The Value in Being Uncomfortable

 

Unease. Awkwardness. Two words that inspire pits to form in many a stomach. Who wants to feel that way? We avoid those feelings as best we can in life, and yet, I’ve come to embrace them (at least in one area of my life).

I’ve come to realise that when it comes to teaching, there can be value in being uncomfortable. 60406796

For one, going outside of your own comfort zone can inspire others to do the same. I’ve learned from many fellow teachers who constantly take risks and try new things. They may not realise it, but their willingness to try new things with their students inspires me almost every single day. Had I not spoken to a colleague who had just tried it, I would have never sat and written a blog post in class while my students did the same (and wouldn’t be doing it here, again).

I’ve also come to learn that there is great reward in taking risks. There have been times where I’ve decided to stray from my usual lessons or assignments and try something new. Those days can go one of two ways: they could go very smoothly, and remind me that some great work can come out of trying something new, or they can go horribly wrong. What is the worst that could happen, though? Yes, I might look a bit silly in front of my students, or the assignment might have to be scrapped because it didn’t go the way I thought it would. In the end, though, I’ve come away from these experiences having learned something. If the risk went well, the payoff was likely an increase in student engagement and hopefully learning. If it flopped, well, they likely saw me work around it and move on.

It’s not always easy, though. I’m not usually comfortable enough to try new things in courses I’m unfamiliar with. The best I can do is to continue in the courses I’m most comfortable ‘playing’ in, and hope that it translates into ways to change up those other, more unfamiliar courses as well.

So the next time you’re sitting next to a colleague who seems to be doing something interesting, don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, what’s that?” as it might be the perfect starting point for your jump into the uncomfortable.

Pleasant Surprises

When I was in high school, I was told I should start to think about what I would do as a chosen career. At the time, I had a keen interest in drama. It was my favourite course, by a long shot, and over the five years I spent in those classes, I developed a love of acting, and eventually an idea in my head that one day I’d do it for a living. 

Grade 11 drama class – We have a student teacher and she’s telling us about her experiences in post-secondary. We ask a lot of questions – after all, we are all like-minded kids. Who takes Grade 11 Drama unless they are passionate about it? Something odd happens during this class. Her description of studying theatre in university completely turns me off of doing the same. She turns my plans upside down. Who wants to study theatre history? I just want to act, I don’t want to know who the famous Greek playwrights were. Decision made. Or so I think.

First year of university – I’m an undecided major. I figure I’ll take a bunch of different courses to see if something jumps out at me. Nothing does. Eventually, I realize I know exactly what I want to do, and I apply to a few theatre programs. My parents are not exactly impressed but luckily, they are supportive. The next year I am doing the first of two things I never thought I’d do: I’m studying theatre.

Third year – I come to the conclusion that theatre life is not for me. I do not think acting is a viable career for me and I know I don’t want to be working part-time to support myself while I struggle through audition after audition. I decide to try something out – I considered being a teacher once, why not give it a shot? I enroll in the appropriate courses for my fourth year, apply to teacher’s college, and am pleasantly surprised when I get in. Cool.

Teacher’s college – Hey, this is pretty great. I could do this. I’ll use my theatre experience and be a great drama teacher. English is my second teachable subject; it’s more of a challenge. In my practice teaching placements, I struggle and secretly hope I’ll never have to teach it.

Supply teaching: years 1-5 – It’s a tough market for teachers; too many of us, and not nearly enough jobs. I’m a supply teacher, working very consistently, thrown into a number of different classrooms. You name it, I’ve ‘taught’ it at this point. The funny thing is, there are far more English jobs than Drama. The funnier thing? I’m starting to like it.

16 October 2016 – I’m currently sitting at the computer in my English classroom. My students sit in front of me, Chromebooks in front of them, writing their own blog posts. This post is projected on the screen – the hope that they can see that the writing process isn’t always smooth (a great idea ‘borrowed’ from a respected colleague). I, the theatre major, am in my eighth year of teaching, predominantly English (and loving it) with a dash of Visual and Dramatic Arts.


For some people, a chosen career path is clear from a young age. I often envied those people. For others, like myself, it’s a constantly shifting role. What I’ve come to realize over the years is that the path you choose isn’t always the one you anticipate; in fact, it can downright surprise you.

 

Worth the Risk

My poor mother. To say I was a picky eater as a child is a massive understatement. My mom would often cry, fearing my sister and I were not eating enough. My eating habits improved in high school but I was still pretty hesitant when it came to trying new things. In university, a professor of mine used cheese to get me to open my mind to the endless possibilities of good food. Later that year, I took a big risk for a former picky eater. While in Prague I opened a restaurant menu only to find that it was written entirely in Czech (naturally). I remembered my professor’s advice, closed my eyes, and pointed. It was delicious.

Since then I’ve tried things I would have never fathomed in my previous, risk-free life – some were delicious, others not so much. I really did take something away from that experience and I’m trying to apply it to my life in ways that don’t just relate to food. One way I’m trying to do this is in my teaching. One of my goals straight out of teacher’s college was to learn more about the use of technology in the classroom. I decided I was going to make it a goal to learn more about the various options available for incorporating technology in school and then do my best to apply those things when I started teaching.

Technology can be scary! What happens when my lesson plan is based on content requiring an internet connection and the WiFi suddenly goes down? What do I do when my projector isn’t working, or even worse, I forget to book one out on a day it’s needed? I had these and other fears when I decided to join an online collaborative project called “Macbeth Goes Social”.

Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout
Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout

This project allows a space for teachers around the world to collaborate and share their collective experience of studying Macbeth at the same time. We’ve used Google Plus and more specifically Google Hangouts to share throughout this unit. The idea of a Google Hangout really scared me at first. All those previous questions (and more) swam through my mind. What if? Well, I took a risk and I tried it. My class has done two live Google Hangouts so far and I hope to do at least one more this week. Yes, there were flaws and yes I would definitely change a few things the next time, but boy am I glad I decided to give this a shot! This project has allowed my class to learn the importance of having a live audience (digital citizenship); share with peers around the world (Italy, America, United Kingdom, etc.); and have fun while doing it.

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https://twitter.com/HUSNAIN_AHMED/status/467296880670806016

If you’re interested in checking out a Google Hangout there are more scheduled for this, the final week of the project. Head over to the Google Plus page for Big Fun Education (the organizer) and watch some of the videos already posted.

 

Things I Learned at the GAfE Summit

This past weekend I headed to the Google Apps for Education (GAfE) conference held by our board. A few teachers at my school decided we’d go check it out and I thought I’d share some of the amazing stuff I filled my brain with over those two days.

In no particular order, here are some things Virginia learned this weekend:

1. Chrome is a pretty great browser with a lot of exciting apps and extensions.

Cool App: LucidPress – similar to Microsoft Publisher but free and web-based
Cool Extension: One Tab – saves any open tabs and lets you post them as a link (all tabs open when you click the link)

Then there’s the Omnibox (formerly known as the address bar). Things you can do in the Omnibox:

  • search multiple websites using shortcuts (for example, I set it up so that I type in “gd” and hit space to search my Google Drive. I also set up a number of other search engines in a similar fashion)
  • use it as a calculator/flight checker/etc.

Basically, you can do things you’d normally do in fewer steps/clicks which I think is pretty neat. Hello, timesaver!

The other great thing about Chrome is that it’s totally customizable. When you log in to the browser, all of your history, apps, extensions, and bookmarks are saved. This means students can log in on their Chromebooks at school and go home and access all the cool sites they used for their research without having to search for them again.

2. Google Drive has even more capabilities

Ever since our board adopted GAfE I’ve been trying to explain how useful Google Drive is to my students. How cool is it that you can all collaborate on the same document!? Anyone!? Bueller?? More cool Google Drive tips:

  • no need to open a new tab, you can research right in a Google Doc (Tools -> Research)
  • you can upload images in a variety of ways (Insert -> Image). Again, you can search Google for images right in the Document and it will also tell you its license details so you know how to properly cite it.
  • a lot of apps and extensions work right inside Google Drive, meaning you can use them to enhance the user experience (example: Pear Deck for interactive lessons)
  • you can use your phone to dictate to the Google Drive app and watch as it transcribes it on the document(!)

3. What it’s like being a student again 

I found myself back in the role of student which was a nice change as I always liked being in school. It was nice to be reminded of what it feels like being on the other side of the room and I left with a bit more empathy for my students. Some observations:

  • my brain was fried by the last sessions and I started to pay more attention to Twitter than the speaker
  • those wooden chair/desk combos in some of the classrooms were extremely uncomfortable
  • I was often thinking about food

This is all just a sample of what I learned this weekend. I remember after the first day I was trying to think of a good analogy for how I felt and the best I could do was liken my brain to how my stomach feels after eating too much. It hurt.

Thanks to the presenters, organizers and WRDSB for a great two days!


 

Public and Professional – The Social Media Diaries

Here’s a quick timeline: I joined Facebook in 2005. 2005! What does that mean? I think it means there’s a lot of 20-year-old me posts out there somewhere in Internet Land. The good news is that a few years after joining, I came to the realization that future me may not be as excited about those Halloween ’06 photos I posted and I did some weeding. I should say there was some outside pressure to start deleting content as well.

In 2008, I enrolled at Queen’s to begin my Bachelor of Education. While learning about lesson planning, classroom management and assessment strategies, my peers and I were also being warned. “You should probably delete your Facebook account” is a phrase I didn’t hear just once. That’s when the real purge began. Even though I had a “private” profile (I had locked it down to the point that all information was hidden unless we were “friends”), I still deleted anything I feared might be considered inappropriate.

I joined the world of Twitter in 2011 with a “protected” account – meaning my tweets were private unless I approved of followers who added me. I even created a different account to use with my students, because, why would I want them following the “real” me on Twitter?

First Tweet
My first tweet

For a while, I thought I was really doing this Social Media thing well. I shared what I wanted, with whoever I wanted. I felt like I had control over my content and that I was being safe. But then I started to do some reading, and some thinking, and some more reading. I realized that maybe I was going about this all wrong. Rather than trying to keep everything hidden and private (which is getting harder and harder), why wouldn’t I just put my best foot forward from now on? Why not be mindful of what I post and tweet?

In Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private, George Couros states, “It is not that we can’t be ourselves online, but we should just be more cognizant of what we do there.” That statement really resonated with me. I felt that I was trying on a new identity with my teacher account while keeping the real me locked behind my protected account. So, I made the decision, “unlocked” my Twitter account and began to truly think about everything I wanted to share.

This shift in my Social Media presence has been a positive one so far. I feel like I’m able to use Twitter to it’s full potential through sharing, retweeting content and chatting with people who don’t follow me. And even though I still keep my Facebook account private, I feel that by carefully considering everything I post and share, I am putting out the image of myself that I feel most comfortable with, and therefore am projecting a positive persona to my ever-expanding audience.

Finally, I feel like I’m really able to stress the importance of Digital Citizenship and the power of putting out positive content to my students. In the past, I’ve warned them about the dangers of posting without thinking on Social Media, but now, I’m having a different conversation with them. Rather than scare them into protecting their accounts, I want them to start being more Social Media saavy – I’m now stressing the importance of creating a positive profile, thinking before posting and attaching something good to their name. I’m sure some young people are going to find the need to purge their profiles in a few years, but my hope is that they don’t have to weed through too much questionable content along the way.

 

Confessions of a Twitter Lurker

I signed up for Twitter back in 2010. I posted a handful of times and then promptly deleted my account. I asked myself, “Why would anyone care about what I have to say?” Honestly, I just didn’t see its purpose and figured I wouldn’t get much use out of it.

Fast forward about a year later and I found myself getting talked into rejoining. I created a new account, added a photo, posted a couple of times and lurked…a lot. I followed some people who interested me, clicked on their names and scrolled through their timelines. I read conversations between educators, too scared to jump in with my own thoughts on the subject (I felt like I would be intruding on a private conversation), watched as people tweeted and retweeted content that I found interesting and helpful. Slowly, I came to the realization that it wasn’t so much about me putting something unique and brilliant out there, it was about reading and learning from others, and posting when I found something that was helpful to me. It wasn’t until I had lurked for a while that I felt comfortable enough to start tweeting more and I think it helped me really understand the usefulness of Twitter.

So what’s so good about it? I think the beauty of Twitter is that you get exactly what you want from it. You tailor your account to your preferences. Like sports? Follow athletes, sports blogs and media personalities. Photography? Follow professionals, amateurs, and more blogs! The best part? You can unfollow with ease and without feeling too badly about it.

One of my favourite functions of Twitter is the organized chat. In my profession, there are countless weekly chats in a variety of subject areas and interests that are open to anyone. All you have to do is find the chat, follow the hashtag and join in the discussion. This is where lurking comes in handy again. The first few times I “participated” in edchats, I didn’t tweet, I only observed. Again, there was that fear of not having anything particularly important or useful to add to the conversation. Slowly though, my lurking gave me more confidence to really join in the conversation and tweet right along with the others.

I admit I still do a lot of lurking, and I don’t see any harm in it, as long as I do join in the conversation from time to time. So for those of you that are nervous about Tweeting, my advice to you is this: lurk away. Find some people whose Tweets you enjoy reading and scroll through their timelines. Observe. Join a chat on a subject that interests you and watch and read to see how people interact. Finally, don’t be afraid to join in. Start with some retweets then add your own perspective and slowly, you will build the confidence to use Twitter in a whole new, hopefully more meaningful way.

I Don’t Have the Job I Expected (And It’s Okay)

I’m sitting at someone else’s desk, using her resources and marking her students’ essays. I check her mailbox, use her copy code and check her voicemail. I am an LTO.

LTO stands for Long Term Occasional teacher. This is a fancy way of saying I’m filling in for someone. Disclaimer: I am one of many teachers in this board (and province) who are in a similar position; however, my experience could be (and likely is) different than many others out there like me.

When I was in teacher’s college, we were told the job prospects after graduation would be slim. It was a well-known fact in 2009 that there were simply too many teachers and not enough jobs for them all. Upon hearing this, I decided to make a plan. I decided that I’d stick it out for five years and then re-evaluate the situation. So here I am. Re-evaluating.

There was a point in my career, not long ago, when I had almost given up. In between jobs supply teaching, I would search the internet for other jobs inside and outside the world of education. But, I decided to stick it out a bit longer (I had to get through those five years first!) and continued on this path. Reflecting on this, I’m glad I decided to stay in this profession.

I love my  job. I get to be social, I get to meet interesting people and I get to challenge young minds. I often complain about my current situation and I realize I have to stop. I commented to a colleague last week that I was tired of interviewing every few months for a new job and then realized I’m fortunate to even have interviews considering many of my friends and colleagues are still waiting on the sidelines trying to get their foot in the door.

No, I don’t have my own desk and no I don’t have my own mailbox (well, sometimes I do), but for a brief time, I can call them “my students” and that’s the most important part, isn’t it? I am thankful to continue to get jobs and hope that one day I’ll become a permanent teacher. Until then, I’ll be the “new guy” every few months and I’ll be okay with it too.