Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Practicum Experience ( far)

Dear Internet,

For the past three weeks, I have been student-teaching at a high school as part of my B.Ed. program (and we all know how I'm feeling about THAT so far). It has certainly been an interesting experience (in some good ways and some bad ways). Now, I have taught in a high school classroom before, so this experience didn't completely blindside me. The difference between my previous experience and this experience is that this time I was in an applied-level classroom whereas last time I was in an academic-level classroom. For those of you who are not familiar with this classification of classrooms: applied-level is for students who maybe aren't as motivated or strong with math and can't handle faster-paced classrooms, whereas academic is for higher-achieving students.

I knew going into the classroom that it was going to be a challenge - my only mistake was thinking that I was prepared for it. I had learned all these "classroom management strategies" in my classes and I told myself that I could apply them and get my students to learn and make them love learning and inspire them to do great things in math and become their most favourite teacher of all time (okay, maybe that fantasy spun out a little too far into unrealistic-land). Needless to say, I did not quite achieve this. Three weeks with this class and I feel like a bitter old hag who never wants to deal with another teenager ever again. Don't get me wrong, there are a few students in my class who are great and do their work and answer my questions and are generally good kids. Unfortunately, they are not the majority. For my last day tomorrow, I'm going to play a game with them, so I really hope that they actually get into it and that I get fewer contemptuous stares standing at the front of the class.

I know that learning proper classroom management is a skill learned through LOTS and LOTS of experience. I know that I am an inexperienced 21-year-old who, after only three weeks, could not possibly hope to earn the respect of a class of 25 students who do not want to be there in the first place. But it's still disheartening when I get students who cheat on my quizzes and are outright rude to me and pretend they don't hear me when I talk to them. I do my best, but I'm just way too passive of a person to effectively manage students' behaviour right now.

Whenever I complain about something to you, I like to add in a bit about the good side of things so that I don't seem so whiny, and this time is no different. Here is what I liked about my practicum experience.

First of all, I have a really good idea about my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. The thing about working with higher-level students, as I have in the past, is that they can pick up on concepts easily and quickly and lessons do not need to be particularly differentiated. Really, you don't have to be a particularly good teacher to teach these kids. This is not the case with applied-level. With my class, I have learned how to break up my lessons into smaller chunks and give them a lot more time to work through examples on their own. I think I'm starting to get a bit better with the classroom management thing, too, but that will take a lot more gradual improvement over a long time.

Also, despite my complaints above about rude students, I do have a good number of very nice students. If it weren't for these kids being respectful and doing their work and doing well on my quizzes and actually talking to me, I would have gone mad after day one.

In addition, in no particular order:
  • I have had a lot of practice with making handouts
  • I have organized, planned, and replanned a unit when things did not go as planned
  • I have been able to see some friends and my wonderful brother and hang out with Steven
  • My friends who are housing me during my practicum are super super nice and have a beautiful home (and make awesome food!)
  • I've been sleeping really well (working with these students is EXHAUSTING)
So now I'm torn! I'm definitely ready to take a break from teaching...but I REALLY don't want to return to teacher's college and go back to classes. As frustrating as teaching can be, the classes about teaching are more so. Just a couple more months of teacher's college and I can return to my math.

Anyways, that's all for now!



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Teacher's College So Far

Dear Internet,

I started at teacher's college (excuse me, the faculty of education) this past week. I'll be here for 8 months to earn my B.Ed. before returning completing my B.Math. There are no words for how tired of school I am. I'm tired of assignments and going to class and putting up with boring classes and annoying profs. Of the 7 total classes I have here, I (so far) feel that one of them will be useful to me.

The problem is that it's a lot of stuff that I need to know but don't care about. For instance, politics of schools and developmental psychology for adolescents...stuff that I should know to be an effective employee of a school, but not necessarily needed to be an effective teacher. But then again, what the hell do I know? I'm a 21-year-old teacher candidate, and presumably these programs have been designed by people who have been working in education for many years, possibly longer than I have actually been alive.

I think my main problem is that I'm frustrated with the format of my schedule and courses. In math, it's easy: you have an assignment every week that you complete and turn in on the same day every week, there are 50 minute lectures at the same times on MWF, one (maybe two) midterms not quite midway through the term, and a final exam at the end always worth at least 50%. My classes here follow a much stranger schedule (some have 2 two-hour blocks in a week at different times, some are 1 hour and meet once, etc.) that I'm not sure I'll ever get used to (much less memorize). Assignments that are worth marks are sporadic. Most classes require some sort of reading for every class. And I'm pretty sure I don't have any midterms or exams or tests (which, I suppose, is a plus). Really, I'm mostly annoyed with the reading. For example, I have a class tomorrow (that I of course put off doing the readings for) that wants me to read about 5 15ish page papers on equity in classrooms. I looked at that earlier and just thought, that is not going to happen. It's one of those things where, the more work you have to do, the less you're going to do.

But that's enough complaining. Here's what I LIKE about being here so far.

  • I'm living with my super awesome sister in a super awesome house
  • I have an opportunity to get to know the girls in my program a lot better
  • My prof for my math teaching class is really awesome and I've already learned a lot from him
  • After I finish teacher's college, I will be in the home stretch of finishing my degrees
I guess that's about it! I'm off to contemplate doing my course readings and probably just play The Sims instead.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Short Story Time!

Dear Internet,

When I was in high school, I enjoyed writing short fiction stories for fun. Unfortunately, since coming to university, I haven't done a lot of writing. I just stumbled across this story I wrote back in 2010 though, and I really enjoyed re-reading it, so I thought I'd share it with you.



The Hardest Thing

The funeral, he decided, was the second hardest thing he had ever done in his life. Looking back over the years made him realize this definite and uncontested fact. Most definitely, the funeral was the second hardest thing he had ever done in his life.

It was a drizzly day in mid-March, the kind that is nearly cold enough for snow but Mother Nature decides to drench the world with freezing rain anyways. Most of the attendees at the graveyard were wrapped in huge coats, clutching umbrellas as close to them as possible, as though it could offer some meagre amount of warmth. He wasn’t, though. He thought that it was poetic and well-befitting his misery to stand in the freezing rain with little more than his sportcoat to protect him from the elements. He regretted that decision, as poetic as it may be, because he did not find that the fact that he was physically miserable helpful towards the fact that he was emotionally miserable at all. The rain simply made him cranky in addition to being inconsolably depressed: a dangerous combination.

The priest at the head of the grave seemed not to notice the rain or the cold or the discomfort and general unhappiness of the people around him. The priest, let it be known, had an interesting theory that there was a perfect balance of sullen and cheery that best serves the mood of those who are in attendance of a funeral, especially when the funeral is made particularly sad and morose by the untimely death of the subject. He had a small, sympathetic smile on his face that most of the attendees, and most particularly the man with no coat or umbrella, hated the moment they saw it.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...”

He was numb. At this point, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was from the cold, the copious amount of drugs he had been taking ever since her death, or the fact (that he had quite conclusively decided) that his soul was as dead and gone as she was. In fact, he had decided that not only would he never love again, he would never feel anything ever again. He was annoyed (and only a little bit relieved) to find out that he could in fact feel emotion again: he was quite angry at the priest, and wanted more than anything to shove his fist into the small, sympathetic smile on the priest’s face.

He turned a deaf ear to the entire affair. He stood there, nodding every so often as so-called friends and family approached him with empty words of sympathy, and soon everyone had dispersed, discouraged by the rain and cold to linger for too long. The coffin had been lowered into the large hole in the ground, and the men who intended to fill the hole (as quickly as possible due to the condition of the weather) stood a respectful distance away. After what seemed like a long time to those men, he nodded to them curtly, and walked briskly towards his car.

He felt fine on the drive home. He felt fine as he unlocked the door to their – his – house, and he felt fine as he locked the door behind him and hung the keys up on the hook. He felt fine, in fact, until he noticed the ridiculous stuffed animal she had always insisted on keeping in their tiny living room. When he saw that goose, he felt all the feelings at once, and it was overwhelming. He fell to his knees, crying and silently screaming, shoving his clenched fists into his eyes. She was gone, but that ridiculous stuffed goose (of the Canadian variety) would stay there with the ridiculous smile on its face, sitting ridiculously on her favourite couch, staring at him ridiculously every time he entered the door. But she, she was gone, and would never again smile at him, or sit on her couch, or greet him when he returned home.

He stood, furiously grabbed the goose by the neck, walked outside, and threw it with all his might into the forest by their house. He screamed in triumph, walked back into his house, and proceeded to get ridiculously drunk.

When he awoke the next morning, he decided that the only explanation for his current misery was that he must be dying. His head ached, he was about to vomit, and his entire body ached as though, well, as though he had gotten ridiculously drunk the night before. By late afternoon, he was more or less back to his new usual level of misery, and he found this satisfying in a queer sort of way. He made himself another mug of coffee, and decided that he would get ridiculously drunk again that night. Before he could even begin reaching for his next trusty bottle, he was frozen by a sound that he heard outside.

He walked towards the door, and paused before opening the door. He had a brief, powerful vision of Claire standing at the door, bruised and bloodied and broken, demanding to know why he didn’t help her, why he wasn’t there to help her. He wrestled with himself, emotion versus logic, and finally he opened the door. Standing at the door was not Claire, but an average sized Canadian goose. He jumped back in surprise. The goose simply stared at him. He looked at it for quite some time, and eventually came to the decision that it was waiting for something.

“Hi?” he said uncertainly. The goose honked curtly, then fell silent again, and continued to stare at him. He approached it slowly, but when he came within a few inches of the animal, it backed a short distance away and hissed. When he withdrew back into the doorway, the bird approached again and continued to stare at him. He sighed.

“Well, you might as well come in.”

He thought he saw the bird nod, and it walked past him into the living room, where it sat in Claire’s favourite chair. He looked at it, too stunned to really comprehend what was going on.

“As long as you’re going to be here, do you want something to eat? I might have birdseed or something.”

The goose stared at him.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

He decided to ignore the bird, as he was clearly imagining things. Probably a combination of the alcohol and the drugs he had been taking recently. He went back to the bottle of whiskey that he had been in the process of opening before he was so rudely interrupted by his hallucination. He turned around, bottle in hand, and suddenly the bird was in front of him, looking into his face. He was so startled that he dropped the bottle to the floor, where it loudly crashed and made a mess of the floor. The goose seemed satisfied, and returned to the living room.

“What the fuck!” he yelled loudly, anger flaring and pulsing in his mind. “Fucking bird!” There was a disgruntled honk from the other room.

“There is no fucking way a goose, in my living room, just honked disgruntledly at me.”

Ignoring the fact that he was now talking to himself, he cleaned up the mess he made, muttering to himself the entire time.

“Happy?” he called, “That was our best bottle of whiskey. Cost a pretty penny, that did.”

There was silence from the other room.

“Yeah, okay, it wasn’t that special. It was just your regular 20 buck bottle from the liquor store. You got me, okay? I was lying. Damn bird.”

The bird was in front of him again, as though irritated by his name-calling. It stared at him expectantly. He backed into a corner.

“Yeah, okay, I’m sorry. You’re a beautiful bird. Exquisite really. A paragon of your species. Happy?”

The goose appeared to nod again, and walked back into the living room.

“I have got to stop doing so many drugs.”

The bird was still there a few weeks later. He had taken to calling it Bobo, the name that Claire had given to her stuffed version, and it seemed to like that. He fed it scraps of bread, and it seemed content with mooching his food and warm house and occasionally scaring the shit out of him. Somehow, the bird’s presence was comforting, and soon he found that the apparent hole he had felt in himself since Claire had passed didn’t ache and burn as constantly.

One morning, he arose groggily, and walked into the living room.

“Hey Bobo, I was thinking we could watch some football today, how would you feel about that?” There was silence, and he gazed around the room and found that it was empty. “Bobo?”

On closer examination, he found the bird outside his front door, staring at the door expectantly and holding something in its beak.

“How did you get out Bobo? What did you find?” He reached forward, and the bird gently placed the item it was carrying into his hand. The stuffed goose. It was a bit wet and dirty, but surprisingly intact. He looked at Bobo, who nodded his mysterious goose nod, turned around, and waddled away. That moment he knew, staring at the slightly damp and dirty toy in his hand and watching the only strange comfort he had had in the past weeks walk away from him, that that would be the hardest thing he would ever face.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Life Update!

Dear Internet,

It's been a rough couple of weeks. It's like one of those days where it seems that you never had a chance to stop working and relax...except stretched out to 3 or 4 weeks. Between assignments, midterms, travelling, having an annoying cold that won't go's pretty exhausting. Just when I think I've caught a break, something else seems to pop up. This upcoming week is looking pretty empty, though, so I'm holding my breath and hoping that it stays that way.

On a less whiny note, my weekends have been pretty cool, even if the weeks in between them are stressful. I try to do something exciting at least one in a weekend. This past weekend, Steven and I went out for sushi and I went to my friends birthday party (wasn't expecting to have much fun....ended up not getting home until 6am the next day). The weekend before that was the long weekend, and I went home and hung out with my family (always a good time...every time I go home it feels like I never left). Not sure what shenanigans I'll get up to this weekend, but the weekend after that I'm going on my annual trip to Stratford, Ontario with my mom and sister to see some awesome plays. We've been doing this for...5 years now, I guess. It's a lot of fun to explore the adorable little downtown area, hang out by the river, eat delicious food....oh, and watching the plays is pretty cool too. Typically we try to see a musical and 1-2 Shakespeare (my sister and I have a love affair with Willy's plays dating back to high school). Long story short, Stratford is a cool place to be.

Some more life updates (I assume whoever reads this blog is interested in knowing about my life even if I'm not being particularly entertaining):

  • Getting ready to enroll at teacher's college for the fall and winter, where I will complete my teacher's college bit of becoming a teacher.
  • Doing classes and stuff still. Still going well.
  • Steven has an electronics business now, and it's going well! Check out his blog here.
  • Been doing the healthy-eating, gym-going, calorie-counting thing. For those who know me, I am obviously not overweight, but I figure I should try to do the improvement thing NOW while I'm pretty young and my metabolism isn't shot (plus eating less food = buying less food = $$). I've lost nearly 10 lbs since the end of May when I started.
That's all for now, I think! I hope you enjoyed my update :)



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I Love Teaching but Hate Students (Sometimes)

Dear Internet,

I am currently nearing the end of my first teaching experience ever. Since January, I've been teaching and tutoring at an independent school in Ontario. It has been a great experience, and I have learned a lot. Here is the main thing that I have learned about teaching: students are a pain in the ass.

Never trust the students! I learned this the hard way. I was covering a class the day before March break, and a student who walked in late (red flag!) asked if he could skip and go pack instead of doing the worksheet in class. I was unsure, and (stupidly) said it was okay. Marked him present on the attendance, and didn't think anything more of it. A couple minutes later, I get a call from the attendance office, asking if I knew where that particular student was. I admitted to letting him go pack, and was informed that he was just spotted walking down the hall chatting with some girls. I got chewed out a bit for that. Sadly, I didn't remember his name, so I was not able to track him down and yell at him later.

Another time, I emailed a student to remind him about an extra tutoring session that we had scheduled. In the email, I accidentally said that the time of the session was an hour later than we had originally said. I emailed him again, once I realized, to correct the previous email, but as he never responded to either email I didn't know what time he would think our session was. So I go to the library for 6, he doesn't show up. I figure he missed the second email, and will be showing up for 7. I hang out for an hour, and by 7:15 I decide he's not showing up and leave. I send him an email letting him know that he missed his tutoring session, and he replies later, saying that he was there for 7 and didn't get my second email correcting the time. I called him out for lying, since I was there at 7, and he had no response for me. Since apparently the students aren't held accountable for missing tutoring sessions, nothing came of it.

The biggest thing that makes me mad about students is that some (not all) show zero motivation to understand what's going on in class. I had one student who stopped me mid-explanation and told me that he didn't care about the explanation of something and all he wanted was the formula. Then he was angry when I told him that he would be expected to know how to derive the formula on a test.

Teaching is frustrating when you look out into the class and see a mix of blank stares and sleeping faces looking back at your (or not, as the case may be). Sure, every student should not be expected to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for every single class. Hell, I don't always pay full attention in my university classes. But from the other side, it does not cease to be frustrating. Here I am, standing at the front of class with the sole intent of getting these students motivated and learning to prepare them for their futures, and all I get in return is blank stares.

I don't just want students to be able to find answers to questions - I want them to understand the question, to understand the process of finding the answer, and understand what the answer is and what it means. I know very well that most of these students only take math because they have to, and most won't continue with it through university. But the skill of knowing how to solve and approach analytical problems is important and applicable to any professional setting. All I want is for these students to learn, but all they want is to get a good grade with minimal effort.

That being said, it is a glorious moment when a student finally understands something that has been eluding them. No matter how apathetic that student is, his or her face lights up and even if it is just for a fraction of a moment, they are excited to have figured something out. That fraction of a moment - that tiny millisecond that we teachers hope to multiply into a love of learning - makes all the other crap we have to put up with worth it and it is why I love teaching.