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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Education
May 28, 2016
Canadian Excellence

A Year in the Life: TEC Blog

February 2010: Last Two Weeks of School

        Unbelievable! We have two weeks left of class and everything is falling into place. Interviews started last week for the occasional teachers list for the Waterloo Region District School Board and classmates have been sneaking out of class, not so inconspicuously, wearing suits and grinning nervously. School projects are coming to a climax and tapering off right before March break, when we all start planning furiously for our 6-week practicums.

        This week is no less momentous as the Junior/Intermediate students are being placed in high schools and the Primary/Junior students are shadowing at different elementary schools. I, for one, am grateful for this high school experience as I’m hoping it will make my grade 8 class, whom I’ m spending my last practicum with, seem like little kids. Actually, that’s not too hard to do as there are still boys who have barely cracked the 5-foot mark.

        I went trolling The Dollar Store this weekend looking for props for my integers unit and came home with a lot of pens and some fake money. Didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but still managed to spend more money than I was planning on.

        It’s hard to believe that a mere 6 months ago we were all just starting out on this journey. I can still remember my first lesson. I had no idea how to plan at that stage and it was a disaster. I wanted to teach the students everything I knew in one lesson; I stood at the front and spewed forth my wisdom. Now, I understand that the best learning comes when the lesson has one strong focus and the students are actively engaged, not passive recipients.

        My second practicum was much better than my first, in terms of my teaching ability. However, I was finishing up projects on Sunday night and starting teaching on Monday morning, so my planning was not quite what I wanted it to be. Going into practicum three, I will have a whole week to prepare and already, I’ve been dreaming about fun activities and performance tasks to do with my classes. Who says integers can’t be fun? Not me!

        On a personal note, I am also still amazed at the amount of planning teachers do on a daily basis. I honestly think people in the business world would be shocked at the day-to-day planning involved in teaching. I am embarrassed to say that even I was clueless to the fact that teachers prepare all of their own lessons and units – and my sister is a teacher! As a new teacher, this is definitely the most difficult part of the job – for me, that is. I love the actual teaching part. Actually, I love coming up with cool lessons too, it just takes a little longer to master teaching from the curriculum.

        In contrast, work days in the corporate world were quite a bit longer, but much less intense because you had a lot more "me" time – time sitting at your computer checking email, going for coffee, or chit-chatting to cube mates. They were also much less personally rewarding, which is why I am here at school. However, I do think there are some lessons to be learned from the corporate world; they are great at sharing resources and working in teams. Don’t get me wrong, the school I’m at does an amazing job of group planning, however, there are 155,000 teachers in Ontario, all working off of the same curriculum. Why, oh why, do we not do a better job of sharing resources and lessons? I have heard that some boards are better than others for this, but in this digital age there really is no excuse for not being more systematic about it.

        Obviously, part of the problem is a lack of technology at the schools. Teachers just don’t have enough projectors and Smart Boards to go around, meaning that most lessons are not digital, and therefore, not easily shared. Hopefully in the next 10 years someone (Minister of Education?) will find some money to make this a priority. Hmm, I’m got more political than I was planning. I don’t think you can talk about education without talking politics, can you?

February 2010: Practical makes Perfect!

        Semester two has started off quite differently from semester one. For starters, I have one less class, which makes a big difference on the nightly workload. I am done all of my assignments for math (EU 412) and physical education (EU 423). I have also found that the assignments this semester are very practical and useful - a nice lead-in to our final practicum. While I'm still very busy, there is a light at the end of the tunnel now and I am really thinking about the final four interview questions on teaching strategies, classroom management, assessment, and interpersonal/communication skills. It is yet to be seen how I will fair in an interview.

        I just attended the Career Day at Laurier this past Friday and it was really helpful. Thank you Career Services! I learned a lot about the different school boards and about teaching abroad - hello Antigua! There were a couple of interesting tidbits that I pulled out of this session, including:

1. The Peel school board has their own application system separate from and you don't need to be in the Occasional Teacher pool first to apply for contract jobs.

2. The Hamilton-Wentworth school board does not post any jobs

3. This is the last year that teachers applying to the Upper Grand board can apply for contract jobs without being in the Occasional Teachers pool first.

4. And the fourth big reveal was the whole private school system. Being a child of the public board, I really didn't have any insight into that system before Career Day.

        It is interesting how the whole job search process is affecting myself and my peers. We are torn between helping each other out and competing for jobs. The competitive job market leaves us all elbowing our way to any advantage we might have over our peers, whom up until now, we have been sharing and helping out as much as possible.

        I envy my friends vying for jobs in other regions and overseas. I wonder, could I convince my ball and chain to move to Antigua? It shouldn't be a tough sell in this weather!

January 2010: The End & The Beginning

The end of practicum was "brilliant" - a shining beacon of hope before Christmas. I was in the classroom for three weeks and many of the students got me presents and cards for Christmas. The first one I got I thought, "This is what I'm working towards." Not presents of course, but a relationship of mutual respect and friendship with the students. I use "friendship" with hesitation because of the implications, but I'm really referring to appreciating the students as human beings, not becoming Facebook friends with them. However, I did end the practicum saying to myself, "I cannot wait to have my own classroom one day."

We held a Christmas concert at my school where the teachers performed their own version of the 12 Days of Christmas. I was in a grade 6 classroom so our line was, "Six months 'til summer." My associate joked that I had to be loud because there were only three other female grade 6 teachers. I thought to myself, "I was a camp counselor. No one has ever accused me of being too quiet - I'm gonna rock this line." As I walk to the front of the gymnasium I'm filled with resolve to shout this line, making the other grade 6 teachers proud. As I hear the "5" line being sung, I start to get nervous. There are 850 students and 100 staff at this school, and next thing I know it's our turn to sing.

"Six months till Christmas" I hear myself shout at the top of my lungs. WRONG! My face turns red, the other teachers giggle and look at me. Oh my, I have to sing this line several more times throughout this song; I must compose myself. Okay next time up, I concentrate really hard and - more quietly - I hear myself say the correct words. However, the next time up I hear myself say, "Six months 'til Chris.summer." Argh! What is wrong with me?

Frightened and embarrassed I just avoid saying the next two lines. I think I said it correctly once more, quietly, but I could not get "Christmas" out of my head. Oh well, it made for good staff room chatter for the next day and a half.

I also got to teach the content for, and write two tests during this practicum: Canada and its Trading Partners, and Algebra. Due to the Christmas schedule, the students had both tests on the last Thursday before Christmas, meaning that I had 54 tests to mark in one night. The marking concern, however, was secondary to the fear that the tests were too hard, meaning I'd have to hand out a lot of bad news on the last Friday of school. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.

Gosh, I miss those kids...

The Beginning: Semester 2

Over Christmas I had planned on completing so much. I was going to build a blog for the program - one where we could share resources, answer each other's questions on particular assignments, and share lesson plans. Also on my list - apply to the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT - the certifying body for all Ontario teachers), Apply to Teach (a centralized employment application site for school boards across Ontario) and the Qualifications Evaluation Council of Ontario (QECO - a centralized body who determines how individual academic qualifications will align future teachers with board specified pay scales). However, since I was still presentless and treeless on December 21, the first week off I was busy Christmasing it up. The second week off I was eating myself silly and cleaning up, which explains the anxiety I felt on the Sunday before the first day of class.

Week one went pretty well, it was great to see everyone again, but there's nothing like getting a list of everything you're going to complete for the next three months. While I have yet to really get back in the groove again, I am people still say that? I am stoked that we have this Friday off so I can gather my thoughts, pick up my new text books, and start the semester on the right note.

December 2009: It's a Holly, Jolly Christmas!

Well, I finished term 1. I don't really remember how, but I did! I'm so excited to be starting practicum 2. I was in a grade 7 class last time and I'm now in a grade 6 class. It doesn't sound like a big move, but it's actually quite shocking the difference between the two grades.

The benefit to teaching grade 7 is that you teach fewer subjects, which means less planning. The benefit to grade 6 is that the day is so much more flexible. You can move subjects around if you need to. And it is fun to teach a couple of art lessons. The only drawback, at least at this stage, is the extensive amount of planning required.

To my shock and disbelief, the internet isn't a great place to find lesson plans, especially in certain subjects, say "Social Studies: Canada and it's trading partners." I spent a whole weekend scouring the web for appropriate lessons and came up short, so I asked the teacher if she had anything I can borrow, and tada! I was so relieved to find binders upon binders of information on her shelf. I think I need a whole course on teaching supplies and resources. There are so many great resources out there, and as a new student, I don't know where to look yet. Several teachers have quoted, "beg, borrow and steal" when I asked them how they survived their first year of teaching. I'd like to build a web site that does a good job of helping Waterloo Region teachers with curriculum-based lesson plans and resources. It doesn't hurt to dream, right?

My class is also working on Junior Achievement right now. Coming from the business world, this was very fun to be a part of. It was hard not to overwhelm the students in the marketing department. I wanted to give so much advice but in the end, the kids showed me. They reached their goal in one day and raised enough money for classroom supplies, a donation to the Cancer society and a pizza party. What an amazing experience for them.

It's also really great to be at school during holiday season. Our school celebrates Christmas. While I'd be happy to celebrate other cultures, from a planning stand point, this is easier. However, it's been a great lesson on being flexible. The snow storm meant that school busses didn't run one day, meaning that we were missing over 1/3 of the students. So, most of the day was a write-off. Classes have also been shuffled around for choir practice, and the gym has been closed for the concert. I think I actually prefer the craziness of it all. It keeps me on my toes. For some reason, I like winging it a little - as long as I know the subject matter. I can't, for example, wing "Canada and it's trading partners".

I am also happy report that TECs at my school were invited to the school Christmas party. Our school has done a really great job of making us feel part of the school. The Principal has gone out of her way to make sure we're doing okay, and I have yet to run into a teacher that has made me feel unwelcome.

The only downside right now is that I have yet to buy a single Christmas present or hang a single decoration. I have been so busy planning and finishing off assignments that Christmas has yet to come to my house. Fortunately my daughter is too young to notice.

November 2009: All in perspective

Back to work! I must say that it is a little easier this time around having a better idea of what I’m working towards (thanks to the first practicum).

I just transitioned into a new classroom at my PDS school and in the first hour there a student told me, "You’re hair looks like a wig." Welcome to grade 6! I was too shocked to say anything right away; a female student noticed this and said, "You should keep those kinds of comments to yourself."  I probably would have laughed if I hadn’t just been lamenting how I was way overdue for a haircut.

It was interesting that my new mentor teacher was equally effective as my previous mentor, but with a completely different teaching style. It is nice to have a few more teaching strategies to put in my back pocket. Her students were working independently and evaluating their own work. It was inspiring. In between assignments students knew that they could either read or draw, and they all did so without prompting. I’m getting a much better idea of the kind of teacher I want to be.

Back at Laurier….

Dr. Buzza did some problem solving/trivia in her lesson this week and I came alive. The whole class did.  I respond well to this type of class; I’ll have to find ways to incorporate it into my next practicum. In Dr. Kotsopoulos' class, James, Justin and Darcy presented a really fun math lesson. They incorporated playing card games. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more fun math lesson in all my life. Well done, fellas. More tricks to put up my sleeve for practicum #2.

The Education Society which is comprised of fellow education students, or, EdSoc as we call it is kinda like a cool older sibling that helps you out along the way. I am excited for their upcoming Pizza/Potluck lunch on November 23. Just the thought of "real" food makes me very happy. They're supplying the pizza and each section brings something else. Our section is bringing veggies. EdSoc is also going to be supplying some computer paper in the student lounge. I am sure this new addition will help save many a student's neck in the coming weeks. My own printer is on it's way out, so I'm thankful to have a back up!