The first thing you must know about me is that I belong inside a classroom, day-in and day-out, promoting all manner of relevant literacies and exploring/dissecting literary texts with highschool students! My personality, gifts, and academic training all serve to confirm this statement! At present, as a privileged member of the Waterloo Region District School Board’s ‘Secondary OT List’, I am spending a fair amount of time at home (I’m told constantly that as the year progresses, demand for Occasional Teachers will increase). Generally speaking, I’m not a home body. I have a burning desire to be active and social, so these last two weeks have indeed been challenging. As motivation grew to establish this blog–to do something productive with my extra time–it occurred to me that despite being at home, my time over these past few weeks has largely been divided between the two activities I most enjoy, teaching and learning.
The latter could not have come in a more unexpected fashion! If you had tried to convince me a few short months ago that one of the smartest decisions I would make this summer would be to join the ‘Twitterverse’ (coming soon to an Oxford English Dictionary near you), I would have responded with the verbal equivalent of an eye-roll. Not me! Never.
As the start of the school year grew nearer, I began to crave the stimulation and professional growth that a life-long learner simply cannot live without! I recalled a presentation made at our Faculty of Education last winter by Danika Barker (@danikabarker), a highschool teacher from London, ON who has harnessed the tools of social media and utilized them in her classroom in truly innovative and inspiring ways. At one point in her presentation, I believe she referred to Twitter (and the Personal Learning Network she has established using this medium) as her ‘lifeline’. I also read a blog post that my cousin, Carly Bumstead (@c_bumstead), had posted months earlier called ‘How Twitter Changed My Life’, in which she called it “an inspirational headquarters for creative minds” and an opportunity to “network with perceptive individuals just like yourself”. I concluded that to join, observe, and contribute to a community of passionate educators from the comfort of my home was an opportunity too good to pass up!
I can not overstate how impressed I have been with this tool we call ‘Twitter’. In the 38 days I’ve been ‘tweeting’, I have observed passionate, brilliant educators freely and happily sharing their resources, experiences, and wisdom with the community. My attention has been directed to excellent articles/blog posts/discussions spanning a wealth of pertinent topics: advice for new teachers, technology in the classroom, presentation advice, how to manage/promote effective group work in the classroom, and the list continues endlessly. Even as a new member/contributor, I was on the receiving end of some sound advice the weekend before a job interview. Only recently have I begun to interact and contribute, but I am doing so with the utmost confidence that my participation will be welcomed.
Of course, there are many ways that we learn as teachers. Sometimes, as we reflect on our practice, it is startling to recognize that we often learn as much from our students as they do from us! In the absence of these daily interactions, however, we need not wait around for a board-approved P.D. workshop to reflect upon how we might improve our craft. My growing PLN (Personal Learning Network) now includes teachers, administrators, and university faculty members from throughout Canada and the United States (I’d be happy to make some recommendations regarding who to follow on Twitter if you are interested in growing your own PLN). To some of these individuals, I may be one of thousands of followers–they may not yet know my name–but already they have taught me much about what it means to be committed to the task of educating our youth. I know that I will never cease to be a student, and my primary goal as an educator is to awaken in my students this same realization–learning never ends!
It may not be “Hamlet”, or essay-writing, or instruction regarding effective communication in an increasingly-digitized world, but it is teaching nonetheless. Our oldest daughter is potty-training, and since my wife’s time is largely consumed by caring for a 7-week old infant, I find myself taking the lead in ‘Operation Anticipate-and-Act-Before-a-Mess-Ensues’. We’re employing a host of positive-reenforcement techniques, engaging in much open conversation about the entire process, and remaining positive despite the discomfort surrounding soiled clothing. It is not easy, but then again, teaching done well rarely is! Energy, patience, creativity, and conviction are required whether the student is 2 1/2 or 17 years of age. The same strategies for engagement and motivation apply. What little success we’ve had thus far has come with allowing our daughter to dictate the pace of her learning by indicating her readiness to proceed and confirming her understanding of the concepts we are trying to teach. In effect, we are facilitating a ‘student-centred’ approach.
Years from now, my darling daughter will not be able to recall the circumstances surrounding her ‘learning’ this most basic of human habits. She won’t recollect the effort that went into ‘training’ her to control her bodily functions. What seems like such a tremendous milestone at this young stage of her life will nary be remembered when she looks back upon her accomplishments and pleasant memories of childhood. She won’t thank me publicly at her wedding for the many stories I read to her while she sat proudly upon the potty. None of this discounts the fact that right now my wife and I are very much engaged in a significant teaching role, and likely will be for the better part of the next 20 years or so (if not, our whole lives!)
It is reassuring to know that in the course of my career, these few weeks at the start of the year (and whatever amount of Occasional Teaching I must do before I land myself in a classroom of my own) will likewise be remembered only as a stepping-stone toward my maturity as an educator. The unrelenting pull toward the classroom serves as constant reminder that teaching truly is my vocation, and all teaching and learning experience I accumulate now, (be it in various classrooms, in front of my computer, or as I parent my daughters), will some day benefit my students. On one level, it has been humbling yet satisfying to conclude that though I may not be a young man (most of my comrades in teacher’s college were much younger), I am a young teacher, and we all must take baby steps toward maturity regardless of who we are and what craft we seek to master.
When I mention ‘work’, my daughter often will confirm, “You’re a teacher, daddy?” Despite my present ‘pitstop’ on the way to what I know will be a wonderfully satisfying career, I will continue to answer with a resounding “Yes!” and seize every opportunity to nurture my growth and practice my calling.