Tag Archives: CHILDREN

Poetry and a three year old


Recently, I carefully packed the Christopher Robin books of my childhood into my suitcase when I went to visit my granddaughters.  The older one is three and a half so I though it might be time to introduce her to one of my favorite authors.  Was it a good idea?  I don’t know yet.

I realised very quickly that she wasn’t ready for the stories so I thought I would try the poetry book, When We Were Very Young.  These were very hasty thoughts because, as I have learned from teaching and parenting, a child’s attention must be caught within a minute of proposing something or you will lose their interest and find yourself playing School, Going to Montreal on the Bus or even Lying on the Floor Waving Your Legs in the Air.

So, at random mainly because I was in a hurry and the poem had illustrations of small child hopping, I chose Hoppity.  I read it to my small grand-daughter, interrupting myself to ask her if she could hop.  She happily obliged and with each chorus, she went flying around the room hoppity hopping.  After a couple of minutes she joined in with the rest of the verses (confession: I did coach a bit).  As I listened to us I realised how much of the enchantment was the combination of the rhythm and the apparently simple plot.

Hoppity

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.

If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hop.

IMG_0128

Ready for Hopping

Alan Alexander Milne

She especially remembered the line:  Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere..
.  When she chanted with me there was a hint of sarcasm in that three-year old voice.  A few weeks later, she still remembered the chorus.

I realised as I said this poem over and over with her that this was where I learned to write – from A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling.  My father read aloud to me on a daily basis – and I was also expected to properly recite poetry to my parents regularly.  Good writing starts with the ear, a pleasure in the “mot juste” and the clever construction that hints at an understory.

Even three-year olds are capable of intuiting the back story in good writing.  We should honour that by reading good writing to them.  I started grade one at the age of five, excited to be on the verge of learning to read.  When the first book they gave me was Dick and Jane – I kid you not – I was seriously disappointed.  I knew crap writing when I read it and this was in no way as good as the stuff my father read to me.

Next time I spend time with my granddaughter I am going to teach her Disobedience.  It starts out:

 

James James MorrisonMorrisonWeatherby GeorgeDupreeTookgreatCare of his Mother,Though he was only three.

James James Said to his Mother,

“Mother,” he said, said he;

“You must never go down

to the end of the town,

if you don’t go down with me.

 

I anticipate with delight the giggling we will indulge in about a three-year old telling his mother how to behave.  If she doesn’t get the joke that the title is about the mother, she will some day and that will be another giggle.

Aside

Understanding who is responsible for what in doing homework. A guide from Maggie Mamen’s book: The Pampered Child Syndrome. Continue reading

A Salute to the Nurses at CHEO, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario


Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario

The little girl next door was in hospital.  For forty-eight hours we were very worried about her; then all that remained was for her to stay in hospital for an additional nine days while an antibiotic was delivered intravenously.  For the first few days, family and friends took turns being at her bedside 24 hours a day.  Once she was on the

Cholera Strikes Dessalines, Haiti

Cholera Strikes Dessalines, Haiti (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

mend, they no longer needed to stay all night or all day, but visited frequently enough that she never feels abandoned.

As I spent time with her at the hospital, it came home again to me that 90% of recovery is letting the body do its thing.  Once the doctors have consulted,

Portrait of Miss Georgina Pope, head nurse of ...

Portrait of Miss Georgina Pope, head nurse of First Canadian Contingent during the Boer war. Possibly in her nurse’s uniform from Bellevue Hospital, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

examined the results of tests, made a diagnosis, prescribed a treatment and followed up, the rest is up to the nurses and the child’s body.

The nurses come in to check on the IV, add medications, observe the monitors but most importantly, they pay attention to the child.  They talk to her and listen to her.  They explain what is happening.  I have watched them patiently listen to morphine–fuddled child try to explain what she is worried about.  They look for ways to comfort a child in pain.  Sometimes it’s as simple as a warm facecloth washing a hand temporarily free of the IV.  They coax a child to use a hand that is still sore.  They brush her

Hospital

Hospital (Photo credit: José Goulão)

teeth if she doesn’t feel she can cope.  They carry the train of IV pole and trailing lines so the child can use the toilet.  They persuade children to drink and eat.  These are all ways of allowing the body to get on with its share of healing.

English: Nurses on the Army Hospital Ship Reli...

English: Nurses on the Army Hospital Ship Relief in 1898 while serving off of Cuba, US Navy Historical Center Photograph NH 92846 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day our patient asked someone “are you a nurse or a doctor?”  The nurse told her that you could tell the difference by how much time the person spent with her.  The doctors usually didn’t stay long or come more than once a day; patients saw more of the nurses, especially their own nurse.  Our patient thought a bit and added, “the nurses talk to me.  The cleaners are here a lot but they don’t talk to me.”  The nurse smiled at the astute observation, “yes, they don’t want to disturb you if you are resting and they have a lot of work to do cleaning the ward”.

Good nursing is a major factor in healing; it’s as true today as it was two

English: Navy nurses attending to a patient, 1...

English: Navy nurses attending to a patient, 1960s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

hundred years ago.  So let’s salute nurses everywhere, their professionalism, their knowledge and their compassion.  They comfort the patients and their families and are often the first to observe subtle changes in their condition.  Especially let us salute the nurses at children’s hospitals and especially at CHEO.  For nearly 35 years I have watched them care for children in my family and now the neighbours’ children.  Thank you.

English: First District Nurses in Melbourne

English: First District Nurses in Melbourne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summertime and the Camps are Expensive: How to Keep our Kids Thinking and Learning on a Dime …


Kids playing in a lake at a church camp

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We bemoan the summer holidays as a time when students forget everything they learned in school and then need to spend September reviewing.  Research, and I can’t remember which and with the summer haze in my brain am too lazy to look up, suggests that middle class children don’t lose too much through the long summer holidays.  These kids go to camp, visit relatives, take classes and generally keep their brains ticking over.  If they aren’t precisely reviewing what they have already learned, they are at least adding to it.

Who is really hurt by the long summer holidays?

On the other hand, kids with lower socio-economic status do lose out.  Their parents are likely to both be working and are hard pressed to find care for their children, much less something stimulating.  If a parent is at home, then money to do anything extra is unavailable.  When these kids return to school, they are behind the eight ball.  They have not just forgotten over the long holidays, but they have not had any enrichment to enhance what they have already learned.  What to do?

The thing is that if you are reading this, you may be poor but you are unlikely to be lower SES.  Graduate, medical and law students may have very low incomes, the economic part of the SES, but their social status is high.  Even people who have gone off the grid or simply work the streets to help the homeless may have a minimal income but high status socially.  Even on a low income it is possible to afford a computer, second-hand or refurbished – or access one at the local library.

On the other hand, drug dealers may be rolling in dough but low in social status, although that may depend on the society they are mixing with.  They may have a computer, even a high end one with all the bells and whistles, but I doubt they are reading my blog or this post.

It is those folks who have minimal incomes and minimal status who are less likely to be able to provide camps and classes and stimulating activities for their kids.  It isn’t impossible but it is difficult.  I’m going to offer advice here, but how many people who need it, will read it?

Free Camps, Lessons and Stimulating Activities:

The best place to find a free summer camp is at a church.  They aren’t sleepover camps, they are usually half days and some do push their religion.  However, your children will learn something about Christianity, which will be an enormous aid as they study English literature.  It will also give them some insights into Judaism, Islam and even Mormonism.

My daughter went to one themed on Paul.  One day we were chatting about Paul as I walked her home from camp.  I confessed that I was not a fan of Paul as he was a bit of a misogynist.  After I explained that a misogynist was someone who didn’t like women, my daughter was quiet for a bit.  Then she pointed out that no one except Christ was perfect.  Perhaps misogyny was Paul’s flaw.  After all he did have other wise things to say.  My jaw dropped.  As I said, it is an opportunity to learn a bit and stimulate some thought.

Scouts and guides are another place for almost free camping and lessons.  One of my sons got a lot out of scouts including a couple of long camping trips.  He learned the usual skills and benefitted from the guidance of adults who weren’t parents or teachers.

Some camps will trade a child’s camping fees for a parent’s skills.  It won’t work with every camp, but it is worth trying with alternative or church over night camps.  If you can cook, do office work or general maintenance, ask.  Ask your local Y about groups that help send kids to camps or have programs for families to go to camp.

Learning New Skills

Can’t afford lessons?  Canvas other families in the same situations.  Maybe among you there are a few experts such as knitters, musicians (singers or drummers are ideal), dancers, artists (they don’t have to be famous or sell their work), woodworkers or bakers.  Arrange to have lessons for the children in your group of families.  Your kids will learn a new skill and learn to appreciate another adult.  You will get to know some other children well.

Seeing and Stimulation

            On the street where you live

Learning and stimulation are often right at your feet or your children’s feet.  Get in the habit of going for walks with your kids.  Teach them how to walk safely

Wabush Manhole Cover IV

Wabush Manhole Cover IV (Photo credit: ManHole.ca)

in their neighbourhood.  Go at their pace. They will get you seeing things you haven’t really looked at before.  The obvious things are construction sites and big trucks.  It’s always amazing how many workers don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to explain what they are doing.  My kids found manholes fascinating, too.  They were a great place to practice reading.  I also learned a bit of local history when I realised that the same foundry that made the manhole covers, made stoves in our area.

Those walks are also good exercise and an opportunity for you to continue street-proofing your children. Point out street signs, landmarks, public building and telephones. Get them to tell you how to get home.  Children who have wandered their neighbourhoods on their own by the age of ten will have a better directional sense and more confidence.  People who walk with confidence are less likely to be victimized.

            It’s a walk in the park

Having fun!

Having fun! (Photo credit: ucumari)

Of course, parks are a great place in the summer.  You take your kids to play on the playground or splash pads or swim but as a by-the-way you can get them in the habit of observing the life around them.  Try going to different parks and point out different plants and trees, birds and animals.  You don’t have

Observing

Observing (Photo credit: Adalberto Gonzaga)

to know what they are.  Keep a sketchpad or camera tucked in your bag to record what they see and make notes. Jot down their observations or if they are old enough, give them their own note pad and encourage them to keep

their own notes.  Show them how to just write down the minimum number of words necessary to remind them. When you get home, you can look them up or take another trip to the library.

            Go shopping, but leave your wallet at home

Shopping streets can be full of information.  Why do stores have big windows?  Which way do doors open?  Why?  Which colours do they see most in

a child

a child (Photo credit: sogni_hal)

store windows?  Which store windows are the prettiest?  Most dramatic?  Most interesting?  Why are there people sitting on the sidewalk asking for money?  Depending on your city, the street and the person, your child might want to talk to them.  It’s an opportunity to learn that people are people no matter how they live.

If you visit a small store when it is quiet, you could talk to the proprietor about what it is like to run a business, where his wares come from and why he decided to open a store.  You could get your children to keep track of the different kind of stores on different streets.

            Museums

Museums are most wonderful when they are free.  If they are free in your town, pop in with the kids for only half an hour at a time.  Even if they aren’t free,

Young hands

Young hands (Photo credit: jepoirrier)

there is usually one day a week when they are, so that is the day to drop by.  Do a little research; sometimes there are tiny museums that are free.  Sometimes there are amazing little stores that are almost as good as museum, but first you must carefully train your children to look only with their eyes.

The best museum for kids is a science and technology museum.  Get them pushing the museum’s buttons instead of yours.  If you don’t have a zoo, the next best is an art gallery but pick the exhibit carefully.  Children enjoy bright energetic abstracts or meticulously realistic art to start with.  Let them ask the questions and make the comments before you get helpful.  You can borrow books about art from your library if you

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth (Photo credit: Martin Beek)

don’t have the answers. When they get home they might want to try the kind of art they have seen.

An Exhibition

Your children might want to go around their home to pick out art and oddments worthy of display.  They can create cards explaining what each thing is and why it is so special.  Perhaps your network of teaching and learning families could add a demonstration of the skills the kids have learned over the summer.  Of course, that will call for an exhibition to which they can invite their friends, family and neighbours.

I am going to do it ALL

You aren’t going to do all of these things.  Just writing about it exhausts me.  It is a frame of mind that says there is a world of learning and fellowship and fun and excitement out there free if I open my eyes and my mind and my heart that is important.  I don’t have to be rich or educated to give my child a summer she will enjoy and will keep her mind ticking over.  I can send her back to school ready to continue learning.  It just takes some thought, imagination and planning on my part.  And maybe a little help from my friends.

Parenting

Parenting (Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov)

Summer’s Here and So are Posts for Parents


Latino Children Play Swing

Latino Children Play Swing (Photo credit: epSos.de)

School is over and you are scratching your head over summer plans, not the big ones such as vacations (Aunt Lucie’s cottage again!) or camps if you can afford it: Camp Tappawallit for one week, two or three?  No, it’s the nitty-gritty, the hot summer evenings, the long weekends of only two days, the weeks of amusing small ones if you can afford to or must stay home with them.

If you are home with your kids,

you are Home With Your Kids

Here are some suggestions gleaned from my long hot summers as a teacher and parent and from other parents.  First, if you are home with the kids, remember that is your primary goal.  Sure there are jobs to be done but restrict them to cool mornings when your kids are happy to amuse themselves.  I also expected my kids to do a few chores, starting with keeping their rooms tidy.

Summer was my time for sorting through each child’s clothes, making a note of what was going to be needed in the fall, what could be passed on and placing the worn out clothes directly in the rag bag.  Sometimes it was tedious.  If we got through it in one session, I was pleased; if the child got cranky, I marked the bags, tidied what we hadn’t sorted and waited for another day to finish up.

It was also a time to sort out closets and clean rooms thoroughly but unless truly inspired I rarely went past lunch.  It just wasn’t fair to the kids.

Put aside at least half of each day to be with the kids

Afternoons were for a cold glass of water, a book, a chaise lounge and the shade of the tree in the back yard.  The kids came and went, asking permission for

Beautiful shady tree with "Candle-nut&quo...

Beautiful shady tree with “Candle-nut” fruits. The fruits of this plant were used as candles by early settlers. Native to NE QLD Australia and to New Guinea. old name: Aleurites moluccana v. rockinghamensis Location: rainforest reserve in Chapel Hill, Brisbane, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

various things, climbing the tree, going off with their friends and inviting friends around.  I checked hats and sunblock and fluids and where they were going and with whom but it felt relaxed because I wasn’t trying to do anything else.  I often didn’t read more than a couple of pages.

Sometimes if dinner was organised, we would walk (or cycle) along the bicycle path to meet their dad.  This was a treat, as they loved to surprise him and tell him about their day.

Be good to yourself and your family

Remember, if you try to look after your kids and have an immaculate house, writes the Great Canadian Novel, or run a successful home-based business, you will also be seriously irritated with your kids and very frustrated.  Taking care of the kids comes first. If anything else gets done it’s a bonus. Things do get done but never nearly as often as you would like. Just keep reminding yourself that you are there for your children.

We don’t all have the luxury of one parent staying at home for the summer

Isn’t that the truth!  It takes a bit of planning but picking up the kids after work and taking them straight to the nearest park, splash-pad, pool or beach for a picnic supper is a welcome treat on the hotter days.

Making picnicking on a whim easier

When you dry towels and bathing suits, pop them in a bag with sunblock, hats

English: Kids at shore

Kids at shore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and whatever necessities you need and keep it in the hall closet.  Make sure you have enough for the whole family so you can just grab the bag when the water

English: A frisbee made by Wham-O.

A frisbee made by Wham-O. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

calls.  Use a distinctive bag and the same bag each time so the kids can find it to toss in the Frisbee or toy they think is needed.

Keep a box or basket or cooler handy with whatever cutlery, cups and china you use for a picnic.  Save large plastic jars with good screw-on lids to put any drippy food in.  Pack cloth napkins or tea towels for mopping up sticky fingers and chins.

Then all you need to add is food. If the food has been frozen or well chilled and you plan to eat within the hour, you probably won’t need ice.  If you think you might need ice, consider using those chill packs intended for sprains and bruises: less mess and effective for short trips.

Checklists help

Create generic checklists for the food container and the one in the hall.  For the food container you might list:

4 Cups

4 forks

4 spoons

4 knives

4 plates

main course

vegetables

rice/potato/bread

afters (dessert)

drinks

water

thermos of tea

2 tea towels

As you can see it covers most of what you would take for your picnic and some of it can be done as soon as you have done the dishes from the last picnic.  Some of it will help with your planning.  You are less likely to leave something important behind even if you are tired and frazzled.

A tone mapped HDR image of a picnic setup on t...

A tone mapped HDR image of a picnic setup on the grass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suggestions for food for an easy picnic supper:

Bake a lot of chicken legs, then freeze them in bags in amounts your family is likely to eat.  If you have a couple extra, freeze them separately so you can add them for guests.  You can take these out in the morning and put them in the cooler or fridge.

A lot of food for a very hungry family!

Or make peanut butter and banana sandwiches

Or check out lentil or bean or quinoa salads on the Internet.  Some of them are a meal in themselves.  It would be easier to make these the night before and if you double the recipe, it will cover two meals.

Or pick up a small ham and carve it on the spot

Carrot and celery sticks are favourites and easy to prepare a day or two in advance.

Forget about potato salad and take some good bread and butter

For dessert bring a selection of fruit and maybe a cookie for each person.  I love to bring whatever delicious berry is in season.  They usually disappear fast and if they don’t, well all the more for the adults’ lunches.

Bottles with ice and water are great but you can also cut juice in half with soda water for a fizzy drink that is nutritious.

Surprisingly good:

Turnip sticks

                        Cucumber sticks or slices

                        Lettuce leaves eaten as finger food (especially dark  green or red)

                        Plain yogurt sprinkled with brown sugar

                        Cut up fresh fruit with plain yogurt

                        Yogurt and juice beaten together.  Add milk if it is too thick

                        Pickled herring

Between the fun of the water and the good simple food, all of you will sleep better, no matter how hot it is.

When you get home, do yourself a favour and clean out the food containers thoroughly.  Even if it is late, at least get the china, containers and cutlery into a tub of soapy water or a dishwasher and wipe out the cooler or basket.  You do not want to face stinky, smelly picnic things next time you want to picnic on a whim.

Family picnicing in the shade on a hot summer ...

Family picnicing in the shade on a hot summer day at Bonython Park on the banks of River Torrens, Adelaide, South Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next Time:  Summertime: can you make if fun AND educational cheaply?

The Academics Weigh in on Abuse of Teachers by Falsely Accusing Them


This article from CBC covers some important points, but the most important one is the first – there are no statistics.  One of the reasons is that every accusation is hush hush.  Even when cleared, a teacher is supposed to return to the classroom, grateful and silent.

False abuse accusations against teachers ‘on the rise’

By Mark Gollom, CBC News

Posted: Apr 24, 2012 5:05 AM ET

Last Updated: Apr 24, 2012 5:00 AM ET

Read 427comments427

The number of false abuse allegations being made against teachers by students is difficult to determine as there is no central database or available statistics about the issue.The number of false abuse allegations being made against teachers by students is difficult to determine as there is no central database or available statistics about the issue. (istock)

Teachers across Canada are having their reputations ruined as increasing numbers get falsely accused of abusing their students, or acting inappropriately with them, experts say.

“We are getting more and more ‘teacher-talk’ evidence and teacher narratives that clearly indicate that false accusations are on the rise,” Jon Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University, told CBCNews via email.

“Active parents are making things, in some cases, very difficult,” he said.

University of Ottawa faculty of education professor Joel Westheimer told CBC’s Ottawa Morning that incidents of false allegations used to be fairly rare in both Canada and the United States.

“In recent years they’ve been growing dramatically,” he said. “More and more teachers are being accused of often frivolous [things].”

Westheimer slammed school administrators for being “spineless” for automatically ordering investigations regardless of how credible the allegation of abuse may be.

“In the short term you prevent lawsuits, and in the long term you prevent people from entering the teaching profession.”

The issue is making waves following the case of an Ontario substitute teacher who was accused of abuse after telling a grade 5 student not to throw out his banana.The Children’s Aid Society recently concluded the abuse allegation was unfounded.

‘Parents too quick to point fingers’

In an article published last year for the Canadian Education Association website entitled, False Accusations: A Growing Fear in the Classroom, Bradley wrote that some lies are being told about teachers by students who, “find support in parents and friends who are far too quick to point fingers.”

McGill University education professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers. He writes that students who make such allegations, 'find support in parents and friends who are too quick to point fingers.'McGill University education professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers. He writes that students who make such allegations, ‘find support in parents and friends who are too quick to point fingers.’ (CBC)Local teachers unions and other educational authorities are “struggling to identify such incidents,” he wrote. But at the same time, he wrote, they appear “ill-equipped to develop realistic procedures and plans that safeguard due process and the reputations of those falsely accused.”

The number of false allegations being made against teachers is difficult to determine as there is no central database or available statistics about the issue.

But in a study conducted at Nipissing University, entitled “A Report on the Professional Journey of Male Primary-Junior teachers in Ontario,” nearly 13 per cent of male educators said they had been falsely accused. The study had 223 respondents across Ontario.

“I think it’s pretty prevalent,” said Professor Douglas Gosse, one of the authors of the study.

“There’s a general belief among many teachers that the pendulum has swung too far,” he said, adding that male teachers in particular seem to be targeted more.”

“We all want to protect our children but I liken it to racial profiling. I think we have to be very careful that we don’t have these prejudices because of the person’s gender and at the same time we definitely have to take any accusation quite seriously. But some of them are unfounded.”

Gosse said it’s problematic that records about false abuse allegations aren’t being kept.

“I think that information should be documented and I suspect that the number of cases that are simply dismissed are huge. I can’t say if it’s a majority or not but I know that many, many of these incidents are dismissed because of lack of evidence.”

Teachers are often devastated by these allegations, which can drag out for many months, he said.

“The men that we interviewed were under extreme psychological stress. It affected their family, their wives, their children. Even when it was resolved, it still had long-lasting psychological damage.”

Accused teacher committed suicide

In his article, Bradley wrote that in one particular case, a teacher accused of physical assault committed suicide, even though he was cleared of the charges and the student recanted.

“While it may never be proven, his family (and many colleagues) share the view that [he] sought this drastic release because he could not bear the stain of a false accusation and the thought that his whole career was on the line,” Bradley wrote.

It’s also difficult to determine how many teachers leave the profession because they’ve been falsely accused, he added.

Bradley said children must be protected and teachers who would abuse students must be expelled from the school system. But there must also be mechanisms that protect the rights of innocent teachers, he said.

And little is done to hold students accountable for making up stories, Bradley added.

“In case after case, parents leap to the defence of apparently ‘abused’ children and, when the dust has settled, offer no compensation to the aggrieved teacher,” Bradley wrote. “This skewed arrangement puts more emphasis on unsupported adolescent narratives than on verifiable facts.”

Not Something of which I Want Reminding


My only comment now is that I have been here and I am deeply upset that this kind of thing continues to happen.  As a link to this CBC article will probably eventually disappear, I am going to copy the whole article here.

Falsely accused teacher calls for accountability

Accused of abusing students, teacher spent weeks under suspicion

By Kathy Tomlinson CBC News

Posted: Apr 23, 2012 2:08 AM PT

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2012 2:30 PM PT

Read 802comments802

Teacher Susan Dowell was accused of abusing students after she challenged a boy for throwing out a banana at lunch.Teacher Susan Dowell was accused of abusing students after she challenged a boy for throwing out a banana at lunch. (CBC)
Kathy TomlinsonKathy Tomlinson

An Ontario substitute teacher who was cleared of abuse allegations is speaking out, suggesting that parents and students be held accountable for making false accusations.

“Something is terribly wrong here,” said Susan Dowell, who has taught school for 15 years. “Children who do make false allegations – parents who make false allegations – what happens to them in the end?”

The complaint against Dowell came after she told a grade five boy not to throw away an uneaten banana at lunch. Dowell was on lunch room duty, during a one-day teaching assignment at R.L. Graham elementary school, in Keswick, Ont.

“I told him to eat it…or put it back in his lunch box and take it home. His parents paid good money for fruit like that for him to eat,” said Dowell.

Dowell said the boy went home that night and complained, so one of his parents went to the school vice principal.

“The story that the parent heard and later told the administration…is that I had him go into the garbage to take out a squishy banana — eat garbage basically — and humiliated him in front of his friends.”

Dowell said the incident happened right after she had enforced classroom rules, for a group of unruly students – the boy’s friends – that morning.

“They came in with an attitude immediately…like they’re going to see how far they can go,” said Dowell. “I know enough, in a situation like this, I’m not going to get into a battle with students…so I asked them to go to the office immediately.”

Banana incident sparked investigation

The following week, while teaching at another school, she was suddenly sent home and told she was under investigation by Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society.

“I was just shocked and confused,” said Dowell. For over a week, she said, no one would tell her what she was accused of doing.

“For nine days. It feels like you’re waiting to find out a diagnosis with cancer. It’s crazy making…I was told not to speak to anyone.”

Dowell later learned that after the parent complained about the banana incident, the vice principal talked to the other students she taught that day. She said the group of unruly students she’d sent to the office had plenty of complaints.

Dowell was on a one-day teaching assignment at R.L. Graham Elementary School, when the incidents happened.Dowell was on a one-day teaching assignment at R.L. Graham Elementary School, when the incidents happened. (CBC)“Somehow all these children came up with all these incredible stories of how I had grabbed their wrists and I left red marks that apparently weren’t showing later,” said Dowell.

“Children are getting a lot more savvy these days. It used to be, ‘make the occasional [substitute] teacher cry.’ Now they know they can have you suspended.”

Without talking to Dowell, the school immediately called the Children’s Aid Society, which it is required to do by law, when there is an allegation of abuse.

“I thought I’d be treated as a professional colleague and I’d be given the benefit of the doubt and at least gotten a phone call afterwards to ask what had happened, from my perspective.”

Told to expect police

Dowell was removed from the board’s substitute teacher roster. Her union told her she might even be arrested.

“You are told police could come to your door any moment. What do you tell your family and friends? It’s a horrible situation to be in, knowing that you’re totally innocent,” said Dowell. “I knew I had never been alone with a child. I never put my hands on a child…but it felt like I was guilty until proven innocent.”

Dowell spent a month at home on partial pay, borrowing money to pay her bills, before the CAS concluded the allegation was unfounded.

The Children's Aid Society concluded the complaints against Dowell were unsubstantiated.The Children’s Aid Society concluded the complaints against Dowell were unsubstantiated.(CBC)“The Society…has determined that Ms. Dowell did not use excessive physical force with the students in her class or intentionally embarrass the student during her interactions with him in the lunchroom,” read a letter to Dowell’s lawyer from the York Region Children’s Aid Society.

“The Society is not substantiating any concerns related to the alleged use of physical force or public humiliation by Ms. Dowell, nor would the Society be concerned should Ms. Dowell return to her occasional teaching position.”

Dowell was then allowed to go back to work, but she still faces a probe by the school board, which is standard protocol when a complaint is made.

“These are separate investigations with different standards,” said Christina Choo-Hum of the York Regional School Board. “We have a much closer eye and more detailed approach to our investigation.”

Due diligence

When asked why a minor incident would lead to a full-blown investigation, Choo-Hum said, “If there is the slightest question [about a teacher] we err on the side of caution. It’s due diligence.”

Choo-Hum said no one from the school or the board would comment on Dowell’s case, because it’s a personnel matter. She said the board does not keep statistics on how many complaints against teachers it investigates, or what the outcome is.

Nadia Ciacci, president of the union representing 1800 occasional teachers in the York district, said she’s seen false complaints multiply every year, from none three years ago, to eight this school year. Ciacci said all were unfounded.

McGill University associate professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers and said accusers who lie should be held accountable.McGill University associate professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers and said accusers who lie should be held accountable. (CBC)“It’s devastating for teachers,” said Ciacci, who said one has left the profession as a result. “It’s important to ensure the safety of students, of course, but also to ensure the safety of teachers. The message has to get out there – that this has to stop.”

Jon Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University, has studied false allegations against teachers. He knows one case where the teacher committed suicide. He said careers and lives are ruined, particularly for men falsely accused of sex abuse.

“It’s really a mess,” he said. “We seem to be almost afraid. We seem to be saying – if a kid makes an accusation it must be true. Kids don’t lie. That’s the first thing we say – kids don’t lie.”

He cited one case that should have been suspect from the start, because of how the nine-year-old girl characterized what happened.

“She said ‘he leered at me suggestively.’ I don’t know how many grade four students would use an expression like that.”

No consequence for accusers

He said parents and children involved in false allegations don’t face any consequences, and they should.

“What’s really sad in this is we’ve got adolescents making terrible accusations against teachers and getting off scot-free with absolutely no penalty whatsoever,” said Bradley.

Ciacci of the teacher’s union said she would like to see parents held legally responsible, perhaps through an amendment to Ontario’s Parental Responsibility Act.

“Look at the cost to taxpayers as well for the Children’s Aid involvement,” she said. “Parents need to be held accountable.”

Dowell said the group of Grade 5 students misbehaved and challenged her in class, then claimed she had abused them.Dowell said the group of Grade 5 students misbehaved and challenged her in class, then claimed she had abused them.(CBC)Choo-Hum said there is no school board policy or standards for dealing with students who make false allegations.

“Students are dealt with on a case-by-case basis [at the school level],” said Choo-Hum.

Dowell said she is confident the board investigation will also find she did nothing wrong. Regardless, though, she said she will never feel the same in the classroom.

“The next time I see a kid throw out a banana I am obviously not going to say anything. And next time I see belligerent, defiant behaviour – am I to turn the other cheek?” said Dowell.

““I feel very much I am damned if I do I am damned if I don’t.”