Our classrooms are almost entirely dismantled during the summer break.
I just stopped in to the school to pick up a few items I needed for planning. I tried to anticipate the documents and resources I would need, but inexplicably forgot my tentative class list for September. History shows the names will not change much, so it is fairly reliable. One of my tasks is to create usernames and accounts on various sites we use in our learning. The list missed getting stuffed into the black bag I lugged home June 27th. As I wandered the disrupted hallways I reflected a bit on being a teacher. We are often compared to other professions (and jobs), particularly when we negotiate contracts. Sometimes the comparisons seem to fit, often our protests to the contrary are met with incomprehension or derision. It is hard to quantify our working conditions, all the more because we are an idiosyncratic bunch.
Comparisons between teachers are tricky. This makes glib suggestions like merit pay problematic. We all work in different ways. Throughout the year, I notice colleagues arriving and departing earlier and later than myself. As I come in to the school or leave, someone is usually coaching a practice in the gym. Occasionally it is me in the gym or library. Habitually, three of my grade team members are settling into long preparation and marking sessions as I leave for the day. Some teachers carry crippling loads of exercise books home to mark in the evenings, while I walk out with my iPad. We all have our own work flow.
It would have surprised me to bump into a colleague this morning. At this point, like-minded colleagues are slipping in and out to grab something at odd moments. I have colleagues, perhaps the ones carting marking home on the weekends, who think me insane to putter at my desk organizing the next year six weeks before school begins. I will be back for a few days to reconstruct my classroom – likely as soon as I discover they have finished cleaning it. Others will show up the morning they are required to return. I have no way of quantifying our preparation for the new year. Each, in our own way, will have done the job. This must drive bean counters up the wall.
I have no idea how long I am going to work on preparing fifth grade curriculum this summer. I could keep a record, but what would be the point? I probably plan, organize, network, research, and create just for my own peace of mind. The time preparing sets my mind at ease so that when my family is free, or my mind turns to other activities, I am ready. Alles ist in Ordnung, my German heritage whispers. I’ve got to tell you, the state of my classroom right now is driving me crazy. I wonder if they need help waxing?
July 1st was Canada Day, while the celebrations here and in the United States are much the same, the events were quite different… yet not entirely so. They were both expressions of democratic action. In both countries, independence was achieved through responsibly elected legislative bodies. The principal of responsible government lay at the core of both movements.
This is the moment when I reflect on my own American heritage. Born to American expatriates in Asia, I only lived briefly in the United States – seven years. I took Canadian citizenship at the age of twenty-two, I believe. I have never seriously regretted that decision. Citizenship is commitment to the polity. I liked Canada’s Just Society and Saskatchewan’s social democratic government in the late 1970′s and I wanted to be part of that.
Being an expatriate (even a little one), affords you the opportunity to take a more critical look at your nation. There are different filters at play. I was reminded of that this morning when I read an article warning us that our North American perspective on events in the Ukraine are almost completely slanted toward Kiev. There is little balance to reporting from there. The struggle for each responsible citizen is to be informed. I had seven years to reflect on Canadian and American culture before I made my decision. It involved a lot of letting go.
Expatriates might question their nations when faced with challenging perspectives in the countries they inhabit, but we are also a stubborn lot. I resisted observing rituals like singing God Save the Queen as a school boy in Hong Kong. The HMS Ark Royal (R09) was a shabby old scow contrasted to the might of the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV/CVA-31) to my eight-year-old self when I visited both. I was a proud American.
Canada made the decision rather easy. Like the United States, it reflects Britain’s Parliamentary tradition and history of law. Honestly, all I had to do was come to terms with being a subject of the Crown and no longer being labeled American. Over time, I have learned there are many paths to democracy. As an adult, I recognized that patriotism should not be automatic, it is earned by the collective action of a nation. God does not grace a nation, nor does it have a manifest destiny. We have to build the nation we want to be proud of.
The United States following independence was not the nation that exists today. American’s created that. First the Constitution, then the Bill of Rights, followed by so much more. Nations evolve (and unfortunately devolve) over time. The United States is a good country to claim as an origin, and I am thankful is is my neighbour.
I had a great line up of field trips for my fourth graders. They study Saskatchewan, and we are well located here in Moose Jaw. Next year I am teaching fifth grade. I need to think nationally now. Visit RCMP Heritage Centre perhaps… Or stop in at the PA penitentiary?
It hit me that there might be virtual tours now, so I’m excited to see there is one for the Canadian Parliament building. I am going to enjoy using that one.
There is this site of virtual exhibits. I wonder if there are any national museums with street views. Tell me if you have some ideas to share.
Tonight I attended our school division’s service recognition celebration. There were:
thirty-six fifth year staff,
forty-one tenth year staff,
twenty-eight reached their fifteenth,
twenty-seven on their twentieth, and
twenty-four finishing twenty-five years.
Twelve of us reached early retirement eligibility this year. Four staff celebrated thirty-five years and continue on. Thirty-four staff are retiring. Included in that number are five teachers who were part of my early days in my first Saskatchewan school division. Two others have been valued members of my current school team. It will be a different place without them.
I have thought about the demographics, and I am encouraged by it. There does not seem to be that much attrition. The retiring staff range over a span of five or so years. So perhaps their number accounts for the smaller number continuing to work.
It is too early for me to wax lyrical or get introspective about my career. I am still very much into learning. Never-the-less, I have reached a milestone this year.
Posted in change
I set up three stations this morning. In the first one, students attempted to match rock and mineral samples to a key of the three types of rock. In the second station they had to unscramble the landform pieces and plan a short journey from one physical feature to another. The final station involved creating simple and deep-thinking questions based on the boards. The displays were created by last year’s fourth grade class.
The old geology kits are really old. I might guess the model, framed samples and three boxes of rocks date to the sixties or seventies. Elements have been lost and that is a frustration. I need a geologist from the university to stop by and identify everything for me. My Geology 100 class is lost in time. The rocks fascinate my students. The contour map model confuses them. They are unfamiliar with the landforms and don’t quite see the scale.
I often hear my colleagues argue that report cards should indicate how long mastery took, or how many attempts were necessary. I’m tired of arguing with them. Every enterprise from medicine to carpentry strives for success on the first attempt, but achieving this is an illusion. My wife and I have been watching House reruns on Netflix. I was struck by the show’s formula. Each case is a mystery with misunderstandings and failed diagnoses. Dramatic license aside, this is exactly the way it would be.
All video games are not created equal.
I wouldn’t recommend we encourage youth to play just any game. I doubt transferable skills are learned by repeatedly flapping a bird into a drainage tube. The best educational interventions are those that meet youth where they are and use the energy associated with that space to encourage learning.
So where are the youth? Minecraft.
Minecraft is one of the most popular games in the United States with over 100 million registered users. It’s not as flashy as typical video games—the graphics are lo-fi and 8-bit. At first glance, the game play seems incredibly simple: In creative mode, the goal is to build structures in an open 3D environment.
In this way, Minecraft is different than other video games because the object is to construct, not to tear down. It’s a video game, but it can also be classified as a building toy.
Beyond Screen Time
My students are consumed with the game too.
Last week I wrapped up our schools Heritage Fair season by supervising 17 students from my school attending the regional fair. As I’ve written on previous posts, I am not a fan of competitive learning. Nonetheless it was a wonderful experience for my students. The awards and rankings might mean a good deal to some of my students, if not all, but for me the value is in the process of inquiry on a topic of your own choosing.
When the project work was done at our school, one of my students confided to a peer that she was sorry that the heritage fair was over because she liked it better than doing schoolwork. That was a sad, but telling remark. The idea that inquiry and publishing on a subject of your own choosing was not schoolwork rankles. There are certainly times when we need to learn through direct instruction. They’re often times for practice and repetition, but surely the most important kind of learning is self directed inquiry with a teacher or fellow classmate as mentor.
As best I can, I develop skills in inquiry, in readiness for the heritage fair project after Christmas. After the heritage fair projects are done, I continue to reinforce these skills with the students all the way until June. Our school does heritage fair from grades 4 to 8. Some teachers would like to reduce the repetitiveness of the heritage fair by limiting the number of years that we participate. I need to be cautious about my objection to this. While I do think that studying Canadian history and culture is extremely important for students in our country, I do feel that the heritage fair is not the only way in which students can explore citizenship, history, and culture. I do take exception to the idea that inquiry takes too much time from the school year. Project-based learning follows the steps we all need to teach our students to become independent learners. The reality is, that what we don’t have time for is “schoolwork “. What we need to have time for is project-based learning.