Monday, March 23, 2015

First Post-retirement Post

Well, how intriguing.

Quick recap.

I went into this school year last September 2014 with my mind open to the idea of taking an early retirement. The decision was finally made in October to "make it stop" and my last day of teaching was November 30, 2014. I'm now three pension cheques in, and still getting used to the joyous sensation of not having to do anything, literally.

In December I decided to hold the publication of the third issue of Greater Hamilton Musician until the JUNO Awards came to Hamilton in March. Somewhere in December I determined to include a directory and to hold a crowd-funding campaign to solicit listings.

Along the way, my video guy Christoph introduced me to Jeff Boulton, who eventually became my campaign consultant and had a large part to do with the success of the campaign which raised $6025. The month of December was a blur of activity related to re-branding my internet presence, especially getting social media accounts sorted out and connected. We were running around trying to promote the campaign, set up video clips of local musicians, get media coverage. Crazy. Then Christmas vacation hit and everything stopped. Nothing kicked back in until about the third week of January, and then we extended the campaign another week.

When the crowd-fund ended I was thick in the middle of chasing down ad sales, distribution agreements, etc. Then the last week of February was nuts as we finalized all the contents and did our proof-reading, sent off to printer, etc.

4000 magazines in 50 cartons were delivered on the morning of Tuesday March 10.

Two weeks later most of the dust has settled. The JUNOs is over. A few errors in the print version have come to light: 
  1. A missed photo credit for Ross Taylor
  2. An extra photo credit for Suzanne Steenkist
  3. An incorrectly categorized text listing
  4. A wrong ad (last year's version) listed for Cat'N'Fiddle. This was embarrassing for them because it included the name of one of their longstanding musical performers Brian Griffith as appearing every Thursday night. That mistake really sucked.
  5. And one final doozy: an entirely missed ad placement from one of my first customers. He phoned and was angry, "I'm so angry," he said. This incident left me reeling with feelings of failure and insecurity. Plain and simple, this was my human error, despite all of my checking and double-checking! When the call came, I was convinced that I will stop all this nonsense and never pretend to be a magazine publisher again.
With Monday tomorrow, it will be a new time period. With March Break done, JUNOs done, magazine printed and distributed, crowd-fund done, most of the bills paid, there is a new-found sense of freedom. "This is the real retirement commencement" I'm thinking. Where I can get up in the morning and make plans to, say, work in the garden for example.

A couple of observations.

In the weeks before retirement date I was busy trying to capture all my thoughts and feelings about my future. Suddenly it all seems less important. It's like I was crossing a great divide in my life and I didn't want to miss out on my state of mind in the middle of it. Most of those thoughts are in my other blog

Today things are different. As Brenda and I debriefed over my feelings of wanting to quit and my imperfections with the magazine mistakes, she said, "Take a couple of days and get your head together. Decide what you want to happen next."

Friday, May 02, 2014

Maker Spaces Workshot Notes, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

Maker Mindset

  • use what you have
  • process over product
  • work with your hands (tangible creativity)
  • self-directed approaches
  • a reaction against the "mysterious, closed" world of computers
  • it's an effort to get back to creativity on our own terms

Marshmallow Build

Here's what we built

The most successful groups are those who test things out before they build them. Kids are most successful at this. For example, they put the marshmallow on top. If it falls they try something else. Trial and error has its merits!

Planning A Maker Activity

1. The Challenge: Outline the objectives and instructions. Provide the building materials. Students are then able to ask clarifying questions and examine the building materials.

2. Strategy: As facilitator, answer inquiries and suggest approaches. Students then brainstrom solutions and sketch plans/ideas.

3. Build/make: Offer selective guidance. Students build prototypes and experiment with materials.

4. Share: Be sure to set parameters and expectations. Students can document their, or others', solutions (e.g. take photos), explain their stucture and tell stories.

5. Reflect: Post open-ended questions. Students reflect on successes and failures, compare their solutions with those of others, imagine what they might do next time.

Lego: Build And Connect

We built a lego guy on a time limit and number of pieces limit, then we were given a list of topics and we had to make up a story for our object that fit in with a topic we chose from the list. My example? This is a vessel for Deep Sea Fishing.

The Maker's challenge here was to build a structure that would hold the weight of the marshmallow as high as possible. We were given 20 pieces of spaghetti, string, about 1m of tape and a marshmallow. Very interesting.

The key learning benefit of Maker Spaces is that by building something, you have to talk and collaborate. You can learn much from reflecting on what happened. You can tap into student's imaginations, and inspire some new story ideas.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Troll Attacks

Doesn't happen very often. But every now and then I get hit with something that throws me off balance. Today it was the Facebook troll who created a new account with a fake name long enough to send me a message. Then the account was deleted.

"You know who I am," the writer said. "I'm surprised you're still teaching. What changed? When you were my teacher you could barely control a classroom."

Then the writer went on to describe how guilty I was for not seeing or dealing with the bullying that was going on under my nose. The final statement was something about how at my age my biggest concern should be related to having a successful bowel movement.

Yes, this really happened today.

And I did have a successful bowel movement.


We all have ghosts, don't we?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer 2013 Memories

This has been a pretty interesting summer in our family. I'll try to give a complete recollection.

Olivia was planting trees from early May until beginning of August. She made about seven grand. Then she spent a couple of weeks in Thunder Bay before coming back "home" to Hamilton.

Brenda had some really cool gigs. At the time of this writing, she has just finished a week-long stint of lunchtime concerts at Jackson Square, thanks to Johnny Balog and the Music Performance Trust Fund. It's also been a bit of a struggle for her to continue working with her guitar player, who seems to be stuck in a very deep musical rut, and also has an extremely limited sensibility for live performance decorum, and also an extremely limited sense of how to treat a fellow musician with respect. Brenda is looking forward to her last gig with him, but (dang it), people keep approaching her on the gig and asking her (them) to play.

The other side of this is that Brenda has been working with an old Mohawk colleague, Ross Wooldridge. She did a HWETL gig with him in June, and has another exciting show with him and Henry Strong in a couple of weeks down at Williams Coffee Pub at Pier 8. Ross also has produced her "demo" CD with Carl Jennings, which started back in March of this year. The two guys became fast friends, much to Brenda's and my delight. But the cool thing is that Ross is actually a type of musical genius who has been waiting to get his hands on a recording project such as this. With Carl's complicity, Ross has put in over a hundred production hours to make Brenda's recording as good as possible. He believes that the quality of the recording warrants the extra time, and Carl concurs.

So that was Brenda's summer, so far. Oh, I forgot to mention that she has a photo shoot tomorrow with Ivan Sorensen at Whitehern. The image is a big part of the "package" and I'm realizing more and more that photographers are one of the key people in creating a successful brand of yourself.

More to come later, about other activities such as camping trips, etc.

#6 Summer Reading 2013

The guy was an asshole, plain and simple. But smart too. He knew how electronics worked, and he had a very creative, idealistic mind with remarkable sensitivity to design and function. But he was an asshole. People who are inspired by Steve Jobs are people who are probably also of similar ilk. They love to be right. They don't care how you feel; nay, they don't even think about how you feel. They just know what the hell they are doing, and they think it's right and get on board or get out of the way.

Every time I look at that stupid ON button on the top right hand side of my iPhone, I say to myself, "Jobs, you weren't smart enough for me, because I can't tell what the fuck way the stupid phone is facing, and I've had it upside down at least half the time. Did you also design the USB cable?"

Aside from that, I grudgingly admit that my iPhone has a certain beauty. The box itself is something I would have died for when I was a kid. It would have made a great hamster house.

By the way, my son bought me this book as a Christmas gift, and I finally got around to reading it just now, about 18 months later. Now there's a movie out about Jobs starring Aston Kutcher. Critics are saying that it's too much about the company and not about the man. I don't doubt it. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

#5 Summer Reading 2013

"We live in an era of unprecedented access to information, and many political parties campaign on platforms of transparency and openness. And yet, at the same time, we are gradually shifting the policing of cyberspace to a dark world largely free from public accountability and independent oversight. In entrusting more and more information to third parties, we are signing away legal protections that should be guaranteed by those who have access to our data. Perversely, as liberal democratic countries we are lowering the standards around basic rights to privacy just as the centre of cyberspace gravity is shifting to less democratic parts of the world."

I find it intriguing and a bit disturbing when I connect the fictional story "Ready Player One" to the non-fictional documentation is "Black Code."

Ready Player One describes a world where the "internet" has basically become a virtual, alternate world that has been crafted by its creator. A giant game, where life is defined entirely by your game avatar. Black Code describes the present, disturbing, process where more and more control of our personal information is being controlled by those who control the internet.

The real worry, as described in Black Code, is that the controllers of the internet are becoming less and less "controllable." The private companies like Google, Facebook, Skype, Microsoft, and a worldwide gamut of ISPs, work in a variety of regimes where personal information is not protected. In some countries, the internet is under control of criminal forces, or dwells in the very gray area of government/corporate control. It is in those regimes that companies like Google are left to make decisions about how they maintain the privacy and personal information of their users. 

In many cases, personal information is freely shared with authorities, and the customers don't even get a notice about it. Sprint, for example, in the US, actually was so overwhelmed with requests for personal information from the FBI and police, that it coudn't keep up. So, in response it began charging for the "service" and now makes a pretty penny, to the tune of 8 million such requests!

Sunday, August 04, 2013

#4 Summer Reading 2013

OKAY, now we're talking! This book was pure fun from start to finish. 

"In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape." (Amazon)

The book is full of references to Eighties culture from games, to movies and television to music. Any geek who lived through the age of early video game evolution, including home computer and gaming systems and also coin-operated arcade games, will "get" this book. No, they will joyfully roll in it like a pig rolls in the mud. 

But the cool thing about this book is the way it leaves details out. Too much information about life in the real world would be confusing. Rather than try to explain just how crappy and dangerous the real world is in the story setting, the author wisely takes us into the OASIS world, where people really find their value and self-worth.

It's actually a strong commentary on present-day social media junkies, who more and more stunt their actual real-world personality by becoming over-dependent on "friendships" and relationships that are defined by a computer screen. Just imagine the temptation to step into a virtual world where there are real people at the other end. It's like having a Facebook friend with super powers, and you come to know them on the terms they choose to reveal through their avatar. And - get this - the game allows you to ramp up your avatar's capabilities by completing various quests. Really, through the OASIS game in the story, a person's life is better in so many ways... (but not the most important ways!)

And, the book comes to a good ending, where the main character has to make some serious choices about real people in the real world. It leaves us sitting with the character at the end of a long quest, and looking to a future that is "ours" to shape. What a great story!

Think of Hunger Games. Think of The Truman Show. Think of The Matrix. Think of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. 

All of those stories take the character on an exciting quest for freedom, self-discovery, and heroism. They are all deeply rooted in values of human relationships, and the meaning of what it means to be fully human.


Ernest Cline

#3 Summer Reading 2013

Haunted by a reputation he earned by killing three men under questionable circumstances, Antonio Burns finds himself scorned by good cops and admired by bad ones. Unable to shake the tag of “QuickDraw,” Burns has stepped closer to the edge of society while still doing the job he’s paid to do and loving a woman who doesn’t understand him--and may not want him anymore. And with his charismatic but dangerously antisocial brother, Roberto, in trouble with the law, Burns has to manage his loyalties carefully: He is a cop. ’Berto is a fugitive. And they’d die for one another. When Burns is sent to protect Wyoming prosecutor Cali Morrow, a former ski racer being threatened by a stalker, it seems like an easy job. But Cali is the beautiful daughter of one of America’s hottest movie stars, and the stalker may well be a man working on Burns’s side of the law. Antonio has a hard time resisting the woman he’s supposed to be protecting...

I picked this one up at the used book store in Paris, Ontario during a family camping trip. Actually not a bad story, kind of reminded me of some episodes of "The Mentalist" in terms of the way different law enforcement agencies work together - or not. And like The Mentalist, one of the suspects may be found within the ranks of the law enforcers!

Pretty tame with very few sexual exploits, the book stays away from gratuitousness and focuses on the more plausible inner struggles of the main character Anton, and the weird relationship with his brother, which reminds me of Wolverine and his renegade brother from "X-Men."

Gets a little far-fetched at the end with the hero and his client surviving a fire storm while being shielded by the soon-to-be-baked body of a police officer, and also the fact that the hero survives an avalanche, walking away with mere bruises and continuing on with his day's work.

Yah, a bit far-fetched, but entertaining nonetheless.


Clinton McKinzie, the author, in his natural habitat.

#2 Summer Reading 2013

It's the intrusion of the past that haunts her, as she struggles to escape disturbing family secrets, and the loss of Marlea, her best friend and sometime lover. As she reaches out to a new frienship, Percy faces a searing battle of the elements -- both emotional and physical -- that will redefine her whole life, her loves and losses. Cinematic in its style, erotic in tone, Burning Ground boldly explores desire, sexual identity and emotional risk, rising to a powerful ending, not easily forgotten.

All in all, a good read. I picked this up in a used book store in Paris, Ontario during our July camping trip to Pinehurst Lake. Some intriguing background insights into the life of a fire marshall, and how they do things, how they live, etc. Made me think of my daughter out planting trees in the wilds of Northern Alberta. 


Pearl Luke was born in Peace River, Alberta, Canada. Her first novel, Burning Ground, about a young woman in love with her best friend, was published in 2000 by HarperCollins. It won the 2001 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book (Caribbean and Canada Region), and was a finalist for the George Bugnet Award, the Chapters/Robertson Davies First Novel Award and the Libris Booksellers Award. Burning Ground was based in part on her experiences working summers on various fire towers while she wrote her Master's thesis.

#1 Summer Reading 2013

Seeking adventure, Chris and his parents move from New York to Key West, but the thrill soon fades as Dad's obsession with finding sunken treasure angers some of the longtime residents and threatens to split up the family.

I dug this out of the school collection while weeding. It was destined for the recycling bin. I determined to read it during our first campout at Pinehurst Lake this July. As I read each page, I tore it out and tossed it into the fire.

By the way, they found the treasure, and the boy gets the girl.


Monday, June 24, 2013

June 2013, Now Having Taught For 24 years

Now it's June 24 and there are four days of school left, five if you count the staff meeting on Friday. This has been a somewhat unusual year because of the uncertainty and conflict created by the Ontario government's stripping of our contracts.

Bill 115 was passed hurriedly at the end of August 2012 and set the stage for the upcoming school year. It described unprecedented unilateral contract changes that, in the name of "balancing Ontario's books" simply robbed each and every teacher of their negotiated rights and their hard-earned cash.

At stake was the retirement gratuity, a two year wage freeze and a change to the sick leave plan. The hardest hit were our younger teachers with less than ten years experience. As it turned out, all of their banked sick days were paid out at a rate comparable to highway robbery.

I squeaked under the wire with more than 20 years service and at the time of this writing still will receieve a retirement gratuity.

There were two major rallies in Toronto. First one was last August before classes began, where about twenty thousand people gathered on the lawn of Queen's Park. Later, in January during the Liberal leadership convention, a larger and more boisterous rally was held. This rally was a reaction to the implementation of the controversial Bill 115, which arbitrarily set the terms for teacher contracts until August 2014.

As described earlier, every teacher felt the impact of Bill 115, and resentment toward the government was at an all-time high as Laurel Broten continued to tell stories to the media and complain about how she was "so disappointed" in the teachers for not cooperating with the government. (Government. "We gave you a nice gun. Why don't you want to cooperate with us and pull the trigger?) In the weeks after, teachers sought to hold a one-day political protest and walk off the job. However, this was taken to the OLRB and was deemed to be an illegal action after 24 hours of deliberation.

A pathetic political move was made when Broten announced that Bill 115 was to be repealed shortly after contracts were imposed. Broten was soon out of a job and disappeared off the political stage immediately. Just like John Snobelen 16 years earlier, her "educational toolkit" had the wrong tools in it.

Teachers continued to express their dissatisfaction with their situation by pulling back from all voluntary activities - anything that is not specified in the Education Act as pertaining to their duties. In most schools that meant that all extra-curricular teams, clubs, and activities were stopped.

At Parkdale, I chose to not spend thirty hours of my weekends and evenings to design our annual year book. I came to work 15 minutes before the opening bell. I ensured my students were dismissed safely at the end of the day and then I went home. I used my preparation time to prepare my lessons and my report cards. And when I was not at work, I was not at work.

Throughout this spring of 2013, things progressed slowly. Over the course of this year I sent out 95 email updates to our school staff. We were surprised when OSSTF suddently came to an agreement with the government, putting extra-curriculars back into the high schools. But ETfO members forged on, pursuing our own interests in solidarity. We had made our voices heard through the rallies and through our collective action, and we won the right to sit down with the new premier Kathleen Wynne. For the past four months negotiations have been taking place and yesterday marked the end of the voting period where members voted YES or NO to the "Memorandum of Understanding."

We await the announcement of the results of that vote.

Now, there is a great sense of relief in the air as the year draws to a close.

One highlight of the MOU is the promised 2014 removal of the 2% penalty which was imposed on ETFO members' salaries in 2008. Another interesting item is the bonus of a day's pay if less than five of the eleven sick days are used next year. Only one of three unpaid days will remain. Teachers may apply for, and not be unreasonably denied, up to five unpaid days of leave.

At the presetn, we're in a situation where each teacher has 11 sick days, and no opportunity to carry them over, and no incentive to not use them or to save them. We are facing daily supply teacher shortages unlike any other year. It's because of good conscience, good morals and teachers' commitment to the profession and one another that our schools continue to function almost normally in these final few days of classes.

Our principal of the past four years, Peter Maliphant, is moving on to A.M. Cunningham, and we will welcome our new principal Stewart Cameron on Friday. Peter has been a very decent man to work with. I have found him reasonable and approachable. On many occasions I've been able to support him with computer issues that had him confused.

As far as the graduating class goes, they have been a very good bunch. I taught almost every one of them in grade two. It is deeply satisfying and intriguing to see them grow up and to develop into young adults with a wider and deeper range of skills and abilities. This class of graduates is the third group of grade fives that I previously taught in grade two. My original grade two class from 1998 is now completing grade eight.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Geographical Cure

I think I've written before about my idea of spending an entire August camped out in Algonquin Park or some other equally remote place.

A trip like that would be nice in solitude, but not necessarily alone. Solitude to me means no interruptions, and a basic lack of external, cultural, transmitted content. Especially the type that comes through the radio, TV, internet and newspaper. Being alone is not the essence of the Algonquin Park idea; it is media solitude.

You see, beginning in the first week of August, every retailer or any business with something to sell begins to wrap their marketing message in some kind of "back to school" camouflage.

It's true. In our culture, everyone is attuned to the moving of the seasons. But the seasons are no longer characterized by the changing weather; no, they're characterized by what you need to buy based on what needs you and your family might have. For example, when it's winter time, everyone needs to start thinking about buying spring fashions. February brings an onslaught of Valentine's Day stuff. Family Day. Easter. Mother's Day. Father's Day. The tourism ads kick in throughout the springtime as families make their summer plans.

But there is always the biggest wave of cultural season change in mid-summer. After the Civic Holiday long weekend something in the atmosphere changes. You can feel it like a silent, lurking monster standing outside the door and about to barge in at any moment. Or, imagine an entire dance troupe waiting in the wings for their silent cue to rush on stage. Such a potential, and such predictability.

Yes, it's like that. As if on cue, all the media begin to deliver the message: "Back to school this, back to school that, blah,  blah, blah, back to school."

And if there's one thing that really grinds my gears, it's that idiot dad prancing through the Staples store to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" with his bored and disgusted kids in tow.

I think I know why the whole back to school season change bugs me so much. It's because I feel robbed of the entire month of August. You see, I don't need to be reminded about my classroom's needs that will be facing me in September. Perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago I would agonize over this and that, and consider going back into work mid-August to pin stuff up or whatever. But not these days. I'll think about school after Labour Day.

So, my plan is to remove myself from the reminders. Take the Geographical Cure, and head off to a place where there is no radio, TV, internet or newspaper. And I'll pick up my companion, my collection of  summer reading, my most comfortable lawn chair, and head out into the wild. That's what will cure me.