Racism is Real?

Throughout the last year, I have taken a few classes about social justice in education.  These classes often talk about racial barriers, sexism, heternormativity, and other ways that people can be oppressed and marginalized.  As an educator, I am aware of these issues and have been for years.  I have often left these classes wondering, why are we wasting so much time on this basic knowledge?  I get it, everyone gets it.  I have gotten it for a long time, and I want to move on to things that I don’t get.  Education is about learning, and I felt that I was not learning what I needed to in these classes.

I recently had a conversation, however, that changed my entire thinking.  I have an acquaintance who I have not known a terribly long time, but occasionally have conversations with.  This was our conversation as best as I can remember it.

Friend: Another day, another dollar.

Me:  You only make a dollar every day?

Friend:  Well the rest goes to the Indians.

Me:  I have a hard time believing you are sending your cheques overseas

Friend: No, just to our native savages

Me:  wow.

Friend: What?

Me:  Oh just how you casually degraded an entire population of human beings

Friend:  Just the ones too lazy to get jobs.

The conversation continued briefly until he decided to stop responding to my questions.  I was trying to get him to realize his error without directly pointing it out, but sometimes subtlety is not my strength.  I was completely floored that someone would actually think this way.  I pointed out that, as a student, I have chosen not to work and I receive student loans, which come from taxpayers.  I pointed out how interesting it was that all of the recent generations of his family are fully German, and how easily it could be argued that Germans have been the most savage people in recent history, and how funny it was for someone of that descent to call a marginalized and oppressed people savage. He had no answers for me.  He had formed a completely racist opinion based on perceived evidence with no further exploration.

And I was terrified.

This man is under the age of thirty, there is no excuse of ‘oh he just grew up in a different time’ (which is still no excuse….).  This is one person who will be on this planet for at least another half-century.  And if there is one person here who is like that, it can only be assumed there are many others.  It has never even crossed my mind that people who live in my city would hold these attitudes.

So, now that I know this.  What do I do about it?

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Saskatchewan Music Conference 2014

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Saskatchewan Music Conference in Saskatoon.  My attendance of the conference was required in order to meet the Place 060 portion of my program.

Our Music Education 300 class was given a budget and we had been spending time all semester working within our means to plan the trip.  This was a very useful exercise since, as future music educators, we will have to plan many band/choir trips and this was good practice. We learned how to apply for funding from various associations within the school, such as the Education Students’ Society.  I had never even considered asking people for money.  Denise told us there is money available, we just have to look for it.  The planning process really helped me see that even the tiniest detail needs to be thought of and planned well ahead of time.  Being able to plan our own trip allowed for us to feel in control of the events, as opposed to just going to Saskatoon because we had to.

While at the conference, I attended a variety of sessions. There was something interesting on the schedule at all times and both days were jam-packed.  Some of the sessions were informative and practical, and others provided me with resources for when I am out in the field. I learned about technologies that can be used to make assessment easier for band and choir.  I also attended a seminar about how to manipulate the curriculum to fit with choral/band rehearsals.  There was a discussion on Diversity in Music Education where we learned about the changing demographics and came up with ideas on how we can change the conventional Western music classroom into an accepting place for all cultures.  I found this session particularly informational and many educators had a chance to share ideas.  The other session I found most useful was the “Old Tricks for New Dogs”  which was a question and answer panel with new teachers from around the province.  They told funny stories about their mistakes, the hard parts of teaching as well as the rewards.  This gave me a little bit of hope and determination for my future as an educator.

I was a little bit challenged because I had not been expecting such simple and straightforward sessions.  Many of them contained information that I would often consider common sense.  A lot of the choir sessions provided very little new information and simply reiterated things choral directors have been doing for years. I had been hoping for some deeper and more thought-provoking sessions.  I attended the seminar on assessment because that is a concept I have been struggling with all semester.  Instead of giving the answers I was looking for, the speaker spent an hour telling us that not every outcome needs to be met equally, even though all the outcomes do need to be met.  This is something I already knew, and I feel the session was geared towards teachers who started teaching using the old curriculum and were now struggling with working off the new curriculum (although much of the music curriculum is still not updated).  I did appreciate her mention of rubrics and how useful those are for assessment.  I would much prefer marking out of 4 or 5 than submitting a percentage.  The only problem with that is that usually a percentage or letter grade has to be given eventually.  I left the session very frustrated that I had not received the answers I needed, and it was then that I realized there are no answers to assessment.  The session existed merely to instruct teachers on how to work within the confines of the assessment methods we currently have in place.  I struggle with these pre-existing methods of assessment and I will feel unsettled until that changes.  There is no right way to assess, but educators do the best they can within what is accepted in their division.

I realized that I did not network as much as I should have.  What I did do was develop deeper relationships with my classmates – something I tend to struggle with.  I did meet a few students from the University of Saskatchewan and a couple younger educators in Regina.  Although I did not branch out much, I did work towards improving my community of educators.

I was unable to fully engage and participate in the last sessions of the day because I had a personal event that left me emotionally unprepared to dial in to the activities, but I feel this was unavoidable.  I asked colleagues about the events of the last couple sessions and took away as much as I could from them.

All in all, it was a great conference and I took away useful information that will help me out in the field.

Using the Internet to Create a Personal Learning Network

Using social media as a tool for professional community-building is definitely something that I am not familiar with.When it comes to professional discussions I generally prefer communicating by email, in person, or not at all.  That being said, I did take it upon myself to make some efforts as a part of ECS 210 to expand my online PLN.

I have made a few blog posts this semester in response to assigned readings or in-class discussions.  I got a lot of positive feedback from classmates on my post about what it means to be a good student.  As someone who does not write down their thoughts and feelings often, it is difficult for me to develop a habit of doing so.  Generally when I am feeling passionate about a topic and want to have a conversation, I will have a real one, face to face, with people I know.  The few times I have attempted to reach out online with my questions I have not gotten answers, or the answers I have gotten have not presented questions or challenges as much as I would have hoped.

As well, I feel like I can only adequately write about a topic that I can relate to, which often leads to not writing anything at all.  In general, I don’t feel much of a connection with peers through blogs.  I do like that all the blogs for our section are available on one page.  I do enjoy reading the thoughts of others in the same class as me, and I have even commented a couple times, but I have not successfully had a conversation about anything through a blogging network.

I did feel somewhat more successful with having conversations on Twitter.  I enjoy reading the live tweets during lecture and seeing what other students are thinking and questioning.  I made a comment last week about grades that even got a couple retweets, which was kind of exciting.  I started and participated in a few conversations last week.  I do enjoy being able to converse with other teachers and colleagues on Twitter – I find discussion a lot more accessible there than it is through blogging.  My only problem with Twitter is I feel that the discussions being conducted there need a lot more than 140 characters to really be had.  All of the conversations I participated in felt stunted because of the restrictiveness of Twitter.

This fall I have also begun to use my Facebook as more of a professional space.  I still post a lot more personal information on it than I do my blog and my Twitter account, but I have become more interested in sharing things that make me think and having conversations with teachers and non-teachers about professional things.  I have actually had more success in my Facebook endeavours than any of the other mediums.  The only downfall is I have fewer professional connections who actively use their Facebook accounts, so most of my discussions are with people in other fields.  Of course, this is still beneficial in many ways, but less enlightening than a conversation with another teacher might be.

Screenshot (5)

I also find the privacy associated with my Facebook account can allow for more detailed explanations of issues I am having while teaching (such as the example above).  I would not feel comfortable posting much information about a student on my blog, and there simply isn’t enough room on Twitter to do so.

Overall, I think I am just beginning to make connections with the online teaching world.  Elisa and Aimee both followed my blog the other day and I followed them back.  I have yet to see how significant this may be in my own life, but on Aimee’s blog you can see how much she has taken to the world of blogging!  I like to think if I just keep plugging away, the connections will come.

What does Common Sense tell us about being a Good Student?

What does it mean to be a good student?  This question immediately brings to mind conventional images from movies and pop culture.  Phrases like “teacher’s pet” and “straight-A student” come to mind.  I also knew that a good student would be quiet, do all their homework, read the proper books and participate when required.  I remember every single report card from grade school would say the same thing.  “Kelsey is a bright student but needs to speak up more in class.”  For thirteen years I was told that listening attentively and creating my ideas through the contributions of my peers and self-reflecting was not how a good student should behave.  As a young girl who believed herself to be a good student, that one blemish of being ‘too quiet’ hung over me for my entire school career.

Good students were friends with other good students, and they went out of their way to help the teacher.

The qualities of being a good student are the same qualities of being a good employee.  Hard-working, on time, outgoing, friendly, innovative (but not outside the box).

One thing I have realized is that this idea of being a good student works very well for white, middle-class girls.  There is an expectation that students, from the age of 6 or 7, need to sit still and listen quietly.  We have tools like fidgets for the students who find sitting still problematic.  Their report cards likely say “This is a bright student but is a little overactive.” or “This is a bright student but has trouble sitting still.”

The idea that we take small children and force them to sit in a desk, or work quietly in a group for most of their day just baffles me.  Children need to be running and yelling.  Developmental issues are beginning to arise based on how little children are physically active these days.  Because children are being told to be quiet, they lose their musical abilities in their voice.  Many people grow up believing they can’t sing because they were told to stifle their voices when they went off to kindergarten.

Of course, being quiet while listening to the teacher’s instructions is important, and is a skill that needs to be learned, but the idea of a good student is a pervasive concept that benefits the teacher and not the student.

Blog Post Regarding Chapter One

During my time in the Music Education program, I have been taught in terms of “Teacher as Learned Practitioner” and “Teacher as Professional.”  The music portion of my program focuses on being able to play and create music effectively using multiple mediums.  We are given some tools on how to present those abilities in a way that helps students also develop musical abilities.

The education portion of the program is very interested in teachers as professionals or as life-long learners. There is a lot of focus on continuing to develop ideas across your career.

One thing I’ve found lacking thus far in this particular teacher education program is an absence of practical knowledge.  There is a lot of discussions on social justice and deeper, more complex theories. These are important, but not important enough to spend multiple classes each semester discussing race and class and sexuality.  I have entered my classroom experiences completely unprepared, with no real knowledge on teaching but a lot of fancy ideas of who I am and who the kids are.  Luckily my experiences have been guided by effective co-op teachers and I managed, but not because of the instruction of the program.

The idea, I assume, is that an understanding of self, society, and students will naturally flow into being able to make lesson plans and manage classrooms effectively, as well as organizing time and getting ideas for activities, etc.  But I do wish there was more class time dedicated to the more practical aspects of the profession.

Defining Common Sense

In the reading of Kumashiro, he defines common sense as something everyone should know. Common sense is important because, while a seemingly basic concept, it is different for everyone.  Especially when you are teaching students from cultures different than your own, you need to be aware that their idea of common sense may not mirror your own.

A Reflection on my Growth in ECS 300

Now that I am done my field work I feel it is important to look back to where I was eight weeks ago.   In January I made a short list of things that I wanted to accomplish this semester in my teaching.

1. I want to be able to become comfortable speaking in front of a classroom

I feel that I definitely achieved this goal!  I had been really nervous about doing this and when I actually got in front of the students I felt quite relaxed.  I think presenting something to students is a lot easier than presenting to peers which is mostly all I’ve done before.  I realized that, even if I’m not fully comfortable in the knowledge of the subject that I’m teaching, I still know more about it than they do and so I am still in a position to help them.

Especially with teaching music, I had to be quite silly at times.  I was surprised at how easy it was for me to make silly sounds and act in front of a bunch of people.  I had a fairly severe social anxiety for most of my childhood and teenage years so it’s really a milestone for me to see that I can achieve these kinds of things!

2. I want to be able to be effective with my classroom management and not be afraid to be assertive with disruptive students

I had a lot of growth in this area this semester.  I still have a ways to go before I think I can say I achieved this goal.  My classroom management abilities are fairly good.  There were a couple times that the class got away from me a bit and I wasn’t sure how to bring it back.  My co-op said that my problem-solving techniques for disruptive students were subtle and effective.  I do need to continue working on my assertiveness.  I find I was great at dealing with one-time disruptions, but when a particular student was continually distracting, I wasn’t sure how to fix it.  I need to be able to put my foot down in these situations but I am afraid I will come off as too angry.  This will be something to explore in my pre-internship!

3. I want to improve my lesson plans – make them engaging and fun

I think this is a goal that most teachers have throughout their entire careers.  Any lesson can be improved upon and made more engaging, but I think I got a good start.  My first two weeks of teaching were generic, throw-away lessons but my singing lessons and math lesson were very engaging!  During my pre-internship I will be able to work on applying this more frequently.  I’m sure it is easy to make six lessons fun, but all day, every day will certainly prove more challenging I am sure!

During my first few lessons, I watched to see when students started to get glassy eyed and made note of those moments.  I realized that there needs to be many aspects of lessons.  Students will only listen to talking for a few moments, so the more ways something is presented, the more engaged they will be.  Getting students to stand in a circle, or to make silly sounds, or presenting a math lesson in a way that they can see the relevance are all important to keep them engaged.  My co-op teacher was always very aware of when students needed a brain break, and her activities usually included physical activity of some kind.

 

4. I want to improve on my ability to explain what I mean.

This was another success for me.  During a moment of introspection, I realized that my inability to explain things well often comes from my own insecurity with speaking to people.  I’ve never enjoyed having attention on me while I am speaking, so I tend to rush through what I am saying.  By the last couple weeks of the placement I had become more concerned with the students knowing exactly what they are supposed to do and less concerned with my own voice.  I think that was a very important turn for me as a teacher.

I have learned that there is a very fine balance to this.  I do have to explain more than I think I do.  In many of my lessons the students would do some aspect incorrectly which means I didn’t explain it in enough detail.  On the other hand, I could spend the entire class explaining the assignment in perfect detail, but then the students will be bored.  I think one way to help with this would be to get students in the class to explain the assignment back to me just so I can check and make sure they iknow what to do.

 

 

Overall, this field placement really helped me realize that teaching is what I want to do – and that I have what it takes to be a good teacher as long as I continue to work hard and improve myself.  I wish the placements lasted longer and I could continue to have the practical experience.  While school is important for developing one’s philosophies about teaching, the teaching experience is so important for refining the skill of how to bring that philosophy to life.  I can’t say enough how fortunate I was to be placed in such a loving and nurturing classroom. I hope to be able to emulate that kind of space once I am out on my own as a teacher.

 

 

Eighth Week in the Field

Today was the last day of my elementary school placement!  I am sad to go as I felt that I had really started developing good relationships with the students and warming up to them.  They are doing a project that will culminate in a fashion show in May so I plan on returning to see that!

This week I taught a Math lesson about decimals.  I made a mock restaurant with a menu and they had to pick their food, calculate the tax and then the tip.  I gave all the students a $25 cap.  The class is difficult because students’ math abilities range everywhere from grade 3 to very advanced.  Ms. M had them split into three ability groups and I gave adaptations for the group who struggled the most.  I would like to have given even more adaptations and should have realized there would be such a wide knowledge gap with the students.

I wasn’t sure if I should hand the menus out before or after discussing the assignment with them and decided to hand them out right away so they could follow along for the examples.  This turned out to be a mistake because they were itching to get started and weren’t paying attention as closely as they should have been.

The students had a lot of fun doing this, and I was glad I had been able to think of a more practical way to present the content.  A lot of them had trouble with knowing when to add and when to multiply, as well as how far to move the decimal over.  My co-op teacher suggested maybe splitting the class into stations so I could work one on one with students better.  The way I did the lesson, I ended up spending a lot of time with a select few students and perhaps neglected others even though I tried to the best of my ability.  I was also surprised by how quickly some of the students finished and had no backup activity, so just told them to read a book or work on other projects.  Some of the quick students listened, others were chatting.  The biggest thing I’ve gotten from this is that I need to work on being able to put my fist down more.  I am always so concerned about maintaining my calmness and patience that perhaps I become too passive.

 

A Reflection on my Seventh Week in the Field

I can’t believe I only have one week left at this school!   The time has flown by and I am so sad.  I feel like I was just getting to know all the kids better, and really finding my stride as a teacher.

I wrapped up my series of music lessons this week with harmony and pop songs.  I showed them a neat video to give them an idea of harmony.  I liked this video because any time a harmony starts, the video pops up of that person’s face so it is easier to follow when the harmony is happening and who is singing what. The kids thought the video was awesome and I think it made them more excited to learn harmony.

This week in the warmup the students had learned what to expect and were confident and comfortable making silly vocal noises and moving their bodies.  I spent a lot of time jumping to different notes, since I had done nothing with intervals and needed to teach them a bit in order to sing the songs.  I picked Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star because it moves mostly step-wise and works very well with a simple harmony in thirds. I taught the whole class both parts, then split them into smaller circles so they could focus on their part without as much distraction from the other part.  My co-op teacher suggested we record them singing the harmony and play it back.  I was so surprised by how great it sounded!  The students are very good and staying in tune, which is a really good skill to have. I think they were surprised by how good they sounded as well, and they all said that was their favourite part of my solfege lessons.

After the harmony I wanted to teach them a pop song.  In the end I think that included too many intervals and jumping so they were hesitant and not confident.  I also got the feeling that they were getting tired so I called it.  If I had had a few more weeks on this stuff I think the pop song would have gone over really well.  Instead, I showed them a video of some university students singing Bad Romance in solfege.

I ended the lessons by handing out cards and asking the students to tell me something they really enjoyed about the Solfege lessons and something they didn’t like.  I got some great feedback from the kids and am looking forward to when I have another opportunity to teach this subject!

Reflections on my Lesson Plan Revision

In class we were asked to take an old lesson plan and have some peers give suggestions for revision. The suggestions were based on four aspects:

Differentiation, Higher Learning, Adaptive Dimension, Treaty Content.

I brought my Social Studies lesson from the fourth week in my field (Read my reflection here).  Although I felt that the lesson had gone fairly well, it could have been better in terms of engagement and student learning. You can follow along with the revised version here.

My peers gave me a few suggestions but I would have liked more pointers.

For Differentiation, they liked that I wrote the answers on the board, said them outloud, and gave the students a worksheet to follow.  I had noticed that some students did not write the answers down when I gave them, even if the question was on the worksheet.  My peers suggested that I tell them which answer I was giving them.  I do think this suggestion is a good one.  My intention in not telling them was to keep them following along and staying alert for the answers but perhaps that had been hoping for too much.

Higher Learning – it was posed to me that I try a pre-assessment for the kids so I could have time managed better.  I had assumed the kids would know information that they did not have, so actually making sure that knowledge was present would have been an excellent move.

There were no suggestions for Adaptive Dimensions from my peers, and I’m not certain I could have done anything better either.

Treaty Content – while I did have treaty material planned in my lesson, the students took the entire class to finish the work sheet.  It would have been more effective for me to give them a limited amount of time to do the assignment so I could have gotten to the deeper discussion at the end.  Students will take  as much time as you give them to do an assignment.  Some of them likely would have worked faster if they knew they only had thirty minutes… but some may have gotten freaked out by that and shut down.  It is hard to make decisions on these types of things.

Overall, I appreciated the suggestions and revised accordingly.  Getting feedback from peers is essential for my personal development as a teacher.

 

You can find my original lesson plan here, and the revised version here