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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.

LINKS: Blogger
Canadian Chalkboard
Coffee, Calculations and Colombia!
Mewlings
Progressively Unnecessary
TeacHer Finance
It's Not All Flowers and Sausages
So You Want To Teach?
Classroom Confessions
Teach Hub
Web English Teacher
Blogging the Renaissance


ARCHIVES: June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 March 2010

That's what we're here for too...
Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Sometimes it's hard to talk to kids, especially when they're teenagers. They're in their own world, and they don't look like they're even listening to you. But that's the time when it's most important to find a way to talk to them - not to lecture them, but to tell them things I think are important for them to know." 

- Robert De Niro

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Courtney posted at 8:07 PM - Comments (1)



Phew! Blocks One and Two Complete... Bring on the job search
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wow, the past few months have been crazy hectic for me- hence the total neglect of this blog on my part. I apologize profusely for my absence, and for the lack of warning about said absence. I really thought I could keep all my metaphorical balls in the air (to use a clowning metaphor, always the best kind) but it just got too overwhelming.

Hopefully though, with a nice relaxing vacation (I have been sleeping like CRAZY, probably to make up for all those 4:30am wake-ups) and a 5-week sojourn at the Country Club on West (aka our Faculty of Education), I should be able to return to a brisk-paced blogging schedule.

I suppose the last you heard from me was in November, so I'll give a bit of an update of how the last two months went. This may be a tad on the boring side, but it'll give me a chance to work out my thoughts on my whirlwind first semester, and it might be quite helpful for those of you who have yet to enter teacher's college and are wondering what to expect.

My 3 weeks spent in Kingston in November absolutely flew by. I had a few assignments (mostly lesson plans) to complete for some of my profs, but I also had to cram in a semester's worth of doctor/dentist/optometrist, etc appointments into 3 weeks, catch up with all of my non-teacher friends, somehow arrange an alternate practicum for the spring, try to negotiate a better location and subject for Practicum Block #s 2 & 3, manage the club I founded last year, and attempt to stick to a verrrrrry limited budget so I could afford the ridiculous commuting costs for December. Are you starting to understand why I didn't blog much last month?

Then December came, and I moved all my crap back to my boyfriend's to begin another practicum block. Sadly, all my frantic negotiating with the Practicum Office and my Faculty Advisor's repeated pleas to the Social Sciences department at my host school were fruitless, so with 5 days to go until the block started, it seemed like I would be in the same ESL class with the same 2.5-hour commute as the first block. Don't get me wrong, I adored being with my first associate teacher and I learned a ton, but my first teachable is History and I really wanted to get a lot of experience with that, especially since I'd only taught English during my ConEd placements. 

All was not lost, though-- my first associate teacher, upon hearing that he would have to forfeit another month's lessons to me, accosted a Social Sciences teacher in the office and peer-pressured him into taking me on for the second block of Practicum in December (I'm kidding- my first AT was incredibly generous with his classes, giving me a full schedule load by the second week and really letting me experiment with my own teaching style and giving me a lot of invaluable advice. He's a really wonderful person and a great mentor, as was my second AT. I got really lucky on that front, at least!).

Anyway, December still brought that hellish 5-hour/day commute, but at least I was teaching history at the end of it. I did a lot more observation for the second block, but I got to see quite a variety of different classes, including Civics, Politics, Ancient Civilizations, and Enriched Canadian History. I focused all of my energy into the creation of dynamic, interesting, and structured lesson plans, and that hard work really paid off in my evaluations. I also made a special point of targeting the areas for improvement that my associate teacher suggested, and was able to fine-tune several skills that will prove useful in the future. All in all, I'm quite pleased with the results of my first semester, despite all the crazy.

Looking back on my experiences, I really could have benefitted from a bit of advice that would have helped me easily avoid some of my stress. With that in mind, I'll do a Top 10 Tips-- what a great bonus to make up for months of bloggy drought!


Top 10 Tips To Avoid Going Crazy in Your First Semester of Teacher's College

1. Make all of your routine appointments before school starts. In July or August, get in to see your doctor for a physical and to renew prescriptions for as far into the future as you can. This is especially important if you're moving back and forth between cities like I do, but even if you're staying in one place, having your health and wellness taken care of is a huge stress-relief. Same goes for the dentist, optometrist, pharmacist, etc.

2. Do a Costco run before school starts. It is just such a pain to have to go all the way to the drugstore just because you didn't stock up on Q-Tips or shampoo. Trust me, when November comes, you don't want to waste time on this sort of thing.

3. Create a filing system ahead of time. I collected a whole bunch of resources, forms, spare photocopies, etc from both of my practicum blocks, but all I had time to do was to throw on some paper clips and stash them in a bookshelf. If you get yourself a box of hanging folders in September and label them according to subject or category (i.e., lesson plans, parental contact, interview tips), you'll be far less scattered and far more prepared when you take on your own classes in the future.

4. Make a list of goals for all aspects of your life. You don't have to list more than 5 or 6 goals, but if you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, you'll be able to prioritize better and not fall behind on things that are really important to you. Obviously, doing your absolute best in your practica should be goal #1, but look at the other things you do and decide what to jettison if things get too hectic. 

5. Sit your friends down and explain how busy your year will be. Since you have limited time during big chunks of the semester, try to emphasize quality friend time like going for a chat over coffee or a quiet dinner instead of clubbing or a movie. Explain to your friends that you love them and you enjoy spending time with them, but that you can't just take off to hang out with them after school when you feel like it. If you do this ahead of time, you'll hopefully head off the hurt feelings about being abandoned or ignored and they'll be more likely to arrange their schedules around yours. As a bonus, they'll be ready and willing to help you out in a pinch if you need an emergency printer or drive to the grocery store since they know you're so stressed. Remember, though-- this year isn't an excuse to be a bad friend, just one that is temporarily not quite as attentive as usual. If you schedule in advance and know when to drop everything for someone you love (that marking can wait if your bestie just got dumped), you'll do fine. 

6. Beg for care packages. Nothing brightens up a miserable week of essay-marking like a batch of Grandma's cookies or some quirky socks from Mom. My mom does this on a regular basis because my parents live far away, but even if you're in the same province, a care package can really brighten your day. 

7. Budget carefully. The reality of life as an aspiring teacher is that costs can spring up out of nowhere, there isn't much opportunity for a part-time job, and a real full-time job once you graduate might be hard to come by. With that in mind, give yourself ample wiggle room while budgeting for your B.Ed year. My advice would be to plan your year's living costs into June, instead of stopping the school year's budget at the end of April. You also can't assume you'll get a convenient placement, so include possible rental or transport costs. I managed to be incredibly frugal in November, but that was pretty much cancelled out by $500+ for transportation costs in December.

8. Tape your favourite TV shows and save them for the weekend. Television can be really helpful to help you decompress after a tough day, but make sure you don't get carried away. When I got home from my intense commute and busy day, it was incredibly tempting to just veg out in front of the TV and spend all evening watching the shows I love. Before I knew it, though, it would be time to go to bed and I had wasted all my time zoning out on the couch instead of making my lunch, washing my hair, taking the dog for a walk, etc. I would have been better served catching Jeopardy over dinner (kind of a ritual for me and my boyfriend) and then turning the TV off and saving all my weekly shows for a fun weekend marathon. 

9. Work out a chore routine with your housemate(s) or significant other. My boyfriend was SO incredibly wonderful with me this semester. He deserves a medal, he really does-- a Nobel Prize in tolerance. He generously suggested that since I was taking on such a ridiculous commute, he would make dinner for me every night when I got home (I know, right? He's awesome). This gesture really helped my sanity, but after awhile it became obvious that the arrangement wasn't really working. Though I pitched in on the weekends, from Monday to Thursday he felt like a servant (he didn't say as much, but I know he did). I was so over-extended that I didn't notice his resentment and frustration for far too long. If you want to avoid this situation (and you do), my best suggestion is to take on an equal share of all the chores. Instead of my boyfriend making dinner every night, he would start cooking the meal while I changed and told him about my day, then I would pitch in and make the salad, set the table, pour the drinks, etc. Once we stopped putting all the responsibility of certain chores on one person at a time, we both felt more supported and less stressed.  

10. Keep an agenda and/or a teaching journal. Random brilliant ideas strike me at the weirdest times, and now I have a huge collection of post-its, looseleaf paper, napkins and notes on my laptop to collect and put into one big document that I can refer to for teaching inspiration. As well, keeping a planner or journal will be very helpful for scheduling in all of your responsibilities so you can get everything done. And make sure you really use some of those brilliant ideas!


There, I think I wrote enough tonight to almost make up for a month's worth of silence! Hopefully it's not too overwhelming to read. Oh, one last thing-- I got an incredible early Christmas gift from my sister, a book that I can't recommend enough. It's called See Me After Class: Advice For Teachers By Teachers, by Roxanna Elden. It. is. PHENOMENAL. I'm only 20 pages in and I've already picked up dozens of helpful tips, most of which I would never have thought of myself. She touches on issues in every grade level, so this is perfect for anyone in Education. 

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Courtney posted at 9:38 PM - Comments (0)



A (Gross) Lesson
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This is kinda gross but I couldn't resist posting about it...

So over the course of prac, I got sick. This should come as no surprise to anyone since it's a well known fact that our bodies are generally ill-prepared for all the germs that run rampant throughout the schools. I'm still a little sick, actually, but that is neither here nor there.

Well, most people will be able to tell you that as you near the tail-end of the common cold, you get to that period where your sinuses are all congested and your nose feels blocked even though nothing comes out when you blow into a tissue. This stage in the process tends to irritate me to no end and this time was no exception. I mean seriously, is it not supremely frustrating to blow your nose and get nothing but still be congested?

Suddenly, I had a thought. A few months ago, during my singing lessons, I was taught (when I sing) to breathe from the diaphragm and then, rather than sing outwards through my mouth, sing upwards, through my head, and then out my mouth. It sounds very theoretical until you put it into practice but it does work remarkably well at adding resonance to your voice. And I thought, "I wonder if that theory could work for nose-blowing as well?" So I tried it. I took a deep breath from the diaphragm and blew upwards into my head (and presumably through my clogged sinuses) and then out... and lo and behold! It works! I cleared my sinuses (temporarily at least).

I told you it was kinda gross. But it's also kinda funny. And it *does* work...

Jonathan posted at 8:27 PM - Comments (1)



ratemyteachers.com
Sunday, December 13, 2009

I took some time this afternoon to browse around the site, ratemyteachers.com, more out of curiosity than anything else. I imagine that some of us might eventually find our way onto that website sooner or later so I thought I'd check it out and see if there was any real validity to the site.

As a teacher-in-training, I figured that I would have a rather insurmountable bias by looking up teachers working at King City Secondary school; ergo, I decided to do a quick survey of the teachers I had when I was in high school and see what some of the results were. Now, before you read this, keep in mind that I can be incredibly elitist about my opinions when it comes to comparing myself to the "general public". It's not so much that I think that the general public is always wrong so much as it is that when pitted against an individual, anonymous, opinion that contradicts my own I have a tendency to assume that this individual doesn't know what he/she is talking about. In my defense, however, I do think that the "general public" as whole unit usually winds up with the correct overall opinion unless there are mitigating circumstances.

One of these mitigating circumstances, where ratemyteachers.com is concerned, is that the ratings are divided into 3 categories (which are then averaged out to an overall rating per teacher). One of these 3 categories is "Average Easiness" which I assume relates to whether or not the teacher is a "hard marker". The problem with this category is that it really should be called "Fairness" rather than "Average Easiness." Why? Because "Average Easiness" tends to devolve into "Will this teacher let me get away with not answering the question and bullshitting the answer," which doesn't exactly seem to be the right question; or at least, it doesn't seem to work on the correct scale.

This is what I noticed about many of the ratings for my old high school teachers - that their overall rating was pulled down because the rating in the category of "Average Easiness" was pulled down... and I'm sure (having been a student in these teachers' classes) that THIS happened because these were teachers that wouldn't let you get away with not knowing your stuff or BS-ing your answers. There's no reason they should be penalized for this as teachers but many students seem to live in this egocentric world of self-importance and self-privilege where a teacher that gives them bad marks is a bad teacher, even if these marks are entirely justified.

I looked at some of the comments for some of the teachers who got really high ratings in "Average Easiness" and came across many that said something like "Such an e-z marker! I was such a shitty student and still got an A- lolololololol!!!"

Yeah ok... cause that's the best indicator of a good teacher...

Jonathan posted at 8:37 PM - Comments (0)



P.D. Day
Sunday, December 6, 2009

I attended my first ever "Professional Development Day" last Friday. I must say, it was not like I expected it to be. But then again, my preconceived notions were founded upon absolutely nothing one could call a reliable source (meaning, they were founded upon what my imagination conjured up). I thought we were all going to arrive at school and play trust games where we fell into each arms and such similar things! So disappointed to find that that wasn't the case. Instead, we had 2 hour assembly in the morning - one that was thankfully made far more bearable due to an interesting guest speaker - followed by a few workshops.

It was weird being at a P.D. Day. Having attended a staff meeting during my previous block (teachers make the worst students), the assembly part did not strike me as being too odd. The workshops, on the other hand, felt odd. Now, that's not to say that they were not helpful. In fact, one of my workshops was pretty cool (it was about a grade 12U culminating media project). But it just... felt really weird to be sitting in classroom with people who were not my age. I mean, staff meetings are staff meetings, but to actually sit in a standard sized class and listen to a presentation/lecture is just not the same when the "students" are years ahead of you in age and seniority.

All in all, though, it was not a bad experience. Better than I thought it'd be, realistically speaking (I figured it wouldn't just be fun and games, even though that's what I hoped it would be).

Jonathan posted at 9:42 PM - Comments (1)