Narrowing and enlarging the vision

The first three weeks of our Teach for Australia intensive is almost up: three more to go. And as the intensive has travelled along (at break-neck speed for the most part), I’ve noticed something changing in me, and more specifically in why I am here.I got into Teach for Australia, and the teaching profession more generally, because I care about young people. I get angry when people bad-mouth “kids these days”, my heart breaks when I see a kid throwing away potential because of life-situations.

But in the past three weeks something has been happening. The “vision” (for lack of a less pretentious and presumptuous term) is narrowing, but also growing simultaneously. I’ve become passionate not just about education, but primarily about educational disadvantage. Where previously I have listened and interacted with my mother’s stories from her school: I’ve instead found myself attempting to recruit her into the public system in the schools where they need her talents more. I might have found a cause that I’m genuinely ready to commit all of my energy to.

I’m sure that part of this could well be roughly akin to a whirlwind romance on school camp: and once the daily grind sets in the idealistic Geoff could all be forgotten. But it’s a nice thought at least.

Some Great Teaching Resources

Part of being a blogging nerd and getting excited about teaching has meant that I’ve done a fair bit of looking around at some really good blogs out there on teaching and education, and would certainly recommend that you check out a few.

The first blow-your-mind amazing blog I found is Dan Meyer’s dy/dan blog. Dan’s all about Maths education, and while I’m still only a wannabe Maths teacher (I’d love to teach it someday but I’ll need some study first), his approach is inspiring. Dan’s all about  “what do you do with that” and the video of him at a conference running a session on “Be Less Helpful” is long (about an hour), but worth every minute.

Dan’s “which checkout is faster” lesson got featured in places like the New York Times, Good Morning America and tonnes of other media outlets essentially just because it asked a genuinely interesting mathematical question. Take a good look around his blog, especially if you have any interest in teaching maths because the guy is amazing.

The next blog worth having a look at is by Randon Ruggles: Fifty-Nine Minutes. He’s more of an English teacher, and I was taken aback by his recent post “What’s the Point?”

Take for instance, Shakespeare and Hamlet in particular. Why oh why would 9-11th grade students want to read this play? I thought about it for a while and then with the help of my good partner in the English department, Ben Jarman, we came up with a few ideas. Hamlet has in it themes about: not trusting your parents, death, a ghost, lots of fighting, love, and a search for identity. Clearly some of those themes can be debated and looked at from a variety of different angles, but Ben and I decided first to look at those. Next was the idea and task to get students, before we even picked up the text, excited about learning and reading this amazing work of literature.. Now Ben wanted to, as he called it, “Get the Hamlet fire burning” and really get students excited about what they are learning from the beginning. I agreed with him that this was important, but struggled with exactly how to reach our students. Ben had some great ideas and he thought about really just talking to the students about the material and trying to “light the fire” that way. I thought that was good, but then I tried to consider what else would make this exciting to a student in today’s world. So I considered some sort of exciting Keynote presentation, but then I realized that even that, however cool it may be that it would not be the most exciting thing I could produce. I looked to a resource that I used a few times while student teaching – Animoto.

What I produced was this video: Hamlet Introduction Video

Fifty Nine Minutes is worth having a really good look through, and while Mr Ruggles is less prolific than Mr Meyer, it’s very worth keeping an eye on.

Thirdly I’d recommend getting onto the Edublog Awards site and having a look around for yourself. There’s some very cool blogs nominated on there and you’re bound to find a blog that has some level of interest for you.

At home at school

Last week was an interesting one. For the most part there was little study: instead the days were filled with being in classrooms. It’s not the greatest time of year to be in schools, particularly if you’re hoping to see how they run, because by this point in the year reports are written or being written and so there’s very little still happening. Just a bunch of quite stressed teachers trying to cover off everything before the end of the year.

The first three days were probably the most useful in terms of getting hold of some great resources and discussing some very interesting ideas around educational theory and how that really plays out in the classroom environment. But the real winner were the last two days of the week in the Northern suburbs.

I’m not sure that the schools in Teach for Australia have been officially announced, but I’m apparently permitted to say that I’m in the Northern Metropolitan region; so for the moment you’ll have to take that at face value. But having spent two days at the school I am already starting to feel a little bit at home there. It’s the little things that make the difference, but knowing what my teaching load looks like for next year, and seeing where my desk is likely to be: well maybe they’re not even really that little.

I am likely beginning to sound like a broken record (though I’m much too young to understand what that means) but it is certainly true that each step towards day one of classes next year brings with it a sense that this is all happening, as well as a sense that it’s all happening very fast. The study is starting to get more serious, our practical sessions are beginning to become, ah, what’s the word…. practical. Which is why it really is quite nice that when I stepped into a classroom to assist taking a Year 7 Maths extra late in the day that I actually felt home. At home at school.

Into the classroom

Was observing at a “portal school” (ie a school that I won’t be teaching at just so we can see how a school works these days) today, and have two more days of the same. Then I had class until 9pm. Big day, lots to talk about, but no energy to do so. Will have to wait.

Energy Levels: Coffee and Yo-Yos

For the last year or so, it’s felt that my personal energy levels throughout the day was a relatively simple system to manage. There were essentially two inputs: sleep and coffee. If one was missing, I’d need a little more of the other and vice versa.

This week however has been a roller-coaster, particularly once we started getting stuck into the “real work”. I found the first few days (before classes started) really exhausting: probably because I find it a particularly draining thing to meet a number of new people which was essentially a fairly accurate description of our first day or two. But once that was out of the way a curious thing started happening. Being in a learning environment with so many people who are desperate to learn, and feeling like I was engaging with the content in ways I haven’t felt for a long time was energising me. I came out of lectures feeling better than when I went in. I’m fairly sure there were a couple of people who started to be concerned about my clear hyperactivity issues, but it has been an exciting thing. Naturally this process eventually wears me out, so I’ve been up and down like a yo-yo all week: one moment feeling that I could run a marathon, the next thinking very seriously about whether I’ll put one foot in front of the other.

Exciting times.

Bit sillier but…

…thought I should share some thought’s from our “Awe Wall”. We have a piece of butcher’s paper set up in one of the rooms here at college as our Awe Wall, where we can post things that hold us in awe. In typical spirit, it hasn’t been taken too seriously, leaving us with some cracking quips. The things currently holding TfA associates in awe include:

  • Unidentified coagulated desserts
  • Person X‘s very suave “jumper shoulder” look
  • We clap a lot (this is pretty accurate)
  • Pumpkin and potato with a side of pumpkin and potato (vegetarian options not always as diverse as might be hoped)
  • Person Y did 500 pushups
  • Downward facing dog and nipple to knee (hopefully a description of the early-morning yoga classes, else I’m not so sure…)

OK – in hindsight I’m pretty sure these are probably funnier to me than they are to you. But anyway – something a little bit lighter from the Big Brother house TFA Academy.

Content

So having been welcomed to our heart’s content, last night and then today was mostly just focused around some genuine pedagogical content. Exciting times! It’s been a relief to get really stuck into some meaty stuff and find that I’m not completely out of my depth, and might actually have useful contributions to make. Definitely feeling the beginnings of the transformative process into my teaching alter-ego: Mr Matheson.

There’s something really fantastic about being in lectures with people who are so unequivocally engaged with the subject matter. It draws you in further, and almost has you wondering what the next insightful question will be. We were forced to hold questions at a number of points during the day due to the need to cover the required ground in the timeframe. It just becomes an exciting learning environment to be a part of, and it’s certainly inspiring to say the least.

I was fascinated today with the address from Ros Black from the Federation for Young Australians (www.fya.org.au). Her lecture was focused around the report “How Young People Are Faring” (which you can find at http://www.fya.org.au/media/publications/ ) – and specifically what was working in schools in the efforts to fight disadvantage. Check out the report, and also the “Impact of Racism” report on the same page. Genuinely useful research.

Sorry for the necessarily rushed nature of these posts, I’m afraid I can’t see a lot of depth coming into the blog while the Intensive is running: there’s just a whole lot that is going on. But I’m endeavouring to provide daily updates on things I’ve found interesting, and hoping that it helps me remember later on… I guess we’ll see.