Left Behind

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This week is the last of my 3rd year here in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, and it’s definitely bitter-sweet. While in the past, 3rd year students knew that they would see all of their friends again in the winter semester following their internship, this is no longer the case for many education students. With one quick change of a course requirement, it has opened up the door for students to complete their required classes in the spring and summer semesters and have all of their degree requirements after their internship. This means that after this week I won’t be seeing many of my friends around campus after internship.

Why am I not following suit and finishing early too? Well, with the super short notice of this change, it did not work into my life very easily to take 4 nights of evening classes for two months when I have already committed to coaching and teaching in the evenings for May and June. Would I have liked to? Sure! Who wouldn’t want to finish off their last 3 classes, and head into internship with even more knowledge?! But it just wasn’t going to work out for me.

My decision to take on this summer job that is occupying several of my evenings in the spring has been a great internal struggle for the last few weeks. It’s been a nagging, agonizing, gut wrenching choice that has been haunting me, and making me second guess the choice that I made way back in February. Back then, it seemed like a great choice! I will be working with a new company in Regina, and sharing my love of science and engineering with kids through workshops and summer camps. I have had a similar job before, and chose to partner with a new company to gain a new experience, share my expertise, and broaden my horizons…or at least this is how I felt a few months ago. Now, I am feeling like it’s holding me back. I’m feeling sad about not attending spring classes with my friends, I’m uneasy about what exactly the classes I teach will look like, and I’m uncertain what my summer will be like.

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I think that this experience is teaching me a lot of things though, and I think (and hope!) that my mind can shift into a new perspective as this final week of the semester comes to a close. Being around all of my friends talking about their upcoming classes, finishing early, and heading off on great adventures is what is making me feel this way, and next week I won’t be around them anymore. In fact, I may not be with some of my fellow classmates for a very long time! What this is showing me though, is how narrow our focus in life often is though. I’m fretting over a summer job; one that lasts a mere four months of my life. That is not a long time in the grand scheme of things. Sure, a lot can happen in that span of time, but the journey will be one that I can learn from. It will give me the chance for some down time. I’ll be able to finally do some things around my house to really make it mine (we moved in at the start of October, so there wasn’t much time for doing that in the middle of the fall semester!). I’ll also be able to really gear up for my internship.

Internship too is only four short months long, and is something to really keep in perspective. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have great experiences in the field, but need to keep in mind that it is only four short months of what, hopefully, will be a lifetime career. Sure, we have the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves and improve our teaching, but it’s just a taste. Right now we live our lives in little four month blocks of time, but the real world is so much more. So, while I have to accept the choices I made for the summer, it has also given me the opportunity to still have those four months after my internship to come back to the university to learn even more. I feel like those four months will give me time to reflect on my internship experience, to make current friendships and relationships with my fellow students and my PLN even stronger, and to really grow as an educator.

So while I sit here, still feeling a little bummed about being left behind, I just need to remember that in a year, I’ll be finished my degree, and I’ll have come so far as an educator and as a better person. The last three years have changed me so much, so I’m sure that another one will only continue the journey.

Learning the Same Thing…Differently

We are all unique; that’s obvious. The question is, how do we acknowledge that uniqueness in the classroom?

from yasminacreates.com

Often in our classrooms, lessons are created and taught to all students, with little acknowledgement that every student has different strengths and weaknesses, and that if we only assess students where they are weak they will always appear weak and never have the chance for success.  While there seems to be a lot more efforts being put into making adaptations, or even modifying curriculum content for students who struggle, we also need to recognize that all students need options in order to do their best. This means that differentiation needs to happen in classrooms not only for “lower level” students, but for those who need enrichment, and even for those who are the so called “norm”.

While there has been a lot of talk about how multiple intelligences, learning styles, and other neuromyths have been debunked, the fact still remains that we all learn differently, and all have different natural strengths and talents. Some people are naturally better at drawing than others, and likewise, some are more athletic. Similarly, in the classroom, some students will be better at math, and others better at English. By differentiating the ways we teach lessons and the ways that we both introduce and assess material with students, there is a higher chance that students will feel successful and be able to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. How can we take this idea of differentiation and make it a reality in the classroom though? How can we really reach all students on a level that’s suited to them?

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This is just the question that my group responded to in an inquiry project in our ECS311 class this semester. We wanted to know what information was out there that spoke to working with students based on their “abilities”, what the term growth mindset meant, how to work with lower levelled learners, EAL students and gifted students, and how all of this information can really be implemented in the classroom. To do this, we went off in search of articles, websites, videos, and apps that would inform us, and others, on what differentiated instruction really can look like. We were quite surprised by what we found too!

There is SO MUCH information out there on this topic, and a lot of it has to be viewed with a critical eye. There is information that contradicts other information, there are teachers who always differentiate and others who think it’s not worth it, and there are many articles and websites that reflect these debates. We also found some really great tools and information that we feel will help us to better understand what differentiation can be, because it really can be many different things. To share this information with everyone, we created a website, so please check it out, and if you have comments, please let me know below this blog post!

Now, if you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know how much I enjoy the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson. This video (below) talks about how it’s not necessarily learning styles or multiple intelligences or even differentiation that are the most important to keeping kids learning and engaged, it’s the incorporation of a variety of learning methods and activities that needs to be implemented and incorporated on a daily basis. He says, “Kids prosper best from with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents,” and I couldn’t agree more. Kids want to be busy, they want to do hands-on things, they want to read, they want to write, they even want to learn math, but the thing is, you can’t just have children doing the same things the same way every day. That would be totally boring for anyone! So what Sir Robinson suggests is that we spark children’s’ curiosity by tapping into our own curiosity and creativity as teachers.

The ideas that Sir Robinson talks about are the types of things that I build my teaching philosophy around, as they are the ways that I see the world. I enjoy learning in a variety of ways, and also try to improve upon ways that I don’t feel as confident in. As I head into my internship in the fall, my goal is to try as many new things as possible, and to work with the students in my class to find ways to best reach all of them. I tried several things in my pre-internship, including making a choice board as a final project, and I hope to be able to extend this type of thinking even further in my internship.

So my question to you readers, is what are your views on differentiation? What do you do to differentiate? What advice do you have for new teachers as they try to find ways to engage all learners?

Teamwork is Everything

You are not alone.

This is a concept I think we often forget as university students.

We work on our projects, going solo, or perhaps in a group, trying to come up with new and exciting ideas. We scour the internet, looking for some little morsel of awesomeness to integrate into our lessons or projects that will wow our professors and our classmates. We spend hours trying to re-invent the wheel and create unique lesson plans and strategies. We do this all alone.

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The problem here, is that once we get out into the classroom the game changes a bit.

First, we’re not likely going to have the time to put in hours of research, inquiry and innovation into every single lesson that we teach. That’s just not realistic. Second, we’re not going to be alone in our teaching endeavors. In the schools we teach in, we will be surrounded by fellow teachers, trying, just like us, to make great lessons, to teach students new things, and get them interested in learning. Unlike us, however, many of these teachers will have many years of experience at planning lessons and teaching students, and they have a lot to teach us new teachers!

During my pre-internship experience I often forgot this. I forgot that I was in a building filled with teachers who could offer advice on how to help the students make connections with what I was teaching, how to manage “difficult” students, get students engaged, and manage a positive work-life balance. These people have done this for years, but I was stuck in my ways of university life and forgot that I can reach out for help. I forgot that a team of people can often do better than just one person on their own.

Asking for help is not something that I’m very good at. I like to think that I’m a very self-sufficient and independent  person and can do things for myself. The thing is, when it comes to teaching, I mean really teaching, and not just making up “pretend” lessons for my university classes, I am in no way an expert and I still need help from those who have more experience. Luckily I have a great PLN, and I mean great. I have made a lot of friendships through my connections on Twitter and #saskedchat, but also through social groups that get together to talk about teaching, technology, and anything and everything else! I know that I will have these amazing people to turn to whenever I need, and they’ll be there to lend a hand.

There are some great articles out there that help to illustrate just how important it is for new teachers to learn from more experienced teachers. Though this one is based in the United States, I think it paints a good picture of how important it is to learn from other teachers. And this video (and the others in the series) talk about the benefits of collaborative teaching groups that reflect and plan together to ensure that students can get the most out of their learning. There are so many others out there too!

This lesson on reaching out and not going the course alone is one that I really have to take to heart in the fall when I enter into my internship. I need to remember that I’m not alone, and to branch out outside of my classroom. I need to talk to other teachers and learn their little tips and tools for success. I need to help out with school activities and get involved int he school community. I need to really chat with my co-operating teacher about teaching, about lessons, about unit plans, about everything! My internship will be my chance to really explore what teaching can be, and to learn from everyone that I can.

The prospect of going into internship is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I’m excited to get to test out my teaching abilities for more than just  a lesson or two a day for 3 weeks, and at the same time I’m terrified about planning multiple units, and the prospect of teaching multiple classes a day including a three week stretch of teaching everything! I do have some level of reassurance though in knowing that I’ll have a whole team of teachers to support me. I just have to remember that I’m not alone, that it’s ok to ask for help, that it’s ok that not every lesson is amazing, and it’s ok to stumble along the way, because my teaching team will be there for me along the way.

Oh, Anxiety…how I haven’t missed you.

After a wonderful 3-week pre-internship experience I must say I am less than thrilled to be heading back to “regular” school tomorrow. My “less-than-thrilled-ness” is also accompanied by my old friend, “anxiety”, and it has got me wondering…is this what some students feel about school?

I feel quite unprepared to go back to the “normal” schedule of university classes. I’m dreading finishing these final few assignments that remain. I don’t feel like spending hours of class time sharing the details of my pre-internship experience and listening about the experiences of others, that will ultimately make me feel like my experience was somehow “less” than theirs. I am not excited about being surrounded by hundreds of other people in the chaotic and dramatic university. I’m just not into any of it, and thinking of all of it just makes me feel very anxious about it all.

I’m an adult though, so I can handle this. I can get through it. I can block out the negatives, focus on the positives (thanks to my unit on integers I’m very good at working with those concepts!). I can do this.

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But what about all those students who may feel like this all the time? Are they as skilled at hiding these anxieties? What does it look or feel like for students who feel these types of anxieties on a daily basis as middle years students, and what I could I do as their teacher to improve their experience? How can I make a positive change in their lives and reduce some of the anxiety they may experience?

Obviously, creating an atmosphere of care, encouragement, and positive relationships is going to be key, but I wondered what else is required…

This website lists a lot of different ways that children can present their anxiety, and I was surprised to see the many ways that are listed! While I was a student who loved school, I definitely felt a lot of anxiety as a students, and can certainly see myself in some of these descriptions. I found a helpful website, Worry Wise Kids, that has some great tips for teachers and parents to help children that may be dealing with anxiety.  There are some really simple ideas listed, and I think that I would certainly try to implement many of them in my future classroom. As I read through many of the ideas on the website, I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be great if these accommodations could be made in my university classes too?!

I think talking openly about anxiety with students will be key. How do you do this though? By building great relationships with the class of students, taking the time to just check in with students, making accommodations when necessary, and talking one-on-one with students as needed, I think that student anxiety could be greatly reduced. My time in the classroom the last few weeks has just really showed me how important those relationships are, and how they can help make the classroom such a welcoming and safe place to be. I have to say that I felt very little anxiety during my pre-internship, so there must have been something going right there!

Anxiety is one of those pesky disorders that we don’t talk about a lot, especially with kids, and I think it’s something that we need to work on more as future educators. Since anxiety is and has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, I hope that I can relate to my future students. If you’re not familiar with anxiety, I recommend checking out some YouTube videos (there’s a lot of them out there), but I found this one helpful in explaining some of the experiences of anxiety and panic attacks. They are very real feelings that I have experienced before, and I hope her talk will give others some insight into what it’s like to feel anxiety.

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Talking about anxiety doesn’t make it go away, but it helps.I know that mental health issues are very real, and I hope that the more people talk about them, the more others will be afraid to join in on the conversation. It is my goal to keep talking about it, to keep learning about it, to find more help for myself, and to find ways that I can help my future students. So, I hope you will not get sick of me talking about mental health, as I feel like it’s going to be a major avenue that I tackle in the next while!

The Learning Never Stops

As I look back on my pre-internship, I am almost at a loss for words about what I have learned. I feel this way, because I feel like at almost every moment that I was teaching I was learning something new. Every sentence I spoke showed me if I was on the right track with the students or not, every demo or example, every game, and every video taught me something about my students, what they were learning, and how I needed to proceed. Every conversation I had with a student allowed me to learn more about them, their learning needs, and how I needed to teach them. So how is it possible to even begin trying to put those thousands of little moments into words?

Well, I’m going to try to put it into just two main ideas…ok, maybe three.

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The most important lesson that I learned through the process of my pre-internship is FLEXIBILITY. Now, as gymnastics coach, you might think I understand the concept of flexibility pretty well, but, when it comes to teaching in the classroom, it was a concept that I had a difficult time adjusting to. When I’m coaching my gymnasts my flexibility and adaptability seems to come naturally to me. Didn’t finish a routine in the timeline I wanted to? No big deal, we’ll do it next class. Didn’t finish a lesson, a worksheet, or a project in the timeline I wanted to? I freaked out, cried, and thought I was an awful teacher. (Don’t worry, this was not in front of students, or anyone but my husband.) So what made this concept so difficult for me to grasp? Why was it that I could just let things roll of in an easy flow as a coach, and not as a teacher?

I think it comes down to my own perfectionist tendencies. I wanted my lessons to be perfect, and I wanted my unit to go smoothly, making sure to get in all of the fun lessons that I had planned. The problem is that students are not perfect, and neither is the classroom environment. Things come up that you can’t control! Students are away for various reasons, kids get into disagreements outside the classroom that migrate into the classroom, technology is sometimes not the friendliest of friends, students sometimes don’t “get” what you think is pretty straight forward, and your great ideas are not always that great in reality. I had a difficult time adjusting to this. I wanted my lesson plan to go as I planned it, and not have to somehow find a way to stop in the middle and pick up again next day. Having another teacher coming in right after me to teach (as we had to go teach another class usually), also meant that I had no option to even take a few extra minutes from the next period to finish something. At first, this was really devastating to me. I was so frustrated that the students just weren’t getting what I needed them to get or being able to finish what I needed them to finish, which meant having to find ways to add in more lessons, shuffle things around, and make the unit plan work somehow. My flexibility skills were being put to the test every day.

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In addition to my own lessons, I also saw the need for flexibility in many other ways each day. Things just tended to “pop up”. There was the surprise arts workshop that de-railed the plan for the day for our classes outside of our grade 7/8 room and interrupted a super great lesson at the end of the day. There were times we forgot to book the laptops or iPads and had to make plans to share with another class. There were demos that didn’t go as planned, sound systems that didn’t work, photocopiers out of toner, computers that locked, accounts that crashed, fights between students, teaching guides misplaced, major power outages, and many more things that just meant that we, as teachers, had to always have a Plan B (or C or D!) ready to go. As the days went by, I definitely got better at this. I became less stressed about the “perfect” lesson, because I understood that it wasn’t real, or at least not in the way I had originally imagined it to be. The perfect lesson is not getting through what you planned out. I now understand the perfect lesson to be one in which you really connect with the students, and they connect with you, and you all are on the same page, and you are all learning together, are all engaged in what is going on, and all come away with some newly learned concept, even if it is learning more about each other.

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The next most important thing that I learned is that CLARITY is crucial. If nothing else, you have to be so clear in your instructions to students that there’s no question about what you need them to do. And you need to give these instructions to students in many ways; telling them is not enough. Say it, give them a copy, have them write it down, post it on the board, write it in the sky, and even then you still have a chance that they will ask you, “What are we supposed to do?” When explaining what to do it’s also key to give an example of what you’re looking for from students. Don’t just expect students to be able to read or listen to something and then go and do it. I learned this the hard way a few times during my pre-internship, and then the next day had to back it up and re-explain how to do the activity. One great moment though, was when a pair of boys really listened to the re-explanation, realized they had done the activity incorrectly the first time, tried it again, and got 100% on the assignment!

This lesson also became very important when outlining expectations of students during a lesson. Sometimes you want students to discuss things, and it’s ok for them to just talk, but other times you need them to raise their hand. Sometimes it is ok for students to work in partners, but other times they need to work alone. Sometimes it’s ok for students to work in their own space in or just outside the classroom, but sometimes you need them in their desks. If you don’t outline these expectations at the start of the lesson, then students will just assume whatever they want, which can quickly turn classroom management into a living nightmare.

This concept snuck up on me multiple times during my pre-internship, and I think it’s one important area that I feel I still need to work on a lot. I certainly got better at outlining expectations and providing instructions the more I taught, but there were still many times where I could look back and go, “Right…that’s why things went as they did. I should have fixed that.” This is definitely an area that I hope I’ll get much better with during my internship.
I just learned so much during my time in the classroom, and I cannot wait to learn so much more during my internship! I had an uphill battle going into a classroom that I didn’t get the chance to work with during my first 7-week experience in the fall, but I am so grateful for all that this experience taught me. I learned so much from the students, the staff, my partner, and especially from my co-operating teacher. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to be able to go back to university next week, and stick it out for nearly three more weeks, but I’m hoping that the next three weeks will allow me to get even more excited about going back out to the classroom, and that I’ll be able to go and visit my class again soon!

Bubble Burst

I wrote recently about stepping outside the bubble. I wondered if teaching would really be all that I had imagined in my head, all that I had planned for on paper, and all that my peers and I had hyped it up to be.

It wasn’t.

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In so many ways my pre-internship experience was nothing like I had imagined.

I thought that my unit plan was solid, and would be the best thing ever. It wasn’t.

I thought that I’d coast through my three weeks with my head held high and confidence in my step. I didn’t.

I thought that I would be able to do all sorts of amazing things, and totally wow the students with a wonderful math unit experience. I didn’t.

Now, I’m sure by this point many of you (especially you, Mrs. G!) are thinking, “What?! Seriously? You didn’t have a good time? I’m sure you were awesome and had so much fun! You were born to teach! ”

These are the types of statements that really bug me. Did I have fun? Sure, lots of times! Was I awesome? ….well that’s debatable. Am I a born teacher? I am definitely nowhere close to being some sort of prodigal teacher who can do no wrong; believe me, I made plenty of mistakes in the past few weeks to prove this point. The thing is, my pre-internship went so beyond the perceived ideals I had before my pre-internship, and the experienced realities of the classroom have had such a huge impact on my understanding of education.

My super great unit plan did not turn out the way I’d planned, but what I taught my students was what they needed.

My confidence did not carry me through the last few weeks, and I had several days of near (or actual) tears where I contemplated how I got myself into this “mess”, and if I am really cut out for this profession.

There was little wow factor in the way that I taught my students, because I had to change on the fly, shift my unit, simplify, and adapt to the needs of my students and ensure they were learning what they needed to learn.

So no, my pre-internship experience was not what I expected; it was what I needed and so much more.

I learned so much about myself and the way I teach, that I still don’t know where to begin to explain it all. I didn’t blog last week mainly because I was just so caught up in the changes I was feeling within myself that I couldn’t pluck a tangible thought to share with everyone. Now that my time is over, I’m still sorting through everything, and hope to come out with some clearer thoughts in the next few days about what I really learned the last three weeks.

I have always found it really difficult to look back and see what I didn’t know before. Once I learn something new, I don’t remember what it was like to not know it. Perhaps this is why I can easily apply newly learned things into my life, because they kind of feel like they’ve always been there; like I just uncovered something that was always there, but I hadn’t noticed before. This is how I’ve felt a lot during my pre-internship. As I learned something new, I’d get a feeling like, “Huh, that’s neat,” or “Whoops, guess I won’t do that again,” and then the next day I could usually apply that concept and make things better. Now, this wasn’t always the case, and it lead to some major inner conflict and struggle, but I think in the end, I was able to really learn a lot of things about myself.

So, what did I learn? What are my biggest take-aways from my pre-internship experience? Well, I guess you’ll just have to check back later for another blog post…because I’m still sorting all of that out myself!

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Teaching in the Gong Show

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Let’s be real here; middle years students are pretty much walking gong shows. Trying to teach a whole class of grade 7 and 8 students is kind of like trying to wrangle a whole flock of chickens with their heads cut off while they try to figure out who cut off their heads, who’s sitting in their favourite spot, and which head is the prettiest. It’s seriously the craziest atmosphere to work in! If you have another analogy, please share! I love a good analogy.

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Let me start off by saying that my first few days of pre-internship have taught me SO MUCH! My first few days of teaching have been pretty chaotic. No, let’s rephrase; VERY chaotic…but I’ve loved every minute of it (ok, almost every minute), and am continually learning new things! If this is only day 3, I can’t imagine all that I will have learned by the end of my time here. I also already know that I truly LOVE teaching this grade level. Yes, the kids can be pretty crazy, loud, and somewhat obnoxious, but they are also fairly awesome, passionate, and enthusiastic when you find a way to tap into what their personalities. I have learned many things about my students, about myself, and about teaching, and these things are only going to make me a better teacher as I move forward.

I have learned that actually carrying out the plan for a unit is tricky. It all looks great on paper, but the reality can be far from the theoretical. I had an idea about this before in just teaching single lessons, but to now have to link lessons together and create continuity and scaffolding is pretty challenging. My first lesson went great, and even the second lesson was very successful. I learned a few things from both of them, like being really clear about my choice of wording in questioning, and ensuring that directions are both written and verbal. Today though, I learned just how quickly the tables can turn and how students who seem to know what they’re doing can all of a sudden be really stumped and clueless. We’re working with integers, and the introduction and addition lessons went super smooth, and it was clear that almost all students were totally on track. Today’s subtraction lesson though…yikes. I forgot just how difficult of a concept it is to subtract integers! It brought me back to our EMTH 217 class last year when a room full of university students couldn’t comprehend the concept of zero pairs. We did get it eventually, and it was a really cool “ah-ha” moment for a lot of people. So why did I think I could teach grade 7s and 8s the same concept in 20 minutes? Beats me! Needless to say, it took a lot longer to even get to the activity than I’d expected, and many students were still confused, so we’ll be going back to that again tomorrow.

What I have also realized is that sometimes something simple can be so effective. Complicated lessons can be just that: complicated! It’s ok to just focus on something “easy” and ensure that students get the concept before moving on. On the flip side though, too easy can also be a bad thing and students are easily bored and unchallenged. This is where differentiation needs to enter, and is something I’m seeing I need to work on more. Today I think I tried to put too much in. Tomorrow I’ll take another go at things, refresh, refocus, and see where we end up. When I created my unit plan I definitely created some flexibility in my plan, and I’m glad I did so that I have the time to ensure that students really understand the concepts they need.

Here are the key lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Flexibility is something that my co-operating teacher has really stressed as an important teacher tool. Things come up, stuff doesn’t go as planned, and kids are unpredictable. You just have to roll with it, adjust, and continue on. If your plan is taken off track, figure out how to get back. This might mean revisiting the lesson the next day, and that’s ok! Your job is to get kids to where they need to be, but you have to help them get there from where they are.
  2. Word choice is key. If you don’t say EXACTLY what you want students to do, then students will do exactly how they interpret the words. Think before you say things (especially when teaching about STI’s! …Mrs. G had a pretty funny moment with this today) because sometimes what you say in your head should not be said out loud, and sometimes what you say out loud is not really what you meant to say.
  3. Admit your mistakes. I’ve heard this one before, but I’ve had the chance to see it in action the last few days. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve seen others make mistakes. It’s ok! Admitting you made an error shows your students that you’re a human and assures them that mistakes are part of learning. Students actually think it’s pretty hilarious to be able to point out your errors.

I’m sure this list will continue to grow in my time in the classroom. I am learning new things every time I teach, and am realizing more about who I am as a teacher. It’s an adventure, and I’m loving it!

Outside the Bubble

Whenever I go out, like when I’m doing some errands, I’m always amazed at what people exist in our city. Now, I don’t mean to be overly critical here, but I can’t help but think that our community is filled with a lot of selfish, self centered people who have little regard for anyone around them. Far too often I see people cut someone off when driving, walk right past the mom struggling to carry out her armfuls of groceries while holding onto her child, or complain when the server at the restaurant, who’s clearly having a bad day, takes an extra few minutes to come and refill their drinks.

Perhaps I’ve just been spending too much time either at university or at home watching Netflix…uh, I mean, doing homework…but, it surprises me every time I see how people actually behave in the “real world”. It actually makes me kind of sad. My sheltered experience in classes at university surrounded by caring friends has just made me want to believe that everyone is caring, genuine, and cares for others. It’s quite a different reality when I leave my little bubble and step outside.

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This has got me thinking about our upcoming pre-interenship experience…

For our entire university experience, and for many, probably also several years leading up to attending university, we have dreamed of what it would be like to be in a “real” classroom. We imagine putting our amazing lessons into action and really making a difference with the students we teach. We dream of that “perfect” classroom experience where we can connect with the students and see those “ah-ha” moments where they truly connect with us and the content of the lesson. But, what happens when we actually leave the cozy comforts of our cohort and step out into the reality of the classroom? Will it be the same as when we go out to do errands and experience the world beyond our sheltered little lives?

Sure, we’ve had a few experiences of being in the classroom already, but they’ve been at most, a once-a-week experience teaching a “one-off” lesson that really doesn’t connect to anything. We may have had some opportunity to make some connection with students, but not on a daily basis where we’re not just seen as a one time visitor in the classroom. Do we really know what the whole classroom experience is all about? What is life like outside the theoretical bubble that we have lived in so long?

We hear so many stories of “what it’s really like” in the life of a teacher, and for 3 weeks we now might just get to experience some of that. Are we ready? Am I ready?

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While I’d like to consider myself a realist in a great many things, when it comes to imagining my life as a “real” teacher I’m definitely a dreamer, and like to dream pretty big. I typically have high expectations of myself and want to do the best that I can, but this month has been somewhat of a struggle for me, and has left my expectations somewhat diminished from their usual level. I’m still excited about my upcoming 3-week block, but I’m trying to put less pressure on myself to achieve “perfection”. I’m not aiming to achieve any sort of cliched “perfect” teacher goals, like those in this video, but at the same time I’m not anticipating the somewhat far-fetched “realities” of teaching that this article presents (though they’re fairly amusing). So the real question is really, what AM I expecting to accomplish? What will it really be like outside the bubble?

I think I’m beginning to realize that while all my big ideas are great, and amazing, they ideas are not what makes the teacher. Yes, they are a fairly major part, as an un-creative teacher is pretty boring in my opinion, but it takes more than just some cool ideas to truly make a great teacher. I hope that my experience outside the bubble will show me how my ideas really work in “the real world”, and will give me the experience of helping students see the big ideas and hopefully to help them find the joy in learning what might not typically be considered exciting topics. I’m teaching a unit on Integers here folks, which is probably not what most people would consider something exciting. Math is not usually the most exciting thing on its own, so when combined with a fairly “mundane” topic, I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me. I think I’ve got some pretty fun ideas and lessons in store for these students though!

So while this experience of living outside the bubble for 3 weeks is certainly going to be scary, nerve-wracking, and crazy, it’s going to be so much fun, and provide me (and all of my fellow classmates) with wonderful experiences and help us develop our true “teacher” selves. Here’s to the journey!

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In Search of the Hum

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I love watching great TV shows! I’m not one who watches several different series at once like my husband, or one who can just plunk down in front of any show that happens to be on and enjoy watching it. Nope, I have my favourites and will keep up with them as time permits, and will joyously watch the same shows over and over again just because they make me feel happy! I’ve watched some series so many times that I can pretty much tell you exactly where in the season a line in an episode came from, and what other story lines are going on.

My all-time favourites include Friends, Full House, Gilmore Girls, and Grey’s Anatomy.  The creators and writers of these shows are just amazing, and they let me escape the real world and into their “tv world” for just enough time to appreciate all that I have in my life.

Now, by this point you might be asking, what is a blog post about my favourite TV shows doing on my teaching blog? Well, you see, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, who is also the creator of my two “new” favourites, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, presented this amazing TED talk recently, and I think once you watch it you’ll see why it can have everything to do with teaching.

[ted id=2438]

Amazing right?

Now, if you didn’t watch it…well…I’m afraid to tell you that you cannot pass Go, you cannot collect your $200, and you probably won’t really get the rest of my blog post…but I hope you’ll keep reading anyhow!

The Hum. I know exactly what she means. I love the Hum!

“There’s some kind of shift inside me when the work gets good. A hum begins in my brain, and it grows, and it grows, and that hum sounds like the open road and I could drive it forever.” 

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I hope you have experienced it in your life too! It is a magical feeling when everything is just humming along, falling into place. You’re able to think, to write, to express your thoughts and feelings and put ideas into plans, and plans into action. You smile as you work and might even forget to stop for a meal because you’ve simply lost all track of time, and are just lost in your own creativity and process.

 

As an aspiring teacher, I feel like the Hum is something that you need both for yourself and for your students. It can be fostered in the classroom by creating a safe space, a creative place, and a comfortable home for students to express their thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to encourage all of your students to find their own Hum in their work?!

“When you have a hum like that, you can’t help but strive for greatness.”

But, what happens when you loose the Hum?

Ms. Rhimes discussed what her experience with loosing the Hum was like in her “Titan work.” She kept going, but felt nothing inside.

“What do you do when the thing you do, the work you do, starts to taste like dust?”

This line got me. I know this feeling. I’m living this feeling. Right now.

They say that teacher burnout is a real thing. There’s lots of articles out there on it. Like this one about warning signs, or this one that includes some scary statistics, or this one that looks at some of the social causes behind teacher burnout. Is it all really about burn out though? Or is it about teachers not having that hum? Are they missing their drive, their raison d’être?

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So am I experiencing teacher burn out? I don’t think so. Really, I don’t think I have a lot to be burned out about! Sure, I’ve got lots of projects, lessons and units to plan, a gymnastics business to run, a family to love, friends to keep up with, and my own sanity to deal with, but I wouldn’t say I have all of the bureaucratic and administrative loads that are often a contributing factor of burn out. No, I’ve just lost my hum.

I used to LOVE doing school work! As an elementary and high school student I would eagerly dive into doing my work because I loved it! I loved working on my gymnastics business too, and creating all sorts of fun events and classes! Even this past semester at university I throughly enjoyed working on the majority of my school work, and I have been continually praised for the great work that I do! But in the last while, it’s declined. I’ve lost it. I’ve lost the hum.

It came in stages. I lost my hum for gymnastics a while ago, and it has been through the persistence of my husband that I have been able to keep going, finding glimpses of that hum every now and then. The school one was lost just recently though, and I’m not sure yet how to get it back.

“When the hum stops, who are you? What are you? Who am I?”

I’m at a point in the semester where I should be growing excited for my 3-week pre-internship block, wrapping up projects due in the next week or so, and really finding my grove in unit and lesson planning. It’s not happening though. At least, not the way I want it to. Sure, I’ve got cool ideas for my unit, and am kind of excited to see it all laying out, but it’s not the same. It feels forced without the hum. I don’t feel like me, and I’m not sure what I’m doing.

“If the song of my heart ceases to play, can I survive in the silence?”

I am hopeful that I will find my hum again, but I do hope that it is soon. I feel a lot of pressure (even though I know I don’t need to and it’s all coming from my own perceptions) to be this amazing teacher. People tell me “you’ll be the most amazing teacher!” But what if I disappoint them? What if I’m not as amazing as other people want me to be? As amazing as I want me to be? What then? I’m fearful that without my hum I do not know who I am.

So perhaps you can help me friends. Don’t just tell me, “Oh you’re going to be great!” or “There’s no way you could be anything but awesome,” because that’s not going to help me find my hum. If I’m to follow the advice of Shonda Rhimes, I need to play, to hang out, to just do something fun. I need to find joy and love in something other than finding the hum. I need to find my own confidence again. I need to work AND play. I need to find the balance in order for my hum to find its way back into my life. Like Ms Rhimes, I need to find a new hum; one that can bring back the passion and drive in both my life and my work. So, will you help me? I brought rainbow
kittens if that helps!

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The Untold Story

There’s a part of me that not very many people know; it’s not something I ever share. Partly because I think it may change other’s perception of me. Maybe a little because I don’t want to admit the reality of it all to myself. Mostly it is because mental health issues are not something we talk about, even amongst friends.

The truth is, I have been a victim (is that even the right word?) of mental health challenges for more than half of my life. I have been so lost and felt so forgotten about that I have wondered if anyone would actually miss me if I were not part of this world anymore. I have hated my self to such extremes that I have debated doing harm to my own body. I have sunk down into such deep and dark places that I could not see the light and never wanted to come out again. The worst part is, that despite talking to my closest friends and family about these issues, talking to counsellors, and trying to read things that I’ve thought would help have not. I still suffer from these challenges quite often.

The problem is, a lot of people don’t believe me. To the rest of the world I seem to come across as this bright, happy, positive person, always there to help others, share ideas, and spread joy. So, I can certainly see why some might think that a person who is seemingly happy, and “has it all together” can’t possibly suffer from mental health challenges. The truth is, I’m a good actor. I know how to play the part of a happy person. I know how to hide my anxieties to others and not let anyone see the stress I’m going through on the inside. I can make it appear like I’ve got it all figured out, yet be in total panic inside, screaming for help. A scream that no one hears because I choose not to let the sound escape.

I live in a world of silence, afraid and scared to talk about how I really feel.

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The reason why it has never helped to talk to anyone before is because I’m afraid to tell all of my deepest fears. I think I’m even afraid to tell myself. I’m afraid of what might happen if I find out the cause of all of my struggles. What is it that really makes me so sad or angry or lost or scared? What is on the other side of the problem? Can anyone even help me figure it out?

I do not profess to know all there is about mental health challenges, but I do know a lot about what it’s like to suffer from something that you can’t explain. There are times when I feel sad and have no idea why. There have been times when my entire body would hurt for days, even weeks on end, and no matter what tests have been performed on me, there wouldn’t seem to be anything wrong, so I would continue to lay in agony, mad at the world for not being able to fix me, all the while never realizing it was probably a mental challenge I was facing.

That’s what my life was like growing up as a teenager. I was always “sick”, but no one could ever figure out why. At one point I remember someone mentioning SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is often caused by the lack of sunlight in the winter months. So my mom got me a “sun lamp” to put beside my bed. She’d turn it on in the mornings, and I’d read by it at night. Sometimes I thought it helped, but overall, not much changed. As a result of being “sick” so often, I never really made any good friends in high school. I was a loner, an outcast. I tried hard to fit in with other groups of kids, but always felt on the outside. I was never invited to a friend’s house to hang out. I never went to any birthday parties. I barely even was invited to have lunch with someone. This only made things harder for me to accept the person I was.

I have never been officially diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but I have not doubt in my mind that I should have been long ago as a teenager. As I grew up things definitely have improved, but I still have days where depression overwhelms me. There are days where I feel so much physical pain that I cannot move, and feel like I have the flu. When I was working full time, it took all that I had just to go to work so that I could earn a paycheque. I lost jobs because there were some days that I just couldn’t do it, and felt so awful, yet worked for people who did not understand the challenges I was facing. There are still days where I find myself just wanting to cry and curl up in a ball and I have no idea why. I still get overwhelmed by my emotions, but have learned to internalize so much of what is going on inside my head. I’ve learned not to get too close to people for fear of what they might find out.

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It is because of this fear that I spend much of my time, especially in the winter, alone. I fear going out and socializing with other people and find reasons to cancel or not be available to do things with friends. It’s not because I don’t like my friends, it’s just because I know that I won’t have a good time, and can’t even think of having a good time. I often thought that I was alone in struggles like this, but I’ve been slowly finding out that there’s others in the world also facing the same struggles as me.

There is more talk starting to happen. Things are starting to shift. It’s easier to find people posting about mental health, like this guy Steven, who made a great post about how to help someone with depression (Thanks for sharing it, Katia!) But it’s time for more change. Time for me to change, and time for our society to change. It’s time for more people who suffer from mental health challenges, like me, to speak out. We need to know that we are not alone in our struggle. It’s ok to talk about our mental health, and we all need to do it more.

On #bellletstalk day a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to join in on #STARSRegina’s chat about mental health. I wasn’t even sure what I was getting myself into that night, but it was a game changer. I felt ok to share what I was going through, and was surprised that I was not alone. In the fall a fellow Education student, Meagan, shared her story, and it was very inspiring. Since then we’ve been able to connect on many new levels, and I’ve been so grateful for it. Through the chat though, and the stories that followed, I was able to see just how many others face mental health challenges in their lives. Tears streamed down my face that night. Partly because of the shame I felt for not having shared my story before, and also for the courage everyone was showing that night in sharing together. Another friend, Raquel, wrote a great piece about how much we can learn from the experiences of others. Reading this, and all the Tweets that night made me realize just how far I’ve come, and that I really did need to share my untold story.

I thought that there would be more tears running down my cheeks as I wrote this post, but there hasn’t (ok, there was once or twice for a second or two). While this is slightly surprising, I think it is because I have realized over the last few weeks that it’s ok to say that I have depression. It’s ok to share that with others and tell them how I really feel instead of just brushing it off and thinking they won’t understand.

I am stronger than I think I am. The funny thing is, I think that others around me know this better than I am willing to tell myself. Battling depression does not make me any less of an amazing person. My battles only build me up and teach me lessons of how to persevere. Talking about it with others will help me in my battles, and will hopefully help others in their battles too. There is power in numbers, strength in others, and so much love in the support in the comfort of friends. We all need to speak out, pop the stigma of mental health, and share our voices together.

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