Where I’ve Been & Where I’m Headed…

I cannot imagine a more terrifying and exhilarating moment, than the one where I open my classroom door and invite in my very first class. The children filled with the anticipation of a new teacher – stomachs full of butterflies, the parents faces coated with excitement and worry for their children on this first day of school and I with a huge smile and a gut stirring together nervousness, fear, and my dream coming true. These parents are entrusting in me to teach, nurture, coach, discipline, excite, engage, and create a love of learning for these young ones, who are the most precious and important people in the world to them. When this moment comes, it will not be my first time teaching, or in a classroom, but it will be different from all my other experiences, and I want nothing more than to be in that moment – clammy hands, a sick stomach, and all. I believe I am on the path to being a great educator, who will continue to learn and expand my horizons along with my students each and everyday. While I have already had many different pedagogical experiences, which have given me a vast amount of knowledge, I still have many fears and much to learn about becoming a classroom teacher, but I know that I have multiple pedagogical strengths that will assist me in a successful journey to that first day in my classroom.

I am a strong believer that life experiences can make a person a better version of themselves. The more experiences one has endured, the broader one’s view, and in turn the more open to new ideas one is, which is of utmost importance for a teacher. Through my different pedagogical, and not directly pedagogical, experiences I have been in touch with a variety of countries, ethnicities, cultures, religions, socioeconomic statuses, models of schooling, subject areas, and extracurricular activities. I have also received education in a variety of ways, studying an array of subjects, at different levels, with different age majorities, in many different landscapes. I feel the opportunities that I have been granted and have taken advantage of, have allowed me to be more aware of the distinct differences that are present in education, especially in the multicultural mecca that is the lower mainland. Teachers need to take advantage of this mosaic environment. Every student is different, every instructor is different, every class is different, and every day is a new one. I have learned through my journey that an educator needs to be able to leave their baggage at the door; a good teacher can forgive, empathize, sympathize, and move forward with students – never holding onto a grudge, or preconceived impression. These differences are what make education such an amazing career field. Each day is different than the next – you never know where your day might lead you when children surround you.

Through my experience as an Educational Assistant I have gained a multitude of skills, one of the most important is listening, something I feel is often undervalued. As a teacher, it really is not about you; it is about the learner. Often students need someone to talk to, the circumstances are always different, but working in a school you become a trusted adult for a large amount of pupils. I have learned that I always need to have the time to listen to a student, no matter how insane my day might feel. While listening, I always make sure I try to make appropriate eye contact, nod, and allow my students the time they need to put their thoughts together. Depending on what the content they choose to share is, I aim to direct them to an appropriate person in the school whom has an expertise in the situation, that could be a counselor, childcare worker, or principal. I know from my experience as a student that when I have had teachers who I feel care about me as a person and as a student I have enjoyed education much more, and have been motivated to work harder. I feel those teachers were ‘good teachers’; they were student centred – always putting their students needs first. I want to take this way of thinking with me, through my teacher-education program and into my classroom. Students should always come first, that begins with simply listening to what they have to say.

I spent one year teaching KG-1 (pre-kindergarten) in the United Arab Emirates at an International School. I came back to Canada after that year abroad having learned more about educating and who I am, than I ever thought possible. I think the most important lesson I gained in that time overseas was the importance of a well thought out plan for each and every part of teaching. This includes, but is not limited to: curricula, units, lessons, breakdowns, assessments, evaluations, breaks, management, expectations, and recording. I was placed into a classroom of three year olds who had never been to school before, most of who spoke no English, and was expected to teach them. I was not given curricula or expectations of the educational outcomes, or resources to complete this unknown goal with. I struggled through, spending my nights creating resources from construction paper, computer printouts, markers, glue, and searching for activities and worksheets online. I talked to the other teachers, who were the best resource, and slowly pulled my classroom together. I was missing one vital piece of information though: at the end of the school year there would be a test (the same for all twelve KG-1 classes) to see how your students were performing. Coming from North America, and a limited amount of experience with this age group, I had no idea there would be a standard test for preschoolers! I had taught my students the sounds and the names of the alphabet, along with the numbers from one to ten and what they stood for, a variety of animals and the sounds they make, and my students learned through my speaking, so could speak some English! I thought I accomplished a fair bit. Did I teach about seeds growing? Did my students know all different types of vehicles? Simply, no, and their test results showed that. I learned that I always need a plan for all aspects of my classroom, gain all assessment policies up front, and a back up plan will never hurt.

I believe one of my biggest fears stems from my experience in the Far East; I do not want to be in such a situation again. I want to be prepared, know my curricula, know my units, know my lessons, know my assessments, and provide my students with the education they deserve. I never want students going into the next grade worried that they are not prepared somehow because of my lack of attention to the expectations for the grade. I want to be sure that all PLOs will be covered sufficiently. I feel anxious when I think about all of this since I know, having been in classrooms, it can be stressful trying to fit everything into the school year, especially while trying to create opportunities for exciting projects, and allowing time for special events and field trips. I do think this ‘behind the scenes’ part of teaching becomes easier with practice and familiarity of the curricula, which I will gain in time.

Another fear that I am confident will fade with experience is creating clear and concise rubrics for myself to be a fair and consistent marker for my learners. I feel with language arts specifically being so subjective, it can be hard to not pick on one issue that they student may have difficulty with and mark accordingly. I feel sitting with experienced teachers and drawing from them on the expectations they have for students, and how they translate that into a marking scheme will be an asset. The more time I spend engaging in marking writing assignments, the easier it will become. I feel this is the case for many of the other fears I have as well, but I am confident I will overcome them all in time – I just need to remember to allow myself the time to get in a rhythm, and not stress about it. I need to remind myself that it is normal and healthy to have fears about new endeavors.

I know that I have pedagogical strengths that will allow me to become a great teacher. I believe teaching is a combination of natural talent and putting science to work. I know that I have a natural presence with children, I am drawn to them and they respond to me – this comes to me naturally. My time emerged in different cultures has expanded my understanding of many different ‘normals’, which will no doubt be an asset in a multicultural classroom. This natural ability and exposure will assist me along the way. I do not doubt that I can put the science to work well, as long as I make sure I am continually organized and I allow time for myself to plan.

Along with connecting to students, I am skilled in being aware of multiple things going on around me; I can pick up on body language quite well. This will, most definitely, help me in the classroom, since teachers need to be extremely aware of all levels of socialization in their classrooms. I feel this being an ability that comes to me naturally, will make keeping aware of situations in my classroom easier since I will not need to think about it as much, and can focus on other teaching duties. This is not to say that I am overconfident; I know that I need to try with every aspect of managing a classroom, even if I feel something does come fairly easily to me.

I want to continue to learn and by being a teacher, I have the opportunity to learn from my students everyday. I want to share my passion for education and exploration with future generations. Children think in ways that adults are incapable of – their experiences are more limited so they can imagine, dream, and create in ways adults cannot. I want to be surrounded by that curiosity and excitement for life. I look forward to using the knowledge I have gained during my pedagogical experiences, facing and overcoming my fears, and allowing my strengths to grow in my journey as an educator. I want to be a teacher who inspires, and touches lives – if I can make a difference for one child, I will have succeeded, if I can make a difference for many, my dream will have come true.

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Transitioning…

 

When a woman in her late twenties is described, it is most often a description of waiting for a ring, an engagement, a wedding and a marriage, or a pregnancy announcement, accompanied by all the excitement that goes along with that period of a woman’s life. I, a woman in her late twenties, am nowhere near where I am ‘supposed’ to be at this point in my life. I am an undergrad, and I could not be happier.

When I graduated high school, I went directly to college. I did what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I followed the linear developmental path that society expects, but did not know my direction; consequently, I decided that it was not where I belonged after one semester. I broke away from the linear developmental expectations of society. My parents were far from impressed. I was instructed to get a full time job if I would not be studying, and to their shock and dismay, I did. Within six months I had saved money and was headed overseas – there was no looking back. Instead of going through school in an expected linear journey, I realized my need to address my personal flourishing first, and embraced it. I came back with anticipation for the next trip.

On my next trip to Europe, I fell in love with an Australian. What followed during the next year was a long distance relationship, while working full time, and studying. I was in an Educational Assistant program, due to my parent’s insistence, and me feeling some monochronic societal pressures. One might think I would continue my submissive behaviour, and get a job after finishing, but following monochronic time, which Helman (2005) describes to be “something tangible, as well as linear,” (p. S54), is not I. Instead I saved and headed to Bangkok on a one-way ticket, with a year’s worth of travel insurance, alongside my two best friends. Allowing myself this freedom from the monochronic path I expected myself to be on, which is so frequently prescribed and followed, created an opportunity for me to flourish in finding myself, become stronger, and more clearly directed, all in my own developmental time.

After six weeks in Southeast Asia, a million laughs, a few cries, a stolen wallet, and a new appreciation for the people of this region, I headed to West Australia for a beach Christmas. A month later, I ventured over to the east coast to spend time with friends, and journeyed down to the land of Kiwis for a quick jaunt, before deciding I wanted to be able to make money while living this nomad, and non-monochronic lifestyle. I enrolled in a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course in Prague and was headed back to Europe!

For one month I was part of an extreme factory model program. It ran like clockwork and if you could not keep up, you were out. It was the most intense educational experience I have encountered, with some of the most dedicated educators I have witnessed. This experience allowed me to reminisce on all the pressures students face when expected to perform. I feel this was important, and is important for educators to be brought back to that level periodically, so they can relate, and are more accessible to their learners. I left my new life long friends with some anticipation to put my lessons to work, and headed home to surprise my family. I was on the hunt for a teaching job overseas. Within a month I had an incredible job offer in Sharjah for the coming school year, and had two months to prepare for my imminent departure.

My year teaching in Sharjah changed my outlook on learning environments. I arrived with my background in special needs and English, but was faced with a structure that allowed no room for students who needed adaptations: a strict factory model. I completed the Cambridge International Teaching and Training Diploma, which forced me to reflect on my own classroom practices. These combined experiences allowed me to come to the realization that I truly love teaching. I came to this conclusion in my own polychronic time, which Helman (2005) describes to be “a ‘point’ at which relationships, social interactions or events converge,” (p. S55). I love being in the classroom, seeing sparks go off in children’s eyes when they finally grasp a concept, seeing their excitement and anticipation for knowledge, putting together new ideas and the anticipation of trial and error, and having the chance to be silly. I love the learning process.

I came home after my year overseas ready to settle down. I got a job as an Educational Assistant, and a skating instructor, and bought my own place. I was satisfied for a period, but continued to question whether I should go back to school. This internal itch I had was continually scratched by administrators, teachers I worked with, and by my mom, all who thought I should go back to school. So after working as an Educational Assistant for four years, I decided to take the chance and enrolled in university, but first I would go on one more adventure.

In the summer of 2012, I headed to India for two months to volunteer at two different projects, one in northern India and the other in the south, both teaching English. Between all the teaching, eating, shopping, and sightseeing I fell head over heels in love with this magnificent country. The children I was privileged enough to spend time with were so incredibly inspiring; their determination to learn this language that can allow them more opportunities was amazing. This experience caused me to arrive back in Canada for a new school year, at work and in university, more determined than ever to succeed.

So here I am, in my late twenties, single with a mortgage, a cat that I brought back from the Gulf, a full time job, a full time course load, and against all Western societal expectations – I am happy. It may not be my monochronic time, but it is indeed my polychronic, developmental time. I am living my good life. I am following my passion when it is right for me. I am allowing myself to flourish in my own time, my polychronic time.

Since returning to the world to of post-secondary education with an end goal, I have been an extremely determined student. I want to be here, and I want to absorb as much as I can. I want to be an active student. I feel that I have life experience that can bring something to my classes, and opinions with merit. I am intrinsically and extrinsically motivated; intrinsically, since I am interested in what I am learning and take great pride in knowing more about what I am doing, and extrinsically, since I want to be accepted into the Paraprofessional Linking Program at Simon Fraser University. I am getting a true education right now in university, as I am tying together my experiences in the workplace with the lessons I am being taught and the ideas I am being exposed to in the classroom at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I am driven, and motivated to be here, and look forward to a lifetime in the classroom – at the front of the room, or as a one of the pupils. I do not believe one should ever stop expanding their horizons. 

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Bibliography

Helman C. G. (2005). Cultural aspects of time and ageing. EMBO reports, 6(Suppl. 1), S54–S58. doi: 10.1038/sj.embor.7400402