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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the first cut is not the deepest

i love the holiday season and all that it brings. It is a wonderful reminder of all the blessings in our lives, a time to enjoy the company of our family and friends, and an opportunity to look back over the year and make wishes for the future. As this time of year is so full of generous and thoughtful gift giving, however, it can also bring up the difficult and complex issue of socioeconomic status and its vast disparities.

Teachers get to witness and take part in so many wonderful moments in children’s lives, but our job also has its fair share of saddening experiences. Seeing a student wear the same outfit to school all week tugs at teacher heart strings because we care so deeply. This year, I had my first experience of wanting to hug a student extra tight or take them home with me. You find yourself thinking about that student throughout your day, prime evidence of how teachers take their work home with them each night.

At first, I caught myself thinking, “it’s just hard this time because it is my first personal experience with this,” but then I realized that I will always feel the same way about future students. In this case, the first cut is not the deepest; every single cut is equally deep and affective. I also wondered why I only noticed this in a classroom setting this year. Maybe no one I went to elementary or high school with had these struggles? That, unfortunately, seems a little idealistic. I think the more likely answer is that I was oblivious before; I had no knowledge or need to notice these differences and how they affected students. It is amazing how much stepping into a teacher role can change your view and open your eyes.

On a brighter note, I believe that the teaching profession allows all students the opportunity to succeed and feel proud of their strengths and accomplishments. Teachers can make school a wonderful experience for their students. Perhaps our education system is not quite there yet, but I think that school should be a place of equity and fairness when the world is not.

I think it is also important to note that there is a misconception linking low socioeconomic status to unhappiness. Kids don’t need brand name clothes or an iPad to be happy. This is also a wonderful notion to share with students: some things in life are worth a lot more than what money can buy us and we don’t need material things to make our lives better.

In closing, I have included a few little gems I shared on Facebook in the past few weeks that I thought connected well to this topic. They are both definitely worth a few minutes of your time to take a look at. Warning: they both tug at the heart strings.

Why I Hate Going to My Students’ Games by Love, Teach

A wonderful blog post by a teacher about how socioeconomic status can affect school sports teams.

Kid Receives Cutting Board as a Gift video

This is such a sweet little video. The little boy is from a family that struggles with money and he receives a cutting board for his birthday. He graciously thanks his parents for the gift. Little does he know that his mother has saved up enough money to get him a tablet. His reaction warmed my heart and truly made me realize how much we take things for granted these days.

Thanks for reading and have a fabulous holiday season! Don’t forget to take a moment to realize all that you have to be thankful for which cannot be found underneath the Christmas tree.

-KKF

fear of failure

I don’t remember very much about my year as a Kindergarten student. One day in particular, however, remains very clear in my memory…

We had just come back from winter break, and the teacher wanted us to draw a picture of something we had done while school was out and accompany our picture with a sentence. She created an example on the board for us to see, drawing a picture of someone with figure skates on their feet and wrote “I went skating” below. 

Everyone quickly set to work on their masterpieces. After pondering all of the activities I had engaged in over the break, I isolated a moment of walking through the mall with my family, and drew a picture of myself holding hands with my dad while shopping. When it came to writing my sentence (which, as Kindergarteners, none of us had mastered; we were simply expected to try and fabricate something that resembled letters and words underneath our drawings) though, I faltered. I noticed classmates going up to the teacher’s desk to show her their work, and she would neatly write what their sentence was attempting to say beside their scribbled “words.” 

Maybe it was the perfectionist in me showing up at a young age, but I just couldn’t bear to have the teacher correct my sentence. I had no idea where to begin in order to write “I went shopping” on my drawing and I can still remember how anxious I felt about my incapability to write my activity coherently and correctly. So rather than making an attempt and risking being wrong, I simply altered my picture to be my father and I in a skating rink (all it took was some blades on the bottom of our shoes and colouring the floor of the mall an icy blue) and meticulously copied the teacher’s “I went skating” sentence underneath my picture. Problem solved. 

Strangely enough, I remember feeling SO guilty for this. I had never gone skating over the break; I was lying! Perhaps this exact situation sticks out to me even more because some mementos from my class’s time capsule were dug up in about Grade 5 and my peers and teachers marvelled at how good my writing was in Kindergarten. The guilt came stabbing back: I hadn’t written that on my own; I had merely copied the exact words the teacher had written on the board. Though I didn’t know what plagiarism was back then, I still realized that, innocent as it was for a Kindergartener, I had still not truly been to credit for the work others found to be advanced. 

Now, as a pre-service teacher, I wonder about what made me just so nervous to be wrong at the tender age of 5. I don’t want my future students to fear giving an answer in Math class like I always did, hoping and praying that it would be right, and feeling crushed if, by some cruel twist of fate, it wasn’t. I want my students to know that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process, and that they learn so much more through being wrong than by always being right. I have no doubt that my fear of failure has moulded me into an accomplished student, but I don’t want this to be the case for my students. Rather than getting right answers in order to simply avoid being wrong (like I did), I want them to fully feel that being what society labels as “wrong” isn’t wrong at all. I want so-called “failure” to motivate them to realize that they are now one step closer to finding success. Maybe we should scrap the words ‘wrong’ and ‘failure’ altogether; in my classroom, there will be no “wrong” answers, but many different paths in order to reach deeper understanding instead.

Do you have any thoughts on how our education system may push students to be afraid of having the “wrong” answer? Did you feel this pressure as a student? What can we, as teachers, do to combat this problem? 

lots of ideas stemming from STEM education

I just finished reading another issue of Instructor magazine and, not surprisingly, came rushing to my computer to get all of my thoughts down! My favourite article in the latest issue (Spring 2013) was about the up-and-coming topic of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or STEAM (the A is for Arts) Education.

The article provided multiple, simple ways to integrate a STEM-based approach in the classroom without previous experience, such as building boats out of clay in order to understand how items that normally sink in water can be made to float.

The biggest reaction I had to these ideas was ‘ugh.’ I always found the ‘engineering’ type of lessons to be frustrating and a waste of time. As a ruthless memorizer, I found school much more rewarding and personally successful when I could learn a formula, keep it stored away and use it forever after. Now that I am in the Education program, however, I understand that being a memorizer only can be a huge disadvantage for a student. And that is why I am so glad that I see the future curricula reflecting a hands-on, inquiry approach to learning. I hope that the educational system puts a stop to making children believe that they cannot be successful in their academic career unless they can remember tables and formulae. Learning through personal discovery and question posing is much more beneficial because it is realistic.

So while I may have found my Grade 10 Physics project of self-designed, balloon-propelled cars the most difficult and useless thing in my high school career, I now look back as a future educator, and applaud my teacher for incorporating (and still continuing to incorporate – much to my younger sister’s chagrin, I guess her opinion on the assignment was similar to mine) this lesson in his introductory Physics unit because it allows the students to fiddle with their cars and notice what improves or impedes their cars’ success.

Personally, I found this project so angering because there was no right answer or steps to follow in order to get to the desired outcome, something that school taught me would, 99% of the time, work! It went against my learning style, which, so far, has allowed me to achieve lots of success as a student! However, I am constantly wishing that I were a tinkerer and an iron-willed problem solver who won’t stop until a solution has been discovered. Unfortunately, though, I just got frustrated with the project and eventually gave up (I know, not a good example to be putting out there, but I figure honesty is the best policy). As a future educator, though, I hope to put an end to a generation of young thinkers who can succeed by merely memorizing (which, admittedly, in some cases and subjects, is required). I want my students to learn through their own mistakes. As the article so eloquently puts it,

Introducing kids to the engineering process – having them start again and fix the mistakes – at that age is much easier because they haven’t yet developed a fear of failure.

-Monica Foss, Instructor, Spring 2013, “STEM: Everyday

Engineering,” Page 41

This really rang true for me because, as a student, I would always dread to give the wrong answer when a teacher called on me. Students are so afraid of getting the wrong answer that they are losing the opportunity to learn through their failed attempts! I hope to foster an environment where mistakes are okay, and even encouraged, in order to work towards the right answer!

In closing, I hope to use lots of these hands-on, engineering/building activities with my students in order to give them a chance to learn real-world principles on a smaller scale. I know that using the arts in my classroom will be easy to do, because I have a connection with them, but I also want my classroom to be a nurturing environment for the world’s future engineers, scientists, mathematicians and technological gurus!

i think i need to watch juno again

ImageToday in my ECS 110 class, we looked at some videos of successful culturally responsive schools that create environments in which their Aboriginal students can achieve academic success. One of the schools had a day care right in the building and some of the video clips showed teen mothers with their children at the daycare.

I can’t say I am proud of this, but it is the honest truth that I immediately caught myself looking down on these teen mothers. In true teacher fashion, I quickly stepped back and thought, “Why do I feel this way?”

Any mention of teen pregnancy in my schooling presented it as shameful, irresponsible, a HUGE mistake, etc etc etc. Shows like ’16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ don’t always present the situation in a positive light, either. TV shows involving characters who think they are pregnant or get pregnant are scandalous incidents. Media urges teens to ‘abstain from sex’ and ‘use protection.’ So is it really any wonder that I reacted this way? Feel free to disagree, but I think that many of the representations of teen pregnancy in our world today have TAUGHT me to think of it like this. 

I don’t condone teen pregnancy and this post isn’t meant to promote unprotected sex. All I am trying to say is: What can we do for/what supports can we offer to girls who do get pregnant?

And this is exactly why the day care at the school is such a genuinely helpful thing. A mistake or bad decision shouldn’t affect the ability for a young mother (or father) to experience success in their life. Yes, having a baby at a young age is a HUGE responsibility and will change your life immensely, but that doesn’t mean that the mother/father should lose their right to an education. 

At first I thought, “I don’t plan on teaching high school students, so why should this even matter to me?” But teen parenthood can affect elementary school teachers as well because students’ parents may be very young. I want to ensure that I am open minded and understanding towards any potential parents who did have teenage pregnancies. 

In closing, I have learned a lot about myself through this experience! I cannot look down on people who have been in these situations that society portrays so negatively. Each person I interact with as a professional deserves my respect. I can’t judge them until I have walked a mile in their shoes. Which is why I am interested in watching Juno again and finding other resources that can allow me to see things through a teen mother’s eyes.

 

just a little tuesday afternoon thinking…

It seems that every time I come back from my ECS 110 class, I have something I need to get down in words! Not only does that class make me think while I am there, but I also catch myself noticing things throughout my daily life that, as my prof would say, “make me go hmmm…”

I have a couple hmmmm moments that I’d like to address today:

1. I have read or heard that “the field of education is dominated by white, middle-class females” too many times to count. But for some reason, when I saw this familiar statement in our last reading, something just clicked in my head and it said: Hey… Was I unknowingly steered towards this career path because I am a white, middle-class, female? Have my identity, my previous experiences, and society’s views of me slowly pushed me towards being in the Faculty of Education today?

I have to say, this thought made me rather uneasy and troubled! I like to think that I made the decision to pursue this path because I was born to be a teacher. I have always felt a subtle tugging towards teaching and realizing that society may have influenced this decision honestly ticked me off a little bit!

Thinking about it now, people experience this every day (and in much more offensive aspects than a simple nudge in the direction of a career choice). Aboriginal people are automatically assumed by many to be drug or alcohol abusers, Asian students should be exceptionally smart and concerned with school, men should be buff and women petite, etc, etc, etc. The list never ends. And these assumptions can end up steering us away from our own path if we aren’t careful! If you hear from others what you “are” or should be enough times, you have a good chance of becoming it.

Granted, IF society did push me towards a teacher education program, I have nothing but thanks to give! There is no doubt in my mind that I am exactly where I should be in the world. On the other hand, though, I can think of numerous times when I was very subtly persuaded to choose a different career path because, “I am so smart and could do anything, why would I want to bother being a teacher, of all things?” and that clearly didn’t change anything, did it? So I will stick to my opinion that nothing could have stopped me from becoming a teacher, simply because it is my biggest dream and goal. 🙂

2. The second thing that got my mind’s gears turning was a comment a classmate had regarding our discussion about whiteness and white privilege. She noticed that when people are telling stories that involve people of an ethnicity other than Caucasian, they will actually link that person to their race. For example: “I saw a lady fall down in the street, and 3 Chinese women came and helped her up.”

The question she posed was: Why does it matter if the women were Chinese and why does this always end up slipping into our language, presumably unconsciously?

While I agree that these statements are blatantly pointing out the race of the stories’ subjects, and positioning them as ‘other’ to the norm, I can also see the other side of things as well.

If the speaker had just said “women,” I can guess that people will automatically picture these women as white. And while this is a troubling realization, it can’t be blamed, because white people have been systematically placed and understood as the norm.

So… is the speaker actually just trying for accuracy of the story to avoid the listener’s assumption of the subjects as white? Are they trying to portray another race in a positive light (which, I would argue is difficult to fight against, when criminals’ ethnicities are very pointedly acknowledged on the news…)? Or is this a racist act, whether intentional or unintentional?

What do you think? Is this wrong to be linking people with their race, or is it an attempt to get our heads to see someone of a colour other than white?

Just something to think about…

i’ve been thinking…

My ECS 110 professor always prompts us at the beginning of class to share anything “that made us go ‘hmmm…'” and just now, I had a ‘hmmmm… moment’ regarding the new Kinder Eggs for girls.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a girl power kind of girl but this particular marketing choice kind of makes me wonder.

One of my friends told me that she saw a little boy grab one and exclaim to his mom, ‘Wow! They have different toys now!” and his mother quickly squashed his excitement by saying, “You don’t want that.”

I think this is a very contemporary, pertinent issue. Some parents have their children extremely pigeon-holed into the toys, activities and clothes they THINK their child’s gender requires. Little boys can’t play with Barbies and little girls can’t use tools and trucks. Frankly, I think this is ridiculous. Toys are toys. They are offering the amazing educational opportunity of PLAY. What does it matter if your son likes to dress up his dolls if he is learning?

That’s why it makes me leery that the Kinder Eggs are marketed specifically for girls. I am sure there are little boys out there who would love to play with the toys that come inside them just as much as girls.

And on the other side of the argument, not only are these Kinder Eggs stopping boys from buying them because it ‘isn’t a thing boys would like’ but it is also giving a specific view on what girls should like to play with as well.

It was International Women’s Day on Friday and I think the whole point of that is to say that women aren’t just the homemakers anymore. We can do whatever we want and our gender shouldn’t hold us back from success and status. I am sure those Kinder Eggs are full of pink and frills and sugar, spice and everything nice, but what about the girl that wants to grow up and be a carpenter? Or a mechanic? Or the Prime Minister? Sure, girls can live both lives of the mom and the businesswoman, but by only presenting girls with the feminine view, we are telling them that this is what girls do, no questions asked.

And the problem with these Kinder Eggs is that bringing out a line for boys wouldn’t fix anything, it would hold the same double-standard. So let’s break through the notion that there are specific things for girls and boys, because there aren’t. I would like to live in a world where boys playing with dolls and girls wrestling in the dirt aren’t frowned upon or even second-guessed. Let’s give our children and students the opportunity to be whoever they choose!