Friday, February 28, 2014

Smiling and Education

When I started my career, it was very clear to me why I wanted to be a teacher. I really enjoyed showing people how to complete things, and loved to see the joy on their faces when they "got it" or when they completed a goal, whether that goal was a shop project, an essay 'finally', or just a concept that they had been having difficulty with. Above all else, I am a social person and truly found that getting to know the kids and seeing them everyday was the BEST part of my job.
You probably think I am leading up to saying something like, "it is not like that for me anymore". But you would be wrong. It IS like that for me, every day. Obviously it goes without saying that if it weren't for the kids, I wouldn't have a job. But it also should go without saying that it is the kids that can help make or break a teacher (in part). I have been fortunate enough to have been in 3 great schools and feel like I have seen some ups and downs but for the most part I can say that I still love the work I do. 

Things start to get a bit irritating when I start to think or focus on the more difficult parts of my job, and that being the curriculum and some of the mandates that have come down on teachers lately. I am not saying kids are perfect 100% of the time, by far they are not, but that should be an expected understanding when you are a teacher. They have bad days (or weeks!), and so do I. It is being a problem-solver and knowing when to pick your battles that helps to work through those times. Back to my concern of mandates and teacher expectations, I foresee many teachers jumping ship into different career paths, and sooner than they should if they are new teachers, because of what is happening in the teaching profession. The unrealistic expectations being placed on teachers some days is really overwhelming for someone like me who has been teaching for 7 years, let alone a brand new teacher who has a new curriculum that doesn't have resources yet! How can you teach from a curriculum with no textbooks, or resources besides a list of 50 websites to sift through? Who has time for that? I sure don't! I can only imagine a new teacher who has just finished university, ready to take on the task at hand and feeling very incompetent because of the lack of support and/or resources to teach from. I sound like I am being harsh but I'm scared. I am worried and scared for my colleagues and myself. I am worried and scared for the kids we are teaching. What would happen if we said no? Of course most of us would never dream of doing that, but the question is there - what
if? I can be a "debbie downer" (wah wah) and I know others can too, but I'm trying to say that how that can make you feel, isn't healthy. There can be a better way if you try. You can be scared, it is allowed. It is all in how you deal with that fear or anxiety or frustration, that is all your choice. And I'm telling you to choose happiness. 

Let me stay positive, because the last 6 months of my life has taught me a few things. What I've learned is that you need to take situations and change in stride. It can be the single most difficult thing when that change is unexpected, painful, annoying, challenging, confusing, frustrating or sad, but IF you don't take it all in stride, IF you don't choose to fight every battle, IF you choose to let it make your mood swing deeply one way or the other, you WILL sink. And sinking can be hard to deal with. The range of emotions that change brings in one's life is astounding, and when you're faced with daily issues in your work, it compounds on you often and easily transfers those bad emotions into the other aspects of your life such as your family, friends, recreation/hobbies and to your soul. Don't let it be you.
I will say something in closing that I'm sure you teachers can understand, and those of you that aren't teachers would probably be able to relate to in some fashion:
I am making a choice, daily, to come to school and be the best I can for the kids I see. I am making a choice to smile, to try and keep those kids smiling, and to encourage happiness in my classroom. I will not let "the man" get me down, although I will admit I have bad days like anyone about what's happening around me in education. I live for these kids in my job. I truly love seeing them and enjoy having conversations with them; they are like my own kids, or my own family. In a small school the culture is everything, and if I let things sink in too deep, I will drown. And you know what? You know who I am taking with me? Everyone who is in my life and everyone I see in a day, including those kids. Sounds like a lot of pressure; to keep everyone else from sinking. It really isn't when you think about it; do you care? If you do, you will keep smiling for yourself, and for your circle. I think I will teach a little longer this way.... 

"Start every day off with a smile, and get it over with" - W.C. Fields

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Creative Writing with Rory's Story Cubes

A Creative Writing Activity
I just used Rory's Story Cubes with my grade 12 students in ELA today. They are always complaining we have so much boring work, and they never get to do any fun things in class anymore including just writing. So, I was in Indigo last week and I came upon this little game called Rory's Story Cubes. Basically it is a little box that contains 9 cubes (die), and you roll them all. Each cube has a image on it and the random 9 things that are face up, you write a story linking all 9 together beginning with Once Upon A Time...
There are a few variations to the game and how you can play it. You can use it to create superheros, you can use it in groups of 3 and have them write a story together, or you can do it this way. I'm sure there are plenty more ways but these are 3 that are on their website. I love this game because it is not just for little kids, it can be used for older students as well. It spices up my classroom and anything that does that, I'm into. Check it out! It was only $10!
Did I mention there is also an APP for this????  - iTunes store!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Making Connections....huh?

I started watching House of Cards on Netflix last night. I enjoy the fresh perspective given by the main character (who plays a governor in the US) when he looks directly into the camera and talks to the viewer during the show. It really makes connections to the audience (obviously!) when he speaks to you like you are now a part of the program. You become privy to the insider information, you are inside the character's head. Sometimes this makes the show more predictable, other times it shows you just how much you do not know a person. I try to encourage my students to make connections in all areas I teach to my students. Whether it be me telling them the connection ahead of time, or telling them to create connections to their audience in their own writing. 
Students really do struggle a lot of the time with making connections. I find this to be an especially difficult problem in smaller communities. Now don't get me wrong - I LOVE teaching in a small community, I came from one and I went to school in one. But, the problem lies in lack of experience, and lack of knowledge of the outside world. We don't see as many socially or culturally diverse situations in a small community as someone would in a larger one. When (as they say on CHEERS), "everyone knows your name" (and your business usually), it becomes more difficult to have unknown and unexpected experiences. Daily lives are much the same and the students tend to stick to their 'bubble' of friends, hangout spot, activities or lack-of activity, without much change to the schedule. I encourage students to read non-fiction books, to read on the internet and to watch programs on television that isn't Gossip Girl (I know, that is so 5 years ago) or Family Guy. Even if they can make connections with fake characters in a tv show, or connect to a video game, I feel like I have succeeded. Sometimes they need to be pushed. Sometimes it needs to come from home first. If the parents are globally aware (ie watch, listen or read the news daily), or have been fortunate enough to travel, I find the student to be more able to make connections in learning. If the parents are not, then the modelling that should happen to make the student more aware, do not occur as readily/easily. It can happen - the student can be the one watching the news and being aware - but it doesn't happen often if it isn't a priority at home. 
I digress. 
Everyone wants to feel connected in some way, to some thing. HOW to create connections can be extremely difficult. It is difficult to teach, it is difficult to understand and it is difficult to do. I always tell my students to pretend they are talking out loud to their audience in their writing. How would YOU tell someone how YOU felt in that situation? How would YOU explain the hurt/anger/frustration/joy/happiness/wonder/ excitement of that character and/or what you just wrote about? Empathy is almost impossible to teach as a separate or isolated subject because mostly experience can teach you empathy. So when a student needs to put themselves in others' shoes and explain it, confusion typically happens. Do any of my readers have any good suggestions for teaching how to make connections? Let me know!