what i could’t learn in teacher’s college

12 months in a faculty of education prepared me for a lot of things, but not everything. How could it? Pedagogy, planning, pragmatism, and patience were all part of a very practical preparation and positive preview of what was to come for me as an educator .

Yet, even with rigorous academic, practicum, and professional development poured into the program, a paucity existed due to the finite amount of time for the program to cover the vast scope and variables that are the job. In defence of faculties, it would take several years to cover them and even then, only partially. Perhaps not being prepared for every eventuality was a good thing for me as a teacher because it allowed me to find solutions that did not have their origins in a textbook, but rather ones which were created for each specific moment and context?

I think that there has to be room included in formation of teaching candidates that focuses on situational problem solving. This is where life experience(s) can help out. As a teacher candidate in my forties, I found it interesting to compare worldviews and perspectives, with colleagues who were half my age. It was the times over coffee and in between lectures where some ageless bonds were formed that continue to this day. I also learned that wisdom was ageless as my younger peers so often shared when it came to our discussions about educators having to teach far beyond the curriculum in order to support their students. By beyond, I mean that we had to navigate how we were going to bring humanity into the classroom too.

Outside of lesson planning, curriculum, philosophy of education, and the Education Act there was a lot to cover. I really appreciated the time spent in equity and special education training where we were given numerous real life situations from the classroom to consider and receive coaching on how to best respond. Some of this was really helpful because I at least had a set of tools, but even then there was room for so much more in the kit.

I especially liked the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays and highly recommend giving it a read as a way of sparking staff conversations around racism and equity or as a supportive guide to deeper personal growth. And then came the day when I realized I needed more than that.

Although the seeds were planted in teacher’s college, they did not break through until I was in the classroom where I had to confront a student using racist slurs.

I can still almost feel the time slow down as the blood rushed through my body when it happened. Did I really just hear a student say that? I am pretty sure that my surprise and disappointment were visceral. This was an eye opener for me because that moment did not come with a lesson. Once again, experience became the teacher. What was surprising in that situation was how emotional it all felt. I struggled to process my own responses.

I know that I learned a lot from that event, but knew that my rosy perceptions of innocent school aged children now included a few storm clouds. Hearing from experienced mentor educators added to my comfort and discomfort level all the while building up confidence in the aftermath. It was here where my own experiences and beliefs were transformed into actionable responses rather than reactions in a moment. #learnbeyondthetextbook

Recent news of teachers experiencing anti-Semitic hate perpetuated by students in elementary/middle schools reminds us all that even though we are prepared for some things, we are not prepared for all, especially when it comes to hatred, assault, bigotry or racism. After events like these, it is crucial to have a trusted person to speak with about them. This could be a mentor teacher or administrator who can help process what happened and debrief with you. They can also be there to support you as you overcome. No educator should go through it by themselves

For teachers looking to find or become a mentor, check out the Mentoree website. After years of waiting, I recently joined myself.

I really believe that there are two key elements that need to accompany a B.Ed degree – mentorship and life experience. The absence of one or both will send new teachers out for many challenging days ahead filled with many tests, but few lessons beforehand. And maybe that’s how it is meant to be. A journey of discovery, cutting your path through new spaces. Solving problems as they happen while gathering the tools, surviving the experiences, and keep trying to move forward.

It is so important that educators, regardless of experience, connect with each other whether formally or informally. The days of teachers needing to feel like siloed lone wolves solving every problem that comes their way or its failure thinking are gone. They may or may not be in your building, but there are caring educators willing to offer support, lend an ear, or give advice when asked. Feel free to reach out anytime.

Possible future blog post content below

Since I recommended getting a copy of Beyond Heroes and Holidays, here seems like a good place to suggest some other important must reads for anti-racist educators;

  1. We Want to Do More than Survive – by Bettina L Love
  2. All our Relations – by Tanya Talaga
  3. The Skin We’re In – by Desmond Cole
  4. Black in School – by Habiba Cooper Diallo
  5. Biased – by Jennifer Eberhardt
  6. Caste – by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. 21 Things  You May Not Know About the Indian Act – by Bob Joseph

Feel free to share some of the texts that have pushed you beyond your comfort zones in the comments below. I am always open for book recommendations.

sometimes nothing is all you have and all you need

There is an expression that goes, “Experience is a terrible teacher, because it forces you to take the test before the lesson.” I share it with others when unexpected things occur. I share it with myself too – a lot. In my mind it seems like it’s constantly happening because each day there are tests for which I have not had any lessons. Well, not all of the lessons. I guess you could say that I knew about some of the lessons although they had not been assigned to me yet.

From the moment when that first bell rings until dismissal and every moment in between we are being tested. Sometimes I think it would be easier to calculate the probable moves on a chess board than to deal with the unplanned and unexpected aspects occuring at the speed of education right now. Maybe the ability to leave something unresolved is becoming another one of my superpowers.

As I mentioned in my last post “no cape required” teachers are growing and showing their super powers everyday on the job despite never really being equipped with the lessons to do so from teacher’s college? Considering how most faculty programs are set up over 16 months to 2 years the extra time seems like a good way to add extra opportunities for practicum experiences as well. With so many variables in this profession, the more lessons that can be shared beforehand the better. Instead the past two + years have done nothing but offer added experiences, and as always sans lessons. If anything, teaching during COVID has certainly improved my improvisational abilities.

Improvising solutions is often like walking through a dense forest without a path to walk along. Like any new path, it takes a while to cut a clear and safe route without a map or guide. You are hoping that tools that you are carrying are going to be able to do the job. After teachers leave the safety of their faculties of education, myself included and regardless of age, are quick to realize that we needed more than theoretical pedagogy and two or three practicum placements in our backpacks. #bepreparedforanything

I wouldn’t call it lack of real world learning opportunities, but perhaps lack of exposure to as many as possible in a guided setting. This could be a function of the academic worlds in which we did battle before becoming educators. As I recall, it was survival of the academically fittest with little other criteria necessary. Who better than the best and brightest to teach the next generation to be better and brighter? Unfortunately, there is often little to reflect the intangible skills and emotional IQ that do not show up on a university transcript. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but I challenge that the emphasis on one criterion for admission is narrowminded and outdated for  granting entrance to something as important as a faculty of education. #wearemuchmorethanourmarks

My acceptance into a teacher’s college came as a surprise. Especially because of my lacklustre transcript. I still have the rejection letters from a few schools, and I understand how hard it is to get into a faculty of education and that decisions need to be made that will yield the greatest academic outcomes. #thefunwasjustbeginning #byfuntheymeantwork

Fortunately, there was one faculty willing to take a chance on me and chose to look beyond my marks and weigh 4 decades of life experiences in youth mentorship, business, and broadcasting as well. For whatever reasons, the one school, which shall remain nameless as to not make the rest feel bad for missing out on me, chose to look at my work beyond the classroom as a metric of my potential to be an educator and I am happy to meet more candidates in the profession who are of a certain age as myself who have worked in other careers/spaces and bring that wisdom to their classrooms too. They saw something in me that I did not, and worked to help me discover it too. #seewhatothersseeinyou

I will leave it here, but offer a few final thoughts to tie this post off, or completely fray it for another day. Educators need someone to believe in them – themselves. They need to know they do not have to have all of the answers all of the time. Educators need to accept that no amount of training teaches them how to do everything in this job until they are on the job. Our incredible abilities to adapt to the unplanned, unexpected, and unpredicatable is uncanny. We need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable at times. Each of us brings something unique and incredible to the communities in which we teach and our students are the better because of it. Finally, we need to show the same amount of grace to ourselves that we are constantly showing others.

Thank you for reading. Stay strong. Stay safe.

PS – not one mention about hybrid learning was made in this post until now.
PSS – DM me if you want to know which school it was.

BTW #hybridhurtskids and please keep reading there’s a disclaimer to follow

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.