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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