Doubt

Doubting Thomas by Mark Tansey found on Never Mind the Bricolage

Doubting Thomas by Mark Tansey found on Never Mind the Bricolage


I’ve been down lately. I just want to hole up in my apartment. I’ve started knitting. I’m reorganizing furniture. I’m spending way too much time on etsy. I’m escaping into books and movies.

At the beginning of the year I was so charged. Now, I find myself in this familiar pattern, questioning what I am doing, if it is what I need to be doing, and hiding out while I mull this over.

I’m tired most of the time.

The past few days I have been cooking with my mother, in preparation for a big party tonight, I’ve been knitting, going to movies. I’m finding myself wanting to be alone and resenting it when the phone rings.

I saw the movie Doubt on Christmas Day. I was enthralled. And, though the subject matter be completely distinct from what I live, I was struck by my own doubts. Doubts about my career, my relationships, and how they affect my sense of self.

It’s that last one that grips me. I’m not sure how to answer to that one. And how do I teach authentically, convincingly when I have such doubt?

So this is what I have been and am thinking about, as we roll into a new year, instead of posting to this blog. Instead of preparing for a session I am to lead at EduCon 2.1. Instead of correcting English essays. Instead of spending time with people.

Pick it up

I’m sitting outside, barely able to see this laptop screen because of the bright and the sun, eating watermelon and sourdough bread, leftover from last night’s evening with friends, and listening to music. Words and phrases jump out at me when they can, behind the keening of the cicada on the tree, and confirm why I do what I do and how I feel at this time of year.

Time to move on build the skills Time to elevate and never stand still Time to excel with no time to kill Time for progress it’s time to build – (The Herbaliser, Time 2 Build)

Get up! What we slowin down for? Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up! We got a whole nation to restore Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up, pick it up! We gotta really love each other more (KRS-One Pick It Up)

So this is it. The last Sunday before 4 PED days, the 2nd to last Sunday before kids. Back in June I reflected (or (p)reflected as I like to call it ;) ) a bit about the year to come. I’m excited that I was offered the position I wanted, as a teacher in the alternative program at HSB called Directions (I spoke a bit about that here.) I am a grade 11 core teacher. I found out on Wednesday what that means: I will be teaching English, Math (not sure yet if that is grade 11 math OR Grade 10 math or both), Grade 10 repeater science, Economics, Ethics and Religious culture, and possibly civics. All of that layered within social skills and personal development curricula. Luckily I’ll be working with a tight teaching team – 3 teachers and a special ed technician – in a wing of the school that is quite separate from everything else. As are the students – they wear a uniform (their decision, no one else at the school does – outside of the jeans that don’t cover their butts and the caps that inspire teachers to mutter, mid-sentence, caps please, as they walk down the halls) and they are not allowed in the regular school environment. These are students with troubles, and the idea is to keep them away from the environment where much of that trouble has played out in the past. I am psyched about working in this community. I’m also a bit wary of the challenges that I know are to come when working with needy students and teaching subjects I have never taught before. I can’t say I am not, but like everything else – if it needs to get done it needs to get done and it does.

“…the only way to get a thing done is to start to do it, then keep on doing it, and finally you’ll finish it,….” Langston Hughes

I always find this time of year…ambiguous and full of possibility. Logically, I know the courses I will be teaching, but in my heart, until I know my students, I don’t. So 10 more days of ambiguity…and then it’ll be time to pick it up for real.

…home page image for this post was found here

Trying to lead from the heart

Really, I am trying.

I don’t usually write about my personal challenges as a teacher in this blog, but today I find myself needing to.

I started at a new school this September and was hired to teach and design a new program for older students (16-21) who are not  expected to graduate.

I’m now teaching 14 students from the ages of 12-19. 6 of them are in the original program – a life skills transition program we’re calling Bridges. 8 of them are in a ‘learning centre’. I teach them all at the same time. One of my students is severely intellectually handicapped and works below a kindergarten level. Other students have a variety of cognitive and learning disabilities. I am finding it difficult to lead them where they need to go when there are such different objectives attached to each of the students in the room. I need help.

I think I need to map out the types of learners in the room and work from there. So I can design maybe 3 or 4 different plans per lesson rather than 13. And so that I do not have lessons where students are lost, or I am lost.

Because that is how I feel sometimes with them. I want to lead them where they need to go, and from my heart.

The tao of teaching in ambiguity

image: Shadowed Crones by Rudha’an, found on flickr and offered under a creative commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.

What I love about keeping a blog is the insight I glean from those in my blogging community. The other day I published a post called Understanding the Machine and in one of Christopher‘s comments I found a pearl:


…but until I know who I’m going to be teaching, and how many, I’m stuck at an exploratory stage.


This describes how I feel each time I prepare for a new group, whether they be elementary school students, high school students, university students, or any of their teachers and support staff. In fact, I feel that I am always at the exploratory stage and as soon as I feel I’m not, well, it’ll be time to change gears and start teaching something new.

It also pretty much sums up the foundation of socio-constructivist approaches to teaching and learning like Differentiated Instruction.

I was always amazed at teachers who were able to create detailed course outlines at the beginning of the school year. I remember asking a colleague how he could do so before he spent some time with his students and he answered, “Simple – there are 32 chapters in the text book and 4 terms in the school year. I just do the math.”

I can’t see it as simply as that. Even for content courses with standardized testing (like Secondary IV Physical Science or History of Quebec). Until I get to know my students things are somewhat ambiguous because they make up most of the meat of anything I teach.

My job is to continuously replenish my toolkit so that I have as many options as possible to explore with my students so that I can be sure the strategies I use mesh with the way they need to learn.

I think that part of the magic of teaching is learning to live with ambiguity, yet to do so with inner authority and compassion, allowing course design to emerge based on community (classroom) needs. Oh, and to keep learning learning learning about as many different strategies as possible so that, as I create my courses (an ongoing process), I can say, wait – I know what might work here, let’s try this!

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