Mentor in Motion November 27, 2015

Earlier this week, I read a very disheartening message written by a teacher in NYC who in a paragraph, told the story of how and why she was inspired to become a teacher, and why now, she was ready to pack it all in. She could no longer be dragged down emotionally, mentally, or professionally and this personally, made my heart ache.

It makes me sad, because the teachers that the kids she described in her story need, are ones just like her. The ones who through personal experience, or innate callings, wish to make a real difference in a child’s life, not just direct them down the assembly line.

They are the ones who see that these kids are more than just enrollment numbers, beings in attendance, or similar pieces to be fit into the box.

They are in tune to the child’s environment in the classroom, at recess, and at home.

They look past behaviours and go to bed feeling sick at night, knowing that their hands are tied in so many ways…..and that there must be something that can be done.

These teachers know and understand that children cannot be grouped into a generalized classification and move through the curriculum at the same pace, in the same way, or with the same results. Whether it be in NYC, or here in Ontario, the same circumstances are clear…..ratings and statistic and standardized testing really mean nothing….yet affect so many, so negatively and in so many ways. Teachers and students, their parents and communities equally.

While this scenario and side of the story is so important to discuss and advocate for making changes in, I wanted to shed light on the brighter side of what can be, and what is….when teachers who truly care break and bend the rules a little….lean on the restraint that is curriculum, or the education system as a whole. (Remember Righteous Rebellion??)

Right here in our little town of Paris, there is one such teacher. A high school English teacher at Paris District High School that I have come to learn about.

A couple of weeks ahead of the first scheduled report cards of the year, Ms. Michelle Barisky reached out to touch base with a parent regarding their student’s current progress, and work that was due. She did so, stating that if overdue work was handed in, the current mark could rise well above where it sat currently.

This does not make a teacher’s job easier.

In fact, remembering back to a time when my own Mom, a retired elementary school teacher, was working on report cards….brings back memories of careful choice of interruptions….(is someone dying??) and quiet consideration…(it was best to just leave the premises with Dad during this time….tip….toe…out…..the……door…..)

Reading papers, and marking papers, and compiling marks, and submitting grades for 20, 30….60+ students, takes time, a system, and as flawless as possible organization skills. Having one or two glitches…as waiting for weeks worth of work to come in to be graded….has got to be annoying to say the least…

By grade 10, we just expect our teens and students to be able to complete work in class, finish their homework, and to just simply keep up with the rest. While many work hard to do so, and their efforts are to be commended, we as Child and Youth Workers especially know…that the developing brain leaves much to be desired during these teenage years. Did you know the human brain does not stop developing until the age of 25 years old? This, when analyzed and considered, explains a lot about the angst of teenagers and those around them as we try to push and pull them through school, society and life. Pushing to do and pulling to don’t, leaves more than one brain and heart in misery.

Yet still…the march goes on. We surge ahead and do what needs to be done, or so we rationalize anyhow. We trip and stumble trying to live up to expectations, and figure out ways to make it seem effortless. As teachers, or bosses or parents or kids….we just “do what we gotta do” and we better not stop to ask questions or wonder why….no time for that. It’s considered “being difficult.”


Collaboration on what can be done to assist and focus on strengths, for each and every individual’s success is imperative. 

This is exactly what Ms. Barisky initiated, and followed through with.

With careful details and choice of words, Ms. Barisky informed the parents of what work was due, details of what the work was, and how much time had already been given to complete all of the above.

With regular updates and check-ins about progress, parents and teacher worked together to compliment and keep consistent, the expectations for the student and child.

What’s the big deal? Why is this so important? Don’t all teachers do that?

No. They don’t.

Consider the restraints that teachers have on them regarding curriculum, standards and the education system. There are no two students who learn, perceive, comprehend or understand things in the same way. One teacher and 20+ students leaves very little time for one on one intervention or attention. With more and more budget cuts, support staff are severely lacking. Taking time, something that so many have so little of, is so rare….yet so greatly appreciated.

Sometimes, like other professionals….they just don’t care. It happens. It is so. It’s sad.

Consider the teenage brain and it’s development. Visit for an indepth look. Now imagine teaching 20+ students, all with said developing brains, the teenage “s&^# that happens” taking up space in the learning environment, AND taking time and consideration for one or more after class, outside of school….

Consider the last time you spoke to one of your child’s teachers. Are you really aware of what is going on inside the classroom as well as out? Have any reached out to you, for any reason?

I have a son of my own. I can assure you…..despite what I know and have learned…..keeping strict tabs on what’s happening in his daily and weekly life is more than a full time job.  Seriously.

Consider the inundation of distractions today. Aside from taking much time to participate in sports or extracurricular activities,  in their own ways extremely important….we have the internet intruding and insidiously consuming humankind as we know it. One handheld device can steal time, focus and motivation in the second it takes to log on. Trying to keep an entire classroom focused, in the classroom, and out to complete assignments and homework, is next to impossible.

With all of life’s happenings, everything boils down to your grades while you grow up between the ages of 13-18. They affect your present, and your future. It’s not enough to just get by. They can, and will come back to haunt you in more ways than you can expect.

Case in point. I’m 40 and in college. A pure and simple lack of motivation, coupled with severe indecisiveness on “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, left me leaving classes as last priorities during my high school years. I still think that there is MUCH to be considered and reconsidered, looking at the way we teach high school particularly, and now that I know, college and university. But I’ll save that for an entirely different post….

The time and consideration that Ms. Barisky took to communicate with parents outside of a regular or scheduled parent/teacher interview shows her dedication to her students, and their academic success. The thoughtfulness and willingness to take extra time, offer extensions of time, and give the student the benefit of the doubt shows consideration of circumstances and individuality. The fact that Ms. Barisky chose to offer words of positivity regarding the student’s conduct and character inside the classroom, shows that this teacher sees beyond the marks and the comparison of apples to oranges that is “the norm.”

As we strive to push and prod, and compare our children and ourselves to the “provincial standards”, we forget to realize what they really are, and what they really mean.

It is people like Ms. Barisky who whether consciously rebellious or not, extend beyond the system and the standards and set new sights for those who look up to her as a teacher, and as a guide. It is teachers like this who challenge our children to consider reaching beyond the norm, by seeing and considering and understanding things that not everyone notices or sees, or puts a grade on. Those real and innate talents, skills, strengths, personalities and character that our children possess that are rarely given much credit. Perhaps they receive E’s or N’s for “excellent”, or “needs improvement”….but that’s it and that’s all in regards to these traits, strengths and abilities.

For simply taking time outside of “regular scheduled programming” to check in, collaborate with, and work together towards more than just academic success….Ms. Barisky, you are this week’s Mentor in Motion.

There are more looking up to you than you know!

Start a conversation about school, teachers, students, kids, parents…..anything that has inspired you after reading about this week’s Mentor in Motion. We have to keep talking and sharing our experiences so that we can create even more of this good thing…..pass it on!




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