and then suddenly, in a flash of light…

… our previously unmotivated associate IT teacher did receive a call from a damsel in distress (who the teacher would like to point out was not as beautiful as his wife, but still a lovely person) and our hero did rescue the poor damsel’s essay which had been lost in the dark and murky marsh of the dragon Internet Explorer’s Temporary Internet Files. The damsel did rejoice at the return of her poor, lost essay and there was much rejoicing in the village of University College. With that our hero was rejuvenated, and reminded that in his hands lay the opportunity to raise the next generation of heroes: for who else would recover lost emails, download codecs and slay the Internet Explorer dragon once and for all if not for his IT students?

And there was much rejoicing in the land.

(although my motivation was also helped out by this fantastic article on Teach for America and their research into what makes a good teacher)

Essays, ponderings and some futility

I must admit that my “Teacher Man” posts have been somewhat absent since the start of the new year. We’re now into Week 5 of a 6 week intensive, so it would be fair to say that the assessment end of the intensive is well and truly upon us, and in many ways my time is now taken up with either working on assessment pieces or procrastinating from assessment pieces. Have enjoyed my latest essay (though found the limitations of the word count deeply frustrating) around learning theory and applying that to our specific classroom contexts. I’ve definitely become a fan of developmental psychologist Jerome Bruner: but feel certain that I will have underwhelmingly attempted to fit the relevant parts of his work into my 150 word summation. Bah – what can you do?

One of the struggles at the moment has been in working through the idea of becoming a specialist IT teacher, and the inherent limitations held within that. IT feels like it’s not always taken seriously in schools, and while everything in me would love to flare up and spoil for a fight when that happens, I have depressingly found myself agreeing with those who would relegate IT to being a niche subject.

The frustration stems from the deeply held belief that the majority of content studied in IT classes (before VCE at least) is content that really ought to be embedded in the curriculum of other subjects. Why would you learn about word-processing outside of the subject dedicated to words, or perform calculations in spreadsheets outside of the context of being interested in what the calculations produce? In the long term, I cannot see any reason why Information Technology should be taught in secondary schools other than to specifically teach “Computer Science” type subject matter (programming, database design, etc.) Even the business focussed IT applications subject being offered at VCE level should probably be swallowed by subjects like Business Management and Accounting.

Now the realist in me says that teachers generally have nowhere near the skills to make the curriculum genuinely cater for the technological aspects of their subjects, and who knows if they ever will. It’s just a bit tough to get excited about working towards being a great IT teacher when I’m not certain that “IT Teaching” as a profession will see out another decade. Ah well, I guess I”ll just have to become an impressive generalist.

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.

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.

The little things

It’s the little things that have you realise that you might be becoming a teacher. For me, seeing a whiteboard eraser in our welcome satchels caught me out. We’ve even got pigeon holes in the rec room here – I don’t know if this is just because of being around school staff rooms as a kid, but nothing says teacher to me quite like a pigeon hole.

Enjoying the little things.

And the adventure truly begins…

Just pumping out a really quick post in between going from one place to another, but I thought I’d better mention that the intensive has started in earnest. We’ve been welcomed and introduced more times than previously thought possible, and cogitated over the mission and values of Teach for Australia until our collective brains hurt, but nevertheless it’s been an exciting couple of days.

A couple of thoughts that stood out already: a quote I’ll likely misquote and have also managed to forget the original owner of from Amartya Sen : “Freedom is the ability to choose a life one can reasonably find value in”. That’s the sentiment at least.

The second was from Martin Seligman, a very impressive man who seems to have fathered positive psychology – he was talking about what it means to flourish, and boiled it down to four pillars: Happiness or amount of pleasure, finding meaning, positive relationships and achievement or mastery. The idea being that if these four are aligned, one can be considered to be flourishing.

Off now – will correct later