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Returning from Ottawa after receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence has been an interesting experience. I couldn’t tell the staff at my school why I was going to Ottawa before I left, so when I came back to school on Monday everyone looked at me just a little differently. It was great to be back, but getting praised by some colleagues and the silent treatment from others made me feel a little awkward. It was also strange seeing my picture in various newspapers and on the district website – this is not something I’m used to at all! Various colleagues and people I had never spoken to before would congratulate me after seeing my picture in the newspaper. Finally, opportunities to share my story or teaching practices started popping up like gophers in a field – most of which wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t received this award. I’m flattered, of course, and I jump at the opportunity to share my story, but I’m still coming to terms with all the attention.
Most people are genuinely excited about my accomplishment. But every now and then I get the slightly raised eyebrow which generally means that the said eyebrow-raiser is surprised that someone with such a youthful complexion has received such a prestigious award. Even if the question of age isn’t verbalized – it’s pretty easy to tell when it’s there.
As a teacher who hasn’t even reached the big ‘three-o’ and is only seven years into my career, I still feel very young – heck, let’s face it, I am young! I was reminded of this time after time in Ottawa and then again when I got back home. Perhaps it’s because of this that I have spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my PMA experience. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Receiving this award has really confirmed what I’m doing in the classroom. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you’ll know that for six years – and the last two in particular – I’ve been steadily working on and changing the paradigm from which I teach. It’s been a very time consuming, arduous, and sometimes frustrating process (lots of joy and fun in there as well though). There have been many times over the last number of years when I’ve had to question, “Is what I’m doing and the time I’m putting into this really going to make any difference?” When I’m overtired and overwhelmed and a student asks me “What’s a theme?” for the hundredth time, it’s hard not to think futile thoughts as I question my effectiveness as a teacher! Getting invited to Ottawa was confirmation that, yes, I’m heading in a good direction.
- The changes I’ve made in my classroom certainly weren’t done so I could be recognized; teaching isn’t exactly a profession that comes with many public accolades. This being said, most teachers I know consider it a part of their job to to be the best teacher they know how to be. So it can get a little awkward when suddenly I’m being recognized for all the work I’m doing in the presence of other teachers who work tirelessly every day and are doing amazing things in their classroom but haven’t been recognized. It’s weird. And sometimes a little awkward.
- Yet at the same time, I hope that lots of other young teachers start getting nominated for this award for the life-changing work they’re doing. I hope that we will see more and more teachers who are still fairly new in their positions start challenging their own paradigms and then work to create new ones. I hope that they won’t let their age or level of experience dictate what they can or should do. If my story in any way challenges or encourages another teacher to pursue authenticity and relevancy in their teaching, I will feel more fulfilled in knowing that others have benefited in some way from my experience.
- Finally, if you know of a teacher who is doing amazing work and is changing lives (or has changed yours) – nominate them! This has been a life changing experience that I will never forget. It is an incredibly honouring and special opportunity that I wish other deserving teachers could experience. I already have a teacher in mind who I hope to nominate for next year! To find out how to nominate someone, go to the website and look at the nomination guidelines. It takes some time to put everything together, but it is well worth the effort!
Any teacher who has taken students on any form of overnight adventure – especially if it involves the outdoors – knows that it is a huge headache. There are a myriad different permission forms that need to be sent out: medical forms, parent and student consent forms, liability forms, my-child-will-be-good-and-will-obey-all-the-rules forms, acknowledgement of the ‘dangerous’ nature of the trip forms, and waiver forms for the waiver form. And then you have to ensure that all the students bring in their forms. Once you think all the forms are in and completed, you realize that half the students didn’t notice there was a backside to one of the forms and you have to send it back again. It’s enough to make your hair go grey and fall out!
This was my life for the first three weeks of September. Then, in the final week of September when all the forms were finally collected, I took my co-op students on a three day trip to Garibaldi Provincial Park. We hiked up to a campsite at Taylor Meadows near Garibaldi Lake. On our second day we started towards a mountain called Panorama Ridge. Anyone who’s been to this area knows that it is one of the most spectacularly scenic areas in all of BC. From the campsite, you walk through lush alpine meadows, where the autumn leaves on the low bushes are a fiery display of red, orange, and yellow. While slowly gaining elevation, you get glimpses of the impossibly turquoise blue of Garibaldi Lake and a number of glaciated ranges in the distance. Ascending the final ridge up to the peak is like listening to a forty-five minute rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus with a ever increasing crescendo to the very top. And then you reach the summit.
Words cannot adequately express the majesty of the landscape before you.
Garibaldi Lake is spread out in its entirety before you – surrounded by massive crevasse-gashed glaciers and mountains that demand attention. Garibaldi Mountain stands like a sleeping giant, wrapped in a heavy blanket of snow. The Black Tusk, the leftover remnants of a prehistoric magma chamber stands dark and silent as it keeps a watchful eye over the surrounding landscape. Even the large, surrounding mountains seem to pay homage to this ancient sentinel. The summit itself is rocky and barren – gradually eroding away – a whisper of its former glory yet still glorious. The landscape is massive and wild – it demands respect and commands awe.
Despite the awesome beauty of nature that surrounded us, I think that my greatest joy came from watching and listening to my students. Hearing them use the words beauty and beautiful over and over again or talking about how much the students who didn’t come were missing made all the paperwork and preparation stress seem trivial.
There is something very deep that happens in the wilderness – in some way, the mountains, the cool mountain air and amazing views have a way of speaking to the soul. This may seem somewhat sensationalistic or perhaps overly sentimental, but I don’t know of any other way to describe it.
Evidence of this inner dialogue is clear. Students open up in ways they never do in the classroom. Conversations and conversation topics are different – somehow more real. On top of this, I see things in my students that I would never see or get to see teaching English in a traditional classroom.
The beauty of the natural environment in itself is not enough to initiate this deep, spiritual, conversation within people. If we had flown up to the summit in a helicopter and spent half an hour lounging at the top, it would have been a very different experience. The power of the wilderness to transform comes from something very different – struggle and adversity. Getting to our campsite at Taylor Meadows required a 7.7km uphill grunt with full packs – not an easy endeavor. It was especially difficult because it was the first time most of my students had ever attempted something like this. It took about fifteen minutes of hiking before most of them realized that it was going to be more difficult than they expected! By the time we reached the six kilometer mark, shoulders were aching, backs were in agony, legs were on fire, and the lively conversation had gradually become subdued. Thankfully, everyone made it the last 1.7 km!
The beauty of the wilderness is born out of struggle. Trees have to fight other trees and plants for soil and moisture to grow; they have to endure harsh weather conditions and a short growing season in order to survive. Mountains are created by fire and the movement of titanic underground forces, and are demolished by persistent weather and grinding ice. Even the animals that live in this environment have adapted to survive – though life still isn’t guaranteed. I wonder if it is only possible to really appreciate this beauty when it involves struggle. For my students, the personal transformations I observed on this overnight hiking trip were made possible by the long, sweaty struggle up the mountain. It was only then that the beauty of our surroundings could begin its work of transformation.
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Finally, I hope that the skills and attitude necessary to enjoy the wilderness will transfer into the classroom. Here are a few of the main points I hope will transfer:
- Having a good attitude is critical.
- You can accomplish much more as a team than by yourself.
- Know your destination – it will motivate you when you’re hiking through the trees.
- Wonder about everything!
- Encourage your peers along the way – they might not be having as easy a time as you.
- Push yourself – you’ll be glad you did.
- Learning, like hiking, requires stamina.
Tomorrow I leave on a three day, camping adventure with my students! I’m excited! We’ll be camping in the serene wilderness of Garibaldi Provincial Park for what will undoubtedly be an unforgetable three days. An update will follow after the trip!
There are events that happen in life – experiences we go through – that completely and unequivocally change who we are. My most recent major change was born seventeen days ago – on the second day of the new school year. My son is a (mostly) happy, healthy baby boy and I am a freaked out, in-love-with-my-son dad. Life will never go back to what it was pre-baby – from this point on, everything changes.
This change will invariably influence my teaching and who I am as a teacher. The most noticeable change right now is the diminished time I have available for planning and preparation. But I wonder about the deeper changes that will happen in me. Will being a father change the way I interact with or view my students? Will it change what I think is important pedagogically? How will these changes manifest? What will I learn about learning by having a rapidly developing son in the house? How will I balance raising my son with my love for teaching – will the two even be in competition?
I look forward to this new adventure and for the changes that will happen within me, for the tough choices that will have to be made, and for the new summits that will be reached.
It seems amazing to me that I’ve been blogging off and on for almost two years now and for the most part, my posts have been strictly educational in nature.
I’d like to start changing that – but only slightly.
Over the past year I’ve realized that I can’t divorce who I am from my teaching. Whether I want to or not, I bring who I am outside of the classroom into my teaching. I think that part of my journey to become a more authentic educator has meant that I’ve had to come to terms with how my personal life impacts my professional life. This must be what it means to teach and live with integrity. The hard part is understanding how to balance the two without jeopardizing my professionalism at work or my personal life while at home. I think I’m moving closer to reaching this balance, but it will probably be something that I’m always working on.
I’d like this realization to be reflected here. In the future I’d like to explore how different events in my personal life impact who I am as a teacher. I hope you – my readers – will enjoy this slight change in direction!
As many of you know, for the past two years I’ve been doing a graduate diploma program through Simon Fraser University called Learning and Teaching in Today’s Classroom (LTTC). It was a transforming experience – the right program at precisely the right time. Needless to say, I am a vastly different teacher today than I was two years ago. At the beginning of July I completed a final, two week class in the LTTC program. At the end of this class we were responsible for putting together a final portfolio presentation that looked at the different areas of growth we’d experienced in relationship to the goals of the program. I’m attaching a link below that goes to this final portfolio. I’ve tried to make it as user friendly as possible – but keep in mind it was put together under significant time pressure!
Feedback and comments are, as always, completely welcome!
Today was just one of those days in the classroom – my students were so whiny! This is the poem that was born as a result.
Just Another Day in the Classroom
I don’t like what I’m working on.
Can we watch a movie?
Do I have to do this assignment?
Can I work on something else?
Why do I have to do this?
I hate this assignment.
Can we do something fun?
This is hard.
Why is school so boring?
Can I go home now?
How long will this assignment take?
Why is this so hard?
Can we watch a movie?
Can you tell me the answer?
Can you do this assignment for me?
When is school over?
Does everyone have to do this assignment?
Why is the day passing so slowly?
I hate English.
I didn’t save my work.
What should I do next?
I need to proofread?
When will we watch a movie?
I don’t know what to do.
What printer do I print to?
Can I get a drink of water?
What’s a paragraph again?
When will I be done this course?
Why do you teach English again?
Kony 2012 -- Most of us involved with social media have heard of it. For some, learning of Kony and his atrocities is new information. However, my students and I are well aware of the situation; last year we raised over $22,000 dollars to help rebuild schools in Uganda that were destroyed during the war between the LRA and the government.