Exceptional Children

Almost every teacher who has ever mentioned this subject to me says the same thing: they don’t teach you nearly enough about exceptional children in university.

The strange part about that, I find, is that many of the teachers who have told me that were university professors.  So they know about the issue, but…they have no intention of fixing it?  Or they are unable to do so? I understand that changing the curriculum for ANYTHING is extremely time-consuming, but…I don’t know.  I don’t blame any of my professors for the lack of training available; it just seems like a strange situation.

To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty nervous about teaching students with special needs.  I have been informed ahead of time that my training here at university will not even come close to preparing me for those students, and that is not a confidence booster.  I worry that I will fail them.  I worry that I will make mistakes, or I won’t do everything I can/should, and they won’t get the kind of care/attention/education they need and deserve.

I have every intention of doing everything in my power to help every single one of my students succeed.  But what good are my intentions when my training is insufficient?  I am a high achiever.  I don’t feel comfortable giving anything less than my best to anyone I serve, and the idea that there is no way I will be able to do that (even if it’s only at first) disturbs me.  I will learn on the job, or so I assume, but…how can that possibly be good enough?

If there is anyone reading this who has teaching experience in this realm, give me a shout.  My insecurities as a teacher-in-training could really use some beating down just now.

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The Introvert Myth

This entry doesn’t exactly have anything to do with teaching, but it does have a lot to do with the fact that not every student we encounter in schools will be an outgoing little pillar of social confidence – and neither will every teacher.

I am introverted.  I’ve known that since I was about four years old, although it’s information that my parents and teachers have always had difficulty accepting – which sounds ridiculous.  I don’t have a second head and I’m not a serial killer or a giraffe in disguise.  And yet it was – and still is – as if they thought introversion was a disability or defect of some kind; like they thought I couldn’t possibly live a normal or happy life if I didn’t have twenty-eight best friends.

It isn’t a disability, although it can, at times, be a difficulty.  But even if I’m not going to be that teacher who is best friends with every one of her students, I am going to be the teacher who pushes everyone to be their best and to love what they do and seek/strive/thrive no matter what problems and challenges they face.

People come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m glad of every single one of them – even (if not especially) the ones that make life just a little bit more complicated.

Ten Myths About Introverts

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

History and French: the Best and Worst

My single most positive experience as a student came out of an essay I wrote for my grade eleven history class.  I received a mark of 76% – the lowest mark I’ve ever been given on an essay.  I was deeply hurt and ashamed of that mark.  I was a high-achieving students, and up until that point every teacher I’d ever had loved my work inside and out.  As far as I was concerned, I was sixteen years old and the model of academic perfection, people.  Teachers did not criticize me.

…But this history teacher did.  I hated him for it, at first.  My next essay, I worked my butt off just to spite him, and was given a grudging 82%.  Again, unacceptable – and again, I could do nothing but work even harder.  My next mark? 87%.  It was by no means the best mark I’d ever had in a class, but I was flying on that 87%.  I’d never had a teacher push me so hard before.  I spent most of that year and the next wishing I could have him as an English teacher – or, better yet, Creative Writing – so that he could beat the rest of my writing into shape, as well.  I craved the kind of teacher who expected absolutely nothing less than my very best.  Knowing that I’d succeeded in giving him that was the best feeling in the world.

My worst experience as a student came a couple of years before that, in my grade nine French class.  My teacher in that class…well, she hated teaching.  And I mean hated it, to the depths of her soul.  One day we were doing an exercise where we were given a sentence with a blank space and we had to fill it in with the appropriate French word.  We were going around the class reading out our answers to what career we wanted when we grew up.  A girl sitting two seats behind me answered, “I want to be a teacher.” (In French, of course…but that was five years ago.  I don’t remember much of anything from that class.)

Our teacher just stood there at the front of the classroom for a moment, her face suffused with shock and disgust, before saying, “WHY?” like the idea left a bad taste in her mouth.

My classmate did not answer.  None of us said anything.  I was a little scared.  I thought her head might explode, or else she would start to spit venom.  The girl two seats behind me sank down in her seat a little and we continued with the worksheet.

Now, not everyone is suited to teaching.  Miss French Teacher had clearly just gotten to the end of her rope, which I cannot really be upset with her for.  The fact remains, however, that that was the most miserable year of French classes I had ever had.

How about you people?  Give it a shot: tell us all what your best and worst experiences as a student were.

What Do You Believe?

A lot of people believe a lot of different things about learning.  Last semester in ECS100, one of our lecturers gave us a whole slideshow of learning and education quotes from various people, most of whom were dead.  It was lovely and gave us a lot of important/intelligent/interesting/unique opinions on education.  However, I feel that sometimes we get too caught up in what other people think and believe, and as teachers that is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.  If we can’t think original thoughts, how can we expect creativity and curiosity from our students?

As someone who spent her childhood collecting quotes, I know I sometimes had difficulty finding my own words.  I’d think of something I wanted to say, and then think, “Oh – but this person said it so much better!”

Well, today is about eloquence.  It’s about OUR words, OUR beliefs, and OUR knowledge.

As a teacher, what is your most firmly held belief about teaching, education, knowledge, or learning?  If your teacher-y soul was stripped down to its bare threads and bones, what would we find carved into your core?  If you had to throw away every single thought and idea about learning EXCEPT ONE, which one would you keep?

This is mine:
The only think more precious than knowledge is the people who carry it, find it, desire it, hate it, want it, and need it.  My students are more precious, more priceless, more infinitely beautiful and full of potential, than anything in the universe, no matter how much they do or do not learn from me and my peers.

What Will YOU Do?

As a student, I witnessed that not many students excelled in/cared about/wanted to pursue a career in art.  Oh, they enjoyed the projects for the most part, and did their best in class, but for most students art was an ‘easy credit’.  As someone who plans to teach art, that’s pretty much the definition of unacceptable to me.  I’m under no illusions that my classes will produce hundreds of little artistic geniuses, but my hope is that I can make art more than an easy path to graduation for my students.

I believe that learning art is like learning a universal language: it can help you communicate with just about anyone.  I personally follow the work of artists from America, Brazil, Russia, Korea, Denmark, Japan, India, Switzerland, and a hundred other places – painters, digital artists, sketch artists, photographers, fashion designers, comic artists, storybook illustrators – you name it.  The internet is instrumental in this, of course, but the fact remains that the common language there is ART.  And that is one h*** of a beautiful language.  I don’t think there is anything better than being able to teach that language to children.

Because of that, I essentially have only two simple goals as a teacher.
1. I want my students to be better artists when they leave my class than when they started.
2. I want my students to feel that art, in whatever form they desire, can be a part of their lives even if they don’t pursue it as a career.

So here’s the part where this is relevant to you: most people become teachers because a) they love their subject, and/or b) they love and want to help kids.  But we talk about why we want to teach in general all the time.  My question for you people out there is: why do you think it’s important to teach the specific subjects you intend to teach?  Why did you choose your major/minor?  Why do you feel it’s important to contribute that knowledge to your students’ future lives?

Why do you, or will you, matter as a teacher?

Piracy is Our Only Option

TECH TASK #2: An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube

I had to do several drafts of this post, which is part of why it took so long.  One of them was a big rant about how the world is coming to an end, which…well, I didn’t want to sound crazy, so I decided against posting that one.  Maybe some other time, when my judgement is not as sound.

To be honest, this has been a bit of a daunting task.  I could write an essay on any of ten or fifteen ideas introduced in this hour-long video, but I have to contain myself to a single blog post.  Maybe I’ll go crazy with them later, but for now I wanted to just make note of a few of the ideas expressed there.

1) The first one comes from Lev Grossman’s quote, “Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.”  In the outline on this tech task, Dr. Couros wrote ‘Anonymity can allow you to comment in a negative way without fear of repercussions,’ which I think is an interesting phenomenon that extends far beyond YouTube.   It’s true that anonymity can have a negative effect on the way people behave, but I think that that doesn’t quite cover everything.  For a long time, I think that a lot of people have viewed the internet as being some kind of far-off universe, separate from the one in which they live their day-to-day lives.  Anonymous or not, on the internet people say and do and display things that they would never consider saying or showing in, say, a newspaper.  The internet is so huge that anyone can see anything on it, and because anyone can see it, we often think that no one will – or at least no one who will recognize us or get us in trouble for what they see.

I’m quite interested to see where the future of humanity takes us, YouTube comments and all.  That virtual universe we created for ourselves is starting to spill over into the real world more and more.

People are losing their jobs and reputations over the pictures on their Facebook pages.  People are arranging social protests through Twitter and stopping governmental anti-piracy bills in their tracks through website blackouts.  We can see wars and crimes and injustices happening thousands of miles away; we can have an effect on anything and anyone we want, if we so choose.  And the virtual world is growing, growing every day.  All I can really say is that wherever this path leads us, it’s going to be an adventure.

In the spirit of quotes, I would like to direct you to one of my favourite authors.  In one of his many books, Mr. Terry Pratchett wrote, “Adventure!  People talked about the idea as if it was something worthwhile, rather than a mess of bad food, no sleep, and strange people inexplicably trying to stick pointed objects in bits of you.”

….And that’s about all I have to say about that.

2) Another idea that intrigued me was that of ‘aesthetic arrest,’ which Mr. Wesch talked about when he mentioned video blogs, and how we are able to look at people and stare at them without worrying about how they will react and without making them uncomfortable.  We are able to catch ourselves up in their human beauty; we are allowed to admire and study without reproach.  This idea struck me largely because it feels like an invasion into my life.  Both my younger sister and I are artists, and we have both come to the realization that the way we watch people is not considered socially acceptable.  We like to look and examine their features and their hair and the textures of their skin.  That makes those being observed uncomfortable.  We live with it.  We learn to watch surreptitiously, and we learn to live with the idea that anyone who knew they were being observed, even (if not especially) from an artistic standpoint, would find our behaviour rather…unsettling.

To anyone reading this who has met me: yes, I have examined you.  I have noticed the shape of your eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, and jaw.  I have noted the exact tones of your hair and skin and, at close range, the mingled colours of your eyes.  There is no sexual undertone to this or even, in fact, an overly personal interest in you or in anyone else I look at.  I simply find all human beings eminently beautiful.  That includes you, and every other person I have ever met – young and old, male and female, of every race and creed.  Aesthetic arrest is my base state of being.

I had never really considered the idea that others might feel the same way and be ashamed to admit it.

(I will understand if that makes anyone uncomfortable.  If it makes you feel any better, there are thousands of people on campus.  I may note those things about you, but there are too many people around for me to actually think about your individual features for too long.  You are not being stalked.)

3) Another idea I would like to address is that of cultural inversion and tension.  Namely, we express individualism, independence, and commercialization, but value and desire community, relationships, and authenticity.  In face-to-face interactions, connection with others means constraint, so online we seek connection without having to be constrained.  We want so much more than we are able to express, and so we seek to express that desire and craving in a place where no one will be able to recognize us, call us out and hurt us; mock us for our loneliness and for everything we feel we are lacking in our lives.

When Dr. Couros speaks, or when he shows videos and material to the class, I always catch myself thinking, “Wow…I want to live in YOUR world.” Because I don’t.  I really, really don’t.  He lives in the same world as Mr. Wesch – a world of networks and communities and virtual connection that I have seen from the outside but never been a part of.

I grew up in a small town.  Many of the people I knew there spent their teenaged years waiting – angry and tired and lonely and impatient and frustrated – waiting to get out.  It’s an old story.  I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!  Except the world is a big, lonely place, and if you don’t know where to look, it can be difficult to find a niche in it.

In my small town, I knew a boy who was very much an individual: a strange and unique presence in our tiny world.  Once he went around for a day with his friends and a ‘free hugs’ sign.  After a few hours the police drove around, told him there had been complaints, and asked him to stop.  I’ve never known anyone who needed a community and close relationships and authenticity more than him.  We want so much more than we have, and most of us never get anything close to what we need.  I think perhaps we’re all trying to escape our small towns, even if they’re only in our heads.  That’s the world I live in.

I’d much rather be a part of YOUR world.

4) This is it; the last one.

I want to talk about piracy.  In my mind, it’s all very simple.

In the video, Mr. Wesch said (or possibly quoted someone as saying) that our children are growing up constantly living life against the law, because almost everything we do online is illegal.  What that tells me is that the world is changing, and the government is not changing with it.  SOPA and PIPA were stopped this time around, but what about next time?

Governments (or at least democratic governments) are meant to serve the people.  When that stops happening, you get revolution.  Taking away our internet might not be the thing that does it, but they’re playing with fire if they try.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I know some very determined young people out there who would be more than willing to take up arms for the Internet Cause.

(For the record, I’m not advocating violence.  But if the government – any government, really – wants to go head-to-head with the entire combined forces of the internet, they are going to have one heck of a fight on their hands.)

In the words of Edward Farrars: “Perhaps Margaret is right.  Piracy is our only option.”

…Yes, I was the kind of child who collected quotes.  I probably had a few thousand of them at one point.  I have quotes for every occasion!  Even piracy.

Try to contain your envy.

Sex!

That  got your attention!  Isn’t this fun?

But seriously, sex is the issue at hand – more specifically, sex ed.  And this is a bit of a rant, so buckle in.

I’ve been reading some articles on teaching and education in other countries, and I came across this article from Kathmandu, Nepal: “Sex education? Teachers say sorry!”  I think that, despite the distance, the issues addressed in this story are very much relevant to teachers in Canada.  The article, for those who don’t feel like reading it, is essentially about how both teachers and students in Nepal are so embarrassed by sex ed that it isn’t really being taught.  Whether or not the result is directly related, the country is seeing a rather alarming rise in teen pregnancy and related issues.

I find this subject both interesting and disturbing.  I find it interesting because I understand entirely how the situation came about.  Normally the subject of sex does not particularly embarrass me.  However, it’s easy to say that when I have never had to face a class of nervous/giggling/dead-eyed kids, who have prepared for the class either by thinking up the most obnoxious questions imaginable or by trying to spontaneously combust so that they don’t have to endure that class.  During my first sex ed experience in the fifth grade I was definitely in the second category.  I was ten years old and there were some very awkward diagrams going up on the viewscreen.  I would have given anything to burst into flame just then, and I don’t imagine it was much more fun for the poor teachers who had to give the lessons.

The thing is, though, that I can no longer address issues like this from a student’s perspective.  From a student’s perspective, I can say that yes, I understand where the teachers in Nepal are coming from – sex is not something that is generally discussed in public, in large groups, and especially not between teachers and students.  That has a weird, icky feeling all over it.  According to almost every professor I’ve talked to at university, almost every future teacher will eventually be in charge of pretty much every grade and subject imaginable, whether or not they major or minor in them.  I understand that in an abstract kind of way (aka I won’t believe it until it actually happens), but I think that unless you actually choose to take training as a health teacher, nobody ever really expects to have to teach sex ed – myself included.

From the perspective of a teacher, however, this is an entirely different issue, and one that I find disturbing in the extreme. I believe that children are more precious than blood or gold or all the power in the world.  That doesn’t mean I like them all the time – the really tiny ones make me nervous, and I will never pretend otherwise – but it does mean that I value them very highly, especially as a future teacher.

Teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world: caring for the young.  Part of that job is giving them the understanding, confidence, and abilities they need in order to direct their own futures.  And, whether we like it or not, the darling little children we are teaching today will one day become grown men and women, the majority of whom will at some point engage in sexual activity.  That is a part of human existence, and sooner or later it will be a part of their lives.  Their futures are in our hands, and if we don’t give them the tools and information they will need as adults, then we have failed miserably in our duty.

All of this comes down to one simple fact:  teaching is not an easy profession, but it is one of the most important.  Teachers build people, every day, in everything they do and say, and if any part of that makes you so squeamish that you neglect a portion of your construction work, you should not be doing that job.  You are not a student anymore.  Teachers don’t get to say, “My dog ate my homework.”  Teachers don’t get to say, “I was really busy this week, so I didn’t do the assignment.”  Most of all, teachers don’t get to say, “But I don’t WANT to!”

I’m not going to pretend that I’m perfect, or that I will be the best teacher ever.  I have a long way to go before I can face the stares of a classroom full of children, and without flinching introduce them to a subject they would rather die than learn about.  But I can say for sure that when the time comes, even if I do flinch, even if it’s awkward, and even if I feel like I would rather die than teach them that chapter, I will do what needs to be done, because that is what teachers are for.

I’m going to be a teacher someday, and I don’t get to make excuses.