Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pursuing a Student

I read an article last semester about a teacher who spent a couple of days shadowing different students around.  For a full day, she went to their classes and did what they did.  I remember thinking that it was a brilliant idea.  Despite having gone through the school system, by the time teachers start teaching, they are far removed from elementary and secondary school life.  What they remember may not accurately represent what their students feel and think.  Teachers expect their students to arrive on time and ready for their classes but are then ignorant of what drama might be brewing or what happened the period before (or what might be coming the period after!).  Going from physical education to English will not be the same as going from math to English.

In her article, the teacher said that by the end of the day she felt exhausted.  It was a lot more tiring than she expected and a lot more sitting than she remembered.  (For the full article, click here).  At the time, I remember wanting to have that kind of experience.  It's important, I think, to be reminded of what it's like and to not distance ourselves from the students.  The elementary/high school routine is quite rigid and after going away to university and living "adult" life, it's a bit hard to get back into the structure.

I had the pleasure of "pursuing" a year seven (Ontarian grade 6 equivalent) last week and found it quite fun--probably more so because I am currently in a different school system and find a lot of things interesting.  The faculty coordinator told me that all Trainee-Teachers are required to follow at least one student, maybe even two, during the course of their practice teaching.  I really like this practice and found it so helpful.  I think that it should be mandatory in the Ontario system as well.

There are different advantages of pursuing a student.  As aforementioned, it is a good reminder of what school is like for a student. There are two other main reasons that I really enjoyed the experience.

The first being that in following a student, you might go to different places in the school--places that you wouldn't normally frequent.  All of the schools that I have visited have subject areas.  In following a student, you are then forced to see more of the school.  This is a way to learn a bit more about other departments and about teachers that you don't know. At my current host school, I am in the humanities department and have seen pretty much all history.  On my pursuit, I saw:

  • an English class where they were studying the Tempest
  • a religious education class (they were doing a test so I didn't really do much here)
  • a geography class (it was the solar eclipse which was fairly appropriate)
  • a music class (piano things and terms that I don't remember were used at length!)
  • a "Textile" class.  This was the most interesting for me, all though they were all fun and interesting to watch, this was completely new to me. I asked the students a lot of questions in this class and learned that it was a rotation class.  Over the course of the year, they do a unit on baking/cooking, an electronics unit, a construction unit, and their present textile unit.  Currently in the textile portion, they were making what they called puglies (click for a rough idea). Each student had to design, prepare the fabric and other materials and then create.  It was so cool to watch as they progressed toward their goals.

Second, related to this is seeing expectation levels across disciplines.  I am ever amazed at what we as humans can accomplish when we start a task.  As teachers, we set expectations of achievement for our students.  I think that in being locked into our own disciplines, we can lose track of what students are capable of--fall into old and degrading expectations.  Seeing what other teachers and other subject areas expect can help push forward.  During my pursuit, I saw students showing strengths in different subject areas and was reminded of all their potential.  There is so much that they can do when we raise the bar and push them further.  We just have to remember that they are capable of so much more than what we see in one period.

All in all, a wonderfully educative experience.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Send me a postcard: From "Zomerzet"

Well, I've been in England now for a week and a half.  Most of that time has been spent in the counties of Somerset and North Somerset where, as I'm told, the accent makes "s" sound more like "z" (although I haven't heard much of that).

It's a beautiful area with rolling terrain that is beginning to green again as spring comes once again.  Around placement, I have had the opportunity to explore more of the countryside as well as to travel to a few larger cities.  I've seen bits of Bristol which is a lovely city.  There are many beautiful buildings and views.  I also had the opportunity to see Birmingham which is a bit of a wonder.  While there are many older, stone buildings in Birmingham, they are juxtaposed next to newer pieces of architecture.  It's quite an interesting walk down some of the streets.

Sample of a geocache
Sample Geocache
One of the coolest things that I got to do so far is geocaching.  If you don't know what geocaching is, you can find out loads more here.  In short, it's a worldwide scavenger hunt with clues to all sorts of hidden caches online.  Scavenger hunts are one of my favourite activities and I'd been meaning to do some geocaching since I learned more about it in December, but things have been so busy.

To think that my first geocaching experience would be in another country!
One of the geocaches we found with its contents
Opened geocache

There were six of us and we went to Brean Down.  It was a gorgeous day.  The sun had come out and was shining brightly as we made our way along the beach.  The tide was out really far.  A couple of people drove their cars onto the beach and parked up along the back edge.  The Down itself is cool to see.  It's got character bumps, you could say.  When we at last got to the top of the Down, you could see for miles!  It was so stunning!

I can't wait to see where I'll be next!
View of the Down from the beach
View of the Down from the beach
View of the beach from the top of Brean Down
View of the beach from the top of Brean Down

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spot the Differences - Canadian vs British Schools

I knew coming over to England that the school system would be different, but I wasn't really sure what to expect.  In what ways would it be different?  My prior schema was based on snippets from TV shows/movies and books and those three don't really go into the nitty-gritty.  They show classrooms with desks, pupils and teachers.  Well, that's the same as Canada.

These last few days, I have in some ways been overwhelmed by the contrasts between the two systems.

The most noticeable difference, I think, is the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams which are national exams that all students have to take at the end of year 11 (equivalent to Canadian grade 10).  These exams cover all material that students covered in respective subject areas from years 9 through years 11 (grades 8-10).  That's three years of material on one exam!  I remember complaining with friends about having full-year university courses and having to study all of that material.

Because of these exams, there is a lot more pressure in the earlier grades and even from years 7 and 8 (grades 6 and 7), everything is pointed and directed toward the coming GCSEs.  Students are frequently told to study and to ensure that they grasp certain concepts/methodologies because they will need them for the exams.  As a result, I would say that the students seem a lot more serious.  The grade 10s I taught back in Canada are not under the same pressure as the year 11s and that is very clear in the differences of behaviour.  The sections of years 12 and 13 (grades 11 and 12) that I have seen also seem very more driven.  Their classes seem comparable to university seminars.

This pressure and drive is a benefit of the GCSE system, although it has its drawbacks as well.  The main drawback, I think, is in the choice of courses.  Because the GCSE are nation wide exams, students are limited in what areas they study.  In my course of interest, that's history.  So, in year 9 they look at the American West, in year 10 it is the history of Crime and Punishment and in year 11 it is protests and revision/study for the exams.  In the Canadian system, after the generic history of Canada in grade 10, students can choose to take Ancient Civilizations, American History, Medieval, etc. (depending on the school and resources).  I like that freedom of choice. Although, it might be nice to not have to write nor mark the final exam...

One of the students, upon learning that I come from Canada, asked me which system was better: the English or the Canadian.  I smiled slightly and said that it's not the right question to ask.  Both are different and each has it's own benefits and drawbacks.  "Which is better," I asked him, "chocolate or butterscotch?  Chocolate and butterscotch are two separate things.  Both are sweets, but different kinds.  It's hard to say one is better than the other.  They are both good and desirable in their own way."

The group of boys nodded thoughtfully and the youth smiled and replied, "I like how you said butterscotch."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Things I've learned in North Somerset

Well, it's not Canada, but I suppose that was a given.

I arrived at Heathrow airport in one piece last Friday and proceeded onward via bus to Bristol.  The first thing I noticed as we travelled along--and one of the main things I noticed when I went down to the states last April--was that I didn't recognize most of the stores or restaurants.  I never realize how much I rely on store brands/restaurants when creating my inner maps and coordinating myself in a city.  It's a lot harder when the "place-markers" are unfamiliar and hard to grasp.

Image of road in Yatton
One of the wider roads--though I suppose without a car you
don't have perspective comparison...
Second, after getting into a car and seeing the world from the front seat, I realized how much narrower the roads are.  Narrower AND twistier!  As a car comes toward us on the other side of the road, I wonder if we'll both fit abreast.  At times, it's scarily tight and in other places, you have to wait for the oncoming traffic to clear because you both don't fit.  And as my uncle says, Canadian cities are boring laid out on a grid, but here the roads and towns have character.  Curvaceous character.

Them winding roads definitely make for lovely landscapes.  Especially as North Somerset has lovely hills that pass like a rolling wave between the villages.  I was lucky enough to hike to the top of one of these hills to survey the countryside.  It was really windy that day, but so worth it.  My camera does not do it justice.
Image from the top of Crook Peak
View from near the top of Crook Peak in the Mendips.
If only the weather had been sunny...
I've learned that it's a weird feeling to stand out because of your accent. At first, I pass for normal, and then I say something and people look at me and really see me. There are moments where I have the strongest desire to camouflage myself so that I don't stand out. But I think it would be weirder if I tried to feign an accent. And, I would most likely fail which would lead to embarrassment.

Living near Toronto, I feel like different accents were very common and you met people from all over the world fairly often, but where I'm currently staying, everyone is from somewhere else in the UK making my accent truly different. The Canadian who probably sounds American to them, but oh well. It's definitely a new (and interesting) experience.

 And the adventure will continue...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's go time.

By now, I'm on my way to the airport.

It has been a roller-coaster of a week.  Physical ups and downs as well as emotional.  I've run so many last minute errands, done a multitude of laundry loads as I sorted what I need and what I don't need, packed and re-packed, and checked the weather for the thousandth time.

But the time is finally here.  

I'm all set.  Good to go. I think... But it's too late to go through everything one last time.  I'll have to trust that I've got my back covered.

Wish me luck and I'm off!

 It's go time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Never have I ever...

I don't know if you're familiar with this game, but if you're not, it's quite simple.  Sitting in a circle, everyone holds up their fingers.  Each signifies a life.  Every person then proceeds to say, "Never have I ever ________."(Example: Gone fishing, worn a dress, danced with a dog, eaten sushi etc).  Everyone else in the circle who has completed whatever the speaker named loses a life.  The goal of the game is to survive until the end, or as I like to say, the goal is to have lived the most boring/mundane life.  I like playing this game because it's a fun way to learn about other people and I see it as a challenge to think of things that everyone else has done, but you haven't.

(I've played games where it got really sexist really fast as both genders attacked the other with "never have I ever braided my hair/had a pony tail/worn makeup..." to "never have I ever worn boxers or briefs/played on an all male hockey team..." and in those cases, you might want to moderate a bit.)

One of my go-to phrases is "Never have I ever been on a plane."  I can usually knock a life off almost everyone else in the circle depending on where I am and who is playing.  My statement is usually followed by exclamations of surprise.  Twenty-two and never flown?  (Personally, I think that in all likelihood, most of the world's population has probably never flown on a plane... but anyways...).

In a couple of days, I will have to think of new statements to out people in the game.

Thursday night, I board my first plane to fly to the UK.  Excited?  Oh yeah. I've been waiting for this for a long time and I've been looking forward to this trip in particular since last year.  Nervous?  Check for that as well.  This first flight is also a solo flight and that's a little nervous-making.  I worry that I'll lose something or get lost in an airport somewhere.  Or what if I happen to be one of those people who gets sick while flying?  That'll suck.  I hope that's not me.

In any case, I cannot wait for my adventure to begin.  And with each step, I look forward to trying new things so that when I play Never have I ever again, I'll be in a rut to think of a good one.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

To Re-read a book?

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” ~ C.S. Lewis 

I wouldn't consider myself a big re-reader of books.  There's too many new books out in the world to spend a lot of time rereading what I have already read.   However, occasionally, I like taking a trip back down a trodden path.  Rereading a book is like having a reunion with an old friend.  It's like a get together of sorts where you reflect on times past--the good and maybe the bad--and then you evaluate how you've changed and perhaps how you've grown apart. There's a really good quote that says it so well, and yet alas, I can't find it.  Something along the lines of leaving a part of you between the pages so that upon the next reading, you not only encounter the characters once more, but your younger self as well.

As I said, I'm not a big re-reader, but sometimes I feel that after I leave a world of fiction behind, a part of me is tugged back to the story.  Like a spider's web that sticks to many surfaces forming a network of connections, I find my mind entwined with thoughts of the characters, the plot and the world.  I can only describe it as a pulling sensation.

Months or years after I've read the book, my thoughts will drift back to the book of interest and I'll feel the first tendrils of a pull.  The book has a hook trying to find purchase in my consciousness and the ideas slowly toy with my mind until they grip me completely.  I become consumed with thoughts of returning to that story--to get lost between its pages once again.  It's an odd feeling, but also a comforting one, like reuniting with that long lost friend.

"When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before." ~ Clifton Fadiman

This week, I have indulged in a re-read.  The 5th read, to be exact, of Tamora Pierce's Daughter of the Lioness book... saga? Series?  There are only two books and I'm not exactly sure what to call them.

I fell in love with Pierce's world of Tortall soon after entering and have read almost all of the related books at least twice.  (And more are said to be on their way, for which I am very excited!).  I find the characters are all so distinct and interesting.  They stand out and stand alone.  I also love how Pierce constructed Tortall.  She doesn't throw all the details about societal expectations/practices and politics at you in one go and I never felt overwhelmed in any book.  Instead, I always felt like I was told enough to form a complete picture and that the details fit well and added nicely together.

What I love about the Daughter of the Lioness duet is that unlike the three other current main Tortall quartets (right term? I don't know.  Let's roll!), is that the plot focuses a lot on espionage and the need to manipulate and work behind the scenes.

Rough Synopsis: Young Alianne Cooper of Pirate's Swoop wants to be a field agent.  Ordinary noble life is too boring and she is not interested in Knighthood like her mother.  However, her parents think that it's too dangerous and would keep her away from the spygame.  Unforeseen events have her kidnapped by slave traders and taken to the Copper Isles where she makes a wager with a god to keep two young women alive in exile throughout the summer.  Naturally, nothing will go smooth and easy.  Let's throw in some crows, some racism and unrest between the conquering nobles and island natives and a prophecy centuries old that talk of a twice royal queen for good measure.  Oh, and we can't forget suspicious heads of state who are out to rule at any cost.

Le sigh.

I am ready to go for round 6! Well, maybe I'll wait a few years first to make the reunion all the more sweet.

If you have any books that you drift back to time and time again, I'd love to give them a go if I haven't already!  My to-read book list can never be too long! 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Halfway There

Two weeks done and two weeks to go!

I am currently enjoying my placement block, although it is a whirlwind.  This week, the other teacher candidates and I are taking on a full teaching load which makes for a lot of lesson planning and prep work.  The big thing I've learned from this block so far is that it's good to consult with colleagues. Bouncing ideas off each other and sharing resources or helping to improve a resource; a teacher is always and should always interact with their team.  I feel as though I could burn out very quickly if I insisted on making new things for every unit and activity that I planned.  But, in working together, I learn about things that have worked in the past and get almost too many resources thrown my way.  I am so very grateful.

But as much as I am enjoying placement, I can't wait for the two weeks to be done! In two weeks, I will be in England for my alternative placement.  I am so excited for that!  I have never flown before and am looking forward to my first big international experience (I've been to the States, but I feel like in some ways, that doesn't count).  I am counting down the days and getting busy with different prep work that needs done (e.g. planning my budget, talking to the bank, and getting needed supplies).  It's a bit of a struggle to focus on the now when the near future has such greatness coming.

WOOT WOOT! (^.^)

I'll have to do my best to work hard until then.  For now, I guess it's back to lesson planning I go.

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...