towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. Upon speaking about this in class, my classmate Cole even remarked that his students saw this words as a “bad word” or “dirty word” because of their perspective they were brought up with.

So we took some time to deconstruct this word and the meaning behind it and how it developed into a word that makes some people uncomfortable.

I related the word queer to people that are trying to do something different. Whether it is in education or just society in general. You are looking at something normal and challenging it. I spoke about how sometimes queering an area can be “trending”. I connected it to the idea that there are studies now that Elderly people who have young kids among them do well and the young students learn better. This is something that has been practiced within the circles of First Nations culture for years, but because it was probably seen as a queer thing to Western society, it only became normal when a dominant group said it was okay.

So does that make me queer for wanting to learn about First Nations culture? For stepping outside the boundaries of our Westernized Educational system? Most would think no. I teach First Nations students, so it simply makes sense, right? However, if my classmates who teach predominantly white classrooms fall back on this type of cultural teaching, are they seen as queering their classroom?

It is interesting if you break it down even more. I think about the current trend in schools to participate in something like “We Day”. Does something like We Day queer our classroom as well by challenging students to get involved with volunteering? My critique on this is pretty simple. When did it become, “not normal” to volunteer and engage ourselves in humanity? Am I being an oppressive teacher by promoting activism in our global society and promoting citizenship?

I also think back to hearing a story from a colleague about a teacher who bragged about their perfect binders and lessons and how they had the best classroom. If that person is never changing what is happening in their classroom, does the teacher, who might be next door, who varies their lessons and is constantly adapting get the title of queering the classroom?

My thoughts I suppose are, when does the word queer end in definition? Do we tag it to EVERYTHING that is against the norm? Also, why does it have to be seen as a bad word? I think the word queer should start to be a word of change and creativity. Yes, people often relate it to sexuality, but I don’t believe it has to stop there as express in Chapter 5. Teachers should be looking to life long learning. Students should be seeing teachers as role models for learning and change. Being part of our society and helping others within it should become normal. Queer could be a dirty word when it means that the challenge against status quo ends up being something evil, not towards the good. When activism is not leading towards something positive, we have to be careful. Our end goal is to strive towards anti-oppression, we have to make sure that the definitions we are creating are not taking away from those that are already striving to not be oppressed. queer3

Let’s redefine the word queer, so that LGBT students in our classrooms can feel as if they belong on a normal level and begin to look at those not being queer as the individuals that might have to change for the better of our society.

My Story – A Teacher Narrative

For my current graduate studies class – we were asked to write or create our teacher narrative. I am not going to speak too much about it, as the video will do much of that. I do want to point out that the words, pictures and music all speak to parts of me and my development into my current teacher practices. This was an emotional task for me as I had to dive into some of those troubling areas of my past, but here is a piece of me.