Monday, June 30, 2014

network breakdown

I saw this teacher/zombie meme on twitter today... perhaps referring to the emotional stone faced by educators in BC right now, or maybe a reference to the Zombie Summer School that the BC government deems an "essential service." This stirs up some thoughts about how educator networks are under strain.

Last night I attended a meeting for the my local teacher union and was struck by a few things that the teachers there seemed to have in common: 1) continued anxiety over the unresolved labour situation in BC Schools. 2) humour, creativity, and hope as we discussed what job action, if any, would be useful and necessary in summer. 3) the need to get some closure on the school year, to put things in perspective, and reserve some energy for the other good things in life that aren't locked out or on strike.

After, I had a short online chat with a Ft. St. James colleague Kelley Inden who had many of the same thoughts. She is a remarkable teacher and storyteller, with obvious commitment to her students. She is also one of many teachers who closely examined BC's new Education Plan, got past the rhetoric, ignored the parts that had a political agenda, and found areas that resonated with her own practice. For example, her efforts to transform assessment and nudge all students to think critically show a willingness to experiment and cast off old practices when they no longer make sense.

Much of the work of teachers is connected by the networks they share. Some are face-to-face, like the union executive meeting I attended, and others are online, like the circle of educators that folks like Kelley and I have happened across via twitter in the last couple of years. These groups don't have to be close, we don't even have to like each other, but we keep gnawing away at what drives our teaching and what inspires learning. Real community (like family) is something different, and can survive hardships like labour strife, but networks are engineered entities and relationships built on function are are highly susceptible to redesign, for better or worse.

This lockout/strike/negotiation has been hard on networks. We say things we probably shouldn't, we second-guess our efforts, we deal mostly in anger over an intransigent contract-stripping government and sometimes the direction our union takes, or individual members therein. Anti-teacher trolls step up their efforts to equate the bctf with communism, teacher trolls flame the media for not being compeltely sympathetic to our cause, and a variety of other kooks come out of the weeds to embarrass us in other ways. Our government employer and education minister make statements in the media that wouldn't stand up to a modicum of fact-checking, district administrators seem content to carry out the government's directives without protest, and school board trustees seem confined to writing letters and offering condolences via social media. No doubt in the midst of this some strategies are working (for both "sides") but it will be a pyrrhic victory regardless of the outcome -- the educational landscape is currently being scorched, most visibly in the way we treat each other.

Longer term, we worry about how the widening gulf between teachers and all arms of the provincial government will play out vis-a-vis education reform. If anyone had any doubts about embedded cost-offloading, privatization, and de-professionalization of teachers in the BC EdPlan, they've found plenty more evidence in the last few weeks. One example is the government's use of the curriculum-focused @bcedplan twitter feed to broadcast bargaining messages from the employer with "funny" math about teacher wages. Other moves, like the bizarre lockout, the dumbing down of "essential" exams, and the summer school directive that actually excluded all (living) students in BC, have further alienated future efforts to build common language and actions for education reform. These moves have also shown that the government is more interested in punishing the teacher union than it is in a settlement. The middlemen in this battle, school administrators, have been hosed from either side... set up for failure by district admin and the BCPSEA in regards to the lockout, marks, summer school, and picket lines, and then vilified by teachers for being virtually silent on any of the education and funding issues facing our education system.

In short, the bad relationship in BC Education has gotten worse, and it happens at time when progressive educators -- teachers, principals, and others -- were making some progress towards understanding where our education system might go in the coming years. I've noticed this breakdown most in the conversations I've had with educators about their networks -- teacher in-fighting over labour tactics and actions past/present/future, administrators collectively embarrassed about what they've been asked to do, endless twitter battles between groups that are not going to shift their position, and growing anxiety about what next year will look like after present charring of the educational landscape.

Hope, resilience, and humour, however, are never in short supply, so I'm of a mind that "this, too, shall pass." I do share Kelley Inden's concern, however, that picking up the pieces next year will be challenging, regardless of the eventual contract settlement. Personally, it has strengthened my resolve to build more self-reliance as a teacher (which means shutting out some of the crap that comes from colleagues, school, districts, and province), and also to foster more interdependence through the networks that re-emerge from this present strife. Having broken down to some extent, educator networks will necessarily go through a period of renewal next year as people come to terms with what they've said and done and reposition themselves with others who offer good dialogue, support for fresh thinking, and continued efforts to make teaching and learning joyful and rewarding.

Failing that, there is an awesome two months of summer ahead and I plan on avoiding zombies while camping, teaching my son how to fish, keeping up with my daughter in the pool, and coaxing my wife to stop fretting so much.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Morbid Summer School Ruling by LRB

The British Columbia Government and BC Teachers Federation are in the midst of a labour dispute that is trying to unpack 12 years of cuts and contract strips related to class size and compensation, an impasse on compensation, and resulting actions from both sides including a gov't lockout and a teacher strike. The latest issue is whether Summer School should continue.

I've just read the recent ruling by the deciding body, the Labour Relations Board (LRB), on whether Summer School is in fact an Essential Service in BC. Take a quick look at this short summary from the Langley Teacher's Association and the actual interim ruling, especially 2.a.1:

The interim ruling says that Summer School must be offered, and run by administration if possible, but only applies to Gr. 10-12 students who have failed a required course and can't take it again in the following year. Unfortunately, that pretty much excludes all (living) students in BC.

Given that any student can return to school, even after Grade 12, and that every district offers required courses in every school year (either at a local school or through a Distributed Learning Centre), the only students to whom this applies are ones who will not be alive in the following school year or plan on being physically or mentally incapacitated between the end of summer school and the beginning of the next school year. I suppose it would also apply to students who plan on being out of the province for the entire year without access to the internet for an online version of a required course, or can't receive mail from one of our regional correspondence centres. So, dead, incapacitated, or missing -- truly a morbid set of criteria to lay on students.

I sure hope the interim in their interim ruling means "we'll throw this out there for starters and see what happens next." The imprecise language might cut it for a hasty press release or impromptu media interview, but not a legal ruling that needs to hold up to precise, literal application. This reminds me of how Government negotiator Peter Cameron described the bizarre and contradictory lockout notice for teachers as a "living document" -- subject to interpretation and changing emphasis on a daily basis. This was the lockout notice that both banned and encouraged voluntary duties, and was used to justify taking 10% off of teachers' wages. That is, until they brought it to the LRB where the employer argued that it's own lockout didn't justify the 10% deduction, it was the services withdrawn by teachers. These services amount to less than 2% of our paid time at work.

Way to go LRB, Minister Fassbender, Mr. Cameron, and the BCPSEA team. You've taken a silly notion -- that Summer School is somehow an Essential Service in BC -- and managed to make a macabre joke out of it. I guess there is a logic to it... "Essential Services" usually refer to life-and-death duties in society. Apparently Summer School is a life-or-death decision for students -- if they attend, it means that something unfortunate will happen to them before the new school year starts that would prevent them from taking courses. If you follow the LRB logic, that is. Maybe this is an end-run around the "optics" of who is responsible for the inevitable cancellation of summer school in most districts -- it is no longer essential or necessary to operate if the rules exclude virtually every student in the province.  With a number of logic-defying restrictions in the order, it will be impossible for school districts to pull it off, and thus they can cancel summer school and avoid the head-ache. Beyond that, I can't imagine why the LRB would goof up on their wording on such a basic point -- an essential service designed for no one in particular, at least no one who will be alive enough to attend in September.

Next up: the LRB will no doubt rule on students who are both dead and plan on returning -- Zombie Summer School (thanks @_MrsBarb for the idea). Between the "living document" lockout that was not a lockout, the dumbed down exams that were still somehow essential, and now the "Fawlty Wording" that excludes virtually every student in BC from Essential Summer School (the "undead document?"), it's hard to see where the LRB ends off and Monty Python begins.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I'd Rather be Teaching - Guest Post

Guest post by Judy Addie, a long-serving teacher who "most recently" has been at D.P. Todd Secondary for almost 37 years. She teaches Alternate Education and has been instrumental in the success of "school-based teams" (collaborative problem-solving for at-risk students) in School District 57 Prince George. More importantly, she has been a caring adult for hundreds of lost souls and troubled youth, guiding them to firmer ground (academically and emotionally) by providing attachment and safety when these students had few other options. 

This letter was written in during the longest teacher strike in Canadian history, a situation brought on, in part, by the violation of Charter Rights by the Government of BC.  

Thanks, Judy, for sharing your open letter to trustees with others in British Columbia. Also, good luck on your retirement from all the staff at D.P. Todd. Your wise counsel & sense of humour will be missed!
Dear Trustees, 

I am a teacher in School District No. 57 ( Prince George) and I'd rather be teaching today and everyday until the end of this school year. I hope that you can use your influence to bring a negotiated settlement and a fair deal for students and for teachers.

After 45 years of teaching, I will retire on June 30, 2014. I have seen many changes over the years, but the last few have resulted in drastic effects for my students. I teach students who are at risk not only academically, but because of other factors in their lives. Some are affected by mental health issues, some are affected by drug and alcohol issues, and many are affected by poverty. I have one student, a teenaged boy, who boils water so that he can bathe because the gas has been cut off in his home. I have another student who comes to school just to eat the breakfast and lunch that we provide because those are the only meals he gets. I have students whose mental health issues are so severe that they only attend one class per day.They arrive and leave when the halls are clear due to anxiety issues. I have students with behavioural issues who need time away from class to cool down. I have students who have severe learning disabilities who do not receive extra help except for the bit of one on one help that I can provide as I am moving about the class. These students need counsellors, learning assistance teachers, youth care workers and educational assistants to help them get through their day.

Some might think that the end of the year is not a busy time for high school teachers. There is so much I still have left to do before my retirement. In addition to the usual year end activities, I need time to write notes to the students' teachers next year. I need to meet with the new teachers who will be replacing me. I need to tell them about the program and the 19 different courses that are available in Alternate Ed. I need to tell them about each individual student and their strengths and their challenges.

There are only 5 more days in my career, and………. I'd rather be teaching.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Upsurge in Anxiety - Guest Post

Guest Post by Dave Harper, a Humanities, French and Music teacher at Southgate Middle School in Campbell River, BC. He is also plays the banjo, guitar, and harmonica and shares his love of Bluegrass with students. Thanks, Dave for sharing your thoughts.

My experiences as a middle school teacher lead me to share much of Glen Thielmann's thinking. I honestly feel that what he has written in his blog is the outline for a book about the contemporary middle school / senior secondary and how life within it and its social media and hallway nexus plays out on a 24/7 basis for our students as part of the upsurge in anxiety in students.

At the root of it all I see the Neufeld / Mate theories of attachment playing out in real time every day. Only five years ago it was rare to have students arrive at class as anxiety-ridden wrecks saying that they can't attend that block and just leave (often with a friend escorting them who is going to assist in their "decompression") . Usually I discover quickly it is the result of a social media driven interaction that has just occurred or has been "building" over the course of the day. This is now a thrice weekly occurrence at a minimum.

Note that I generally agree to let the other student go with the student in the midst of the anxiety attack because there is no counsellor available and I have 28 to 30 other kids who are expecting me to teach the class. Only five years ago my middle school had two full-time counsellors. The extrapolation to what is playing out on the sidewalks in front of schools around the province is a bit of QED.

Interestingly I notice the greatest degree of inner calm in those students who either do not have or whose parents do not allow devices to be brought to school.

The link to the then-Minister Abbot-era drive for BYOD ( bring your own device ) and the increase in student anxiety is very clear in my mind. We cannot say no to the devices being at school now. Most / certainly many elementary schools try not to allow them. I notice that the majority of elite prep schools are explicit that personal devices are to be left in lockers or will be taken away. I don't know if that is an "all talk" but without follow up policy that looks very different in practice than on paper. I feel it is the correct policy but we are unable to have such a policy at public middle and secondary schools.

As the parent of a seven-year old boy I have already decided that my son will not be allowed to have a device at school when he gets older. The boys in my classes without devices are generally more focussed, involved in less social conflict, and involved in sports and real social interaction. The shockingly few girls without devices at school also tend to be calm social leaders who are involved in leadership activities and have "balanced" lives.

Are they calmer because they don't have devices or are they calmer by nature and therefore they don't feel the need to bring a device? Chicken and egg, perhaps.

I think I may ask Glen if he wants to collaborate on a book! Typing these thoughts has got me thinking that there is something deeper going on here with which our schools are ill-equipped to cope. Feel free to ask me any follow up questions if my thoughts are not clear to you.

student anxiety

Every now and then I start writing a tweet and try to jam a blog post into 140 characters... the solution, of course, is to write a blog post!

I have been teaching for 19 years and over the last dozen or so I have noticed an interesting trend in my students:  an increase in student anxiety. I am hard-pressed to come up with a single reason why this is the case, nor have I made an effort to quantify or document this trend in any formal way. I am also at a loss to say whether what I'm seeing are anxiety-like symptoms or actual disorders that have been diagnosed (or should be diagnosed). I'm no expert on the subject although I know firsthand what anxiety does to someone because my wife suffers from anxiety -- it was her suggestion to include that! That leaves me with some observations and opinions. The reader may notice that I don't offer many solutions to the anxiety factors I list below. Maybe I can follow up with what I've tried over the years, or what my school does to address mental health, but for a thoughtful read on how student "weaknesses" are often an invitation for educators to develop empathy, focus on strengths, and work through the anxiety, try some of the blog posts tagged "relationships" on Chris Wejr's site. Here's what I've seen as the basis of growing "general" anxiety among my Grade 9-12 students in a public high school in Prince George, BC:
  • ACCEPTANCE. More openness in talking/dealing with mental health in recent years has allowed students to "come out" with their issues and seek help -- "anxiety" as a condition (for better or worse) has less stigma and is even seen as a normal part of many students lives. Anxiety was a hidden condition 15 years ago, and is now part of the parlance of classrooms and staffrooms. In the past, students "put up or shut up" about OCD, anxiety attacks, and much of the fear that comes with anxiety, in part because these issues were poorly understood by the adults in their life, and in part because that's what one did; even before social media altered our external selves we have become a society accustomed to letting our problems spill out in our public persona --in many ways this has been a good thing, a necessary step in establishing LGBTQ rights for example. My school recently had an awesome assembly from a group talking about schizophrenia among other things -- both the presentation and message were well received. 15 years ago, this presentation would not have taken place. Having close family members and many friends who deal with mental health issues, I am glad it's out in the open.
  • SCRUTINY. When I first started teaching, I almost never heard from counsellors or got a run-down on the emotional needs of my students; now, I regularly have counsellors drop by (usually at the beginning of a course) and let me know that so-and-so has anxiety, needs to take breaks, needs a special place to write tests, needs to be allowed to come late and leave early to avoid hallway scenes, needs to be excused from answering questions out loud, etc. -- I think all three of the above points are at play here, plus new diagnostic categories and sensitivity from educators. Anxiety has nuance (expressed in so many ways) and can be paired with other like depression, eating disorders, and so on. Our school system and medical spectrum professions (i.e. including psychologists) have more ways to label and treat mental health issues than ever before.
  • REDIRECTION. Over-diagnosis and over-medication (or self-medication) for anxiety leads many needy teens to grab on to anxiety as a "cover" for the normal angst and hormone-driven craziness of growing up -- it is a reasonably acceptable mental health category which some students find useful as a coping mechanism for diverse teenage problems. Of course their are also many students for who the designation absolutely fits (whether or not they have received help), but there are many more for whom the anxiety is a normal response to what is going on their lives and would go away if they could deal with or get help with the surrounding triggers (such as the other points mentioned here)
  • ROLES. Parenting has shifted, in some ways for the better (again, another blog post), but in other ways towards indulgence, neglect (hands-off or absentee parenting), entitlement, and trading a loving parent-child relationship for some kinds of zero-judgement friendship with their kids. What did Phil Dunphy call it on Modern Family... peerenting? Kids are protected from failure and given smaller and smaller opportunities for self-reliance. I don't get a lot of phone calls from parents but I have noticed more parents that advocate for their children for exempting any kind of consequence for skipped classes, missing work, poor assessments, etc. This is not new, but the scale is ridiculous -- having parents who write a blanket notes excusing all 30 absences is certainly their prerogative, but it is not helping the student any. Both parents and teacher alike are powerful models for kids, even when it doesn't seem like it, and students see more and more modelling of anxiety-causing behaviour in their parents and teachers than in the past. Maybe the adults don't hide it as well as they used to, or maybe our whole society has developed more neuroses.
  • ATTACHMENT. Genuine loving attachment and self-regulation are often lacking -- my students appear to raised by their peers and are missing quality connections to caring adults. It is a gap that many teachers are aware of and try their damnedest to fill, but the need is growing, especially in a city and school like mine with increasingly vulnerable and at-risk students. Gordon Neufeld, Gabor Mate, Stuart Shanker, and others have written about this extensively and found a large audience among educators, so I don't think I need to elaborate
  • STANDARDS. Our education system through its administrators and teachers has gone away from many of the penalties associated with poor attendance and lack of success that have characterized schools for generations. Lates, skipping, incomplete complete work, even drug offences are seen as "related to background problems" and result in more conversation that consequence. I think this is because our system has misinterpreted or misapplied much of the popular literature about punishment and rewards (not to mention assessment), but on that topic I'll again steer the reader to Chris Wejr's posts about penalties to see how this trend can be redeemed. Meanwhile, I have noticed an entire generation that does not take their elders seriously and as result misses out on much of the guidance that might have actually dealt with the anxiety before it claimed their being.
  • TECHNOLOGY. Digital communication, in particular interactive social networking, has created layers of identity-forming possibilities with which the human brain has not yet caught up -- the kinds of interactions student build online are not foreign to the human experience (gossip, flirting, and hazing go back to the Stone Age), but now they are in high-speed, recorded for posterity, and include images. I read an article recently about how teens get anxious about casual prom pics and selfies because they know every image will be used across multiple social media sites to "frame" the individual and narrate the event -- this is "identity work" in real time.  I read this article, too, which had a similar theme. Many "connected educators" (e.g. @technolandy and @gcouros) would counter the idea that technology itself is the problem, and that mobile technology and social media can be the basis of incredible discovery, awareness, and even help for mental health disorders. I would not disagree, but I've observed that technology is never one thing, it is not a passive tool. At the same time as personal devices are powerful conduits for learning, they are also used to tune out, get sucked in to mind-draining drama, and provide markets for an endless bombardment of commercial and social propaganda. As one person put it, we make our 16-yr-old kids go through multiple stages of preparation before we let them drive a 4000 pound car, but we routinely hand over to even younger children the most powerful communication device in human history with almost no training. Technology is by no means neutral -- it does some cool stuff (for this reason I have been quite active in pushing transformative uses of technology), but it also routinely facilitates enormous damage to the lives of kids.
  • SILENCE. The technical demands of social media alone are cause for anxiety... many students feel an obligation to keep up with dozens of conversations each day across multiple apps and platforms ranging from the facile to the thought-provoking and always with an emotional undercurrent and a constant need to maintain multiple personas (establishing oneself in a certain way, building a personal brand that is popular, funny, edgy, juicy, alluring, etc.); however, many of my students have lost the tech skills that students had even 7 years ago -- they are less tech savvy (because new tech is so easy to use and one never has to "break open the box") and yet there is an expectation (i.e. from teachers) that they be tech experts in order to live their lives online. The time involved in playing with tech and maintaining online "relationships" (not to mention all the nifty games!) is overwhelming for my students -- it has replaced TV, play, staring and thinking, and everything else that used to engage the senses and move the body. For many of my students (and colleagues, and myself at times) addictive technology has filled every uncommitted minute of the day and thus fills that part of our brain that evolved to make better use of silence and slow bits in the day... the contemplative life.
  • DISCONNECT. Students with an intense social media life have isolated and , ironically as they are also hyper-connected and superficially engaged with others -- many of my students lack the social skills to carry on sustained face-to-face conversations with peers or adults, and fall back to their phones as a security blanket; more seriously, many students are engaged in a constant battle to reclaim their self in a digital swirl of peer pressure and sometimes bullying... the close scrutiny and intense pressure to look a certain way is more than many kids can handle and yet they come back to it day after day.  It is not a coincidence that my most anxious students, or at least the ones that aren't dealing with it, the ones that leave the room in tears or are involved in non-stop drama, are also the ones who are glued to their phones and become upset by the minute details of other people's problems. Twitter was bad enough, but Snapchat and other means of getting up in someone's space have amplified anxiety triggers and created a 24-hour arena in which anxious banter opens surface wounds or bandages them up without ever really getting to the heart of the problem. Every now and then I poll students about their device usage... most go to sleep with their phones and most of those leave notifications on.
  • PORN. Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, actually. I think the fact that students have instant and intense access to hardcore porn has led to anxiety. Students have messed-up ideas about everything to do with sex and this leads many of them to make some stupid decisions that leave an emotional wreckage behind. In particular, the expectation of how females should service males has created mass confusion for both genders and has set back feminism sharply over the last 10 years. If in doubt, seek out a high school counsellor for a one-on-one conversation to learn how deep this problem goes. Misogynistic music does not help the cause, either. How many thousands of times does a teenage boy need to see or hear that girls are "bitches" or "hoes" before the image sticks? Without getting into #yesallwomen and the roots of misogyny, I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the high school fashion trend of yoga pants and exposing cleavage is not helping boys or girls develop successful relationships. This may seem like a surface issue (pun intended), but is nonetheless a sign that kids have internalized patriarchal expectations of gender and porn-inspired reduction of people in parts, and in my mind it represents a botched job of empowerment. Suffice it to say that schools are more sexually charged for students than they have even been and that all students have unrealistic expectations about what their bodies should look like and what constitutes beauty. This is a huge cause for anxiety, especially among girls. 
  • DOPE. Did I forget about drugs? The ease of access to illicit drugs and the increasing acceptance of marijuana has also done wonders for the teenage brain. Again, this is well documented elsewhere so I won't elaborate. I will add that parent modelling is important when it comes to drugs. Too many of our students who are busted for drugs (and this is different than 15 years ago), do them openly at home with parents dismissing the activity or looking the other way. Call me old-fashioned or living in a bubble, but I still think dope makes kids stupid and is not an acceptable medicinal solution to mental health disorders. I'm not going to vote for Harper or any such insanity, but I have observed the effect of dope on teens for many years and the impact is consistent.
  • PASSIVITY. My students are more docile than ever before, even as I teach more vulnerable, impoverished, and at-risk students. This sounds cynical and contrary to everything you read in the BC Edplan, but most of my students would rather complete a worksheet than jump into an interactive social learning activity or pursue project-based learning. My colleague Rob Lewis explored this in a little more depth. When I first started teaching, I seemed to spend a lot of time on classroom management and dealing with student behaviour. Now, I almost never have to ask a kid to step out into the hall for a conversation. I'd like to think it is because I've become a master teacher but in reality I find that is an increasing challenge it to engage students with shorter attention spans using the same kinds of go-to activities that used to get students thinking and talking. Why are they so quiet, so polite, and so compliant? Perhaps we've beaten the play out of them with a widespread reliance on passive forms of learning and a reliance on instructional technology -- we've constructed a comprehensive and responsive sit-and-listen program for students to follow rather than opening up a space in which a healthy tension exists between what is being taught and what is being learned. What does this have to do with anxiety? It reflects a larger pattern, one in which students have many obligations on their time but are still left alone to be mediocre by their parents, teachers, administrators and society. For most students, this is not a big deal, it gives them the space to follow their own path. but for the students suffering from anxiety, it creates an echo chamber in which they are alone to deal with their problems. Add the social isolation and technology disconnect, and the passive, subdued, and sanitized milieu in which students are dropped is a petri dish for culturing anxiety.
  • POVERTY. A less abstract petri dish are the social and economic conditions in which and an increasing number of my students grow up. Child poverty, single-parent homes, vulnerable neighbourhoods, and the residue of colonialism touch about 1 in 6 of the students in my school, although substantially less in the classes I teach due to the variety of special programs. Poverty translates directly to student stress, anxiety, anti-social behaviour, and depression. Take a look through the work of Edmonton educator Dan Scratch to see the connection and also how social justice can empower impoverished youth to break the cycle. About 4 years ago I facilitated a staff discussion about the changing demographics in our school. We were about to take in two new feeder schools, one of which had a high vulnerability index (we used the neighbourhood data from to anchor our discussion), and also noted that all of our school catchment area was predicted to move further into the vulnerable zone and lower income categories. We ended up with 100 more questions that when we started -- one of the leading concerns was about whether we were equipped to deal with the emotional needs of poor, stressed out, and anxious students.
  • MEDICATION. I wish I understood this better, but I get the sense that quite a few of my students and a fair number of my colleagues are on medication for anxiety, depression, and variety of other mental health conditions. I also get the sense that half of them should not be, I think it masks the tensions that have led to anxiety and prevents them from dealing with the issues. I know too many people on meds, so I'd rather just leave this topic with a reference to some recent reading on how anti-depressants may not be the best treatment. and also how drugs may not be enough.
  • DIET. What students eat, drink, and how much they exercise is also a factor in anxiety.  Although BC schools have tried to promote health food choices and daily physical activity, the battle against obesity and overall health is still uphill.  Lifestyle "choices" (often the choices are limited) among impoverished and vulnerable students are a particular challenge. This is not new science, but I place some of the blame for mental health issues on the shitty high-sugar diets that so common for my students. One could explore lack of sleep as a related factor, although that outcome sits at the intersection of many other factors.
  • PLAY. I think many of my students suffer from "nature-deficit syndrome." This subject is expertly handled by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. The topic of safety overload in playgrounds has also been in the news. Many of my students do not know how to use their own bodies to get stuff done.  I see it clearly on the soccer fields where my 7-yr-old son plays -- the kids actually have to be taught how to "cavort." I have a gym teacher colleague who has observed this with his Grade 8 and 9 P.E. classes -- increasing numbers of students who can't run, jump, throw, catch, or simply "be" in their own bodies. This is another area where educators are paying close attention and I'm quite impressed (though still shocked that it is needed) by all the work with physical literacy not just in Phys Ed but in multi-disciplinary environments. This can't come soon enough -- students who have lost their connection to the real world and miss out on the powerful need for play are placed in the zone of anxiety. Some hold out longer than others, but the effect is cumulative and has the potential to split the mind and body -- a recipe for unease.
  • UNDERFUNDING. To be honest, I didn't see the connection right away, although I'm sure teachers and counsellors who deal directly and expertly with anxiety issues and solutions could expound on this with more evidence. I'm also aware that my secondary academic course load does not qualify me to fully understand what elementary teachers in inner city schools deal with on a daily basis. Anxiety is ripe in many of our classes, and has become a school focus and therefore a funding issue where it was largely swept under the carpet from the perspective of school organization and staff planning. Teachers have always built empathy for students' needs and tried to work towards wholeness, but the scale of the problem in today's classes requires a depth of response that many teachers have a hard time balancing with all the other things happening in their space. Our schools now deal with "services" that used to be performed by solely by parents and also the Health Care sector (including Family Services), and we've done so on reduced budgets and no contributions from the Ministries who let us be their frontline.  It is not by accident that the BCTF finds itself engaging in extensive social justice advocacy -- our schools are ground zero for hunger, depression, diverse health issues, poverty, and anxiety. The job of teaching has changed as a result, as have the composition of school staffs and the roles that other workers in our system play. We've made the leap to providing education to providing a range of social, emotional, economic, and health services alongside education. This is a huge reason why underfunding has come to a head in our schools -- we have been doing more with less for too long.
O.K., I've cranked this out rather quickly and late at night, but I do see a rough pattern or two in the factors leading to student anxiety. If someone else would like to provide a succinct wrap on these patterns, be my guest. I came back a few hours later to add some thoughts and edits, but feel free to message me or tweet about remaining typos, semantic lapses, and simply to dispute or discuss.