Monday, January 22, 2018

What LTO seems to stand for at my school

On the day before our report card writing day, I had two rewarding interactions with two of my colleagues. I had a great conversation about one of the Forest of Reading Silver Birch nominees with Ms. Clarke as she worked in the library during her prep time. I also had my first co-teaching class with the ESL self-contained class intermediate students and their teacher, Ms. Tse. You will not have encountered their names before on my blog. I've written about my fellow teachers before (such as Ms. Wadia, Ms. Daley, Ms. Hong, Mrs. Commisso, and Ms. Singh, not to mention our fabulous ECEs) but the reason you've never heard of the others prior to today is because they are new to our school - they are LTOs (long-term occasional teachers). They are so much more than LTOs. Let me highlight a few reasons why. (Thanks for the two of them for giving their consent to sharing photos of them on the blog - more about consent in an upcoming blog post!)

Ashley Clarke

Ms. Clarke showing learning buddies how to fold

Ms. Clarke is our Grade 4-5 teacher. Ashley is enthusiastic and effervescent - a bubbly personality. I loved how Ashley introduced herself to her class, demonstrating how open and respectful communication in her class could be fostered and grown. She knows her students well, despite only having been with them a relatively short time. I've never heard Ashley complain about a student; she loves even the most challenging ones. I want her positive attitude to be as contagious as the flu! She's a team player who embraced working with other teachers right away. She volunteered to help Mme Awara supervise and run the school STEAM Club after her first or second week at school and attended Tinkering Thursdays at RJ Lang P.S. to learn more.
Ashley usually works during her prep time in the library. I'm quite apologetic because often I will have a kindergarten class in the space, but she says she enjoys hearing the littlest ones doing all sorts of neat things and somehow she's still able to get things accomplished with the cacophony. She incorporates some important themes and topics in her lessons, from growth mindset to commercialism to coding. She also uses the school library well (take a look at her tweet featuring some of our print resources).

Rose Tse


Ms. Tse editing Pixton comics with kids in the lab

Ms. Tse is our ESL self-contained and prep delivery teacher. Rose is conscientious and thoughtful. Her level of organization absolutely astounds me. It is not easy to juggle the schedules of ELL students from five different grades and five different classes. Despite a less-than-ideal schedule and responsibilities for many other classes (kindie STEAM, primary dance and drama and ICT), she's got it all together. Rose is always thinking about what's best for her students and is willing to advocate for them to ensure that their needs take priority. When the students freaked out after seeing a mouse in their portable, she moved them out and found space for them to work until their fears subsided.  Rose is resourceful, always seeking out books or websites or techniques that will help her students learn a little bit better. She's willing to devote the time, which is why I caught her on film creating this huge grid for one of the prep classes she sees.
Rose is a reflective educator. She's always asking herself how she can stop negative behaviour patterns, how she can help her technology students finish work when their time is limited, which app is grade-appropriate for what class, and so on. She's super-observant; after our first history lesson together with the Grade 7-8s, she noticed so many things about the student comfort and participation level, the type of comments they made, and the differences in how the group operates in different environments. 

Both 2018 LTOs

Rose and Ashley have dedicated what little extra time they have to volunteering to be ball hockey coaches. This is a significant time commitment, with extra practices and games, but they are willing. I should mention that both Rose and Ashley rely on public transit to get to school. This may not be a big deal to some, but to me (who relies on my car tremendously despite living not far from school), I'm so impressed with their dedication. Rose and Ashley have worked together at other schools and both of them have wonderful things to say about the other. My only disappointment is that they do not have permanent contracts with our school board yet. We love the teachers that they replaced, but we also are so lucky and grateful to have them take their places.

So, what does LTO seem to stand for right now at my school? There are several choices when it comes to Ashley and Rose:
Loves Teaching Others
Lots To Offer



Monday, January 15, 2018

Monkey Business

I've realized that the first photo that appears in Blogger is the image that appears in links or snapshots of the post. This is why, even though the picture you'll see is only part of what I want to ruminate on, it's the first one I'm placing in the text - so that the other image, the one that inspired many tweets and blog posts because of its inappropriateness, does not become the first thing you see when you read this.

Part One: Ball Hockey

Every January, the staff and students at my school get involved in a school ball hockey tournament. Teachers coach their teams and we even have a trophy with the names of the winning junior and intermediate team engraved on it. Each year, a theme is selected for the team naming. This year, it's countries, to coincide with the Winter Olympics. Last year, the theme was animals. Teachers will often use alliteration when selecting their names. I co-coached a ball hockey team; my name begins with an M and my colleague's name begins with a K. Our initial thought was to call our team The Monkeys. We thought it'd work with our letters and had a Davey Jones / Mickey Dolenz, fun vibe.

Thank goodness something in my brain was triggered shortly after making that decision and I asked our wonderful ball hockey coordinator to change our team name to the Mighty Kestrels. However, some of the earliest ball hockey schedules originally had the old name.

"Why did you change it?", eagle-eyed students on my team asked me.
"The name can be kind of offensive, calling someone a monkey", I tried to explain.

I didn't go into details. The students in Grades 4-6 that comprised my team just looked confused when I said that the name might be inappropriate.

Part Two: The Puppet


This is a photo from March 2017. I even wrote a blog post about this lesson. The interesting thing about this lesson was a comment that a student made a couple of weeks after we had this activity. A grade 7 student approached me and told me that I shouldn't use the monkey puppet because it was insulting to black people. (The student in question was a person of colour.) The student recommended I replace the puppet with a panda "because a panda is black, white and Asian". I apologized for my error and thanked her for being so frank and honest with me. I've not used the monkey puppet since then. (I didn't throw it out - instead, I added it to the collection of puppets I keep in my library play space.) I remember telling some of my colleagues, who were surprised with the student's reaction and some even dismissive, because I never suggested that the monkey was supposed to represent anyone. I just reiterated that I was glad the student felt comfortable and confident enough to raise the issue with me.

Part Three: The Sweatshirt

It is important to publicize and elevate other people's voices, especially those who know more than you do. TDSB educator Matthew Morris knows a lot. He is already well-known for his eloquent TED talk as well as his feature article in ETFO Voice magazine. When I saw his blog post on this issue, it nearly made me say, "Why should I write anything more about this issue? He's phrased it much more powerfully than I could!"


However, it should be that all educators that need to talk about this, bring this up in their classes, and object to this. We have to. It's not just for media educators or for teachers who "specialize" in equity (another problematic statement). I'm not the only one to suggest that issues like this must be addressed in class.



I wasn't able to initiate the discussion about the sweatshirt this week because we were talking about another news item via social media that had racial undertones and related directly to our recent unit on fame. This was particularly relevant because many of our students (who are of Asian background or heritage) told us that they watch Logan Paul videos and in one class, over half of the students saw the video that included the body of a person that took his own life. Others saw the related videos of this online celebrity treating Japanese people disrespectfully.

I'm glad that my media AQ course introduced the idea of "classroom connections" (conversations about current events and media topics) to me. After talking at length with the Grade 6-7 and 7-8 classes about the YouTube vlogger's insensitive and insulting recent series of videos (so much so that we skipped book exchange and a math lesson - we were startled by the end-of-the-day bell in one case!), one student spoke to me afterwards and said, "You know what we should talk about next? That shirt that said 'coolest monkey in the jungle'." Both of us started to talk animatedly at each other about how this was totally what we need to address.

I searched later about explanations to help people understand why this comparison is objectionable - for some reason, people can understand why not to call someone a pig easier. I found this article (https://theconversation.com/comparing-black-people-to-monkeys-has-a-long-dark-simian-history-55102) but it is a bit long. This article, from the same website (https://theconversation.com/why-its-so-offensive-when-we-call-people-animals-76295) is a bit shorter but not necessarily engaging. To make things a bit more complex, I found a comment from the boy's mother who does not agree with the complaints (see https://www.theblaze.com/news/2018/01/11/commentary-mother-of-hm-model-has-a-perspective-shifting-response-to-racist-ad or https://ca.yahoo.com/style/get-mum-child-model-caught-racist-hoodie-controversy-defends-hm-121713255.html). I'm not sure what "not my way of thinking" means - I can understand why she might not object, and/but it *would* be a different scenario if she had posted a photo of her son wearing this vs a company advertising this photo right next to the blonde boy wearing the sweatshirt they chose for him to model. What I've recently discovered is the MTV Decoded clips. The one I've embedded below doesn't explain the particular example I wanted, but I like how accessible the message is to a wide audience.




So, what's the take away from all of this? 

It is important to become aware of terms that can be offensive. Even though educators may not mean names or phrases in a derogatory manner, we must remember three media concepts: that "audiences negotiate meaning in the media", "media contain ideological and value messages" and that "media have social and political implications". If someone objects, apologize, make changes, and learn more so that these mistakes, which may stem from our own unconscious biases, do not occur again. This isn't political correctness. It's human decency. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Say Cheese!

I learned quite a bit over the holidays. Some of the lessons were expected ones - such as, keeping a happy secret can be stressful but when it's successful can be delightful to those surprised. (To my sister Mary Carol, if she's reading this: your visit was probably the highlight of the season for Mom and Dad, but keeping it under wraps wasn't easy!) I also learned some things I didn't anticipate - like what it's like to play Minecraft in virtual reality (which you can read about on the GamingEdus website), or the ins and outs of cheese.

My sister is lucky I posted one of the few "normal" shots (here, with Dad)


Regular readers will recall that in early November 2017, my husband took a solo trip to Wisconsin. While he was there, he enjoyed what he told us was "the best cheese [he's] ever eaten". Ever since then, he's been on a quest to replicate that culinary experience. We went to a higher-end grocery store and found some five-year old cheddar, which was pleasant but not the same as the ten-year old delicacy he consumed while away. We started to investigate the location of cheese speciality shops in and around our neighbourhood. We found a store near my parents' house and made time to go while school was out. I didn't expect to pick up an education while picking up something edible.

We spent nearly an hour in Art of Cheese (www.artofcheese.ca) with Bill. There are so many things that I discovered thanks to Bill's expertise. It was quite fascinating. We learned about the difference between Reggiano Parmesano and "parmesan" cheese (including the icky fillers used in the generic powdery stuff found in most grocery store shelves), the notion of the third taste (the combination of the taste of one food combined with another to create a third, unique flavour), different milk providers for cheese (cow, goat, sheep, and water buffalo, as well as the different kinds of cows), cheese options for those who are lactose-intolerant, the "magic palate cleansing cheese",  and so much more. We restrained ourselves from going too crazy; that is, we only bought three kinds of cheese, even though we spent a pretty penny on it. The eight-year old farmers' cheese we purchased was gone by January 5 and I had to return to Art of Cheese to buy more. Unfortunately, the store is closed from January 1-19, so my plan to take photos for this blog post was thwarted (as well as my goal for more aged cheese).

So, why was learning about cheese so special? Here are three reasons I can determine (and they lend themselves well to teaching and learning in school too):

1) Bill is passionate about his subject matter and cares about the people he's interacting with.

If you look at the Yelp reviews for the business or the article from BlogTO,  you'll notice that the words "entertaining", "knowledgeable", and "passionate" come up often. If Bill only cared about cheese, he'd be a wise bore. If Bill only cared about people, he'd be an ineffective socializer. He knows his stuff and he makes the listener want to know more. That's the hallmark of a good teacher.

2) Visiting Art of Cheese is a hands-on (or is it mouth-on?) experience.

Bill gave us many samples of cheese to try out. Some cheeses were meant to illustrate a point. Some were meant to expand our horizons. Some were meant to appeal to what we said we liked. It wouldn't have been the same experience if Bill just talked about the cheeses without letting us taste them. I realize that the topic of "cheese" is less theoretical or esoteric than other subjects teachers must cover, but if these subjects can be presented with as much authentic, "try this" experiences, it'd be very engaging and educational.

3) It seemed like we had all the time in the world to explore cheese.

As I mentioned, we spent nearly an hour in the cheese store. Bill took his time to answer all of our questions, provide interesting background information, and allowed us to make our purchasing decisions without pressure. This is probably one of the hardest examples to implement in school, because there is a sense that we have to "cover" all that's required by a certain time. I know that when we return to school, my staff and I will have two weeks until Term One report cards are due. That sometimes means that we accidentally promote a sense of urgency in the classroom - we have to "get things done in time" instead of learning because it's fun or we're curious or other reasons.

I'm afraid that "a little learning can be a dangerous thing" - while at an Italian-ish restaurant the other day, I turned down the offer of sprinkled Parmesan because I was concerned that it wasn't "the real thing". Am I becoming a cheese snob? I guess that's evidence that learning has happened - it makes an impact on your day-to-day life. Thanks Bill for "ruining" us!


Monday, January 1, 2018

Farewell #OneWord2017, Welcome #OneWord2018

I participated in the One Word reflection in 2016 (continue) and in 2017 (forgive). Before I declare my 2018 word, I wanted to look at how well I met my 2017 goals. Last year, I divided it up into "forgiveness categories".

1) Forgive Connected to Faith

I actually went to confession monthly from January until August. I slipped a bit in the fall, but I made sure to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation in December, just before Christmas. I was unable to attend the Christmas Novena masses like I had hoped (and did in 2013) because I realized that I became an unbearable grump when I woke up that early and that this negative attitude was not conducive to a prayerful observation or preparation. It's not obligatory to attend the novena, so I focused on the tasks that were mandatory and did them with joy instead of resentment, which made a huge difference.

2) Forgive Connected to Health

That online nutrition and fitness support group didn't work well for me. Thanks to my friend Moyah Walker, I joined a Cross Fit Light class. It kicked my butt and I didn't see drastic results, but friends and colleagues commented on the positive changes they saw. I'm taking a bit of a break from it but I'll try and return to some sort of scheduled fitness, and I'm forgiving myself for the lapse in water consumption. Back to the reusable water bottle for me!

3) Forgive Connected to Relationships

This isn't easy and never is. I won't comment in a public forum about my private struggles with some folks but it's getting better. Awareness helps.

4) Forgive Connected to School Projects and Goals

The big tasks I attempted in 2017 went wonderfully well, so much so that some of my later projects looked dull in comparison. Not everything has to be epic. Yes, the research paper got written and submitted to an academic journal. The fashion show generated multiple presentations and a magazine mention or two. The risks were worth it and it's okay not to be "dazzling" but just "solid"

5) Forgive Connected to FNMI issues

Thank goodness for Treasure Mountain Canada, which did a great job of bringing FNMI issues to the forefront. I still need to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

So what's my focus word for 2018?

I think it will be

seek

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
(Luke 11:9, English Standard Version of the Bible)

But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
(U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For")

This year's word, like last year's, is meant to incorporate many different activities. The main idea is that it will be ACTIVE. I will do something to help make things happen.

Seek answers and understanding

I want to dig deeper into challenges or questions. Why isn't this student succeeding?  What's bothering this person? Why didn't that lesson go well? It's easy to dismiss issues with trite phrases like "that's just the way he/she/it is". Examining "why this?" or "why now?" may help me comprehend unseen rationales and help answer those questions. I'm hoping to accomplish that with a summer session from the MEHRIT Centre on self-regulation and continued reflection via this blog.

Seek the good in people and in situations

Although I consider myself a pretty positive person, it's hard to see the silver lining when there are hardships that directly impact you or if/when people inadvertently hurt you. Communicating frankly with my circle of family and friends that help me reframe things will help make this possible.

Seek serenity and peace

Another Bible verse I could have placed in to introduce my word could have been Isaiah 55:6 - "seek the Lord while He may be found". I'll continue to work on reminding myself about the important things, not sweating the small stuff, and keeping perspective. I'll try my best to resume a more regular schedule for the sacrament of reconciliation and make an effort to build in "quiet time" in my busy day. My planned trip to Calgary for March Break with my son is meant to be less whirlwind, more meditative and connected. We'll see how that goes.

Seek opportunities and help when needed

In 2018, I will end my twelve-year stint as the editor-in-chief of The Teaching Librarian. This is going to be a big change for me and I will need new tasks to accomplish. I have a couple of things lined up, although I can't announce some of them yet. I will continue my work with Maker Festival Toronto in July, which I will definitely need help with, as the volunteer coordinator. I'll need to seek out a fitness regime I can maintain without injuring myself.

So, there's my word and my plan to make it happen. I look forward to hearing other people's focus words. (As of December 27, based on my Twitter timeline, Carol Campbell said "courage". Karen Steffensen said "perspective". Lisa Noble said "expectation". Elizabeth Morrison said "calm". Noa Daniel said "breathe". Jilian Stambolich is "legato". Stefanie Borsch is "witness". Kristen Davison said "surrender". Melinda Phu'ong chose "recharge". Jennifer Casa-Todd chose "gratitude" and "kindness". See Julie Balen's compiled list for a comprehensive collection of words.)







Monday, December 25, 2017

Edible Inquiries Matching Class Questions

The last week of classes in 2017 (and any year, to be honest) goes by in a blur. We have our Winter Concert rehearsals, which are much needed for a smooth and successful community event of this sort, but also chaotic for those who need routine and schedules.

My choice of media activity for the last week of school for the kindergarten students may have also contributed to the hubbub, but I'm still pleased with the process and the product. (The primary division students created success criteria for improving their ChatterPix creations and the junior/intermediates finished their "What does it mean to go viral?" collaborative investigations.)

One of the reasons I'm so pleased with the kindergarten lessons was that I find it challenging to time my tasks with their classroom-specific inquiries. Usually, by the time I've discovered what "big fat juicy question" or theme they're exploring, they are moving on to another topic. It can also be time-consuming, as a prep coverage teacher responsible for many groups, to develop lessons that can only be used for a single class. However, the stars aligned well and not only was I able to tailor the experience to the specific class inquiry, it was delicious as well!

Room K1 - Gingerbread People

I've gushed at length about the talented Early Childhood Educators at my school. Jen Balido-Cadavez is still metaphorically hitting home runs with her students. She and I communicate via Twitter DM and at the beginning of the month, she sent me this note.


It was thanks to her that I had advanced knowledge of their gingerbread theme. Later in the DM, she connects it to our already-existing, term-long kindie media and library inquiry question about things we love and hate. I also really like how we took equity into consideration and had challenging conversations with the students about gender - why is it almost always called a "gingerbread man"?

We read traditional and alternative picture books featuring gingerbread people. We compared text similarities and differences. We baked and decorated sugar cookie people and the students had a good time. We were so busy that I didn't take many photos. I tweeted the one that didn't need faces obscured.


Room 110 - Poo

Ms. Chiu and I had an entertaining discussion about what food connection I could possibly make to her recent inquiry, on poo. I just could not bring myself to make food that looked like human excrement. Thankfully, we came up with a satisfactory compromise that still honoured the students' learning. During library, we used the TDSB online databases (especially Pebble Go) to read about worms and dirt. We discovered that soil is made up of worm poo and other things. I was so pleased that during book exchange, some of Ms. Chiu's kindergarteners chose to continue reading the articles on soil instead of playing. During our last class of 2017, the kindergarteners of Room 110 and I made "worms and dirt dessert". We made instant chocolate pudding and added items that represented dirt composition - top soil (crumbled cookie crumbs), rocks (candy-covered chocolate) and (gummy) worms.

Mixing the powder and milk

Chocolate pudding, the base of our food art

What's in your soil?

Students were involved in every step of making

Finished masterpieces!

A top view

Does it look yummy?


Room K2 - Sharks

Inquiry questions don't always match a particular time of year. Mr. Tong's class was focused on sharks. I'm glad I heard about their theme when I did. I was able to show them how and where to find information books on sharks and read a few during library time. It also gave us a chance to look at (albeit briefly) the media representations of sharks. We learned through our reading that although sharks are efficient hunters, they themselves are hunted and hurt too, by nets, pollution, and human interference. Mrs. Isidro, the ECE, and I thought hard about how to make our food connection doable in our time allotted, with maximum student involvement. (We'd seen "sharks in blue Jello" dishes, but it would take a long time to set and the students wouldn't be as active.) We used acetate bases and applied frosting, which the students coloured themselves with blue food dye, to create an ocean scene. Everyone had four gummy sharks to use in their picture. Students could choose to put Goldfish, "rocks", "dirt" (leftover supplies from Ms. Chiu's class), and other items in their pictures. We even added some nets using makerspace items. The results were all unique. Some even made theirs 3D!


















It was a bit of an expensive lesson (because I bought all of the consumables) but I really liked how all the students were actively involved, making their edible art and making connections to what they had learned in class. It also was a reprieve from the holiday-focused activities - not that there's anything wrong with that, (as Doug Peterson's blog post on holiday sing-a-longs can attest) but it's a bit more inclusive and centered on learning. Having said that, this blog goes public on December 25, 2017 - Merry Christmas to everyone!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Old Friends, New Friends, Virtual Friends

I've had a very meta-cognitive week, because I've spent a lot of time talking about my teaching and thinking practices. I wrestled with composing a test using the IWB "clickers" and facing/correcting my own biases, shared the planning and results of my "How do things go viral?" lesson for my final Media AQ course on Friday, and discussed my process of blogging and my passion for Twitter with participants in the Leadership and Mentorship AQ courses on Saturday. I want to take some time to stop navel-gazing and turn my focus outward, to other people.

Old Friends

I received an email out of the blue from a dear friend of mine all the way on the other side of the country. I haven't seen Joanie Proske in person since 2011, when she came to Toronto to present at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. She and I first met when we were both part of the excellent Teacher-Librarianship via Distance Learning program at the University of Alberta. She holds a special place in my affections because, back in 2010 when I was struggling with writing my capping paper, she was the person who provided encouragement and chunked her instructions to me, peppered with descriptive feedback, so that I was able to properly use citations. We caught up with what's happening in each others' lives, and I'm thrilled that she is still developing her virtual library, which was the topic of her 2010 capping paper and her 2011 OLA presentation. Her perseverance and dedication is paying off with her students.

This is a photo of June, me, and Joanie in Edmonton, TL-DL grads, circa 2010.

I also got a needed nudge from another very old friend - as in, Faculty of Education Pre-Service days old. Wendy Rodriguez Kaell responded to my Facebook post about reconnecting through Christmas cards and challenged me to bump it up a notch by trying to schedule an in-person get-together. She even volunteered to resurrect an old tradition among our university friends of the "New Years Eve Eve party", begun by Robin and Angela McCabe in the last century! I'm making a visit a priority, Wendy. (I've been meaning to make a scrapbook with all the photos I collected from the various NYEE parties since they first began in 1996 but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Below are a couple from the very first year - do you recognize me in any of them?)




New Friends

When you meet people, you never know who will continue to keep in touch. At Saturday's "speed mentoring / speed leadership" session, I was able to chat with Amani (Kurt). He was so eager and enthusiastic and by the end of the morning had a brand-new Twitter account and a post already up. I suggested some people for him to follow. I mentioned that Twitter seems like just one big thing, but that a lot depends on the people you follow, and I encouraged people to diversify their Twitter following list. If you just have teachers on your follow list, then you are part of "EduTwitter". If you follow those into ICT, then you are part of "EdTechTwitter". "Black Twitter" also exists, and it is from there that some ideas emerge and grow before exploding onto mainstream news. (Think abut the recent news, which we talked about with the Grade 6-7-8s at school as part of media class, about the Tennessee bullied boy whose mother posted a video of him to YouTube - it was later discovered that there were some concerning underlying elements to the family background that made people question their initial support, including financial support.) I liked how Amani said, "Get me to that Black Twitter".
Administrators are also learners too, and I got to spend time with Brian, who is a VP. We had some one-on-one Twitter PD, recovered his password, merged his dual accounts, updated his profile and had a great discussion about appropriate photos to post.
Thanks to all the people I met at that Saturday AQ, like Anu, Lisa, and so many others!
Virtual Friends

I don't like it when people say that "virtual friends aren't real friends". My husband, who games via Google Hangouts with people all over the world, would disagree. My friends that I met on a Twilight fan forum nearly a decade ago (Rummanah, Leanne, Donna, Brooke, Stacy, Luisa, Shannan, Sarah, Jennifer, Brandi, Wendee, Julie, Maggi, Angela, Molly, Debbie, and Paul - I'm looking at you!) would also disagree with the statement "virtual friends aren't real friends". The world is changing and although all media are constructions and the media constructs reality, I believe it is possible to grow friendships online. These can sprout from spontaneous conversations (like the one below, where I responded to a post Kory Graham made linking to an article). It means some new people to follow, and maybe to learn from, and maybe to get to know a bit better.
We never know who will positively influence us or remain in our lives for more than a moment, but I'm grateful for the time to find out! Thanks to all these friends and potential friends!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Teaching About and Through Media As I Learn a Family Tradition

Last Wednesday, I went to my parents' house to participate in and preserve a special holiday tradition: the initial preparation of the Christmas meal of garlic pork.

My mother is 81 and my father is 77; they won't be around forever and their memories are not what they once were. My job was to help out but to record the required steps for making garlic pork. I've attempted this archiving before, but there is one small problem with my previous efforts - I taped it with my video camera on a VHS tape. My parents still own a VHS tape player but we ditched ours ages ago and replaced it with Blu-Ray DVD player. I'm not able to view what I made before. My hope is that by blogging about how to make garlic pork, this media text type will be accessible in the future. Since I always print a bound copy of my blog, compiling the year's posts, I am confident that I will at least have a print version of the instructions.

Echoes of concepts introduced by my media AQ course continued resonate even as I watched, typed notes on an app on my phone, and took photos with a "proper" camera. My mother started to pose for the camera, aware of her invisible audience. My parents' way of preparing this meal and the descriptions they used clashed with the directions that my brother and I needed so that we'll be able to replicate it; (this shows media has social, political, ideological and value messages)

"How much pork do you need to buy?"
"Enough."
"How much is enough?"
"I just eye-ball it."
"But how many pieces?" [runs to package and examines the weight]

Below is the commentary-free, "just the facts ma'am" version of how to make garlic pork, with photos for clarity. As you can tell, I kept all the commentary for the first part of the blog post - you'll notice that Stage 3 of the instructions are a bit vague; we weren't able to pin my parents down to specifics and I have no pictures of this part of the process, because it's done early on Christmas Day morning. Another caveat if you are going to try and make this - eating garlic pork will make you smell strongly of garlic and make you burp! The "cure" is to consume the garlic pork while drinking straight gin. I thought this was just an excuse to drink early in the morning but there must be some sort of folksy reason to it because once I considered myself old enough to drink the gin, the burping wasn't as frequent or as odiferous.

Portuguese-Guyanese Garlic Pork

(A Christmas Day Tradition)

Ingredients:

  • 10 heads of garlic
  • 5 bags of oregano
  • wiri wiri peppers
  • vinegar (pickling vinegar or white vinegar)
  • 4-5 pounds of lean pork (e.g. boneless pork loin chops)
  • salt
  • water
  • vegetable oil

Tools:

- a mill grinder (or small blender)
- 3 large bowls
- 3 large forks or tongs
- 1 big sharp cutting knife
- a glass or mason jar with a secure lid
- a pot for boiling
- a fry pan

Steps:

A - Making the "Guck"

1) Peel the garlic

2) Grind or blend the garlic with the oregano in a mill (or small blender). Add a couple of wiri wiri peppers for every (or every other) batch ground up, depending on how strong or mild you want the guck to be. 




3) After grinding, add a little bit of vinegar to the ground up garlic, oregano and peppers so that it is the consistency of porridge.


B - Preparing the Pork


4) Remove the fat from the pork and cut into pieces that are approximately 2" x 1" (5cm x 2.5 cm)



5) Prepare three large bowls and three designated forks (use the forks or tongs only with the assigned bowl so you do not contaminate the contents).

The first bowl has room temperature water, enough to submerge the pork.

The second bowl has salt water. (Put 4 teaspoons of salt in the bowl.)

The third bowl contains vinegar and some of the "guck" (2-3 large spoons)



6) Put some pork in the first bowl for about one minute long. Swoosh it around and watch how the water changes colour. You must replace the liquid from the first bowl after every rinsed batch.




7) Shake off the excess water from the pork (using designated fork 1) and transfer the pork to bowl 2.



8) Stir the pork in the second bowl with the designated second fork. It should stay in this liquid for about two minutes. You can change this liquid once you notice that the water is a different colour (not as regularly as you'll have to change the first bowl).

9) Use fork #2 to place the pork into the third bowl. It should stay in this bowl for about a minute.

10) Just before placing the first pieces of the ready pork from bowl #3 into the mason jar, line the bottom of the mason jar with a layer of vinegar and guck so it has a base.

11) Use fork #3 to transfer the pork to the mason jar. Once you have a layer of pork, add more vinegar and guck - don't let the mixture get too dry; it should look moist.



12) Continue to marinate / soak the pieces of pork from bowl 1 to 2 to 3 to the mason jar. Add vinegar, guck, and then about 2 teaspoons of salt to the mason jar. Make sure you do not overfill it. Then, put the lid on the mason jar and seal it. Keep it sealed for two-and-a-half weeks.

C - Cooking the Garlic Pork

13) Boil the pork in some of the liquid that it was pickled in with a bit of water until it gets to the stage where, when you stick it with a fork, it feels soft enough.

14) After boiling it, fry it in a fry pain with a tiny bit of vegetable oil. Turn it while frying and fry it until just before it gets brown. 

I don't know when I'll be brave enough to try and make garlic pork on my own (my husband and children have definitely NOT acquired the taste) but I'm grateful I spent some time with my parents to go over the process and preserve the pork and the tradition.