Friday, December 12, 2014

The Student as Learner-School Assignment

Today in gym we are playing dodgeball. Boys on this side; girls on that side. Game on!
We are heading to the library in a minute. Whoever is the quietest will get to line up first. Girls line up. Boys, line up behind them.
In Math we will be doing multiplication. I will divide you into two groups, show each group the question and the team that answers first wins. Boys on the left, girls on the right.
When we go outside, we will be making snowmen. Whoever can make the biggest snowman will win! Also, whoever can create the most life like snowman will also win! Go!

Situations like this and countless others take place each and every single day all over the world. Grouping, competing and evaluating boys and girls in the same class is common place. One week into my placement I asked my Associate Teacher about how he perceives the differences in boys and girls and if he changes his teaching style to accommodate their differentiated learning. His short and simple answer was “No”. He didn’t feel strongly that boys and girls are fundamentally different and should be taught differently. We discussed how he might approach a class filled with strictly boys and he had previously taught a class with only boys and his style didn’t change. During a recent Twitter chat with our Professor and other users of the social media site, we had a debate about how boys and girls differ. The main consensus was that boys are a bit more active in class, have trouble sitting still and tend to try and make their friends laugh. (I can relate to that one) Consensus on girls is they talk more but more quietly, read and write more. When I was first starting to teach kindergarten then my next year in grade three I never considered that my class had unique needs that will differ between boys and girls. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to think about it, when I think of past students who loved talking, girls come to my mind. Boys tended to be a bit more on the aggressive side for example play fighting, sports, anything Minecraft related, and essentially acting like girls don’t exist. Stereotypically or not, girls are a bit gentler, soft spoken, loved complimenting their teachers’ on their hairstyle or new outfit. If I were to go back to that school, I’m not sure if how I approached that year would be dramatically different other than knowing what I know now about how kids learn differently on different days and in different ways. I would agree with the research that states that boys and girls develop differently but it is unclear to me how and if it is necessary to teach them differently or to segregate them like in some schools in America and other places around the world. 

An article in the New York Times by Motoko Rich (2014), he writes that “Over all, research finds that single-sex education does not show significant academic benefits-or drawbacks. Janet Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who analyzed 184 studies covering 1.6 million children around the globe said the studies showing increased academic performance often involved other factors that could not be disentangled from the effects of the single-gender component.” Because this subject is new to me, I don’t feel incredibly passionate one way or the other but I’m leaning towards it not being a great idea to separate the two sexes due to lack of results and boys and girls need to learn to co-exist. They need to work together and segregating them only delays the inevitable of them working, living and starting families together. Rich (2014) wrote that “Shenilla Johnson, 9, a third grader at Charles Drew, considers an all-girls class a boon. Boys, she said, “annoy you”. While that may be the case, a parent, a friend or a coach might also annoy them but they won’t have the option of simply escaping them.

In Michael Gurian’s 2001 article Boys and Girls Learn Differently he notes that “you will discover many exceptions to what we say…you will notice some boys at the female end and some girls at the male…Many things are going on in each brain and personality that can outweigh gender difference.” I do believe that boys and girls are different but I don’t think treating them differently or putting them in certain classes is the solution. Putting them all together based on their age is a bigger issue that gender differences. Some 6 year olds can be learning with 8 year olds while a 9 year old might be as developed as a 7 year old. Gurian’s (2001) article does have some tangible tips for teachers to help with these gender differences. “Because girls and women are able to hear things better than boys and men, sometimes a loud voice is needed for boys. This fact makes an interesting basis for keeping boys near the front of the physical classroom. Males and females even see things differently, with females generally far better at seeing in a darkened room. On the other hand, males see better than women in bright light.” (p.30) These facts would suggest placing boys closer to the front of the class due to their biological needs. While boys and girls develop and process information differently, there is no universal “way” to teach everyone so it is important for the classroom teacher to get to know their class and find out their interests and passions. While they’re may not be a standard format to teach boys and girls, there does seem to be a common link in motivating a class to perform and behave. Rewards.

With rewards fresh on my mind entering my first practicum placement thanks to readings by Alfie Kohn, I quickly noticed how prevalent they were in my grade 1 class. At the end of each day, my Associate Teacher would assign work dollars to 3-4 students who followed the rules, worked extra well or were a good friend in the classroom that day. These work dollars could either be put into a movie fund and after $50 has been raised, the entire class could eat popcorn and watch a kid friendly movie. (We tried watching Jumanji. Apparently not kid friendly)  The student who earned the work dollars could also save their money for a trip to the “store” where they could pick one item in exchange for 7 work dollars. With Kohn (1993) in my mind with his quotes “The whole point is to control people’s behaviour”(p.53) and “Do rewards motivate people? Absolutely. They motivate people to get rewards” (p.67) I tried to assess the effects this rewards program had on the class and if they really did “do nothing to promote this collaboration or a sense of community…an undercurrent of “strifes and jealousies” is created whenever people scramble for goodies.” (p. 64) In my limited amount of time in that classroom, a few things stood out in relation to the rewards/punishment debate. Adding the element of the movie fund, the idea that $50 dollars needed to be raised to watch a fun movie encouraged collaboration in working together for a shared goal. Giving up the opportunity for a chance at the store was seen as a selfless act and they put the class’s enjoyment ahead of their own. I believe that this helps with class building, working together and the idea that they are stronger together than alone.

Another effect I noticed is that the teacher used it to reinforce certain behaviour that is deemed “unacceptable” in a classroom like yelling out answers to certain questions or talking to a friend while the teacher is speaking. I watched the behaviour of one student change 180 degree from the time I entered to the time I left and I’m sure that receiving work dollars and positive reinforcement played a massive role in her turn around. While I agree with Kohn (1993) that “If we do not address the ultimate cause of a problem, the problem will not get solved.” (p.62)  I believe that for some children, coming to school isn’t a fun or enjoyable experience. I did not like coming to school at all as a student because I attended an all-French speaking school with Anglophone parents with little to no help outside of school. If I was given the option of a special reward for learning a grammar rule, I would have been 100% more motivated than the 0% I was before entering the classroom. Some students just need a little extra push in the right direction and maybe with an extra sticker or two, they will get the ball rolling in the right direction, gain confidence and while still enjoying the reward, feel more connected and involved in their classroom.  William Glaser would use the terms power and fun in his approach to learning and classroom management (1986).

William Glasser (1986) wrote that “when any of us are in any situation where we decide that we no longer want to learn, we stop having fun…And as you almost always remember, your best teachers were able to make learning so much fun that you may still recall what they taught even though you have little use for it now.” (p. 29) I completely agree with Glasser’s points on fun in the classroom. In my first year teaching in Thailand, while I wanted my kindergarten class to learn to read and to count, my main goal was for them to wake up in the morning excited to come to Teacher Bert’s classroom. I can remember crying the first day of school and watching my mom leave me in this French foreign land. I kept in mind that they are still incredibly young, they have the whole rest of their lives in a classroom so it was my job to get them excited about the idea of school and that learning can be enjoyable and entertaining. I tried not being overly serious or insanely demanding; I would take them outside to the playground and read them fun books. I would play and interact with students from other kindergarten classes to make sure they had some fun in their day as well. 

Glasser (1986) also notes that “The more students can fulfill their needs in your academic classes, the more they will apply themselves to what is to be learned…If you do not find your work satisfying, you will never be able to do it as well as you would like.” (p.30-31) How do we make their work satisfying? Let’s see what our good friend Vivian Paley has to say on the subject.

VIivian Paley

Paley (2006) notes in her article On Listening to What the Children Say that “There are no right or wrong answers. Get everyone talking and then find connections-person-to-person, person-to-book.” (p.122) One major theme that I have learned these last four months is that a class feels more empowered when they are given choice, when what they are learning relates to their real life and are given time to collaborate and discuss while not just listening to the teacher the entire day. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in elementary school but there certainly seems to be a shift into each student learns in a certain way and it is the schools duty to ensure instruction is tailored to that pupil. I can hardly remember the issue of choice ever being brought up and another reason I didn't enjoy my learning journey was because we would learn things that were completely useless and inapplicable in my life. For example, I can remember not ever picking up an instrument or interacting with music in any way up until middle school. How grade 2’s are supposed to be excited about learning about Mozart?

Paley goes on to write that “He was truly curious…I practiced his open-ended questions, the kind that seek no specific answers but rather build a chain of ideas without the need for closure. It was not easy. I felt myself always waiting for the right answer-my answer.” (p.123)    I can relate to a feeling that in order for the class to be moving forward and learning, they needed to move quickly and give me the correct answer. During my practicum, my Associate Teacher was extremely patient in waiting for the class to process the question and give them time to think. People are generally uncomfortable with silence but is evidently a necessary part of giving a student space and time to think their thoughts through.

While I can see how new (and older) teachers could feel overwhelmed with theories, theorists, classroom management tricks and tips, I feel that if in your heart your truly want your class to grow as people and as students, you are on the right track. This career isn’t for everyone and everyone has their own approach but if you love being around kids, think they are genuinely funny and want to help make them better human beings, teaching and reflecting are the best ways to look out for your future students.

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. 
B.F. Skinner

Glasser, W., (1986). Control Theory in the Classroom. (pp.23-43). New York, NY. Harper and Row Publishers. ISBN: 0-06-096085-X
Gurian, Michael (2001). Boys and Girls Learn Differently!. (pp.13-43). San Fransico, CA. Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN: 0-7879-6117-5
Kohn A., (1993). Punished by Rewards. (pp. 49-67). New York, NY. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-00181-6
Paley, V. G. (1986). On listening to what the children say. Harvard Educational Review, 56 (2), 124-131. ISSN 000178055
Rich, Motoko. (2014, November 30th) Old Tactic Gets New Use: Public Schools Separate Girls and Boys. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Friday, November 21, 2014

To who I'm going to marry

It's about time I tell single Bert that we've had some awesome times, met some cool people but I'm ready to move on. I feel like 28 years doing my own thing has gotten me almost as far as I’m going to get alone. I could be a much better Bert. Much better. I’m just not intrinsically motivated enough; having you as motivation will take us to new heights.

After meeting most new people I think “Will you be the girl I marry?” This is killing my productivity. I’m under the assumption that you are doing something incredibly awesome like building a sailboat, saving someone’s life and saving an endangered species all at the same time but I need your help. I’m not a good dater/boyfriend/small talker. I’m not someone you want to meet at a party. I’m not good at faking interest. I don’t have tons of things to say to strangers. I'm waiting to get to know you. I do promise I will tell you anything and everything you want and need to know. I’m saving my time and energy for you. I honestly remind myself constantly that I want to make your friends jealous about how great your life and family with me is. They won’t want to leave our clean house to go back to “Stan”  who forgot to feed their kids and put them to bed on time. It’s a school night!

 I promise to remember that you like burnt marshmallows, hate yogurt or whatever quirky things that are important to you because I will make it important to me. I promise to wake up early and make you breakfast, do the chore you especially hate and make sure your car is clean and smells like vanilla or whatever scent that you love.

If you laugh at my hilarious jokes, tell me I look good in one of my many suits and are cool with me watching football, I think we will do just fine. I only ask that you do your best to find me because I can’t wait to make your life better. And if you are half as good looking as I imagine you are, our kids will be breathtaking. I will teach our kids so many fun things, take them on walks and go on all kinds of adventures. I might be a better dad than a husband but I promise I won’t ever stop trying to be better at both. There are a few things I’m going to need to learn how to do first so I can teach our kids them but it seems like time is on our side. I doubt that you will find this post because you are probably somewhere researching nanotechnology or riding a horse in a country I've never heard of but you should know that I’m about ready to start exploring new cities, restaurants and islands with you. No hurry though; I wouldn’t want to rush you. I’m around. Just say hi.


"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Are you an adult?

When I wake up and get reading in the morning, I don’t look into the mirror and think that an adult is staring back at me.
(I can’t actually see my reflection after showering because we don’t have a fan in the bathroom but you get the idea) My main thoughts consist of not forgetting my lunch, not being late for school and wishing I had gone to bed an hour earlier. Are those adult thoughts? They seem a level or two below what an adult should be thinking about. I imagine a real adult is thinking about getting their child ready for school, not forgetting about their wife’s _____ (I’m not sure what wives want their husbands to remember) and making sure their RRSP’s are growing at a steady rate. While I myself don’t see myself as an adult, I’m pretty sure my class of kindergartens and grade 3’s looked at me like I was one. The class I will be spending a month with in November will almost certainly look at me like I’m a grown up. I don’t feel like a kid or a teenager but I definitely don’t feel grown up or old. Maybe that’s because I’m in school, don’t have a career, a house or things of value. But I’m starting to think that even with those things I might not feel like one. I can’t be the only other person who feels this way right? Do you look at yourself and think “I’m an adult?” The main reason I’m writing about this is that there are certain ideas or habits I think an adult should demonstrate that I don’t at this moment in time. So if you do some or all of the following, I consider you an adult:

If you are walking down the street and it starts to rain and you causally pull out your umbrella and keep walking…you’re an adult.
If someone tells you they are hungry and you have snacks with you…you’re an adult.
If you do your own taxes…you’re an adult.
If you own a house…you’re an adult.
If you have money automatically taken off your paycheck that goes into a savings account…you’re an adult.
If you go to dinner parties…you’re an adult.
If you tell someone you aren't mad at them but just disappointed…you’re an adult.
If you have more than two kids…you’re an adult.
If you take baths on a regular basis and you aren't an actual baby…you’re an adult.
If you have a variety of different rewards cards and collect points…you’re an adult.
If you go on vacations with other're an adult.
If you can remember to bring bags to the grocery store to help the environment…you’re an adult.
If someone starts to cry or is sick and you hand them Kleenex you have in your bag…you’re an adult.
If you own and use a label maker…you’re an adult.
If you haven’t thrown up from drinking in more than a year, you are probably an adult.
If you collect're an adult.
If you own a tuxedo, you’re an adult.
If people show up at your house unannounced and your house is spotless, you’re an adult.
If you host Thanksgiving and Christmas…you’re an adult.
If you have more than enough socks and they are matching each day…you’re an adult.
If you send out a Christmas card…you’re an adult.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m hating on adults. I hope to be one someday. These are just some guidelines that might be useful in assessing your current adultness. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on being an adult and other characteristics adult have. Enjoy the rest of October because winter is coming.

"I believe that everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise." 
Margaret Atwood

I'm late to this video but I watched it yesterday and thought that it's super well made and made me think.

My favorite song right now:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


funny standup 2 Funny quotes from standup comedians (18 Photos)

I don’t want to bore people with talk of group work, school projects and Building Futures Workshops but a few too many days have passed without posting something so I’m thinking if this doesn't happen now, who knows how long you will have to suffer through a life with Teacher Bert posts. As usual, I will try to keep this short.

inspired quotes 10 A little inspiration to get you through the mid week crisis (36 Photos)

School is fun. I’m not a scientist but learning might be good for you. There are always things to be doing, books to read and assignments to tackle. We’ve made lava lamps, paper airplanes and other high level thinking projects. Going to school and learning that you will actually take into the real world is a much more enriching experience than learning about sedimentary rocks or Shakespeare. I go into my first real Canadian class for a day on Friday where I will be shadowing one of my professors and making a lesson plan out of the book “Love You Forever”. There are about 37ish people in my class; 32 of them I think are girls. I’d like a refund.

wise quotes 29 Interesting and beautiful quotes (32 Photos)

A few weeks ago, our Math class went into an English school on the Quebec side to do a Math workshop with some elementary school kids. Let’s start by saying that I’m not a Math savant. To say the least. Before going into the school, we do the Math problems that we will be showing the kids as a group then teaching them the next week. We had three problems but probably wouldn’t have enough time to complete all three with the students the following week. One of the problems was called Jumping Chips. You need to get the colours from one side to switch with the colours from the other side without jumping the same color and yellow can only go right and red can only go left.

This took a bit of time for the class to figure out but it’s a good Math problem that focuses on problem solving and patterning. So I study the problems to make sure I understand them, show up to school the next week and get assigned 3 kids for 45 minutes. 3 kids for 45 minutes? Easy. No. Problem. I tell them about my teaching experience and introduce the problems. First problem gets solved easily then it’s time for some Jumping Chips. To make a long story short, the kids were struggling with it and within 15 minutes I made one of them cry. Not a little cry, like a Bert crying in New Zealand cry. I’ve made students cry before so this didn’t really faze me but it’s the fact that I could understand how he felt feeling defeated by Math and feeling not smart made me feel horrible. He essentially felt worse off about Math after spending 45 minutes with me. After the class, a head teacher at the school informed me that he has a learning problem and not to take it personally. This would be the point where I would be honest and say that talking to that teacher about having difficulty with that student made me cry in front of her because I felt that I did a bad job as a teacher. But that would mean admitting for the second time that I've cried and I don’t think I’m comfortable sharing a second Bert being sad story so I will leave that out.

inspired quotes 35 A little inspiration to get you through the mid week crisis (36 Photos)

This was my first Thanksgiving in three years and in the spirit of giving thanks, I’m extremely thankful for my adorable nephew Ben, all of my other nieces and nephews for that matter but he’s the baby so he’s allowed to be the favourite. I’m thankful to be in school, to feel like I’m making progress in life, that being Canadian is a pretty great setup and feeling life is only going to get better. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and thanks again for letting me take up a part of your day.  

“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get” Frank W. Clark

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Puzzle pieces

I don't like puzzles. I'm not big on attention to detail or patience. If my life depended on putting together a puzzle that was even mildly difficult, I wouldn't be long for this earth. Luckily, this situation hasn't come up (yet).

I do however think we are all creating a giant life puzzle. You decide how big, spectacular, detailed and ambitious your puzzle will be. I think that we are always constructing our puzzle and looking for the right pieces to continue building. Our jobs, passions, friends and lovers all are pieces. Some pieces are bigger than others, some fit nicely in while others we have to search for, re-arrange, and put down until the puzzle comes more into focus. As it happens, sometimes wrong puzzle pieces make their way into the box and you can't use them for your amazing puzzle. It doesn't necessarily mean that that puzzle piece isn't great or unique; it's just not in the blueprint for your masterpiece. We sometimes struggle with certain pieces and how they fit into the bigger plan. Trying to fit wrong pieces then eventually finding the right one makes assembly more rewarding. Kind of like my nephew's toy that has different sized holes for different shapes. The triangle just won't fit into the circle hole (trust me).

"There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle."

Deepak Chopra

I think we are all puzzle pieces looking for other pieces to make us whole. We spend time with people to try and figure out if and how they fit into our lives and how they can make us better and vice versa. It might take a while to figure out a certain piece doesn't quite fit but that's the fun of making a puzzle. Some pieces fit together instantly while others take time.

Build the biggest most magnificent puzzle you can; it might never be fully complete but it seems like we have been given time to start building. Just make sure you start with the corners.

"The problem is that we always look for the missing piece of the puzzle instead of finding a place for the one in our hand..."

Alina Radoi

Monday, August 11, 2014

Does travel change you?

Does travel change you? It's certainly a theme you hear when people discuss the merits of traveling and life abroad. It's said that travel puts you in situations you wouldn't normally face at home, it forces you to live outside of your comfort zone, you meet people you wouldn't come across in your home town and gives you a glimpse into the lives of others. I can agree that all of those things are true as well as many more but has leaving home and being away for three years changed me? I'm a little skeptical but not so oblivious to think that my adventure hasn't had some impact be it conscious or unconsciously.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

The thing about change is that it happens gradually. Just as it takes time to see results after exercising for an extended period, personal growth and development take time. I think the issue I might have is with the word "change". I don't feel like I've "changed" or am considerably different from the Bert who never left North America. That Bert and this Bert still love sports, his circle of family and friends, hanging out and sleeping in. I still love laughing, going out and driving around. I doubt that anyone I'm close with would say a different Bert has returned home. My priorities are a bit different as well as where and what I think I will be doing in 5-10 years but everyone goes through that. Life changes you. Monumental moments change you. I can only imagine what getting married and starting a family would be like. I'm anticipating that to change me for the better. To put other people’s well-being and happiness in front of my own will be a massive change but one that I will welcome. I think people you love dying changes you; it did at least for me when my dad died. That changed me and I'm still not completely sure how but it made me realize this is the only shot we get so we need to decide who and what is important and strive for that. It's also made me want to be an extraordinary father and husband. I'm very excited for that part of my life to eventually start.

 “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
 The thing about change is that it's a very personal thing. An experience that might really hit home with me might not even be worth a second thought to you. Being away exposes you to more opportunities to realize what you like but might not have had access or cared to at home. For example, I had never been on a tropical island before living in Thailand. I wanted to find a secluded beach, sleep in a bungalow for a few dollars a day and sleep my days away. Little did I know that having no one around takes the fun out of it. I learned that even just having a small handful of people around somehow makes the experience better. I also never knew I loved mangos or eating fried chicken with sticky rice for breakfast until that became my reality. I didn't need to move across the world to figure out that I love cashew nut chicken or that I love teaching kids but they were opportunities that I just happened to explore because I was away. If I never would have left I still would love all the new things I love now but I just wouldn't know it. Before leaving I didn't think Asians were that attractive but that changed. Right now I wouldn't put marrying a Mexican woman on the top of my list but I'm sure living there for 4 days would change that.

 "To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
 The thing about travel is that you learn about you. There are tons of things that I've never tried but I would love doing. I've never knitted anyone a sweater or re-enacted the civil war but maybe one day a Nepalese woman will show me the ropes or that older man at the bar with the costume on will invite me along with him one day. Did travel change the fact that I enjoy these new hobbies or was I merely just exposed to these new pass times? I don't think being away fundamentally changes you. I think of it sort of like in the movie "The Mask" where Jim Carrey comes across a mask that brings out was in already deep inside him. The mask accentuates and amplifies what is already inside. When he puts on the mask he becomes more confident, charming and fun. On the other hand, the evil villain who gets hold of the mask becomes more violent and evil. The mask just exposes what's already there. Travel digs a little deeper under the surface. Kind of like an archaeologist which sort of makes me Indiana Jones. Yeah that analogy works.

 "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu
 The one caveat I can think of that I've never experienced is visiting a country or place that has been torn apart by natural disasters, war, famine or drought. I've never visited anywhere I haven't felt safe or worried where my next meal or bottle of water will come from. I can see how having an experience like that would change you and have a profound effect on your future.

While I may have changed in ways I haven't realized yet, there are a few things that I can point to that travel has helped me with. I'd say I'm more confident, happy, open minded and laid back. I'm hopefully more fun, have more stories and I've created new friendships. 
Travel helps you grow, learn and experience. It opens you up to adventure, heartbreak, joy and happiness. I don't think travel has changed me but I do think it has taught me.

 "A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”

Monday, July 7, 2014

Being a regular guy

If you missed my last post, let's catch up.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes me different from any other guy I might come across on the street, subway or while at work. After all this pondering I've come to an answer: not much. Most guys like beer? Check. Most guys enjoy the weekend and looking at girls? Check and double check. Love your family, sports, the outdoors, money, laughing, BBQ, sleeping and just hanging out? Welcome to being just another social insurance number. 

Maybe being just another Joe who pays taxes, aspires to have a family and a home isn't the worst fate. Blending in with the crowd, complaining about politics and the weather seem to be working for most people but it just doesn't sit right with me. Maybe I'm wrong, young and short sighted but being just like my neighbours complaining about how the mail is always late on Wednesday afternoons doesn't seem very exciting. For some reason, it doesn't feel great knowing that I'm essentially replaceable in every way to basically everyone who knows me except my mom because she has grown quite fond of me over the years. I am also working under the impression that other people perceive me as just another guy. I'm keenly aware that a certain percentage of people I come across don't get me, think I'm weird, wonder what it is that I'm thinking about while occasionally laughing very loudly at random times. I'm okay with not everyone being on board the Bert train. I have a running joke with one of my friends that 1 in 3 new people I meet will like me. Not a terrific average but if I meet enough people it works itself out. 

So if the issue is that I'm just like everyone else, how do you stand 
out from the crowd and be someone that people meet and
remember because you are remarkable? Wouldn't it be great if I 
was good at writing and thinking and I laid it all out and the answer
 made me feel way better and changed my life? As you might have 
figured out these last three years, that isn't really what takes place 

I imagine you stand out by being passionate about your day-to-day life. Waking up excited to get out of bed, shower, eat a heathy breakfast and show the world what's up. Wearing clothes that are unique, fun and make you feel confident would also be a nice 
touch. Having a variety of hobbies andworking on developing new skills might set us a part. Embracing change, opportunities and new friendships is a way to step away 
from the crowd. I'm aware that there are people out there who are just killing life right now with productivity, money, women, heath, travel and any other category they want. I just need to find a 
Toronto mentor to show me the path I seek. It has also crossed my 
mind that spending so much time in Thailand being in the extreme minority to living back in Canada where I am just another white guy might add to this feeling of mediocrity.

"By definition, it is not possible to everyone to be above the average."

Jim Collins

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back in Canada

I've been home over a month and I'm not entirely sure my exact feelings about it. A few things stand out:

-Seeing my nephew basically every day, picking him up and dropping him off in the morning and night is the highlight of my post travel days. Cheese, bus, shoe, up, mom, cute.

-We Canadians are insanely polite. Not sure I've opened a door since coming back. Run into someone? Don't worry, they'll apologize. 

-I'm fully aware that the majority of people aren't curious or interested when they ask what I do and say I've been away for three years. I get it, most people aren't interested or don't care. It is surprising the people that do care and ask real questions. Not sure what that means. 

-I am happy to be back. I am. I do feel sad more than I thought I would, I feel alone even though I live with my family and have great friends in the city. I don't want to say I don't belong here but I don't feel completely immersed. The thought of spending the next 16 months here doesn't fill me with hope or excitement. I want to love it. Maybe it just takes time.

-I want to explore a foreign country all by myself extremely badly right now. Adventure and new countries has become a new part of who I an.

-I love seeing and hearing Asian people around me speak and not understand. It's wonderful.

-Showering in a real bathtub with my good gels, water pressure and heat is incredible.

-My mom loves me very much.

-I went to see X-Men all alone at the movie theatre. I'm very busy and popular.

-There are tons of beer here.

-Watching hockey and basketball live on tv makes me 
happier than it should.

-We say eh a lot eh?

-Being able to attend Lauren and Abim's wedding was good for my soul.

-I'm not super friendly

-Essentially everyone has more stuff and money than I do.

-I wish I could post more but my life mostly consists of eating cereal, playing with a baby and thinking of Thailand.

-I'm 90% sure I will be living in Bangkok next year. 

-I went to a bar that only played country music and everyone loved it. So did I. 

-Nobody stares at me, gives me attention, calls me 
handsome or cares that I'm white. I'm trying not to take it personally. 

-I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have experienced 
these last three years and hope that this is only the beginning. 

This isn't supposed to come off as negative or me complaining. These are the things that have stood out after being away for three years. If you'd like to let me know what you think you can send me a message, just let me eat my cereal first.

"Sorrow is part of everyone’s lifetime and the consequence of an open and passionate heart"

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Time to come home

I’ve been away for roughly over 1, 000 days and I would rate it a tremendous success. Three years passes by in a heartbeat. The main reason I came back is because I applied and somehow managed to get accepted into Teacher’s College to the University of Ottawa. I start school at the beginning of September and will be spending my summer in Toronto, living with my brother, his wife and their extremely cute and well behaved baby that I have quickly fallen in love with. I landed on Friday night and was greeted by my mother who to say the least, is over the moon about her baby being back on the same continent as her. I have already eaten two poutines, received a parking ticket and joined the twenty-first century in finally getting a smart phone. Things are changing.

It feels good to be back. I was fairly sad to leave Thailand, my school and my friends. I love Thailand from the bottom of my heart and have already started to plan my eventual return. The goal of coming home is to become a certified teacher, learn new skills, make more money, continue travelling and work at an international school. It’s great being able to watch sports at a normal hour and have hockey and basketball on the television. I’ve already seen a lot of my family and it is probably good for my heart to reconnect with them. I suppose I will keep writing this summer about what it’s like to be back, what life in Toronto is like and any fun stories that happen to me. I heard and read a lot about reverse culture shock and I’m sure it might be real to some people but in my opinion, this is my home and this is my normal. Yeah things are different abroad but this is what I’m used to and it won’t be hard to get back in the swing of things. I’m making a conscious effort not to complain about anything, not talk too much about the last three years and just move on and have an incredible summer, work hard at school and see what the future brings next year. Thanks for staying informed with my life for however long you have been reading. I enjoy writing and hope to continue to get better and add some sort of value to your day. Have a great summer and message me if you would like to hang out.

Thanks to everyone I've met on this adventure. People over places. To everyone who helped me when they didn't need to, help me find a job, a place or a bike. People who went out of their way to make Thailand manageable, fun and eventually home. Thanks to all the Thai people who let me drink out of their drink, yelled ''HELLO" at me while I was driving, the countless stares in shops and restaurants. Thanks to the doctors for fixing me when I needed fixing, to the random people who helped me fix my flat tires, to the lady who helped me get my name notorized, to the kids I would try to play with and who would instantly cry in fear. Thanks to my two breakfast ladies who fed me consistently for two years and to the lady with the magic fingers that washed my hair. Thanks to all the Thai girls who never talked to me but made it clear that I wasn't the ugliest guy they have ever seen. (Lor mak) Thanks. Thanks to my barber who doesn't know anything about me other than the fact that I'm super lazy and incapable of shaving myself. Thanks for being nice to me and being my friend. I needed it. Thank you.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

A dash of philosophy

This one is going to be a little different. I recently read a book called "Consolations of Philosophy" by Alain de Botton. I found it really interesting and it really made me think. I certainly think more than I should. I remember being told by Miss Kaitlyn Poisson to "Feel more, think less". I don't think I've been following her advice. I re-read it and decided to write down the parts I enjoyed the most and give my much valued opinion on it. Here we go. Blue writing is from Alain de Botton, orange is from me. 

Happiness, an Epicurean acquisition list:

“Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.”

Before you eat or drink anything, consider carefully who you eat or drink with rather than what you eat or drink: for feeding without a friend is the life of a lion or a wolf.

I couldn't agree more that friendship is essential in being happy. I believe our lives should be shared and filled with people we love. People over places. It doesn't matter where you go in life, it matters who you have beside you. You could be at the most stunning place in the world but could still feel lonely and want to share that experience with someone. You can also be at the worst dive bar in the world with two of your friends and have the time of your life. People matter but I do disagree that you should be careful who you eat with. I'd much rather eat alone and not have to make small chat. We are there to eat not have a debate about importing or exporting.


Epicurus and his friends accepted a simpler way of life in exchange for independence. They bought a garden and grew vegetables. 

Simplicity did not affect the friends’ sense of status because, by distancing themselves from the values of Athens, they had ceased to judge themselves on a material basis.


Wealth is of course unlikely ever to make anyone miserable. But the crux of Epicurus's argument is that if we have money without friends, freedom and an analysed life, we will never be truly happy. And if we have them, but are missing the fortune, we will never be unhappy. 

Why, then, if expensive things cannot bring us remarkable joy, are we so powerfully drawn to them?  Because of an error similar to that of the migraine sufferer who drills a hole in the side of his skull: because expensive objects can feel like plausible solutions to needs we don't understand. Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. We need to rearrange our minds but are lured towards new shelves. 

For Epicurus, most businesses stimulate unnecessary desires in people who fail to understand their true needs, levels of consumption would be destroyed by greater self-awareness and appreciation of simplicity. 

Isn't this a reason people go shopping when they are mad or lonely? Buying things is fun, I will admit that but it doesn't last and should't be a way to cope with stress. Even if you desire an object and save for it, once you own it there will undoubtedly be another thing that you want that we think will make us happy. Living in Thailand has definitely simplified my life. 

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At the heart of every frustration lies a basic structure: the collision of a wish with an unyielding reality. 

"Anger results not from an uncontrollable eruption of the passions, but from a basic error of reasoning." 

In the Senecan view what makes us angry are dangerously optimistic notions about what the world and other people are like. 

How often do we need to go over this whole expectations issue? If we don't have expectations, we won't be disappointed when the cookies are burnt, the hotel wasn't clean enough or your flight got delayed. No expectations.  

How badly we react to frustration is critically determined by what we think of as normal. Our frustrations are tempered by what we understand we can expect from the world, by our experience of what it is normal to hope for. 

This was one of my favorite parts of the book because it is incredibly true. When you think about it, why are we mad about something? Oh, my helmet got stolen. Ok, so you live in a world where nobody has ever had their helmet stolen? We are also prone to blaming other people when things go wrong. Lately I've just been assuming that any negative thing that might arise in my lie is because of me (that's because all of our actions have a certain reaction to them, we just can't always know what those reactions will be at the time)

"We aren't overwhelmed by anger whenever we are denied an object we desire, only when we believe ourselves entitled to obtain it."  

This might have been my favorite quote in the book. I find it fascinating that people who lived in a completely different era than us can still resonate in the present. Seneca didn't know anything about Google, spring break or all you can eat buffets but he can still have an impact on the way we act and think. Amazing really. 

We will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful. 

This might sound a bit pessimistic but I definitely agree. We get angry because we expect a certain result or behavior. If we hope for less, it would stand to reason that we might not get so angry. I don't think I get angry very often, I probably did more when I was a kid but now it doesn't seem worth it to get worked up about things. On another note, I taught my class that if you combine angry and hungry which usually happens when you are angry and hungry, we call that being hangry. They loved it.

Because we are injured most by what we do not expect, and because we must expect everything, we must hold the possibility of disaster in mind at all times. No one should undertake a journey by car, or walk down the stairs, or say goodbye to a friend, without an awareness, which Seneca would have wished  to be neither gruesome nor unnecessarily dramatic, of fatal possibilities. 

I try to keep this in mind at times. This could all be over very quickly. We must embrace life and love. We don't know how long we have here so let's try and make it count.

You say: 'I did not think it would happen.' Do you think there is anything that will not happen, when you know that it is possible to happen, when you see that it has already happened...?

Isn't thinking fun? Just sit around and ponder all day. How great. 


A condition of agitation about an uncertain situation which one both wishes will turn out for the best and fears may turn out for the worst. Typically leaves sufferers, unable to derive enjoyment from supposedly pleasurable activities, cultural, sexual or social. 

Reassurance can be the cruelest antidote to anxiety. Our rosy predictions both leave the anxious unprepared for the worst, and unwittingly imply that it would be disastrous if the worst came to pass. Seneca more wisely asks us to consider that bad things probably will occur, but adds that they are unlikely ever to be as bad as we fear. 

If you wish to put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen. 

What great advice. It works. I think we worry way too much about events that will probably never happen and even if they did, we don't know for sure how that new situation would make us feel. I think of a wife who might want to leave her husband but is afraid of starting over and being alone. One day, she finally has the courage to leave, is no longer around a deadbeat and suddenly feels way better because being alone isn't the worst thing in the world and you can now do whatever you want. I think tons of people would be happier if they just embraced change and did what they thought was right in their heart. Deep down we know what is best for us, we just don't always listen.

Consolation of a broken heart:

Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer gave a name to a force within us which he felt invariably had precedence over reason, a force powerful enough to distort all of reason's plans and judgements, and which he termed the will-to-life defined as an inherent drive within human beings to stay alive and reproduce. 

It was the will-to-life that drove people to lose their reason over comely passengers encountered across the aisles of long-distance trains. 

The importance of the matter is perfectly in keeping with the earnestness and ardor of the effort. The ultimate aim of all actually more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefor it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it. 

I'm just going to go ahead and agree with the last part. I'm not convinced about this will-to-life thing just yet.

We are, suggested Schopenhauer, split into conscious and unconscious selves, the unconscious governed by the will-to-life, the conscious subservient to it and unable to learn of all its plans. An exclusion which explains how we may consciously feel nothing more than an intense desire to see someone again, while unconsciously being driven by a force aiming at the reproduction of the next generation. 

"The moment when two people begin to love each other is actually to be regarded as the very first formation of a new individual."

That's cute eh?

The will-to-life is seeking evidence of healthy children. The will-to-life must ensure that the next generation will be psychologically and physiologically fit enough to survive in a hazardous world, and so it seeks that children be well-proportioned in limb and stable of mind. 

The theory of neutralization gave Schopenhauer confidence in predicting pathways of attraction. Short women will fall in love with tall men, but rarely tall men. Feminine men who don't like sport will often be drawn to boyish women who have short hair.  

I'd say being tall helps. Having really great eye-lashes and a dashing sense of style and humor also helps.

A person who is highly suitable for our child is almost never though we cannot realize it at the time because we have been blindfolded by the will-to-life very suitable for us. 

"That convenience and passionate love should go hand in hand is the rarest stroke of good fortune."

The lover who saves our child from having an enormous chin or an effeminate temperament is seldom the person who will make us happy over a lifetime. The pursuit of personal happiness and the production of healthy children are two radically contrasting projects, which love maliciously confuses us into thinking of as one for a requisite number of years. 

I strongly hope that this isn't true. This man also didn't do very well with the ladies so I'm not sure I trust him on this subject.

He had consolation for rejection-the consolation of knowing that our pain is normal. We should not feel confused by the enormity of the upset that can ensue from only a few days of hope. It would be unreasonable if a force powerful enough to push us towards child-rearing could-if it failed in its aim-vanish without devastation. Love could not induce us to take on the burden of propagating the species without promising us the greatest happiness we could imagine. To be shocked at how deeply rejection hurts is to ignore what acceptance involves. We must never allow our suffering to be compounded by suggestions that there is something odd in suffering so deeply. There would be something amiss if we didn't. 

That has to help you feel better.

What is more, we are not inherently unlovable. There is nothing wrong with us per se. Our characters are not repellent, nor our faces abhorrent. The union collapsed because we were unfit to produce a balanced child with one particular person. There is no need to hate ourselves. One day we will come across someone who can find us wonderful and who will feel exceptionally natural and open with us.

We should in time learn to forgive our rejectors. The break-up was not their choice. In every clumsy attempt by one person to inform another that they need more space or time, that they are reluctant to commit or are afraid of intimacy, the rejector is striving to intellectualize an essentially unconscious negative verdict formulated by the will-to-life. Their reason may have had an appreciation of our qualities, their will-to-life did not and told them so in a way that brooked no argument-by draining them of sexual interest in us. If they were seduced away by people less intelligent than we are, we should not condemn them for shallowness. 


"What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the have the choice:  either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief....or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy."

I'm of the opinion that great pleasure goes hand in hand with displeasure. Everything we have we will eventually lose. I'd much rather have high highs and low lows then always be in the middle. Some people like the middle but I think it's important to feel as much as possible. We don't decide to "feel" being sad, we are just sad. We don't think "Ok, now I'm angry". Our emotions don't work like that.

 I hope you can find one part of this post to think about and hopefully make you feel better about some aspect of your life. I have essentially have the next seven weeks off so I will try to write more but I usually say that and don't so let's not play games. I wouldn't..........expect.....much from me (get it? Because earlier we talked about expectations....yeah you get it)

"Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad"