•February 28, 2016 • 2 Comments

Last week I encouraged my students to write down their goals.  I introduced them to SMART goals, had them reflect on the past two semesters and asked them to think about goals they could write for the next semester.  SMART:





Time Bound/Timely



It got me to thinking; it has been a long time since I set goals of my own.  I have lived my life 6 months to a year for so long, that goals seemed unrealistic. My goals were finishing whatever I was currently bound in at the moment – a semester in school, a contract, a seasonal commitment. But now, the time has come that I need to set some goals for the next 5, 10, and 15 years.  I may not see them all achieved, but I need to set goals, so that I have something to work towards, so that life doesn’t become stagnant, so that I keep the passion alive. So, as I finish my Masters in Educational Psychology, prepare to return back to Vancouver, and look towards the future I am going to think about what’s next, how I am going to get there, and what I want it to look like.

I don’t know what my goals are yet, but I know that they will be educational, relational, personal, financial and familial in scope.  Stay tuned…





Christmas in Vancouver

•December 20, 2015 • 2 Comments

I am so excited!!! This year has been a challenge to say the least.  Not because of the classes I am teaching, not because of the issues being faced in the Middle East, and not because of life in general in Beirut. This has been a difficult year, because I have realized more and more what is important to me as an educator, and that the school at which I teach does not foster, nor does it seem to support those things which I value most: autonomy, creativity, exploration, and inquiry. So, the excitement to go back to Vancouver and visit is very real.

When times are difficult, the place I want to be most, is with family and great friends: enjoying old traditions and creating new ones.  This year, there may not be a massive family gathering like in the past, but I do get to see both my parents, friends and multiple other family members. I am looking forward to White Spot and Bowling with old friends who haven’t managed to be  in the same province or country for at least the past 5 years. I am looking forward to dinner with old roommates. I am looking forward to seeing Peter and Starcatcher with old friends and new friends. I am looking forward to Christmas morning coffee and mandarin oranges. I am looking forward to Christmas dinner surrounded by people who care for one another.  I am looking forward to the rain or maybe even snow. I am looking forward to enjoying the Christmas Lights on St. Paul’s Hospital, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vandusen Gardens and maybe the Stanley Park Christmas Train.  I am looking forward to fostering new friendships and developing relationships. I am looking forward to so much, because with each moment, there is a chance to be thankful.  I am so thankful for all that I have been blessed with. Is life perfect? No… but it’s full of perfect moments, and I look forward to more perfect moments.

Many people ask what my Christmas wish is, and to them I would say I really only have one: to enjoy many more perfect moments and hopefully, to share those perfect moments with a special other.

Happy Halloween!

•November 1, 2015 • 1 Comment

Halloween – for some people it’s bigger than Christmas!  Though I enjoy Halloween, I have never been one to go with elaborate costumes or head to the biggest parties, so Halloween in Beirut suits me well.  It’s not as widely celebrated as in most North American cities, but you can find little spots that put up decorations and throw a good party.  This year I was lucky enough to have an invite to the US Embassy Halloween party as well as go to the annual Fadlallah (the building I live in) Halloween Bash.  A number of people in the building made decorations on Thursday and we spent a part of Saturday evening putting them up before the big Bash.  This year, I went as Jack-In-the-Box (you know.. that lesser known Fast Food Franchise on the West coast).

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I found that I really do have at least a partial guard up all the time while living in Beirut – for a variety of reasons, so when I am able to fully relax, it’s an amazing feeling.  The Embassy party was one of those really good chances to let my guard down and enjoy the evening (unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to have our phones or cameras inside, so no photos are available from that party).  Fadlallah was fun too, but I became pretty tired early, and was ready for a little Netflix and bed by 11pm.  I returned to my flat and watched Charlie Brown’s “The Great Pumpkin Patch” (pretty much an annual tradition for me)… and snuggled up in bed before drifting off to sleep.

My sleep however, was anything but usual.  I dreamed about train rides that flew through the sky, running into friends randomly, while looking for a bus in Edmonton – though it looked more like San Francisco and, most disturbing of all, I had one dream in which my dad informed me that he only had 6 months to live.  I didn’t believe him initially, but he was so insistent, I finally recognized it to be true (in my dream that is)… the rest of the dream was people consoling the family. Needless to say, it was a little disturbing.  I hope it’s not a premonition.  Maybe I just had too much chocolate – ya, probably too much chocolate.  It’s definitely time to start a sugar fast.

Until next time….

Long time… Let’s catch up!

•October 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I mean a really long time!  So a quick synopsis of the last 6 months.   I didn’t really do any travelling after Greece in April and tried to focus on finishing well.  I started my Masters in Counselling and became a bit of a hermit in order to get done what needed to get done.  The school year finished off on June 27th last year. Then we had a week of collaboration and entrance exams for the upcoming year. My director was gracious enough to let me leave early, so, on July 2nd I hopped on a plane and headed to Vancouver. I spent a day and a half in Tsawwassen with my mom and family and then joined some of my favourite people and drove down to Seattle for a ball tournament.  It was amazing! I missed playing so much!  We placed 2nd overall and I have to say, after not playing for a year, I faired pretty well.

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As usual, as soon as the tournament was over, my busy self was back into work mode, as I took on teaching summer school in Coquitlam for 3 weeks.  I had the joy of teaching Math Skill Building 4/5, which was more like teaching Math Skill Building to students from grades 3-6.  But, it was awesome, and the kids had a blast. They built cities out of 3D polygons and we covered fractions, measurement, data collection, graphing, addition, and subtraction.  Every day, we started the day with a check in and a 10 minute mini lesson. Every group assigned members to be a foreperson, accountant, administrator, builder or artist, and they had to take on each role at least three times over the three weeks. Then they got to work. At the end of each day we covered new or unfamiliar vocabulary and they wrote in their math journals  – they responded to one prompt question based on what they were learning and one question based on how they felt the day went. At the end of the three weeks, the students had the opportunity to share their cities with other classes in the school, explain what they had done and describe what they had learned. IT was awesome!

During this time I finished my 3rd Grad course and was able to spend some quality time with friends and family… then one of my besties – Miss Melissa Barkman came for a visit and we celebrated friendship, pride and good times together!  I also had the pleasure of hanging out with other good friends – Jim, Todd, Luke, Colby, Jason, Mike, Shawn, Miles, Sam, Scott, Dan, Mike and many more…Throughout the summer I also met and made new friends in the city – Graeme, Gad, Darcy, Jason. I know there are names I am missing off both lists, but you get the idea. We went to movies in the park, played golf, danced the night away, brunched, and played the summer out!

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The summer was full of ball tournaments, coffee, meeting new people, and I was able to get up to Edmonton to spend some quality time with my sister and her family. I love them!

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After a whirlwind of a trip back home, I am now back in Beirut and about 7 weeks into the year – midterm. I am working on 2 more Graduate courses, teaching a full load and loving hanging out with friends here.  I’ve also had the pleasure of making a few new friends in Beirut and experiencing new places.  I was able to go to a concert at the Music Hall (http://www.themusichall.com/Subpage.aspx?pageid=171), eat at really cool eatery called Junkyard (https://www.facebook.com/junkyardbeirut), and play trivia at Dany’s.  Friends from home – Jason and Emily – who are working in Dubai, also came to visit and it was awesome being able to catch up with them! I haven’t seen them since Cyprus last December.

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My classes this year are awesome! My kids are far less crazy than last year, and even though my French section kids are still an insane group, they are 50% better than the last group and my stress levels are reduced in return.  Looking ahead, I am IMG_0312excited to be travelling back to Vancouver for Christmas this year and am hopeful for other developments that have seeds planted.  The school year is going to be great, but I’m thankful to have added distractions in my life as well.  Well there ya go. The readers digest version of the past 6 months.  I’ll try to post a bit more regularly, but you know how life is.

Also this:


When Students Cheat

•May 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

When students cheat or plagiarize it hurts my soul.  Today I caught a fourth student copying work off of a website.  It causes me to pause and ask: “How many more of my students have cheated their way through the year?”  I don’t want to become jaded and cynical, or to feel like my students are always cheating.  From the beginning of the year I encourage them to demonstrate their own thinking, to show their creativity, and produce work that reflects who they are as a person. I reward independent creative thought, I get excited when they share new insights or quirky thoughts that only they can come up with. So, why do so many of them cheat or plagiarize their work?

There is an ongoing debate over whether or not the feeling of the need to cheat comes from the school valuing grades more than the students learning. The fear of failure, demanding schedules, lack of interest and perception that cheating is easy are some of the other reasons students may cheat (http://tlt.psu.edu/plagiarism/instructor-guide/why-students-plagiarize/).  There are a number of other factors as well, but I think, in my circumstances this year, as much as the institution may disagree, the value placed on grades far exceeds the value placed on student learning.  We can say as much as we want that learning is the priority, but until teachers stop using grades as a threat, common exams become less of a norm, and exemptions because of grades cease, the truth is, Grades will seem to be more important – and students, are very observant of this fact.

I have never seen so many tears over a low score; I have never seen so many students advocate for just one more point on a test or quiz; I have never seen students get as angry as I have this year about having to work with someone because they think they will pull their average down. As an educator who cares about my students and desires them to be independent, creative and critical thinkers, this frustrates me. It not only frustrates me, but it hurts.  It makes it so much more difficult to continue doing what I am doing. I feel like I am working in a system that goes against my nature as a teacher and I am trapped for one more year.  What’s even more difficult is that some parents here are supporting their kids in their efforts to cheat the system.41789_4.20.cl.oliviaanthonyo

My biggest hope is that by the end of this year my students will realize how much I value who they are as people. I hope that they will recognize that they have something of value to add to the conversation.  I want them to know that their voice is more important to me than the voice of someone they think says it better than they do.  Their thinking, their creativity, their ideas, their opinions, their dreams, these are the things that are important.

It’s a sad reality when students believe that “a person who has an entirely honest life can’t succeed these days” (http://tlt.psu.edu/plagiarism/instructor-guide/why-students-plagiarize/).  I hope this isn’t true or the belief of either my students or in actuality, because if it is… we are all doomed.

Keeping Weekends Active

•May 2, 2015 • 1 Comment

I have been really bad at keeping this blog updated and so much has happened. I have been to Athens, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes, Patmos, and Ephesus. I have hiked the Chouf Cedar Reserve and the Tannourine Waterfall. I have experienced three more strike days (and I think there are more coming), and I have watched a full season of Golden Girls in the past two weeks.

My life is a mixed bag and I love it!  Being overseas continues to be an adventure, but as the summer draws near (60 days until I depart for Vancouver), I am finding the need to get out of the city and escape more and more enticing. So, the past two weekends I have been fortunate enough to do day trips into the beautiful natural areas of Lebanon.  They say pictures are worth a thousand words… so here are a few:

Greece and Ephesus (Turkey)

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The Chouf Cedar Reserve

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Teachers Day

•March 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment


During a recent “Cold day” off from school, I met a local friend for lunch. While walking in he said “Must be nice, to have a day off!” Definitely, a day where I am not required to go into work and be in front of students is a welcome break. Everyone, no matter what type of job they have, likes to have a break from the norm to be refreshed and rejuvenated. As we talked about work and made plans for the weekend, the comment began to sink in and cause me to reflect.

A teacher’s day is like no others. A teacher’s day starts like anyone else’s. Arrive at work – but this is where the similarities diverge. Teachers often arrive early to work (or stay late) because when the school bell rings to start the day, there is not time to gather materials, make copies or plan out the day, it all has to be done ahead of time. When I was in Canada, when the bell rang I would wait at my door, welcoming students to class for the day, smiling and giving gentle reminders: “Do you have a pencil? Did you finish your homework?” as 28-32 students filed into the classroom. In Lebanon, I am the one walking into the classroom, trying to carrel the students and have them get themselves seated and prepare for the day.

As a middle school teacher, I teach 4 to 7 classes in a day, have a parent hour and have two department or level meetings a week. Each time the bell rings, I have hopefully already told the students what we will be covering the next day, given them a closing task and written down in the classroom log book any homework I have assigned and filled in the attendance chart. Then I quickly move to the next classroom, sometimes 2-3 floors up or down with no elevator and begin again trying to calm the students whose previous teacher is doing the same thing as I am and has likely left the students to their own devices for the past 3 minutes. (It’s amazing what kind of trouble 11-13yr olds can get themselves into in 3 minutes!)

You might wonder when I go to the bathroom? I don’t. I have students fill my water bottle when it is empty and I wait, while allowing the students to use the toilet, to go to the bathroom myself on first break or second break. When I worked in hospitality, I at least had coworkers who could cover me if I needed to go, and when I worked for the Camp and Conference Centre, I had all the time in the world to take a bathroom break (at least that’s the way it seems looking back). As a teacher, I often invite students to meet me for 30 minutes of remediation. When I met with college students as a recruiter they always appreciated the lunch, students from my classes often like the break from the cafeteria but have difficulty focusing on their learning needs and don’t really want to spend their time learning grammar. I am often scarfing down food as I try to teach or prepare lessons. Many teachers (and administrators) go without eating due to time constraints of the busy job.

I am a lucky teacher, I have at least one 45min preparation period per day. This time is often filled with meetings. Meeting with co-workers, administrators and parents. Yes, this time is similar to many other jobs. Our “break” time is like many people’s work. When I am lucky and don’t have meetings, I am busy planning, grading, updating my website or making copies. Many teachers at home in Vancouver have minimal preparation time every week, often being limited to around 90 (or slightly more) paid prep minutes per week. Imagine having to prepare the majority of your work on your time! Most teachers spend at least 2- 3 hours daily preparing for work on top of their daily teaching time.

Yes, the cold/snow days are a luxury. Teacher’s days are full of work unlike most others. So on this actual scheduled day off – TEACHERS DAY – I am going to stop, relax and take a day for me… maybe. I should start writing report cards.


…. It consumes itself to light the way for others.