Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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Progressively Unnecessary
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So You Want To Teach?
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ARCHIVES: June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 March 2010

Cultural Studies, Part 2 (Books for Students)
Friday, July 31, 2009

"So welcome to YouTube
You don't know what you're missing,
Just try searching women kissing,
It's YouTube
It's what this country's been needing,
A generation of kids who don't waste their time reading..."
-- Bo Burnham at YouTube Live

As teachers going into final year, I'm sure there will be LOTS of books we're required to read, all in the spirit of professional development. Courtney's talked a bit about these books in her post. But I thought I'd share some books that certainly, most of you probably won't be required to read. Not so much books that are meaningful to us as teachers (directly) but books that many of our students may find meaningful. And since our focus will always be on the student, these books might be indirectly significant to us as well. And if your students haven't read these books, these are some you can recommend. Curiously, I always consider it to be a sign that English, at least, is progressing, when some of these books actually find their way into the curriculum at some schools. That's not to say that 1984, A Brave New World, Shakespeare, The Chrysalids, Death of a Salesman, and The Lord of the Flies aren't solid academic books in themselves but you know... always good to read new books.

Books for Students

1. The Catcher in the Rye. One of the aforementioned "books that have made it into the curriculum," I was a little surprised to find it on the required reading list for an ENG3U class I was teaching. But that might just be me since I never considered this book to be particularly good. Certainly, though, it deals with some of the things many teenagers go through at some point or another in their life. It's a rather emo book in that sense. Bitter, emo, and the feeling that the world around him is fake and phony, it might not be my favorite book but I understand why a lot of teenagers will find themselves drawn to it.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Another book that has made it into some curricula, this book is good for teachers to read simply because it's a real and meaningful look into the autistic world. It might be a stretch to assume your students will ever get around to reading this (unless it's part of the English curriculum at your school) but it's worth a read nonetheless.

3. Go Ask Alice. This is a tough read. But don't think for a minute that that means your students will never read it. This seems to actually be a rather popular book among the teenage circles (or it was a few years ago). Alice provides a real-life look into what it's like to be rejected by society and descend into a world of drugs and degeneracy. Particularly powerful because it's a true story.

4. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4. Sadly no longer as popular as it once was, this is still a book I would recommend to every adolescent. It's funny, it's neurotic, and it does a very good job at making you empathize with Adrian Mole without making you feel sorry for him. And it's a not altogether inaccurate portrayal of what a lot of boys go through when they're 13 3/4.

5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. I remember reading this and finding it much better than its adult counterpart (something about 7 habits of highly effective people). I haven't read it in years but from what I remember, it manages to be a pseudo-self-help book that's actually interesting to read. It also provides a pretty good insight into the teenage mind (shudder), from a teaching point of view.

6. Tuesdays with Morrie. This book is to teachers what A Walk To Remember is to hopeless romantics. Lessons we learn from great teachers that extend beyond the classroom/academia.

7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Someday, I hope that this book becomes a part of the English curriculum. From a personal standpoint, this is like the perfect book. But I think a lot of teenagers will enjoy this coming-of-age tale. This is definitely something you can recommend to your students if they haven't already read it and I think it's safe to assume that a good portion of students who are even remotely interested in reading will pick this up at some point in their young lives.

I'm sure there are many more books that I, as a young, angst-ridden teenager missed. I think Jack Kerouac wrote one that was fairly popular. But as teachers, it's always good (especially as we get older) to read some of the books that are definitive of the generation we're teaching. It helps us remember, I think, what it was like to be young and why sometimes it's a miracle that kids even show up to class, much less pay attention.

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Jonathan posted at 12:56 PM - Comments (0)

Cultural Studies, Part 1 (Films for Teachers)
Thursday, July 30, 2009

Because seriously - teachers could do with seeing more films... and we all know students could do with reading more books. That's not to say that teachers are all huge bookworms and students are all film fanatics but you know... probably more likely that way around than the other. I'll likely add to this as I see more films/read more books but I thought I'd take the time to highlight some films that made me think about teaching in a different way, and some books that really influenced me when I was a student.

Films for Teachers:

1. Dead Poets Society. Carpe Diem! The definitive "this is why we should study English" film, it's very obvious why I think it's a great piece, not just for English teachers (though they will be able to appreciate it more), but for all teachers in general. Superb acting and dialogue, and some very interesting ideas we might integrate into our own lessons.

2. August Rush. A music teacher specialty. I might have trouble making music education as ultra-progressive as the ideas in this film. The idea simply being that "The music all around us. All you have to do is listen."

3. The Girl Next Door. No, this is not just my undying love for this film finding its way into every list of recommendations I make. We've written about moral education right? This is it. At its finest. I have a feeling this film will creep into my lessons here and there simply because it encapsulates one of the most important lessons I learned as a student. While we try to uphold the general standards of right and wrong in school, I think it's important to help our students understand that in real life, things are rarely defined that way; that sometimes, you've got to find out what it's like "to cheat, to steal, to lie, to live and die." If the juice is worth the squeeze...

4. Accepted. Highly highly unrealistic. But also highly entertaining and oddly revealing. The idea behind this film is valid. Accepted pits 2 very different ideas of "college" against one another. And while most real life colleges are somewhere in between, you have to give this film credit for trying to point out that while the pursuit of knowledge if all good and well, practical application SHOULD have a place in academia. As a teen comedy, Accepted would, of course, take this to the extreme (otherwise it wouldn't be FUNNY and then people would find it boring and then it wouldn't sell...), but the fundamental point is there.

5. Big Fish. All teachers should appreciate the value of storytelling. And that is exactly what Big Fish is about. Oftentimes, it's not so much what happens that's worth hearing; it's the way we present it. And we teachers will be presenting ideas all our lives so it's definitely a skill to practice.

6. V for Vendetta. Aside from being an excellent companion film to 1984 (and Guy Fawkes Day), I always liked some of the ideas presented in V for Vendetta: symbolism, politics and the relationship between the government and its people... and of course. there's the very excellent speech by Hugo Weaving as to why language and words are such powerful tools. As an English teacher, I always point out, if you can master the English language, you can talk like Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta. And who doesn't want to have that kind of charm, charisma, and linguistic fluidity at their disposal?

7. Take the Lead. Aside from its cool dance moves, Take the Lead is also good because it shows that once you get students interested in something, they very often take their own initiative. The willingness of one teacher to sacrifice what Antonio Banderas sacrifices for his students is also inspiring to watch. Oh yeah, did I mention it's a true story?

8. The History Boys. An... interesting film to say the least. I don't think I can do anything better than to quote what flixster says about it: "The film centers on an unruly class of bright, funny teenage boys in pursuit of sex, sport and a college degree. Bounced between their maverick English teacher, a young and shrewd professor hired to up their test scores, a grossly out-numbered history teacher, and a headmaster obsessed with results, the boys attempt to sift through it all to pass the daunting university admissions process. Their journey becomes as much about how education works, as it is about where education leads."

9. Good Will Hunting(?). Apparently, this is good. I personally did not think it was all that impressive but enough people are convinced that it's a good teaching film that I feel obliged to put it on this list. And what do I know about film anyway?

Part 2 coming soon! Books for students, a.k.a. books you might consider reading/recommending to your own students.

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Jonathan posted at 8:42 PM - Comments (2)

Book Recommendation - The Film Club

I love to read anything, but I've really gotten into books about teaching since I started ConEd. In fact, I just put in a rather hefty order with Amazon and the various (used) books are trickling in from bookstores all over the country. Two have arrived so far-- Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol, which I chose for an upcoming assignment, and The World is a Class: How and Why to Teach English around the World by Caleb Powell which Amazon recommended to me after I chose a book about teaching ESL which has yet to arrive on my doorstep. That Amazon recommending feature really works, since I bought about 4 books as a result of its suggestions. I'm not spending as much because I buy used, so I don't need to worry about feeling too guilty. It's professional development, after all!

Anyway, it's funny these books should arrive today, because I just started re-reading one of my favourite gems of teaching wisdom, The Film Club by David Gilmour.

This isn't a teacher's guide, or even a traditional memoir about a teacher's life. This book is about a man who allows his son Jesse, who is utterly disengaged from academics, to drop out of high school. Gilmour gives two conditions for this deal: His son is not to do drugs, and they must watch 3 films a week together. The Film Club chronicles a father's journey to educate his only son in a way that won't bore him or push him away.

There is so much to take from this book. First of all, it's great writing, straightforward and quirky. You are immediately drawn into the lives of these people. Secondly, the entire structure of the book revolves around the amazing films that David and Jesse watch. This book would keep your Friday movie nights stocked for months, even years. 

But mostly, this book speaks to me as a teacher looking for new insights on how to motivate the unmotivated. And it gives hope to those of us who might plod along, trying desperately to reach those sullen teenagers.

I don't feel I can do The Film Club justice will my meagre descriptions, so you'll just have to go out and read it yourself. You can buy it used or new on Amazon for about $14, or grab it at your local library-- it won the Governor General's Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction (not sure how it can be both, but whatever), so if you're Canadian you'll definitely find it.

To conclude this nice light Thursday evening post, I'll include some quotes I found particularly gripping. Let me know what you think of one, some, or all of them.

On The Bicycle Thief (1948): 
"... we sometimes calibrate our moral positions, what's right, what's wrong, depending on what we need at that particular moment."

On appreciating a story: 
"You need to know how it ends before you can appreciate how beautifully it's put together from the beginning."

On university: 
"'You know what I think,' I said. 'I think you belong in university. That's what they do there. They sit around talking about stuff like this. Except unlike a living room where there's just your dad, there's a zillion girls.'
At that he cocked his head. 'Really?'
And like that first day-- it seemed like ages ago-- with The 400 Blows, I knew to leave it there."

On film:
"There's a certain effect films have on you when you're very young, I explained; they give you an imaginative experience in a way that is hard to recapture when you're older."

And my very favourite:
"How little I can give him, I thought, just these little apple slices of reassurance like feeding a rare animal at the zoo."

And since I know Jon adores films of all kinds, I'll let him have at it.

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Courtney posted at 7:28 PM - Comments (2)

RE: The Homework Question
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When I sat down to think about this issue and what my opinions on it were, I found that my reaction boiled down to one specific viewpoint: Yes, of course children should have homework. Homework is and always has been a part of life and they need to learn to do it just like everyone else.

My initial thoughts on the situation, which I am still inclined to stubbornly defend, must be challenged and questioned. That's what we're here to do, right?

So, is it really so important for kids to have homework? What are the benefits of homework? Is homework essential to the furthering of in-class studies, or is it simply an exercise in building character? And, since most adults don't actually bring work home on a regular basis (except teachers, woohoo), is homework really essential to a smooth transition into responsible adulthood?

In the end, I have to agree with what Jon and our amazing lone commenter, Ashley (we love you!) have pointed out. Yes, Alfie, in your wonderful world of unicorns, rainbows, and lollipops, kids should not have to do any homework. But in the real world, which tragically contains far fewer rainbows and lollipops than 5-year-old me could ever have anticipated, and NO unicorns at all, this just doesn't fly (much like those aforementioned non-existent unicorns).

Teachers in Ontario (and I think it's fair to assume virtually everywhere else) just don't have the time and resources to cover everything they need to in class. And honestly, I really don't think they should. Yes, it's frustrating to go home with an assignment and not know what's going on; this happens to kids often-- but that's why teachers mark homework or do in-class reviews to ensure everyone's understanding. Ultimately, isn't there a value to retreating into one's own space and drawing one's own conclusions independent of the classroom and teacher? As any former student could attest, you think about things differently in different environments. Something might occur to you while reading at home that will dazzle your teacher the next morning. Personally (though this may just attest to how great my family is, not the quality of my homework), I enjoyed bringing up an issue we had studied in class at the dinner table and learned of my parents' experience and opinions on it. It gave me a different perspective and honed my debating skills. That's learning right there, isn't it?

I don't think that we or any other truly caring teachers out there would assign homework for no reason at all. Teachers are as psyched as the students when they get to announce, "No homework tonight!" It means less marking and (probably) less resentment from the kids in the morning. A break from homework is important, if only to give all involved a much-deserved break. If the kids have done exceptionally well during school hours, it's fair to reward them with a night off. And if the students finish their homework in class, naturally there is no justification to pile them with more homework for the sake of character-building.

I do agree with Alfie that certain situations should be tailored to certain learners. In the Ontario high school system, students who are not planning to pursue a College or University education are not given the same amount or type of homework as those who do plan that particular future. As teachers, it is our responsibility to be aware of our students' strengths and weaknesses. Fair does not necessarily mean equal. But we're not superheroes, and we're going to assign homework where we see fit in order to meet the challenges of the curriculum standards.

This debate is never really over, especially not with only three voices contributing to the discussion. I can think of about twelve more arguments and anecdotes relevant to the homework question, but you've all still got summer-brain and we've gone on long enough! We'll revisit this subject as often as we can. It will be particularly interesting to see whether our opinions change when we're the ones responsible for marking 97 grade 10 essays...

P.S. - I've already dibsed "MOR HMWK" as a future vanity license plate, so no one's allowed to steal it or I'll hunt you down. I do know your license plate number, after all.

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Courtney posted at 9:17 PM - Comments (2)

The Homework Question
Monday, July 27, 2009

Read this link: "Breaking the Homework Habit"

I've read Alfie Kohn before I think in one of my previous prof classes. He's one of the big names in ultra-progressive education. So it really came as no surprise to me that he's a proponent of the "homework is largely unnecessary" school of pedagogy. Rather than write a long post about "homework" as a general idea, I think it'll be easier if I take some of his points one by one.

"There’s no evidence that homework causes higher achievement. Nor are there any data to support the claims that homework builds character, promotes self-discipline, teaches good study habits, and so on."

This, I think, is mostly true. I don't know that there is any intrinsic, non-academic benefit to doing homework. I don't think homework builds character OR teaches good study habits. Good study habits are a unique brand of skills that don't come simply from the fact that you are doing homework. It's also true that it doesn't promote self-discipline since really, self-discipline is the art of doing something because it's good for you, not because it's bad for you NOT to do it (we call that "fear") and for the most part, I seem to recall homework being a product of the fear of failing, not because I, with some sense of heightened grandeur, was getting satisfaction out of "doing the right thing". The higher achievement part, we'll get to.

(On addressing the question, "Doesn’t homework reinforce what students learned in school?")
"The kind of homework that’s supposed to “reinforce” can’t do anything more than make a behavior occur automatically. So, for example, after finishing umpteen worksheets, the stimulus of being asked to divide one fraction by another triggers the response of flipping the second fraction upside-down and multiplying the two fractions together. At best, this does nothing to help kids think, to grasp the mathematical principle involved. At worst, it actually discourages thinking."

This, I'm not so sure about. The first part is true: that rote memory - the kind of memory you practice from doing worksheets - does generate a trigger reaction to being asked certain kinds of question. But I think there's a failure here to distinguish between grasping the mathematical principle involved and actually performing the mathematical procedure. Because once you RECOGNIZE the kind of mathematical procedure you need to apply, who wants to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out what to do about it? No, worksheets might not help kids think. But isn't that kinda the point? That's like saying that performing drills during baseball practice is bad because then the kids don't have to think about what they're doing during the game. The whole point is to get them to a point where, when they're given their bill at a restaurant, they don't have to be like "Hmm... so I'm supposed to give 15%... now how do I do this? Well, I know that 10% means I move the decimal point to the left... and then 5% is half of that... so..."

Also, it isn't true that all homework we assign can only help kids do something automatically. Even if I were to stick to "math" that seems to be the subject most suited to this kind of attack, the math textbooks I've seen have always had word problems that required you to think about how to apply the mathematical concept you've just learned. By assigning these problems, you "reinforce" the concept that you're taught in class by applying it correctly to certain hypothetical scenarios. Hardly seems like rote memory to me.

"Most of all, we should be discussing the idea of regular homework, which is a bizarre idea when you stop to think about it [...] The premise here is that the very idea of homework -- regardless of its content -- is valuable. [...] My view is that we shouldn’t just have less homework or even better homework. Rather, we should change the default to 'no homework except on those occasions when it’s really necessary.'"

This is true. I think the idea of having homework for the sake of homework is silly. But I'm not so sure of how many teachers subscribe to this idea. I once had the same teacher teach me both math and computer science. We got homework everyday for math class and practically none for computer science. I really think that when he says we should change the default to "no homework except on those occasions when it's really necessary," that that is already more true than he thinks. It's just that these occasions are more common than he thinks. I mean, take English class as another example. Is he proposing that I give my students time in class to read The Lord of the Flies? Is he proposing that there should be enough class time dedicated to getting the books read in their entirety without having to assign the readings for homework? We're barely given enough time as it is to cover what we need to. In English, it will always be necessary for students to read books for homework. With science? Is he proposing that we give them enough time in class to type up their lab reports? With math? Is he proposing that we give them enough time in class to practice the mathematical concepts until they understand how to apply them? Is he going to amend the curriculum requirements to allow us the TIME to do this?

"Even if you thought that practicing skills was more important than helping kids to understand ideas from the inside out, and even if you thought that this had to happen after school, the reality is that one size doesn’t fit all."

There is a sarcastic tone in this statement. As if practicing skills that require the application of a certain idea doesn't help kids understand the ideas from the inside out. As if we were given enough time to do this IN school.

"Any educational practice or policy should be judged according to the effect it’s likely to have on kids’ desire to learn."

This is a rather unjustifiable statement to be putting forth as a maxim. Of course, it would be nice if everything we taught increased our students' desire to learn. I would hardly go as far as to say that we can only judge any education practice or policy based upon whether or not our students take kindly to it. Just because one of my students loves science and isn't driven to learn more about Shakespeare after I've taught Hamlet doesn't mean he didn't learn anything while studying it. Rather than saying "Any educational practice or policy should be judged according to the effect it’s likely to have on kids’ desire to learn," maybe it should read more like "Any educational practice or policy should be judged according to the effect it’s likely to have on kids’ ability to learn." This seems to me to be a much more noble and attainable pursuit.

So you see, homework might be a little more necessary than progressive educators, like Alfie Kohn, think. Now, keep in mind he's not saying that there should be no homework at all. He's merely trying to point out that we shouldn't assign homework just for the sake of it. And I know this and I really do respect this notion of only assigning necessary homework. I'm just of the opinion that homework is actually more necessary than he seems to indicate.

Say the AMOUNT of homework our kids got remained the same but it all suddenly became meaningful. Would that be a justifiable compromise? Or is the very idea of having to do work at home somehow intrinsically bad? That we should be getting all the educating we need during school hours? Something to think about.

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Jonathan posted at 7:00 PM - Comments (1)

More Thoughts on Practicum
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some first thoughts about practicum:

I think someone (some important, official-looking chap) at one of our final year meetings mentioned that it's no longer called practicum in final year. Not that the name makes a whole lot of difference, but I think the main purpose was to differentiate between the "practicum" as we've known it in Con-Ed and the "practicum" (as I shall continue to call it, lacking the correct terminology) of final year.

The main difference is, of course, length. Final year prac isn't merely a 3 week block (out of which the first is spent getting acclimated, a.k.a. getting sick), it is a good 15 weeks total, 12 if you wish to discount alternative prac in order to stick to "traditional" practicum. Still, 12 weeks. And for those in Con-Ed, remember our practicum assessment form? The one with a list of questions upon which we are rated from "Needs Improvement" to "Excellent"? And the small set of lines underneath for additional comments? That very important piece of practicum assessment paper (note the singular)? Imagine that but multiplied by like 50 so that it forms a booklet.

The reason why we are taking this opportunity to share some practicum tips with you is because practicum is very very important. It is the final step between being a student and being teacher and in those 12 weeks, you have to prove to the world that you can make the transition. For many of us, this can be an extremely daunting task (yes, even for us Con-Eddies who supposedly have done this before). I can only imagine what it can be like for those haven't had actual in class experience. Undoubtedly, there will be times when you make a mistake or trip over a part of your lesson and think "ZOMG, that's it, I'm done... I'll never be a teacher... they'll never pass me now!" Before you throw in the towel, try to keep some of these ideas in mind (seriously, don't throw in the towel):

Tips for Practicum:

1. You can always make up for a blunder. This was a very important thing I learned from Ms. V. back during third year prac. I remember blundering something. I think I was trying to ask the class a question and couldn't get them to understand it, no matter how I rephrased it. I talked to Ms. V. about it after, she gave me some tips, and I went back at it the next day with a different approach. And it worked (thankfully)! She told me the most important thing about teaching is that you can always make up for your mistakes. In fact, your host teacher might even be impressed that you're improving.

2. Try new things. Don't be afraid to try something creative if you think it'll help your lesson. The students always enjoy new things. Best of all, not only will your host teacher (hopefully) enjoy seeing something new, they might incorporate it into their own lessons (that's a sure sign that you've done something right).

3. Talk when you're given the opportunity. Obviously, we don't mean blather on endlessly as if you knew what you were talking about. But one of my host teachers in first year told me that she didn't think I talked enough. I mean, it's good to listen when other's speak. That should be a given. But it also doesn't hurt to share your ideas or reflect aloud with your host teacher or other candidates. If nothing else, it shows that you ARE constantly thinking about your job.

That's all I have for now. This is what happens when Courtney posts first. She's so comically thorough that I can only fill in the gaps. Oh yeah, one more thing...

Enjoy Yourself!

Remember why you got into teaching in the first place! Ask any Con-Eddie what makes it all worth it. Why do we spend hours and hours planning lessons and marking papers? Why do we pull ourselves out of bed at 7 (in Courtney's case, I imagine something like 4:30) in the morning? What makes it all worth while? The fact that you can stand up there and deliver a lesson worth being proud of, even if it flops here and there. The fact that you can engage with some fascinating young minds on a daily basis - minds that will sometimes think of things that blow you away. The fact that you get to make a difference in people's lives everyday, every period, every lesson. How could you possibly ask for a more meaningful job than this?

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Jonathan posted at 10:29 PM - Comments (1)

Easy Tips to Make the Most of Your Practicum

Now that I have my practicum locked down, I've started thinking about some of the little things I can do to take full advantage of the experience and prepare myself for... *gulp* the future (we have vowed not to mention the h-i-r-e word in this post series. This is not about the job panic, it's just about building a foundation while avoiding that familiar sinking feeling).

I've spent hours on different teaching websites and forums to track down advice, and in the end I've come up with this simple list...

10 Easy Things You Can Do to Make the Most of Your Practicum

1. Be professional. Make a real impression on your associate teacher by acting in an exemplary manner. Arrive even 5 minutes earlier than your associate teacher every day, and they'll be surprised and pleased by your preparedness and enthusiasm. Bonus points if you arrive a half hour before them and set up the classroom for the day. You're also setting a big example for the kids. They'll look to you to dictate the way they behave in your classes, so make sure you comport yourself accordingly.

2. Stand out from other teacher candidates. You know in How I Met Your Mother, when Barney suggests to Marshall that he needs a "thing"-- like Food Guy, Toy Guy, or Creepy Back Rub Guy (ok, that guy not so much)-- to make himself an asset to the company and keep him from being laid off? Like Marshall, you need to find a way to make your mark. As Jon mentioned awhile ago when talking about his best teachers, everyone can't be good at everything, but everyone is great at one or two things. If you're not queasy, be the "I don't feel so good" teacher candidate. That's a sure hit with associate teachers because it means they avoid being vomited on (you don't). If you don't have an iron stomach, you can bring cupcakes to the staff room every week or devise really ingenious activities to go with your lessons. Though catching barf in your hands requires less prep time... just sayin'.

3. Smile. Your practicum can be stressful, but you don't want to be known as that teacher candidate who could turn onlookers to stone with one glare. What you do want to be known as is the teacher candidate who was always in a good mood and never let things get them down. You may not be feeling it on the outside, but fake it for a few hours and save your foul mood for the ride home. Happiness is infectious, and people love to be around (and will remember) colleagues who can pass on the good will without even trying.

4. Take on as much as you can. This is a no brainer, but it's worth repeating. The key part of this tip, though, is "as much as you can." So obviously don't burn yourself out (we covered that in an earlier post). However! If you feel you can survive teaching entire days from the beginning instead of just a few classes, or if you know you can juggle your lesson planning while helping coach the cricket team (my placement school has a cricket team!), DO IT. You'll get experience, you'll stand out-- honestly, you know all this already so I won't even explain it. But if you feel shy about doing this, do whatever you can to work past it because this will be a huge help to you-- and people will notice.

5. Take part in professional development. When the teachers have PD days, you get to go too. It doesn't even cost you anything. Though a day off might be tempting, the things you learn will improve your teaching, and you can put the PD in your portfolio. Not to mention you'll be able to interact with your associate teacher in a whole new environment. All in one day, where usually all you have to do is sit and listen.

6. Soak up information. Carry a journal with you to document every tiny tidbit you pick up from someone else or observe on your own. To enhance your learning, sit in on other teachers' lessons when you have a free period. You can find out even more from a different teaching style. One of my host teachers actually got photocopies of my notes so she could see what she sounded like and what I picked up from her lessons. She appreciated the feedback and she was very aware that I was thoughtful and observant even when I wasn't teaching or helping students.

7. Keep track of the work you do. This is such an easy thing to do and it will seriously come in handy for your portfolio. Hours spent on crafting the most marvelous bulletin board in the history of bulletin boards will be wasted if you don't document it. All you need to do is keep a small camera in your bag and remind yourself to grab examples of inspired ideas you've put in place. It's so simple! Make sure you have permission to photograph the kids (and try to photograph them from the back, unless they have huge smiles on their faces) if you're taking pictures of them completing an inspired assignment you came up with. Don't just get snapshots of yourself in front of the blackboard-- any schmuck can do that. Your portfolio will be used to emphasize how skilled, passionate and creative you are, so make sure your photographs, photocopies and samples reflect this.

8. Get feedback from your students. This takes the proof that you're an awesome teacher and jacks it up to a whole new level. Pictures of happy kids are helpful, but words from happy kids are like gold for your portfolio. Pass around a survey every once in awhile (say, at the end of each practicum block, before you start a new phase of a unit, or after you've done a particularly unique lesson) and have the kids tell you what they think of your teaching. If the kids are younger, have them write simple statements or draw pictures that tell a story about what it was like having you in their class. Not only will you have fun reminders of your placement to use in interviews, I guarantee you'll learn a thing or two and be able to improve the way you teach.

9. Network with other teachers. Go eat lunch in the staff room, introduce yourself to everyone, and offer to help out. You'll be in other classrooms to observe anyway, as per Tip #6, and if you get to know the teachers you observe instead of fading into the back wall, you'll have two or three other people clamouring to recommend you. If you know other teachers and they like you, they'll be more likely to share resources and offer tips, too. And you never know, they may wind up in a position to hire you someday. My very favourite host teacher is currently working on her principal qualifications-- think that might be helpful for me in the future? ;) I hope so! (No pressure though, Ms. H., no pressure)

10. Get to know the principal. This is the most important of these tips, and potentially the trickiest. Here's the thing: in Ontario, principals' recommendations are what get you on supply lists and what snag you those interviews. Your recommendations and evaluations from associate teachers get you hired, but the principal gets you considered in the first place. If your principal isn't too busy, have him or her sit in on one of your lessons. Schedule a meeting to talk about how to get into that school board. If they think you're a capable teacher, they may just skip the official schpiel and offer to recommend you. Personally, this is going to be tough for me. Being in a huge school where there might be up to a dozen other teacher candidates doesn't make it simple to be besties with the administrators. That's where Tips #1-9 come in. I'm going to use those strategies religiously and hope I make enough of an impression to merit a meeting with the principal.

Your practicum will be the hardest thing you do in teacher's college, but it'll also be the most fun. Though the time spent learning the theory behind education is important, nothing prepares you like being there and experiencing the real thing. Stay calm, be confident, and have a great time doing what you love.

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Courtney posted at 8:38 PM - Comments (1)

Practicum Woes, Part 2 (of 2, hopefully!)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, I am no longer a placement orphan! I am instead the proud recipient of a practicum in a very good school in the Toronto District School Board. I've been in just about every corner of this high school's website and I'm so pleased and excited to start there in October (and hopefully get to know my host teacher a bit before then-- who also seems pretty cool, according to

Someone with a better memory than mine might realize what the catch is with this good news-- no, the TDSB was not one of my original choices. And no, it's not very convenient for me to get to. But it's not impossible, so I'm going to do it. The truth? My one-way commute is 2 and a half hours long, give or take.

"TWO AND A HALF HOURS?!" you are probably screaming at your computer right now, "IS SHE NUTS?!?!"

Well, probably. I've decided to spend October at least (and probably December and February/March, depending on how things go) living with my boyfriend in Guelph. Obviously I wouldn't live there if it was utterly inconvenient and insane to get in to the city. I'm in love, but I'm not stupid. Luckily, there are great inventions like public transportation, laptops, and iPods. And very very luckily, I have a fantastic boyfriend who's so happy to have me around that he's willing to make me dinner every night when I get home from school. (You hear that boy, now there are witnesses!)

I've worked out the perfect, practically minute-by-minute schedule to get me out the door/back in the door on weekdays, and I'm happy to report that because of my longer commute, I have 5 extra hours a week devoted to lesson planning, 5 extra hours a week for marking, and 5 extra hours per week to write blog posts and personal reflections! That definitely makes up for the whole putting-on-makeup-on-the-bus thing. Plus after all the commuting, I get to curl up and fall asleep in front of the TV with my boy and his adorable puppy. So yes, I may be nuts, but I'm a nut who gets to feel incredible love and have tons of fun every day. Undoubtedly worth it.

Now that I've described my whole (slightly sappy) practicum situation, I need to tell you about my experience speaking with Nadine in the practicum office.

Let me tell you, this woman is A.MAZ.ING. She works so hard for us and she really does care a lot about getting everyone into a placement that will be the right fit for them. It's a good thing she seems to enjoy tackling a challenge, because this is a very stressful time for the practicum office. Not only is she having to liaise around the clock, trying desperately to get teachers and schools to agree to host a teacher candidate, but she also has to deal with flak from unhappy students who decide to take their frustrations out on her.

Consider this: Recently, Nadine took her little one to a soccer tournament in Toronto and, while there, convinced a fellow parent (who happened to be a teacher, naturally) to take on a Queen's B.Ed student. That's some supreme dedication right there, not to mention masterful powers of persuasion.

Oh, and the student who was placed with the teacher Nadine recruited at the soccer tournament? Apparently not satisfied with the arrangement, he sent her a nasty email that called her and Queen's "useless." NOT the kind of thanks she was expecting, I'd imagine. I mean, I was mad at Queen's in general, but I always knew it wasn't the fault of those working on the front lines in the practicum office. And I would never be rude or ungrateful toward anyone who is obviously going above and beyond for me and my fellow students. It's pathetic. I hope the person in question withdrew from the program, because I really don't think I want to spend a year with him.

If you're still waiting for a placement and you're willing to be flexible with your school board preferences, try giving the practicum office a call at around 3:00ish. They're done lunch, they're not panicking at the end of the day, and hopefully they can do something for you. Of course this isn't a guarantee, but it's better to call and ask than to just sit by the computer waiting for an email. In my case, Nadine pulled up my file and a list of placements students had withdrawn from, and my teachables fit with a few host schools. She was able to pop me in the most convenient of the lot while we were still on the phone. Since I was summarizing environmental policy analysis at the time and was waaaaay overdue for a break, we had a lovely chat as she processed my paperwork.

So please, when you're looking to take a small break from your work projects or leisurely fun, go ahead and write the practicum office a little thank-you email. Or do what I plan to do and make them a pretty and heartfelt card. I'm sure it'll mean a lot to them to be recognized for all their efforts. And if you have practicum woes of your own, let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to be of assistance!

Sidenote-- we're planning a bit of site maintenance as we're still sort of playing around with the format of Class Dismissed. Soon you'll be able to find posts by topic as well as by date. Let us know if you have any other suggestions!

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Courtney posted at 8:18 PM - Comments (1)

The world has lost an inspiration...
Sunday, July 19, 2009

You may have guessed by now that I'm always on the lookout for anything that will make me think more about teaching and thus help me become a better teacher. That much is obvious, since it's the main reason we started this blog.

I was incredibly saddened to learn that Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man and one of my very first sources of teaching inspiration, died today at the age of 78.

I read his first two memoirs in high school, but when I decided to enroll in ConEd, my mom gave me Teacher Man for Christmas. Like his other books, I adored every word of it, but this one really hit home. This man was truly passionate about teaching, and he had such a hard but fascinating life, the lessons from which he used every day to teach his classes.

Here's an idea of why I think this man was so amazing: (from his obituary in the LA Times)

"We were all storytellers growing up," McCourt said of his family in a 2000 interview with the Toronto Sun. "That's all we had. There was no TV or radio. We'd sit around the fire and make up stories. My dad was a great storyteller. We'd mention a neighbor, and he'd make up a story."

"But I also had to be a great storyteller to survive teaching. I spent 30 years in the classroom. When you stand before 170 teenagers each day, you have to get and keep their attention. Their attention span is about seven minutes, which is the time between commercials. So you have to stay on your toes."

And if that's not enough, he also said this: (from an Op Ed he wrote for the NY Times)

"They wanted to know why was asking such crazy questions. I told them to figure it out for themselves. The last thing a writer needs is answers — the end of thought and the dream. But I could have told them what they sensed already: they were beginning to notice what they had previously taken for granted, ritual or the lack of it, the dance of the family dinner.

Where are the dreams and fantasies of childhood? The heads of adolescents are clogged with media images and sounds. The teacher, then, is the Knight or Fair Maid of the Imagination and the battle lines are drawn. Pull the plug, cut off the juice, let the batteries die. Just sit there and dream."

If you haven't read Teacher Man yet, I strongly urge you to find a copy at your local library.

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Courtney posted at 9:44 PM - Comments (0)

Teachers on TV
Saturday, July 18, 2009

Let's preface this post by admitting that I'm a giant nerd. Who isn't, right?

My sister recommended a new TV show called "Glee." I thought it was a High School Musical rip-off and scoffed at it, but upon seeing a preview for it this morning, I decided to give the pilot a try.

Little did I know that Glee is actually funny, well-written, relatable, and-- best of all-- it's about teachers.

Well, it's about one specific teacher and the Glee Club he runs, but he and his fellow teachers are main characters and treated like human beings and everything!

Check out this sneak peek and you'll see what I mean:

This will be a show I follow closely when it premieres this fall. We've already written about teachers who go above and beyond for their students, and Will could be the poster boy for that kind of commitment. He pays their $60/month club fee out of his own pocket and does unpaid detention duty to reserve the auditorium, for heaven's sake!

There aren't many shows out there that teachers can watch and think, "Ha, that is SO my life." As someone who really enjoys the medium of television and uses it as a jumping-off point to an analysis and appreciation of my own life (yes, I already mentioned that I was a nerd...), it's exciting to find a show I can really relate to.

How about you, dear reader? What TV shows have you enjoyed from a teaching perspective? Can real value be culled from these diversions, or do shows like Glee, Boston Public, and Sit Down and Shut Up just remind you of work? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Courtney posted at 10:27 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Young Teachers and Idealism
Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ok, I'm almost caught up on posts! Come back Sunday and Monday for more brand-new posts from me. This is what happens when you have to put things off, kids.

I imagine that Jon and I will look back on our posts, maybe even as early as this fall, and laugh at how idealistic we were about teaching. We know that as ConEd students, we do have a much better picture of what teaching in a public school is like than someone who has yet to do a practicum. We've had a few bubbles burst, we've gotten a lot of very valuable advice, and we've confirmed for ourselves that the traditional path of an Education grad is something we are both passionate about and good at.

Despite our experience, though, we're still a little wet behind the ears. Jon has taught a full courseload, but I haven't yet. Jon's taught more frequently in schools he was familiar with, but my placements were always in totally new environments. We've definitely got a lot of learning and adjusting to do in the next year, and we're taking you, the reader, with us on our road trip of growth in teaching (it was gonna be cheesy anyway, but I figured 'road trip' instead of 'journey' or 'voyage' would make us all gag a bit less. You're welcome).

Being idealistic is essentially having faith that everything is great, or at least that everything has the capacity to become great. How is this a problem in teaching? Unless you allow your idealism to remain naïveté, having faith in your students, your lessons, and yourself is exactly what you need to make a difference. It's the cynical teachers, the ones who have given up caring and prefer to phone in their classes and fail to improve their craft, who are such a disappointment to students. We all had quite a few of these teachers, I'm sure you can remember one or two very vividly.

The moment I decided to pursue teaching as a career came during a conversation with one of the worst, most apathetic teachers I have ever had. She didn't so much seem beaten down by the constant excuses and rough-housing of her students-- instead, she seemed to be the kind of person who had given up before she had even started. As I concluded a presentation for her class, she seemed enthusiastic for the first time in the three years I had known her.

"That was excellent," she said. "You should really think about becoming a teacher."

If this woman, who I strongly doubted would ever be willing to transmit information in the way I felt a teacher should, could recognize that ability in me-- well, of course I should become a teacher.

In first year, our prof had us write down the attributes of our very best teachers since kindergarten. He also asked us to write the same list for our least favourite teachers. The point of the exercise, to paraphrase Hamlet, was to decide what to be and what not to be.

I challenge you to do the same, whether you're just starting your career or you've been teaching for decades. Write about those amazing teachers, and write about the ones who made you want to scream. Then write your own list: the pros and cons of you, the teacher. Think about making some little post-its or a full inspiration board with quotes and encouragement to build on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. That way, no matter how tired or discouraged you become, you'll have a piece of that idealism to help you keep the faith.

Jon and I will make our own lists and helpful reminders, and we'll post them here for you to enjoy and think about soon. We'd love to see what you come up with!

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Courtney posted at 8:11 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Disciplinary Measures

Apologies for my lack of posting this past week. Jon has been very patient and accommodating while I sorted out my personal life a bit. All is well, so now I must get down to responding to his brilliant musings. And post at least one of my own! So stay tuned.

A good chunk of my teaching experience before I started university came during my time as an Air Cadet. By the time I was 15, I was teaching classes and learning how to instruct effectively. I spent a lot of time with 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds, who in turn spent most of their time squirming around in their uncomfortable uniforms, wanting to talk to their friends or test paper airplanes instead of learning about citizenship and drill. Being that Cadets is a military-esque organization, well... let's just say I didn't take a lot of (for lack of a better word) crap from them.

The summer before university, I was an instructor at an Air Cadet summer training centre in Bagotville, QC. I was responsible for one group of 25 kids, aged 13-15, for three weeks, and when they left another batch took their place for the last three weeks. I taught them classes during the day, but I also played the role of camp counsellor, rounding them up to go to the beach, making sure their beds were made and uniforms spotless, and marching them in formation from place to place.

Put a bunch of early teens in a remote location, miles and miles from any parental contact, with 24 partners in crime at their disposal and not much to do in the evenings, and you've got a 'classroom' management situation that would terrify even the toughest of teachers (aka middle school teachers). Aside from the usual angsty drama, my kids also did the following, in no particular order:

- tortured a kid so much that he peed in a bottle rather than face leaving his tent
- vomited on my boot
- accidentally shot a staff member during archery (no one was seriously hurt, thankfully)
- had a fight with Axe body spray in an enclosed area
- ate so much candy that one kid had headaches that made him scream and cry the next day
- crushed up Tylenol and snorted it

The list goes on and on, but those are the highlights I can remember right now. Oh, and the Tylenol thing? The incident was reported to myself and my supervisor right away, but the boys vehemently denied it and my boss felt that they were being honest. The next summer, I ran into one of my former cadets, and he informed me that several kids actually had snorted the Tylenol. The kid who initiated it all? He was given an award for leadership and exemplary conduct at the end of the summer.

Anyway, all this to say-- I'm fairly no-nonsense when it comes to discipline. I will do my utmost to make my classes interesting and to engage all students, but sometimes that's not enough. I firmly believe that even older students still need routine, structure, and a certain degree of authority in the classroom.

If I had to describe my disciplinary style, I would invoke Mary Poppins. She's ingenious, always thinking of unique and interesting things to do and making ordinary things seem extraordinary. But when it comes down to it, she's in charge. She'll use humour or mild sarcasm to get her point across, but the point gets across, no exceptions.

As long as I provide my students with a stable, open, and safe classroom environment, it is within my rights to expect them to provide me with their cooperation for 75 minutes a day. The students I plan to teach are learning to be adults. I will treat them with the respect I treat adults if they act with adult-like maturity in return. Is that too much to ask?

Probably. There will be many students who don't keep up with their end of the bargain. I'm still fleshing out my disciplinary style and have yet to decide what steps I will take when particular students consistently cause serious problems. As Jon said though, once you figure out how to engage a kid, how to make him or her WANT to learn, the problems seem much less daunting. So I guess I'll start with that.

Please comment if you have any personal insights on classroom management and disciplinary style-- or if you have equally horrific camp-counsellor stories!

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Courtney posted at 7:30 PM - Comments (0)

Young Teachers and Idealism
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I was having a discussion the other day about my worldviews/outlook on life and somebody pointed out that I manage to be very realistic while strangely maintaining a very idealistic outlook on life. And I wanted to take some time to outline why I think this brand of realism/idealism hybrid is important to being a good educator.

William Blake once wrote two sets of poems titled The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience. As you may be able to guess from the poem titles, Blake writes about different things/ideas/themes from the viewpoint of what we might call "Innocence" and "Experience." The most notable thing about the comparison between these two sets of poems (to summarize something that took Dr. Morrison something like 2 weeks to illustrate in full) is how idealistic the songs of innocence are compared to the realism in the songs of experience.

I use Blake in this case because these two sets of poems are perfect to illustrating the gap that I think we, as educators, need to realize we are bridging (also, I like to reference Dr. Morrison wherever possible). As The Songs of Innocence demonstrate, there is no question that there is something amazing and hopeful about being young and innocent (like some of our students). There are many things that students learn in school (and from home) that are good and right and wholesome because they're sheltered. They learn to play fair. They learn that hard work pays off. They learn that it's important to be polite and respectful. They believe that they can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it. They learn, in fact, some very important principles about how to BE a good person. And if our education system is any good, they are taught that they can succeed based on these principles alone. They learn about how things SHOULD be and they are taught they if something isn't as it should be, that they have the power and responsibility to put it right.

The other side of this is the harsh reality that these principles do not always hold true in real life. Corporate life is particularly notorious for this but life in general will probably be enough to eventually show them that reality is far closer to the ideas that Blake writes about in The Songs of Experience. Not to say that real life doesn't have components that abide by the principles they learn in school, but we also know that in real life, you're sometimes rewarded for cheating; for stepping on people; for ignoring those in need.

As teachers, then, we have a very very thin line to tread. We're responsible for preparing our students for the harsh realities of life without extinguishing the fire that can sometimes, even if it only happens once in a million times, lead to the type of change that revolutionizes the world for the better. In a sense, we have to be able to say "Life isn't fair, but it should be." We have to be able to teach them "This is the reality of the world" while at the same time telling them "You have the power to make it a better place." Because, like Dr. Morrison said, we can't just float them through school and thrust them into the real world without preparing them for what the real world is like; they would get eaten alive. But at the same time, it's important that those students who have the strength, the drive, and the ideas that lead to positive change, aren't discouraged by the possibility that they might fail.

One of the greatest fears I have of growing old is the possibility that I might lose the ability to balance these two perspectives. It's no secret that "idealism" is almost always paired with "youth" when people talk about being "young and idealistic". And I always consider that to be a very sad truth about being in the workforce for a long time. So to my fellow teacher candidates, I am outlining this to you now, in hopes that we will all be able to look back on the days when we were young and idealistic and remember that, while the world will constantly be looking for opportunities to convince us that it will never get better, there's a reason why we continue to allow our students to think idealistically, and why we embrace the innocence of youth. It's because these are the parts of us that are worth being proud of and deep down, we understand that it's important:

To love
To trust
To forgive
To apologize
To take chances and give chances
To take responsibility for what you've down and the people you've affected
To be considerate of other people's feelings
To think critically and intelligently
To be interesting
To adapt
And, in the eternal words of Dr. Morrison, to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded.

Maybe your students will change the world for the better. Maybe they won't. But as educators, we have to do our part in convincing them that they all have the ability to make a difference. In the eternal words of Norman Cousins, "The starting point for a better world is the belief that it's possible."

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Jonathan posted at 10:00 PM - Comments (0)

Disciplinary Measures
Thursday, July 9, 2009

So I recently read this article: "Yes, these children can"

Followed by this rebuttal: "KIPP Schools and What Can We Do For Urban Poor Kids?"

I've always thought the authoritarian method of teaching a class to be an interesting line. And I mean that insofar as the question of how discipline contributes and affects our ability to teach.

There's no question that an attentive class makes it easier for you to teach and for them to learn. And there's no question that it can be supremely frustrating to teach a class when you're constantly interrupted by a few students. We just posted about "keeners" and how it's important to make your class as relevant and interesting as possible so that, at least, you as a teacher have nothing to reproach yourself about as far as effort, patience, and aptitude...

But as all teachers know, sometimes, there are students who simply don't care. I've heard some teachers tell me that it happens more in Applied classes. I myself have seen it enough times in Academic classes to know that it's a little more universal than that. Every so often, you'll have students that, try as you might, just don't care to be in your class and refuse to see any value in anything you teach. When that happens, the issue is no longer a question you "dealing with a problem kid" to quote a popular catchphrase. The question becomes, is it fair for the rest of the students that their teacher's attention is constantly being diverted towards a particular student?

I have never been able to come up with a good answer for this. On the one hand, I have 1 or 2 students that I can't seem to hook into my class. We talk a lot about "classroom management" in our own education classes but I have yet to hear one good solution for dealing with 1 particular student who just seems like he/she couldn't care less about you, your class, or their peers. And on the other hand, I have 20 other students in my class that deserve better than what I am able to deliver when I have to constantly attend to a troublemaker (or two).

I know people are against the KIPP method of teaching/private schools because they find that authoritarian style of classroom management stifling. And to an extent, it's true. But at the same time, you have to strike a balance somehow don't you? If you have a school where a student that's sent down to the principal's office simply gets a slap on the wrist and sent back up to your class... I can't see how this is very good for you, the student, or his/her peers. As parents, we enforce a set of rules regardless of what our children think because it's for their own good. Should the same principle not apply, to some extent, to a class as well? I constantly worry that, in an effort to get away from control and stunted creativity and all the negative things about a harsh disciplinary system, we might have moved too far into student-driven learning where a teacher is only there to teach/guide the students that *want* to be taught/guided. Is there a point where our lack of disciplinary measures results in an actual inability to curb students who are literally unresponsive to everything else?

Being able to teach is one thing. Being able to teach despite students who don't want to learn is something else entirely. It's the reason why I've always thought that university professors don't really have any excuse not to be good teachers. I mean, think of how many elementary/high school teachers there must be who would LOVE to teach in a class where their students either pay close attention, or at least keep quiet if they don't?

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Jonathan posted at 9:11 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Keeners
Monday, July 6, 2009

I've given some thought to the idea of being keeners. Courtney's post has outlined pretty much what it means when we define ourselves as such. We do crazy things like worry about placements that are out of control. We woke up - this is true - at 7:30 AM on the first day of pre-registration in order ensure that we got into the education courses we wanted even though the actual pre-registration period extends for over a month. And we are endlessly talking about cool articles we read that pertain to teaching and what they might mean (stick around for Thursday's post when we will likely do more of this).

But like Courtney says, we also recognize that we're... a little different. No one in our program would ever nominate us for Mr. and Ms. Con-Ed of the year (should such an award exist). While we are friendly with people in Con-Ed, it would be a stretch to say we "know" people in our program (aside from each other and some other select people who are probably oddballs like us).

This got me thinking about being a "keener" in school. I mean, what does that really mean? I was faced with this question during one of my practicums when my host teacher was telling me about the differences between two separate grade 11 English classes. The school I taught at was a non-semestered school (i.e. Day 1/Day 2) which is why the English classes were up for comparison - I saw each class, every other day, which not only made comparison highly convenient, but also made lesson implementation highly interesting since you use the same basic lesson plan 2 days in a row but with completely different responses.

But I digress. I noticed that when I first started teaching, my host teacher would often refer to her classes (privately of course) as her "good" class and her "bad" class. Although this classification system lasted only briefly - soon to be replaced with a possessive label, dependent upon the first 1 or 2 names I managed to learn within my first day of teaching, i.e. "John's class" vs. "Jane's class" - it gave me furiously to think when I began teaching both classes. Her "good" class was, indeed, better behaved, and contained a larger quantity of "keeners" so to speak; students that were attentive, respectful, and concerned about their marks. Her "bad" class was... admittedly less well behaved, louder, and less concerned about their marks...

About that "concerned about their marks" part... see, I found that because the students in the "good" class were more concerned about their marks, they also tended to fish for the "right" answer to my questions. The desire to be interesting and - at times - truthful, was overshadowed by their desire to be rewarded for telling me what I "wanted" to hear, or what they thought I wanted to hear. Not so were the students in the "bad" class. Their lax attitude towards marks meant that they had a greater tendency to simply answer as they genuinely believed and as a result, gave rather more interesting answers - gratifying since I had asked what I considered to be interesting questions. Like I said, this gave me furiously to think.

Keeners, I realized, are actually rarely any more keen than their peers. We/they/their peers/years of educational stereotypes have merely called them this because they are keen upon what we want them to be keen about. This is the exact same thing that happens with Courtney and I. We are keeners about education. We weren't nearly as keen about, say, our undergraduate subjects (at least, I know I wasn't). We are keeners when it comes to education because we care. And this is something that I think we need to realize as educators. The students that are bored in our class are usually bored because they haven't been given any reason to care. And the kids that are "keeners" in our class are sometimes keen for completely wrong reasons.

Even the laziest among us are keeners if they are confronted with something that they consider important. So it's not a bad idea to constantly ask yourself, "Why am I teaching them this?" whenever you plan your lessons. Keep in mind that if your answer is "Because it's my job," this is the equivalent of your students saying "Because I want good marks" when asked why they should pay attention to, and respect, what you teach them. And if that's the case, those who don't care about good marks shouldn't have to pay attention to, or respect, you. But if you say "I'm teaching them this because it's important" and provide the right reasons for why this is true, then you have every right to expect their attention and respect because its importance is universally applicable to every one of your students.

All students are keeners. It's our job to give them the right reasons for directing their energy, passion, and creativity towards the right things. And yes, we know that you won't always manage to convince every single student that what you're teaching them is important (even if it really is). This is why you need to be interesting too.

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Jonathan posted at 10:33 PM - Comments (0)


Here are three things we can say for certain:

1. We are both keeners. As illustrated by this blog's very existence, we often go above and beyond in any endeavour that will make us better educators.

2. Despite this, we haven't been extraordinarily involved with ConEd at Queen's. We are friendly with most of our classmates, attend several of our program's events every year, and enjoy all of our classes immensely. That being said, for various reasons, we haven't made ConEd activities the main focus of of our university experience.

3. Our keenness, though it's not specifically directed towards our program, still causes us to freak out more than is typical for pre-B.Ed students. We panic because we care.

What these three things mean for us is hard to pinpoint. It may mean that we get a teaching job right away. It may also mean that we overthink ourselves sick before Christmas. I don't know what will happen to us in the next year or so, but I do know that being keeners is the only way we know how to function. So if it's somehow damaging to worry about placements, to get up at ungodly hours for class registration, to agonize over every detail of a lesson plan-- we're just going to have to find a way to cope. Because when it comes to doing something with less than every ounce of our energy, passion, and creativity, I don't think either of us know how.


Courtney posted at 9:47 PM - Comments (0)

RE: Practicum Woes - Part 1
Thursday, July 2, 2009

I had my own practicum woes last year. Con-Ed practicum during years 1-3 are either arranged by the student or the practicum office, depending on the school board. York Region (my home school board) was one of those "arrange your own practicum" boards that require students to make their own arrangements with the principals at whatever schools they wish to teach. So I did. And nobody was willing to take me in. Eventually, I had a teacher at Markham District High School who accepted me and even he passed me onto another teacher within the first day of my prac (for some reason...). Needless to say, I was feeling unloved by all! But I'll always remember those days in between January (when I began my search for a host school/teacher) and April (when MDHS and Ms. Valencia finally took me in) when I was basically being told repeatedly that nobody was willing to take me in.

It's an uncomfortable, depressing, and discouraging feeling to know that nobody wants you. So I can fully empathize with what Courtney is going through right now.

It's tough. And like Courtney says, it's a product of supply outweighing demand. And assuredly, some of you will run into this problem at some point, whether it's being unable to find your own placement (like me) or being told by the school that they've been unable to find you a placement. If you don't, consider yourself fortunate. It's all par-for-the-course when you're able to find a school, but realizing that you have nowhere to teach can be a very discouraging thing.

And we admit, part of it has to do with us being in Con-Ed. I have a friend who also one of the 100 students Courtney mentioned who was told that she didn't have a school in which to teach. She didn't seem particularly perturbed about it (despite, if she will forgive me for saying so, being the perturbable type), which leads me to believe that being in Con-Ed might have made us more susceptible to these hiccups that invariably happen along the path to being full-time professionals. But that is just my hypothesis. I could be completely wrong...

But to all of you (including Courtney) who encounter this problem - particularly the ones who run into the same problem Courtney has - I would encourage you all to remember that sometimes, these things happen despite all your efforts and hard work. Certainly, Courtney's situation has come about through no fault of her own. And I would encourage you all to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is NOT the thing that will determine how good of a teacher you are or how successful you can be. Do remember that no matter what, they will find you a place to teach, and that you will only be required to teach there for a year. Remember that you've gotten this far for a reason; you've succeeded because you are a good teacher, not because you've taught in good schools. Some of us might not have a great relationship with our host teachers. Others might have a easy, problem-less placement experience and then break down during their first years of teaching because they haven't encountered enough adversity.

To all our fellow candidates. Remember: in the end, the only thing you can control is the effort, enthusiasm, and inspiration you bring with you and into your class. If you are someone like Courtney, who is certainly not lacking in any of the fine teaching qualities I just mentioned, please believe in yourself enough to know that you possess these attributes and understand that as long as you are cognizant of this, you will be able to transmit this into your teaching style, no matter where you end up. Learn; adapt; and most importantly, trust in yourself. Maybe your placement will, indeed, end up being far more challenging than you thought it would, but this is the time to rise to that challenge and prove to yourself, and the rest of the world, that you're the kind of teacher we know you can be.

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Jonathan posted at 8:32 PM - Comments (0)

Practium Woes - Part 1

"Everything will be ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end."

Well, stumbling block #1 in my quest to become a teacher has arisen. I'm trying to tell myself that a test of my resolve is important, that frustrating set-backs will just convince me even further that teaching is my passion and my life's work. But all that is hard to believe when you hear bad news that seems, at the time, to be catastrophic.

We had all be impatiently awaiting news of our practicum schools since we first filled out applications back in February. Without this knowledge, it's hard to plan things fully because you don't know where you'll be living for half the year. For some, especially those whose parents and relatives live outside of Ontario, it's pretty crucial to be placed in a school board that is within driving distance of somewhere you could live without paying double rent.

My four choices, in order, were school boards in Kingston (where I have an apartment), Ottawa (I could stay with family friends), Peterborough (I would live with my grandma), and Mississauga (my best friend's family has kindly offered to adopt me). Then when my boyfriend got into vet school in Guelph, completing my placement there became another possibility.

Well, it came to the end of June and we still hadn't heard anything. Then, on June 30th, we all got an email. Finally, I would have some answers (I'm not the type to cope well with a lack of control over anything). I open my email from the Practicum Office, and here's what I see:

"Welcome to Queen's Faculty of Education.

At this time, we have been unable to arrange a practicum for you in
any of the district boards you requested.

Please do not contact the Practicum Office, and do not contact any
schools or principals to try and secure a placement on your own. We
work only with Associate Schools that have been chosen in specific
district school boards. We will contact the boards within our
catchment area in the fall, to try to secure additional
placements. All Faculties of Education throughout the province are
having difficulties in securing placements due to the sheer volume of
teacher candidates admitted to the education programs. You are one
of over 100 Queen's teacher education candidates who do not currently
have a placement. We will be working on arranging a placement for you
over the summer and into September. If you do not receive an email
over the summer, informing you of your placement, come to the
Practicum Office after Monday, September 8 and we will work with you
to secure your placement for October."

Once I got over the whole brain-exploding-with-rage-and-disbelief thing, I... actually, I don't think I've quite gotten over it yet. But once I'd at least processed the information, I was left with this overwhelming dread-- all I could think was that I'd get a crappy placement (or worse, no placement), get less than ideal evaluations as a result, causing me to have no job, and leading me into a life of perpetual homelessness and degeneracy.

Ok, so clearly I'm overreacting. But it's a hugely unsettling feeling nonetheless. I don't know who these "over 100" candidates are, because I only know of three other people in this situation, but the Practicum Office has got some serious work ahead of them if they expect to fix this colossal bung-up.

Now, one of my very awesome friends/classmates who is in the same boat contacted the Practicum Coordinator for a more thorough explanation. Our Practicum Coordinator claimed that the form is time sensitive, which is not very plausible since most of us got our applications in almost immediately after they were circulated. However, he also suggested that the province just has more teacher candidates than they have willing host teachers, schools and boards. That I can believe. There is apparently the potential that our practica won't be confirmed until August or even September, as schools become more confident of their numbers and if other students drop out of the program. So that's that. While it's nice to have a bit more information, that information is making me want to tear my hair out.

I did call the practicum office (I'll be damned if I listen to their orders not to contact them) to ask if I might be placed in a school in Guelph, but it turns out that Queen's doesn't place any students anywhere in the Upper Grand District School Board. That's another university's territory or something. It's all very discouraging.

I think a discussion of why established teachers should or should not become mentors and hosts to teacher candidates requires a separate post, a post which I am anxious to hash out but wish to approach with a more nuanced understanding than I currently possess. I will say that in this case, I think the problem is a culmination of shortfalls from all directions-- too many students, not enough host teachers, uncooperative boards, and the fact that Queen's is either unwilling or unable to expand their placement possibilities.

And who is the unfortunate recipient of the fallout from all of that?

I am. I and some of my fellow Concurrent Education students are, we who have been in this program for four years and have so much to give to our potential students and host teachers. We're left disillusioned and disappointed and deeply concerned about our future, and there's nothing we can do about it.

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Courtney posted at 7:25 PM - Comments (1)