Allison McQueen

Thoughts and Ideas from a Beginning Teacher


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And What Would You Do Next?

Every math teacher has used this phrase while teaching. If you are like me, you likely use it 15 times an hour. For math teachers, this phrase is a crucial way for us to determine if our students really understand what it is they are supposed to be doing.
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However,  I recently read an article about using a Question and Answer format while teaching by Petra Claflin for Edutopia. Claflin suggests that often teachers solicit students for answers during the modeling stage of direct instruction.  Unfortunately, this can, at times, cause more harm than good to student understanding – numerous incorrect responses are provided when students scramble to answer too early.  We then expect all students to be able to sift from their memory only the correct responses and piece them together to understand a complex process or concept. In all likelihood, the incorrect steps are more memorable than the correct ones!

How then can we continue with Q&A teaching, despite its downfalls? Afterall, in large classes it is the quickest form of formative assessment.  Claflin provides teachers with five tips to avoid the downfalls to question and answer instruction.  My personal favorite is assigning a student to monitor YOUR question-asking during the introduction of a concept. This directs student focus towards watching you model, while ensuring that they are involved in the lesson by monitoring your language closely.

Read Claflin’s entire article here.


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My First Attempt at an Engaging Math Activity….

….. Was not a total bust!!!  On the whole, I am pleased with how the activity went.  Of course, there are some things that I would change about the activity and how I handled it for next time, but for a first attempt I think it went rather well.

The Activity

Proportional Reasoning is the foundation of  the Workplace and Apprenticeship Mathematics 10 class I am teaching.  Currently we are in the midst of  a decidedly boring unit on Unit Pricing and Currency Exchange.

Since determining the unit price of a product and using it as a method of comparison with other products is such a practical skill, I decided that students should practise the process in a practical setting.  Thus, I created an activity for students to complete that allowed them to research and compare the unit prices of stationery items.

To make it more of a “challenge” I offered a prize to the group with the lowest total price for the list.  The original lesson and handouts can be found below.

Lesson 5 Unit Pricing Activity (Sept 6)

Lesson 5 Activity Instructions

Miss McQueen’s School Supply List (Sept 8)

What Went Well…

I was really impressed with how involved my students got in finding the items on the list.  I had no idea if my class would buy into the activity or not, and was glad when they did.  They were very concerned with meeting the criteria for each item exactly.   I was able to capture a “teachable moment” for most of the students, highlighting that sometimes we might need to buy items that do not exactly meet the criteria we have set.   I was also impressed that about half the students took the initiative to find sites outside of the ones I had listed to research prices.

To top it off, I had a chance to explain how to calculate unit prices in a smaller group setting, and helped students to better understand that the lowest price is not always the best.

…. And What I Would Change

The biggest problem was my list was way too long for students to finish, and I had not chunked my assignment into manageable sections.

Next time, I would have my students find prices for only 3-4 items.  The computers would go away immediately after this search was completed.

To chunk the assignment, I would have each step require a different sheet of paper instead of giving it all to students at the same time. During the assignment we did this week, a lot of people only partially completed their search for items, and many neglected to find all unit prices, which was kind of the whole point. To avoid this I would ensure that before students could acquire the sheet of paper for the next step, they would have to show me their work was completed from the step before.

As opposed to this time, EVERY student would have an assignment sheet to hand in, so that all students were responsible for some calculations.  I would have them work out the unit prices for each INDIVIDUALLY and then let them discuss in their small groups which item was the best buy.

Finally they would calculate the total price of the list, using the items they chose as the best buys.  I had to make an adaptation for this last step as students completed the activity this week.  The were confused about how to calculate item prices while also ensuring they bought the correct number of items to suit the criteria.  For the second day of the activity I made the following sheet, which seemed to help.

Miss McQueen’s School Supply List Challenge Tally Sheet


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A Long Overdue Post About Goals

I have always found Goal Setting to be one of the most difficult parts of my Field Experiences.  It is a challenge for me to set goals for myself, because when I enter the classroom I aim to improve everything about my teaching practise.  I have such high expectations for my improvement that I find it taxing to attempt to narrow down my professional growth to only a few areas.  In fact, I often find that I cannot identify what really needs improvement until I enter the classroom and self-assess my performance.

Identifying My Professional Goals for Internship

Since I find creating goals to be so difficult, I waited to create my list until I had a week of experience with my Workplace and Apprenticeship Mathematics 10 course.  After being thrown in the classroom with a new group of students and teaching a few lessons, I have a better idea what I would like to work on for the semester.

I used the Internship Placement Profile (IPP), which will be used to evaluate my development during internship, to generate a list of goals from which I can work for the semester.  My list of Professional Goals is organized along the same lines as the IPP, so that I can more easily track my development in relation to the areas I will eventually be assessed on.  I also added some areas to my list that I felt warranted consideration after my first week in the classroom.

I purposely made my list of goals quite broad so that I have a number of areas from which to draw for lesson targets as I work through my internship.

Without Further Ado… My Internship Goals

1. PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE AND DEVELOPMENT

Within this area of growth I have set the following goals:

  • My first goal is to work on setting effective professional goals for myself.  The key word in this statement is effective.  Anyone can set goals, but I would like the goals I set to be ones I actually follow up on through out internship.  To meet this goal, I plan to create a comprehensive list of goals from which to work (what I am doing with this post) and then use that list through out the semester to create target sheets.  It is my intention that when I set a target for a lesson I will work on that target for several days, both consecutively and non-consecutively, throughout the semester.  I will then analyse my development formally on my blog, or informally on the reverse of my target sheet.
  • I would also like to collect more ungraded data that will help me to understand the my student’s abilities and the learning occurring  in my classroom.  Once I have this data, I plan to use it to correct skills deficits in my students and to improve my teaching practises in general.

2. INTERACTIONS WITH LEARNERS

This area can be broken into two separate, and quite broad goals, Relationships with Students and Classroom Management.  My goals for Relationships with Students are as follows:

  • I would like to better recognize and address inequitable classroom relationships.  When I notice inequitable relationships, I plan to discuss them with my cooperating teacher to formalize a plan of action.
  • I would also like to ensure that I create positive relationships with my students, based on respect for my authority in the classroom, and not on becoming a students’ “friend.”  As I progress through internship, I would like to formalize my conception of the two relationships, and how they differ from each other.

My Classroom Management goals are much more flexible and broad.  Through out internship, I will continue to have my cooperating teacher make general notes on my classroom practises at regular intervals.  From there, I will decide on any issues that need to be addressed under the broad category of Classroom Management issues.

However, after my week teaching Workplace Math 10, I have set myself the following goals:

  • Increasing my awareness of classroom activities and general “withitness” during my class periods.  I have found that while I teach or assist struggling students I am quite oblivious to events in my classroom.
  • Keeping students on task, particularly during work time.  If  I lose students, I would like to develop a repertoire of effective strategies for getting them back on task.
  • Communicating and monitoring classroom expectations.  I have found that in the drive to get through my lesson and move on to helping struggling students I often forget to lay out the expectations I have for work time and do even worse at monitoring and enforcing the expectations I do set.

3. PLANNING

Overall, I am pretty happy with my ability to plan lessons.  What I would like to work on during internship is long term planning.  I will be putting particular emphasis on practising unit planning following the Backwards Design Model.

4. INSTRUCTIONAL COMPETENCE

Within this area, I have set the following goals:

  • Differentiating instruction for all students.  This is one of my weaker areas.  I have found that I tend to plan for one level of student understanding and hope to fill in students at a lower level later.  I would like to change this, and develop a repertoire of strategies for differentiation (Think, Pair, Share; Mini Lessons to correct skills deficits, etc.)
  • Incorporating Treaty Education, including Indigenous Ways of Knowing.  This is something I will try to incorporate more of in my Social Studies lessons, but I would also like to find small ways to incorporate this in my Mathematics classes as well.
  • Using various forms of Instructional Technology and Multiple Media Forms in my classroom.  So far I have found myself relying on PowerPoint lessons and handouts, and I would like to build some variety into my lessons.  Hopefully I will manage to do this in a way that is not disruptive to students who like routines (ie: maintaining a standard lesson format in spite of the instructional technology used).

5. TEACHING STRATEGIES, SKILLS AND METHODS

This is another area that could use a lot of work, and to that end, I have a number of goals outlined for myself.  The goals in this area especially are liable to change as I experiment within the classroom.

The goals I have set are as follows:

  • Varying Teaching Strategies
  • Determining, and Building Upon, Prior Knowledge as a foundation for new knowledge.  Within all my lessons, I will strive to incorporate those things that students should already know, and relate this prior knowledge to the content we are covering in class.
  • Enhancing Teaching Skills that should become common sense.  For instance, I would like to identify skills that are generally second nature to teachers and try to build those skills in my own practise (ie: writing in a logical progression across the board, talking to the whole class as you write on the board, using student questioning/small group discussion effectively, etc.)
  • Assigning and Monitoring Group Work.  Since I did not enjoy group work in school, I have trouble assigning it to my own students.  However, I recognise that many students enjoy working collaboratively and actually learn a lot from each other.  Thus, I would like to find a way to make it work for me in my own classroom. 

6. PROFESSIONAL QUALITIES

A lot of what is outlined in the IPP within this area is hard to observe in the classroom.  My only goal in this area right now is to ensure that I use language appropriate to the students’ level in class.

And Finally…

I have set a couple personal goals for my internship.  Firstly, I would like to observe at least one class a day outside of my cooperating teacher’s classroom.  This will help me to get to know the school, allow me to interact with a wider range of the student body, and hopefully help me to discover new methods of teaching and classroom management.

I would also like to reach out for help more.  I generally try to work through problems myself, but I would like to learn to rely more on the knowledge and experiences of others.  I do not want to waste time stewing on problems that are easily solved.  I began this process only last night, when I reached out for guidance regarding professional goals from my cooperating teacher, and other interns.  I hope to continue this throughout the semester.

Finally, I would like to be present within the school.  I aim to be involved and be known by the staff and students at Sheldon Williams.


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Final Entry for EMTH 350 – Reflections on the Course

Question One

A. My favorite blog entry was entry number four, which is called “Alternative Assessment in Mathematics.”  For this blog entry we had to research a method of assessment in mathematics that was of interest to us and then present the results of our research to the class.  In doing so we learned multiple different methods of assessing students that we could apply in our own teaching.  I primarily enjoyed this blog post because it was practical, and actually useful to my teaching practise.

B. Looking back at my blogs, I do not think there is one that I would like to do over again.  I feel that I answered the prompt as best I could for each of the posts I made and do not believe that my answers will vary significantly if rewrite the entries.

C. I learned the most about myself as a teacher and as a learner when writing the sixth and seventh blogs, entitled Field Experience and the Role of Teacher Education (1 and 2).  These blog entries really had me think about what I have learned since coming to university and how I have learned it.  They also had me reflect on how university has helped me to become a better teacher.

Question Two

The blog entry I would have like to have been asked to write is the following:

How can you incorporate the real world into mathematics?

The reason for this being I have always had difficulty figuring out how to do this in my own classroom.  Mathematics is too often deemed a subject only of use in the classroom, but mathematics can also be used to study things that are of interest to students, or that are important social issues.

Response:

Throughout this semester I have determined a number of different ways to bring the real world into my mathematics classroom.  For me, this has always been challenging.  At first I did not see why I should bother: that is not what students expect from mathematics.  I was the sort of student who liked mathematics BECAUSE it was separate from the rest of what we did in school and in life.  However, I realize that for many students, this is what makes mathematics boring and irrelevant.  As I see it, there are two ways to bring the world into your classroom.  If you wish to bring the outside world into your classroom you can do it in a minor way by simply looking at real world applications of mathematics and then making your lessons and assessments reflect this.  I witnessed a lot of this completing my internship within the Electrical Program at Campus Regina Public.  However, to bring the world into your classroom in a major way you can do so by using mathematics to increase your students’ understanding of a real world issue.

During my pre-internship I taught at Campus Regina Public with the Electrical Program in the afternoons.  This was an amazing experience for me and I learned a lot from my cooperating teacher about bringing the real world into the classroom.  For her, it was mandatory – as much as possible, the math she taught had to be related to the Electrical field.  For some items this works well, for other items it is more challenging.  One way my cooperating teacher would bring the real world of an electrician into her math class was to use Authentic Assessments.  The most unique assessment items she had were her math exams.  In many cases the questions asked or the tasks students were required to complete made the assessment unlike any math exam I had ever experienced.  For instance, for her Workplace 30 exam on accuracy in measurement she had her students use 6 foot tall cardboard boxes to simulate a wall in which they needed to fit an electrical outlet.  They had to place the outlet correctly on the wall (proper distance from the ground, correctly positioned against the “stud”, etc.) and actually create a spot for the outlet to fix.  At the end of the test, a real electrical outlet had to fit into the hole they created in the box.  The students had to record their work, with the accepted error of the given measuring device, on the test sheet.  Overall the students did really well on this assessment and seemed to have enjoyed it.  By using such an assessment item the students in my cooperating teacher’s class learned that mathematics would be applicable to them as electricians.  Extremely rarely did the students in the Electrical Program ask “when am I ever going to use this?”

The second way to bring the real world into your mathematics classroom is to use mathematics to look at real world issues.  As a method of getting students involved in mathematics this can work well: teenagers are at a good age to become passionate about a given injustice that they are introduced to.  This is what I did for my Statistics TMTI Lesson.  I planned a lesson in which students would read an article from Maclean’s magazine that called Regina’s North Central neighborhood the worst in Canada and by extension implied that Regina is a dangerous place to live.  (Find a link to the article here).  Once the students had done this, it was up to them to collect data proving, or disproving, that Regina was in fact a dangerous place to live.  I believe that this lesson would be great in the classroom, but it is time consuming.  As a less time consuming method of introducing your students to the injustices of the world is to have them plan a budget for someone in their home city/town who lives at Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off (LICO).  Many students, particularly those from affluent neighborhoods, have no conception of what it is like to do without even the necessities.  I noticed this teaching at Winston Knoll during my pre-internship, and felt that the students I saw every day could benefit from learning how the life of a person in poverty differed from their own.

In sum, the amount that a given teacher can incorporate the real world into the mathematics classroom is limited only by their creativity and willingness to learn new applications of mathematics.  This semester I have been exposed to a number of different ways of doing this.  I have also planned several lessons that attempt to bring the real world into my classroom.  As I progress as a teacher, I hope to learn to do this even more.

Question Three

One area that I would have liked to focus more on in this course is alternatives to inquiry.  The course had such a single minded focus on inquiry in mathematics that the fact some teachers prefer to engage students in other ways was neglected.

Other areas that I would have liked to focus on more in this course are Treaty Education and teaching for social justice.  These are both things I have trouble finding ways to incorporate in my teaching and would benefit from having some instruction on that.

Question Four

One goal that I have for the fall is to use a variety of teaching strategies in my mathematics class.  I would like to use learning stations, manipulatives, jigsaws, inquiry, guided discovery, etc.  during my internship, to see how they work.

I would also like to use a variety of assessment strategies to see what my students have learned.  In particular, I would like to try having students make their own exams for a unit, instead of leaving that responsibility to me.  I think it would be a great way to take the pressure off of them during the assessment and for them to really show what they know.  I would also like to do an authentic assessment.


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Creating Final Exam Questions for EMTH 350

Question One: In EMTH 350 we were asked to participate in the lesson study process outlined in Becoming a Reflective Mathematics Teacher.

  1. Based on your personal experience, what were the benefits of participating in such a process?
  2. What were the drawbacks of participating in the process?
  3. As you progress in your career, what methods of personal reflection do you plan to employ and how will they inform your teaching practise?

Reasoning: We spent a considerable amount of time in EMTH 350 discussing the lesson study process outlined in Becoming a Reflective Mathematics Teacher.  Thus, I believe that it is important for us to summarize our opinions, both positive and negative, regarding the process.  The question that I devised promotes professional reflection; since one of the primary focuses of this course has been encouraging and promoting teacher reflection, I believe that this is an excellent exam question for us to complete. The question also forces us to engage in higher-order thinking.  With respect to the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, parts 1 and 2 of this question involve remembering and understanding your experiences, thoughts and opinions from the Lesson Study and ultimately evaluating usefulness of the process as a tool for teacher reflection.  Part 3 asks you to apply what you know from parts 1 and 2, and then use that information to create a plan that describes how you will use teacher reflection in your own teaching practise.

Question Two: What are the characteristics of a good inquiry activity?  Do you believe that it is better to provide students with open ended or open middled inquiry assignments?  Explain your reasoning.

Reasoning:  One of the primary focuses of this class was learning about, and experiencing, inquiry learning in the classroom.  We all participated in a number of different inquiry activities, facilitated by Kathy, and should have reflected upon what made the activity effective or ineffective.  As teachers who should be implementing inquiry assessments ourselves, I believe that it this is an important reflective task for us to undertake.  In the final portion of the question, asking about open middled and open ended tasks focuses an otherwise very broad question on our NCTM reading.  Finally, from our class discussion on these two forms of inquiry learning, I found that this is a very personal opinion that we all have various reasons for supporting.  All students who completed this reading should be able to write on this topic.


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Field Experience and the Role of Teacher Education 2

PART ONE

The weeks of my pre-internship experience have been a complete blur.  Now that I am back to school, I find myself hardly able to remember the content of the three BIG questions we were asked to consider; let alone the responses I made to them.  After reviewing the last blog post I made in this section just over three weeks ago, I have been reminded of what I believed, prior to pre-internship, about the purpose of field experiences and the role of on-campus teacher education in becoming a teacher.  I have also been reminded of the five things I felt I knew about being a mathematics teacher that I deemed unlikely to change over the course of my field experience.  For the most part, I find that if I were to answer these BIG questions again today, I would answer them in the same way.  My answers have remained constant, with only some slight variations.

After pre-internship, my response to the question about the purpose of field experiences has not changed.  Nor have the things that I deemed unlikely to change during pre-internship.  What have changed however, are my beliefs about the role of a teacher education program in molding young teachers.  It is important to note that I still believe what I said about teacher education programs prior to pre-internship.  However, I now have a fuller understanding of what the on-campus teacher education program does for young teachers.  Aside from all the benefits of teacher education programs I listed in my last post, I have also determined that teacher education programs are vital in creating a network of learners and friends.  During pre-internship, I found myself missing the interaction I used to have with the people in my classes.  These people were, for the most part, interning at different high schools in and around Regina.  The people I was surrounded by as an intern (with an exception of my partner) were all experienced teachers.  They were older than me, well-planned and knew exactly what they were doing each day.  I, on the other hand, was a young teacher, planning from day to day and rarely knew what it was I was doing (particularly in reference to classroom management).

I learned that teacher education programs are crucial in creating a network of individuals with whom novice teachers can relate.  The people you went to school with are the only people that you can really say experienced the same things as you on their own journey towards becoming a teacher.  In and of itself this creates a bond between novice teachers.  While all the teachers I met at Winston Knoll and CRP were great people and I truly enjoyed working with them, I found connection with them to be lacking.  In short, I missed the network of friends and colleagues I have developed during my teacher education.  It is this network of people, those who function on your own level professionally, that you can draw on as support and to talk to during difficult times.  More likely than not the problems you have; they have as well.  I found that during pre-internship, I needed to discuss my experiences and problems with at least a few of the people I have come to know over my years at the U of R.  Knowing that other people were experiencing the same things as me was a great relief.  For a novice teacher, high school can be a very lonely place without professionals to converse with that are on your own level.  As supportive and helpful as your co-operating teacher may be, they are unlikely to understand you as well as the people who are experiencing the same thing as you right now.  I now see that creating a built in network of people for you to collaborate and share with during pre-internship, internship and beyond is one of the primary roles of the teacher education program.

PART TWO

For the purposes of this blog entry, we were asked to respond to the following quote:

Working with preservice teachers can be puzzling and surprising, particularly because they are students at the same time that they are learning to be teachers… I offer the following suggestions for teacher educators in assisting preservice teachers to discover their teacher selves.  It is important to help students identify inconsistencies between their beliefs and practises and to discover counter examples to strongly held beliefs.  In addition, preservice teachers must learn to assume personal responsibility for their actions and performance and not blame the students or others for their problems.  To be a learner requires the consent of the learner (Loughran & Northfield, 1996).  Therefore, it is essential that the learner is open to learning and seeing multiple perspectives.  It is important that preservice teachers acquire a discovery, problem-solving mode that allows them to inquire and examine their teaching and the students’ learning through reflection and inquiry.  I have learned that for the inquiry-reflection cycle to successfully become a habit of mind, it is important to help students develop the following attitudes and dispositions essential for reflection: open-mindedness, responsibility, and wholeheartedness (Dewey, 1933). 

~Taken from Freese, A. (2006).

This quote raises some interesting discussion points relating to what I have seen or experienced in teacher education.  Firstly, Freese (2006) states that preservice teachers are “students at the same time that they are learning to be teachers”.  As a preservice teacher, I can attest to the fact that this is a difficult position to be put in.  When preservice teachers are in their education classes, they must remember to “put on their teacher hats,” as Rick Seaman would say.  Doing so implies an attitude towards schooling that places a focus less on the mark resulting from the class, but onto what you can get out of a class professionally.  This is a difficult switch to make.  The difficulty is compounded by the fact that when preservice teachers are placed back in their general education classes, they must return to a student mindset.  After all, we are required to keep a 70 average in our major classes, so grades do matter.  Furthermore, when you are in your education classes, it can be difficult to ascertain how much of what your instructor says must be taken as true and expected, and how much is simply their own preference for teachers (which you need not subscribe to).  While I understand how difficult this is for pre-service teachers, preservice teachers must be equally difficult as an audience for teacher educators.

Freese (2006) also asserts that preservice teachers need to “assume personal responsibility for their actions and performance and not blame the students or others for their problems”.  For me, this was a partly obvious and partly problematic statement.  The obvious part of the statement is that as teachers we should not blame others for our problems.  This statement is true for any person in any profession or job.  As adults, we are all expected to be responsible for our actions.  Few people would contest this as a general rule to live by.  However, I claiming that we should not blame students for our struggles slightly problematic.  Sometimes, the students are to blame for the problems inherent in a given classroom environment.

As a teacher, if I feel that I simply cannot teach a class full of students, or a particular student, I am certainly going to look at what I am doing as a teacher and how effective that is with the student or group of students.  However, I will also be looking at what the given student(s) are doing in my class.  If they are not working, uncooperative and generally unwilling to learn, then some of the blame must fall on the students.  As Freese (2006) said, learners must be willing to learn, and clearly the student(s) above are not.  Taking personal responsibility for the poor performance and bad behaviour of every single student is a sure recipe for a short career as a teacher.  I believe that teachers must be both willing to help students, and firm believers in the fact that sometimes you cannot help students if they simply are unprepared to learn.  From time to time, you simply need to pick up what you are teaching and try again the next day.

Finally, Freese (2006) asserts that preservice teachers must be open to learning and seeing multiple perspectives.  Opening up preservice teachers to multiple perspectives implies that change needs to occur.  I find the constant focus on change and progress that I have experienced from early in my teacher education to be misguided, since most of us do not have a teaching perspective to start from.  Throughout my teacher education, I have definitely been exposed to multiple perspectives and ways of teaching.  However, I can say with honesty that most of the time I was not open to them, simply because I was not ready to be open to new ways of teaching.  I am a mastery learner, and I feel that I need to be comfortable with one way of doing something before being exposed to another.  The same principle applies to teaching.  Until my pre-internship, I was never given an opportunity to discover how I would teach, based on my own preferences.  I had an idea, but I was never able to test it fully.  Subsequently, I was unaware of the problems with this method of teaching (if any).  Due to this fact, it has been difficult for me to accept new ways of teaching as “correct” because I cannot honestly compare them with the way I currently teach.  As I see it, looking at multiple perspectives of teaching is a way to correct problems in your teaching practise.  If you do not know what problems there are in your teaching practises, the exercise is pointless.  Teachers certainly do need to be open to changing their practise, but as preservice teachers I believe that we first need to focus on defining a teaching practise for ourselves.

Works Cited

Freese, A.  (2006).  Reframing one’s teaching: Discovering our teacher selves through reflection and inquiry.  Teaching and Teacher Education, 22(1), 100-119.


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Field Experience and the Role of Teacher Education

The Strength of the U of R

The strength of the Education program at the University of Regina is the amount of time students in the Faculty of Education spend participating in field experiences/placements.  At all stages in the program, field experiences allow students to determine what it is really like to be a teacher, and to decide if teaching is truly the career path for them.  Students are exposed to the day to day workings of schools, the duties of teachers and the workload involved outside of simply teaching early on in the program; all of which allows students to make informed decisions about their career choices while there is still an opportunity for them to change paths.

For those students who do decide to stay within the Faculty of Education after their initial field experiences, their later placements take on specific purposes.  They provide a safe environment for students to practise their teaching skills and learn new methods.  They give secondary education students, like myself, a chance to find out how elementary schools run in the event we ever end up teaching in one.  Placements also allow novice teachers to receive practical feedback on their methods from seasoned veterans within the teaching profession.  In essence, we have the opportunity to learn from the wisdom (and the mistakes) of others.  Finally – and most importantly, particularly in your third and fourth year  – field placements give students the opportunity to network with other teachers and form a professional learning community that they can turn to for advice in their first years.  This networking also makes it easier for freshly graduated teachers to get a job – after all, people rarely wish to hire those teachers that they do not know.

If Field Experience is so great, why should I attend my teacher education program at all??

While the field experience is crucial, the teacher education program we all participate in on-campus is just as vital on the road to becoming a teacher.  Part of the job of a teacher education program is to introduce us to what is important in education today.  Students study and discuss the current trends in education and form opinions on them (for example, Treaty Education, Backwards Design, no-zero policies, etc).  In effect, we learn to converse in a new vocabulary that allows us to sound like teachers.

I believe that the amount of discussion that occurs regarding pedagogy and educational issues is the most important part of the on-campus teacher education program.  Students need time to process the ideas that they are given, arrive at a deeper understanding, and finally to decide how they will act on the information.  For this reason, teacher education programs that provide students four years, not two, to discover and interpret these issues are vital.  I can say with total certainty that I feel much better about entering my internship in the fall after three years discovering educational practises, ideas and jargon; as opposed to only one.

Reflecting on this question, I came to understand that the role of a teacher education program is to provide us with ideas, information and pedagogical content knowledge.  Once we have received this knowledge, we are free to do with it what we like.  Students may agree with the ideas presented, and vow to implement them in their future classrooms; disagree with the ideas, and choose to disregard them; or land somewhere in the middle, picking apart the ideas that they only partially agree with.  Furthermore, the connections made between students in the same major area, as well as between students in different areas create a group of professionals at the same stage in their career.  It is with this group that we can converse, sympathize and share ideas.  In sum, teacher education programs allow students to enter into internships, and the profession, after they have been provided the information and contacts they need to succeed.

Old Habits Die Hard

There are a couple things I already know about being a mathematics educator that are not likely to change during my pre-internship:

  • Students do not need to be quizzed every day.  There is no need for my mark book to contain a hundred different marks for students
  • If you do not want to be disappointed by a homework check, it is best not to do one
  • You are teaching a subject that is difficult.  You MUST make yourself available to students
  • There is only so much I can do to interest my students in mathematics.  Sometimes you will not succeed
  • Not every lesson has to be inquiry-based