Category Archives: 1st year teaching

To the students that hate school

As a student growing up, I loved school. Not every class, and definitely not everyday. There were days when I would rather be anywhere else, and thanks to a mom who understood that not everything is about school there were a few days where I played hooky and went shopping instead. However, I was generally a good student, very involved, and for the most part really enjoyed my classes. I have great memories of me being in school, so when students say things like “I hate school”, or “I hate being here”. I find it a little frustrating. There has to be something that you like about school, and lunch does not count.

In my internship I made a huge effort to make sure even the students who said they hated school could say one thing at the end of the week that they enjoyed about school. In my first contract some of that effort faded. It didn’t just fade overnight, but it was slow and gradual because no matter how much effort I put into lessons, no matter how creative I was trying to be, no matter how much I connected the lessons to the students personal lives, I was met with bored faces and comments about how they hated school. Eventually I just stopped trying, I developed an understanding that there was nothing I could do, the group of students that I had just hated school. This never changed, and when I go back to sub at the school, I find the same attitude.

This brings me to this past week. Recently my boyfriends, a few friends, and I decided to go on a skiing/snowboarding trip in Big White, B.C.. Fun fact: I don’t ski. As a child I never learned, and the majority of the people I am with have been snowboarding or skiing since they were little and are very good. My first time down the mountain resulted in a whole lot of falling, frustration, tears, anger, and eventually I gave up and walked back down. It may be a coincidence that I hate skiing and that I am not good at skiing, but I have a strong belief that the two things are connected. It was about my eighteenth fall (this time it involved a tree, and another skier who was not paying attention), when I realized that my hatred for skiing, is probably what some students feel towards school.

However, just because I am a bad skier does not mean I have given up. I have taken additional lessons, and am slowly improving. However, my hatred of skiing has not ruined the trip. I have challenged myself in other ways. Those that know me, know that I hate heights, like absolutely petrified of them. So when I decided that I wanted to go ice climbing, I shocked pretty much everyone. Yet, I did it. Did I make it to the top, not even close, but I made it about three meters up, which for me was impressive. What is even more shocking is that I would go again.

Yes, I may hate skiing; just like some students hate school. But I am making the best of my experience because I know that the only way I can hate the whole time I am here is if I let the parts I don’t like ruin my overall experience. There are lots of parts of the trip I am super enjoying, and I will continue taking lessons until I become a more confident. Not every student is going to enjoy every lesson, topic, or subject but there is only so much teachers can do before it becomes the students responsibility to make some effort to make the most of their learning experience.

I now have a understanding for what it means to hate doing something, but I also know that just because I hate something that I am not good at does not mean over time I will learn to enjoy it as I improve my abilities. As students progress their abilities, they may also gain a new joy for school. Start with one thing that you can find enjoyment in, allow it to expand.

You can only fall so many time, before you finally stay upright down the hill. You can only fail at an understanding something so many times, before it is finally taught to you in a way that makes sense. Keep trying, because even if it doesn’t make sense, and does not seem easy it will be worth it in the end.

 

PAA-Practical Applied Arts also known as Please Anticipate Accidents

With my first teaching contract, three of the classes I was assigned were Practical Applied Arts. The school I am at is great because it has a large woodworking shop, welding supplies, a full home ec room complete with three stations, and administration who was willing to help as needed. All of this is great…except I know nothing about PAA. I mean I took PAA in middle school, and I am very knowledgeable  about the school, but throughout the whole experience I felt completely out of my comfort zone.

My goal for the classes was that I would never have two classes based out of the same area, this would prevent any arguments about who is responsible for cleaning what, and anyone wrecking someone else’s work. In theory the plan is great…in reality this plan rarely worked. I started with having my PAA 30 class finishing the projects they started with their former teacher in the woodworking shop. PAA 9 was going to start with cooking, while the PAA 10 class did drafting. The biggest problem with this was that PAA 9 could not handle the responsibility of  cooking for more than 2 weeks, and the 10s did not take drafting seriously. Realizing a change of pace was needed I decided to go way out of my comfort zone…and guilt my dad, who is a welding instructor at Moose Jaw Sask Polytech, into teaching welding for a week, followed by three other experienced welders into coming in for two following consecutive weeks to help facilitate the actual welding. This means that I had to get all the supplies for welding, and contact people and actually have a general idea what was going on in the shop. Since I was offering this to one class, I figured that I would offer it to all classes. That was until the grade 10s complained so much two weeks in  that I cut their short, and decided to switch them to baking. I felt throughout the whole semester that I was changing the units every time the students started to get difficult. Part of this was to keep them entertained, part of it was to keep myself sane, and part of it was to keep the rest of the staff happy as I seemed to always be in the way.

During my time teaching PAA I took on the following projects,

PAA 30

  1. individual woodworking projects
  2. welding pencil holders
  3. Group woodworking creation
  4. Cooking
  5. building a shed

PAA 10

  1. drafting
  2. welding pencil holders
  3. baking
  4. CO2 cars
  5. cooking

PAA 9

  1. cooking
  2. welding pencil holders
  3. CO2 cars
  4. wildlife management

During the units, many things happened that I was not prepared for, like having 4 drafting sticks be broken by other students, which halted my drafting unit for a few classes while I found more. I was not prepared for regularly blowing the breakers during my welding unit, or to have a valve leakage which means by oxy-acetylene welding was going to be only stick and mig welding. Every class I got to face an unanticipated situation, some caused by students, some caused by equipment, and some caused from me still figuring things out. Teaching students to respond to accidents that happen while working with tools and dangerous equipment, was one of the lessons I value most, because while you hope that a student will never have to deal with a dangerous situation as a result of human error or faulty equipment.

With every class I learnt something new, with every class I wondered what I was doing, and at the end of every unit I figured out what I liked, what I hated, and how I would do it differently. Even though I started having no idea what I was doing, I actually enjoyed what I was doing. I would be quite happy teaching PAA again, and actually look forward to having the opportunity.

Classroom Management-The Dos, Don’t and Oops.

Classroom Management is a massive focus during university, but no matter how much emphasize professors put on classroom management they cannot predict how our classrooms will be, how the students will act, situations that will come up, school/division policies, or  how I will handle different things. No amount of university, internship or classes could have prepared me for the classes that I started with in February. The students are commonly referred to as damaged, which I get because for the past 5 years, every teacher they have had, had left mid way through the year. Every time a teacher leaves this means that new rules, expectations, instructional practices, and personalities change. It is not the students fault that the teachers left, in many cases it is not even the teachers fault that they left, uncontrollable event occur, decisions have to be made, unfortunately the students are the ones who are affected the most. With this being said the way that they treated me is not excusable. I have learned more about classroom management in the past 6 weeks, than I knew was possible to know, and I also (now) know that I have a WHOLE LOT MORE TO LEARN.

The Dos

  • expectations need to be outlined and agreed upon at the start of class
  • refer to these expectations as needed
  • communicate expectations to admin, they are your support if needed
  • review expectations with the class, make changes if its not working
  • stay calm
  • if you need to walk away from the situation to calm yourself down, than do that
  •  listen to the students side of the story, WITHOUT interrupting (I am still working on this)
  • explain to them why you are not pleased with their actions
  • pick your battles, not everything is worth fighting over
  • treat everyone fairly (I have a problem with only seeing part of the story, I am working on this)
  • respect goes two ways, you have to give it to receive it
  • a little bit of trust goes along way
  • ASK FOR HELP FROM PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING, IT IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH NOT WEAKNESS (I am learning this, but it is a hard lesson)

Don’t

  • Yelling does nothing but cause everyone to be upset
  • ones actions cannot result in a punishment for everyone
  • make assumptions
  • place all the blame on the students (no matter how frustrated you are)
  • change your mind without a reason, explanation, or discussion
  • carry resolved situations into the future
  • hesitate to contact parents if the student is creating massive problems in the classroom
  • hesitate about removing a student if they are create an unsafe learning environment
  • place all the blame on yourself (you cannot control everything)

I am sure that there are 100s of more D0s and Don’ts that I could include, but right now these are my main learnings. After the past 5 weeks that I have had, I know a change is needed, my students know a change is needed, my colleagues and parents know that a change is needed. The idea of changing something that does not work is understandable, however, my students and I have a concern that the other side will not live up to their expectations. I can say that I will do my best, but they are skeptical, they do not know me, I have only been with them for a few weeks, none of which have been successful . I wouldn’t trust me either, how do they know that I am only agreeing to the ideas of our open discussion because the principal is there? They have no evidence of it. How do I know that they are not agreeing to terms because the principal is in the room. This agreement takes a lot of trust, on both parts. I have to earn their trust, they have to earn mine. Standing in front of the room does not earn me respect, having an education degree does not earn me respect, but listening to their complaints, hearing them out, and giving a little makes more of a difference than I realized.

Classroom management is a never ending experience, there is no right way, nothing will happen the way you expect, and changes are not instant. Stay positive, find a positive in every day, and see the situations from both sides. No matter how bad it seems, it will get better.

 

 

What does it mean to “level” math–and why was I not taught it in university?

With my new job I now teach grade 9/10. I took over grade 9 at the end of the polynomial unit, and start with the grade 10s Foundations and Pre-calculus class. In grade 9 and 10 I hated math, like cried everyday, would wake up with nightmare about math before tests, would be violently sick before finals. It was bad; however, in grade 11 math suddenly clicked. I understood it so well that I even took it as my minor my first two years of my degree before switching to Middle Years. Math was one of my favorite subjects to teach during my internship, because you can have fun with it, its easy to grade (the right answer is the right answer, regardless of how you do it), there is more than one way of thinking, and you can connect to all types of learners. Teaching this class was not even a concern for me, I am teaching at my old high school, and would have the support of a lot of fantastic teachers. Within three days of taking the job I realized how under prepared I was for math. We are told as graduates of the University of Regina, that an education degree allows you to teach any grade, and any subject. I quickly learned that this does not mean you are prepared by the university to teach any grade or any subject. I took two math curriculum classes during my education degree and four higher math courses, I don’t know how much more I could learn about math. I even sat in on some secondary math curriculum classes, and attended professional development based on secondary math. Yet, I cannot seem to follow any thing that the former teacher did with her students, which are now mine, and I have no idea what I am missing. Even when I ask how she did her math and grading, it still makes no sense. She uses a system where the students do as much as they can, and that determines their grade, but if they only want to do the harder questions, they will get a higher grade because the level of thinking is higher. How does she determine what the levels are, I looked at her notes, and I looked at my math notes, and at a dozen different sites, but I have no idea where she sees the levels. If this is the new way of teaching, why was it not taught in University. It makes sense that higher level of thinking allows for higher marks, but how do you know something is higher, just by how long it takes to solve, how many steps are involved. I’m trying to use the strategies that I learned for teaching math in university, but I quickly realized that those strategies do not work with a group of students who do not want to learn, and who believe math has no use in their lives (regardless of how many real-life problems I give them). What am I missing? What do I need to change? And can someone please explain to be what leveling questions means, and how do it? I love math, and I want my students to love math, but I feel like I’m failing them.