Friday, October 4, 2013


Dear Internet,

I have always loved mornings.

Okay, that's a lie. As a teenager, I definitely did NOT love mornings. In fact, my appreciation for mornings is a very recent development, within the past year or so. It probably started the first morning after my last practicum, where, instead of sleeping in like a normal person, I thought to myself, "wouldn't it be great to get up at 6:30 every day and have a little bit of extra time in the morning to relax and prepare for the day ahead of me?" And so I did. All summer, in fact, I made an effort to get up early. When your body has become used to getting up at 6:30 and going to bed at 9:30 every night, it's not that much of a challenge.

Many people think it's pretty nuts that my sleeping schedule is like this - after all, why would a healthy adult without children go to bed so early? The night, right before bed, is a time that most people take to unwind from their long and busy day. What I like to do, however, is unwind before my day has started.

This might seem pretty familiar: your alarm goes off at 7. You hit snooze as many times as you know you can before it is officially necessary for you to get out of bed. You groggily jump in the shower, put yourself together, perhaps grab a cup of coffee and a small breakfast, then head out to whatever it is that you do. It's pretty much what I did all of high school.

In contrast, I wake up without aid of an alarm between 6 and 6:30 every morning. Admittedly, getting out of bed is challenging, especially now as we get into the fall season where the sun doesn't rise until later. But once I'm out of bed, I can take it slow. Get ready. Have some coffee. Browse the web. Have a good breakfast. I have a nice, relaxing start to my day. When the clock hits 8:50 (beginning of first period) and it's go-go-go from there, I have the energy to keep going-going-going for the rest of the day.

I like it that way.



Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Way It Is.

Dear Boston,

Once upon a time, I lived close to you. Close enough, and for long enough, that I tell people that you are my home town. So, you are approximately my home.

This was a tough week.

There have been times this week when I was devastated and times when I was fine.

For me, it's awkward. On the one hand, I don't know a lot of people in the city. On the other hand, I identify as approximately-Bostonian.

Where does this put me?

I don't know.

What I do know...I will remember the moment my sister asked me, on the 15th, "did you hear about what's happened at the marathon?" I will remember how I woke up at 1am on the 19th and randomly decided to check my messages, only to find a message from a friend about the apprehension of the marathon bombing suspects (which, at the time, was "only" a shooting at MIT).

Perhaps we will figure out why it all happened, but probably not.

Maybe we'll wonder forever.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I don't want to make more bricks in the wall, Part 2

Dear Internet,

In the first part of this yesterday, I discussed what I do here at teacher's college and what I don't like about my program. Today, I want to discuss a couple things I do like in addition to how I would personally structure a course here to be most useful to teacher candidates like me.

WHAT I LIKE: This may be a short list but I do want to be fair in these posts - I don't hate absolutely everything about my program here.

First off, I find that most of my professors really do care about our success here and in our future classrooms, and I really appreciate that. Most are prompt about responding to emails and questions, and are always willing to meet outside of class time to discuss assignments or practicum.

Secondly, some of the assignments are useful. Like I said before, the only useful paper I've written was my practicum summaries, but we do have a number of assignments that are not papers. I've created a couple lesson plans and gotten feedback on those, as well as some unit plans and assessments. Assignments where we practice doing things that we are expected to do in a classroom are the most useful, and as you'll see in my following course description, are something I would like to focus on.

Lastly, we have no exams in the traditional sense. I have said before that I believe that teaching is very practical and therefore teacher's college should focus more on the practical, and in this respect they do. Ontario does not have teacher examinations; so, since taking exams is not something we will be expected to do professionally, it is reasonable to not include it in our teachers' education.

MY COURSE PLAN: In general, I would prefer a course focused on practicing skills that are needed in one's day-to-day life as a teacher, including (but not limited to): planning (lessons, units, etc.), understanding what you are teaching, marking, etc. I am going to describe a math curriculum course here: not because I have the most problems with that course, but because curriculum courses are a common component to most teacher education programs. In addition, I will follow the same structure as my program - basically, 1 month class, 1 month practicum, repeat.

Block before first practicum: Each class day is split into half topic and half theory. 

By topic, I mean actual high school curriculum topics. You can't be an expert in everything (personally, my weakest points are vectors and probability/statistics), and there are many people going through the program who have not seen some of these topics in years. So, the teacher candidates (TCs) would create a list of their weak topics they would like a refresher in and an hour of each class would be focused on one of these topics. 

By theory, I mean the kinds of things that are already included in classes here. What kind of assessment to use when, strategies to differentiate instruction, etc. While I disagree with the extent to which it is included in some of our courses, I think that some is definitely necessary to differentiate an actual teacher from a random person standing in front of a group of children talking about math.

Every class (except the first), each TC would bring in a completed lesson plan for the topic discussed in the previous class, hopefully including some of the theory that was also discussed. As part of the theory portion of the class, TC's will take a few minutes to discuss their choices for their lesson plans with a partner and describe how they applied the topics from last class (good practice for interviews, where you would be expected to similarly describe/defend your teaching choices).

The overall project for this block would be to create a unit plan in a pair or group. (This is actually an assignment that we did in real life which I felt was really useful.)

Block after first practicum: The general structure of half-topic half-theory will remain, as well as the lesson plan homework. In addition, each TC would complete a short reflection of their practicum experience describing one successful lesson and one not-as-successful lesson (regardless of whether their practicum was in mathematics).

The overall project for this block would be to create a course outline in a pair or group.

Block after second practicum: Each TC would do another practicum reflection as in the previous block. At this point, all topics that were problematic have (hopefully) been covered, so that part of each class would no longer happen, as well as the lesson plan homework. Instead, that part of each class would be focused on assessment. In-class activities would include creating "rich learning tasks" (another thing we actually do in class), creating rubrics and distinguishing a good one from a bad one, improving on test questions, etc.

The overall project for this block would be to create a final assessment in a pair or group (another real-life assignment).

Final block: Again, the first assignment would be a short practicum reflection. The non-theory half of the class would be focused on technology. TCs would be split into groups, and each class would have the chance to play with a different piece of technology. The next class, they would be expected to have a lesson plan involving the technology they investigated in the previous class. Again, some time each class would be spent discussing the lesson plans, and after discussion and revision, the lesson plans would be submitted for marks.

There would be no overall project for this block, and instead the mark for this block would be based on the technology lesson plans.

FINAL COMMENTS: There you have it, my idea for a general course structure. Obviously, I am not a university professor, so my plans probably have all sorts of holes and terrible things going on in them. If you spot any or have your own ideas for what you think would be better, let me know! This is a topic that I could probably talk endlessly about, so if you feel like talking endlessly, I'm on board.

I'd like to point out the various parallels between what I have described here and the course that I am actually taking right now. As much as I enjoy whining, I do not feel that teacher's college has been pointless. I've come away with ideas of what I like about education, and what I don't like. And isn't the point of education to get students to think critically about what they know and what they are being taught?



Thursday, April 11, 2013

I don't want to make more bricks in the wall, Part 1

Dear Internet,

I feel like I spend a lot of time complaining (maybe more in real life than here) about teacher's college and how things are run, but not a lot of time talking about what could be changed to make things better. I've been thinking about that lately, and I want to share my ideas with you. This post will be split into two parts in an effort to not make one giant super-post. There are two things I will cover today: a disclaimer, and a (hopefully somewhat objective) description of my program and what I don't like about my experience here.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that this current program has been designed and run and taught by Ph.D.-having experts for many years who have a full understanding of the requirements to be a teacher in my province. I'm sure that they all had very good theoretical reasons for each pedagogical decision they made. I do not even have an undergraduate degree yet, so in no way am I qualified to professionally criticize this teacher education program. My ideas come from a purely practical place, based on my own experiences.

DESCRIPTION: In my teacher education program here, I am studying to be a secondary school teacher. For this program, I am required to take the following courses:

  • 2 courses focused specifically on my 2 teachable subjects (for me, math and computer science)
  • 1 course focused on preparing me for my practicum placements and constructing my portfolio
  • 1 "focus" course of my choosing, meant to give me a particular specialty (for me, teaching Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes)
  • 1 course divided into disparate modules focused on miscellaneous concepts in teaching - e.g. assessment
  • 1 "course" that is made of different presentations and lectures and workshops each week
  • 1 online course focused on education law; and,
  • 1 elective of my choosing (for me, using information and communication technology in the classroom)
In theory, these courses would produce a teacher candidate who is well-rounded, with a couple particular courses that set him/her apart from others. Some of the courses are marked on a pass/fail basis, and some are marked with the usual A-F scale. Many of the assessments are reflection-based; e.g. "what does education mean to you?". Most assessments are papers, typically ranging from 500-1000 words. There are no final exams (they consider our practicum placements to be the "exams" in a way).

WHAT I DON'T LIKE: Right off the bat I'm going to say all the papers we have to write. Coming from a math background, where I haven't really written anything substantial for years, at the beginning I found that generating pages of text was somewhat of a challenge. I do not find that most of the papers are in any way meaningful to my future, and are simply an exercise in "how can I fill another half page?" Of all the papers I have written, and will write for the remainder of this month, there has been 1 which I felt was a useful exercise in reflection - my practicum summaries. I found these to be a better assignment than others because it gave me a chance to meaningfully reflect on what was good in my practicum, what was bad, and what I could do to improve things for the future; that is, I produced a document that exhibits my growth as an educator and possible steps for myself going forward to continue improving. Other papers we have been required to write were on what I would call "fluffy" topics - for example, reflecting on times when we have felt prejudiced against and how these experiences will make us better teachers (that particular paper was a little slice of 2-page-single-spaced hell).

Another thing I dislike about my experience here are the focus of the classes. I find that much of our curriculum here is rooted in theory, when teaching is really a very practical field. What I need to know how to do on a day-to-day basis in my classroom sometimes does not line up with what we are taught here. A lot of this, I think, is difficult to avoid: in addition to being very practical, teaching is also very personal. You cannot teach how to teach, you can only suggest particular methods to use to teach most effectively. A professor once told us that "everyone already knows how to teach - they've been observing teachers for years!" So here, we learn the background rules and theory and put names to things we have already seen in action (e.g. differentiated instruction, assessment as/for/of learning). They tell us what these things are, and that we should be using them, but they don't tell us a lot about the "how". How do I create math lessons that can appeal to all different types of learners?

Next post: how I would structure a curriculum class to be most useful to teacher candidates like me.



Monday, April 1, 2013

This is for you, Cassy

Dear Internet (and Cassy),

It was brought to my attention this morning (by my friend Cassy) that I hadn't posted in a while! So I am rectifying that. I have a lot to talk about, anyways.

I don't remember specifically what I mentioned about my practicum experiences in October and December, but, long story short, they were not pleasant experiences. In fact, I may or may not have mentioned this, but I was severely doubting my career choice for a while and felt kind of lost. I guess most people probably go through a phase when they're all like "I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIIIIIIIIIFE" but I had never really been at that phase before, and going through it so late in my undergrad career was scary.

But don't panic! I kinda have some of it figured out now. There's still a lot of uncertainty, but I figure that's not so bad because I'm only 21. The bottom line of what I'm thinking right now is going to grad school (or trying, at least) after undergrad to keep my options open. Then when I'm done, I can either go on to do some sort of real-world job, or go back to teaching and make more money (hopefully/probably) than I would have without a master's.Win-win? Next goal: get into grad school. That'll be interesting.

Anywho, let me tell you about how awesome my last 7 weeks have been (January kinda sucked because I was in classes, so I'm going to pretend for the sake of this blog entry that it didn't happen). For 4 weeks in February, I was at practicum yet again. I was dreading it a little because of how discouraging my previous experiences had been, but I tried to retain a bit of hope because I would be at a new school with a new teacher and a new subject. And it's a good thing that I did retain that hope, because it was super awesome! I was teaching computer science, and it was just a super great experience that made me think, "hey, maybe I'm NOT totally wasting my time in undergrad and COULD do this for the rest of my life." I've decided (as I have rambled endlessly about in my copious reflection papers) that it's all got to do with the students in the class. Which may seem obvious, but I don't think you can really fully understand the full scope until you're standing up there and teaching. Even between sections of the same course, students change the entire flow of things. Between math and computer science, there was a HUGE difference. I attribute it to the fact that students who are taking computer science are taking it as an elective and are more likely to be motivated in the class, whereas students are forced to take math and likely do not actually want to be there.

So yeah, computer science teaching is super cool but I won't bore you with it too much because, well, if you're not a teacher then you'll be super bored by my incessant rambling. So I'll move on to the next 3 weeks I had after that, where I was teaching back at my old high school. I actually did very little teaching there (I came at an awkward time in the trimester when they were winding down and preparing for tests/exams), but it was still pretty cool. The 3 or so lessons I got to do in an AP calculus class were so worth the boring downtime I had - I got to teach about slope fields, exponential growth/decay, and, most importantly, DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS. I bored the hell out of them by starting that lesson by rambling about all the different uses for DE's and how they're everywhere and so cool and how sometimes you can't find solutions and sometimes you can and sometimes you can only find properties of solutions blah blah blah. (My favourite part about teaching that class was being able to go full nerd at them.) That particular lesson was another moment of "maybe I can do this" - I realized while rambling to them about math that I just loved being able to share with them all this knowledge that I had, like the knowledge was pointless until I was able to share it with someone. Super corny, I know, but it was just so exhilarating and wonderful to share what I know with them.

Another great aspect of teaching at my old high school was being able to live at home. That was great - I got to hang out with my youngest brother and my parents, whom I don't often see any more because I'm in this whole other country and it's hard to get back on a regular basis. Which is funny because I'll be back the first week of May. Then for a weekend in June. And see them all over the July long weekend. So maybe I see my family more often than I think I do (not to mention I live with that sister person of mine currently). But still! Family is cool.

If you finish reading this and are like, "I totally do not understand all the things she's saying about teaching - she loves it, but doesn't want to do it, or does she hate it.....waaaat", that's kind of how I'm feeling right now, so I'm glad that I was able to accurately convey that for you.

I think it's that moment in my blog post where I realize that I've pretty much said everything that I want to say for now but can't think of a good way to conclude it.



P.S. Do I use the word "super" enough? Wow.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Dear Internet,

Happy new year! I am pleased to report that my New Year's Eve was a lovely, low-key night spent with family, and that my New Year's Day was spent watching Fringe (my favourite TV show, in case you were unaware). Today I'd like to take a look back at some of my highlights from 2012 and look forward to what I hope 2013 has in store.

My Top Moments of 2012

1. Vacation in Antigua with My Family

For a week in February, the entire clan escaped the bitter cold of Canada and soaked up some rays in beautiful Antigua to celebrate my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. It was the first time in a couple years that everyone was able to get together, and we all had a great time (minus a couple incidents with Long Island Iced Teas and bumpy boat rides). Here are some of my favourite pictures from the trip.
The view from our room My sister relaxing on the beach
My mom and sister at the open bar My brothers and me by the pool
My uncle rocking a flower My brothers' sandcastle tree

2. Cooking and Baking

I got a lot more into cooking and baking delicious things this year. Here are some pictures of the menu! Some pictures are currently trapped on my phone (don't want to use data while I'm roaming), so some things  are missing.
Biscuits Courtney's birthday cake
Dad's birthday cake Cookie cake with cream cheese frosting
White chocolate fudge squares Chocolate mousse
Banana muffins with cream cheese frosting Maple pecan squares
Chicken noodle soup

3. Teaching My First Lesson

January through April of 2012 found me working at a school for the first time ever. Near the end of January, I had the opportunity to teach my first lesson to an actual high school class. If I recall correctly, it was trigonometry applications in a grade 11 university math class. Was this the first in a long, long line of lessons to come throughout my life? Only time will tell!

4. Surprising My Dad on His Birthday

In September, my dad turned 50. My mom decided that, since it's a big milestone, we should all be there to celebrate it, so she flew my sister, my brother, and I from Canada as a surprise for him. He was definitely surprised - although it was hard to tell at the time!

5. Weight Loss

I tend to find this one difficult to talk about, but it was a major part of the latter half of 2012 for me, so I'll discuss it briefly (no pictures, though!). Between May and November, I lost a total of 25 pounds. I was not overweight to begin with...but I saw my habits taking me in a direction I didn't like, so I did something about it. I went to the gym almost every day and counted calories, and now I feel better and more comfortable with myself.

My Hopes for 2013

I haven't organized a particular list of goals or resolutions, but there are a few things I want to accomplish this year.

1. Continue Improving My Health and Body

I am really pleased with the weight loss progress I made in 2012. In 2013, I want to continue this progress a little bit. I don't have much more weight I want to lose - in fact, I really just want to lose what I gained over the holidays. After a couple more pounds, I want to focus on gaining muscle instead of losing fat. My goal is geared towards "fit and strong and healthy" as opposed to just "thin and skinny." One of the first things I have to do this year is to take this and translate it into a better-defined goal (i.e. a quantifiable one).

2. Finish Teacher's College

If you've read any of my other posts in recent months, you know how much I am looking forward to being done with this. Assuming all goes well and I don't do anything stupid, I will be done at the end of April.

3. Improve My French Skills

This term, I started taking French courses again. I used to take French in high school, and was pretty good at it by the time I came to university. I took a French course in my first term, but once my major courses started to take over my schedule, French took a back seat. In fact, until this fall, I hadn't taken a French course in 3 years. I was quite rusty, and still am, but I hope to take a couple more courses and get into the swing of it again. I'd love to someday be fluent - not just because French is a pretty language, but it also opens a lot of doors for teaching in Ontario.

Those are the major things I can think of off the top of my head. 2012 was a great year. A little bit challenging at times, sure, but nothing can be really rewarding if there is no challenge. I hope that 2013 will be at least as amazing as 2012!