Love and Literature in School

Tech Task #7: a podcast from yours truly!

The examples I use in there relate specifically to teaching English literature, but I feel the principle is the same for any subject.

The Ralph Waldo Emerson poem at the end can be found here, along with the rest of his work.  The group of writings entitled ‘Conduct of Life,’ from which ‘Beauty’ originates, can be found here (‘Beauty’ is in part 8).

Enjoy!

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.

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.

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?

Romeo Was an Idiot

Tech Task #6 said that we had to use one of the tools on the list to create a story.  My intention was to use Sketchcast, but the site wouldn’t work for me.  I tried out a few of the others, but they weren’t really doing it for me.  In the end I had simply decided to upload my own artwork onto ToonDoo to make a comic, but then I realized…that’s ridiculous.  I can just put the pictures right on my blog.

I sketched this out on paper, scanned it into my computer, and used my tablet for inking/colouring/text, so it is digital artwork.  I don’t know if that counts, but here we are in any case.

Romeo Was an Idiot…

…And Juliet Could Do So Much Better.

A.k.a. It’s Not Always the Prince Who Sweeps You Off Your Feet.

A.k.a. Don’t Trust Men in Obnoxious Yellow Capes.  (Except Robin.  Robin is Okay.)

A.k.a. I Have at least Ten Other Titles, But I Will Spare You (This Time).

(For the record, though, I don’t advocate kidnapping as the way to anyone’s heart.  Flowers probably would not actually go over very well in that situation.)

(Also, I coloured it that way on purpose; I was not just being lazy.  I like the way it looks.  So.)

….Anyways!

I think that storytelling in any capacity is invaluable in the classroom, whether it uses digital resources or not.  I have heard it said, and experienced for myself that it is true, that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  Storytelling is a way of teaching – certainly it’s one of the methods I most prefer.  Often when I set up a lesson or a presentation, I design it like an act in a play.  There’s room for audience input, obviously, but overall I know my lines and I know the direction I want to go in.

That’s storytelling: knowing who your audience is, what you want to say to them, how you want to say it, and what medium you want to use.  I believe that everyone should be taught the ability to tell a coherent story.  After all, from sports to politics to schools to churches to our groups of friends, we are surrounded by tales and accounts and anecdotes on all sides.

As teachers, our job is to prepare children for the world outside the classroom.  Considering the world’s trend towards digital media, then, it is quite obvious how important it is to teach them digital storytelling.

….And that’s all I have to say about that.  Have an awesome day/evening/week/etc.!

Motivation

Many of my classmates in education seem to be anxious over this one common thing:  How do we motivate our students?  How do we keep them interested?  How do we inspire them?  How do we get them excited about learning?

Last semester in ECS 100, whenever someone asked a question like that, the response was always the same.  “When you find out, let me know.”

Helpful, no?

….

…No.

But I can hardly blame them.  What I’ve gleaned during my almost-year in this program is that there isn’t an answer to that problem because – and here’s the shocking part – we are not robots.  We are not the Borg.  We are individual people, which means that the techniques that work for one teacher in one classroom in one year may not work for another teacher, or even for the same teacher with a different group of students.

I’ve come to realize that when we ask our professors how we are going to keep our students interested, we are falling into the trap of thinking that we are no longer students.  We are still students.  In fact, we’re entering a profession where we have to be even better students than our students, because in order to do well at our jobs we need to learn quickly and efficiently all the time and then, every single day, prove and apply what we learned.  We need to sit up and pay attention, which I will be the first to admit I don’t always do.

I think that, somewhere in our heads, we all already have some kind of idea of how to answer that question.  How do you keep students interested?  Well…what kept you motivated?  What made you stop chatting with your friends and pay attention to what the teacher was saying?  What bored you?  What made you turn away or fall asleep? We’ve been witnesses to this profession our entire lives.  Now we just have to put it all together.

For instance, when I was in the eighth grade I made a powerpoint presentation on the country of Ireland.  It was a terrible presentation – half an hour long or something ridiculous like that.  The only advice my teacher gave me afterwards was to not put anything in a presentation that I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about from someone else’s presentation.  That is something that stuck with me, and which I still use as a personal standard to measure my presentations and lessons against.  If someone else were saying that, would I be interested, or would I silently be praying for the building to collapse on their head?

It’s not always effective.  Not everyone is like me.  I’m sometimes interested in some pretty obscure things, or subjects that are boring or strange to most people.  But until mankind comes up with a way to read minds, it’s something that keeps my wandering brain in check…most of the time.

There is no absolute answer – nothing that says, “If you do this, your students are guaranteed to be interested.”  Professors can show you how to work out the problem, here and there, but they can’t fix it for you, because if you’re going to be a teacher, you’ve got to be a student, too.  This problem of how to keep your kids interested and motivated – that’s your project; your pop quiz; your final exam.  And really, when was the last time a teacher wrote a test for you?

Murderers!

(I like exclamation marks.  Can you tell?)

I have found that I quite like this gentleman, Marvin Bartel, Ed. D.  I intend to be an Art/English teacher in the future, and he has some very interesting ideas on creative teaching.  His writing on the subject is prolific, but one thing of his that I thought was really instructive was his list of Ten Classroom Creativity Killers.  In the article he expands on each one and tells how to NOT kill creativity in the classroom.  I would encourage all of you to read it, because his ideas are excellent, but for those without the time or inclination, here is the basic list:

I kill creativity in the classroom when…

1. I encourage renting (borrowing) instead of owning ideas.

2. I assign grades without providing informative feedback.

3. I see a lot of cliché symbols instead of original or observed representation of experience.

4. I demonstrate instead of having students practice.

5. I show an example instead of defining a problem.

6. I praise neatness and conformity more than expressive original work.

7. I give freedom without focus.

8. I make suggestions instead of asking open questions.

9. I give an answer instead of teaching problem solving experimentation methods.

10. I allow students to copy other artists rather than learning to read their minds.

Reading through this list, I have to say that I’ve experience all of these problems with my teachers at one time or another – and heck, I’ve probably been guilty of a few of them, even with the limited amount of teaching I’ve done.  Probably numbers 4, 5, 6, and 10 are the areas in which I can most improve.

4. I am training to teach in the subjects I love, which is wonderful and fantastic.  The only problem with it is that when I love something, I want to do it.  I like demonstrating.  Oh, I hate watching demonstrations – but that’s double standards for you.  I know I’ll have to kill my urge to demonstrate all the time.  A lot of students like to do hands-on work, which means that the more time I spend showing, the less time they get to spend doing.

5. Much of the time, I find that I understand a problem in my head, but I don’t know how to vocalize it so that everyone else will understand.  So when I find an example of a similar problem/solution, I’ll use that instead of trying to say what’s in my head.  That doesn’t mean it will be helpful to everyone else, of course.  While an example may fit into the network of puzzle pieces in my brain, it won’t necessarily fit everyone else.  Instead of using examples, then, I should think of ways to explain things simply and effectively in my own words.  I already practice doing this – anytime I encounter a particularly complex idea, I try to distill it down to its most basic forms so that anyone can understand it.

6. I am the sort of person who likes structure, realistic work, and well-executed ideas.  I sometimes have difficulty judging or understanding more experimental, expressive, or abstract work.  As a teacher, however, I need to be able to look beyond my own personal preferences to judge the actual worth of any piece I am given to mark.  Not everyone thinks or creates in the same way, and I believe it is essential for teachers to be open to all forms of creativity in their classrooms.  That is what I aspire to.

Can you see anything on the list that you think is or will be an issue for you, as future teachers?

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.