100 Days Smarter

What? The school year is already more than half over?! Woah. After 100 days of being a “real” full time teacher, I have learned A. LOT. More than I probably realize if we’re going to be real here. 100 days of school has showed me the kind of teacher I really want to be, and the kind of teacher I am. So, what have I learned? Well, I though it would be really great to do a list of 100 things I’ve learned…but that seemed like it would a, take way to long, b, be super boring, and c, really not get into the main lessons I’ve learned. So instead, I’ll give you my top 5 lessons learned as a first year teacher tackling a very busy specialist teacher position where I teach approximately 450 students per week, 8 grades and 5 subject areas (with some special circumstances thrown in).

  1. You can only do what you can do .
    This may seem like a very simple statement, but it is probably one of the hardest lessons to actually learn. In pre-internship and even in internship I feel like I had more than enough time to really prepare my lessons. I could make them focused, have great slides or videos or other supports to accompany them, plan out all of my discussion questions, and feel like everything was just clicking into place. In my position this year though, with so many classes, it’s tough! I am not able to build the same types of relationships with all of the students that I would be able to as a homeroom teacher, yet I still need to try and plan for all of the students in the room, differentiating as needed, and adapting similar lessons for similar grades because each classroom has it’s own personality! That really wasn’t something I’d totally realized until about October/November when I was finally getting to know how each class sort of ‘worked’. What I teach one class of grade 3s I can’t do with the other because they just don’t work and engage in the same ways! It’s really made me look at each classroom teacher that I work with and adjust my lesson style to work with their classroom structure. That being said, you can only do what you can do really comes down to only adapting things so much as you go. If I really made unique lessons for each of my classrooms I would be planning for 17 or 18 different classrooms each week, and most of them times 2 or even 3 lessons per week. That’s just nuts. So, I’ve come to realize that I can’t make everything “perfect”, but I do what I can and what I need to make sure that the students are engaged, are learning, and are having fun while doing it.

2. Be you. That’s what’s most important to the students.
With teaching so many classes and adapting for their unique needs, it is easy to get caught up in the crazy piles of work to be done, or in the day to day “little deals” that happen in classes, on the playground, or the ones you hear in the staff room. The key is to never let go of who you are in order to get something done. Now, does that mean I haven’t temporarily “lost it” on a grade 1 class and raised my voice when they weren’t listening for the millionth time in a 20 min time span? No, it doesn’t (…cuz ya, that happened). What it does mean though, is that I don’t try to teach or act like their classroom teacher. I’m still me. Sure, I try to use many of the classrooms’ systems for leaving the room or gathering supplies, but I don’t do everything like them. I’m still me, and do things my own way. If I’m having a rough day, I’ll let the kids know! If I’m upset with them I’ll let them know that too (usually in a calm manner, but hey, sometimes they get to you), and we’ll try to find a way to work together. So far I’ve found that if I’ve tried to take on too many ideas or strategies from other teachers that it just gets to be too much, and the kids notice. They know you, and they like you as YOU! I love that kids say hi to me in the hallways, that they’re excited when I get to come work with them, and that they are bummed out when I don’t! That tells me that they really like me just for me, and they appreciate the time I spend with them.

3. Many lessons will be nothing like you imagined.
Another kind of given one, and sure, I experienced this to some extent in my internship, but as a specialist teacher I think the stakes are even higher for lessons that don’t go as planned. With a classroom of your own, you have a really good gauge on how your students are feeling/behaving on any given day, or even week, and can make adjustments in advance for that. Me, I walk into rooms not knowing anything of what’s happened before I arrive. Sometimes I don’t see a class until Thursday or even Friday after they’ve been at school all week! So much can happen in a day or a week that can affect the atmosphere of the classroom and the behaviours and moods of students. There have been many times where I’ve had some discussion-type lessons planned and I walk in and the class is totally shut down, and no one wants to say anything because something’s gone wrong in the day, or their tired, or many other reasons. Similarly, I’ve had classes planned to do a lot of work on a project, or to dive into something that needs a lot of focus, only to find a class that’s totally going off the walls with excitement and chattiness. The other thing I frequently encounter is assemblies, presentations, field trips or other events that the classroom teacher has forgotten to tell me about, and now instead of having 45 minutes for a lesson, I have to do something for 15 minutes. Or, half of the class is going to something, so I need to do something with the other half.

So, what do you do? You just go with it. I’ve learned to have tons of “back up” ideas on hand that I can pull out as required. In a way, it’s kind of how a substitute teacher might have some additional games or activities for students to do.

4. No one is watching you…and yet everyone is watching you.
When you’re doing field experiences, pre-internship, and internship in university you are under the constant supervision of a mentor teacher, yet as soon as you’ve got that teaching certificate in hand you’re on your own. It’s wildly exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s very cool to be able to spread your wings and fly solo, but it’s also a little scary to try things totally on your own for the first time.

As a new teacher I had this feeling that other teachers (as many homeroom teachers will stay in their rooms when I’m teaching their class) were watching and judging me and that I was always being watched and evaluated in some way. In some cases, sure, they listen in and may perk up when we’re talking about something that they’re interested in, or may chime in with a fun comment in a suggestion, or may give a “look” to a student who’s doing something they’ve already had a discussion about that day, but for the most part they really are just focused on their own work. That being said, I have heard through my administration about what other teachers have commented on with regards to my teaching, and in a way it is nice to hear that others do notice what I’m doing. My admin team also pops in rooms all around the school during the day to say hello, perhaps to mention something quickly, or to thank a student or staff member, so even there I feel like my administration also have a small glimpse into what I’m doing. Overall though, you’re really on your own, and everyone does their own thing without the scrutiny of others. Once I realized this my teaching seemed to become a lot easier, and more freeing. I feel much more at ease trying something new, which makes every day really fun!

5. You are amazing, but you’re not that great.
The power of positive can be really helpful in getting through some days. If you can point out what you did great at, it’s easier to build from. It’s also good to remember though, that you’re still new, so you’re really not all that great at a lot of things and are still trying to figure things out! While you may be awesome at some things, you can always improve at others. The bottom line is that someone is always more amazing, and by realizing that you’re not that great will open up the heart and brain space for you to learn from and with them.

Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to make a 100 list, but seriously, there are just so many fun and entertaining things I’ve learned in addition to these five big things. I’m going to try to get to 100, so here goes, my 100 learnings as as first year specialist teacher in the first 100 days of school:

  1. Everyone was new at some point and they can empathize.
  2. Grade 1s aren’t as scary as I first thought.
  3. Kindergartners are still terrifying.
  4. Kids are gross. Like really gross.
  5. Hand sanitizer is amazing. Always have it handy
  6. Kids are really weird and aren’t afraid to show it (at least in the primary grades)
  7. There really is a certain “smell” once you get to grade 5 or 6. Some teachers do a great job at combating this…I hope to do the same if I have a classroom in this grade level.
  8. Bribery will get you a lot of places with kids.
  9. Kids LOVE games and contests. Make anything a competition or a game and they’re engaged.
  10. Dodgeball – even though I don’t teach PE, I still hear about this all the time and still don’t like the game.
  11. Dollar store baskets are the best things ever.
  12. You can always make lessons and materials better, but sometimes you have to be ok with what you have time for.
  13. Being honest with students is key. If you don’t know something, tell them.
  14. Being real with students is also so important. Be you, not someone else.
  15. Have fun. Always.
  16. Try new things.
  17. Be brave.
  18. Write down everything.
  19. Borrow/steal ideas for lessons from other teachers even if you can’t use it right now.
  20. Find a way to use the idea right now with what you are teaching.
  21. Be flexible.
  22. Be vulnerable.
  23. Take time for you.
  24. Say yes as much as you can.
  25. Get involved in the school. Make yourself known.
  26. It’s ok to say no.
  27. Say hello to students, even if you don’t teach them.
  28. Ask students questions about things outside of school
  29. Challenge students to take their learning home.
  30. Connect learning and subjects everywhere you can.
  31. Talk to other teachers.
  32. Avoid negative talk.
  33. Read.
  34. Breathe.
  35. Stock your desk with “essentials” like pain relievers, lotion, hair brush, deodorant, snacks, etc.
  36. Always have a spare phone cord.
  37. Never travel without a pen.
  38. Always know where the projector remote is.
  39. Get kids to help you.
  40. Make a list of helper kids so they don’t fight over who gets to help you.
  41. Make lots of lists.
  42. Get excited about what you’re teaching.
  43. Even the ‘boring’ things.
  44. Photocopy less.
  45. Hands-on more.
  46. Talk more.
  47. Question more.
  48. Read more.
  49. Use tech, even if it’s scary.
  50. Teach kids about tech – they really don’t know anything.
  51. Find connections everywhere and bring them to your teaching.
  52. Listen to music in class (Cirque du Soleil albums are a favourite of mine for work periods)
  53. Laugh a lot with kids.
  54. Read with kids! There’s a book for everything.
  55. Smile!
  56. Check out the resources available at the division office. There are some gems!
  57. Ask your admin, seasoned teachers or other mentors about other great resources they can recommend.
  58. Keep your desk/work space organized. It’s much easier to have a relaxing day of teaching if you can come back to a space where you know things have a home.
  59. Labels are key to organization, and also make your space inviting (because chaos is not so inviting).
  60. File great resources to use later.
  61. Decorate your space for holidays that you enjoy. Students share in your joy of the seasons.
  62. Showcase your support and inclusion of activism – LGBTQ, FNMI, etc.
  63. Bring those activist ideas into your lessons.
  64. Use the resources you have in other teachers as teachers! If someone is an expert, invite them in!
  65. Keep great communication with your administrators.
  66. Talk to as many teachers as you can each day, just to say hello.
  67. Make connections with other teachers in your building, even if you’re not in the same grade or subject area. It may take time, but you may find some great partnerships and be able to do amazing things together.
  68. Stop by the staff room from time to time…there’s often snacks!
  69. Don’t go to the staff room every recess…because there’s often snacks…
  70. Do your photocopying, laminating and other things either after school or on weekends. There’s no one else around usually. Avoid the morning rush!
  71. Get an HP Instant Ink printer and account…then you can print at home (in colour!) for a reasonable cost and not rack up the bills at school printing all of your resources that you plan to use for years to come.
  72. Make your work space cozy. You’ll appreciate it on late nights and weekends.
  73. Bins and drawers are your friends. They make everything look like you’ve got it together.
  74. Library books are also your greatest friends. There is seriously a book for everything! It’s cross-curricular with very minimal effort.
  75. Try new things, especially when it comes to cross-curricular! Don’t settle for “those subjects don’t go together. ” Give them a try – it may surprise you and your students at what is fun and itneresting!
  76. Just go with it! If you’ve got an idea, just try it, even if it’s not “perfect” yet.
  77. Don’t work all. the. time. I’ve done it, and while it seems helpful it’s really not in the long run. Didn’t finish something? Do something simple the next class, even if it’s just talking to the kids!
  78. Give compliments; to students, to teachers, to everyone!
  79. Always pre-watch videos. Always.
  80. No, we can’t always have “free time” days, but they do provide a nice break from time to time.
  81. Incorporate games into lessons! That way they won’t ask for “free time”
  82. Be firm. But be nice. But dont’ give in.
  83. Use a notebook to keep your ideas organized. I keep a coil notebook in my teaching bag and it travels to and from school with me. Beats a million sticky notes!
  84. Use Planboard. Seriously, it’s just the best thing ever.
  85. Stay connected. Don’t loose your PLN!
  86. Seek out new people for your PLN!
  87. Check out the library! There’s often really cool new books that may just spark a lesson idea!
  88. Listen to your students! They might just spark a lesson idea!
  89. Get students to help you. Eager students will help build buletin boards, change displays, cut laminating, and help you organize!
  90. Trust students’s help! Give them opportunities to develop and demonstrate their growth by doing things like helping you make displays and bulletin boards. It might not be “perfect”, but that’s ok!
  91. It’s ok to be loud…just warn your neighbouring classes. Everyone else will want to join in on the fun!
  92. Make connections with people in your community. Reach out to people on Facebook, at a craft market, or through a friend. You’ll never know the kinds of pepole who might be able to help your class learn something.
  93. Take time to breathe. Yes, I know I said this one already, but it’s really important.
  94. Write notes to other teachers. It really brightens their day.
  95. Be silly. It lets kids know it’s ok.
  96. Change when change is needed. Don’t push through something if it’s not going to work or be helpful.
  97. Use a rolling crate  when you’re a specialist teacher. It’s really a life saver. (I added sparkle tape to mine of course)
  98. Drink water. You need it! And join a water club at school if there is one. Filtered water is just so much better.
  99. Support projects and events put on by other teachers and classes. Worth it when you need a favour in return!
  100. Love. Simple.

Staying Out of the Trap

Long time no blog!

At the start of this school year I had hopes of blogging every week, if not every other week. Then it became every month. Now it’s just become….well, barely at all! Today though, I had a burning desire to share a few thoughts that have been brewing over the last few months, that I’m hoping might relate to someone out there reading this.

As a first-year teacher there is SO MUCH to learn! While university classes, field experiences and internship certainly prepare you for a lot of things you’ll encounter, it’s not till you’re totally on your own that you really see how much all of those experiences leave you still wondering what the heck you’re doing! It’s a steep learning curve, especially in the assignment I have this year as a specialist teacher, working with over 450 students, and travelling to up to 7 classrooms each day.

Photo Credit: ehcmediaserver Flickr via Compfight cc

While I feel like I am finally getting a handle on how to plan, assess, and manage students in the classes I teach, it’s the things “outside” of the classroom that have been the most difficult to navigate. It’s not the daily emails and communication between colleagues and administration or the work of building relationships with colleagues that’s difficult (though there are challenge there); it’s staying out of the drama, the negativity, and the mediocrity that is a challenge.  It takes a lot of effort to avoid succumbing to the day to day ho-hum that I see so many teachers living in.

Those who know me know that I don’t do mediocre. I don’t even do good. I am for great! While sure, I realize that not every lesson with every class, every day can be great, it is always my goal. Does this mean amazing, cool, over-the-top lessons? Of course not, but it does mean that I greet every class with a smile and aim to build upon our relationships and our learning. It means that I plan my lessons well before arriving at school each day, putting time and thought into the progressions that my students will need to make, and evaluating and reflecting at the end of each day to fine-tune my plans for the next class. I take pride in the things I create for my students, trying not to just pull something off the internet and take it at face value. Sure, there are many things out there that can help teachers save time, and there are many quality resources available on TpT, but everything needs to be evaluated, and tweaked to make sure that it can be incorporated with your style of teaching, and with the style of the class you’re intending to use it with.

I feel like far too often I see things on Facebook where teachers are asking other teachers for their pre-made units or lessons, and I have to wonder how many people just take those units as they are and how many take the time to read through, augment and adjust for them. I also find it really discouraging that so many also just suggest a website or a textbook to use. Textbooks, websites, and pre-made worksheets, lessons and units, in my opinion at least, just don’t make for effective lessons. Students that I teach constantly tell me how much they appreciate that I don’t do worksheets and mundane activities, and as a result, students really seem to value the time I get to spend with their class, and are able to demonstrate tremendous growth in their learning.

The other thing that I have learned to stay out of is the gossip, rumours, and drudgery that tend to infiltrate many facets of teaching. Comments like, “We made it through another day”, “Only one more hour to go”, and “Ugh, is it the weekend yet” are heard everywhere, and maybe it’s just me, but they bug me. Perhaps it’s my new teacher naivety, but I very rarely think things like this. I find that if you get those types of thoughts in your head, then lessons become dull, students can tell you’re not really into it, and then things tend to fall apart. Positivity is key! So many teachers (and people who aren’t teachers too) are just so negative, and I feel that our society is so trained to be negative and to point out flaws and carry on with gossip and rumours that it’s easy to fall into this trap, but just recognizing it and being aware of it can help you stay you, and stay positive!

I really could go on about this, but I feel like I’ll end up either going in circles or saying too much (and thus boring anyone who is actually reading this), so I’ll stop here, but I’ll leave a couple videos that can provide a few more tips and ideas! Megan, from TooCoolforMiddleSchool is a teacher who’s vlogs I really enjoy did a team-up with Latanya from SmartieStyle, and they each made a video about staying positive when around other teachers who may tend to be more negative. Check them out!

Making the Worst Situation Amazing

Last week, I had a great lesson planned. I was going to have students design their own reference pages in French, using Slides on Google Classroom. I had everything set up, including a template and examples. Using tech had never been an issue as the class shared a computer cart with the class next door, who had a class at the same time that never required technology, so it never required booking and was always available. I was pumped. It was going to be a lot of fun and I had an engaging way to get the students interested in learning French!

I went down to the classroom to meet the students, and as they lined up I asked a couple students to bring the computer cart with us. “It’s dead, Mme Leier! The cart won’t charge any more.” Ouch. Re-calculating lesson… Don’t panic. Don’t let them see your fear!

We head down to our room and I revise my plan for the day. Do I tell the students about my original plan? Eeek!

The students settle in. They look to me, as students tend to do, wondering what I’m about to teach them. What AM I going to teach them? Why, a revised, paper version of my original, of course.

I began by showing them the paper copies of the French resources that a few of my colleagues had given me. They were each a collection of different types of resources and work sheets all put together. I asked the students if they’d like to complete one….silence….”me either,” I replied, which got a giggle out of everyone.

The students and I all agreed that the booklets left something to be desired. It was just too simple to fill them out, so what would we do? Make our own, of course!

Students eagerly selected areas of interest, such as verbs, sports, numbers, months, or clothing, and got to work re-designing a page, along with a game to help them review or learn French words. Were they as “neat” as what we could have made online? No, probably not, but the students really enjoyed making them!

Make Your Mark

Image from chapters.ca

Last week (well actually more like the end of the week before…) my students and I celebrated International Dot Day by watching/listening to the story, “The Dot”, by Peter H. Reynolds, discussing the importance of giving things a try, and starting somewhere to see where things go. As I was planning the lessons for it I thought, “What a great lesson for the students!  Such a fabulous way to introduce growth mindset in Arts Ed!” And I was right! The students really enjoyed the story and the chance to be expressive, and we got to use a cool app too!

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the story was really an inspirational message for me too!

So far in this, my first year of teaching, I’ve been trying to focus on what I’m teaching the students and trying to get them set up for lessons and units I want to begin. I’ve been trying to get in a groove and to keep my head above the proverbial water, trying to stay afloat in the madness of teaching 14 different classrooms  across 8 grade levels 5 different subjects. I’ve been trying to make an impact with what I teach, but at the same time be realistic. Other teachers try to help, offering units or resources, but ones that I’d still have to adapt to suit my teaching style or an end goal that I had in mind. The trouble is that thoughts just keep swirling around and I just feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Image from thedotclub.org

Enter the lesson from “The Dot”: Just make a mark and see where it takes you! I’m beginning to realize that the key to making it through is just to take an idea, and see where it goes. I’m still trying to take in bits and pieces of advice that others care to offer, but I’m realizing that I need to make my own mark with my own ideas and try new things! Sure, my internship last fall gave me many opportunities to try all sorts of things, but since none of the subjects and almost none of the grades are ones I’ve taught before, in some ways I’m back to teaching like I did in internship as everything is brand new. It’s all about discovery, learning, and making a mark; trying something to see where it takes me.

Why I stopped blogging…until now.

So I haven’t blogged in forever…about 7 months. I used to blog a few times a month! Why the sudden lack of content?

Why the sudden lack of content?

Lack of motivation? Not really. I’ve always got things I want to share, want to think through, and want to explore!

Photo Credit: ntr23 Flickr via Compfight cc

Lack of time? Partially. My final semester of university was crazy busy as I finished 3 heavy courses, subbed as an Educational Assistant, and continued with my coaching and teaching of Sunday School each week. I was pretty busy, but really should have carved out some time to write even just a quick blog!

What else could there be besides those to “excuses”? Well, that’s where the real reason lies. While my semester was super busy, it finished in April, so why no blogging since then? I should have had all sorts of time with no school work to do, with my extra activities winding down, but It really wasn’t why I stopped blogging.

The real reason is that every time I opened my dashboard on my blog, I started to tear up. You see, for the last two years, on the majority of my heartfelt, or poignant blog posts, there has always been one person out there who’s made a wonderful comment, sent out a tweet, or spoken to me personally about the post I created. He was one of my instructors at the university and was just the kindest, most well-read, thought-provoking people I’ve known. He always had the time to chat, to provide an opinion, or to have a laugh with. I loved reading his comments, and he inspired me to write more and to think more every time I spoke with him. Sadly, he passed away very suddenly, the very last week of my semester at the start of April. At a time when I should have been overjoyed about finishing my degree and excitedly preparing for the next steps in my education journey, I was suddenly faced with this great loss in my life that I didn’t even know how to deal with.

From then on, I didn’t feel like writing anything, because every time I opened my blog site the first thing I would see on my dashboard was the last comments he had made on my blog. Every time I even thought about writing a post I would feel sad because I knew he wouldn’t be around to read it or to chat with about what I wrote. I felt kind of lost.

The last few weeks though, I have been more inspired to write. I’ve realized that my blog posts really aren’t about getting tons of people to read them, or even just one specific person to read; they are for me to get my thoughts out and to work through them. I blog to explore new ideas, to work through frustrations, and to ponder heavy things. While I’m still sad that my beloved instructor will not be able to comment on them, it doesn’t mean that I should stop questioning, wondering, and exploring the world of education. In fact, it may mean that I will just have to make a more concerted effort to reach out and explore more!

In just a few weeks I’ll be starting my very first teaching contract, and I am beyond excited. I need to get back into my blogging mode so that I can hopefully keep it up as I teach! I kind of missed the mark during my internship and I really would like to make a solid effort to write about something, anything, each week.

So here we go, I’m climbing back on the blogging train, and getting ready to journey on. I’ve got this!

The Tile Mosaic

Internship was a somewhat surreal experience for me, as I could not believe that I was actually putting all of my ideas, theories, strategies and skills to use in the classroom. It was joyous, exciting, confusing, a little stressful, and sometimes quite overwhelming. To put all of these emotions, thoughts, and experiences into just one image was going to be a challenge, so I chose somewhat of a conceptual image, that of a tile mosaic. This image has given me the opportunity to really express just how complex and amazing my internship experience was.

When I think of a tile mosaic, I either envision a beautiful, intricate design or pattern or picture that is made of individual, colourful tiles all working together to create an image, or I could also imagine a more abstract collection of colours colliding in this amazing swirl of visual delight. Both have a different end product as far as what the eye sees, but really, they are the same in execution and material. All tile mosaics have a base, a design plan, tiles of varying colours, and a grout medium to connect it all together. It is these elements and the implementation of them in the design of the tile mosaic that I feel has the potential to represent my internship.

It all starts with a solid foundation, a base. The base is the platform that holds and supports the finished image. My metaphorical base is everything in my life that has led me to this point. It is my education growing up, the trials I went through in my previous career, the soul searching that led me to discover my calling as a teacher, and ultimately it is my university education in the Faculty of Education. My teaching is rooted in my history, and it has been solidified by the exceptional education that I have received at the the University of Regina. My base is all of the theory, information, skills, and strategies I have learned to put to use in my teaching. This base also has all of the designs I had for my internship drawn out on it. Things like my unit plans, activities I want to try, and ideas of what my internship will look like are all drawn on the base, helping to guide where the tiles will be placed.

The tiles are where the beauty of the design can shine. It is the tiles that tell the story of what happened. The tiles represent all of the lessons that I actually taught; they are all of my experiences. A lot of them follow the original design plan, and the colours all match and line up, and it looks like the original design, but there’s the occasional tile that doesn’t seem to belong. Perhaps it’s the wrong colour or material, because there was a lesson or a learning opportunity that needed to happen in a place somewhat out of sequence of the original design plan. There’s also a few chipped and broken tiles. They’re the ones where though I tried to make a lesson work, because I’d worked so hard planning it, but it just wouldn’t work, and got a little misshapen and jostled in the process. Other tiles are just brilliant in colour and lustre. Those are the lessons and days that were exceptional, and almost dream-like. They represent the days where I felt like the world was shining and everything was clicking, going to plan, and everyone was having a good time too! There are many tiles, hundreds, and they all tell a story of a different day, and a different lesson.

Many of the lessons I learned also came in the form of the connections between the tiles. It’s the grout that holds all of the tiles to the base, and is what connects them together. Just like the grout, it is the relationships I built with my students, with my co-op, and with other staff members that helped really define and anchor all of the tiles in the design. For the most part, I developed really strong relationships with my students. Some were a little tougher to get through to, and in those places, maybe the grout is a little thinner, but still strong enough to hold that tile, that lesson, in place. Other relationships were so strong, especially with my grade seven girls, that you’d never be able to pry those tiles off the board. In fact, in some places in my design the grout gets a little thick and almost overshadows the tiles, because some days it was really more about the relationships than it was about the lesson or the design plan. The grout is really what holds everything, and without it, without those relationships, there would be nothing.

My tile mosaic is really an imperfect perfect work of art, as was my internship. It was rooted in all of my life experiences, and in all that I have learned through my journey in education. As a result, I was able to plan out some beautifully designed units and lessons for my students on the base of my art piece. Some things went so great, and those lessons, those tiles, fit perfectly into the design, and some even shone in brilliant metallic colours. Other lessons didn’t go so well, and perhaps don’t look like they belong, but in the art piece that is my internship there are no mistakes, only lessons learned. All of those lessons are held together by the relationships, by the grout. It is the relationships that made the lessons stick and connect to each other. Without the relationships, or perhaps where the relationships weren’t strong enough, the tiles loosen, fall and are lost from the design.  All together though, the mosaic is something to be inspired by, to build on, and to look back upon and be reminded of the wonderful experience that my internship was to me.

Old News, New Ideas: Teachers Are Trying to Change the World

What is the purpose of a teacher?

To educate?

…What is education then?

Learning about history, science, math, reading and writing?

…Can’t you just Google that?

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As any “good teacher” will tell you, the purpose of a teacher is much more than that. Most will tell you that education is more than just “book learning,” and tests, and more than getting a diploma at the end of a public education. The real purpose of education is to help young people discover who they are, question the world, and find the courage, creativity, and inspiration to make their place in the world.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I talk about this sort of thing a lot. So why write another post about the same thing? Well, for one, this one will become part of my semester work in ESST 369, Critical Literacy in Social Studies, and the other, more important reason, is that I’ve got more to say, and new ideas to add.

This week I read a couple pieces that got my mind going. The first, excerpts from A.C. Grayling’s “The Challenge of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times”, and the second, chapter 21, “Teachers as Transformative Intellectuals” by Henry Giroux from Educational Foundations: An Anthology of Critical Reading.

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Grayling suggests that good teachers “inspire, guid and give their students a broader sense of life’s possibilities” by putting themselves in the shoes of the student, and digging at finding better ways to make content connect with them.  He hints that teachers are more than just studious book worms there to dictate texts to young minds and make them memorize things. Grayling seems to say that perhaps teachers have a great ability to take information from the past and apply it to create new thoughts and ideas, and that by doing so, this type of education can be beneficial for the whole of society. He suggests that this is the definition of a public intellectual, and that all teachers should act in this way.

Giroux’s essay further corroborates these ideas by saying that teachers need to be viewed as more than just technicians who manage students and implement curricula. He demonstrates how stifling the world of education can be, both in the ways we train teachers, and the ways that schools are run. So much focus is put on controlling student behaviour, and making sure that teachers are trained to know how to teach the things students are “supposed” to learn at each grade level, that the real problems are often overlooked. Giroux goes on to say that too often there is “no display of concern for stimulating or nurturing a child’s intrinsic desire to learn,” because teaching and teacher education is often too focused on just getting through the content, and using plans and curricula that claim to work in any classroom. In the end, what Giroux really gets at is the idea that teachers need to be transformative intellectuals, questioning what they teach and looking at the bigger picture and end goal of our students’ education. He believes that goal should be more about creating engaged citizens than making sure that students can sit quietly in their desks.

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Straight rows and “good” behaviour are certainly things that I do not require in my classroom. The goals of my teaching are not to ensure that every page of the grade level texts are read. My students are not required to pass long exams to show their mastery of any part of the curriculum. Instead, I strive to encourage my students to show respect, kindness, and empathy, and that is done by creating a safe, comfortable space for learning. I use text books as sources of information, extra practice, and a companion in the learning. I encourage students to reflect on what they’ve learned in our time together, and in their time with other teachers, and mix them with their ideas and knowledge to projects and activities that help them apply it.

After examining Grayling and Giroux’s descriptions of a public transformative intellectual, and then looking at my own teaching philosophy it is clear that I am already embodying the idea that a teacher IS these things, and I whole-heartedly believe that teachers SHOULD be these things. Teachers play very real and large parts in the creation of our society, and that it is through the teaching of PEOPLE that our society can become a better place.

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Giroux also discusses an idea of making “the pedagogical more political and the political more pedagogical,” meaning that education needs to allow students and teachers to examine sources of power, to help students see and find themselves in society, and to take a look at the world and encourage students to find out about things and have a voice. I really believe that this should be the case, and this mixing of ideas is something that I began to dabble in during my internship. I encouraged my students to look at real-world issues, and to dig a little deeper and find out what was going on. We looked at elections, social justice issues, news articles, and other media outlets, and it was amazing to see and hear the ideas and questions that these young minds began to have about their world. Was it easy? No. Did it come naturally for them? Not at all (for me either!). It took nearly four months for many of them to begin to really get in there and realize that they, just like adults, can have opinions, and can learn about what is going on in the world now, and how it has been influenced by the past.

Teachers are able to encourage the “enhancement of the critical powers of the young” (so says Giroux, and I agree), but it starts with the willingness to go there in the first place and really look critically at the world. We have to take curriculum and use it to guide our thoughts and planning, and to open the minds of our students and anyone else we can reach out to in an effort to really understand our world, our society and ourselves.

I am the Mirror and the Mirror is Me

Internship is over, and I’ve allowed myself these last two weeks to really just try and begin to process what I experienced over nearly 4 months of teaching. That is quite the daunting task, but don’t worry, I’m going to (try) to keep it succinct in this post!

What I realized even just today, is how the process of reflecting on my internship won’t just happen in a day, or two days, or two weeks, or maybe even two months. It is ongoing; just as all reflection should be. I’m not going to figure out what my internship has meant to me by talking to just one person, or by writing one blog post, but I will gradually unravel it all by doing so many things all at once.

I found this quote today on Twitter (thanks @ChrisQuinn64) and I felt like it really connected to my previous post about JOY. I have been reading so many things about joy and feel like this word, this emotion, is really speaking to me. All I want to do is spread the joy of my teaching experience, and my passion for learning with everyone and anyone who will listen! I love how this quote speaks to keeping that fire burning; the engine going. For me, my mind is always spinning, and my heart leaps with joy when I stumble upon a new idea. I love unravelling those ideas with other joyful teachers and then spinning all of those beautiful ribbons into new pieces of awesomeness to share with my students.

I think the thing I will miss most these next few months is going to be the ability to actually teach my joyful ideas to students. While I have applied for (and have an interview next week for) an Educational Assistant position, it certainly won’t be the same as teaching my own group of students.

That thought aside, what I really want to focus on here is reflecting on that internship experience. Looking back on the many experiences I had (I mean, I planned over 400 lessons – that’s a lot!) I can really start to see why the whole reflection piece is going to take a long time, but there have been a few things that have helped me see some of the bigger picture.

  1. The words of my students.
    I loved building relationships with my students. It was such a wonderful thing to learn about their interests, how they liked to learn, how they liked to communicate, and really get a sense of their personality both in and out of the classroom. On my last day, my students presented me with a video of their goodbyes, things they enjoyed about my teaching, and advice for me. It was very cute and I had to work really hard not to cry. (I won’t post it here, but ask me to see it in person!) I also received a GIANT card signed by several of the grade 5-8 students and teachers, and an individual card from each of my own students with the things they will remember most about me, and some more words of advice (apparently they don’t like to write in PhysEd…?) . I read them after everyone had left, and end up in a mess of tears. It was so wonderful to read all the different things they remembered (many from back in September!), and all of the things they appreciated about my teaching. It really helped me realize that a lot of the things I put so much work into did not go to waste, and that often it was really little things that clicked with students and just made their learning so much better.From this I am really taking the lesson that sometimes less is more. It was really all of the little fun and engaging things that really grabbed my students and enabled them to remember lessons and content months later. It also showed me how consistency really helps to create the message you want to give your students. I had so many comments related to my continued discussions about kindness, awesomeness, and making the world better. Made my heart so happy!
  2. Talking with my friends
    I have realized the power of human contact. Yes, I love all things digital (Twitter, blogs, and the like), but there’s something so powerful about chatting with friends over tea, or on a car ride, or anywhere that’s real and in person. I have had the chance to do this with a few of my friends over the last few weeks and it has just helped me process so much of what I have accomplished. I love hearing about the highs and lows my friends experienced, and it has helped me to get some perspective on my own experiences as well. I think through the many conversations I hope to have as I start back to university next week I will really be able to continue this reflective process.It has been through these conversations that I have really been able to establish this mirror mentality. It is great to see yourself in others, and for others to see themselves in you. There is something wonderful about how a friend can really help you see yourself and be that reflection for you. What we see in others we see in ourselves, and I look forward to my friends helping me see more.

  3. Digital outlets
    I really love my blog, I love chatting with people (who I know and who I’ve just met!) on Twitter, and I love reading other blogs, posts and videos to keep the learning and collaboration ongoing. Midway through writing this post, as I posted that image above, I connected with the original poster on Twitter, and then stumbled into a Twitter chat! It’s crazy how this awesome pursuit of connection and reflection will just sometimes bring the right people and the right avenues right to you.Connecting online has allowed me to share my ideas with so many, to be inspired by so many wonderful educators, and to feel like I’m part of a team that is striving to help our students be amazing.

Ok, so my trying to keep this short didn’t go so well. But hey, I tried!

I guess the point of all of this is that my reflection on my internship is going to be a process. I can’t just put it all in a single post. I learned so many things, and I will continue to process how to use and apply the things I learned to my future lessons, units and students.

Photo Credit: Giulia Forsythe via Flickr

I feel like this image/infographic really does a good job at trying to give a sense of what it going on in my mind all the time about teaching! I might have to turn all of my internship reflection into one…off to figure out how to do that…

Let There Be Joy!

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It’s Christmas time, one of my favourite times of year. A season of love, peace, hope, and joy, and this year, of the end of my internship!

I have had an absolutely wonderful time at my school with my co-op and my students, and have learned so much in these last 4 months. This past week I also had the opportunity to spend some time at 5 other schools to see what things are like in other communities! While I’ve loved my time at my school it was very cool to see what other teachers and classrooms are like.

Several schools I visited had open concept floor plans, many had collaborative teaching arrangements, and all of them were so welcoming, and the students so respectful. I hung out in classrooms with lots of technology available, and others where the most high-tech thing was a white board marker. Some classrooms were vibrant and bright with many things on the walls, and others were calm and serene with natural light. Some schools were loud and packed with students bustling in the halls during indoor recesses,  while others were very relaxed and spacious. Some teachers were very engaging and enthusiastic in their directions and actions to students, and others were very chill and casual. Really, the only thing that was the same about all of the schools is that there were teachers and students in them!

I really enjoyed the variety in teaching styles that I was able to observe, and the variety of ways that the school community had been created through the collaboration of various teachers and classrooms. While I’m not sure there was one that was “exactly” the way I envision myself wanting to teach, there were a couple that were pretty close to the mark. Those schools had the collaborative concept down, and were really working to make teaching better and more effective for both the students AND the teachers. While I know that this is not ideal for many teachers, and hey, I was one of them a short while ago, I really enjoyed the experience of working alongside other teachers and being able to rely on multiple perspectives to ensure a really well-rounded plan for the students.

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My adventures took me to both community schools, and those in more middle-class communities, and there again, where many other teachers may sheepishly admit their preference for the “typical” middle-class school, I really enjoyed the community school experience as well. I feel that community schools often have a reputation for having “bad” students, but one thing I’ve been realizing through my internship is just how many students are just misunderstood. Even in my own school there are students who are always getting into trouble, causing disruptions, or forgetting to finish their work. Are they all bad kids though? Not at all! Many are just seeking attention, or having trouble self-regulating, or are missing some type of support in their life, or a piece of their circle of courage. Whatever it is, it seems that many teachers are either not aware of these things, or don’t take the time to uncover them. In the community schools I really felt the support that was there for the students, and the staff too, in making sure that everyone had what they needed to be successful. If that was making sure the morning started off very slow and easy, then that’s what they got. If it was just chatting with a teacher on a break, then that was available too. Making sure students had something to eat? Yup, also had that. The staff too, tended to take ownership and cared for ALL of the students in their learning community, not just those in “their” class. It really seemed like everyone was kept on the same page, and that the staff all supported each other too. Even in just a short time of visiting, I could really see the sense of community that was established at many schools.

Following my visits to schools, though I was in a bit of a downer mood not being able to hang out and teach my own students, I felt such joy about the future. I was so excited to observe the many types of collaborative teaching that existed in other schools, and the progressive ways that many school communities were being built. To be quite honest, after spending nearly 3 days in open concept schools, coming back to my school mid-week felt a bit like walking back in time with its closed doors, straight lines, and teachers working in separate rooms. I tried to share my thoughts and ideas with other teachers and encountered a lot of opposition with respect to the areas that I found exciting. While it was a little discouraging, I tried not to let it get to me. I was even more inspired to keep my spirits high when I encountered this great quote by Brad Montague from “Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome”,

A joyful rebellion is you living differently not because you’re mad at how things are but because you are swelling with joy at the thought of how things could be. When you joyfully rebel against your circumstances, against mediocrity or negativity, you invite others into something really beautiful.

 

I read this quote the same afternoon I was feeling discouraged by the opinions of the other teachers at my school. This quote really resonated with me because I feel like that is really what my teaching is all about. It is about being so joyful and doing things a little differently that others take notice and want to join in. After my internship and my school adventures, I just feel so joyful and so inspired with how I think things could be in the future for the students I teach and the staff I could work with. I hope to be able to work with a staff that is caring and open to trying new things, and a group of students who will jump right in. While I know this is crazy optimistic of me, I really think it is possible. I was so encouraged by my experiences to believe that any student can achieve great things if they are taught from a place of respect and care. I was inspired by the great examples of classroom expectations and routines, and I hope to be able to carry some of these ideas into my own teaching practices. I know I have a long way to go, but wherever I go, I intend to go with great joy.

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The Rearview Mirror

While driving down a Saskatchewan highway may not be the most exciting thing in the world, at least not if you’re from here, it definitely has a sense of calm, and often of retrospection. The peacefulness of just cruising down an open stretch of road, with fields as far as the eye can see, and perhaps a tree or a farm dotting the horizon, is one that evokes a feeling of freedom and carefreeness that I have yet to be able to replicate in the city.

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You travel on, excitedly anticipating your arrival at your new destination, sometimes looking out the window beside you to check out what might be going on in the world around you, or perhaps chatting with a passenger to pass the time, and make the journey more enjoyable. How often though, do you look behind you? Maybe when we want to pass another vehicle, or when a vehicle behind is coming up quickly, or their lights are just at that wrong angle and you have to adjust to avoid the blinding light. Other than that though, I could probably be that out on an open highway, your rearview mirror is not where your eyes are most of the time. Why would you bother to look back at that boring black asphalt of where you’ve come from? You’ve got your eyes on the road in front of you, steering yourself onward.

In life, I think this is often the way we travel on too. We have our sights set forward, eyes on the prize, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (wow, that’s a lot of cliches all in one sentence!). Seldom do we really take the time to really look back at the path we’ve travelled to bring us to our current place, as we are too focused on where we are going. Teaching however, is a different sort of practice. It is one that requires you check that rearview mirror all the time; reflect, adapt, and then move forward.

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So this post is a bit of my rearview mirror on my 3-week block. To write the reflection I probably have stored in my brain would take pages and pages of writing (and a lot of your time to read), so here’s a bit of a snapshot of the adventures I’ve had…

 

 

Heading in, as you’ll know if you read my post “Now THAT’s a Good Idea”, I really wasn’t nervous at all. I was excited, yes, but it really had been such a great transition leading up to the block that adding on a single subject did not seem intimidating at all. Teaching full time seemed somewhat effortless, at least in the sense that it was natural, fluid, and felt like something I was really meant to do (not that it required no effort). That feeling didn’t really change throughout my block either. I felt throughout, as I do now, that teaching is one of my favourite things to do in this world, and I feel it is my purpose more than I ever did.

While I posted a great list of things I learned in my last post “Inside the Block”, this post is really more about what I learned as a whole. I feel that one of the most important things I learned is that good teaching takes time, as does good learning (or perhaps that should say quality learning). Yes, I had some really great ideas, and for the most part they went as planned, but I really should have given them more time for students to work, and to take the time to really “get” the purpose of the lesson. I was so focused on meeting the outcomes, and finishing the units and lessons in the time that was laid out for me that I sometimes missed out on making sure that students were really “getting” the lesson before I moved on. Now, I certainly didn’t jump from one thing to another every day, but looking back, there were probably a few things that I could have taken out, and a few others that I would have liked to have spent a little longer with. I think that I really had some great lessons, activities and assessments planned, and it is my hope over the winter semester to take those things and plan out some better timelines to really get the unit going the way I would have liked.

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Another area that I would really like to continue working on is assessment. Although I think I had some good formative assessment assignments planned, and certainly could get feedback and formative assessment during my lessons, I know that I can do better. Often as I was working and reflecting I would be reminded of Doug Reeve’s FAST acronym (Fair, Accurate, Specific, and Timely). While I think I got the first 3 down pretty good, the timely part was a struggle. I found it really difficult mostly because my students were not turning in their work. Partly I think it was because they are just not on top of moving their book from their table to the bin, partly because they misused class time and didn’t get it finished, and sometimes perhaps I just didn’t give them enough time, or check in enough to make sure they had substantial time. Regardless of the reason, it was a struggle, and something I really want to do better with. I can really see how students work changes and improves over time, and with accurate feedback it can do even more! I recently watched a video of Doug on “Toxic Grading Practices”, and I think it too really speaks to the ideas that I have about grading student work. While my co-op and I are not ones to give zeros on assignments, and we make the students do the work, it is not an easy task. I still have students finishing assignments from September! I think in the future though, I could be more firm in ensuring that students are doing their work, provide more time for students to stay in and do their work, and have those students who notoriously don’t get their work done actually sit down and do it.

On the positive side of things, I really made some amazing connections with students, found a real “groove” in teaching from day to day, and making great collaborations between subject areas. While our class’ schedule is not ideal to make some of the really awesome cross-curricular connections that I would like to, I felt that I really helped students get the big picture of what I was teaching them, and it is such a wonderful thing to see them making those connections in the work they do. I loved being able to draw connections from math to science to social to literacy, and even to physed in some instances, and I can see the potential to draw out my units to include health, ArtsEd, and career guidance too (although I did not have the opportunity to teach these subjects during my internship). I also really enjoyed using Google Classroom to do work with my students on collaborative projects, to incorporate websites and fun activities, and to teach them positive digital citizenship. These are things that I want to just work more at improving and making even more awesome!

All in all, my 3-week block was really incredible. Yes, there are things I would have done differently, but there are things that also were just amazing! I had some great days with my students, got to bring in some special guests to enhance their learning, and had just an awesome time teaching full time. I’m sure I could probably go on, but as I noted at the start of this already super long blog post, I’m not going to go on forever!

A word of advice to any other pre-service teachers, specifically those in their third year at the UofR, just take it one day and one step at a time. Know that there’s a process in the journey ahead of you, and that you’ll be where you need to be when you get there. Keep looking forward, but don’t forget to check your mirrors every now and then to recognize just how far you’ve come!

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