Archive for March, 2014

The Good Ones

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Education

Good Teacher

It was my mother who convinced me to be a teacher. I can remember it plainly: I was in my parent’s bedroom and I was about 11-years old. I told my parents that I wanted to be a lawyer when my mother told me that I should teach English literature and from then on, I’ve thought of nothing else but to be an English literature teacher. It was honestly as simple as that. I’ve wanted to be nothing else.

I don’t know what makes a “quality” teacher or what students would call a “good” teacher. I know what characteristics a good teacher should have, but ultimately, different students react to different types of teachers. For me, I try (notice I said ‘try’) to use humour, but the reality is that some students will find me funny while others will find me annoying and/or awkward. I can’t help that.

If times haven’t changed that much since I was in high school, I will assume students are still looking for the same characteristics: They’re looking for a teacher that’s knowledgeable – let’s face it, whether students want to admit it or not, they want a bright teacher who can teach the material well and answer questions. They’re looking for a teacher that’s approachable – students want to be able to feel comfortable in asking questions when they need clarification/help. They’re looking for a teacher that’s flexible – classes won’t always go according to plan and students love it when the class derails (positively) and the teacher can “go with the flow.” Lastly, they’re looking for a teacher that’s engaging. An engaging teacher encompasses many qualities and this is where humour may come into play.

An engaging teacher cares and respects their students, understands that all students want to learn, and takes the necessary steps to ensure the material is being presented and learned in the best way possible. This does NOT mean making the learning FUN. The idea of “fun” is a whole other topic, but I’ll say this: I am sick of hearing that “learning can be fun!” because the reality is that that’s not always the case. The material can be “engaging” by peaking a student’s interest without it necessarily falling under the category of “fun.” I’ll take this one step further: My Principal, during our research and development sessions, likes to hand out articles for our faculty to peruse. He, self-admittedly, understands that some articles are interesting while others don’t quite fit with the vision of our school. Reading these articles on a Friday morning at 8am is not “fun.” I am not afraid to say that because none of my colleagues would ever admit to that. BUT, whether the articles are jam-packed with useful knowledge or terrible (in some cases), they are engaging. They are engaging because the subject matter has to do with teaching (and learning) and as any good teacher will admit, that is enough for us to be engaged.

Personally, I am a very cocky teacher. I know that sounds terrible, but I want students to understand that I know what I’m talking about and to trust what I am teaching them. Moreover, I never teach anything or have the students complete anything without first understanding why. I show my students how I teach (and mark) and why they have to complete the work that they do. This builds trust. I want my students to feel comfortable asking me for help, and nothing boggles my mind more than when they don’t…I know my colleagues personally and every single one of them would drop what they’re doing to help a student – I know this because I’ve seen it happen regularly (try “bothering” a teacher at lunch time and see their reaction…).

Whether students realize it now or when they are older, there will always be those teachers that students grow attached to. I can think of three: 1) Ms. Bittenbinder – we used to call her “Ms. Bitchenbinder,” but it wasn’t until years later that I realized she was the only one honest enough to tell me how awful my academic writing was, as opposed to feeding me through the system… (she was my grade 12 English lit teacher). 2) Mr. Way-Skinner – he was my eccentric philosophy teacher who was the epitome of “engaging.” 3) Mr. Gallagher – my grade 11 “world studies” teacher who came in at 7am just to help me with my essay writing (yes, a geography teacher helping me with essay writing).

Who would YOU pick? Can you name at least three?

Will I be on someone’s list? I hope so.

“Every morning you have two choices: Either sleep with your dreams or get up and chase them.” – Anonymous

Poetry: The Lost Art

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Humanity, Literature

I was at the staffroom lunch table on my prep trying to type out a poem – some ideas came to mind and I never pass on an opportunity to get some ideas out. Some colleagues soon joined me when I remarked that typing a poem on my computer at a lunch table in a staffroom seemed…odd. It wasn’t in a candle-lit room, with a feather-pen, and paper (one vision) or with a journal, a pencil, and sitting up against a tree out in nature (other vision). Who says I can’t be at a lunch table? That’s just it though, isn’t it? This is where poetry has arrived. Really? Ew. In all honesty, I don’t think poetry has to be written/typed in one room or another…but, poetry has changed.

When I teach poetry to my students, they always ask why it’s not popular anymore. My response: Poetry used to be a form of rebellion – it was a way to voice an opinion regarding social issues like politics or religion, or it was a way to communicate one’s thoughts regarding love, death, and all of those other themes of life. So, why use poetry anymore when we can tweet, update our status’ minute-by-minute, blog, or even create a personal website? Where does poetry fit in the many mediums available to us now?

Poetry is meant to be felt and blah blah blah, but I teach poetry very methodically; not on a scale like Robin Williams pokes fun at in Dead Poet’s Society, just…methodically. I teach students how to locate literary techniques and how locating them can help in understanding the poem. We also examine the poet, the title, and the time period to see if those can lead us to a better understanding of the content. They do, in most cases.

Joshua Block, author of the blog post (Re)Creating Poets, says that one of the ways to engage students with poetry is to encourage students to read poems aloud and respond creatively. I wholeheartedly agree, yet this can be difficult when some students simply want to be told the meaning of the poem and are unwilling to take the time to figure it out on their own.  I do, however, ask them to bring in poetry of their own choosing (self-authored or other), which may also include song lyrics. In some cases, students can explain why they’ve selected the piece, while others cannot get past “I just like it.” Are we becoming lazy (as I’ve suggested in a previous post) or is it that poetry is simply unappealing because we all have a voice?

At the very least, teaching poetry challenges students to think in a different way and connect in a way that only poetry and art can inspire.

Poetry is not turning a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have a personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.  – T.S. Eliot (playwright/publisher/literary critic)

Portrait of a Dead Girl – by Dmitri Lee

There’s lots in the eyes that are looking,
There’s much in the heart of the mind.
But if ever the eyes stop looking,
She’d ne’er be a lover of mine.

A face that is now made of canvas,
And lips that no longer taste wine.
My chances, my chances, my chances,
Are off on the clouds floating by.

A frame that is detached, dull, and dead,
I shake with fright and desire.
With Romeo’s soul I am lead,
And down on this world wreck’d of fire.

She watches until I descend there,
And back in a moment or two.
To fight ‘gainst the demons that dwell there,
Then garnish her darkening hue.

But all love’s lost when love starts to peel,
Through this I’m entirely sure.
I will descend, back on my heels,
Then hung on the wall next to her.