goal setting and forward thinking

One thing I have found surprising in this, my first year of teaching, is how early teachers start thinking about the next school year. Once January rolled around, staff at the school were asking me if I planned to stay at HBCS another year. By the time April hit, schedules and time tables were being created — heck, I even heard talk of a teacher photocopying and prepping handouts for the fall!

Now that I think about it more, however, it doesn’t seem as surprising for a couple of reasons:

  1. Teachers are very organized. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that they are looking ahead and planning in advance. We do it all the time; it’s a force of habit.
  2. Doing some planning ahead before the school year is over means less planning to do over summer – and more hours to spend soaking up the sun.
  3. [Without getting too terribly psychobabbly here…] Perhaps this is also the beginning of teachers starting to mentally and emotionally let go of the students that they currently have. After spending an entire year with the same faces, you get attached! To make this bittersweet ‘end of an era’ easier, maybe thinking ahead to the new students you’ll have next year helps to ease the change?

I also think that this concept of ‘forward-thinking’ seems so strange to me is because I am still a first year teacher taking things, in most cases, day-by-day. I am so focused on slogging through each day and caught up in planning what I am doing next week (or, let’s be honest, tomorrow) that my forward gaze cannot possibly be too occupied with something FOUR MONTHS from now! My guess is that after a few years of teaching under my belt, I, too, will become caught up in this phenomenon.

One thing that I have been accumulating for next year is goals! One of the most exciting parts of being a teacher is the opportunity for constant re-invention and self-improvement. While I am certainly proud of what I have accomplished (and survived – haha!) in my first year of teaching, I certainly don’t expect to have this mind-bogglingly complex vocation down to a science yet (although I do have to remind myself of this once in a while!). Heck, I hope that I still feel that this way 30 years in! If I ever have feelings of comfortability and mastery, I think it’s time to switch some things up and try some new strategies.

innovation

So, yes, I already have a list of things that I would like to change/tweak/scrap/try next year!

Last week, the students had a day off of school, but the staff was busy at work during our SIP (School Improvement Planning) Day. I always find these days a confusing mix of frustration over battling seemingly insurmountable obstacles and indescribable inspiration to improve my practice. Luckily, being an optimist, I always try to latch on to the latter feelings. I felt especially inspired after our last SIP Day, where I presented a technology tool to the entire staff that they may be interested in using in their classroom (if you’re interested, it’s called Plickers – click to check it out!). I was flattered when I heard from several teachers in the following days, thanking me for introducing them to the website/app and sharing that they were going to try it with their own classes! As a new teacher, it is easy to feel like you are always the one asking for help and soaking up others’ expertise. It was comforting to know that I have a lot to share with my colleagues, even as a ‘green’ member to the staff.

I left school that day energized and forward-thinking. As a student in elementary, high, and post-secondary school, I always strived for excellence and, due to the way our education system is currently run, it was easy to determine if I had, indeed, achieved said “excellence.”  However, becoming a teacher (while I am still very much a learner and a student of this career and its intricacies) begs the question: “How do I know if I am achieving excellence?” 

Obviously, I don’t receive letter grades, percentages, or marks for my work (and from an assessment-minded perspective, one doesn’t require these trivial things to understand if they are doing well or not, anyways). So I made some goals that I want to achieve in order to attain my personal standard of excellence:

  1. I want to continue to evolve and strengthen my teaching practice (This one is fairly generic and simple, but my recent involvement in #saskedchat has gotten me thinking a lot about parts of my practice that I would like to focus on in the future)
  2. I want to receive an award for being an excellent teacher at some point in my career (This is certainly a much bigger goal, but even if I never actually achieve it, simply working towards it will make me a better teacher, which I am definitely content with as an alternative. But, hey, a girl can dream, right?)
  3. I want to obtain my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education (This one shocked me, too! Going through university, I always said “I don’t want to go back to school. I want to be a classroom teacher; all I need for that is a Bachelor’s Degree, so once I have that, I am done.” However, getting my position in Pre-K has sparked a new sub-passion that I truly want to explore and extend. In true Kara fashion, I have already extensively looked into this, and my current plan is to start taking an online Master’s of Education in Early Childhood Education through UBC in the fall of 2018 – if all goes according to plan! Yes, folks, you heard it here first! I am truly a student at heart; I am already thrilled at the prospect of returning to the university atmosphere and mindset of learning voraciously, pursuing avenues of passion, and sharing these passions with likeminded people.)

No matter what the future of my career holds, I know that it is going to be an exciting ride! And I hope you look forward to me continuing to share my journey of “Learning to Teach” here, in my little corner of the internet. I truly appreciate anyone and everyone who has ever given this little blog a slice of their time and attention. After all, what good is going on a journey if you don’t have people to share the story with?

journey

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations and thank you! I realize that I was particularly wordy and “fluffy” today – sorry about that [more “sorry, not sorry” actually; this is my only outlet for writing nowadays – gotta flex those vocabulary muscles somewhere!]

Until next time,

-KKF

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ESL/EAL/ELL hmmmm moment

Does the ‘S’ in ESL stand for Second or Subsequent?

Does the ‘A’ in EAL stand for Additional or Acquired?

Which term is politically correct? Do they all mean the same thing? Which one should I use? And for goodness’ sake, why do they keep changing the abbreviation?!

EAl lang tree

These are some of the questions that I have asked myself many times since becoming a student in the Faculty of Education. In the past few years, all things ESL/EAL/ELL have become much-discussed topics. As future teachers, we hear “Your classrooms will include high percentages of immigrant students for whom English is not their first language” so often, it is no wonder that this is on our minds! The shifting focus of ‘person-first’ language in regards to students with special needs has made me think about the language we use to define these students who have a language other than English as their first.

Here was the thought that popped into my head last night:

ELL = English Language Learner. But some students who are labelled ‘ELL’ have a proficient command of the English language. Comparatively, many people who are raised with English as their first language do not use it properly. So it seems rather unfair to call students who have a differing mother tongue ‘learners’ of the English language when, really, we are ALL English language learners. 

As a self-proclaimed “Grammar Policewoman” and English enthusiast, I am often drawn to online quizzes with titles such as: “These are 100 vocabulary words that high school graduates of today should know. Do you know them all?” and “Can you recognize these common grammatical/spelling errors?” Admittedly, even I (as someone who prides herself in being knowledgeable about English language in general) learn new vocabulary words and obscure grammatical rules. A native English speaker with university education, even I continue to be an English language learner (and I will never cease to be).

So, my question is: Is “English Language Learner” truly the best phrase to define our students who speak other languages before English? I truly believe that all of my students, and all members of society, are English Language Learners. Labelling only immigrant families as ELLs supports a power imbalance, placing native English speakers, “those who have already learned all there is to learn about English,” above those still learning it.

EAL hello

So… Which term do I prefer?

I can understand why we have stepped away from the term ESL, as it was most often taken to mean “English as a Second Language,” which was an unfair representation of students for whom English was the third, fourth, fifth, or higher language in their repertoire. If we change the ‘S’ to instead stand for Subsequent, however, this abbreviation becomes more open-ended.

I would argue that EAL meaning “English as an Acquired Language” would apply to every English speaker out there, as we all had to acquire English at some point (whether at age 1 or 15).

Personally, I believe that “EAL” (English as an Additional Language) is the most fitting way to describe these students. It places both English and the preceding language(s) in a positive light. The word “Additional” carries the connotation that it was another language added into the student’s repertoire: a plus, a bonus. It does not undermine the primary language; English is not the language of utmost importance, but another addition into an already rich background. It does not state whether English is the second, third, fourth, fifth language the student learned, but merely that it was not the first. It is for these reasons that I will use EAL as my abbreviation of choice when referring to my students who have added English to theDVDir list of spoken languages.

Put into metaphorical terms, EAL refers to a student’s known languages much like a DVD, with English being the Additional or Bonus Features on the disc. You don’t originally buy the DVD for the Bonus Features, you buy it for the movie (the primary or first known language)! But the Bonus Features are there as a surprise, a little extra treat. Similarly, we have to value students’ mother tongues first and foremost, as they are the Main Feature in the child’s linguistic package.

What are your thoughts on the ESL/EAL/ELL debate? Please leave me a comment to let me know!

Until next time,

-KKF

accidental ageism

I haven’t blogged in so long, I almost forgot the little rush of giddy I get when I start typing out a post. Needless to say, it’s great to be back in the blogosphere!

A little update: I have moved home for the summer and am waitressing at a local restaurant (and boy, it is quite an eye-opening life experience for a 20 year old who has never served before), which I find to be enjoyably fast-paced and pleasing for the pocketbook.

This is just going to be a short post about a tongue-in-cheek moment I had the other day while at work: I had finished serving a table of four (two young children and two older adults), and when the woman from the table came to the till to pay, I was making conversation, as is customary. Casually, and not thinking anything of it, I asked her, “Out for supper with the grandchildren?” Imagine my embarrassment and guilt when she answered, “Actually they are mine. Surprising at my age, isn’t it?” with a small laugh. Mortified into a loss of words, I just gave her what, I hope, looked like a crinkly-eyed smile rather than the grimace I felt inside.

After she left, I couldn’t help but kick myself for my wrongful assumption. Granted, this circumstance of subconscious labelling wasn’t especially harmful or degrading in comparison to others, but it was definitely a reminder to myself that, no matter how much I have learned about stereotyping and discrimination, I am still human, make these mistakes, and can’t possibly know someone from a glance.

This situation actually reminds me a lot of a video that went viral a few weeks ago. It involves a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent that really blows some stereotypes out of the water. If you haven’t already seen it, I suggest you give it a watch:

And here is one of my absolute favourites about judging people from a glance and how inaccurate it is:

Hope you enjoyed this ‘food for thought’ entry! Have you ever had an embarrassing ‘assumption’ moment?

 

technique doesn’t make a teacher

Image

This is the image that many people will automatically think of when they hear ‘teacher.’ But is standing at the front of the classroom, lesson plan in hand really capturing the breadth and depth of the teaching profession?

This week, I read an article (I included the link at bottom of this post) by Parker J. Palmer titled “The Heart of a Teacher.” Although this piece had many memorable messages, the one phrase that I connected most with was:

“good teaching cannot be reduced to technique”

As my peers and I are now approaching the end of our second year (and therefore, the halfway point in completing our degree), I feel that there is a slowly rising panic inside of many of us because we have not had very much explicit instruction or practice regarding how to lesson plan or actually teach a class.

This quote really made me rethink the imminent importance of learning these things. You can have the best lesson plan in the world, but will it truly matter or make a difference if you don’t know how to incorporate social justice and anti-oppressive practices into your teaching practice? Are you actually fulfilling your job as an educator by merely planning activities for children to learn from if they are never relevant to students’ lives and real world issues?

So, to my fellow future teachers: take a deep breath and realize the merit of the strong foundation being built for us. We are challenging and reshaping our personal beliefs and ideas about teaching; we are understanding the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our practice; we are questioning the constructed ideas of students, teachers, classrooms, and schools that our experiences as students have created and perpetuated.

When we came into this program, perhaps we viewed lesson planning and organization of learning experiences as the sole duty of a teacher, but I think now we all realize that our future careers are much more complex than we may have originally believed. Rather than worrying about when we are going to learn the ins and outs of managing our own classrooms, focus on what’s important about what we are learning right now and what we have already learned in the program. I think that a teacher who is in tune with their inner values has already mastered a large portion of being a successful educator. All the rest will come with experience (which, don’t worry, we will get A LOT of in our next two years as pre-interns and interns).

For now, just enjoy the journey – and don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve already come.

-KKF

http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/heart-of-a-teacher

why am i (really) here?

I wrote an autobiography about what moments in my life led me to become a teacher and now, in true teacher fashion, I am going to reflect on what I wrote. The main aspect we were to focus on was our aversion to addressing our race, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexuality. 

In my autobiography, I did address these parts of my identity, but I took a questioning lens. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

“Was I unknowingly steered into this field by society because of my identity as a white, middle class, heterosexual female? While I like to think that my passion for education is all my own, I can’t deny the fact that a large portion of the teacher population is made up with those who identify themselves the same way.” 

(I also addressed this question in a previous blog post, “just a little tuesday afternoon thinking…” from March 19th, 2013 if you want to hear some more of my thoughts on this matter) 

So while I did let the reader know who I am in regards to these identifiers, why didn’t I include an outright proclamation of these things as the very first sentence, or in the first paragraph? When we introduce ourselves in real life, we usually don’t have to say, “Hi, my name is ______ and I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual female.” And my question is, why not? We can’t determine any one of these things just by looking at someone. There are people in the world who may self-identify as black even though their skin may look to be a lighter shade. There are those who feel they were born in the body of the opposite gender of who they really are – so while they may look male on the outside, they self identify as a woman. We can’t judge socioeconomic status or sexuality by merely looking at someone, either. So why don’t we introduce these things about ourselves?

Obviously, it is not a cultural norm. But WHY not? Is it because only privileged people who are close to us get to know some of these deeply personal things (like sexuality)? Is it because we are embarrassed of a part of who we are? Is it because we expect people to know these things without us saying them? It is interesting to think of an alternate universe in which we are open about these fundamental parts of our identity. While this (most likely) will never catch on in society, it does make us question if we are hiding pieces of our identity from ourselves for some reason.

As a future teacher, I think that uncovering these pieces of ourselves is an important stepping stone into truly knowing yourself – which is the first step to realizing and appreciating differences as a window to anti-oppressive education.

news awareness, gender equity, and music’s influence – oh my!

Over the past few days, a few things have come to the attention that I thought would be worthy of sharing with all of you:

News Awareness This one is a personal development target for myself. I have never been one who turns on the the news on TV to catch up with national and global happenings, mostly because I find the news to be very disheartening, monotonous, and skewed in its representation of different perspectives. However, I have realized recently that, as a teacher, I have a responsibility to keep up with important current events that my students may have been hearing about and have questions about that we can address as a class. As of now, if a student came up to me and asked, “Teacher, what’s happening in Ukraine?” I would have no way to answer them. That is not what I want for my future classroom. So I have perused the App Store on my phone and downloaded a handful of news apps that I am trying out in order to spark myself to get with the times and avoid future embarrassment over my obliviousness to recent news stories. I’ll let you know which ones I have found most helpful after I have given them all a fair shot!

Gender Equity In my ECS 210 class, groups of us are doing Inquiry Projects on a topic of our choice, and mine is “Gender Equity.” My instructor (check out her blog and Twitter account!) lent our group a couple of textbooks to pull ideas from, and I found one particularly insightful: “Rethinking Early Childhood Education” (by Rethinking Schools, Ed. Pelo, 2008).

Image (this is what the book looks like)

Here are just a few of the points that I gleaned from my short time reading:

  • Science kits in toy stores had NO female figures (girls or women) on the boxes –> What does this say about our society’s beliefs about girls’ interests and capabilities?
  • The word ‘tomboy’ makes a girl into a boy, simply because she doesn’t act in a stereotypically associated ‘girly’ way –> just because of her actions, she can no longer retain her identity as a girl? Is it, then, abnormal for girls to be ‘tomboys’? And what could be a possible alternative for this word ‘tomboy’? I’d argue that she is a girl just as much as her female classmate dressing up as a princess, wouldn’t you?
  • Game Boys have a similar effect –> Does this mean girls can’t play with them? Do you think a video game console today would be named something similar that rejects one gender? Is this just an innocent mistake, or does it have deeper repercussions?
  • The children’s story “The Three Little Pigs” creates a hierarchy of living spaces. Houses made of straw or sticks are significantly symbolized as ‘less than’ those of bricks, when people in other countries live in these types of ‘lesser’ homes. –> Yes, this one isn’t related to gender, but I found myself so taken aback that I just had to include it. It makes me wonder what other, hidden messages we are portraying to children in classic fairy tales and fables…
  • Something that I realized as a result of this lens of gender… There have been types of Lego that are specifically advertised towards girls because they have pink and purple pieces and all the sorts of things that little girls will (presumably) like. Aren’t these blatantly ‘girly’ toys just perpetuating these stereotypes, though? Why can’t girls play with normal Lego? This is creating the idea that girls can’t use boys’ toys and must have their own, separate, girly-fied versions. I see no reason for boys to have superhero dolls to nurture or girls to have frilly Lego to build princess castles with. I don’t think we need to change the nature of the toy in order to try and market it towards a certain audience.

girl lego

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music’s Profound Influence While listening to an “Epic Film Scores” playlist on my Songza app (which I HIGHLY recommend that everyone download!), I could easily recognize which movies certain tunes came from – sometimes within just a few bars. As a huge lover and advocate of music, I enjoyed this simple reinforcement of how easily music sticks with us and embeds itself into our memories – often infused with a deep, emotional connection. This is the driving force behind my firm belief in using music daily in my future classroom – if a song I sing in a Grade 1 class can be recognized fifteen years later when my students are in high school because of something they learned from it, or the way it made them feel, then I am definitely doing my job right. Music is such a powerful force, why not harness it for learning?

Thanks for reading! Until next time,

-KKF

self comparisons

This is going to sound sort of weird, but the inspiration for this post is an Air Wick product… 

Image

On the back of the can, I noticed that it said, “Gets rid of odour better than previous Air Wick products.” That really made me go “hmmm…” So often, we see the big name brands comparing themselves to their competition, so I think that when brands reflect and improve their previous products, it comes off a lot more sincerely. 

And then I realized… That is what teachers need to do. Rather than comparing ourselves to others, we need to look back on what we’ve done, identify things that could be better next time, and actually put in the time and effort to improve our practice. Then and only then, we can advertise that we are reflective, fresh, humble enough to admit our mistakes, and determined enough to fix them. 

-KKF