Confirmation

Okay, okay. It’s been two and a half months since I posted. A lot has happened. Right now I’d like to tell you about one of the big things that’s been going on in my world.

A couple of days after I last wrote here, I met with a teacher at a local middle school who was willing to have me volunteer in her grade six/seven classroom. I have to do this in order to apply for teacher training. However, I was looking at this as more than a hurdle to clear. For me, it was about really, really, REALLY making sure that my plan to be a math teacher is solid. I wanted to spend enough time in a classroom for the bloom to wear off the rose, so to say.

I’ve already spent a year pursuing my goal of becoming a math teacher. However, there’s going to be a lot more time and money before any of this work starts to pay off. I am, quite frankly, too old to get another degree in a field that isn’t a good fit. So, I spent almost 160 hours at the middle school over 10 weeks. I photocopied and stapled. I observed and assisted. I helped kids do their work and planned projects. I even taught the three week unit on integers to the grade seven math class. And I did this while I was also working part-time for VancouverMom.ca, taking two university classes, and parenting two children.

middle school volunteer math teacher student teacher

I stapled this display to the wall!


 
It was busy. In fact, it was so busy it wasn’t even funny. But you know what? I loved it. I loved the kids. I really like the teachers I’ve worked with. And I enjoyed learning, first-hand, what my day might look like as a teacher.

On the last day of school before winter break, I was eating lunch in the staff room. Around me, everyone was comparing notes on their holiday plans, and how much work they would have to do over the break. Unsurprisingly, everyone was looking forward to a couple of weeks off. But what I also heard, loud and clear, was a note of sadness. I have kids of my own, so I understand this note of sadness. Yes, you’re thrilled when you get some time away. Sleeping in is pretty sweet. Having time to yourself is pretty sweet. But I also know that when you care about someone, you miss seeing them. Those teachers care about their students, and I can see that clearly.

student teacher math teacher

The teachers dressed as mad scientists for Halloween and I joined in

I’ve seen first-hand that teaching can be a very challenging profession. There’s bureaucracy and serious financial constraints. Here in my district there have been extensive lay-offs after a major budget shortfall last spring. On top of all that, the teachers were on strike for the last two weeks of the 2013/2014 school year, and the first two weeks of the 2014/2015 school year. I wouldn’t claim that I understand all of the challenges that teachers face, but hearing their stories and being in a classroom I understand them much better than I did. I know that being a teacher isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

However, I also know that this is the right choice for me. I know that the world needs more good math teachers, and I know that I want to be one of them. I met my goal of putting myself through the wringer and making sure that the good outweighs the bad for me. And like those teachers who were looking forward to winter break, but already missing their students a little, I know that the equation works out for me. I’m submitting my application right now to start teacher training in September, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s been a meandering journey, from engineer to writer to editor to student teacher. It feels good to know that it’s led me to where I’m supposed to be.

Just Call me Hermione

I am nearing the end of my second semester back at university, in my quest for my teaching degree. While there continue to be high points and low points, I have gotten into the swing of things. It’s been a struggle to make time for my own schoolwork with my kids on summer vacation, but they’re in summer camp this week so that helps. To quote the opening credits of 19 Kids and Counting (a show I am embarrassed to admit I am addicted to), “It isn’t always easy, but somehow we make it all work.” Mostly.

I had a good inkling that I would do all right in my classes. I have always been a good student. Schoolwork came easily to me from the start. My delightfully neurotic nature helps, because I really do care and want to do well. I get good grades, I raise my hand in class, I work hard and I hand my assignments in on time.

good student hermione grangerWhen I hit puberty my academic success caused a lot of conflict for me. I didn’t really want to be the smart girl, because it didn’t really make me popular. The other girls in my elementary school were often annoyed by me. The boys, when they started to pay attention, were put off by the fact I got better marks than they did. I tried to play it down, play dumb, speak up less, make myself blend in. It never really worked. Looking back I’m glad I wasn’t more successful at making myself into someone I’m not. At the time it was hard, though.

Going back to school, I wasn’t sure I would do as well academically. After all, my brain isn’t getting any younger. I’ve noticed that my memory isn’t what it was when I was 18 years old anymore. I also have a whole lot more going on, with kids and work and a house to take care of.

The good news is that while I might be older, my life experiences have actually proven very helpful. As a parent I’ve had to become much more organized and focused. I procrastinate less, and get things done more. I know how to prioritize, because if I didn’t dinner would never get made. My life is a bit of a balancing act, but luckily I have a lot of experience with balancing acts at this point, so that’s to the good. As a result, I am still a good student.

My daughter Hannah and I have been re-reading Harry Potter together again recently, and the combination of re-entering that literary world and being back at school has driven home for me how very much I am like Hermione Granger. I like to follow rules. I raise my hand a lot in class. And I’ve even found myself reading my textbooks to unwind. On a recent exam, I spotted an error in the answer key. I get my work done ahead of schedule, and talk about what I’m learning in class to anyone who will listen. Typing all of this out I want to apologize for it. I feel that same conflict I felt when I was 13. I’m worried that people will find me insufferable, and they won’t like me.

One other advantage of age, though, is realizing that you can’t please everyone. No matter what, someone will disagree with you, question you, or just plain dislike you. Given that, you might as well just please yourself. So, go ahead, call me Hermione. I can be the smart girl, who is good at school and actually enjoys the academic process, and not apologize for it. In fact, I am that girl, and pretty much everyone who’s ever sat in class with me knows it, so there’s no use in pretending. Instead, I can let my inner geek loose, to revel in academia.

Now, if only I had the ability to get my kitchen to magically clean itself, life would be perfect.

My 5-Year-Old CAN Read

One of the most-read posts here at Strocel.com is My 5-Year-Old Can’t Read, which I wrote more than four years ago about my daughter, Hannah. I wrote it after watching a four-year-old actually read words, when my daughter didn’t even recognize all the letters of the alphabet. At the time I concluded that there was no rush, and that she would learn to read in good time. She did. During the second half of grade one, right around her seventh birthday, Hannah experienced a reading explosion. Today, she reads well, and she spends hours poring over the Dork Diaries series.

Every child is different, though. Anyone can tell you that, but parents of two or more children have very personal experience with this truth. What works well with one child utterly fails with another. What one child masters with ease another child struggles with. It has a way of evening out, though, as each child has their own aptitudes and weak spots, as well as their own interests and experiences.

My son Jacob is now five and a half, and just finishing kindergarten. At the beginning of this school year, he was the same age his big sister was when I wrote about how she couldn’t read. At that time, he recognized all of the letters of the alphabet, and knew many of the sounds the letters make. Over his time in kindergarten, Jacob’s reading has really taken off. He now reads words on signs and gets through simple books with ease. He also writes his own messages on cards, and while he’s still working on his spelling, I can usually understand what he wrote.

5 year old reading and spelling
“I love you Mom because you have the best hugs, From Jacob”

It’s an amazing thing, to watch a child learn to read. A whole new world opens to them. So much information is contained in written form, and once you can decode that information you’re in the know. You understand what’s happening in new ways. It’s not all good, as anyone who’s answered awkward questions from a child scanning tabloid headlines in a grocery store line-up can tell you. On the whole, though, it’s overwhelmingly positive to watch a child’s horizons be expanded.

Hannah may not have been an early reader, but she has many gifts. She’s something of a born performer, who can sing in front of a group of people without breaking a sweat. She’s an artist, who was drawing better at six-and-a-half than I can as an adult. Jacob has different gifts, and one of them seems to be learning to read. It’s coming easily to him, and he’s so proud. I love to see him smile as he figures out what something says. I’m also grateful to his teacher for the support he received in kindergarten this year.

Does every child need to read at the age of four or five or even six to live a full and happy life? My experience with my daughter says no. But my experience with my son says that some kids will read at four or five or six, and that’s good, too. The key, in my mind, is letting them develop at their own pace, and trusting that they will figure it out in good time. Because usually, they do.

Wisdom From an Elementary School Principal

Every morning my son’s kindergarten class starts off with reading time for the first 15 minutes of the school day. The children choose books from the class library, and parents and family members are invited to stay and read. I try to be there as often as I can, which is two or three days a week at the moment. I enjoy spending that time with my son, and getting to know his classmates.

At least half of the time when I sit in on reading time I’m there for the morning announcements. The principal comes on the PA system and fills the school in on what to expect that day. He also shares daily tips. As I was thinking about it on the walk back from school this morning, it occurred to me that my children’s elementary school principal has a lot of wisdom to share that applies not just to children, but to everyone. Today, I thought it would be fun to share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from those morning announcements.

lessons from elementary school principal wisdom

Wisdom From an Elementary School Principal

  • Don’t use more toilet paper than you need.
  • When you meet a stranger, greet them with a smile and share your name.
  • Eat your healthy food first.
  • Put your garbage in the garbage can.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Everyone has more fun when you include all your friends.
  • Put first things first.
  • If you don’t understand an instruction, ask for help.
  • Take care of your things.
  • Ask before you use something that belongs to someone else.
  • Take turns doing the things your friends want to do.
  • Looking for a great book? The librarian would love to share a suggestion with you.
  • Prepare for your day before you arrive.
  • Try something new today.
  • Take care of the spaces that you use.
  • Congratulate others on their successes.
  • Never, ever throw snow, or you will have to come to my office and talk to me. (Okay, maybe this one doesn’t apply in general.)

What about you – what wisdom have you gleaned from teachers or principals?

School as Childcare

school childcare parenting

This coming weekend my kids will have four days off of school, since public institutions are closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday where I live. Last weekend they got three days off, because Friday was a professional development day for teachers. The week before that was a full week where they went to school five days in a row, but it followed on the heels of a two week long Spring Break.

Chatting with other moms on the playground after school, I often hear the comment that it can feel like there are a whole lot of days when the kids aren’t in school. I can relate. Days off from school can really disrupt the usual routine with kids. As a work-at-home mom (and student) I rely on school to give me kid-free time. When my kids are out of school more, I find myself working in the evenings more, and scrambling to keep up. Many parents love that school gives them free childcare, including me.

Chatting with other people, however, I’ve noticed that many people view this tendency of parents to use school as de facto childcare negatively. I’ve heard a few comments from a number of quarters recently along the lines of, “Well, you know, many parents think school is just free daycare.”

The funny thing is that parents who extoll the virtues of school as childcare, and critics who deride the idea of school as childcare, are actually saying exactly the same thing. They may even be using exactly the same words, just with a slightly different tone of voice. There’s no dispute that some parents use school as childcare – there’s only disagreement over whether this is good or bad.

I spent the past four months studying the philosophy of education. My textbook has this to say: “… schools do as a matter of fact serve as child-minding facilities, regardless of whether that was either the community’s or the parents’ intention or wish.” I think that sums up the issue very well. When you put a whole bunch of kids in a classroom for six hours a day, five days a week (most weeks), you are freeing up their parents to do other things. If those same parents were already doing other things, you’re reducing the amount of daycare they need to pay for outside of school. Either way, the parents come to depend on school to some extent. However, it may be the case that nobody actually meant to establish a state-run free daycare system. Hence the conflict.

It’s true that my primary aim in sending my children to school isn’t for the free childcare, but for the educational benefits. It’s also true that before I had children of my own I would have viewed school-as-childcare with some level of suspicion. I likely would have thought that daycare was something that parents should handle themselves. Now that I’m a parent my opinions are different.

When my daughter Hannah turned three years old she aged out of her infant and toddler daycare centre. Her father and I had a difficult time finding a new childcare setting for her. She ended up spending six months at a local Montessori school that just wasn’t a good fit for her. At the time I was pregnant with my son Jacob, and I needed to continue working to qualify for maternity leave. While my husband and I knew that our daughter was safe and engaged at the Montessori school it was very stressful for us, because she wasn’t happy. When she got a spot at another school that was a better fit for her, it was a tremendous relief.

This is just one example of how difficult it can be to find good childcare. I’ve had other experiences, and virtually every other parent I’ve ever met has stories to share, too. It’s emotionally gruelling when your need to work conflicts with your child’s need for quality care. It’s even harder for lower-income parents, parents of special needs children and single parents. That’s what makes public school so great. The staff are highly-qualified, the program is educational, and your kids are guaranteed a free spot. It may not meet all of your childcare needs, but it meets a lot of them, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

At its root, I think the conflict comes down to the question of whether or not we believe society should be involved in childcare. It’s clear to me that we don’t believe this, speaking in broad terms. In most of Canada the daycare system is privately-run – we leave it to parents and businesses to sort it out. Some people still believe that mothers shouldn’t work, especially while their children are small. Culturally, we value self-reliance, encouraging parents to raise their own children.

Not every country holds this view, however. In Denmark, for instance, all young children have the option of enrolling in a childcare centre, and parents must not be charged more than 25-28% of the cost of the child’s care. And why do other countries provide affordable, universal childcare and early education? Because it frees parents to work and pursue outside interests, which benefits their families. Systems with more oversight tend to provide a higher level of care from more qualified staff. And children who may not otherwise have access to educational opportunities can learn. Society benefits from more educated citizens who come from more economically secure homes.

It’s true that the primary aim of school is educational. However, it serves many other purposes, some very intentional (think hot breakfast programs in inner cities) and some not so much (think making sure your child is exposed to the Rainbow Loom craze). I am inclined to think that that some of those maybe-not-so-intentional benefits of school are still very valuable, including childcare. Not every parent will take advantage of it – I know many homeschooling families who are very happy with their choice. I don’t think those of us who do rely on school for child-free time need to be embarrassed about that, though. We’re benefiting as parents, but our kids, our employers and our society are benefiting, too. These are all good things.

If you are relying on school for childcare, though, there is one thing you need to do. Keep on top of those professional development days so they don’t sneak up on you. They have a way of popping up when you least expect it, as the other moms on the playground can tell you.

Random Bits and Pieces

Every day I add write a blog post to my to-do list, and every day I don’t get around to it. Then every day I feel sad about it. Today, I have no brilliant ideas, and the writing muse has gone on hiatus. Being back at school, reading textbooks and academic articles, and writing papers for class, is using up most of my brain power. I’ll come clean and confess that when I’m not reading for school, I’m re-reading the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Right now, the poor writing quality and extremely easy-to-follow narrative is comforting. I’m looking for something that isn’t challenging, and it definitely isn’t.

Early this week we got a letter confirming that our contractor was no longer in creditor protection, but now officially bankrupt. Our names were on an attached document with more than 180 others, detailing a debt of over $2 million. The amount they quoted as being owed to us was low, however, so it’s definitely possible that the contractor was in the hole by more. It’s erupted into something of a story locally, and my husband was on the news talking about it on Tuesday. I was at class when the reporter stopped by. There was good news today, though – it looks like the bank that arranged all the home improvement loans is going to try to make good.

random bits and piecesThere are more bright spots, too – lots of them. The weather has been lovely this week. So lovely, in fact, that I planted spinach and radishes. I bought a mason bee kit a couple of months ago and the cocoons are currently in my fridge hibernating. I’m hoping to put those out soon, and I’m excited about that. I’m planning to finally paint the sunroom in my kitchen (the one part of my renovation that was mostly finished) this weekend. My kids are awesome. I bought a new organic wine today. I have new purple tights. Things aren’t so bad.

You would think that I would be at my wits’ end right now, but I’m actually not. Truthfully, I think I was more stressed out a couple of months ago. Right now there’s just so much going on that I honestly don’t have much time to worry. Also, I’ve started getting acupuncture to help me with my oh-so-delightful monthly mood swings, and I’m loving it. I’m not sure whether it’s the needles themselves, or the fact that while they’re in I get to lie in a lovely, warm, quiet, dark room that smells good and listen to music all by myself for 20 minutes, but going each week has been really positive. I’m a fan, and knowing that I have that to look forward to is helping to smooth out the rough edges. Plus my improved energy circulation, I am sure.

So yes, I’m here. I’m alive. Lots of things are happening, and I’m doing my best to take it as it comes.

What about you – what’s new in your world?

On Going Back to School

This past Monday I returned to a university lecture hall as a student for the first time in 14 years. My first week is now under my belt, and I have not run screaming for the hills. In fact, it went quite well, all things considered. I realize it’s still early days yet, but I’m finding it easier to maintain my sense of perspective about school this time around. After all, I’m really choosing to be there, in a way that I wasn’t when I was 18 years old. Then, it was more about what was expected. Now, it’s about what I want to do for myself. That makes a huge difference.

In case you’re curious, here are some of the high points of my first week.

High Points

  • I’ve really appreciated all of your well wishes.
  • It takes less time for me to drive to campus than I expected, and finding parking is easy.
  • I can still be insightful in class.
  • My history professor is funny, and he played the banjo for us during the first lecture.
  • The mostly much younger students are not at all put off by my comparatively advanced age.
  • The campus waste stations include recycling and compost bins.
  • The teaching assistant in my history tutorial went out of her way to create a safe space for everyone.
  • My history textbook is Canadian History for Dummies, and it’s a really good read.
  • I enjoyed my first education lecture, which is good because that’s the reason I’m going to school at all.
  • I was able to figure out the online course material delivery system without too much effort.
  • Most of the other students took notes using a pen and paper, like me.
  • So far my workload looks like it will be fairly manageable.
  • I am one of the few students who doesn’t appear to be intimidated by the writing, probably because I’ve been churning out hundreds of words a day for years.

simon fraser university mature student going back to school
The fine print says, “Artist’s conception. Real professor may vary.”

Low Points

  • I have to be in class at 8:30am on Thursdays, which was a bit of a shock after not having to even leave the house before 8:40am for the past five plus years.
  • Studying anatomy for my kinesiology class involves a lot of memorization.
  • For my lab work in the same kinesiology class, I will be analyzing my body composition, including my body fat. You can guess how much this mom of two in her late 30s is looking forward to that.
  • I got lost twice this week.
  • Reading for school means less reading for pleasure.
  • There is a fair bit of schedule juggling when combining the variable schedule of school with the decidedly not variable schedule of parenting.
  • Homework is still not what anyone would call inspiring.
  • The Simon Fraser University campus is as cold and rainy in winter as ever, and I don’t have a hood or an appropriate umbrella. Luckily this is fixable.

simon fraser university mature student going back to school
An upside to being lost was happening upon a pretty courtyard.

Fortunately, so far the high points outweigh the low points, and many of the low points are either temporary or fixable. For instance, I doubt I will get lost every week. All in all, I’m off to a pretty good start. I’m still taking things one step at a time, but I’m feeling more optimistic than I was last week at this time. I’ll take it.

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