Sunday, August 31, 2014

A teacher you know

Dear friends and family, I am a teacher​ you know​​. I am gutted about the present labour dispute in BC schools.

Maybe I'm a foolish idealist but I believe in public education and equal access for all kids. I hope you will trust me that this is not a fight about money. You know the financial strain this has caused for ​us​. This is a fight about making sure every kid has access to a funded public education, where every child, regardless of family socio-economics has ​the same chance to be successful. If this was about money, I would have folded long ago, taken the paycheque and left kids to flounder in the class.

 ​I wish I could leave education policy decisions in the hands of the policy makers. I wish that my contract t​a​ lks only focused on salary and benefits. But I can't trust that this government will make decisions in the best interest of students.

In 2002, the Liberal Government stripped class size limits and composition language from teachers contracts. ​The​ Supreme Court​ of BC, in 2011, gave th​e​ govt one year to put class size and composition language back into collective bargaining. They have ignored this ruling. Justice Griffin, in her 2014 ruling, ​instructed the government to ​retroactively restore class size and composition levels improperly stripped from teachers' contracts in 2002. They have also thus far ignored this ruling and are filing another appeal.

 ​For 10 years, students have been shortchanged. Last year, each of my classes had ​29-​30 students in it; two of those classes had 6-8 students on specialized learning programs who required additional learning, behavioral, social-emotional or mental health support. Stripped language putting limits on class size and composition was replaced by the Learning Improvement Fund, which turns student needs into a lottery system. If we win, our kids get adequate support. If we lose, they lose. As a staff representative, I have personally worked on the application for these funds for the last three years. Each year, our staff has asked for an add ​i​tional two teachers​ to​ support at-risk students. We received no more than 1/3 of a teacher each year. The needs are real. Just because we don't receive the funding does not mean the needs of these vulnerable students suddenly disappear.

The government's response is always, "We can't afford to." BC Place ​'s​ roof ​cost ​500 million,​ the Olympics ​cost over 1 billion​, ​S​mart ​M​eters ​cost ​900 millio​n, BC Ferries ​CEO​,​ ​David Hahn's pension ​was over $10 million​​​. It's not that we can't afford to, but where we put our priorities. Kids are a priority. Education is not a liability, it's an investment.

 This is not a fight about salary; both sides agree that the sticking point is class size and composition.

We all want our kids back in classes and there’s still something you can do: if you have children, grandchildren, or ​believe in public education, please take a moment to write or call your MLA. It takes just a few minutes to use the MLA finder @

If writing your MLA on this holiday weekend feels like too much to ask, please know ​my colleagues and I have gone without a paycheck ​;​ ​some, like Glenn and I, have had to take out additional loans to stay afloat, ​some are in process of being evicted ​ while​ others will deal with mortgage foreclosure; all because ​we stand up for our kids ​. ​

Thanks for reading, CindyQ

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bill 22 offends citizens of democracy

Those who support Bill 22 and attack teachers can't argue beyond the issue of money. Any individual who takes the time to read the Bill will understand the harsh and heavy-handed attack on democracy, justice and learning. The three day withdrawal of services means I lost three days of wages. You think this is still about money?

Bill 22 should be upsetting to any citizen, not just teachers, who cares an iota about democracy,. Bill 22 ignores the Supreme Court of British Columbia’s finding that the removal of class size, composition from teacher contracts in Bill 28 was unconstitutional. In addition, Bill 22 repeals this gov't's own Bill 33 consent/consult process that at least pretended to attend to class size and composition.

I wish I didn't have to defend learning conditions in my collective agreement. I wish I could trust the Ministry Education to look out for the best interest of students. I have little faith that this gov't cares about encouraging an environment conducive to learning.

I will assume that those who cry for teachers to “get back to work” do not want students to suffer. That’s why I’m defending them. Anyone who has read the bill will see past the rhetoric to the damage it will wield on our students.

Abbott promises monetary compensation to teachers for classes over 30. I don’t want compensation. Throwing money at me will not help my students learn. Protect learning conditions and keep your money.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A teacher's response to Bill 22

Dear Mr. Farnworth, Mr. Austin and Ms Thorne,

I teach at Gleneagle Secondary in school district 43 Coquitlam. I love the work I do.  I pour my heart into every interaction with students.  When they suffer from life's stumbles and tears, I cry too.  When my students climb small mountains of personal accomplishment, I do a silent cheer.  My students remind me daily that young people are fierce, compassionate, kind and ever so vulnerable.

When I became a mother myself, I truly understood that every child who walks into my room is someone's baby.  I teach every child like they are someone's baby.  I teach individuals, not the curriculum. I work with individuals, not numbers on a roster. They are complicated and singular people who each require a unique response.

The saying that those who can't, teach, is a fallacy.  I am highly skilled at my job.  When a student walks into my room, I know how best to help them learn, I know who needs a soft hand, I know who needs a firmer challenge, I know how to inspire critical thinking. I know how make the tough kid smile.  I know how to frame feedback that encourages rather than deflates.

At a recent Odyssey of the Mind practice at my home, my husband tried without success to tame an unruly group of 10 year-olds' explosive energy so they could begin solving the problem.  Despite several attempts, their energy continued to reverberate formlessly.  At this point, I stepped in.  I framed the task, I asked some open-ended questions, and I asked the kids to divide up the problem into thematic segments and assigned tasks based on individual strengths.  Within 5 minutes, the group was doing intense and high-level thinking.

My husband turned to me, with a rather annoyed glare and asked, "How did you do that?"

"How do I do that?"   I was able to do that because I knew the kids, their strengths, their challenges and had an opportunity to get to know each of them as individuals.  Teaching cannot be taught by textbook or checklist.  We are dealing with the layered messiness and beauty of working with human minds.

"How do I do that?"  Because I am really good at my job and I know how to help kids learn.  However, in order for me to serve every student, I have to have the time to make these meaningful connections.

One of my Grade 9 classes has 9 designated special needs students whose challenges range from severe anxiety, head injury, sustained grief from the loss of a parent to learning disabilities.  In addition, there are more than 5 other students who are not designated but struggle with anger management or social isolation.  And of course, there are also the remaining 10 students who each also require individualized attention.

The limitations and stifling conditions of Bill 22 will have a drastic and profound impact on how I can serve my students.  With the removal of class size limits, the removal of restrictions on teaching loads, the removal of the limits of special needs in any given class, I feel that I have been set up to fail. I am really good at my job.  Let me do it.  Kids are really good at learning.  Give them a fighting chance.

The mediation process set out by Bill 22 is a farce.  A mediator who is appointed by the Minister of Education and shackled by strict precepts defined by the same Minister is not in a position to help the two parties "bargain in good faith."  For George Abbott to tell the public that he has responded to teachers’ demands for a mediator is dishonest and mean-spirited.

Bill 22 is more than an attack on teachers.  It is an attack on kids, on learning and on our fundamental belief in justice and fairness.

What do you believe in?  Please consider sharing my letter and experience in the Legislature when Bill 22 moves into debate.

Yours Sincerely,

Cindy Quach

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eating the Story

The story that needed to be told.

I've just returned from a pro-d session with Carl Leggo, professor of English and Literature Education at UBC. Leggo encourages educators to be ARTographers - to embrace our layered roles as Artists (to create), Researchers (to search and search again) and Teacher. After all, the "story is the mother of us all." It is story that connects the "I" to the "you." It is story that makes meaning of life out of a a series of isolated events. It is story that makes us human and vulnerable and connected. Telling a story is an invitation to another to share theirs. We all have stories that are worth telling.

Leggo introduced the participants to "wildmining," - a strategy that encourages writers to stop thinking about and judging their own writing and let the words and the story become. The prompt was to tell a story about bread; I thought I had a story to tell but it was not the story that became. Here is the story that needed to be told; written in five minutes and without edit.

The crust bursting and crackling - sharp shards splinter in my eye. Steam wafting like some second rate ghost, hovering and dissipating but sensual and seductive. I want her. Want to sink my teeth into her like a lover and feel her pale soft flesh in the moistness of my mouth - to waver between her coying voluptuousness and the sharp prick of her lusty crust.

This summer, I set out to capture her or, if not, one of her sisters, but was beatened down by self-doubt. Could I have her? Could I fashion her form - from frail and loose powder into a dome, golden and snapping?

I captured the yeast from the air and sealed it into a mason jar, feeding and nursing it, never sure if I was breeding a colony of yeast or hissing bacteria. After ten days of tending to my aloof patient, I took the plunge, dipping the metal measuring cup into the sticky, clinging liquid that drapped and drooled on the sides of the bowl.

I'm going to go eat my story.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My personal 20 - a life condensed and potent

Life unfolds in moments of magic and doom, tragedy and euphoria.

We all have stories that are worth telling - the stories that define our lives and our identity. These moments hover in time and quiver with portent. I'd like my students to write from a place of emotional truth. Emotion resists disguise and mocks the trappings of deceit.

My students believe that they have nothing to say and that no one could possiblly find truth in their experiences. Yet, when I ask each of them to think of the five events that have defined their lives, the stories appear out of the mist and take physical, emotive form.

As part of our discussion of Margaret Atwood's "Death by Landscape," we have grappled with the heady theme of identity and its fitful search for self.

What does it mean to be Canadian? How is identity formed? Can story become the truth of our lives? How do the isolated moments that mark our lives, like the bony ridge of each vertebrate, come to form the spine that gives our lives form and function.

As a culminating activity, I was inspired by Kate in the Kitchen, a food blogger whose love of food and words mirrors my own much humbler efforts. In particular, I was moved by the candor, vulnerability and emotional rawness of her Kate's 100. ...a human life, in 100 lines. This was a life condensed and potent. Each item was a story in wait and, together, they form the stories that are worth telling in Kate's life.

I asked my students to extend their understanding of character and the theme of identity formation in "Death by Landscape" by creating a personal 20 for the protagonist, Lois. What are the moments (real or created) that defined Lois' life and identity? As an extension, I also asked students to share the top 20 of of their own lives. What are the stories that are worth telling? How does identity take shape?

Here is my personal 20.

1. I did not learn how to speak English until I was seven.
2. The only thing I love more than cooking is eating.
3. I have always wanted to be a teacher.
4. I don't think I was a very good teacher until I became a mother.
5. Sometimes, after a day of teaching, I go home and cry.
6. I cry a lot - this is a gift and a curse.
7. My temper is fierce and overwhelming; I struggle to keep it contained.
8. I married the kindest and most intelligent man I ever met.
9. We got married at the Chapel of Love in Las Vegas - my marriage may not be legit.
10. I'm energetic and hyper; this makes me lovable to some and annoying to others.
11. When I was 7, I wanted to be white and blond and eat exotic things like meatloaf
12. I named myself Cindy, after Cindy Brady of the Brady Bunch.
13. I know I am my mother's favourite and this makes me feel guilty.
14. When my daughter was born, my heart stretched taut with fear.
15. My father is a story I have buried too deep to be healthy.
16. There was a time when I felt like fraud in both cultures.
17. I spent many years of my life deeply ashamed of my Chinese heritage.
18. I am a boat person.
19. I named one daughter Weijin (imaginative journey) and the other Jian (peaceful journey); their names hold my wish for each of their lives.
20. The wrongs of the world overwhelm me with grief.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reading is messy business...would you have it any other way?

As I dive headlong into the challenge of trying to create authentic and meaningful conversations around fiction with my students, I am buoyed in spirit and in mind by their insightful and engaged conversations around their book club books (see last post). I love that the ideas as they come out in their online discussion treads in the realm of grey...they are complex, messy, tentative, speculative...what more do we want from our readers? Who's teaching and who's learning anyhow? The lines blur and everything else comes into focus.

Below is an excerpt of their discussion around Carol Shield's last novel, Unless, a novel that is layered and complex and yields more questions than answers. This novel's exploration of identity, gender, voicelessness and the roles we inherit and define for ourselves is a stunning testiment to Shield's final waltz with language; this book is the product of a great writer who had complete and absolute control of her craft and was at the pinnacle of her career. That they have jumped in and are sharing their tentative and vulnerable impressions leaves me breathless.


I'm about 200 pages into the book. So far i am not sure how I feel about it as a whole. I really enjoy the writing at times, however the feminist comments by Reta are a little too much for me. For example, the comment about how men don't care about anything that women is completely absurd. Reta sends these letters to editors about how women are not listened to and somehow connecting it to Norah's disappearance. I will be pretty disappointed if the reason that Norah abandoned her whole life was because she felt ignored as an individual because she is a woman. However, I think that it is unlikely that that is the case. It seems to me that the book isn't really telling me what I am waiting for which is what the deal is with Norah. I find that the reader is given little slivers of details of Norah's life before she ended up on the corner of Bathurst, however little is revealed about what is actually happening with Norah leaving me a little unsatisfied. But I don't really mind because many of the passages in the novel are quite beautiful. Like Ms. Quach said, this novel is quite "heavy" and intense, making a bit of a challenge to get through. Reta's quest to discover and understand Norah's journey for GOODNESS intrigues me, however I am always waiting for answers with this novel and never getting any.

Quach, Cindy

hmmm....i don't want to monopolize this discussion (like i did with oryx and crake) but this is really a book about the questions and not so much about the answers. with that said, i do love the sense of feeling discombobulated at the end of the book b/c it means it will continue to live and have a conversation with me (life of pi). i think this novel is about reta trying to make sense of her daughter's silence. interesting perspective: woman, translator of others' work, mother, wife...but who is she? through seen through the eyes of some strong ideas around the role of women, it can also been seen about the desire to find self in the tangle of all our obligations and responsibilities to others.

Confession: I am on page 25, for no good reason whatsoever.

So far, this novel has been completely different from what I expected. To be honest, I've been a bit disappointed in the plot. (What plot?) Reta reveals everything in a matter-of-factly tone that really creates no suspense at all. Even the revelation about her daughter Norah is presented flatly and without any warning. Perhaps that's why I'm not experiencing the urge to read that drove me to binge Oryx and Crake. (Although I'm not blaming my pace on anyone/anything but myself.)

Yet for such an absence of plot (at least in these few pages), many questions have already been raised in my mind. The most interesting is the question of whether translation constitutes art. I can somewhat connect to this question, through music. Having composed, transcribed, and performed music for years (well not transcribed, I've only been doing that recently), I find it hard to argue that any of those tasks is not "art". Yet transcription is clearly akin to translation: for example, translating the "language" of the orchestra to the "language" of the piano. Also, performing music arguably means translating the notes on paper into emotions in sound.

The real reason I decided to post is, of course, that I've just read about the physicist trying to explain to Reta Einstein's theory of relativity. I doubt that this is of major significance in the novel as a whole but I couldn't resist analyzing this short chapter in much greater depth than is probably warranted. Amazingly, Reta's two complaints - "So, the speed of light is constant. Is that all?" and "How can mass ... have any connection with how fast light travels?" echo two of the biggest questions I consistently have whenever I try to understand relativity. This chapter also gives some insights into Reta's character. Her intrapersonal strength, already established by the first chapter, is strengthened by her insightful analysis of Colin's relationship with his wife. That her thoughts always return to Norah reveals just how affected she is by the loss of her daughter. And her question to Colin - "But isn't it possible to think that goodness ... could be a wave or particle of energy" - shows admirable openmindedness, something the physicist clearly lacks. (Note to self: if I ever decide to become a physicist, remember Unless.)

To everyone, sorry for posting an incoherent rant. To my group, sorry for my snail pace. Contrary to what Ms. Quach recommended I do plan to read the majority of this novel during grad weekend. I'll make my next post a lot more interesting.


Now on page 104, and beginning to see the first bits of explicit feminism.

I will wait for more pages before making a final judgement on the validity of the feminism in this novel. However, the little that I've read has already begun to disturb me. The worst was "How do I permit myself to live with a man?", which sounds a lot like "eye for an eye", hate, spite, and various other emotions I've thought about a lot these past few days.

I find Reta's insight that "women have been hampered by their biology" intriguing. From a biological perspective, it does indeed seem that it's women who are asking for more than men, by defying both evolutionary and traditional roles. Of course, this is incompatible with the blatant inequality of the genders, or as Reta puts it, "how [women] are dismissed and excluded from the most primary of entitlements". A possibility: these "entitlements" are in fact naturally masculine and have become "primary" because of male dominance? There's something "inelegant" about this answer to the question, but I'm too tired to think about it in depth at this hour.


I haven't made any progress, but I've been thinking about the differences between the group and the individual. Personally I've always been an individualist. In general, I believe that all valid group goals translate into individual goals, while not vice-versa; hence individual goals are more important. Feminism appears to seek individual goals (even though feminism concerns the entire population of women, the rights it advocates are individual). However, when Reta says that "women have been hampered by their biology", she is making a generalized judgement on all women. When, later, Danielle Westerman asks Reta how she permits herself to live with a man, the former is again making general assumptions about all women. I don't deny that rights (ie. the right of women to live independently) not exercised can easily become lost, but when rights become obligations, I believe that the solution has come full circle in creating another problem.

Sorry if the above makes no sense. I'm still quite confused about my own thoughts at the moment.


Ronnie, I must agree with you that I feel quite confused about this book as well as my own thoughts in its regard. I am finished the book now and like Ms. Quach says, this is definitely not a book about answers, however Reta's journey to discover Norahs misguidance is an interesting one and really makes me ponder the role of myself as well as those around me. Like many, I do believe that woman deserve equality, but the lengths that this book takes go beyond equality of woman and sometimes push to mere hatred of men. The comment Ronnie mentioned about how can Reta live with a man is a perfect example. Her living with a man does not make her any less equal to him, and this statement really doesn't comment on equality. To me it seems as though to embody the voice of many woman who are frustrated with men, even though it is obvious that not all men are the same. At times I really couldn't tell what was more important to Reta. Whether it be gaining a voice for woman? Or trying to understand Norah? Or does she believe the root of Norah's anguish is that she is voiceless. Once again, I find myself only left with questions.


Before I comment on the ending I must say that Carol Shields' stream-of-consciousness style is amazing. I can feel the rise of Reta's mental confusion as she struggles to understand Norah's plight. Her changing signature on the letters she composes as an outlet for her emotions subtly suggests that she herself is undergoing the self-destruction of identity that she believes has struck Norah. And the tenderness of the climax quite easily made me forget that I was holding a paper book in my hands, with my eyelids barely open, while sweating on a couch in a stuffy living room. I was immersed into Reta's world, and I felt her impossible mix of fear, joy, pain, and relief.

My first impressions after finishing follow.

The ending was a letdown. As Micah said it gave no answers. Moreover, I feel that the strong themes of power, individuality, and reality, kittens bred throughout the novel into truly terrifying tigers, were at once tossed into the garbage bin. Everything was set up for Reta to come to terms with her identity, to discard her work as a novelist of writing frivolous lies once and for all (not my view of the art of writing), or even to reveal her final feminist-bordering-on-sexist epiphany; yet, in the end I feel like she all but gives up, and everything reverts to exactly the state of affairs before Norah's crisis. If there's one change that Reta's undergone, I'd say it's realizing the importance of understanding and acceptance. This mere hint of a theme feels quite empty and fake though.

I'm sure I'm missing something. Hopefully as I reflect on this novel in the next few days I will begin to appreciate its ending a bit more.


I'll be honest: I've been stuck in the middle for quite a while now. Nonetheless, I feel obliged to touch on a few points Micah and Ronnie have already discussed (but with a female's perspective) FEMINISM I always thought of myself as a feminist, but Carol Shield portrayal of the female role juxtaposes my own. For lack of a better word, I find her female characters tend to be whiny at times when battling between genders. In particular, when Reta wrote a letter to the magazine publisher, her words did not strike an emotional chord. I understood the importance the letter had for her seeing as it not only related to herself, but to her children. This is not how I would address my female role in society. I was hoping to see a little more leading by example from these mature women and I found it somewhat disturbing to see them still questioning the gender role. Is this an ordeal only experienced in the older generations or will I be plagued with it as well when I age? PLOT The plot lacks drive. The slow pace seems necessary, but at the same time, it is driving me crazy. I want a little more excitement and less worrying form Reta. Her worries about, well, everything is exhausting my mind. My eyes lift faster away from the page than I can read the words. The flawed characters are also hard to swallow at times. CHARACTERS By no means are the flaws wrong. The flaws within the characters makes the story come alive and feel human to me as a reader. In particular, when Reta's friends announced herself as a lesbian (I apologize for forgetting her name), I wondered whether this was because she was extremely bitter towards men or she was actually homosexual. MATURITY I'm not a mother. I don't have daughters and I certainly haven't lost one. I have no published novels, I don't translate books, and I don't write to publishers. I've never lived in a house for over twenty years and I've never been tied down to a man. When I first chose the book, I had high anticipation for what it had to offer; a new perspective, new insight. Unfortunately it turned out to be a lot different. The story, plot, and style create abundant potential that I cannot access for the very fact that it is not my time to appreciate it. Twenty years down the road, I definitely see myself enjoying the novel. Right now, it's hard to swallow. Reading Unless makes me feel angry and rebellious (probably because its a reaction I often with my mother at this adolescent age- God bless her patient soul).

Quach, Cindy
this is a valid point, justine..perhaps the theme lacks the universality that would make it more meaningful across age and gender. this novel is certainly not simple and it does make a reader work as it is densely layered and complicated and confusing. this will make good fodder for discussion.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living and Reading

Today, I began a second installment of book club with my English 12 students. This was in response to the overwhelming popularity of our first book club foray in February.

This idea came to me intially as I tried to think of ways I could help my students become lifelong readers. How do we see those who are no longer in school "living" life as readers? Akin to those who continue to run long after they have graduated from PE classes, where in society do I see people reading for meaning and pleasure? The answer lies in the book club phenomenon that has swept the US and Canada (Egad! Oprah again!)

The book club offers an opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to get together and debate, discuss and decipher books they have all read. Perhaps reading is not the end of the process but rather the beginning of the conversation that good books seem to generate. The book club offers so much for the English student: active reading, engagement, discourse, critical thinking, active-listening, questioning, being enlightened by the thoughts of others. But this is still all teacher speak.

Why do adults CHOOSE to be part of a book club, even though there is no looming authority figure or class assignment? …because it’s fun, and somewhere along the way, all that heady intellectual stuff also happens to follow.

Joanne Leblond, our teacher-library and I lead a brief book talk to introduce students to some books that have been fixtures on bestseller lists and/or are the darlings of critics. From there, students chose the book they would like to read and discuss. We tried to replicate as close as possible the ad hoc conversations about books readers often happen upon - these talks occur in hallways, elevators, during class, meetings and even between between bathroom stalls.
We toss the titles of books to friends and acquaintances all the time.

Oh, you’ve got to read….
Have you read….?
If you love…you’d love…
Oh, I’m reading such a great book right now...

Here is an excerpt of what I shared with the students

What we’d like to replicate here is the sense of excitement and buzz that comes from sharing a good book with a friend.

I don’t want this to feel like a course assignment because, for whatever reason, this robs books of some of their magic. I want the discussion to be organic and authentic.

I have set up a discussion board for each of the books that you can use to bounce around ideas or to ask questions or discuss anything you fancy. I will not be setting specific requirements for when and what you should be posting. I think a reasonable amount would be 2-3 posts/responses by our book club date. The learning will be intrinsic and very personal so post whatever ideas inspire or irk you and post at whatever time of day and at whatever point in the book you like. The point is not to post just to jump through the hoop; post b/c you have something to say or something to wonder or something to ask. Post because you want to engage with another reader. This is a community of readers we are creating.

I want you to enjoy the book and let its ideas wash over and through you. I want you to be a reader. Let's not talk about assessment until after the book club. If you engage meaningfully in this book club, you will be happy with your marks. My goal is to help you enjoy reading; how does one assess this? This is my dilemma. Just read and think and discuss and you will do well.
We will have two weeks to read your books and then meet in a location off campus (real life, right?) The meetings will be organic affairs where participants will drive and steer the discussion on a meandering but nonetheless meaningful path.

On the designated book club date, we lunched, sipped coffee, slurped Vietnamese pho and balanced tuna sashimi on chopsticks at eating establishments throughout the neighbourhood. I attempted to visit every group and in every instance, my English teacher's heart swelled taut at the sight of readers meeting socially over food and drink to talk passionately about their relationship with a book.

Can't wait to see what the second round has in store!