About A Different Fish.

I can never write about teaching when I’m doing it – I don’t know why. But I’ve got this year-long break from it, and a pressing need to get some stuff down. A Different Fish was once a blog I ran on Wordpress, about 15 years ago, also about education.

Hopefully the momentum of ten months will keep me writing when I return to the classroom in September 2022.

I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, and working with kids with learning differences for 30. I consider myself a good teacher, but also a weirdo: I hated most of school myself, and became a teacher largely by fluke and out of spite (“I could do this better”).

If You’re a Weirdo Teacher - What Can I Learn from You?

I’ve almost entirely spent my 30 years teaching students who have learning “disabilities” and similar learning differences. The majority of that time has been at a single alternative school. So I have always taught – and been given the freedom to teach – with a strong focus on individuals and their own varied needs and strengths. It’s a different way of teaching and requires smaller classes and a different way of thinking about teaching than the large-group industrial model of lesson delivery.

I know that most teachers don’t have the flexible and supportive mandate that I do. I started and have remained at this private school for this precise reason: I can teach (to my mind) better in this situation. I’ve compromised my belief in public education, but I feel comfortable with the compromise because of the work I can do and the ideas I can explore.

I believe effective “special” education is actually just effective teaching, and that we all could benefit from a broader and more nuanced approach. I think educators can very easily fall into the traps of boredom, unconsidered traditions, binary thinking and institutional malaise (just look at the quit rates). I’m going to discuss better teaching - but always within a framework that demands better schools and better systems. I’m on the side of education - where all good teachers begin - and know that how an institution behaves will profoundly impact the individuals within it. I’m in for the long view, the sprawling conversation, and the ideal situation.

I’ll talk a lot about the school I work for, but I won’t name it, or any people, for privacy reasons, and because this project is not sanctioned by the school’s owners. This isn’t an advert for my school, but I will share lots about how it works because I think it is a good model to strive for. If all schools one day felt like mine does right now, it would be a very good thing.

I Thought You Were Going to Write a BOOK

I would love it to be a book, but I also know that writing and promoting a book is a whole thing, that Amazon controls 60% of publishing, and that the endeavour is a herculean task that ends with your blood and sweat remaindered on a table somewhere*. So who knows? I don’t. Mostly I want to share what I’ve been learning over these 30 years with anyone who wants to hear it. I’ve learned some stuff.

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What’s the TITLE Mean?

“A Different Fish” comes from Captain Beefheart, who said: “If you wanna be a different fish, you gotta jump out of the school.” The image of the fish (aside from the legs) is from Arty Smarty, one of my very early favourite books. Arty Smarty is a non-conformist who thinks for himself. My mother read it to me many times, not knowing it would make me into a giant pain in the ass. ;)

Do You Have a Plan? A Structure? Anything??

I have documents and documents filled with notes about SCHOOL and EDUCATION, and when I look at them, I realize the topic is WAY TOO BIG. I’ll focus on smaller bits, and as a way in, I’ll focus for the first while on one of my favourite things to teach: FILM.

Teaching The Movies.

I started incorporating film when I was teaching Middle School. Ten years later, when I moved to the High School section (same school) I was offered a chance to build two courses for senior High School students. I’ll explain the evolution of those courses, how they incorporate different kinds of learners, and the exciting scope of what’s possible. Within all that I am sure I’ll discuss philosophies of teaching, learning challenges, classroom management, etc.  

How Much Will This Cost?

I don’t need to earn money from this, and I DO want to spread these ideas widely, so I will not be imposing any paywall here, full stop.

At some point, if it makes sense, I may use the Patreon model (opt-in, keeping it outside a paywall, in the spirit of Canadaland) if it’s needed (say, to print a book, or to pay other writers, or if I get my ass somehow fired). But signing up now will not bear surprises later.

In exchange for this free price, I ask that you share this with other people who might like it.

Next time, in our first real post, the beginning of my teaching film, with Star Wars and Fiddler on the Roof. Signing up now means you’ll have each article delivered to your Inbox, easy.



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30 years of weirdo teaching



schoolmarm makes comics and music at night