Supporting school transitions – some thoughts before September

As a student and teacher, I’m sensitive to the ways we transition and socialize students into K-12, postsecondary, and postgrad education. Heck, perhaps that’s why I’m so keen to cultivate connections and communities for support, mentorship, and friendship. Most recently, I’ve recognized how important it is to REALLY support my former students and mentees during their current learning curves, whether it’s choosing prospective schools, starting a new program, figuring out funding and finances, changing majors or programs, or choosing between multiple options and opportunities.

I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve called friends and family for emergency phone calls to support that moment I open an email or letter holding seemingly unbearable news. I’ve also had to listen in and participate in the communal shrieking [I can’t even mimic this sound haha!], shouting [No, I told YOU so! AHHH!], or slamming [“You didn’t get it? Well, they don’t know what they’re missing!”]. Navigating school and scholarship application rigmarole or working to finesse the rhetoric in grant applications, I’ve met with professors late into the evening, emailing back-and-forth over the weekends to finalize proposals (and sometimes they’re last minute!). I recently had to do the same thing with my former Grade 12 students, writing several letters of recommendation while on a 6-week travel stint for data collection and conferences AND writing my own applications. Now I know how it feels when I ask faculty for last minute recommendation requests! Oh gosh, and do you recall your first few events . . .where  you find yourself in the same room with your academic or professional role models and don’t know how to deal? I’ve been there numerous times myself and when it’s for my students or friends, I’ve encouraged them to say hello and shake hands.

This year, being on both the supported and supportive ends, the experience has been quite rewarding. During the last few weeks of my program at Ryerson, I’m making the time to see off my former students and mentees for yet another September. I love this time of year.

Of course. . . this was originally just supposed to be a sharing of a NYTimes article, but it seems like I had a lot to say…

I wanted to share this article from the New York Times: readers submitted helpful and honest tips to incoming college/university students:

“Plain and simple: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Seriously, life happens to all of us. Professors are people. T. A.s are people. They understand that “the struggle is real,” and sometimes you just need a helping hand. And whenever you’re feeling alone or overwhelmed, just remember that all the other freshmen are in the same boat. You are not alone.”

Read the article: NYTimes: Readers share back-to-school tips for incoming freshmen.

Photo by Jessica Lucia via Flicker.

sleepless nights & the stress of scholarship

It’s 5 am & I just finished reading “Being ‘Lazy’ and Slowing Down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy.”

In a culture of performativity, rapid communication, and mobility, slowing down seems to be the antithesis of what needs to happen in the academy. Slowing down, or decolonizing time, is about reconnecting to our embodied selves and nurturing ‘depth’ in our work for equity and social justice in the academy, and about improving our quality of life and work… slowing down is about embodying alternative personhoods in the learning environment, remaining mindful of how a dominant concept of time has hijacked our every day lives. Unfortunately, while our minds are zipping, and our bodies are dragging behind trying to keep at pace, we are losing our spirit, and soon are left to ponder about our spirits when we are lying inour hospital or death beds. (Shahjahan, 2014, p. 12)

Zooming out, slowing down & going back to sleep.


Shahjahan, R. A. (2014). Being ‘Lazy’ and Slowing Down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (ahead-of-print), 1-14. Read it here on

safe spaces on campus: reflecting on recent events & media coverage of Ryerson’s Racialised Students’ Collective

I was a little shocked when this story broke on Friday via the Ryersonian, “White students barred from funded RSU student group event.”

Talk about a sensational title.

Two students were barred from covering an event for racialized students. Okay.

“It felt really bad… kind of embarrassing,” Knope said. “If their goal in these meetings was to end racialization then it needs to be something everybody is involved in. If some people are causing the problems, they need to know. Grouping yourself off… is not going to accomplish anything.”

I remember sitting at my desk on Saturday, struck dumb in front of my computer. Earlier this week, I was at a powerful talk with Dr. Kathy Absolon from Wilfred Laurier, on how we bring the [racialized] self into the academy. What I mean by powerful — I was in tears when I asked her to reflect on her experiences after-the-fact, as I’m dealing with what feels like a painful negotiation of research and service to my community, while navigating a space so colonial & engaging in practices that feel so neoliberal and counter to my values and beliefs.

So when I read this article, I felt a range of emotions. Anger and frustration yes, disappointment… but it also revitalized my passion and energy to continue the work I’m doing in anti-oppressive education, critical pedagogy, and communication activism pedagogy.

This story has been picked up by Reddit and other news outlets. Watch the video in this Global News article to see the progression in the student reporter’s perspective.

“It’s a public space and it’s funded by the school and I think that in a perfect world everybody should be let into all meetings but I haven’t been through the same issues, I can’t say I’ve been through the same issues as racialized students at our school,” she said.

As someone working & studying at Ryerson, I know we’re at this crucial time – various groups have been building momentum, space, and community for antiracism and antioppressive work. I’ve been part of various conversations and communities for faculty and staff & while that’s been amazing … when it comes down to student support and community, we have so far to go. This hits so painfully close to home.


Read this opinion piece by Ryerson student Aeman Ansari: We need to respect safe spaces

Photo via Columbia Spectator

Sharing UofT professor’s note to student re: the YorkU/UofT strike

It’s a very busy week for me… but this came across my Facebook feed this morning & I wanted to share this (and record it for future reference):

U of T professor at the Women and Gender Studies Institute explains to her students why she has moved their class off campus in solidarity with the ongoing strike:

“I want to take a moment to explain why we are holding our class off campus this week and why it is about more than physically crossing a picket line. My area of research is how people learn about social justice, inequity, democracy, participation, how they become active in the world. And what I know is that how you experience the world matters immensely in that process. How you experience moments such as the strike really does matter.

Right now, the University, like any other employer, is producing a very important piece of ideology. By ‘ideology’ I mean the message that is being communicated to students, faculty, workers, and the broader community is that business as usual can continue at the university despite the fact that a large portion of our teaching staff has had to walk off the job to protest their working conditions. That message is also meant to communicate to us the value of their work; that their work is of so little consequence that we can continue on as if their absence means nothing and is not felt in our daily reality. I know that’s not true, and probably you know that’s not true as well.

But there is something profoundly more insidious and disturbing to me in this message. That is the message that we should not be disrupted or inconvenienced by the suffering of other people, by the inequity that others must face every day. That just because they struggle with poverty and have had to go on strike to demand recognition from their employer, it should not disrupt our business. But it is a disruption, it is a huge disruption. It is a disruption to our learning, to our lives, and, very importantly, to the covenant between a school, its students, and its teachers. It is not just a disruption, it is rupture, a tearing apart. Look at what is being torn apart. Look at who is being torn apart.

I have moved our class because I prioritize your learning. I know that how you [my students] experience this will be very important in how you learn about it, and I don’t want you to have the experience that there should be no disruption. Whatever happens around you, even if it doesn’t happen to you, we should not seek to turn away from disruption. We, as teachers in this university, should not teach you that you can look away from what is happening in this world to other people; that you can just avoid it, and it has no meaning in your life beyond a bureaucratic nuisance or that what is also at stake here is your education.

When these things happen, when your teachers go on strike, when an innocent young person is shot by the police, when a woman disappears and is found in a ditch, when we drop a bomb, we should be and feel disrupted. We should reflect on that disruption; we should learn from it. This is part of how we learn to be in the world as decent human beings who have an eye to the humanity of others. We cannot go on with business as usual. So, we are here, off campus, because I prioritize learning that takes humanity and social life seriously.”


Image: Juan Monroy

New graduates & the ‘job market’: why is it about ‘me-me-ME’?

Sharing an article in the Toronto Star: University degree. Check. A job? Still searching. This is one part of a 4-part series on ‘Faces of Inequality.’

As a student at Western University, student government leader and peer mentor Adam Smith could easily be described as dynamic, engaged, and dedicated.
But eight months after graduating with a double major in sociology and criminology he’s back living in his parent’s Ajax home, trying to avoid being defined by a whole new set of adjectives.
Young. Jobless. Disposable.
“I’m frankly embarrassed that I don’t have a job already,” he says. “I feel like I’m a good worker, I have a lot to offer companies. But because I haven’t been able to connect it yet, I feel personally embarrassed.

I don’t dismiss the plight of new grads struggling to find jobs. When we graduate, I think our focus tends to be on me ‘me-me-me.’ We must not forget that there are many people who face challenges and barriers we can only imagine. Sure, completing a university education isn’t easy… but there are many people who don’t even get that opportunity.

Musing here. Forgive me. For me, education involves our collective efforts… using our brains, hands, & hearts to work with communities to identify causes, build solutions, & speak up and out.

How do we move the university student’s focus and vision from the individual to community/society?

The teachable moment that took me out of the classroom: how 12 brilliant young women taught me about myself

In education, we often talk about teachable moments – those impromptu invaluable lessons that change our perspective. Often, we the teachers recognize, facilitate, and maximize those special and unexpected opportunities. I want to tell you about one particular teachable moment – this time, it was a huge epiphany for me, the teacher.

This past year, I worked at a very special place called the Linden School. I taught a Communications Technology elective for Grades 10-12. I facilitated this small class of 12 students like a typical university seminar, complete with Friday morning breakfasts and an emphasis on critical discussion.

I focused the year’s learning around personal branding. Grounded in the easy-to-read text by Dorie Clark, Reinventing You, the girls and I conducted focus groups. In our safe space, we talked openly about each other. We shared what we observed to be the strengths and weaknesses of our peers. I too was the subject for a focus group.

Listen here to my focus group

Direct link: Monica focus group

For most of you, some of the content requires insider knowledge to which you are not privy. Most people don’t know about the little quirks of my classroom. But if any of my former students actually listen to this, they’ll likely laugh at the jokes and may recall particular references. But I think anyone can gather that the girls allude to and directly talk about me working in spaces outside the classroom. While they said all this, I quietly took notes and listened as they independently managed the focus group.

After the focus group session, during our class debrief on the process, this was when the teachable moment happened for me.

The girls looked a little agitated and they began to ask many questions about my former work and education. After I turned off the audio recorder, my student Adriana probed some more, “So why are you here?” – here being at the school, teaching them.

It took me a moment to think of an answer that still validated my work, my investment in them, and my choice to be at the school. The girls knew about the various ‘big’ projects I was working on – much of it had to do with recommending improvements for communications, marketing and recruitment, fundraising, and technology. As much as I tried to manage the work, they noticed I was spread too thin across major – and competing – priorities, teaching being one of them.

I remember telling them how I consciously left the UK for this particular role and how I was excited to be back in the classroom. But in my heart, I knew they were recognizing something in me that I wasn’t quite yet ready to consider. What exactly, you ask? Well, that perhaps I am better suited outside the classroom.

Many of my students enjoyed the course. A few even had similar epiphanies about themselves and  noted the 2013-14 year as one of tremendous personal growth. That makes me feel fantastic.

But truly, I will forever remember the TGJ course, those students, and that particular day of my silly and serious focus group session – it sparked a shift in me and my work.

I write this now as I embark on a new journey. I’m beginning a second Master’s – this time in Professional Communication. And I owe it all to those girls. Thank you.

Main photo by Tobi Firestone via Flickr
bell hooks - teaching to transgress

bell hooks on student-teacher tensions for transformative pedagogy

Reflecting on the challenges in creating transformative, liberatory & progressive classrooms.

“Just as it may be difficult for professors to shift their paradigms, it is equally difficult for students. I have always believed that students should enjoy learning. Yet I found that there was much more tension in the diverse classroom setting where the philosophy of teaching is rooted in critical pedagogy and (in my case) in feminist critical pedagogy. The presence of tension – and at times even conflict – often meant that my students did not enjoy my classes or love me, their professor, as I secretly wanted them to do. Teaching in a traditional discipline from the perspective of critical pedagogy means that I often encounter students who make complaints like ‘I thought this was supposed to be an English class, why are we talking so much about feminism?’… In the transformed classroom there is often a much greater need to explain philosophy, strategy, intent than in the “norm” setting… I learned to respect that shifting paradigms or sharing knowledge in new ways challenges; it takes time for students to experience that challenge as positive.”

– bell hooks, teaching to transgress (41-42)

What else don’t they teach you in Teacher Ed?

Earlier this week, I posted this Facebook status, knowing my weekend was going to be spent marking and writing report cards.

Facebook Status - Work-LifeBalance

There was a hint of humour in that post, but those of you who know me or are in the profession will detect exhaustion and frustration among other emotions.

I woke up this Sunday morning with this post written by my good friend, Doug Peterson, on my Facebook newsfeed. It was as if it was meant to be my morning procrastination reading. Titled, What They Don’t Teach You in Teachers’ College, Doug refers to this article discussing teachers’ unpaid work, and he briefly mentions some of the activities and associations in which teachers participate. The original survey and report by the UK’s Department for Education can be found here.

Those who are new to the profession will quickly learn the “extra hours, extra work, stuff they don’t teach you in teacher ed” stuff. Starting out, I was hyper-aware and sensitive to these realities, especially for new teachers – thanks to my professors, Clare Kosnik and Clive Beck. Particularly, in Clive’s class, we discussed the struggles of new teachers as seen in their own longitudinal research.

This morning, I am not only thinking about my own privilege in knowing about and analyzing this research with Clive, but also how my own teacher training enabled me to learn from some of the best educators in this province. Sure, I had four amazing practicum placements, but my own work brought me to talk with and/or observe dozens of teachers about their current practices, pedagogy, and experiences. I like to think my teacher education experience opened the doors for authentic dialogue, networking and mentorship.

So Doug’s piece got me thinking – what didn’t they teach me in Teacher Ed?

Reflecting on my own trajectory, which includes a short campaign in the 2012 by-election for TDSB Trustee (Ward 20), I realize we did not have any conversation about large-scale change, improvement, and activism.

Sure, we all knew the Ontario teacher job market was grim – we never discussed what others doing about it. What were we do about it? Do we passively wait for our turn, for these coveted opportunities for employment? Shout out to my amazing friend, Kim Fry, I think you were the only person asking these critical questions in class and they all fell on deaf ears.

I’m asking… in what ways do teacher education programs perpetuate the current processes, policies, and systems? In what ways can we be agents of change? advocates? activists? Can this process begin in Teacher Ed? Does it have to wait til we get this burning fire within ourselves to move and mobilize? Heck, we know most teachers will leave the field within 5 years, so it’s more like the burning fire may lead some of us elsewhere.

I suppose this is why I ran for Trustee and why I continue to advocate aggressively in terms of innovation and change in my current school and in education, broadly speaking.

As always and moving forward, I am critical of the ways in which I participate in school settings. If my involvement in schools revolves around innovation and improvement, what does mean for my career trajectory? In spaces will I operate? To what spaces will I contribute? I suppose this is why I have dancing feet – I feel a fire under my feet to move and make change. What that looks like… well, I’m still figuring that out.

Teetering with technology: how I explore my own use, disuse & misuse of 21st century devices and tools

An earlier version of this post was published in the Linden School’s literary journal, House of Girls. A print copy is available for purchase at the school now; an electronic version will come out soon.

Contrary to popular belief, this technology teacher isn’t all that techie. Sure, I have a few of the latest devices, but I also place great value in some of the classic ways of reading, writing and interacting. I probably write just as often with a good, old-fashioned pen and paper than with my laptop, tablet or phone. I still call up my best friends to come over for a gabfest, even though my public social media profiles divulge details of my life. Every day I read and review web articles and videos. But ever fall asleep while reading or watching something on your iPad? Well, a glass screen bonking you on the nose can wake you up quicker than those annoying analog alarm clocks, I tell ya.

Though, I think things are a bit more complicated. You see, I prefer to order my food with a server than through an iPad, but will never step foot in a restaurant without checking its Yelp reviews first. I solicit book recommendations in online forums yet still spend hours browsing used bookstores. I probably have as many books in my library as I have followers on Twitter. I love the printed word, so much so that I chose to lug a luggage full of books home from the UK than housing digital copies of these texts in a tablet. Technically, I had some help with that heavy load of literature, but I’m sure my friends and the airport porters were muttering “Oy vey” under their breath.

In class, I ask my students to critique our learning activities using new technology or paper. Sometimes they submit handwritten reflections; sometimes they post it online. Often, I ask them to evaluate the very software used for our learning tasks. I want them to choose their tools wisely. Do we collaborate on a Google doc or do we talk face-to-face? Do you ask the teacher or do you crowdsource information? In what ways can technology support our tasks and help us meet our goals? In what ways can it complicate this? Sometimes I purposely structure problematic activities so the girls understand it is important to pick the right medium to communicate a message, the right tool to create a product, the right words to bring our ideas to life.

As someone who supports both adults and young people in learning about ‘technology’ and ‘social media’, I have to figure out how to make sense of these tools and practices – however new or old. I suppose some would argue I am light years ahead in my understanding of technology and social media. But some would say I’m quite behind.

Just the other Sunday, I was posting pictures of past travels on Instagram using the hashtag #TBT. I immediately received a WhatsApp message (instant message application on my phone) from a friend asking, “Aren’t you posting that on the wrong day?” These shared moments of nostalgia, tagged with those three key letters, were apparently part of the “Throwback Thursday” trend. I had interpreted it as “Turn back time” (shout out to anyone who knows the Cher song). D’oh. Despite being the Technology Teacher, clearly I’m behind on hashtags and social media trends. All my years of training and experience using social media, there are still more things to learn.

I remember when my mom thought LOL meant Lots of Love. Look who’s laughing now…


Morning conversation – Creeping my Instagram

Note: The girls call me by my first name.

SCENE: Computer lab. Thursday morning, about 5 minutes before 1st period starts. I’m answering emails on my computer in the lab, other students are in the room doing work before class.

A Grade 7 girl walks in.

Student: Mooooniiicaaaa…
Me: Yes?
Student: The Grade 8s wanted to ask you if you were married.
Me: What! Why do they want to know?
Student: Uhh ’cause you’re beautiful and we didn’t see a ring on your fingers. [looking at my hands]
[Senior students, in the room working, start to giggle]
Me: Tell the Grade 8s that I said y’all should just mind ya own biznaaass.
Student: [looking embarrassed] We’re just curious!
Me: Why didn’t you Google ‘Monica Batac married’ or…
Student: [interrupts] Well… some of us were looking at your Instagram and we saw a picture of a wedding.
Me: What! [laughs] Okay, well let’s pull up my Instagram then.

[we look at my computer and they point to the picture in question]

Me: Yeah, that’s not me.
[More giggling and jokes]
Me: Wait a sec… you all were worried about ME stalking all of y’all? Glad to know y’all are Googling my name and checking me out online.

May 26 PTAC event – photo & reflection

Can you point me out in this sea of Filipino educators? 

Photo credit: Mogi Mogado

I recently joined the Philippine Teachers Association of Canada (PTAC). Sat in on their annual workshop for internationally trained teachers/aspiring educators.

This was my first time meeting a large group of internationally trained, Filipino teachers. I’ve often heard first-hand about the struggles of new Canadians trained in other professions (medicine, engineering, architecture). Before May 26, I can’t say I’ve met many who are educators. The K-12 job market for teachers here in Ontario is arguably grim – imagine the additional challenges in obtaining certification/recognition of one’s credentials plus transitioning to a new country. Amid the optimistic and encouraging panelists, many of the people sitting by me shared their difficult lived experiences and contexts. Learn to teach French when still finessing the art and science of communicating in English? Hunt down previous employers and contact oversea registrar offices while working full-time/overtime to make ends meet? Definitely not easy. I sat in relative silence and was humbled as I recognized my own privilege. Being trained locally, I am a native English speaker with virtually no barriers to certification and arguably employment. I could feel the communal passion for education and love for teaching/learning.

As new graduates from Ontario Faculties of Education, we are often encouraged to remain positive and optimistic in this difficult job market. To me, our challenges seem relatively minor by comparison…

PTAC President Tony  A. San Juan wrote an article on the event here.


Building a community and culture of two-way communication: my MT experience & some thoughts for U of T

I recently sat down with Crystal Chin, a Communication Intern in the Office of Student Life, to talk about my experiences with communications at University of Toronto, my program experience, as well as my research and perspectives on technology/social media use in institutions. You can read some of our conversation here. [The selective transcription doesn’t mention my program experience, so I’ve written about it in this post]

Today, University of Toronto is hosting a Student Communications Summit. I anticipate the day will encourage fruitful dialogue and collaborations between different stakeholders here at the university. I won’t be in attendance, but I indeed look forward to what emerges from the day’s conversations.

I wanted to elaborate a bit more on two recent tweets I posted with the #listenUT hashtag.

@monicabatac: How do I share my two cents about my program? Everything from online surveys, focus group, comm committee, chats w/director #OISE #listenUT

@monicabatac: #listenUT: Search of #UofT, diff POVs & voices: acceptance/rejection letters, campus info, ?s, rants/raves, pics. Academics, social, random

The #listenUT hashtag was created to encourage students to share their experiences and recommendations regarding communications with University of Toronto. I recall reading a tweet that questioned how to engage students in Robarts (were they called study “zombies?’ or something?) in sharing/vocalizing their thoughts/perspectives.

My initial reaction is to cringe at any “Robarts” student stereotype, nonetheless my current thinking urges me to ask a fundamental question. Whose voices are represented at this communications summit? When we look to social media or voluntary focus groups to gather information about student experiences, are we only tapping into a particular group of social media/technologically savvy and/or “vocal” student populations?

If you search the #listenUT hashtag, I’d say there are very few responses. If you search #UofT instead, you’ll find a huge range of perspectives and information: everything from high school students sharing their acceptances/rejections, campus food events, students cramming and campus-wide exam anxiety, Instagram photos of Hart House, overheard student conversations, to department/faculty/research news releases.

If you already blog for some department/service for U of T, are heavily involved in campus life/student groups/extra curriculars, or engage with the university via social media, you’d know about this communication summit. You might be in attendance, you may have given your two cents via Twitter, your own blogging, or perhaps in a past focus group. If you hold a staff position where student experience or communications is part of your agenda, then you may have received an invite. What about all the other students? Other staff members? Faculty members? Sessional instructors? The list goes on and on.

I’ve sat in on a few focus groups for my own graduate program (Master of Teaching at OISE) and department, and indeed it has often been voluntary. I know for my colleagues who are single parents, married or have employment commitments, they certainly don’t have the luxury or flexibility in their schedules to come to such initiatives. Does that mean they cannot share their experiences? To counter that, we have often had the option of sending emails or responding to an online/paper survey. Though, I know for myself, a few of these important surveys have slipped through the [virtual or school bag] cracks and I forget to submit them.

For my program in particular, it has been very beneficial for students to feel not only encouraged to share their honest opinions, positive/negative experiences, evaluations and suggestions, but to be actively involved in improving our program. From cohort student representatives, monthly communications meetings, an emerging student association, focus groups, online surveys, open door policies [virtual and actual office doors] with our administrators and instructors, and even the promotion of Pepper and Twitter as collaborative communities, communication has improved drastically within my 2 years there.

I feel like my program is rapidly evolving into a collaborative community and this overall culture is mirrored in our course content and delivery, right to program planning, vision, and administration. While I am set to graduate soon, I have strong ties to the program and look forward to its constant growth and development.

An important lesson to take away from my own experience with communications within my program  – there’s no one way of “communicating.” Indeed, my program is fairly proficient in using technology to communicate and gather student feedback. However, there are also equal, if not further opportunities to meet face-to-face individually or in groups with different faculty, admin, and our program director. Heck, I spent an hour last week chatting with two of my professors [who also hold admin positions for the program] about summer plans and PhD proposals. Part of that was also spent hovering over a laptop to Google something, sharing personal stories, cracking jokes, and having the department chair drop in. Talk about accessibility.

I discussed a possible tension of communication, transparency, and accessibility with Crystal. It’s one thing for students to desire these things & another thing to provide it all together. Coming from a small graduate program, perhaps I have a skewed and biased perspective. Though at the end of the day, the foundations of collaboration, communication, and community have been built and are improving in different ways after each interaction –via email, at a meeting, each week/month/semester/year.

So that’s a small glimpse of my student experience at University of Toronto. I’m one of those social media-tech savvy, vocal students. I’ve posted it on my blog. I’ll post the link to Twitter with the appropriate hashtags. I’ll send the link to my program director and research supervisor. I’m sure another student in the program would prefer to chat over the phone or in person. Another may rather send an email response. Some may even decline the offer to share.

Communication should be two-way. The best communication is collaborative. True communication is accessible with multiple opportunities for interaction and participation. As all students have “the right to pass” (i.e. decline an invitation to the discussions), it is also important to develop and promote a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent culture in numerous ways – small and large scale, embedded and explicit. This can be a challenge for such a large institution, but student blogs, Twitter accounts, and the Student Communications Summit show great promise.