I’ve written here about finishing school and starting my teaching career. It feels like I’ve mentioned that I’ve completed my education more than once, but here I am going to go and mention it again. It’s a little bit confusing so here’s a rundown of how it all works:

  • In April I finished my student teaching practicum
  • In May I was hired by two districts to be a substitute teacher – pending receipt of my teaching certificate
  • In early August I submitted my final assignment for my teaching degree
  • In late August I had received all my grades and fulfilled the requirements for my degree
  • On September 7 I worked one half-day as a substitute teacher before the district changed its requirements and said I needed to be officially certified to teach
  • On September 12 the university Senate formally approved grades and awarded degrees, including mine – this means the university acknowledged that I had completed the requirements to become a teacher
  • On September 19 my teaching certificate arrived in the mail – this means the government licensed me to teach
  • On September 20 I started working more or less full-time as a substitute teacher
  • On October 7 the university held its convocation ceremony and I received the actual paper copy of my degree

It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s formally over. As of October 7 I had all of the paperwork. I’m a teacher, and I have a B.Ed. in addition to the engineering degree I received 16 years ago.

The convocation ceremony, for me, was a real celebration of what I have achieved. The best part was having my kids there. When we processed in and I saw Hannah and Jacob waving at me the tears welled up in my eyes. I paused to give Jacob a high five and felt full of emotion. I didn’t do this by myself. My family was with me the whole way. My kids had to put up with a tired, stressed-out mother with not much time for them. They rarely complained. Instead they cheered me on. I hope that they learned something about setting goals and working hard. I think mostly, though, that I learned something about love from them.

It’s funny how it always happens that way, isn’t it?

But enough navel-gazing though – let’s look at pictures! Here’s what my graduation day looked like, at least in part.

Why I Love Being a Teacher

My student teaching journey has rounded a corner. It feels good.

student teacher whistleMy practicum is over (and I miss my students so much). My final reports have been signed off on. My portfolio is complete. My job applications are submitted to the school districts I most want to work in. I am registered for summer classes and excited about the opportunity to learn about environmental education in particular. And now? Now I wait. While I wait I’m playing with my kids, working in my garden, catching up on reading (both professional and personal), and looking forward to graduating this fall and being a bona fide teacher.

Over the past few months in my grade 6/7 classroom I learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher. The good news is that my experiences solidified my decision to pursue this new career. When I am in the classroom working with students I feel like I fit. Teaching is awesome and I feel so privileged to be starting out in this field. What makes it awesome? Type A personality that I am, I made a list.

Things I Love About Teaching

  • Hanging out with kids every day
  • Blowing my students’ minds (subtracting negative integers, anyone?)
  • Hearing insights from students that blow my mind
  • Making art – and seeing my students make much better art
  • Playing dodgeball and badminton and California kickball
  • Having a whistle and a desk bell
  • Introducing children to great books
  • Getting to know families and neighbourhoods and communities
  • Watching a student work and work and finally just get it
  • Creating hands-on science activities, or, to put it another way, letting my students mix colours together in test tubes in a way that they actually learn something
  • Throwing class parties
  • Honouring the uniqueness in everyone
  • Bonding with my students, and watching them bond with each other
  • Helping kids to talk through problems and find solutions
  • Field trips!
  • Working with other members of the educational community who constantly inspire me
  • Watching my students assume leadership roles and excel in the broader school community
  • The funny things kids sometimes write or say
  • Marking math tests (yes, I actually do love this)
  • Sharing the amazing work that my students are doing with their parents
  • Welcoming newcomers to Canada
  • Choosing cool assignments
  • Throwing away the lesson plan and getting together for a rich class discussion on the carpet

student teacherstudent teacher
There is so much more I can say. So much. But right now I have books to read and TV shows to watch and weeds to pull. Break time is sweet, indeed.

Keeping Confidence High

2016 netflix goalsEvery year I choose a word to represent something I want more of in the months ahead. As I shared at the beginning of the month my word for 2016 is confidence. I did this for a couple of reasons, but my big, overarching motivation was that I was about to start my student teaching practicum.

When you’re a student teacher – or, at least, when you’re a student teacher here in British Columbia – the practicum is sort of the centrepiece of the whole operation. You spend two months teaching alongside a practicing classroom teacher. You learn on the job, receiving regular feedback from your sponsor teacher and your university advisors. You plan and deliver lessons, construct units, create tests, mark student work and all that other stuff. You write about your experiences and provide evidence that you are learning and growing.

I’m not whining. I am so privileged to be able to share in the learning of my students. I am enjoying it more than I can say, and I am learning a lot. And I’m not just learning about what it means to be a teacher, I’m learning about myself, honing my interpersonal skills and having my worldview challenged on a daily basis. It’s an amazing experience, and the challenges are absolutely worth it.

It’s also testing my confidence in myself. It’s all so new. I frequently feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and that’s not exactly confidence-inspiring. Fortunately I am able to get a little perspective. I had an epiphany recently that I don’t have to be good at this yet because I’m just learning. Of course I don’t know what I’m doing after two weeks in a classroom. This should be obvious, but as a recovering perfectionist it’s something that I sometimes struggle to remember.

By the time April rolls around I’ll be wrapping up my practicum, finishing my final exam and looking forward to a lighter workload in the summer followed by graduation. And, hopefully, employment. Right now my goal is to take care of myself and keep my confidence high (enough) to get through in one piece.

The first thing I’m doing is taking a yoga class after school two days a week. One of the staff members at my school is an instructor and she’s teaching us in the library. I’m looking forward to this because I have worked out exactly 0 minutes since 2016 started. Stretching will help.

confidence netflixThe second thing I’m doing is returning to skiing. I recently hit the slopes for the first time in 25 years. And guess what? I can still do it! And what’s more, I’m actually a better skier than my husband. This may be the only athletic pursuit where I have him beat, especially if you don’t include things I’ve done that he hasn’t. For example, I’m a better tap dancer, but he’s never tried it so it’s not a fair comparison. Whizzing down the mountain is a definite confidence booster.

The final thing I’m doing is watching feel-good TV. Top of the list? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I watched the series myself over Christmas break, and then my husband recently started watching it so I’ve re-watched some episodes. Leaving aside the poor teaching example, the show is funny and leaves me feeling good. If Kimmy can pull off her transition, I can pull off mine. Even listening to the theme song puts me in a good mood.

Now that I’m finished with Kimmy, I could use some recommendations for other feel-good shows. Netflix recommends On the Way to School which looks great (particularly for a student teacher), but I would love other ideas. What do you watch on Netflix when you need a mood-lifter? Tell me!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

A Word for 2016: Confidence

For the past number of years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. For 2014 my word was forgiveness. And for 2015 I chose strength. For 2016, choosing was a struggle. In the end, though, I have settled on confidence.


Choosing a word is about setting an intention for the year. In 2015 my choice of strength was meant to help me acknowledge my own strength. Because when push comes to shove, I am a person who can weather adversity and get things done. Rather than bringing something new into my life, I wanted to focus on what I already have.

My choice of the word confidence, on the other hand, is entirely aspirational. I have long identified myself as grappling with impostor syndrome. That is, even when I am doing something, I feel like I’m pretending. Like I’m an impostor. And now that I’m back in school and about to start my long practicum as a student teacher, this is a huge thing. It’s hard not to feel like an impostor when you’re just learning, but those feelings aren’t helpful. Because you know what? We all have more to offer than we recognize. Any teacher will say this about students – about how we can be gobsmacked by insights from a seven-year-old. I want to give myself the same credit. So in 2016, as I complete my schooling and embark on a new career, I would like to find confidence.

The word confidence is also significant for another reason. Confidence can mean trusting yourself or someone else. However, it can also be about holding your tongue. Keeping your confidence means not sharing those things that should not be shared. It means using your discretion about when to speak, and when to keep silent.

In addition to finding confidence in my abilities, I would also like to find confidence in my words. I would like to choose them more thoughtfully. I would like to work on knowing when to share and when to keep my confidence. This actually cuts both ways, because while I am a talker who sometimes has no filter, I also have a hard time bringing other people into my confidence on a personal level. So I am both building closer relationships and choosing what I say more carefully.

Confidence is a tall order in so many ways, you guys. Sort of like going back to school full-time when you have kids.

2016 will be a big year for me. I am both excited and nervous, but I am choosing to embrace it no matter what it brings. With confidence.

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2016!

Having the Courage to Walk Away

The other day I was sitting in the staffroom at the school where I’m doing my practicum. It was lunchtime and as I ate I struck up a conversation with a substitute teacher who was working at the school for the day. During our conversation the fact that I have an engineering degree and I worked in the field for about a decade came up.

The substitute teacher was surprised that I had left my engineering career and was now a student teacher. I explained to him that engineering wasn’t a great fit for me. I don’t regret earning that degree or working in the field: I learned a lot and I worked with some truly phenomenal people. In fact, it was those phenomenal people that confirmed my decision to leave. They loved being computer programmers. They lived and breathed technology and problem-solving. I admired them, but it just wasn’t me.

The substitute teacher then asked me how it was that, if engineering wasn’t a good fit, I finished university and worked in the field so long. I replied, “I don’t quit.” And I didn’t mean it as a good thing.

walk awayOne thing that I’ve learned in the past decade of my life is that sometimes the most courageous choice is to walk away. Once you’ve started down a path it’s easy to be carried along by momentum or inertia. You start with Step 1 and move on to Step 2 and Step 3 and Step 4. And soon enough, without even noticing it, you’ve been doing something that you don’t love for six years. Or 16 years. Or even longer.

Of course, persistence is an important quality, and sometimes you have to work for what you want. Sometimes it’s only by pushing through the hard stuff that you get to the good stuff. I acknowledge all that. But other times you know, deep down in your gut, that something isn’t for you. And because you’ve spent a lot of time or money, or because you’re afraid of what people will think of you, or because you don’t know what else to do, you persist. You conform to expectations and ignore your dreams. Maybe you even forget to ask what you really want, because you stop believing you can have it.

I was very cautious about my journey towards becoming a student teacher because I know that I’m a persistent, appearance conscious, do what is expected of me sort of a person. I knew that I would worry about disappointing my family, or wasting time and money, if I didn’t end up becoming a teacher. I had to remind myself over and over again that the bigger waste would be to spend more of my life doing something I didn’t want to do. I paused a lot to ask myself if I was really where I wanted to be. And this semester at school I’ve done the same thing. I’ve paid for tuition for one semester, but if this isn’t the program for me it’s better to save myself two more semesters’ worth of tuition and a whole bunch more time.

Fortunately for me all of my experiences so far have confirmed what I already knew: I want to be a teacher. I really, really want to be a teacher. Right now I am where I want to be.

Unfortunately for one of my classmates that decision was different. Recently, one of the 32 student teachers I started with in September made the decision to leave the program. I don’t know everything that went into his decision. I don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling right now. My opinion wasn’t asked for. But all the same I can’t help but feel something, because I got to know him and like him and I will miss him. Mostly, though, I think he made the most courageous choice possible. Walking away can be very, very hard. I hope that he gives himself space to process and then finds something even better that really fits him.

Building a life is a complicated, challenging, funny sort of thing. In the end there’s only one thing that I know for sure, and it’s that the person you’re going to spend every waking moment with is yourself. So, within the limits of decency and compassion, you should live your life for yourself. Whether that means seeing something through or walking away, only you can say.

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. Being a Canadian, I celebrated six weeks ago. All the same, today I am thankful. I am thankful for the times when I walked away, or things ended, and I found something better. It wasn’t always easy – on the contrary it was frequently gut-wrenchingly hard. But in the process, I learned more about who I am, what works for me, and what to make space for in my life. Time is short, and energy is limited. I don’t want to waste any of it on things that take me further away from where I need to be.

Okay is … Okay

Oh man, you guys, I have been busy. I knew I would be when I started school full-time in September. Of course I knew. But it’s really only in the past few weeks that things have gotten real.

I’m about three quarters of the way through a month long practicum at the moment. I’m teaching in a local grade 4/5 class and I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m also finding it challenging. This is no surprise. I am learning new things, trying new things, planning and delivering lessons, gaining new skills and sometimes falling flat on my face. And through it all I am being observed and receiving feedback.

Truly, my practicum is great. Being in a classroom, teaching students, watching teachers and hearing their comments, helps me get better. There is no other way I could learn this stuff as well. But it also means I am “on” a lot of the time, both for my students and my advisors. I am not the busiest I have ever been, or the most tired. I have kids. But it’s busy and tiring and I’m feeling it.

A few weeks ago, when my practicum had just started, I attended a workshop with my fellow student teachers and practicing teachers from my district. Or, in teacher language, preservice and inservice teachers. We were talking about how we show care in schools – for our colleagues, for our students, for our communities and so on. I got a little bit overly sentimental and talked about how much care I was feeling from my advisors and my fellow student teachers who were helping me get better. How feedback, including constructive criticism, is just a way of showing caring and isn’t this lovely and yada yada yada.

okayAfter I finished, one of the practicing teachers spoke up. I can’t quote him word-for-word, but he spoke directly to the student teachers and said that we really needed to think about self care. We would have a lot coming at us, he said, and we needed to make sure that we didn’t overdo it. That our needs were getting met. That sort of thing. And then he added, “Sometimes okay is okay.”

For whatever reason, that last phrase stuck in my head. In the past two weeks when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed I’ve repeated it to myself. Okay is okay. Okay is okay. Of course I knew that already. I knew that sometimes you have to let things go. Sometimes you need to say good enough. Sometimes you need to ignore the sink full of dirty dishes and go to bed at a reasonable hour. But you know what? I needed a reminder. I didn’t know it at the time, but those were among the most important words I’ve heard since I started back at school full-time in September.

We’re heading into the holiday season, now. Luckily, I will have a decent break over Christmas so I will be able to focus more on my family and the joy of the season and all of that good stuff. But you know what? I also know from hard-fought experience that Christmas can be one more time when you have too much on your plate, and you’re overwhelmed, and busy, and putting yourself on the back burner. So, as I finish the semester and prepare to celebrate, I will repeat my new mantra. As my kids fight on the way back from picking out a Christmas tree, I will repeat my new mantra. As we rush hither and yon, from one family dinner to another, I will repeat my mantra. Okay is okay.

Because you know what? It really is.

My Happiness List: October 2015 Edition

Sometimes, you just need to focus on the good things in life. I like to do that every so often, so I’m sharing another happiness list. I blogged my last personal happiness list back in January, so it’s clearly time for me to re-visit it. And as I wait to hear what school I’ll be placed in for my short practicum as a student teacher, I could use a little bit of positivity. The suspense is killing me!

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness list

My Happy List

  1. All the cool things I’m learning as a student teacher.
  2. Mentors who inspire me.
  3. Watching my daughter in her tae kwon do class. She is seriously tough.
  4. Raisins. Not everyone is a raisin person, but I really am.
  5. Cozy blankets to curl up in on a chilly fall night.
  6. My son who has lost his two front teeth and is now sporting the most adorable gap-toothed grin.
  7. My shower. Getting clean is the best part of my day.
  8. The community that has formed with my fellow student teachers. It’s so good to spend your days with people you like and respect.
  9. Comfy boots to keep my feet warm and dry.
  10. Thanksgiving – it’s this coming weekend here in Canada!
  11. My new computer. It doesn’t crash every time I try to open more than two browser windows. So novel!
  12. My husband, who washes all my laundry and is picking up the slack now that I’m back at school.
  13. Fall leaves, that brighten up rainy days.
  14. Writing poetry.
  15. Chocolate. All the chocolate, all the time.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

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