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On the Job with… Tara McFarling, Elementary Teacher

It’s 7:45 a.m., and Tara McFarling, Grade 8 teacher at Major Ballachey Public School, is taking care of last-minute details for the school’s PRIDE assembly later that morning. PRIDE is an acronym standing for Positive Attitude, Respect, Involvement, Dedication, and Excellence, and it’s the first assembly of the year to honour a student from each classroom whose actions reflect these qualities.

“We started PRIDE 11 years ago to create a culture of celebration around all the little successes,” says a multi-tasking McFarling, who’s now jotting down notes for morning announcements. “We wanted to make sure students know that they’re a part of something special.”

McFarling’s classroom is empty and quiet at the moment, allowing her to get work done at her desk.

“My brain is fresh in the morning, so I take advantage of that,” says McFarling, who’s been teaching at Major Ballachey for 14 years.

An hour later, a chorus of voices and footsteps fill the hallways of the school as a steady procession of students arrive to start the day. McFarling stands near the main entrance, greeting each one. Several students pause to return a high-five, or stop to chat.

The bell sounds at 8:50 a.m., and students move to their classrooms for attendance before each class heads to the gym for the assembly.

In the gym, McFarling is already there, again greeting students as classes filter in. She’s hosting the assembly today, with assistance from fellow staff members in pulling the whole thing together.

“We have an amazing team here because we all have the same goal,” she says. “From teaching and administrative staff to educational assistants and custodial staff, we’re all pulling on the same end of the rope. We’re all working to ensure a safe, welcoming, inclusive place.”

Following the PRIDE assembly, students return to their classrooms. McFarling and her students head back up to the second floor, passing a couple of large whiteboards displaying math problems.

The hallways at Major Ballachey are large, with space that would go unused if it weren’t for the five whiteboards located throughout the school – three upstairs and two downstairs, some mounted lower for primary students. These are the famous ‘Math in the Hallway’ boards, which McFarling documents each school day on Twitter. A colleague got the idea to start the practice of solving mathematical problems out in the open after attending a conference, and the momentum grew from there.

The exercise echoes Grand Erie's Multi-Year Plan and its Achievement indicator, understanding effective learning strategies, and the various ways to implement them.

From the ‘problem of the day’ to the ‘question of the day,’ the routine in McFarling’s classroom is punctuated with reflection and open discussion. Before breaking for lunch, students take part in a mini community circle, responding to a prompt asking them what’s gone well so far this school year.

“We’re learning a lot, and it’s also been really fun,” says one student.

“I’ve been able to balance sports with my school workload,” says another.

“I’m handing in my work on time,” says another.

The responses that come out of these modified community circles help build relationships, explore connections, and share insights – and it’s the kind of exercise that often makes McFarling’s day.

“The amazing things that happen in and out of the classroom, those things far, far outweigh any challenges,” she says.

Lunch in the staff room – it’s usually "boring leftovers," she says – provides a chance to connect with colleagues and share stories before the afternoon routine begins.

To decide on an activity during the next lesson block, McFarling puts it to a vote.

“I give students input into how the day goes,” she says. “It doesn’t mean we won’t do something, but we might do it later instead.”

McFarling’s day also includes supervision during the afternoon break. Around 2:30 p.m. is when she says she typically starts to “feel the day,” so more energizing lessons and activities are often planned for the final lesson block.

Once students depart, a teacher’s work is far from over. Early evenings often include coaching duties or supervision of clubs, and regular staff meetings are held as well.

When McFarling does get home, her canine companion Bunsen is always overjoyed to see her.

“I don’t have children, so I’m grateful parents in our school community share theirs with me,” she says. “I wake up every morning, and I can’t wait to get to school. I hope the students feel that, too!”

She may have wanted to be a veterinarian growing up, but McFarling found her true calling in the teaching profession.

“My dad, who was also an educator, used to say, ‘when you first plant a seed, all you can see is dirt,’” says McFarling. “Then, over time, someone beautiful grows.”

This is the first of a regular series profiling the many ways Grand Erie staff members help realize the goal of Success for Every Student. Look for the next On the Job with… feature soon.

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