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.