Beginning a New Job

Terry Whitmell - first day of work

Today is the first day of my new job. As a teacher, this is only my second school board, so it’s been a long time since I was truly walking into a brand-new organization. And it is very different from my first day back in 1983.

  1. You need a lot more “stuff” to begin work in 2021, especially in a pandemic:
    • Email account
    • Internet access
    • Logins to all the various digital tools
    • Computer
    • Headset with microphone
    • Good lighting
    • Make-up to look good in a virtual meeting
  2. You need to get to know a lot more people:
    • In 1983 I only needed to know our office staff, my department head and Principal, a few colleagues in classrooms nearby, and my students. And all of them were in the same building as I, and were easy to get to know. I would never have any way to connect beyond my school, so my world was very small.
    • In 2021 I will need to know almost everyone in the organization, eventually, but all of them are “invisible” to me. I did meet three people in my interview, and have talked to a couple more on the phone, but I have yet to get to know anyone in person. This means that building trust is a more challenging task.
  3. With social media you can easily make “faux pas”!!
    • I was originally to begin work on Friday, so I thought over the weekend I could update my profiles in places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not a good idea! The organization hadn’t yet determined their communication plan for me, and my premature communication complicated theirs.  Not a good way to begin a new role!
    • I have had two years of freedom in my retirement, having only to be accountable to myself. Now I am returning to a “family”, and will need to be sensitive to the possible responses from all of my colleagues. When I first stepped into Twitter my audience were people who knew and trusted me, and this network has grown. Now there will be people meeting me for the first time, and they have the potential to learn a great deal about me just by “Googling”.
  4. It’s not as simple as “getting the keys”.
    • Information flows digitally through an organization in a clear sequence, with checks and balances at each point. So, having been signed on by HR, there are still many steps that might lead eventually to creation of email and network accounts. And if you don’t have them, you don’t have clearance to view any of the information you need for the role.
    • Computers are configured specifically for the role, and then they have to be transported.  Given the size of my new organization, and the snow day today, this could take some time. I might have to continue to struggle with Sharepoint until I get a new computer; it confused my university and school board accounts, and now there is a third organization.
    • And each person who will eventually be working with me has to receive explicit instructions to share with me. Since the communication of my appointment has yet to happen, they cannot proceed, much as they would love to hand off tasks as soon as possible.
  5. Your identity needs to be more explicitly communicated:
    • Am I Dr., Mrs. or Ms.?
    • Should I add “she/her” as my pronouns, to assist those who might interpret “Terry” as a male name.
    • How do I structure my email signature? What is my name in Zoom or MS Teams or Google Meet? 

So, I stand here in front of my rather empty desk.  I have both phone and virtual meetings scheduled this week, which I know will add to my comfort level and task list. But in the meantime I wait.  In 1983 I would have been thrown into the classroom, and not stopped until the last day of June.  Today’s been very different. Perhaps I should enjoy the calm?


Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Days 17, 18 and 19

Despite our best intentions, our plans to go “screen-free” lasted until late in the day on Wednesday. By then we had been busy all day, and we needed a break from each other. And we decided that Netflix as a reward was working, so our screen time on Thursday and Friday featured “Go Dog. Go”, on repeat.

Wednesday began at 4:30, with C awake and ready for breakfast, likely due to his dinner decisions the previous evening. It took about 45 minutes to convince him to return to bed, and he successfully added a couple of hours to his sleep time.

But he did awake hungry, and so our first activity of the day was to dig out an old waffle iron, mix up some batter, and cook breakfast. The first batch didn’t meet with his approval, as I did not spread the batter to the corners, and so he didn’t have the four square waffles he expected.  As the second batch was cooking we took breakfast-in-bed to Grandpa, and confirmed that we would have having another “screen-free” day.

While he ate, we created a calendar for the month of February, entering all the important dates, including his birthday in three weeks. He enthusiastically crossed off 1, 2 and 3, and then later in the day checked off 4 as well! C spent the morning playing with Lego and his vehicles, and then making sandwiches for lunch.

We had a beautiful, clear day, so the afternoon was spent exploring nearby ditches, sliding down the snow, and keeping out of the wind. C has no idea that I might not have the flexibility and stamina that he has, and so it was a great workout.

In the evening, before bath time, we headed outdoors to examine two things: the electricity meter on the outside of the house, and the amazing display of stars. C’s idea to then play hide-and-seek in the snow was only partially effective: the temperature made the snow quite crunchy, so it was difficult not to hear where anyone walked. He did like the anticipation of hearing my footsteps, getting slowly closer and closer to his hiding spot, and I could hear him giggling as I approached.

Thursday we tried going back to the Virtual Classroom, but it consisted entirely of links to books about groundhogs, and a short memory game with photos of groundhogs. This engaged him for less than 30 minutes, and he then had a meltdown when I wouldn’t allow him to head to his toy videos on YouTube.

He was much happier playing with scissors and a small paper cutter, creating tiny squares of card-stock and then gluing them all together.

Since he had already put an X under February 4, we only checked the calendar to confirm that it was still several weeks to his birthday, and to note that his uncle’s would be the next day.

Friday was a snowy day, and C requested pasta for breakfast. He is very good at cooking Kraft Dinner, and I couldn’t think of a reason to say “no”. But before that he needed to make two small video messages for his uncle’s birthday and for his parents, to say he loved them. Both were improvised songs, and he ended the second with a heart made with his hands. I know that they will love them!

Then, because of the snow, we then relaxed with more “Go Dog. Go”, while I checked my email and the weather. We are hoping to drive south with him this weekend, but it’s looking like both days will possibly include snow squalls. Today promises 15 cm, with more tomorrow, and we have a 400-foot driveway to clear.

With the blowing snow, C is not keen to go outside, and neither am I. He asked for me to make a stuffed heart, and we worked together at the sewing machine to make it, and then he stuffed it. I added buttons, to his design, and it is now ready for him to give to his mother for Valentine’s Day. We also shortened the sleeves on a bathrobe, and he ran the pedal while I controlled the sleeve in the machine. Unfortunately these activities took minutes, not hours, and so we need to plan another eight to ten activities to fill out the day!

Looking back on our four weeks together, I am not at all worried about C’s learning. I wish that there had been some sort of social connection, both with his teachers and with his peers. However, we have been working on positive social interaction in all that we do, as well as independent work and self-regulation.

So, does Kindergarten really matter? As a university student I worked for an artist who chose to keep her children out of school until the law demanded it. She explained that schools killed creativity, and she wanted her children to be free to play until the last possible moment. The four-year-old that I cared for that summer is now a magazine editor, obviously not damaged by her lack of Kindergarten. My husband never went to Kindergarten, and began grade one in a one-room schoolhouse. He had a long career as an engineer, graduating near the top of his class both in high school and university. I attended half-day Kindergarten when I was five-years-old, and the requirements were much less detailed than today’s curriculum:

From this report card you will see that printing wasn’t even assessed until the last term of senior kindergarten.  I only counted to 10. And there are some characteristics you have learned about C that I also shared at the same age.

Despite this rather unimpressive beginning to my education I excelled at school, and achieved well in my post-secondary programs. It’s perhaps not surprising that I studied music initially, nor that I ended up as a Principal. However, I am sure that this report card would be received with little enthusiasm by today’s parents. It might not be surprising as well to hear that I spent much of grade one with my desk at the end of the last row, facing the back of the room. Nor that in grade 7 I had a desk by the window, with hand-made “blinders” to keep me from talking with the others, who were in groups of four or five.

My home at C’s age had only one black-and-white television set, which received one station only. There was at most an hour of children’s programming each morning: The Friendly Giant, Chez Helene, and Mr. Dressup. We had a few books, but depended upon the library for most of our reading material. We owned a couple of children’s records, but I had to ask my parents to play them for me on the “hi-fi”. And most days we played unsupervised with the other children in the neighbourhood while our mothers did laundry with a wringer-washer, nursed our younger siblings, and prepared meals without a microwave or food processor.

The world that C inhabits is infinitely richer than I experienced as a child, and his school experience has demanded far more from him already than was asked of me at a much greater age.

I am not worried about his development. And I don’t think that other parents should either. Providing a secure, caring home is much more important. Our kids will learn. Our kids will grow. Despite us!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 16

Today was a “no screens” day. Except for a search for a bread recipe, a Cricut project, and “window shopping” for Lego for C’s upcoming 5th birthday, we kept all computers, tablets, and phones out of sight. Generally it went very well.

We observed a lot more singing, imaginative play, conversations with both of us, and much more movement. There were a few tears, but they soon extinguished and C was on to something else.

Breakfast was one huge pancake, with C’s secret ingredients of cinnamon and raisins added. It was intended to be a normal pancake, but the raisins didn’t cooperate when exiting the bowl, and the entire batch found itself in the cast-iron frypan. C generously cut me wedges of the pancake, and we shared most of it, then put the remainder in the fridge for later.

A trip to the “attic” revealed some new-to-us games, including two small paddles and a birdie. Since this wasn’t going to be a safe indoor activity, we headed out into the wind and sun. C figured out how to toss the birdie, and occasionally hit it with the paddle. The sound it made was a strong reinforcement, and he persisted with the activity a lot longer than I expected.

Back inside we began the process of bread-making, with tasting the dough several times, and kneading his own small piece before returning it to the bowl. Unfortunately he acquired a taste for the dough, and secretly tasted some more later in the morning, as the loaves were rising just prior to going into the oven. (I noticed that the towel covering the loaves was askew, and he rather sheepishly said that he “was hungry”.) The result was one beautifully-shaped loaf, and one that was rather lumpy and lumpy, due to the pokes and pulls.

We made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, with C helping to spread butter, and separate the cheese slices. We insisted that our meal take place at the table, and except for the bright sun making C “hot”, it was a pleasant lunch.

Our Cricut project was inspired by our baking: the labels on our measuring cups and measuring spoons were almost illegible, and so we designed and cut new vinyl labels. C was able to put the spoons in order, but was upset that 1/8 tsp was the smallest, even though it had the largest number. I think that the concept of fractions is going to need a bit more work!

Then the Lego shopping took much of the afternoon. C is very concerned about the recommended ages on the various Lego sets, interested in the number of pieces, and not-at-all concerned about the price. I, however, am sensitive to price, and so it took quite a while to come to an agreement about which sets would have the best play value for the price. He understands that online ordering means that we have to wait, and seemed quite excited when I said that his birthday would be in three weeks. We haven’t converted that to days, but I’m sure that is coming.

It is likely that we will not be with him for his birthday at the end of the month, as we will be returning him home this weekend, so that he can (hopefully) return to school in person. So I will do curb-side pickup when we take him home, and ensure that his gifts are safely stored with his parents until that day. This deferred gratification will be a challenging exercise for him, but one that I hope will pay off.

We will be having dinner at the table tonight, without our usual video or movie to watch. I’m hoping that our conversation will continue through dinner. With a bedtime of 8:00 there is still a great deal of time for play and stories. And now that my tiling is done, C can enjoy playtime in the tub as well.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 15

It’s week 5 of online school for C, and his fourth with me.  We decided that he should check in with his class, to begin the week, despite having been asynchronous for much of last week. He was ready at 8:30, and the 45 minute wait was filled with music and videos, and you can imagine where he ended up. So, I promised he could return to his paused video after attendance, and he held me to it.

The class opened with the three teachers (ECE, phys. ed., and supply teacher) discussing dogs and their weekend experiences.  They occasionally said “hello” and then “please mute your mic” to the students as they arrived. C was able to say “Look at my shirt”, and they did respond with “Nice shirt”, which brought a smile to his face.  Then for five minutes there was nothing to engage the incoming students. C was eager to share, saying “I want to sing them my song”. I explained that he needed to wait, and he complied. At attendance he did hold up his new name card, which they commented on. And then, immediately, he said “can I go back to my video?”.  Having promised, I “caved”, and so he then began watching a video of children playing with a Hot Wheels Play Set.  It’s imaginative play, and likely has many of the aspects of his play at school with friends, suggesting new vocabulary and developing interesting plot lines.  C is also interested in the mechanics of the vehicles and characters, and will both describe and critique the engineering decisions.

I finally lured him away from the screen with the promise of a sled ride, and so we spent much of the afternoon out in the fields and woods. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were able to remove mittens and hats when out of the wind. He took his skid-steer, monster truck, snowball maker, and one of my windshield scrapers with us on the journey. They were a little difficult to hold onto on the slippery sled, but all were used in his play at some point in the afternoon. He is becoming quite good at steering the sled down the hill, and no longer insists that I pull it back to the top for him. So, I was able to pull up a lawn chair, and enjoy the sun!

His choice when we returned indoors was to paint, with a set of acrylic paints I picked up on the weekend. He had already used the three small canvases I purchased, so we cut cardboard instead. He understands that green and red make brown, and that was useful for his painting of a cat. Red is his favourite colour, and so his robot painting was entirely red.  We will likely only be able to use this colour one more time before we run out. It is interesting to see how he works with the various sizes of brushes, and changes his grip to achieve the look he desires. Also purchased on the weekend were a pair of safety scissors, and so one of his cardboard “canvases” now has corners cut off, painted brown, and glued to the painting. I remember being taught how to use scissors when I was in kindergarten, but I don’t think I tackled cardboard until I was much older.

We continue to battle over “screens”. With a family television set, his Chromebook, and his Fire tablet, there is plenty of access. And it’s not as if we don’t like our computers, Netflix, and DVDs. We are NOT good role models, and so it’s difficult to deny his wish to view. We have been trying to incorporate some social viewing, where the three of us watch together.  He either is entirely engrossed, or he becomes excited by the action and begins running around, participating in the plot. Having watched the live-action Aladdin, he was intrigued by our book of the same title.  The only roadblock is that it is in French, and I’m not able to do live translation into English, in order to read it to him. He is very encouraging, telling me that I can do it, but my grade 13 French isn’t up to the subtleties of the plot.

So, I really think that having him log in, and sit passively in front of the Chromebook, is setting us up for failure during the day.  Even when we visited the Virtual Classroom in the afternoon, he only chose two or three activities, and then went down the rabbit hole of toy videos. I think that, given the addictive nature, it would be easier if we never turned them on.

So, tomorrow, we will opt out, and I will keep the screens on the shelf as long as possible.

Stay tuned to find out how that works!