Finish Line

student teacher sfu pdp

My last official day on campus as a student teacher

Almost three years ago now, in October 2013, I sat in a classroom in the Education Building at Simon Fraser University. I was there because I was starting to seriously think about going back to school to become a teacher and they were having an info session. I sat in a room with a bunch of people, most (but not all) of them much younger than me. As I listened I sketched out a plan of what would be required and how long it would take and I realized it would be almost three years. Three! Years! That felt like a really, really long time. That alone almost put me off the idea.

But it didn’t.

It didn’t put me off because of that little voice in my brain that has been there for as long as I can remember. The voice I have been ignoring since I was 15 years old. The voice I suppressed through the end of high school and engineering school and years of work and family. The voice I ignored because I wanted a solid, well-paying, prestigious career. The voice that said I was meant to be a teacher.

Oh, sure, there were moments along the way. Moments when I was discouraged and disaffected and starting surfing the Internet reading about prerequisites for my teaching degree. But always those moments passed and I sucked it up and moved on. Until one day, when my son was in kindergarten and I knew I needed more. As I spent more and more time thinking about it, I got more and more serious. I attended the info session. I talked to my husband. I ran the budget numbers. And then, finally, I made the leap and applied to go back to school.

Along the way I committed to taking things slowly. Embarking on a new career as a mom with two kids and a mortgage and all that stuff is a much different proposition than embarking on a new career as a twentysomething with no responsibilities. I had to be sure. I had to really know.

And so I took classes to get all the prerequisites I needed to apply. I volunteered in a local middle school. I spent time in the Faculty of Education. And then, once I applied and actually started I considered and re-considered at every step along the way. After all, spending a semester in school and then dropping out might feel like a waste oftime and energy and money, but it’s much less of a waste of time and energy and money than spending a year and finishing and maybe even working for a bit and discovering that you really hate teaching.

Fortunately throughout the journey one thing has rung true: I love teaching. School was stressful and difficult and time-consuming. I was occasionally extremely discouraged. I wasn’t sure I would make it through. But even on my worst day that faded when I was actually in the classroom with my students. When I was teaching I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. I finally really fit.

I didn’t get here alone. My professors, my sponsor teachers, my fellow student teachers, my friends, my husband and my children all supported me. I am immensely grateful. I am especially grateful to my kids who had to put up with the fact I had very little time and energy for them, and that I was often not at my best. My hope is that by watching me go through this they have learned something themselves, about setting goals and following through and not being afraid to try new things.

All of my classes are finished now, and all of my marks are in. I’m officially done. Pending approval from the University Senate and the Teacher Regulation Branch, I am a teacher. I have been hired as a substitute teacher in two school districts, and I am looking forward to being in the classroom this fall. It feels great to be here.

Three years ago this moment felt impossibly far away. But now that I’m here, I can’t believe it’s already over. I guess time flies when you’re doing what you were always meant to do.

Poem for June: 100 Words About Environmental Education

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but others are for sharing. And so, a blog series is born.

And now, here is my latest poem. I am finishing up my teacher training and my minor is in environmental education. I am completing my environmental education portfolio for a class retreat this weekend and I wrote this poem to include with the rest of my work. To feeling connected!

environmental education student teacher mossom creek poetry

100 Words About Environmental Education

I have lived in this place my whole life I
Walked in its forests waded in its waters my first
Bites taught me its flavours my first steps taught my
Feet the texture of its landscapes yet mostly I am
Removed seeing only glimpses through a minivan window as I
Rush to buy groceries (not even locally grown) now for
Six weeks I have been forced to slow down notice
Complexity smell green taste berries open my eyes again to
The wordless beauty I am so very fortunate to still
Be here to find myself connected, grounded, present, at home

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.

Poem of the Month: The Glue Stick

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but I have written enough that are not as personal and I’d like to share some of them. And so, a blog series is born. These aren’t necessarily my deepest poems, but I do enjoy each of them.

And now, here is this month’s poem, which I wrote last week on the last day of my short practicum. I am now finished in the grade 4/5 class I was placed in, and I will be starting in a grade 6/7 class in January.

poem poetry glue stick student teacher

The Glue Stick

It was my last day
The class gave me a book
Everyone had signed it
Except for one student
I chased him down not
For well wishes but for the record
We were both here

Another rough and
Tumble 10 year old
Presented me a special
Gift: his glue stick
Only slightly used
Probably the first thing
He found in his desk

“Thank you so much!
But don’t you need this?”

“It’s okay I have three
Every time you look at
It I want you to think of
Me I am giving it to you
So you’ll always remember me”

Funny little gifts and
Mundanely precious exchanges
Office supplies and gum
Breath mints and the time
We bump up against
Each other almost, not really
Glimpsing the divinity within

And we all want to be remembered

Got Ink?

tattooJust about two years ago exactly I got my nose pierced. I called it my not quite midlife crisis. At the time I had it done one of my Facebook friends said something along the lines of, “First it’s a nose ring, then it’s a butterfly tattoo, and before you know it you’re dancing on tables and drinking vodka with rock bands.” I’m paraphrasing, but I think you get the gist. The point was clear – I was taking a step away from my middle-class suburban soccer mom existence and dabbling in counter-cultural body art.

Fast forward to today. I spent the past week as a student teacher in an elementary school, and one thing I noticed was the number of teachers in the school who also have nose rings. And also the number of teachers that have visible tattoos. I can only assume that the total number of staff members who have ink is actually higher, since not everyone chooses to get tattoos in places visible to the casual observer. This follows a trend that pretty much anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock can see. Tattoos are no longer the domain of radical nonconformists. Lots of people get permanent body art, and it’s not the big deal it once was.

Back when I got my nose ring and my Facebook friend made his commitment I said that tattoos were way too much commitment for me. However, with my 40th birthday looming next year I feel the commitment is lessening. I’m not a 20-year-old whose preferences and life circumstances are constantly shifting. I’m pretty much officially middle-aged (oh, how I hated typing that). I am pretty solidly established. And I feel confident that I could choose something at this point that I wouldn’t tire of next year … or regret when my current boyfriend breaks up with me.

tattoo piercingWith more and more of my friends getting tattoos, and with my increasing desire to make a statement about who I am and what matters to me at this point in my life, I’m seriously considering getting some ink of my own. I like the idea of having a tree tattoo. To me, trees symbolize being grounded, and standing strong while the world around you changes. I’ve started looking at tree tattoos on Pinterest and I’ve seen some really great ink. But still, I have qualms.

While it’s clear to me that a teacher with a tattoo does not carry the shock value it once did, I do worry a little bit about the message it conveys. Would I be taken a little more seriously without it? Would parents – who may hold more traditional values than I do – feel more comfortable with a non-tattooed teacher? And when I’m seeking a permanent position or a promotion down the road would it be counted against me, either explicitly or implicitly?

Teachers hold a position of trust. Even now I’m often taken aback when I hear teachers letting off some steam. For instance, in my days as a student in the public school system it never occurred to me that my teachers were just as eager for the school day to be over as I was. And I certainly never could have envisioned my teachers drinking or letting loose at a bachelor party. These are pretty tame examples, but they go to show that we think of teachers as being different, somehow. They don’t swear. They always use correct grammar. They always behave appropriately. And I am just starting my career, so the stakes are even higher for me.

Of course, I could get a tattoo in someplace no one could see it. But then, why am I getting it? If I’m that worried about what my tattoo says about me, I might be better off to save my money and not get a tattoo.

I could also wait a few years to get a tattoo. Once I’m established in my career, and all that sort of thing. But enough of my student teacher colleagues have visible tattoos that I’m not sure it really matters. And I want a tattoo now, not in three years or five years or whenever.

As you can see, I’m uncertain, so I would love to hear your input. Would you look at a teacher with a tattoo differently than one without? And would it depend on where the tattoo was, what it represented, and how big it was? Please share your thoughts!

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