Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Sometimes, I am almost brought to tears in my class. Thursday morning was one of those times. Sophie and I team-teach a split class, and lately, the attendance has become abysmal, especially in the morning. On this particular day, I had 3 students out of seven in my half of the class. They were all late. Sophie had one, who had been on time, but hadn't slept a wink the night before, and thus collapsed on his desk at the stroke of nine.

My students were groggy too. Too groggy to learn about linear relations and proportions. As two of the students slept, the third was hard at work, trying to differentiate between a partial variation and proportional relation. It is a simple matter of finding patterns and analyzing them. For instance, we had a table that looked like this:

x y
1 2
2 4
3 6
4 a
5 10

The student had to figure out 1) what a is, and 2) if the ratio of variations was proportional.
I asked her to complete the table.

"I can't," she said.

"Think about it this way," I replied, "Just tell me what comes next. 2, 4, 6..."



"Nine!" She was just guessing. She may as well have said 1000.


She began to laugh. I wanted to cry. "At least she's got a sense of humour about it," I thought to myself. I looked at the other kids who had made it to class and realised that they were completely disinterested. More than half of them hadn't even bothered to show up.

It began to sink in. I was teaching to the weakest student in the class. It's not her fault at all. She has bounced around from school to school, some in much worse shape than ours, and so she has big holes in her education. However, I began to realise that perhaps my unwillingness to leave this student behind may have been one reason the other kids were completely not engaged in the class. Were they all thinking, "Can we please get on with this shit?"

One of the Inuttitut words that every teacher in Nunavik (I assume) has heard a multitude of times is iqiana. It means, for lack of a better explanation, boring. I think it can be literally translated as "it makes me sleep", but I could be wrong. Students use it for myriad reasons. It means "too hard" or "too easy" or "I'm tired" or "help" and occasionally, it even means "boring". Although you could have heard a pin drop in my class, the word rang clearly in my head. My students were all saying "iqiana".

It seems to me to be a catch 22. This is the only student who comes everyday and tries to do all of her work. Others sort of traipse in when they want to and leave at their leisure, gracing us ever so often with their presence and, here's the problem, still passing! Because I was moving so slowly, they could get by, some of them with really decent grades, by showing up a couple of times a week.

It leaves me in somewhat of a conundrum. I can continue as is, and risk losing the students who are capable of doing well in the class, while concentrating my efforts on a student who is as unlikely to pass the class as she is hard-working and well-intentioned. Or, I could push the others in hopes that they respond well to the challenge.

I think under most circumstances, this is a slam-dunk. Go after the rest of the class, and differentiate for the one who is slow. Here, however, differentiating a class is sure to obliterate what is left of students' already depressingly low levels of self-esteem. Moreover, I don't know if I have just become jaded, but I harbour some doubt as to whether the rest of the kids will be up to the challenge.

That's one thing about teachers. For all of our supposed altruism, we're often very self-centred. Chances are, I'm probably not that big of a factor in my students' attendance. Indeed, several of these students are repeating this class precisely because they didn't attend when another teacher taught the class. Although this may allow me to escape some of the blame for my students' boredom, it raises much larger questions about what teachers and Faculties and Ministries of Education are doing more generally. After all, it's not just my class that is half-full of sleeping students. Then again, my class is half-full of sleeping students. I digress.

After Christmas, I'm going to try to push them. Maybe the students will surprise me and start to come back. Perhaps the one who comes will find herself capable of keeping up. I hope so.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Making up for the past few weeks

Sorry about the sound quality.

This has been his favourite thing to do for more than a month. He'll drag a chair from the dining room, and sometimes even bring a preferred dish or two to wash. We've been letting him do it, and basically everything else he wants, except play with the oven and stove. Normally, we let him play with the microwave after unplugging it. Last week, I was doing dishes, and Noah began dragging a chair over to the kitchen. I thought little of it. He stopped at the microwave. I didn't really give it a second thought. I heard him playing with the buttons, and slowly but surely, the wheels began to turn in my head. Before I was able to make it over to the microwave, Noah had indeed figured out precisely how to use it. I got there one second too late; one second after the light and familiar hum of the fan had come on; one second after he microwaved the telephone.

In case you were wondering, it only takes one second to cook a cordless phone.