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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Education
May 29, 2016
Canadian Excellence

A Year in the Life: TEC Blog

May 2010: The Tassel's Worth the Hassle!

Advice for the last two weeks of school:

· Find out who on staff does coffee runs during the day.

· Strategically spread out your assessments so you’re not marking everything at once.

· Pack some snacks you can eat at your desk in case you don’t make it down to the lunch room.

· If you’re visible, you’re on duty.

· Don’t assign anything during the last week of school.

· Nutrition break = extra help

· Planning time = lunch

· Talk to the supply teachers at your school to get an idea of what you’re life will be like once you graduate.

Let me elaborate on some of those points. I had to start a new math unit during the last week of practicum, which was cool. The new unit was algebra and I had taught it during practicum 2 with grade 6. So, I assumed that the grade 8s would think that my first review lesson was easy. Wrong.

* Note to self: just because students have learned something before, that doesn’t mean that they still remember it.

I had planned on two review classes before I got into the first new concept. I ended up extending it for the whole week.

I guess I forgot that it’s been a year since they were last taught algebra and it takes a little while to get back into the swing of things. I also thanked my luckey stars that I reviewed my grade 6 lessons before I started this unit because a funny thing happened to me. I was about 3 lessons into algebra and I thought, "Wow, this lesson is going really well. The students really seem to be getting it." Then I figured out why. When I finished my lesson and said, "Now open your textbook to page…" a student raises her hand and says, "We already covered this."

I laughed slashed panicked. I tried thinking of funny similes to the situation in order to buy myself some time until I figured out what to teach next. It turns out that everything I had planned from that point forward was already taught with a previous teacher who had retired earlier that year. Fortunately, I had printed off some of the lessons I taught in practicum 2 to grade 6 students, which totally saved me. I had enough in my binder to get me through the lesson, but honestly, it could have been ugly. I had felt relatively safe knowing that all of my lessons were saved on my laptop, which I brought to school every day. However, if I hadn’t had the lessons already printed in my binder, chaos could have ensued. Okay, so a few more trees will need to die in order for me to survive. I can live with that.

What other pearls of wisdom can I give you? Future TECs, make sure that you don’t assign anything major during the last week of your practicum. For starters, you will be busy marking everything that was due the previous week. Secondly, you’ll notice that a lot of students are either off sick or take vacation, which means that you need to find a way to get them caught up. This is one thing I think every intermediate teacher struggles with – catch-up time. I think I worked every break (that I didn't have duty on) to get tests and assignments caught up with absent students. While kids do use class time for this, it just gets them even further behind. For me, I had two assignments due on the last Monday. Needless to say, there were students handing me assignments Friday morning – the last Friday morning – to mark before leaving. I stayed late to get all of the marks handed in, but some TECs chose to mark at home over the weekend. Both are fine, but it was nice to have the weekend off. Plus, the year-end formal was that night and how could I enjoy myself knowing that I had to wake up to marking?

While the weekend was nice, I didn’t feel "finished" until our last class at Laurier on the following Tuesday. The day started off with a chicken pox scare. No, I’ve never had them! Some kids I had been in contact with had broken out in spots the week before and I woke up Tuesday morning with spots. I was able to squeeze in a doctor’s appointment that morning and was "cleared" of chicken pox and rushed back to Laurier to finish the day. It wasn’t until the very end of the day that I was finished! I immediately started dreaming about spending all of Wednesday in my pajamas. Yes, I was sad to say good bye everyone, but darn it, I was ready for a day off.

What does the future hold? I am scheduled back at my placement school for some follow-up volunteer days, I’m volunteering at WRDSB elementary track and field meet, I’m taking an additional qualification (AQ) course, I’m participating in an extended placement learning opportunity, I’m on the emergency supply list and I just applied to teach at literacy camp. And you thought I was done! No, a new life is just beginning; the learning never ends. With that said, I currently feel like I’m on vacation. Yahoo!

In the end, I would like to say congrats to everyone who’s finished and good luck to those who have yet to begin. It’s an intense year, with many highs and a few challenges along the way, but especially if you hope to work in the Waterloo-Region, it’s the best head start you can give yourself.

Also, thank you to the professors for your expertise and guidance along the way. The Laurier support staff is fantastic and so efficient. My placement school was an amazingly supportive and friendly place to spend my year and I’m grateful to everyone for being so welcoming. Last but not least, my fellow TECs, thanks for the memories: early morning Tim’s runs, late night work sessions, back-of-the-class comedy, and for keeping my spirits high when my energy was low. You’re the best!

…oh, and Section D rocks!

April 2010: Weeks 2 and 3 - Ebb and Flow

My focus during week 1 was Language Arts, however, I also introduced integers. My first lesson was fairly creative and I learned a lot about integers in the process. For instance, did you know that integers are everywhere? How wonderful to have a unit where the real-world examples are everywhere around us: on a football field, on a golf leader board, on a scale, in the stock market, on a thermometer, and so on.

When I said "stock market" one student exclaimed, "I hate those people who sit there and read the stock page of the newspaper!" Little did he know.

Given that my first full time job was in Investor Relations, I decided to create a project using the stock market. I'm working at a rural school so I told the students that I think of the stock market a little like I think of farming - if it doesn't run in the family you're not likely to get into it.

I, of course, introduced the assignment with, "I'm going to make you all the millionaires of tomorrow." While that may not be true, I think it's an interesting lesson in financial literacy. It was also a tricky task for me to tackle, too. While I'm familiar with the stock market, I was not familiar with making it "grade-eight-friendly", while also covering the curriculum!

Every day I rushed to school to cut out the stock market page of The Record. Every day the students recorded their chosen company's results and calculated how much they gained or lost that day. At the end of the week they tallied their weekly earnings and analyzed how much they could have made if they sold at the week's high price, or how much they could have lost if they sold at the week's low price. Students were really just starting to "get it" by week's end so we, my associate and I, decided to make it a formative assessment and to try it again the following week for a "real" mark. While it may be more marking for me, the good news is that students will actually comprehend how the stock market works by the end of grade 8! How cool is that?

From a planning and marking perspective, weeks two and three were a little intense. My March break planning had started to wean, and the marking had started to grow. Throw on one last assignment for WLU over Easter weekend, and you've got yourself a busy schedule. But isn't that reality? Teachers do this for a lot longer than six weeks at a time. It also really emphasized the point that good planning is key to keeping one's sanity.

Other key reflections were:

1. Have an activity planned for after a test. Textbook work does not work.

2. Having work periods during the last two periods of the day is not the best idea. The closer you get to the end of the day, the more structure you need in your lessons.

3. You don't have time to perfectly edit everything you do. Little mistakes will happen. Make it a good thing by giving candy to the first person to notice.

4. Candy is a classroom management technique!

5. Grade 8s are messier than the primary students during lunch.

March 2010: Here we go! Week 1

The fiirst week of practicum was exciting and intimidating. Intimidating because I have three classes of grade eights that I have to get to know and build a rapport with and six weeks of material that I need to plan for. Now, I can hear all of you core French teachers out there snickering because you probably teach twice as many kids, but coming from grade 6, it's an "upgrade".

My first couple of lessons were very thoroughly planned, however, the timing piece was not quite right - they all took twice as long as I had thought. In the end, it was great that they took longer because I got to extend one week of planned lessons into two weeks! We were working on photo essays and I had the advantage of having ideas and plans to work with, but also the flexibility to make the lessons my own. My associate teacher was so very helpful and understanding - there with ideas and support when I needed it, but also was okay with me taking risks and trying out new ideas!

I first had students analyze photos, without context or captions. I collected some Annie Liebowitz pictures and showed them in a PowerPoint presentation. They all had trouble guessing what their "topic," "purpose," and "point" were.

Next, I gave them a photo from a newspaper. Actually, I scoured six different newspapers for interesting photos about global issues. In the end I found 30 unique articles to bring in. I cut out most of the text so that they weren't analyzing the entire article, just the photo. I laid all of the articles across a table and let each student select a photo that resonated with them. The students analyzed the photograph and tried to figure out how it complimented the article. Finally, the students had to do a self-assessment and I provided an assessment and some formative feedback. However, the lessons I learned from this first assignment was that a) getting students who were absent caught up is harder than anticipated, b) you will need to chase down some students to hand in assignments, and c) grade 8 students are very complimentary to themselves when doing a self assessment.

My second assignment that I was proud of was a photo essay analysis using the two different versions of K'naan's Waving Flag song. The original version of the song was played to a collection of photos about children in war and poverty. The second photo essay was played to the official 2010 World Cup version of Waving Flag and showed photos about soccer and Africa. The lesson I learned from this assignment was that it helps to have a laptop in the room at all times. Students who were absent or didn't complete the assignment on time had to watch this again and again during class work time to get caught up.

So, as you can probably tell, I really set myself up for a lot of marking in my first week. It was mostly formative, but it adds up quickly. Welcome to grade 8!

March 2010: Planning to Rock

I still don't believe that I'm done the school portion of the program. As I finished my last assignment I swore that I was going to spend the entire March break planning every single lesson for the next six weeks. No problem, right? So, I just have to do the backwards planning thing we talked about in EU 405 (General Teaching Methods), right? I suspect that planning a subject is a little like planning your wedding - it's easier when you're doing it for someone else. Maybe that's just me, but because I wanted it to be perfect, I second-guessed every decision I made at first.

The good news is that grade 8 math (integers), was relatively straightforward. The combination of a text book and a curriculum that is pretty specific really helps with the planning process. The trick with integers will be how to make it fun and interesting.

On the other hand, Language Arts (LA), Global Issues, took a while to wrap my head around. As you may or may not know, the curriculum for LA covers things like reading, writing, oral and media literacy so two different teachers could cover the entire curriculum with entirely different subject matter. It will be very interesting to see how the planning goes for these two very different subjects. At least I'm getting experience with the two most "core" subjects of elementary school.

I am nervous and excited. I have already made several anchor charts. I scoured The Dollar Store and Wal-Mart for supplies. I made my own coloured integer tiles, my own giant thermometer and a number line. I haven't done this much craft work since I was in pre-school! No matter how much technology I'm familiar with, there are some things that need to be done the old-fashioned way.

February 2010: The Interview,...Dunh, Dunh, Dunh!

 I was fortunate enough to have an interview with the Waterloo Region District School Board today. I have been practicing answers in my head since I first got that phone call inviting me to the Board office. I had every buzz word worked into one anecdote or another. Did I get to use them all? No. So what advice can I give anyone who has yet to have their interview?

 First of all, don't forget to bring your reference names and numbers with you. I fortunately had mine on hand, but I didn't realize I was going to have to write them down for the interviewers.

 After completing the paper work I was promptly greeted by a Principal and escorted into a conference room, where I took a seat at the head of the table. I had the pleasure of interviewing with two very friendly and approachable female principals and they immediately put me at ease, although my heart was still racing.

 They asked me the questions that I was told to expect; questions on classroom management, working with others, planning/assessment - there were no surprises there. At the end of the interview, which lasted about 30 minutes, I tried to incorporate some of my portfolio into the conversation, although I didn't really get a chance to show much of it.

 Overall, I felt pretty good about interview and left feeling fairly positively about the process as I drove home. However, once I started going over the interview in my head, doubt crept in as I realized that I missed elaborating on some key things. I missed expanding on all of the forms of differentiation that I'm familiar with, and could have/should have slipped that into my question on assessment and planning. I also failed to mention the terms "diagnostic and formative assessment" in the same question, which was disappointing to realize since I had practiced answering that question in my head, over and over again. So when the interviewers get to the end of the interview and ask if you have any questions, my advice is to stop, think, and figure out what you practiced in your head and didn't say. That will be your only chance to recover.

 It's funny, all of the talk about graphic organizers and anchor charts this year - I could have really benefited from one of those in my interview room! I would have posted a word wall of buzz words, and made a graphic organizer of my anecdotes and their key messages, and I would have posted my portfolio, or "student work", all over the tables and walls to create a rich learning environment.

 Even though I missed some details, I'm hoping that the "big picture" was enough to get me on the elusive Occasional Teacher list. Wish me luck!

 ...and here's wishing the rest of you some positive vibes on your interviews. Go Laurier grads!