Category Archives: life-long learning
Last year I boldly claimed that holidays are for learning. At that stage of my course I was beginning to look for a job. This year I entered holidays feeling totally and utterly exhausted and really couldn’t see myself mustering much energy to do anything but watch re-runs of the Gilmore Girls in my PJs.
I still did manage a few days of slothdom but life is what happens when you are making other plans so what have I bee up to?
Meet-up is a social networking site where people with common interests get together and do something fun. So far I’ve learned how to make Curry, a decent flat white and been on a few Stand Up Paddle boarding excursions with groups I’ve found. However when the opportunity to learn how to make croissants with a genuine French pastry chef came up, the answer was or course ‘oui.’ Which is about the extent of my French as the only reason I took French at school was to eat.
In theory I should now be able to offer up pastries for staff morning teas but in reality I don’t think I have the patience for all the waiting around nor the attention to make sure that I roll the dough just right. Fun fact: croissants are made with fresh yeast.
Term 4 is camp at my school which means me alone in the woods with my class. Well may be not alone but responsible which terrifies me as I don’t have a good history with school camps. In Year 8 my teacher broke his leg and had to be shipped off the island. In Year 10 there was a horrible storm that flooded our tent. Year 12 the mountain erupted and just for good measure my brother smashed his patella and had to be shipped off the island. At this juncture, I’m thinking terrible weather might actually be the best possible outcome for my sojourn into the wilderness with my class. Which is just as well I went along to a First Aid course in the first week of the holidays. It was a really full-on few days but I am now back up to speed on bandages, CPR etc
Deserves a post in and of itself. But an awesome few days (re)connecting with NZ’s internet community.
Education and science select committee hearing
While nethui was on I popped over the road to see a select committee in action. It was rather surreal to hear someone I had never met before online or offline talk about the submission my class made. It was also awesome to see @claireamosnz give an amazing submission. I will take the lessons back to the classroom to help my students prepare for their verbal submission.
So a busy break. I managed a few days at school as well rearranging my classroom and am now gearing for an 11(gulp) week term.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 7.c
Graduating Teachers work co-operatively with those who share responsibility for the learning and wellbeing of learners.
I’ve been wondering about whether to make this post, firstly because it breaks vow not to blog about specific incidents but more importantly I’m blogging about work on the internet.
However I am in need of advice, namely how to ask for advice.
One of the issues that came out of my Teaching Experience is that I need to be more proactive about asking for advice and guidance on my teaching. So I’m putting this out here, how do you ask for advice from colleagues?
As a bit of a backgrounder most of my working life thus far has been spent in Asian workplaces, or more specifically Korean and Japanese workplaces with two very old-school (read Confucian) bosses. Teaching Experience was my first time working in a western environment and more importantly the first time in over 8 years that I’ve been a workplace were the language and culture are the same as my own.
Obviously there are some bonuses to this experience. Firstly I can adapt to challenging situations. Secondly I am very good at cultivating professional relationships outside of the organisations I work in (this blog and twitter are obviously part of relationship building I’m doing to become a teacher) to help develop professional skills. Finally the only time I would call in sick for work is if I had lost a limb and even then I’d probably drop by and let the boss send me home rather than making the dreaded phone call (far better to have the boss send me home).
But there are some downsides, my style of communicating and dealing with co-workers has become mired in eastern ways of doing things.
But how is eastern communication different? One example I often give is from my first summer of teaching in a public school in Korea. It was so hot that on occasion I would wear a sleeveless top. It wasn’t a spaghetti strap top and would have been fine in 99% of New Zealand workplaces. However in the 35 degree + heat and humidity one of my co-workers kept asking if I was cold. It took a few days for the penny to drop that she wasn’t asking if I was cold, she was asking me to cover up my arms in a way that didn’t cause offence to either me or her. Group harmony was seen as being more important than getting the message across. Vague (at least to western sensibilities) comments would be made and then it was the listener’s job to unravel the context to find the actual meaning.
As a result of these sort of interactions, I’ve adopted a bit more of an indirect style of communication when dealing with people who are senior than I. For instance instead of saying: ‘I’m having trouble with time management in class what do you think I should do?’ I will say ‘this week I am working on managing my time in class’ and then let the context of a student asking a teacher do the talking. It’s a way for me to raise an issue without having to say ‘I’m struggling’ but more importantly it gives the person I’m asking a way of not being put on the spot or saying something that could cause friction or signal incompetence. To the westerners this sort of behaviour is known as ‘saving face’ and something to be discouraged. But in group-orientated societies having good instincts or an ability to read or sense the mood or non-verbal atmosphere and respond to it is a highly valued quality.
Perhaps the the downside of this experience is that I while I’m happy to ask equals and the internet for help on job matters, I’ve gotten into the habit waiting for the senior person to give guidance rather than force a discussion. From my viewpoint it’s up to the senior to give guidance when they need to and me as a junior to implement their suggestions. However I can now see how me being respectful of a senior’s time and feelings could be perceived as lacking initiative in seeking out guidance on my teaching. It’s definitely something to work on during my next Teaching Experience. I am no longer the lone ranger within an organisation and need to start using people’s expertise a bit better in the future hopefully this will enable me to work smarter rather than harder.
Nevertheless unpacking my problem has also been a fascinating exercise in how culture shapes behaviour.
I still have a student loan. Not a big one, but it’s still there. Prior to embarking on University 2.0, my loan was into the four-figure territory but this round of tuition fees has me back in the five figures again. Thank goodness this time around the loans are interest-free, because without it my loan would still be well into five figures.
In exchange for my student loan I have an Honours degree in Education and Politics from respected institution. And self respect and life-long friends and blah, blah, blah.
Don’t get me wrong my degree was fun to earn, and I learned a lot. But I can’t honestly say that university study prepared me for the working world. In fact I would go to say that the experiences I had outside of the lecture theatre, writing for the student magazine, being the Vice-President of the Students’ Association and organizing the odd student protest were of far more use to me in the ‘real world’ than the academic side of university the first time around.
But then I went to university not really sure what I wanted to do except escaping a life-time in west Auckland. Perhaps that was my downfall, my career objective was to escape something rather than train for something else. But it was an expensive proposition and what I am wondering now is what really was the value of that degree?
The topic came up with a discussion with my parents about the governments proposed crackdown on defaulting expat student debtors which inevitably turned into a discussion about whether it makes financial sense for young people to go to university if they aren’t training for a specific profession like law, medicine etc.
My parents pointed out that after one year of professional training my brother found a job earning more than I will as teacher even though I have 5 years of full-time study under my belt (4 year honours degree + 1 year grad diploma). His education cost far less than mine not just in terms of tuition fees but also years forgoing income. I conceded the point that I wasn’t particularly focused on what I was doing at university the first time around.
In retrospect I probably should have pulled pints in London for a few years to get the travelling out of my system and come back more focused on my academic work. But then I suppose you could say that my degree enabled me to get a job out of university, and that if I hadn’t gotten that job, I never would have hated my job, and finally gotten around to getting my diploma teaching 10 years later so everything worked out in the end.
This time around I am a lot more focused on getting done what I need to get done in order to graduate at the end of the year and find a job. But if I was dispensing advice to high school students who were thinking of going to university to avoid having to deal with the perplexing question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, I would say that perhaps university is not the place to find the answer to that question.
New Zealand is a small place. So when one part of our waka shakes, we all feel in some way feel it. This week my heart hurts for the people we already know who have perished in the earthquake in Christchurch and the other souls currently missing. Like most people I feel a bit useless to do anything other than give some money to the Red Cross and send good thoughts to the people who will face untold difficulties in the weeks and months ahead.
Of slightly less significance is the news that I officially survived the first paper with a very good, but not great, pass. I also spent the bulk of this week unplugged from the world at a residency run by my university. This is the longest have I gone without internet since my week-long sojourn into North Korea (yes THAT Korea) in 2008 so was in serious internet withdrawal by the end of the week.
However the benefits of going offline was that I was finally able to put some faces to the names of the fellow students on my course. To say that I was impressed by the diverse make up of the student body would be an understatement. I had assumed that freshly-minted graduates would make up the bulk of the students on the course. However the majority of students were like me: people who had been in the workforce for a number of years or even decades and were taking on a second (or even third) career who happen to be scattered all over the country. I have special admiration for the large number of parents taking the course, especially the ones with babies and young children, who are juggling family and life commitments along with a hugely challenging course. Alongside seeing some awesome teachers in action, one of the most useful parts of the residency were the conversations with fellow students. These conversations made me realize that the fears and anxieties about exam performance, assignments and our looming teaching experience are actually quite common amongst the student body.
However I was staggered by the breadth of knowledge areas that primary teachers have to build up teaching expertise in. Alongside English and math (which cover the traditional three Rs) we also have to become proficient teachers of social science, the arts (Drama, Dance, Music and Visual Arts), health and physical education, science, language learning and technology.
I am exhausted just writing the list.
I was a bit disappointed that my beloved ICT and e-learning did not get a look in however I could see how I could use it in other parts of the curriculum.
I know there is a view that schools are wasting time doing ‘frivolous’ things like the arts when they should be spending time on core learning areas like reading and math. I have trouble following the logic that if we spend time teaching kids music and movement, it is at the expense of their learning in hard subjects. I realize that time is a finite quantity however effective teaching in areas like PE and Social studies can inform other areas of the subject areas of the curriculum. We can’t expect kids to develop writing skills if they don’t have rich experiences to write about.
My favourite workshop of the residency was the dance teacher who modeled a lesson which would get kids moving, laughing and learning some literacy along the way. Playing rugby is an application of math and physics just as much as brut physical power. Dan Carter knows that if he’s kicking into the wind, he needs to put some extra force behind the ball to get it where it needs to go. Likewise music, social studies and technology all have the potential to reinforce the ‘core skills’ when the subjects are taught well.
But even if there weren’t educational benefits from the ‘soft’ areas of the curriculum there is a far more important reason to embrace a love of areas outside science and the 3 Rs. Our kids lives would be awfully bleak if they spent all day at school strapped to their seats quietly learning their ABCs and 123s. Their lives are enriched by running, jumping, making music and creating bits of art. Actually adults lives are also improved by doing these things too.
Speaking of which, I need to go to bed because I’ve got an early stand up paddle boarding class out on the harbour tomorrow
I spotted a story in the newspaper which noted that principals were concerned about the competencies of some teachers in literacy and numeracy. The article, which was opened up to reader comments, managed to gain 122 comments before midday. Most of the comments take quite a dismal view of the teaching profession in particular towards those who have recently graduated from university courses in the last few years. The old adage, those who can’t teach, seems alive and well in the New Zealand psyche.
So lets take apart some of the arguments.
Any idiot can become a teacher
In my case I have an Honours degree (that means I’ve completed one year of graduate study) and majored in Education during my undergraduate degree. I am now completing a graduate diploma in order to gain a teaching credential in primary school. One of the Teacher Education courses that I applied to had almost 4 applicants for every place. Following graduation junior teachers need to be supervised for at least 2 years before they can get a full practicing certificate without which they can’t teach in New Zealand schools. So not only do the Teacher Education providers need to say this person is a capable teacher, the profession also needs to say this person is competent. Out in the workforce my mother, who has decades of teaching experience, was recently turned down for a job because there were almost 100 applicants for 1 position. Clearly not any idiot can get into teacher education programmes and even if the student does qualify through the course and registration process, it isn’t always easy to find a position.
Incompetence is widespread through the teaching profession
According to the article approximately 174 teachers had been referred to the Teachers Council out of a workforce of approximately 52,000 teachers. My mental calculation suggests that this amounts to approximately 0.003 of the workforce (I rounded the number of incompetent teachers up to 200 then divided 2 by 5 to get 2.5 (which I rounded up 3) then divided 10,000 by 100 to find out how many places to put the the decimal point). So we are talking about a very small figure of incompetent teachers. Now lets use some literacy skills. What the principal’s council is actually concerned about is that from the group of 174 teachers who had been referred to the Teachers’ Council for serious competency issues, only 1 teacher was deregistered. It wasn’t a comment on the literacy and numeracy standards of the teaching profession as a whole.
But what really annoys me about the comments is that being a good teacher comes down purely to subject knowledge. We know that just be around someone who is an expert in a given subject doesn’t necessarily mean that effective learning is taking place. As I demonstrated in my Speaking in Tongues reflection, getting a learner to engage with the learning material in order to gain their own understanding is just as in important skill as knowledge of the subject.
Don’t get me wrong, I think subject matter is important. But a student getting one up over the teacher or a teacher making grammatical errors (which isn’t limited to the teaching profession) doesn’t necessarily mean that the teacher is incompetent. Effective communication, reflection and engagement with the learners are characteristics we should also be looking for in our teachers. Along with a view that a mistake is not a sign of personal failure, it’s a learning opportunity.
John Wooden is known as the Wizard of Westwood for coaching UCLA to 10 national championships in a 12-year period — seven in a row. Interestingly his talk focuses on the development of character over winning. One of his three most important rules, “no criticizing of teammates, I’m paid to do that,” is a great rule that translates well to the classroom. As does not being late!
If my first could be characterized by a freak out, the word for my second week of study is definitely slog. As in ouch my brain hurts from slogging it out to complete my first assignment.
I should of expected it. If you spend a few months away from the gym and expect to do the same workout you did before your absence, your muscles will quite quickly scream ‘hey take it easy there buddy.’ Almost 10 years away from varsity and 7 months not working have resulted in my brain being a bit out of shape. To go from life as lady of leisure to ‘hand in your 4000 word assignment in 2 weeks OR YOU FAIL’ has been a major shock to the cerebral. My brain feels a bit like it’s been through the academic equivalent of the first episode of the biggest loser.
However there have been some positive aspects. Teacher Trainee, The Queen of the All nighters during my first time at varsity, actually had the assignment largely finished TWO DAYS before the thing was due in. Am I 100% happy with what I turned in? Not entirely, but then my reaction to work is almost always grade dependent. I like a bit of external validation for my efforts in the form a nice shiny A. Bs are nice too and well Cs get degrees (or diplomas). I’m pretty confident I haven’t failed (the very fact I just typed that sentence now has me convinced I failed).
But this week has got me thinking about life as a student the second time around who is a.little.bit.older. than the stereotypical school leaver scholar (yes I hate the term ‘mature student’).
Starting (back at) study = adjustment = stress = take it easy on yourself
Although I resisted the temptation to entitle my essay ‘Jean Piaget is my homeboy,’ the Swiss theorist was on to something with the idea that we go through a period of cognitive conflict when faced with adapting to new situations. Starting (back) at varsity is exciting but also stressful. Give yourself time to adjust to your new life and take any setback when (not if) they occur as a chance to learn. Speaking of which, is anyone interested in a ‘LEVing 4 Vygotsky’ bumper sticker?
Maintain a network
University study can be lonely especially when it seems that you are the lone oldie in a sea of 18 year old school leavers. Education papers I have taken in the past have almost always had students from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds even if the gender is skewed towards women. This current course is no different in that regard. One of the highlights of the week was getting together with other students from my course in this city for a study session. As luck would have it, a staff member for one of the other sections of the course happened to be in town, it ended up being a highly worthwhile and fun experience.
Keep a life outside of varsity
Along with my regular gym work, this week I took a class in Stand Up Paddle Boarding (I’m hiding out somewhere in that picture) through my gym. It was good to try out a new activity and I felt reinvigorated to get into my study that morning. I’m also amazed that I didn’t end up in the water.
Get to grips with new technology
I love that Word now has a wizard that makes referencing a piece of cake, you tube has a whole bunch of nifty documentaries for me to watch, google books is useful for a quick glance at source material when it is too wet to venture to the library, USB sticks can store vast amounts of documents and obviously that I can blog. It wasn’t like that in my day when we had had to walk 10km to the library in the snow just to construct our bibliography, floppy disks were the height of portable data storage and they had this thing called USENET. But sersiouly, technology has probably changed a whole bunch since you were last at university so mastering it will make it easier on you in the long-run.
I spent way too much time this week at the expense of my class work which means that I am going to be spending a lot of time this weekend catching up on my reading because I didn’t prioritize my time well. Prioritize, Prioritze, Prioritze, shall be mantra for week 3.
Unplug your modem every once and a while
I didn’t realize how much Facebook,Twitter and general faffing about on the internet suck up my productive time until I was doing some work on my assignment while babysitting a friend’s child (said child was in bed). My friend had meant to give the password to the wifi connection but was running late so we forgot about it. But being without the internet actually worked out well, as I didn’t have any online distractions and got a whole bunch of work done on my assignment.
What tips would you give *cough* mature students to get their brains in shape after time away from the ivory tower?