May 25 – real world learning

305/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I went through the motions.  At UBC.  During my Commerce degree.  I did as I was asked.  Didn’t question anything.  All textbook work.  No course really inspired me.  I knew I needed a future and got my education.  And they fed me my education in the traditional way – lecture and assignments.  Until my 4th year (of a 5 year program).  This was the year I declared my major (Marketing) and actually enjoyed some of the things I was learning.  However, still most of the courses were instructor led.  It wasn’t until I was in a course led by this funky diva (well before En Vogue coined the term) named June.  A statuesque older black woman who I’m imagining was a visiting lecturer as I don’t recall her being faculty.  She taught one of the elective Marketing classes and we had to apply what we learned – no, not in a case study or simulation but working with a real car manufacturer.  I can’t recall which one but it was a major player and they were in the test phase of introducing a new model on the market and our class created marketing campaigns for their launch to be evaluated by executives.  This was a first for me and something that I haven’t forgotten as it has permeated my teaching to this very day.  I try to organize real world learning whenever I can.  I am not saying that I don’t lecture or give notes and assignments but I also get the students fully immersed when it comes to learning.  From my Psychology students working with Kindergartners and Grade 2s applying Piaget and Kohlberg’s theories to my Marketing students creating campaigns for local Steveston restaurants to my Business students opening an hour long business venture competing with other groups and being judged on sales made.  Yes, this is a nightmare for me to organize and perhaps not appreciated by all students in the moment but I know that once they reflect, the experience was invaluable – that’s the way I felt in June’s class.  I will continue to teach in this manner until I retire and I have June to thank for instilling this sentiment in me!

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April 26 – rock, PAPER, scissors

276/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Straight out of high school, I entered UBC in the Commerce program.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life – I had an inkling but it wasn’t fleshed out – so Commerce offered a door that would lead to many other doors.  The entire program was theoretical and one did analyses of various problems or led discussions or worked on case studies but not once did we have to write a paper.  As well, I did not have to write a formal research (or otherwise) paper in high school English.  In my second year of Commerce with all my electives being in the Arts (the “ologies” as I like to call them), I was tasked with writing a paper in my Psychology 200 (and some odd number) course.   Paper?  I had no clue what that meant.  I read the outline of what was required and got the research material and decided to go ahead and write this paper.  Not thinking much about it, I submitted it with a smug satisfaction that this Arts stuff is way easier than Commerce.  I received that paper (I’m sure marked by a Teaching Assistant (TA)) with all sorts of red marks – yes, red marks outlining my flawed arguments, my grammatical structure weaknesses, my errors in proper formatting – basically every error a high school student would have made.  Needless to say, I also received a failing grade.  Yes, university was a rude awakening for me as a year earlier, I had failed 3 courses and now here I was failing papers.  I went and talked to the professor who obviously didn’t read my paper but gave me advice on how to write future papers and who to talk with about such tasks.  Being the keener that I am, I paid serious attention and learned how to write a proper research paper.  This is something I wished I had learned how to do let alone correctly but at all back in high school or first year university.  I am very grateful for having taken the course and having that TA make all sorts of corrections as I could have gone through Commerce without taking any electives outside the program and never learned how to write.  I am further grateful as most of my Masters’ program required the writing and submission of numerous papers and failing a paper in my 40s would have been much tougher to take than failing a paper at 19/20.  Because of that TA, I make, yes make, my Psychology 12 students write a paper so they have the experience under their belt regardless of whether they pursue further education.  Thank you TA not only from me but the trickle down effect it had on my own students – developing such an important skill.

April 12 – the other adult in the class

262/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Times have sure changed.  Yes, that’s a cliché for sure but it’s so very true.  The classroom is so much different than it was 10 years ago.  Definitely different than when I first got into teaching!  The classrooms are much more diverse and I don’t mean by ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or anything of that kind.  Classrooms are educationally diverse in that you have all sorts of learners bringing their unique needs, abilities, challenges and requirements to the same classroom.  Integration/inclusion where possible is the norm these days but this post is not to discuss the merits or faults of the system.  This is the reality as a teacher and one must be able to adapt to what one is presented in regards to classroom composition.  For the longest time, I had the typical students you see on television especially because I taught electives like Marketing, Law and Psychology.  Students of differing abilities were few and far between and I rarely saw Individualized Educational Programs (I bet you that isn’t even the term) but in today’s classroom, I have many identified students with adapted or modified programs and I am very thankful for the assistance provided by Educational Assistants (or Special Assistants or Teacher Assistants – the terms vary).  I can say without a doubt that I could never do their job and I bow down to them.  During my early years of teaching, my experience with EAs was rare as I didn’t have designated students in my classes (which is a good thing as the EAs I had kinda needed EAs for themselves!!  LOL).  However, fthe last few years, I have had EAs in my classes because of the differing needs of students that are now identified and make up a classroom and I can say that the calibre of EAs has improved vastly from my initial experience.  I value these adults in the classroom as they are exactly that, adults to assist me in getting my learning objectives across to the students.  I am very grateful to have that extra person with me and I do not use them as a person to photocopy, run errands etc but to help all students in the class.  I have been very fortunate that the EAs that I have had have been so very organized, went out of their way to not only help the student they were assigned to but also encourage other students in class and also helped me design curriculum and write reports and evaluations for the identified student(s).  Often these EAs are overlooked, not acknowledged or sometimes just ignored in a classroom but I can’t even fathom doing my job with learning challenged students if these EAs were not in my class and I always treat them with all the respect they deserve and am so thankful that we as teachers have this assistance so we can meet every students needs to the best of our respective abilities!  I wish the government recognized your worth and compensated you just as fairly.

February 25 – i got schooled again

216/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. Today’s person I met just very recently but I had to include them in on this list as the comment they made changed my entire teaching philosophy and the way I look at things going forward. Earlier in these posts, I talked about the white boys in my classes and in the weeks since, one of them made a comment to me in response to my trying to motivate him to spend more time on and add more details to the assignment he was working on in class. I was thinking of a number of ways to motivate him when he simply said – “I’m okay with this.” I was taken aback. I have never been told that. I queried and he said that he took the time to do it in class – which he probably wouldn’t have done if it was for homework and he was satisfied with what he did and willing to accept the mark he got. I was floored and although I said he could do better, he said he knew that but this was good enough for him. I stood there dumbfounded not because he didn’t take my advice but because he knew what he was doing and he was satisfied. He understood the assignment, did it to the point where he was okay with his work and submitted it. At that moment, I realized that I was imposing my standards on him. There is one thing to motivate but another to have standards that don’t necessarily fit every student. I was trying to raise the bar for him but he was comfortable in grabbing it where it was and bringing it down to where he wanted and leaving it at that. Yes, one could argue that I should be pushing him and trying to help him succeed but he’s not failing. He is in grade 12 and he knows what he is doing.  Plus, unwarranted antagonism because of some ideal I have is not necessary. And before you start criticizing my teaching strategy – and don’t even consider it if you are a non-teacher 😉 – I know what I am doing. There are other important things to work on and grades are definitely not the be all and end all and I needed to be reminded of that but I also needed to be made aware of the fact that students take ownership for their own learning and they are entitled to make those decisions at the grade levels I teach. Thank you “S” for bringing a much needed awareness to my teaching.

February 15 – behind your computer

206/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. I am literally exhausted – teacher talk: four on the floor with no prep; working on various committees, prepping any and every spare minute I get and we are only into the start of week 3 of a new semester. This is just my professional life – haven’t even delved into my personal life but needless to say lots to do at home as well. So today, I started procrastinating and started to just surf mindlessly. Ended up on ratemyteacher.com which is exactly as the name suggests – a site I haven’t hit for a few years and it looks like no student has commented on me in that time either – the novelty must have worn off. Yes, I know that the majority of commenters are students who may feel that they were done wrong by and take it out on social media especially under the veil of anonymity but that’s not necessarily the case and sometimes the criticisms ring true. So, I started to read my comments from 2010 (the last ones) and prior and I can say that I needed them. Yes, there were a couple of negatives and I allow for that as everyone is entitled to their opinion and the comments got me to think about the things that were said; however, the majority of the comments were positive and I so needed those comments today to get me through and just realize why I do what it is that I do. I appreciate feedback – both positive and negative (as long as the latter is constructive and not on something I can’t control for) as it does get me to be a better teacher and even though the Internet is unmonitored for the most part, it is a medium that allows for dialogue and in this day and age, one must use it and pay attention to it as it does have some value to it. Thank you anonymous feedback givers – your critiques, compliments and constructive criticism is much appreciated.

January 21 – failure is an option

181/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. As I previously mentioned, I have been on a UBC bent for a few of my recent gratitude posts and on top of that been having discussions with my students about not being perfect. Tonight, all that is culminating into a post about the professors who failed me in three of five courses in my first semester of my first year of university. Yes, you may say that I failed myself but I will disagree and you will understand as you read. Yes, you may say that I wrote about this topic back at 70/365 but that was in relation to my counselor at UBC believing in me – tonight is in honour of actually failing and learning from it. Because of bullying, I put all my energy into school work as I had no other social outlet in high school. I did not have friends and I did not play any sports. Yes, I worked at McDonald’s and worked hard there. However, in school, I exceled. I received no marker lower than a B in high school in any of my classes. I wouldn’t say that I found it easy but with effort, I was able to do well. I even scored well in PE classes as there was written components that offset the physical aspects. When I entered first year university, I thought it would be a breeze. Being in Advanced English in Grade 12, I opted for regular English 100 at UBC thinking I would sail through that class and took a Statistics class as well as Economics, Anthropology and Psychology. At the end of the semester, I ended up failing three of the classes. I honestly thought I understood what I was doing and when I wrote the exams and received my year end marks, I did not give the professors what they were looking for. Not until later years did I realize that high school had spoon fed me and here I was at university not only left holding the spoon but it was a fork and required much different maneuvering for success. At the time, I will be honest, I cried and came home and lost it in front of my mother. Never having failed academically, I thought my world would come crashing down and that I would be disowned and I was a big disappointment. Although she didn’t show me any physical comfort (that hug still eludes me), she was very supportive in her words and asked if I could take the classes over – something I didn’t even consider. Of course, I ended up getting my degree but the greatest memory I have is of failing. It was so very necessary for me as it taught me one of the biggest life lessons – I am human and I am not perfect. I share my story with all my students and I have those professors to thank. I am glad they failed me and I didn’t know I needed it. Failure is an option as long as you learn from it. Failure also builds your character and I also needed that. I didn’t realize how much of an impact that first year and those first failing marks had on my character but I do owe it all to those three professors.

December 23 – i like your curves

152/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. Curves! They are all over the place. In baseball – curve. In fashion – curvy. In conversation – someone throws you a curve. And of course in education – marking on the curve. Being that I am a teacher, this latter use of curve has come up several times in my career. I know that “the curve” represents the majority of people: most are average in height thus supermodels are technically freaks of nature 😉 Most of us are average in weight – TLC shows us the outliers in their programming. Most of us are also average in intelligence. Thus the averages cluster into the center of the curve, the normal curve. Enough of my lesson on that 🙂 While getting my teaching degree, one of my Education professors (oh how I wished I remembered her name – I have seen her around though) questioned our class about grading and grading on the curve. We had a very informative discussion on how students should be assessed on their abilities and not marked on a theoretical curve. I was inspired by that discussion but also dejected in that I knew that my grade in that university class was going to be put on that same curve as most of the courses I had ever taken, I was assessed that way. I am usually not the type of person to broach a subject in a large group setting but I just had to say something and I did – respectfully even though I did use the term “hypocrisy” in my questioning. I thought there would be some type of reprisal but she was very forthcoming with her response and told me that I was right. This didn’t help alleviate my fears but she continued on. She said to the class that this was the first time that it had been brought up to her and that she would definitely evaluate each and every one of us on our potential without fitting us to the normal curve. I didn’t know where my potential would lie and I also thought perhaps she was paying the requisite lip service but she kept her word. I noted the grades at the end of the term and the majority of the class was at the high end of the spectrum. I don’t know if that was consciously done or that’s how we all ended up but that moment changed the way I assessed – never, ever marking on the normal curve. I, to the best of my abilities, assess every student for what they do in the class and not comparatively to others but to the objective standards for assignments and projects that I have set up and I allow for bonus marks because if you put the extra effort in, you should be awarded and rewarded. Thank you Education professor for getting me to think about assessment and evaluation early in the game and put me on the path that is justifiable for my teaching. In your honour, I skew the curve for the students benefit 😉