A blog dedicated to pursue my passion for writing. Stories of teaching and anything else that fills my head.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Applying for a teaching exchange

Last year,  my husband pondered the idea of quitting his job many times. He just wasn't happy with his job and waking up each morning to drag himself to work was becoming hard work. It was hard to stand by and watch my husband feel defeated. He could just stay in a job to ensure he brings home an income for his family. He could just stay unhappy and work every day so we can afford nice things such as vacations and material objects we don't need. Instead he quit his job after much consideration and he now gets to stay home with our son. It has been a great bonding experience. As my husband would say, he has gained a lot of patience being a stay-at-home dad.

With time on our side, we talked about living abroad and applying for a teacher exchange seemed like the right fit. I was in contact with CEEF (Canadian Educators Exchange Foundation) and spoke to the coordinator Carol, who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to exchanges. I filled out the paperwork in October 2015, got approved by the principal and superintendent and everything was processed by November. Then we were told to wait and that exchanges normally happen between January to March. In February we were contacted with a possible match that can have us leaving in July for Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately that match didn't work out so we were bummed out about not being able to start our exchange in the summer. Again, we were contacted in March that a match has been made with a teacher in Perth, Australia. Both school districts and organizations finally confirmed this match in May, and now we are heading out January 2017.

It still seems surreal. I have been in contact with my match through email and so far so good. We have much to discuss and organize prior to leaving. Carol at CEEF has been a great help with resources and answering questions. Unfortunately for us, she retired in July, but she left us in good hands with a new coordinator. I went to an information session hosted by CEEF in June and met teachers across Ontario who are also doing an exchange. We created a Facebook group and it feels great to connect with people who are in the same situation.

In July I applied for visa sponsorship, and currently I am still waiting for approval. In the meantime, we are purging and making plans for our departure.

Now it's September and school is starting, our exchange is 4 months away. Excitement and anxiousness is setting in but I must focus on the first week back for now.

First year of Planning Time

Definition of a planning time teacher - a teacher that provides prep time to a classroom teacher. Every teacher within our contract is entitled to 240 minutes of planning time each week. Planning time subjects can be discussed with the classroom teacher and depending on the schedule, the planning time teacher would report 2-3 subjects per term for each classroom teacher.

This Last year I chose to teach mostly drama with some dance, music, science and health. I taught students from kindergarten to grade 4. I've enjoyed my time with each of the grades. At first I was terrified in a kindergarten classroom. I remember feeling like I was always putting on a show and I didn't necessarily feel like I was teaching but filling time. As I learned about the FDK (full-day kindergarten) model where students are to learn through play and inquiry throughout the day, I realized the more I gave students choice and freedom, the easier it was to see learning happening. And now, I just love watching the kids play. Which shouldn't come to a surprise since I did dedicate a chunk of my undergraduate degree specializing in Early Childhood Education. I think I felt uncomfortable with the change because I have been away from that age group for a while and was lacking confidence. Another thing I learned this year was how much fun teaching science could be. In previous years, when working with teaching partners doing rotary, I would always give up science.  But this year I taught grade 2 and 3 science and I really enjoyed the process. Through science I was able to integrate STEAM-based learning and this was the hook to engaging learners. I learned how to be a better teacher by asking guiding questions and allowing time to explore and inquire. I co-planned with the teacher-librarian to use the library as a makerspace. I sought help from resource teachers at the board level and learned ways to integrate coding and technology.

I've had some great lessons this year. Here are my top 3:

3- Makerspace with grade 3s. Students were given certain materials to accomplish certain tasks. For example they had to build a bridge that would hold a certain weight or make a marble run with turns and loops. One of the final projects we did was using the idea from the cardboard challenge and create a fair game using concepts in the forces unit.

2 - Robots and coding. This year I was lucky enough to get PD in this area and then our school purchased many different robots to use in the classroom. My favourite are the Dash and Dot robots but I have used the EV3 and WeDo lego kits as well. It's interesting to see some students who traditionally excel in school and struggled with coding, where some students who struggle with  traditional schooling excelled in coding. I struggle with coding because my brain needs to be trained to think in a programming way. So even though I may not have a natural ability with the subject, I still find it so fascinating and want to push myself to learn more. I also see the grit and resiliency strenthening in some of the students I work with.

1- Garage band app rocks! I used this app twice this year. The first time students created a Health PSA using the app to record their voice and add music for effect. The second time students made a silent movie and added music for mood. They also used iMovie to edit the video and audio. Through these projects, I saw students collaborate, organize and plan effectively and these are good life-skills to have.

The year is drawing to a close and reflection is how I cope with the transition, I feel a sense of pride in my learning this past year and I am glad I made the change.

*this post was written in June 2016 and published for viewing Sept. 2016

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Decade in Teaching

This year marks my 10th anniversary in teaching. I remember my very first class. I went back to my hometown in rural Alberta and taught in the school I went to as a student. I taught a grade 2 class with only 14 students and a full-time teaching assistant. There were high-needs in the class but I didn't think twice about class size and having extra support. I just assumed it was the norm. Now I teach in a more urban setting in Ontario and have mainly taught students in grades 4-8 the last few years. This past September, I started in a new school and a new role as a planning time teacher. During that first week I met 100+ students from K-7. Although I have 10 years experience, that week I felt like a first year teacher all over again especially when I was teaching in the Kindergarten classes. In our school system, we have full-day kindergarten for students age 3.5-5. It's full day and every day, and there is one teacher and DECE (designated early childhood educator) in the classroom.
My philosophy towards teaching hasn't changed much, I teach because I love working with children. I have learned new methods and ideologies. I realize I can't do it all and over the past year I have tried to observe and listen more rather than just doing. I have learned when I teach from my heart I am being true to myself and therefore gain knowledge from my students. This is not an easy lesson to learn as I try to cover all the curriculum expectations as well as meet the goals created by the school or school board. From my personal experience I find the goals are often defined by the scores of our once a year provincial tests called EQAO. I remember when I was first interviewed for a job and how I need to know the newest educational buzz words and methodologies. I believed a balanced literacy program was important and found ways to incorporate 100 minutes of literacy into my programming. But over the last couple of years, numeracy has been the focus. Now we include 3 or 4 part math lessons in 60  minutes while still providing an enriching literacy program and please don't forget the daily 20 minutes of physical activity, the science and social studies, the arts and technology and try to do some of this outside because outdoor education is vital as well.
I have burned out in some years where I dedicated all my free time to my job. I have learned to not bring work home and I have learned to grow a thicker skin when I find myself in conflicts with students and especially with the parents. I have been told to not take things personally. I have grown.
As a beginning teacher, I always tried to stay away from the politics of teaching, I figured I can do what I love within my own classroom and the rest I had no control over. But it was this year when teachers were trying to fairly negotiate a contract that I realized how important it is to be informed with the politics. A contract was imposed on us in 2012 by our government and teachers were forced to do our jobs and essentially with less pay. Then in 2014, it took over 2 years to finally come to terms with a tentative agreement. The tension was intense when the teacher's union decided to step up our job action last June and it lasted until mid-November. During this time, I learned the importance to stand in solidarity with my union  and the teachers. The public needed to know what the fight was about, the need for smaller class sizes, the importance of planning time and funding for Special Education and Full-Day Kindergarten. But again, teachers were under the public eye and criticized for wanting more money. People were feeling the rage of teachers potentially striking and their voices were loudly heard all across social media but not without teachers speaking up as well. Every year I teach students to THINK before they post because you can't take it back once it's out in cyberspace and the importance to be KIND.
A few weeks ago a colleague retired after teaching for 32 years, this made me think about my own retirement, in 2036. So technically I have 20 more years or 2 decades left, that is a long time and plenty of time to still empower students, to make a difference, to learn and to grow. The passion to teach is within me, it comes and goes but as long as I follow my heart I think I will be okay.