Some wonderfully new (to me) blogs

As always happens just after the end of the school year, I am finding I have more time (and guilt-free time, at that!) to read what others are writing. Here are some of the blogs I have found over the last few days, written by people I am looking forward to reading again.

L’espace à Zecool – Technopédagogue, par choix et par passion…
(roughly translated to ‘Zecool’s space – tech educator, by choice and by passion)

The author is Jacques Cool, an educator from New Brunswick, who works in the area of creating and delivering learning systems for students, mainly online. The blog’s attraction for me is in the area of French resources, which he finds and shares with his readers. It is written in French.

Jim Burke: The English Teacher’s Companion – thoughts about teaching teens and English in the twenty-first century

I found Jim’s blog in a roundabout way this morning. My stats page showed his feedburner link as an incoming link to my page, I clicked on it and found some wonderful writing. Anyone that uses gardening as a metaphor for self preservation and as a method for keeping sane at this insane time of year (or at least what was this insane time of year a mere few days/weeks ago) is someone I need to keep reading.

Notions and Potions – Thoughts about teaching and learning

I think I found this blog through the one above, sometimes the route to a site is quite circuitous! The author is Dea Conrad-Curry, an educational consultant who owns Partner in Education, a company that specializes in professional development opportunities for educators. Lucky for us she also blogs and this bit of writing I found today is what will bring me back to her blog tomorrow, living in farm country it resonates with me.

…I was thinking of how farmers and teachers are alike. They both are responsible to nurture valuable commodities. Their work is both science and art. They both possess intrinsic passion, returning day in and day out to work over which they have limited control, facing the vicissitudes of nature: mother nature and human nature. And they are both being moved to change by the combined forces of technology and science.

The French Corner – the blog that’s all French, all the time

Well, it is written in English but Samantha’s posts are consistently about French, whether it be learning or teaching the language. Samantha is studying to be a high school French teacher and obviously loves the language. This blog is rich in resources and ideas. It is also beautifully presented and I think she designed it herself, which is always a bonus in my books. Samantha will make a great teacher. I’m looking forward to going back.

FSL Mania!

Yes, another fsl blog :) What got me with this one is that the author is sharing books she wrote for her Kindergarten classes, along with some accompanying workbooks. Sharing is good :) The blog is written in English, the materials en français.

Autodizactic – I really like learning

Zac Chase is currently sharing his experiences in Africa with us – his trip to the grocery store reminds me of my first trip to a grocery store in Beijing. I, too, had never seen ‘long life milk’ before then. Now I buy it at home, it’s great to keep in the cupboard for those mornings when I ran out of milk the day before and forgot to replenish with a fresh carton. It saves me and my coffee. When he isn’t in Africa he shares stories about teaching high school students, in particular about the projects they create and how he sets up the space in which to create them, in Philadelphia.

Do you have any wonderful new blogs you are reading?

ps – just found a new one, a few hours after I wrote this post but I have to add it in. It’s Classroom in the Cloud, written by John, a teacher who advocates for ubuntu in education. How could I not love him?

Wherever you go, there you are

So now it’s July 1. The paperwork is over and all I have left to do is empty my classroom at the old school tomorrow – today is a holiday in Canada – Canada Day.

Time for brightness and light (and warmth. It’s July 1st and I have a fire going to ward off the chill that 12 degrees celsius brings to this old house) so welcome to my site redesign :) I need something cheery to look at right now. I’ll let this post explain some of the why.

Yesterday was supposed to be my first day of holiday until I was called in to do ‘a bit’ of paperwork that people forgot to tell me about. In Ontario, students are awarded a certificate of Bilingualism depending on the number of hours of French they were exposed to from Kindergarten through Grade 12. The system for figuring this out is rather…tedious. Each year the French teacher has to figure out how many hours each child received and add it to previous years. Not all students are equal though, some with IEPs receive less French instruction than their peers and so we need to figure out the percentage of instruction over the year. There is a form to write all of this in (by hand) in each student’s folder though, sadly, there isn’t a uniform location for the form in each folder. I taught 7 classes of 20 to 34 students per classroom. 5 hours later I was on my way back home. But the stress of this end of year got to me and I spent much of my paperwork time in tears. Uncontrollably so. Every once in a while I’d wipe my eyes and say, ok. It’s over. And it was, until someone came by to ask how I was doing and they’d start right up again.

So I definitely learned that when I’m not at my top form I default to old behaviours. I used to keep my emotions to myself until they finally exploded out of me in the form of tears that just couldn’t stop. And there I was again.

Smack in the middle of my new teaching assignment my boyfriend left. We had a difficult weekend about 2 weeks ago and really needed to talk. Instead I came home from work that Monday to find all of his things gone and I haven’t heard from him since.

I was in the middle of getting to know a new school in a new province, transitioning from high school to elementary school teaching, and writing report cards at the new school all the while correcting, evaluating, and reporting on student work from my old school. I already had a few emotions coursing through my system – fears of incompetence related to both teaching elementary school after an 8 year hiatus from that level and teaching in French, guilt associated with leaving my students and colleagues at the old school, and overwhelmedom from all of that :) Needless to say I packed whatever I felt about this relationship into the back of my mind (heart) in order to continue juggling the balls.

I’m looking forward to this summer to rest and recuperate! Gardening, spending time with friends and family, exercise (I have not exercised in I don’t know how long), reading, painting, and whatever else comes up are how I am going to do that.

Passion exists inside me, not inside a job

This blog post has been in the works for a couple of weeks now and was coaxed out by Dan Callahan’s post One for the Record Books over at Geek.Teacher. His post reflects on the mixed feelings he has around changing schools, changing positions.

My own recent job change has had me thinking along the same lines.

Dan writes:

I’ll admit to being very conflicted that I’m abandoning a lot of the core elements that have defined my first eight years as an educator. My new position is going to be so drastically different from what I’ve been doing on so many different levels, and it will differ in a lot of ways from what I set out to do when I got my first job.

* I’m going to be moving from a semi-urban district to a much more suburban environment.
* I’m going to be moving from middle school to elementary school.
* I’m going to be leaving special education to work with a much wider portion of the student body.

In my darker moments, I’ll admit, it feels like I’m selling out. While I know that my new position will have its own challenges, I have to admit that those areas highlighted above feel important, and it feels like I’m abandoning them.

As many of you know, I loved my last job. It was infused with ideals of teaching I believe in strongly – working with students who have been marginalized much of their lives and showing them it doesn’t have to always be that way, putting the student before curriculum, the necessity of relationship, the heightened sense of making a difference in students’ lives.

I used to teach students in grades 10 and 11 at an alternative program, kids who were at risk to not graduate high school but were identified as bright, needing a different environment. Close to half of my students were Native students (Mohawk from Kahnawake). I now teach French in an elementary school in a rural area of Eastern Ontario and at first I, like Dan, thought that I was abandoning those ideals I held close by leaving that job.

Those feelings are also entangled with the sense of real abandonment I fear I’ve left my students. You see, I took the new position with 4 days of teaching plus an exam period left in the year at the old school. The decision wasn’t easy but necessary to gain experience in the Ontario school system. I was able to take it because of the tight teaching team that exists in that program. I didn’t leave my students to flap in the wind with a random substitute teacher. I left them with some of the most caring people I know. That is another fear I have, attached to another one of my ideals, that I have left a teaching team that embodies collaboration, caring, and raising the bar for ourselves and our students.

So, while I was excited to be starting something new and to be on the track to better work/life balance by working at a school in my area of the world, I was also thinking about everything I just wrote about. Not to mention the fact that all of this was happening in June, not usually my most energetic month!

Soon into my new job, however, I began to make connections with my colleagues and with my students. The first time a student came to me on the playground, “Madame Tracy, please help,” I thought, “All is good”. I realized that I am still excited about helping kids to learn, though in different ways. And I remembered, it is not my job that defines me but me that defines my job.

I find inspiration when I need it and at the end of my 2nd week at the new school was intrigued by a tweet in my twitter feed from Elona Hartjes:

The link led to a talk on TED by Srikumar Rao called Plug into your hard-wired happiness. The line, “passion exists inside you, not inside a job,” seemed louder than the other lines that were spoken in the video. And I realize that everything is going to be ok because I love and am passionate about working with kids and teachers, about being part of a caring community dedicated to the children within it, about creating hope for the future within community. My job helps me to live out my passions but it isn’t the sum of them.

Reality check re: time

We have 52 teaching days left this year before the evaluation period. And that includes the 2 weeks my grade 11s will spend away from school on stage.

Holy crapola.

52 days to accomplish the world!

Luckily spring seems to have come early this year. I just witnessed a MOSQUITO flying up the wall in my living room! In March. In Eastern Ontario. Maybe the warm weather will make the balance of the year seem to go on forever. I feel I have so much work to do with my kids, as if we are just beginning. Some of them have achieved so much this year.

They amaze me every day,

Teacher as Container

I’m groggy because I was woken early and then made the mistake of going back to sleep for the hour or so before my alarm rang at 5:45. My sleeps lately are fitful, at best. Oh the joys of end of year!

We began our first ministry exams this week. This week my role has shifted somewhat, from teacher to invigilator. I’m no longer working with content and structure but with time and stress management. For some of my students, these exams are their last for others they aren’t so sure. The stress is palpable.

A few years ago, when I was working on my Masters project in Human Systems Intervention – a project where I consulted with a small school to help them rediscover their focus – I read an article called Consultant as Container: Assisting Organizational Rebirth in Mandela’s South Africa. This article comes to mind often as I work with high school students, especially given the kind of work that I do. The premise is that when the consultant is able to work with clients in a way that they absorb their feelings of anxiety, despair (*insert emotion here*), they (clients and consultant) are able to address those emotions and work together towards change.

I definitely absorb student emotion. That’s part of my job, especially at exam time. For students who are so stressed that it is presenting in behaviour (from tears to sleeping in to violence) I meet with them individually in a separate room and try to get them to talk it out. I tell them to get it off their chests, leave it in the room. I’m not going to judge, I’m just giving them a chance to share their stress so they don’t need to deal with it all on their own.

I am starting to distinguish between my own anxiety or stress and that of my students – or maybe I am trying to convince myself that I’m not as stressed as I feel in order to keep sane for the next few weeks ;)