Friday, November 14, 2008

Three things about me

So...I'm cheating at this by making this a blog post (which will be imported into Facebook) rather than doing this via e-mail, but that doesn't stop any of you who read this from creating a similar e-mail forward or Facebook note out of it, so I'm still within the intent of the message, right ;)?

Three things about me.....

Three places I have lived: Mom and Dad's (Scarborough), Tyndale College (Toronto), Mother-in-law's basement apartment (Scarborough). Does 3 weeks in Israel and Jordan count?

Three shows that I watch: Heroes, Lost, Battlestar Galactica

Three places I have been: Israel and Jordan (counted as one), North Carolina, several provinces across Canada

Three places I have been this week: church, work, Science Teachers' Association of Ontario conference

Three People who e-mail me regularly: Facebook (e-mail notifications out the wazoo, but I like getting them), the curriculum leader of science at my school, and several e-mail newsletters that I actually intentionally signed up for at one point but now just allow to collect dust in my inbox. I have decided not to take it personally that pretty much no one other than my mom e-mails me to say "Hi" because I know how busy my friends are ('cuz it's not like I often take time out of my day to say "Hi" either :( ).

Three of my favourite foods: Strawberries, sushi, pretty much anything in the "dessert" or "bacon and processed cheese burger" categories

Three people I think will respond: I hate surveys that ask this question. I refuse to answer. Respond if you want to and don't if you don't...if you have to choose, I'd rather get one of those "Hi" e-mails or a phone call than a response to this post.

Now here's what you are supposed to do.....(and please don't spoil the fun)

Hit the forward key, delete my answers and type in your own answers.Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know INCLUDING the person who sent it to you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about those who think they know you. Don't forget to send it back to the person who sent it to you.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

In dreams brought on by sleeplessness...

I've had a couple vivid dreams the last two nights, so I thought I'd write 'em out. I don't expect them to be important or even that interesting, but meh...

Last night's dream was not scary, but you gotta laugh at how many different stories I mashed together. In my dream, I was Superman. (Yes, I am apparently so secure in my femininity that my brain sometimes makes me play the part of a guy...I've been Peter Pan and other male characters in past dreams as well.) I was in a house and saw Darth Vader terrorizing a family (because everyone knows that Darth Vader is Superman's arch nemesis...). He had this device on the ground that looked like a large black pyramid-shaped kitchen timer. Somehow I knew that the whole terrorizing of the family was just meant to be a distraction, and that when that timer went off something would happen that would badly affect not them, but me. Somehow I knocked the timer thing back some metres, and the family disappeared while I then tackled the timer, turned it multiple times to try to give myself more time before the thing would go off, and then carried it outside the house a bit. However, some kind of marching band music was already starting to play loudly inside the house, and I somehow knew that if I heard too much of it things would not go well for me (this reminds me of a Lois & Clark episode where some psychologist brainwashed some people to kill when they heard "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and then played it on a loudspeaker). I started to run down the street and tried to fly, but I could only get just above the local shops and houses, and I was slow as molasses. I spotted Darth Vader walking down the street following me, pointing me out to every passer-by he could find. I tried to overcome my weakness by thinking of Jane, the love of my life with the red hair (yeah, I know, red-haired Mary Jane was Spiderman's crush, not Superman's :P), kind of like how in the book version of The Princess Bride Wesley tries to think of Buttercup to help him when he's being tortured. It only helped a very little bit. Finally I went right up to Darth Vader and held him against a wall, but my super-strength was also affected by whatever my affliction was, so I couldn't even beat him up, just hold him against the wall and stare at him. Darth Vader told me that when I'd had my powers I hadn't appreciated them...I guess he was trying to teach me a lesson, but was I going to die as a result of this lesson? Apparently not, because I suddenly glimpsed a reflection in the window behind Vader of Thing from the Fantastic Four coming up behind me and getting ready to punch Vader's head (it's good to have friends with superpowers when your own run out, even if they're from a completely different series). I was about to duck when I woke up.

Moral of the story: even superheroes shouldn't rely solely on themselves to do stuff...working with a team = good.

I did also have a very vivid scary dream two nights ago...I don't remember all the details, but after trying a particular doorknob a couple of times and finding it locked I somehow forcibly unlocked it (I seem to remember using those large snips caretakers use to cut locks off of lockers at schools, but that doesn't make sense given that it was just a doorknob). The door opened into the side of a hallway. A frosted window was across the hall and a little bit to the right. Bruce Willis was sitting on the ledge of this window and was looking at me...and was missing his right eye, with the eyelid sealed shut (like post-New-Caprica Saul Tigh in the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica). Okay, so that looked disturbing. I had this sense that I needed to overcome some challenge in order to survive this encounter. Hmm, maybe the challenge was that I needed to face my fear and enter the hallway and talk to him. As I entered the hallway and greeted him, I noticed someone else who was coming towards me down the hall & was already practically beside me...a tall lanky guy wearing a lab coat, with his mouth open, emitting a high-pitched mechanical whiny sound like Data did in his nightmares in the ST:TNG episode Phantasms. Bruce Willis had also gotten up off the window ledge and approached me, putting a hand on me to push me backwards. Of course, because this was a nightmare, I was powerless to fight back, and could only stumble backwards as Willis continued to push me until I ended up back-to-back with someone else I couldn't see. After that, all I remember is Bruce Willis telling me something like, "You had your one chance, woman" (hmm, so maybe if I'd just gone away and NOT talked to him when I saw him I would've been ok?)...and then I woke up as all the people surrounding me began to drill into my stomach with a fairly large drill! Not a pleasant way to wake up :P. When I am tired and it is dark, things like that keep me freaked out for a couple first I couldn't even handle opening the door to go out to the living room :P. Stupid scary dreams :P.

Moral of the story: some doors are better off left closed...and locked!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today's AVM clinic visit

This is long. Sorry. It kinda has to be in order for you to understand the results of today's visit. Let me tell you a story...

***Part 1: Background***

Many of you will remember that in early August 2004, approximately four years ago, Martin collapsed at work with stroke-like symptoms. When he was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital (I know that's not technically its name), it was discovered that he had 2 AVMs in his brain, and that one of them had ruptured, sort of like an aneurysm. (If you don't know or don't remember what an AVM is, don't worry, I will include info on that below.) The focus four years ago was on saving Martin's life as the bleeding AVM threatened his life, then on getting him conscious again, then on getting him back to full mobility and so on. The AVM that had bled was removed via surgery two days after he collapsed (yes, Martin has had brain surgery), but since the other AVM was in a different area of the brain they did not traumatize Martin's brain further by digging around for it at that time. AVM #2 was left alone for the time being.

Three years ago, the medical team was pretty much satisfied that Martin had recovered enough from his bleed that they could start treating the other AVM--i.e., to do preventative work on it to get it to a point where it would not be able to bleed like the other one had. (Untreated, there is a 3% chance *every year* that an AVM can bleed.) The treatment recommended by the team was a highly focused type of radiation, which could be used to target just the AVM while leaving the surrounding brain tissue unaffected. Treating an AVM with radiation is not like treating cancer with radiation, however; while cancer patients go in for multiple bursts of radiation over many days, an AVM patient spends only about 20 minutes being treated in the radiation room (well, once all the setup is takes a full day of CAT scans and such to prepare for it), receiving only 2 short bursts of radiation during that time. The radiation is completed on a single day. (The reason multiple sessions aren't required for an AVM like they are for cancer is because cancer AVM does not. As Schwarzenegger would say, "It's not a tumour.")

One day of radiation...that's all it takes. However, the treatment does not actually stop there. The purpose of the radiation is to create scar tissue inside the blood vessels of the AVM--scar tissue that builds up and builds up slowly, over the course of three years or so, until the AVM's blood vessels finally clog up and stop allowing blood to flow through them. If no blood can get into the AVM, the AVM can't bleed. While it might sound like a bad thing to cut off blood circulation, this is actually safe (and desirable) with AVMs because the blood vessels in an AVM do not service any part of the brain...they're kind of a tangle of useless blood vessels (more on this below). After the day the radiation is received, the patient goes about his daily life as usual, not coming back to the hospital until 2 years later (when the medical team looks to see if the radiation has done its job and finished making enough scar tissue), and, if necessary, once a year every year after that until the AVM shows that it has been fully treated. No additional radiation is given at the 2- and 3-year checkup (unless, I guess, if the progress of the AVM's treatment has been unsatisfactory and the medical team recommends it).

Last year, in the summer of 2007, the AVM clinic had Martin get an MRI done, and when the results came in we went back to the clinic to find out how the treatment of his AVM was progressing. The doctor told us last year that the MRI showed the AVM was either gone or almost gone, but that the resolution of an MRI is not fine enough to tell us for sure if it was indeed fully gone. For that, you need to get an angiogram done--a very invasive and uncomfortable procedure. The medical team recommended we wait another year, get an angiogram done at the end of that year, and then come in when the angiogram results were read to see what they had to say.

Today was the day of that visit.

***Part 2: A refresher on what AVMs are, and the results of today's visit***

The first picture above shows very loosely what an AVM is. On the left is an artery--a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart, designed to handle the high pressure that such blood is under. On the right is a vein--a blood vessel that carries blood towards the heart, designed only to handle the much lower pressure that such blood is under. Normally, blood flows from an artery through several tiny blood vessels called capillaries before it gets into a vein, and the capillaries reduce the pressure the blood is under. In an AVM, these capillaries just aren't there. The vein shows up early, so to speak, and the blood flows directly from the artery into the vein. Because the vein is not designed to handle the kind of pressure the blood from the artery is under, there is a risk that it will rupture, causing bleeding into whatever body part the AVM is in (which, in Martin's case, is the brain, and bleeding in the brain puts pressure on the brain and is A Bad Thing). In addition to this direct artery-vein connection, this set of blood vessels is malformed, making a kind of tangle or knot of blood vessels in the brain. Hence the name AVM, which is short for arteriovenous malformation--"malformation" because of the tangled knottedness of it, "arteriovenous" because it involves an artery and a vein.

As I said before, it's not a tumour. It is not cancer. It does not grow. You do not develop it later in life. If you have one (or more than one!), you are born with it, and you would never know it until either it ruptures (this is how we found out about Martin's...collapsing with stroke-like symptoms kind of calls attention to something being wrong) or you require an MRI for some reason on the part of your body that happens to have an AVM (this is how we found out Martin had a second AVM and not just the one that burst). Even having a CAT scan for something else in your life generally will not call attention to any AVM you might have, because the resolution of a CAT scan is not fine enough to point them out. A more realistic picture of an AVM can be seen at

Alright, enough background and on to the results. Three years ago, the medical team told us the AVM was approximately 2.5 centimeters in diameter (that's about an inch, for you non-metric folk). Today, we were told that it seems all that is left of the AVM is a shunt, although it is possible there may still be a small amount of tangle there. When I asked what size it is now, the doctor said it doesn't really have a size anymore, and that is when she drew the two diagrams that I have attempted to reproduce here. The second picture above shows what Martin's situation is now. The blood is still going directly from an artery to a vein (which is a Bad Thing), but most if not all of the tangle has been dealt with. The radiation has almost completely dealt with the AVM. Because the blood is still going directly from an artery to a vein, there is still a possibility of a bleed occuring. The doctor who spoke to us told us the chances of a bleed might be lower with this situation than what the chances were 3 years ago, but that there aren't enough good studies out there right now for the medical team to know for sure.

Where do we go from here? The medical team recommends we wait 1 more year and get another angiogram done at the end of that year, then come back to the AVM clinic when the results of the angiogram are ready to see what they have to say. Hopefully we will discover that the radiation has finished its job and closed off even this shunt. If not, we will have to make a decision: do we do another burst of radiation, or do we leave the AVM as-is and live with the (maybe reduced, maybe not) risk that it will bleed at some future point in Martin's life? Well, that is a decision for next year. For now, I will be glad that the AVM is much reduced from what it used to be, and hope that when we go back next year we'll find that the AVM is completely gone and that no further treatment is necessary. More radiation would not be the end of the world (especially since it was so effective in reducing the AVM down as much as it has), but it would mean quite a bit of discomfort for Martin on radiation day and for a few days afterwards.

There, I think I've said all I wanted to get out. Feel free to ask questions if you need clarification on anything above or just want to "know stuff."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Quick random vacation thoughts

Yeah, I know, that webpage I put up for our vacation hasn't been updated since the first day, and we're now on day 10. I have been taking photos, I just haven't been uploading them, adding my comments to them, etc. I guess I'll just have to do it when I get home (I did go through the tedious step yesterday of editing a whackload of time stamps in iPhoto to make up for having had the date set one day off on my camera for a few days, and making new Google Maps screenshots to reflect the changes in our planned route).

Random thoughts of the now:

1. I just got back to the hotel here in Rivière-Du-Loup, QC after having had dinner at St. Hubert's. The last time I was at a St. Hubert's was years ago (I was dating Martin but hadn't married him yet, so it was somewhere between 8 and 13 years ago) when my family had won a stay at a cottage near Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. When we walked into the restaurant back then, I asked for our table in French...and when we were seated, I noticed we'd been given English menus. I took that to mean at the time that my French had not been very good (though it's possible the host had heard my parents speaking in English). This time, however, I was able to interact with the hostess in enough French that she had a stack of French menus in her arms ready to take us to our table...until my mom asked her in English if they had smoking and non-smoking sections or if it was all non-smoking. Then the waitress looked confused and asked us if we wanted English menus. Anyway, that's a little thing that made my day :).

2. Totally unrelated to our vacation: I have now seen a TV ad for women's razors with 5 blades. I have not yet seen an ad for a man's razor with 5 blades. Has it not been developed yet? If not, why was the woman's 5-blade razor developed first? I would have expected that it would be marketed to men first. Why does anyone need a 5-blade razor anyway? And when will the insanity stop? The way of the future apparently is a razor with a googolplex of blades :P. (If you don't know what a googolplex is...look it up. There, you learned something today, thanks to me. Don't say I don't ever do anything for you ;).)

I'm sure you're all expecting me to dive into one of my long-winded entries about my vacation so far now, but it ain't gonna happen; I choose to go continue to enjoy it instead :). Bye for now.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tales from the Senior Math AQ, part 2

Today in class my teacher mentioned in passing that one of the only things she remembers from chemistry class is that are 6.02 x 10^23 particles in a mole. She says she only knows this because her chemistry teacher used to sing it to her. I immediately asked her who her chemistry teacher was indeed the one, the only, Mr. Seshadri. She then asked me if he did the hydrogen cannon experiment for us with the lights off and then fell down as if he was dead--yep, he did that. (In her class, she was one of the girls who rushed to the front to see if he was okay, before he said he did that every year because it resulted in him being rescued by beautiful ladies. Yeah, I think he mentioned that to us as well.) She asked me if I knew the "To Be Happy is To Be Stable" song, which included the part starting off "happy happy happy happy..."--yep. I mentioned him singing the periodic table to the tune of the alphabet--yep, he did that for them, too. Ah, Dr. Seshadri, your legacy lives on. In my yearbook, he wrote only "Wah!"...that was all he really needed to say to sum up our time with him :).

Tomorrow my gaming life may be exposed to the rest of the class, since the formative assessment my table group has designed requires the use of 8-sided, 10-sided and 20-sided dice. Apparently no one else in the class is in the habit of having these things on their person (to be fair, I didn't have them on my person, either, though I did have to remove them from my satchel this morning when I changed it from D&D mode to school mode). Oh, the joys of getting adults to spend their paid tuition time rolling dice (it's a formative assessment of the probability unit from the grade 12 data management course, alright?)! I think every math teacher needs a couple sets of various-sided dice, though; the more you can bring gaming elements into the classroom, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Now I will resume waiting for hubby to return from the procedure he underwent at the hospital today. As Inigo Montoya would say, "I hate waiting."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tales from the Senior Math AQ, part 1

As part of one of our activities today, each of us had to choose a mathematical concept found in the high school curriculum starting with the same first letter as our first names. Let's see, my name starts with J. Hmm. Not an easy task. I asked if I could be jerk (which is the derivative of acceleration, for you non-physics people)...that didn't fly because it isn't even in the high school physics curriculum, let alone high school math. (I don't think it even came up in the particular university physics courses I took...I think some high school teacher of mine brought it up in passing one day.) My classmate Jason and I were sitting back-to-back at different tables, and we both turned around and looked at each other and realized neither of us had a good idea, and none of our tablemates had any ideas, either (and neither did our teacher!). Eventually I decided we could be the unit vector ĵ (or j-hat, if you can't see that little circumflex). Thankfully, that worked nicely for the exercise we had to do, but for a while there ya kinda had to wish for a name starting with T (tangent trigonometry trapezoid) or something else with a lot of options. Well, at least we got to be unique :). Teachers, if you're going to use a strategy like that, have a backup for those of us who are somewhat, well, alphabetically challenged :). Oh, and you chemistry teachers out there, keep in mind there is no J on the periodic table, either. Boo-hoo :(.

All in all, my AQ course is going well so far, partly because my teacher uses a lot of group work and hands-on activities to teach us rather than lecturing for the whole 5 hours each day. The course runs 8-1:15 each day (with only a 15 minute break--yep, that's right, no lunch, but that gets us out nice and early rather than dragging the day on) and the last day of the course is July 24.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Possible free trip to the Olympics! Are you in?

Have I got your attention yet?

Alright, before I go any further and explain what I mean, I have to make a statement that most of you can just ignore:

This blog post / Facebook note should be understood as being completely OOG--out-of-game--and treated as such by any in-game characters and elements. (If you don't know what that means, trust me, it doesn't affect you...carry on reading the rest of this.)

Now that that's over with...I have a question for you.

Would you be willing to do something a little strange if it could get you a free trip to this year's Olympics in Beijing? (Huge disclaimer: this might not necessarily work out, but more on that shortly.)

Rest assured, the "something a little strange" is not unethical, harmful, or illegal.

What do you have to do? Simple to say, not so easy to do well: you have to run a labyrinth, blindfolded, or help a blindfolded runner to complete a labyrinth by acting as part of its (humming) walls. For example, check out the labyrinth that a Tokyo team put together on June 1: . Similar labyrinths have been run by teams in Guelph, Madrid, New Zealand, two separate locations in Brazil, Switzerland, Jerusalem, Dallas, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and New York. The current record is just over 15 seconds (15:44) and is held by a team in San Francisco, although it is a pseudo-record because the method they used in that run breaks the rules in a way. Still, you can see their run here for inspiration: . I believe the current record for a run done completely by-the-book is still 16 seconds, held by the New Zealand team for a run they did May 4. You can see that run here:
Edit: breaking news: New Zealand now has a new record...14.03 seconds!!!

How does doing this get you to the Olympics, rather than getting you branded as a cult member or thrown in an institution? Bear with me. You may recall that I have been participating for the past few months in a game sponsored by McDonald's* and the International Olympics Committee--a game called "The Lost Ring." For reasons that I won't bother to explain here, these labyrinth runs are tied into that game, and are sometimes referred to as "the lost sport." Very recently, the game's designer, Jane McGonigal, did a presentation/interview about gaming at the 2008 New Yorker Conference (a presentation/interview which you can see here if you're really interested--it does provide some interesting social and psychological commentary and helps explain why some people get really hooked on online games, for example). Anyway, the important thing is that when she very briefly talked about the Lost Ring game (in the very last minute of the video), she said that they will be bringing people to the Olympic lawn in Beijing to play "the lost sport." While we have known for a long time that the International Olympics Committee is a sponsor, and that the closing date of the game is the same as the date of the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, this statement by McGonigal is the first time any of us have had confirmation (not merely suspicions) that a "lost sport" run in Beijing will be an important part of the game.

The question now is simply: which people will be taken to Beijing? While it is still possible that the "people" Jane referred to are just the actors hired to play the characters in the game, there have been other indications that point to the idea that the people taken will be the players who manage to put together the best labyrinth team in the world--the team that can run the labyrinth the fastest without breaking any of the rules. See, in the game, "the lost sport" is treated as a game that used to be part of the Olympics, but was "lost"...and now that it has been "found," we need to make it part of this year's Games (for reasons that have to do with a huge amount of backstory I am leaving out). Besides, if only the actors representing characters we already know about were involved, there wouldn't be enough people to run a proper labyrinth, so I have a feeling at least some of us players are going to be needed.

Here's the deal: I want to put together a Toronto team for "the lost sport." I have at least a couple of people from the Guelph team interested, in addition to myself. I need more (or at least I probably do, depending on how many people Team Guelph manages to bring along). If you are interested in participating, I don't care who you are or whether we have exchanged two words in the past 20 years, I want you on my team. You don't need to be an athlete--I'm certainly not! You just have to be willing to try something a little different and have fun with it. If you are interested, let me know. I have not yet set a firm date for a training run, but I am considering any of the following:
Sunday, June 29 (once church is done and I can get to and set up the area)
Monday, June 30
Tuesday, July 1 (Canada Day!)
Saturday, July 5
Sunday, July 6 (same concern as June 29)

I have to tell you that I am intentionally leaving out ALL the backstory and twists and turns and intrigues that have been part of this game for now. I want here to communicate solely what you need to know to judge if you're interested in doing this strange thing in order to possibly qualify for a trip to Beijing in August. If you want more details about what the premise of the game is and what-all else has been happening besides the labyrinth runs (and what the metaphysical, quantum-mechanical reasons are behind our need for these labyrinths), let me know and I will fill you in...but you don't need to know those details to participate in the training runs themselves.

*Here in North America McDonald's doesn't seem to be advertising their involvement too much, but you can see they are involved by noting references to The Lost Ring on the McDonald's Australia site and the McDonald's Spain site (you have to cycle through some of the floating images on the center of that site to see it, but it's there), for example, or by going to the official site for the game and noting the McDonald's symbol above "official partner" in the lower right-hand corner (once you get past the trailer) and the references to it in the Terms of Use on that site. Oh, by the way, part of those Terms of Use states, "You understand that the Game is for entertainment purposes only and no prizes or awards will be given in connection with Game"...but like I said, we have reason to believe that some of us will be needed in Beijing...I guess we just can't consider that a "prize" ;). Anyway, come to have fun...and if a trip to the Olympics ends up being part of the mix, all the better :).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Timetable update

This isn't big news or even exciting news, but for the sake of completeness: looks like I actually won't end up becoming that female role model in the physics department at my school that I mentioned in my last post. While all our timetables are still up in the air right now, it seems that my school has decided who they're going to hire as the new science curriculum leader (what they used to call a department head), and that the person they're choosing has a physics background...ergo they will not need me to fill in any holes in the physics side but rather on the chemistry side. While I still would like to see some estrogen in the physics department, I'm not really upset at the way my timetable has worked out, since it does have some good benefits to it. (Who knows, maybe whoever they're hiring is a female physics that wishful thinking?)

It looks like my timetable for next year will look like this:

Semester 1: this will be an all-science semester for me.
  • one section of grade 12 college chemistry
  • some combination of the grade 9 and 10 academic and applied science courses I taught this semester, teaching the bio and chem units in those courses (remember, my school makes the students switch to a physics teacher when they get to the physics and weather/astronomy units of those courses).
Semester 2: this will be an all-math semester for me, though I have no idea exactly what courses.

Some pros of this timetable:
  • getting to focus on only math or only science in each semester, rather than the split focus I have this semester
  • this means in each semester I will likely have a classroom to call my own (a science lab of my own in sem. 1 and a math classroom of my own in sem. 2), though I suppose that will partly depend on the timetables of more senior math teachers. The current science curriculum leader has already told me what lab I will have in semester 1--the lab she is currently using. While I don't really mind sharing classrooms with other teachers like I've had to do this semester (and it has actually helped me build a closer relationship with the teacher's I've shared rooms with), it sure does free you up to make the room your own when you are the only person in there all day.
  • it is not all new courses...I will have taught at least the junior science courses before (although I will still have to put energy into seriously improving what I did, plus the bio unit for the grade 10 courses will be different from the bio unit they had this year), and if I get grade 9 applied math again I'll have already taught that also
  • getting the grade 12 chem means that I will be able to pursue my Honour Specialist in chemistry once I've taught for 1 more semester. Getting an Honour Specialist qualification is one way for teachers to move up to the highest pay category for a regular teacher (i.e., not a curriculum leader or principal or any such thing). You have to have taught for 2 years, including 1 year in Ontario in the subject for which the specialization is being sought, in order to pursue your Honour Specialist. You also have to have completed at least 9 full university courses in the subject. Since I did a major in chem but only a minor in physics (and I only have 2.5 full university courses in math), chemistry is the only subject I can pursue specialization in without doing further university studies in the subject.
I will get my final timetable June 20 at the latest. I'm really looking forward to knowing before the summer break starts what courses I'll have next year...that is a luxury I did not get this year, since I was really only hired a week before I had to start teaching at Central Tech (plus I was still wrapping up exams with my students at my adult school during that week as well!). My officemate (who was a new teacher this past September) said he knew his timetable before the summer started, but found he really couldn't do any planning since he didn't know what resources and supplies would be available at the school...I will not have that problem. I already even know what classroom I will be in for the first semester next year. While I certainly won't be able to fully plan everything (for one thing, how you teach a course depends on who your students are and what they're like, and I won't know that until September for sem. 1's courses and February for sem. 2's courses), I will at least be much more familiar with the curriculum expectations of the courses by the time the summer ends, how they can be chunked together, and so on. All in all, that's pretty exciting to someone who heard a lot of good ideas about teaching in teacher's college but has not had the time to properly implement them in reality so far this year.

I also found out this year that it's official: OISE (the teacher's college at U of T) has accepted me into their Senior Math Additional Qualification course for July. As a graduate of York's teacher's college, it will be interesting to me to see if any difference in philosophy comes across in this course versus what I would expect at York. They certainly had different philosophies when it came to who they admitted to their preservice programs (*not bitter*...actually, even had OISE accepted my preservice application, I more than likely would have picked York anyway). Anyway, taking this course will hopefully make me a better math teacher than I was this year, although I think that being able to rely heavily on the notes of some more experienced teachers made me not all that bad a math teacher this time around anyway. I mean, c'mon, I did university-level physics, I'd better have a reasonable handle on math...though I know knowing it and being able to communicate it are two very different things, which is partly why I'm taking this course. I've also never had experience with some of the new teaching tools and technology that is out there for math teachers, such as geoboards and Geometer's Sketchpad, and I only had a very brief exposure to algebra tiles before I started trying to use them this year, so I'd like a little better explanation of how to use them effectively and a little more practice.

Now that today is done, I only have 10 more classes with my math class (and if I don't get asked to supervise the spec. ed. kids during the two-day EQAO math test, that will really work out to only 8 days with most of my math students) and 9 with my science classes, all not including exams. Summer is so close, I can taste it...hopefully I will survive the lack of sleep until then :).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No longer surplus :). (and definitely taking an AQ course this summer)

Today at the end of the school day the curriculum leader (what used to be called a department head) for science at my school asked me if I'd checked my mailbox that afternoon, and suggested I do so. In it was, among other things, a memo from my principal with the subject line "Next year" and body text solely reading "See me." To make a long story short...I am no longer surplus to my school.

To make a long story, well, long: a retirement happened in the math department which has opened up some breathing room for the timetabling people, so I have been fully called back to the school. My timetable is, however, completely up in the air...I probably won't know for sure for a few weeks yet what I'll be teaching next year. Currently they have me down for senior chemistry, a calculus class and the senior "advanced functions" math class...but my curriculum leader tells me that is almost definitely going to change. She is being seconded to OISE for 3 years, starting next year, so the science timetables are still very much up in the air until we know who will get her CL position and which of the science disciplines (bio or chem or physics) they will teach. If what she is thinking pans out, however, I may move from teaching the bio/chem portions of the grade 9 and 10 courses to teaching the physics and astronomy/weather portions of those classes. This means I would move from my current office into the physics office, where there are currently only men. When I was initially hired and found out we had only males on the physics side, and mostly females on the bio/chem side, it made me a little mad that our subject/gender breakdown was so typical and that we didn't have any female physics role models at the school. Because of this, I kind of hope that my timetable will indeed work out to put me on the physics side, even though it is only my second teachable (and not one I could do my Honours Specialist course in--one way to move up to the highest pay category in teaching). It could also mean that on the science side I could get my very own classroom that I don't have to share with anyone (though I guess I'd still have to share the math room)--and it is a nice-looking classroom, a big improvement over my current chem room. My office would also be right next door to my science classroom (but again, not my math room), which would be helpful. Currently my office isn't adjacent to my math or my science classroom, so if I forget something in my office I either have to risk leaving the students on their own (actually not a problem with my math class as I do have an educational assistant I can leave them with; I also leave my grade 10 academics on their own for short periods of time in these cases as they are a very responsible class) or make do without whatever it is (which is what I have to do with my current grade 10 applied class).

I have decided that this summer I will indeed take the course to add Senior Mathematics to my qualifications list. I am doing this partly to increase my marketability; when I was still surplus and the vacancy postings were still important to me, I could only apply to science-only postings (since I only have chemistry and physics on my Certificate of Qualification), restricting me to only 4 vacancies which were all not ideal geographically. If I had had my math qualifications, my options would have been much broader. The retirement of the teacher I mentioned earlier also leaves my school with only 1 person qualified to teach senior math (as opposed to grade 9 and 10 math, which many of our math teachers are qualified for), so my having those qualifications could help me get classes of senior students rather than the grade 9 and 10s (who are ok in their own right, but it would be nice to have at least 1 senior course on my timetable). However, I am also taking the course because I had to teach math this year (and will more than likely have to teach some next year as well) and need to know more about the theories of math education that are out there now, how math is handled in the new Ontario curriculum (with the 4 different categories we're supposed to evaluate them in now), what new hands-on and technology-based methods exist now to make concepts clearer to the students, and so on. I've been doing fine in the classroom thus far (largely since I've been able to work from the notes of an excellent teacher who is currently on a leave of absence), but there is always room for improvement. I've also decided to do this AQ course in an actual classroom rather than doing one of the many online versions that are available. Yes, it does start at 8 a.m. (which is irritating seeing as I would be able to sleep in all summer if I weren't taking the course), and yes, doing an online course does have the advantage that you can perhaps more carefully ponder your responses before posting them than you could in a face-to-face discussion. However, I think doing the course in person allows for better interaction with one's fellow students, better exposure to any manipulatives and technology-based teaching strategies that are available for use now, and the building of a better relationship with one's instructors. I am going to take the course through OISE to perhaps get exposure to a different educational perspective than I got at York (plus York only offers the Intermediate Math AQ this summer, whereas I've decided to do the Senior course). The course runs 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. from July 2 to 24. If any of you former MSTers are thinking of taking this course as well, please let me know; it would be nice to have the company of someone I know, though of course I will hopefully meet other like-minded people there.

As usual, I have said far too much already, so I will sign off for now. Fellow teachers, hang in there; the end of the school year is coming up fast! Here's to a successful finish to what we started back in September (or, in my case, February, heh) :)!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Still surplus.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was the next step in the staffing process: all those who were verbally informed last week that they were tentatively surplus to their schools, and who are still surplussed even after the various staffing changes that have occurred over the past week, got a letter today officially informing them of the situation. I got my letter, so even though the person two spots ahead of me in the seniority line at my school has been called back and the person one spot ahead of me has been half-called-back, I still have to wait (until the half-called-back person is fully called back and then another spot opens up for me). Postings for vacancies at other schools start April 30.

By the way, a little tip for those of you who occasionally have to write official business correspondence: please watch what font you use. Giving potentially bad news like telling someone they are surplus to their school in a font like Comic Sans is just plain unprofessional. I was not overly bothered by the news (I still think something will work out either at my school or hopefully one that is better for me location-wise), but the font thing didn't help.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Update on the surplus situation (yes, already)

I mentioned in my last post that I was third in line for any calling-back of surplussed teachers to a position at my current school, after my officemate (who was half-surplussed) and a teacher in the special education department. Today I found out my officemate has now been called back to a full timetable for next year, and the special education teacher has been half-called-back. I could still end up surplussed to my school, but it looks like things could still work out for me to remain at Central Tech rather than having to wait on a placement in another school.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

News on the job front...not sure if it's good or bad.

The Toronto District School Board has a very specific process that is used for staffing. All of us teachers have received (or have access to) a list of dates detailing what happens when. Since I share an office with another first-year teacher, and because our lack of seniority makes that process very important for us to know about, we have this list of dates posted prominently in our office. This morning, he pointed out to me that today is the day we would find out if we were tentatively surplus to the school (but not the school board)...something that has been hinted now and then might be the case for us, as much as the department head likes us and so on. When I went down to check my mailbox and do some photocopying during my prep period, the principal's secretary asked me to come down and see the principal at 3:20 p.m. At first I was worried about whether I'd done something wrong that was going to require my being reprimanded or whatnot, until I remembered my officemate pointing out today's date on the staffing dates list this morning. I let him know about my upcoming meeting just before I headed off to my class in period 4 (when my officemate has prep), and before I knew it, he was poking his head into my classroom, mouthing, "Me too."

Long story short, yes, my officemate and I--as well as a third teacher, in the special ed department--have been told by the principal and local union president that we are tentatively surplus to the school. This has nothing to do with our merit as teachers, as surplus decisions are made solely on the basis of seniority. My officemate has the most seniority of the three of us, and so he has actually only been half-surplussed...the school has half a timetable put together for him. I am last in seniority, after the special ed teacher.

Where do things go from here? Well, if things haven't changed by next week, the three of us will get letters confirming that we are surplus to the school. Postings for vacancies at other schools begin April 30; we can then apply and be interviewed for those postings. As situations change at our school, vacancies may come up, which may result in one or more of us being called back to the school (in order of seniority). Otherwise, we'll have to wait to see where the board can place us. Thankfully, the principal and local union president both said that all indications seem to be that no one will be surplussed from the board, so the three of us should still have jobs...they just might not be in geographic areas we'd prefer. If we do get surplussed from the board, we will find out sometime in June (again, there is a specific date, but I don't have that on me at the moment).

How do I feel about this? Well, part of me is very much hoping that a dream position will open up teaching at a good school somewhere in Scarborough, which would cut down on both my commute and my classroom management headaches. Part of me is disappointed that I may have to start all over in terms of building relationships with colleagues at a new school, finding out where to find lab supplies there, finding out how the school works, and so on. It's never easy being uncertain about the future, of course, but the fact that Martin and I don't rely upon my paycheque certainly makes it easier to bear (though I am using it to help us build up a down payment on a home of our own, so it does make me wonder it we'll have to put off that dream even longer). Overall, this could work out well for me...I just wish I could see right now what the end result will be.

Monday, February 25, 2008

One month later: how the new job is going.

My last blog post was a month ago today. Back then I was still working at Yorkdale Adult Learning Centre, working part-time with no benefits teaching motivated adult learners grade 11 university-preparation-level chemistry. Today I am working full-time with full benefits (and Toronto District School Board benefits, at that) teaching grade 9 applied math, grade 9 applied science and grade 10 applied science to teenagers at Central Technical School...teenagers who, let's face it, have to be in those classes because those courses are mandatory requirements for a high school diploma in Ontario, and who aren't necessarily happy about having to learn anything about math and science (although there are some motivated students in there, don't get me wrong). At Yorkdale, I had a coop student teaching assistant in the two classes I taught (and remember it's an adult school, so the coop student was an adult--and one with many years of teaching experience from her home country); at Central Tech, I have a wonderful educational assistant in both of my grade 9 classes, though I am on my own with my grade 10 class (which is, unfortunately, the one I find the greater challenge...probably partly because it's the only one in which I'm on my own, but also because it's larger and I find the grade 10s more jaded than the grade 9s). At Yorkdale, I only had to prepare and mark assignments for one course; at Central Tech, I have 3 courses to prep for, and since it's a semestered school, that prep has to happen every single day. At Yorkdale, all the teachers in the academic department shared one very large office, whether they taught math or science or English or business; at Yorkdale, I share an office with only one other teacher (also in his first year), although I can go and hang out in a larger office with more people in it if I'm not too busy doing prep (which I usually am). At Yorkdale, I worked on the second floor of a building with no elevator; at Central Tech, I work on the 4th floor of a building that has no working, regularly-accessible elevator (since the passenger elevator is broken and the freight elevator generally isn't available to me, plus I don't have the key needed to call it). It's been interesting watching my body get stronger over the past few weeks because of the workout I get lugging my stuff and myself up and down the stairs several times a day, heh :).

Overall, I'd have to say that despite the challenges that come with working with teenagers, and despite the challenges that come with being a first-year teacher (and new to a school halfway through the school year, at that), and despite the challenge of having 3 different courses to prep for every day, things are going pretty well. Yes, I am overwhelmed. Yes, I am exhausted. Yes, I'm not doing as good a job as I'd like. Yes, I still have to find out where this, that and the other thing is in the school, and how to go about doing this, that, and something else again. However, I have still been getting positive feedback from other teachers I've interacted with as well as from my educational assistant, and when I mark my students' work, I do get a sense that at least some of them are learning something. There have been "moments" with some students that were very positive to make up for some of the "moments" that were less so. On at least one occasion, I successfully showed myself to be a "reflective practitioner" (one of the edubabble buzzwords these days) by picking up on a misunderstanding several people had in one class and designing a lesson that successfully corrected that misunderstanding for most of those students. While I sometimes feel isolated and alone as the new teacher having to deal with classroom management issues I haven't had to deal with before (plus not wanting to look incompetent by advertising my problems to the more experienced teachers), I have made connections with some staff members that encourage me and do give me the chance to vent that I need sometimes (and give them that chance in turn :)). I also get to benefit from the use of workbooks that have been put together for the grade 9 and 10 science classes to keep all the classes consistent regardless of who teaches the course, and even in my math class I am able to pull liberally from a binder and CD of stuff left behind by a teacher currently on a leave of absence, which really helps my prep situation. It also helps when I get a chance to chat with other teachers who are teaching my course and find out that we do seem to be going through the material at the same pace--this helps allay my fears of looking like an inexperienced first-year teacher who takes forever to get through the curriculum. So, yeah, overall there is a lot going well in this new job, though there is still a lot for me to learn and get organized yet.

It also seems that the other staff do trust in my ability as a teacher (whether with basis or not), because today I was asked by the assistant department head whether I'd be interested in teaching night school there as well. This came up basically because he is no longer able to teach his night school class and they are looking for someone to take on a particular course; apparently one of the vice principals suggested I be approached to fill that gap. While part of me would like to take advantage of the opportunity (especially to impress and not disappoint the senior staff), and also knows that I am much more of an evening person than a morning person, and let's face it, also would not mind the extra cash, the more realistic part of me says y'know what, I'm already exhausted without taking on a fourth course to prep. The plan for now is to turn down this offer and focus on doing the best I can with the courses I've already got. Teaching night school would also mean I would be out late on Tuesday and Thursday nights, which are two of the only three evenings Martin and I currently have together as-is (since he works the night shift Friday to Monday). I do want to be able to see my husband sometime, strange as that might sound!

Methinks I have babbled on long enough about how the start of my career is going; if you have questions, please feel free to use the comments to ask them. For now, back I go to planning and marking and such!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Had another interview the position today :).

I had an interview at 11 a.m. yesterday morning. I taught my usual 8-10 a.m. class, drove down to the interviewing school, interviewed until 11:30 a.m., then drove back to my current school for lunch and to teach my 1-3 p.m. class. The interview team (which consisted of the principal, a vice principal and the school's curriculum leader for science) did a lot of smiling and enthusiastic nodding as they wrote their notes. At the conclusion of the interview, the principal told me they loved everything they heard, and that while he couldn't officially offer me the job there and then, he was going to try to contact my references and process the paperwork to get an offer in place as soon as possible...and that in the meantime, I could "rest assured." Today I got a call on my cell phone from that principal with the official offer, and so I have officially accepted and been hired into a contract position for semester 2! All that is left is for Employee Services to contact me about the paperwork I'll have to sign.

Starting February 1, I will be working at Central Technical School, which is in the Bathurst and Bloor area. I will be teaching grade 9 and 10 science and grade 9 applied math. Certainly there will be challenges working at that school, but I have also heard very positive things from people who have worked there. One interesting thing about their science program is that the students switch teachers partway through the course, so the person with the chemistry background teaches the chemistry part of the course and the person with the biology background teaches the biology part of the course. While I have enjoyed my time teaching the adults at Yorkdale, it is good to be moving to a contract position rather than a part-time situation.

Alright, less blogging and more marking...I have to get my responsibilities looked after here before I can move on to the next thing!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Interview went alright...and it's a *contract* position! Now for the waiting...

I attended the interview today that I mentioned in yesterday's post. I had thought that the position was an LTO posting (i.e., just work there that one semester, then have to find myself a new job), but I learned today that it is actually a contract position! This means that I don't need to stay at my current school to have job security (if, again, I get offered this position, that is). I was also told in the interview that this is a very collaborative school. All the teachers who teach a particular course plan the course together, and a lot is already outlined and laid out. The department head pointed out that this means there is no more of this last-minute first-year-teacher panic saying, "Oh my goodness, what am I going to teach tomorrow?!?" While I have enjoyed being the course director, so to speak, of the one course I am teaching (since I'm the only person teaching it at my current school), I have experienced that panic many a time, so the prospect of a job where that would not be part of my daily experience is appealing. Another aspect of the collaboration is that each teacher teaching a course takes on one unit of the course and designs all the quizzes and tests for that unit (including a morning and afternoon version so multiple classes can write what is otherwise more or less the same test). The exam is a common exam (i.e., all the grade 11 physics students write the same exam, regardless of who their teacher is for their particular class), so this sharing of making up the tests and quizzes prepares the students to see exam questions from different teachers as well. All the teachers also offer input on the quizzes and tests, so that a first-year teacher like me doesn't have to worry about the students getting substandard evaluations when my unit comes up. This sharing of responsibilities sounds awesome. On top of that, it could be a shorter commute (approximately 10 minutes on city streets when traffic is good), although I don't really mind my current commute (approximately 20 minutes between city streets and the highway when traffic is good). All the other pros and cons were covered in my previous post.

Overall, it looks like if this position is offered to me, it is something I should be taking. Of course, that is a big "if." I have had very good interviews in the past that did not result in my being employed, and I wouldn't count this one among my "very good" interviews. In retrospect, I can see several ways in which I could have improved my answers, got more of the edumacational "buzzwords" out there, and so on. My "read" of the interviewers also was not exactly negative, but did not send me away with the sense of having nailed the interview that I've had in previous experiences. We shall see. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Interview tomorrow means I might have some thinking to do.

Friday I got a call out of the blue from a high school asking me to come in for an interview tomorrow (Monday) for a position for semester 2 only teaching physics. I did not apply for an LTO or anything at this school, so they must have found me either through the eligible-to-hire list or the supply teacher list (probably the latter, since this being only a one-semester position means it is a long-term occasional position rather than a permanent contract). The last time I got a call out of the blue for something I didn't apply for, I ended up with my current position, so this interview could actually lead to an offer of employment.

If such an offer is made, I am somewhat torn as to what to do.

Reasons to go to the new school:
- it is a good school, with good students, and so while I'd be giving up my very-well-behaved adult students, I still probably wouldn't have to deal with a great deal of behaviour management
- it would count as experience later on down the road if I am indeed moving into the adolescent schools, whereas one teacher has told me my current work would not count (though that is debatable, I think)
- I would have the full number of instructional hours high school courses are intended to be taught in, rather than the reduced number of hours that I have at my current school (mind you, though, I would also have some of that time taken up by things I don't have to deal with right now like assemblies and more administrative issues)
- I would get more pay, as well as benefits, which I am not getting now.

Reasons to stay at my current school:
- okay, so this other school is thinking of taking me on for an LTO for one semester...where do I go after that? There is no guarantee I'd be able to go back to my current school, whereas I know my current school is interested in keeping me around.
- I enjoy working with the adult students.
- my current grade 11 students are begging me to be their grade 12 teacher--they like me. In fact, when they found out we will probably have 2 sections of grade 12 next quadmester, with me only teaching one of them, some of them told me they were praying that they would end up in my class. It's hard to walk away when someone thinks you would be a Godsend if you were their teacher again.
- I enjoy the amount of autonomy I have to do what I want in my course (so long as the curriculum gets taught), and the camaraderie I have with the other chemistry teacher (who is also the head of the academic program at my's nice to have the same teachable subject as the "boss" and have that sense of both connection and support). In the other school, depending on whether there are other physics teachers teaching the courses on the proposed timetable, I could lose some of that.
- I have just started to get myself established I really want to yank up the roots I've started to put down and move elsewhere already?
- really, for me, it's not about the money anyway; Martin and I have always said we will not use any money I make to pay bills or anything because we don't want to be dependent on it in case I decide to stay home once we have children.

None of this will matter if I don't get an offer from the other school anyway (remember, schools have to interview at least 5 candidates or a certain percentage of the candidates even if they already have someone in mind, so this could just be a "quota" interview), but I need to start thinking all this through so that I will be able to respond fairly promptly should an offer come up. In the meantime, I have much marking and planning to do today, so back I go to that...I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A start on my resolutions

Well, if you use the same calendar I do, it looks like another year is upon us. Time for a clean slate, a fresh start, and all that jazz. I have become somewhat skeptical of setting big all-out goals; it seems many people try to dive headfirst with lots of energy into their goals at the beginning of a new year (or whenever they set their goals...perhaps after stepping on the scale after a particularly indulgent day on the chocolate side of life...not that I would know anything about that, of course) only to crash and burn later and give up entirely. There are things I want to work on in my life, however, so I am going to set some smaller goals that I can build on and add to with time. Here are my top 4 goals for the beginning of 2008, in no particular order:

1. Get into and out of bed at the same time every day.
This also means making those times ones that will get me a decent amount of sleep every night. Getting my body on a regular sleep schedule will hopefully give me more energy for every day, cure me of sleepiness-induced apathy (towards my responsibilities, towards the important people in my life, and even towards my goals and dreams), and give me the freedom (energy, spark) to do more of the things I want to do.

2. Exercise at least 10 minutes every day.
Please don't laugh at my measly 10 minutes. I actually am hoping to do more than that each day, but on days when I feel overwhelmed with lesson planning and marking and such being able to tell myself that I only have to do 10 minutes may just make or break whether I do any exercise at all that day. I'm from the school that thinks doing some kind of cardio exercise at least 30 minutes a session 3-4 times a week is best (adding strength and flexibility and balance workouts on top of that over time), so that is what I will eventually be working up to. However, I need to start off small to experiment with how it's going to fit into my daily routine as well as not to injure myself by trying to do too much too soon (which may have happened that time I tried to take up running). I do not intend to ever be working out intensely every day of the week, as I believe the body needs rest days as well, but doing a small amount every day is how I am going to start out for now. (Also, while I see myself only doing intense cardio 3-4 times a week in the future, I still see more "casual" cardio being part of the other days of the week, so the every day nature of this mini goal is in keeping with that as well.)

3. Have a real conversation with a friend at least once a week.
I know I have been bad at keeping in touch with my friends. Yes, I am on Facebook quite a bit, but I hope people understand that there is a HUGE difference between being a "Facebook friend"--no matter how much wall posting and messaging you may do--and participating actively in an honest-to-goodness friendship. I have commented to several people that I believe Facebook actually gives us a false sense of being in touch and connected. Yes, I can get a sense of what's going on in your life from reading your status updates, your notes, and even what other people have written on your wall. However, I can also pick up any gossip magazine and read (though in a distorted account, granted) what is going on in the lives of person X, Y and Z...and that does not make me their friend. My goal is that by the end of the year it will be less of a miracle for me to pick up the phone and call someone, even during weeks when I feel like I am too busy to make the time. Keep in mind, though, that it's not completely my fault that some of my friends are strangers to me, because some of them are very busy people as well...I just hope that at some point some day of the week I'll actually be able to catch some of them long enough to have a conversation.

4. Return to daily devotions and prayer.
I know that I have lost sight recently of what is really important in life. I know I have become more selfish and care less about other people than I used to. I believe getting back to reading God's Word on a regular basis and opening myself to His work in me through prayer and meditation will help to cleanse me of some of the attitude problems I've picked up lately. Hopefully this in turn will have an impact on my friendships (so I will care for my friends more rather than just using them to meet my own needs for affirmation, etc.), my attitude towards my job and my responsibilities, and so on.

As I said, these four mini goals are only a part of what I want to work on in my life, but they are the ones I've chosen to start working with. (I think the sleep goal in particular is important for giving me the energy and spark I'll need to tackle all the goals I have for myself.) What about you--what are you working on right now?