June 2007 Archives

Something to blog about

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Lest you fear that I have been the victim of some terrible accident, perhaps involving an enraged platypus*, I have taken some time from my "vacation" to post this update.

When last we spoke, I had aged a year overnight. This was, one might argue, because it was my birthday; I prefer to think it was a direct result of overextending myself for the last four or five months. Consider June, for instance: I finished marking all the late submissions from the winter semester and updated my already-submitted marks; I wrote a short commentary for the Philosophy of Education course I took in the winter semester; I wrote a longer paper for the same course; I reflected upon and revamped my personal teaching philosophy, again for the same course; I complete three journals, one academic paper and one term paper, including a new teaching strategy, for the Dynamics & Diversity course (i.e., Sociology of Education); I created a 185-page course text for my new Formula Fiction course so I could bring it in to the bookstore so that it's ready for the fall semester; I reviewed a 300-page textbook for a publisher; I spent an afternoon with a colleague going over his courses for the fall semester; I moved from one office to another; and I read 150 placement tests for incoming students. There may be other stuff, but for some reason I can't think of anything else right now.

On the home front, the kids have been off school since last Friday; there have been various end-of-year events and projects to deal with, naturally, but they're home now, and we're alternating between 'I love being home with my boys' and 'when are you moving out?' Over the month, there have been a few birthay parties and at least one wedding on the weekend. We've had the front of our house rebuilt (Really. I'm serious); I have done the tiniest bit of gardening, and since the winter semester was a little distracting, we've done a very late spring cleaning. The big clean was partly because we're currently hosting two visiting couples, Mark and Erika visiting from Sweden, and Alison and John, with small Joshua, from Halifax. Since Mark and Alison are both former Montrealers, they have other friends in town, so last night we hosted a gathering of some of these friends. Oh, and on Wednesday - after making a salad for a potluck lunch for fellow M.Ed. students in Point Claire and picking Alison et al up at the airport - we went out en masse to our latest discovery, a teeny tiny Mauritian restaurant that is walking distance from our house, then all hopped on the Metro and went to Laronde for the fireworks.

Tomorrow, Robert has a playdate and we have two birthday parties to attend. Sunday, we're driving out to the Eastern Townships, for brunch with the Muir-Wylie clan, then supper with my parents, and a Monday-afternoon stopover with a friend who's visiting from Stateside.

Oh, and did I mention that the boys and I are flying to England on Tuesday?

*I have no idea where that come from, so don't ask.

Vanity Hair

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Gray hairs notwithstanding, I do not colour my hair because:

~ there are fewer gray hairs than one might expect, given my advanced age*;
~ the gray hairs that there are were well-earned;
~ colouring my hair would be an act of vanity;
~ colouring my hair would be an admission of concern about aging.

In other words, not colouring my hair is an act of vanity. Hmmm...

Really, I am just posting so you guys have a post on which to comment on this most special of days ;)

*I am aware that "advanced" is a relative concept. For those of you over 50, I am but a youngster. But believe me, as far as my students are concerned, I am decrepit.

Farewell

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Last night, I put on my nice new summer dress and the shoes I keep promising I'll never wear again and headed off to Place des Arts to witness the Vanier graduation ceremony.

As I've said before, as a teacher, my success is measured in my students' achievements. So naturally, I was thrilled and more than a little proud to see so many of my former students cross the stage last night. Maria, Raihab, Sabina, Leonce, Laura, Zara, Susie, Amado, Tanika, Brandon, Monika, Anita, Howard, Inder and T.J., congratulations on a job well done! Congrats also to those of you who weren't there last night. Sniffle.

This year, I volunteered to be the English Department rep on the Valedictorian selection committee ~ and I'm now planning to be on this committee until forcibly removed. It was a genuine pleasure to meet so many students who not only made the grade (literally) but who were so enthusiastic about learning and about Vanier. I'm the kind of person who develops strong emotional bonds with buildings, it seems, and it really touched me to meet students who felt the same attachment as I do to our college.

Being on the committee also gave me the opportunity to work with our selected Valedictorian; Philip, you did a great job, and more than vindicated our decision to ask you to represent your graduating class. Sniffle.

My only complaint about last night was the lamentable lack of representation from my departmental colleagues. We're the largest department on campus, yet I was literally half our contingent last night. Perhaps this reflects the fact that the department is not included on the platform, which, given our numbers, and the ministerial and institutional emphasis on communication as a cornerstone of learning, is equally lamentable. Granted, many platform party members told me that it's no picnic being up on stage, under the hot lights, for two hours, with specific instructions not to fan themselves or otherwise inadvertently indicate boredom; but frankly, that's easy to say when you're already part of the party, if you see what I mean. Suffice it to say that I think the English department should (a) lobby to be included in the platform party and (b) encourage its members to attend the graduation ceremony, so we can demonstrate to our students just how much it means to us that they've made it.

After all, if they've made it, we've done our job.

Sniffle.

Who Cares?

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Dynamics & Diversity in the College Classroom
Journal #3

The readings we’ve been looking at, whether their particular emphasis is on culture, gender, motivation, or discipline, all stress the aspect of caring. In fact, upon reflection, caring is central to most of the texts we’ve read in most of the courses we‘ve taken in the Master Teacher program; after all, why are we committing ourselves to the time and effort required of this program if we don’t care about our students and our work? Personally, I chose to take this program rather than pursue a PhD in English Literature, and I have no regrets whatsoever. I love my job not because I get to talk about great works of literature (believe me, that’s the last priority!), but because I get to work with some pretty fantastic students. Each semester is a new challenge and a new joy; the material may not change much from term to term, but you never teach the same student twice. Even the ones who come back for a second or third course are different each time, because they’ve undergone new experiences and learned new skills.

Interresant, non?

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It's a good thing I am not paranoid.

This morning, I opened my browser and scrolled down my page for the weather forecast. Interestingly, the forecast was in French.

Which it was not yesterday.

If I were paranoid, I might have taken this linguistic switch as evidence of some kind of insidious Big Brother (or, perhaps more appropriately, Grand frere) plot to take over my web site, one element at a time.

Thankfully, I am not paranoid.

I clicked on the weather button, and sure enough, the French weather network site opened. From there, I went to the English site, and found the English code for the button, and added it to my template.

If I were paranoid, I might have been a little perturbed that there was (a) no indication that changes had been made to the code, and (b) an automatic redirection to the French site with the old code (which I added about a month ago, when the WN changed their old, old code, again, without notice or explanation, resulting in everyone's favourite tiny red X in my sidebar, rather than the weather).

But I'm not paranoid.

The eyes have it

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Dynamics & Diversity, Journal #2

Jane Elliot’s exercises in prejudice and discrimination were excellent illustrations of some of the concepts we’ve been exploring recently, and how these concepts may be relevant to our classrooms. Elliot’s workshops demonstrate how social groups are affected by apparently arbitrary criteria, and how values assigned to these criteria result in a system of privilege and disadvantage that can have significant effects on the members of the society.

Fleras and Elliot (not the same Elliot) talk about the “culturally invisible environment” in North American society and make the point that racism not just about disadvantages for those members of society who are labelled as ‘different’ or ‘Other.’ Racism, more insidiously, is about the tacitly-accepted idea that those who are not different are privileged. In Jane Elliot’s classroom exercise, this concept of assumed privilege is manifested in explicit terms by Elliot’s awarding of certain unmerited privileges to the dominant group, such as extended recess time and free access to the drinking fountain. The result of this privilege is that the excluded students felt, in the words of one boy, like “a dog on a leash.”

Climbing Down from the Tower

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Term paper, Philosophy of Education (a.k.a. what I've been losing sleep over this week)

This spring, Quebecers went to the polls in a provincial election. Political scientist Henry Milner took the election as an opportunity to conduct a study, the purpose of which was to determine the efficacy of financial disincentives. For the study, Milner recruited 143 students from Vanier College, and offered them $25 to cast their ballots – but also asked them to complete two sets of questions about the main issues and candidates involved in the campaign. The study concluded that money was “not conclusively” a voting incentive (Howarth); more to the point, it revealed an alarming ignorance of local politics among college students. In interviews with the students, Milner learned that few students engage in political discussions with their parents; clearly, students are not discovering their political world in the home or the classroom. If students are not learning about the politics that shape their lives – politics that determine the content of the courses they are taking, the standards against which their success will be measured, the wage they earn, the age at which they can drink or drive or consent to sexual relations – how will these same students become engaged, motivated, contributing members of a democratic society? Regardless of detractors who would have us believe that politically engaged teaching amounts to indoctrination, educators must accept that one of the most crucial roles we play is that of model citizen, and that our job is not only to provide our students with knowledge and skill, but also to initiate them into life outside the academy.

Something more of quickness than my sisters?

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IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married woman in possession of a good wit must be in want of a blog.

I am Elizabeth Bennet!

Courtesy of Clare, a.k.a Elinor.

On Authority and Classroom Management

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Dynamics & Diversity in the College Classroom
Journal #1

When I read Savage’s “Establishing teacher leadership and authority,” I was reminded of some of the first instances in which I realized that teacher authority is not automatic.

Before I began my career at the Cegep level, I worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary level. I was never under any delusions about making elementary school a permanent home; I took the job in order to build up my resumé with some teaching experience. Prior to the Performa program, I had no training as a teacher, but I was able to consult with my aunt, who is an elementary school teacher. Armed with her suggestions, and the lesson plans of the teachers I was replacing, I thought I was ready. After two months of fairly regular work, I told the school to take my name of the list, and I’m ashamed to admit they were only too happy to do so. I had no control over those classes, and found myself frequently resorting to coercive authority, with very little effect. In retrospect, it’s clear that the students were quick to peg me as some one who did not merit expert authority – not only did I have no teacher training, I was asked to substitute for teachers at all levels, from Kindergarten to Grade 6, and more than once, for the gym teacher. Because I so often resorted to coercive authority, I didn’t merit any referent authority, either – in short, I was doomed!

Scary monsters

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Yesterday we made our season passes to Laronde worth it with a second trip. In the last few months, Colin has become addicted to RollerCoaster Tycoon II, which is something like the Sims games, but based on Six Flags amusements parks (and the marketing genius of this boggles the mind). The last time we went, Colin said he wanted to ride the Monster, the huge wooden rollercoaster, and one of the few really big rides that he's tall enough to ride. So we headed over to line up, but as soon as he got close and realized just how big the thing really is, he changed his mind. We went through a few "I want to ride it ... never mind"s, and eventually decided that he'd try it 'next time.'

Laronde2007.jpg
Colin and I ride the Monster for the first ~ and last ~ time

To his credit, this time he did not waver, even during the 50-minute line-up (an experience richly enhanced by the frickin' idiot who kept wrestling with his frickin' idiot girlfriend, crashing into me no less than FOUR times). During the ride itself, he was too terrified to even scream; he just clung to the safety bar, a look of absolute terror on his face the whole time. When we got off the ride, we bought the photo as proof that this time, he did it.

Next time, the Boomerang!

Fish in a Barrel

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This past semester, the M.Ed. course I took was on the philosophy of education, which turns out to be fascinating. I remember really liking philosophy in university - I did two courses in my undergrad with a remarkable teacher; I enjoyed these courses so much that I considered doing a minor in Philosphy, only to find that I couldn't stomach the professor of my third course.

The following is a paper I've submitted for the current course. The assignment was to critique an article, in this case, Stanley Fish's 'Always Academicize,' originally published last fall in the New York Times.

In ‘Always Academicize: My Response to the Responses,’ Stanley Fish’s November 2006 response to critics of his earlier post regarding the role of teachers, Fish argues that “the redress of injustice and the inculcation of … values are worthy activities, but they are not academic activities, and they are not activities academics have the credentials to perform” (par. 1). As such, Fish believes that teachers should do “the job they are trained and paid to do,” exclusively (par. 1). The questions that arise, before one can accept Fish’s dictum, are threefold: what are academic activities, what credentials are in fact required to “redress” social issues, and what is the job that teachers are paid and trained to do? To agree with Fish, one must agree with his stated or implied answers to these questions; however, this agreement is not as straightforward as Fish would have us believe.

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