Breaking Down Walls

Looking back at my previous two entries, I’m thankful for some of the success that I had early in my pre-internship. However, a series of incidents that happened during my last week made me quickly realize what can happen when we don’t take the time or are unable to build a relationship. Throughout my placement, and by viewing other teachers, it is evident that strong, positive relationships help prevent discipline problems. My inability to form a relationship with one of my students resulted in them being disrespectful and “acting out”. For example, this particular student always came to class with her earphones in. She would keep them in throughout the entire class and would constantly be texting. My cooperating teacher pointed this out to us and said that students were aware that phones had to be away, or else they would be taken. The following day, the student had her earphones in. I decided that rather than taking her phone away, I would ask her to take her earphones out for the remainder of the class. This student refused and instantly became aggressive. It was difficult to bring her down following this, largely due to the fact that I did not have a relationship with her. This whole scenario could have been avoided if I built a foundation with her, where she respected me. However, I do not believe she was overly receptive to getting to know me. This got me thinking, what do I do when I am unable to build a relationship? Or when it is more difficult than most? How can I push through the wall they build up?

Sometimes I’m not sure if we can push through the walls that students build up. Students have closed themselves off for a variety of reasons that I may never know. It is important to remain open, keep talking to them and be patient. It takes time to build a relationship as we tend to “circle” around each other trying to “figure out” how we are going to relate to each other. What I must remember is something my parents have always told me, “You don’t have to get along with everyone, but you have to be respectful”. Modeling this attitude should establish a courteous relationship which hopefully will be returned by the student. I might have to be content with this.

walls 2

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Open Ears, Open Mind, Open Heart

Most of us can note a teacher we had that we forged a positive relationship with. What made them our favourite teacher? It wasn’t because they were highly knowledgeable in their teaching subject, but it was because they were warm, empathetic and cared about our lives beyond the classroom. In summary, they listened.

Listening, and I mean truly listening, is something the majority of us struggle with. This is something I myself am guilty of.  I often get so busy with life, that I feel that I don’t even have the time to listen. However, a good teacher must be an active listener. Good listening skills will help us develop empathy and better understand our students. As a teacher, we spend most of our time talking and having the students listen to us. Reversing this dynamic can be difficult, but is well worth it. As soon as we begin to talk less, we understand a lot more. Positive relationships bloom in environments where good listening occurs.

During my placement, I began to recognize the true power of listening. I was able to build a positive, genuine relationship with a handful of my students simply because I took the time to listen. For example, one day, one of my biology students came in for extra help. We first worked through the problems she was having with her homework, but then began to discuss other things beyond school. She opened up to me about her home life, what she hopes to do in the future, and so much more. Truthfully, I didn’t even have to say much, she just wanted someone to talk to. Taking this time to hear her and build a relationship, allowed her to see that I cared about her. In turn, this allowed her to be receptive in the classroom. Another positive experience I had in regards to relationship building was with one of my grade nine students. He was struggling with the content being learned in class, so after class we sat down together to discuss why there was a disconnect. He opened up to me that this was only his second year in Canada and was still struggling with the language. This created an open dialogue between the two of us where he was more willing to ask questions if he didn’t understand what was going on rather than just “let it slide”. There is power in listening.  

This relationship building and active listening topic was a big discussion piece at my placement. In fact, our professional development day was focussed on how we can be better teachers through listening. They ended up playing a video called “What Makes a Good Teacher Great?”. This video is highly relevant in regards to restorative justice and the relationships first ideology.

As I continue to grow as an educator, I hope I remember this video and the value of listening. I hope to continue working on my listening skills so I can develop into a “great” teacher.

 

Why Restorative Justice?

When given a list of the options we could choose from for our independent inquiry, the choice was easy for me. I was intrigued by restorative justice and what that looks like in the classroom. So, what is restorative justice? Restorative justice focuses on “creating and nurturing healthy relational communities where people commit to acting in a way that upholds the dignity of one another” (Vaandering as citied in Relationships First, 2011). The concept of restorative justice is not a “new” way of thinking. This view on the justice system has been around throughout most of human history, originating “from spiritual and indigenous traditions”. However, the concept of restorative justice began to take a “back seat” to retributive justice, particularly in Western cultures. This view on justice takes a punishment approach rather than relational approach. The resurgence of restorative justice has occurred in recent years largely due to prisoner and academic advocates wanting to protect the rights of offenders (Department of Justice, 2018). This shift back to a more community and victim based system of justice has begun to be incorporated into the education system.

 Although restorative justice is typically looked at in regards to the criminal justice system it can easily fit within our education system. In fact, it has been argued that our school systems closely resemble that of a prison system. Not only do our schools resemble prisons physically, but they also tend to adopt similar mindsets. This is evident through the high proportion of students who are suspended or expelled from schools every year. It has been found that more than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehaviour, such as disruptive behaviour or insubordination” (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). From this statistic it is easy to see how the ideology behind the school to prison pipeline came to be. A punitive environment only creates a greater divide between students and teachers. This is where restorative justice comes into play.

As I was entering into my first day of my pre-internship this concept of restorative justice was in the back of my mind. As great as it sounds in theory, I was curious as to what restorative justice would look like in practice. In simplest terms, it is through building relationships with my students. Questions and worries flowing through my mind focused on the how! How exactly am I going to build genuine, positive relationships with my students for the three weeks I am at the school? How can I build relationships when I only see them for one hour? How can I build a teacher-student relationship when I am so close in age to my students? How, how, how?

As soon as I came home from my first day, I created a list of things I could do that would aid me in forming relationships. The list that I came up with is as follows:

  1.  Authenticity- Be genuine in my teaching. The students can and will pick up on inauthenticity. 
  2. Empathy- Try to understand that everybody is going through something. You may not understand what your students are going through but you can be a support for them.
  3. Respect- If you respect the students and treat them as equals, they will respect you back.

The population of students at the high school I was placed at are uninterested with attending school, and don’t see the value. This is largely due to the environment they are coming from. Difficult home lives and stresses make it impossible to learn. This problem is multiplied tenfold when we punish students for making mistakes rather than trying to understand why they are struggling. Forming relationships and beginning to see the world through their lens will help me move away from a punitive approach to issues and to a more restorative approach. This task can be difficult depending on a variety of situations, but it is imperative to do. The idea of “relationships first” should be every teachers motto.

Relationships first

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/jsp-sjp/rr00_16/p2.html

https://www.prevnet.ca/resources/healthy-relationships-tool/relationships-first-restorative-justice-in-education

https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/data.html

Draw My Life

This semester has been a period of ups and downs, learning and debunking some of my long held beliefs. This course has shown me that what you see is not always necessarily the entire picture. One has to dig deeper to uncover the nuances that are hidden. It is only by doing this that we continue to grow in our understanding of curriculum, and allow us to become better educators.

This video takes you on some of my journey. Enjoy!

What is the colour of your lens?

  1. How has your upbringing/schooling shaped how you “read the world?” What biases and lenses do you bring to the classroom? How might we unlearn / work against these biases?
  2. Which “single stories” were present in your own schooling? Whose truth mattered?

 

I have often been accused of seeing the world through “rose colored glasses”.   I use the word accused because most people don’t see their surroundings that way. I like to believe that people are inherently   “good” and that there is “good” in the world. I believe that I’ve developed this mindset because of the community I grew up in, how my parents raised me and the schooling I received. I fit the norm of white, middle-class, educated female. The people that were around me and taught me were often of the same background. Therefore, I never really had to consider what my biases were until I entered a classroom to teach. I realized quickly that every student in there had their own story, their own history, their own culture and their own biases. The one that I became most aware of was how I deal with students who don’t meet my “expectations” for classroom behaviour and learning. I expect that students will sit at their desks when class is on, that they will address the teacher in a polite manner, that they will complete their work on time, and that the will not talk when I am talking. As I have spent more time in the classroom I am aware this is not the reality for every student and that I have to “check myself” to be more inclusive. For example, there can be some students whose parents are working two jobs and don’t have the time to spend helping them learn math or reading skills. So when these students come to school with incomplete work, I need to consider all that is going on in their lives, not just what I see in the class. I don’t think it is easy to unlearn biases. I do think  that recognizing you have them is the first step.

Looking back at my high school time I remember leaving my small community school where there were 17 students in my grade and entering a high school where there was 350 students in my grade.  It was at this point where I noticed the differences in the students at the high school I attended. There were people who just showed up, not wanting to learn. They were simply there to hang out and socialize. There were groups of individuals like myself who wanted to learn and experience what the school had to offer in terms of subjects and extra-curricular activities. There were the students who came to learn a trade and only took the minimal required core subjects. Within these groups, there were also differences that you could see, both socioeconomically and culturally. As a result, I tended to assign stereotypes and labels.  My group was the “good students” and everyone else was flawed for some reason. It wasn’t until I got to know some of these people and understood where they came from that I began to understand that the line between “good” and “flawed” is not as clear as I thought.

I believe that the “single stories” that were present during my schooling were a reflection of the teacher who was at the front of the class. In most cases, this would be the European story, which would mirror the story I had to tell. The question of whose truth mattered is harder to answer. If, like I do, you subscribe to the adage, “there are three sides to every story; yours, mine and the truth”, than I believe that all the “stories” have merit and should be heard.  By doing so, we stand a greater chance of developing a larger view of the world. The difficulty lies in making this happen as we tend to surround ourselves with the familiar. As students, we have a degree of responsibility to seek out more stories. As future teachers, we owe it to our students to present a variety of stories. This combination will help facilitate the learning that needs to occur.

 

What Kind of Citizen Are You?

What examples of citizenship education do you remember from your K-12 schooling? What types of citizenship (e.g. which of the three types mentioned in the article) were the focus? Explore what this approach to the curriculum made (im)possible in regards to citizenship.

Citizenship education can be defined as “educating children, from early childhood, to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society”.  Educators are continually “pursuing programs that aim to strengthen democracy through civic education, service learning, and other pedagogies” (1). However, there are debates surrounding what makes a “good” citizen.

I attended school (K-12) in three different places: Oromocto, New Brunswick, Oakville, Manitoba and Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. They were all completely different in a variety of ways; school size, demographics, resources, teaching methods, etc. However, one thing they all had in common was their attention to citizenship education. This began at a young age with a focus on recycling, picking up garbage in the schoolyard, and raising money for different local groups. This would be considered the “personally responsible citizen [who] acts responsibly in his/her community” (3). As I entered high school in Portage la Prairie, MB there was a shift from just simply being a personally responsible citizen, to someone who “actively participates in the civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state, and national levels” (4). This was largely due to my participation in a student-led “Social Justice” club. This club was focused on helping others and ultimately, building a more just society. Joining this club allowed me to be actively engaged in “planning and participating in organized efforts to care for those in need” (4). Additionally, the club pressed me to think deeper about WHY there are these injustices in our society and HOW we can change it. There was an “emphasize [on] social change [that] seeks to prepare students to improve society by critically analyzing and addressing social issues and injustices” (4). We organized a variety of fundraisers/social projects/awareness events for things such as the Food Bank, Coats for Kids, and Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, I was lucky enough to attend a humanitarian trip in high school to Nicaragua, where I worked in the community of El Trapiche. While there I truly realized that helping others or “foreign aid” should go far beyond giving them money or food. We need to address the deeper rooted problems and provide support in allowing them to build a sustainable future for themselves, rather than pushing our ideals on them. My social justice club provided me the opportunity to be exposed to the two other forms of citizenship: the “participatory citizen” and the “justice-orientated citizen”. However, I do think that our education tends to prioritize the lowest level of citizenship, which is the “personally responsible citizen”.

I believe, that if I had not joined the Social Justice club,  I would not have been able to gain some of the qualities of a “participatory” and “justice orientated” citizen. Considering there was only approximately 15 students in this club, out of 1500 students in the school, many students missed this same opportunity. The curriculum focuses on the “personally responsible” citizen, whereby students are taught that if they give a can of soup or drop a loonie in a collection that they have done their part to help the less fortunate. This, although beneficial, does nothing to get students and faculty to understand the systemic issues. Giving needs to go beyond just the material items and focus on the participation and justice orientated, in that only through “getting your hands dirty” can true change be achieved.

 

What Kind of Citizen?

 

Oppression and Privilege in Math

  1. At the beginning of the reading, Leroy Little Bear (2000) states that colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77). Think back on your experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics — were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students?
  2. After reading Poirier’s article: Teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes mathematics and the way we learn it.

 

Racism, discrimination, and oppression in math? Seems absurd, even impossible- at least that was my mindset. How could mathematics, something that is “linear and singular, static, and objective” (82), be oppressive? Mathematics is a “universal language…no matter where we are two plus two equals four” (54). I viewed the subject as something that isn’t personal or subjective; it is very black and white. After reading the articles “Jagged worldviews colliding” by Leroy Little Bear and “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” by Louise Poirier it seems that maybe this dichotomy of mathematics is where oppression stems from.

Looking back at my own experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics it’s hard to specifically identify any aspects that were oppressive and/or discriminating. Belonging to the “majority” has allowed me the privilege of being taught all subjects in a Eurocentric way. This “way” of teaching ultimately “makes sense” to me. As a white person, I had to take myself out of my own shoes and try to view my math classes from a different perspective. I attended high school in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, which is surrounded by four reserves. In turn, the racial/economic makeup of my school was predominantly Indigenous and from a lower socioeconomic standing. The Manitoba curriculum divides the math program into three different streams: Pre-calculus, Applied and Essentials. I took Pre-calculus and all students within that class were white kids who came from “good” families. The teacher was passionate about the subject, had high expectations for each student in the class and was committed to making us successful. She was willing to work with us at lunch, during her breaks and would even help via email or text on nights before an exam. In comparison, the majority of the Indigenous students took Essentials, with a few in Applied. Although I believe teachers strive to connect the students with the subject, my outside observation of these classes left me with a different impression. Often the teachers assigned to the class were not “math majors” and were “teaching from the text”. Going through school I never considered that to be oppressive. But now looking back, I can see that the education system sets up individuals who do not learn via the Eurocentric way to fail. Having a teacher who is less knowledgeable on the subject matter means that they continue to teach and assess in the linear, Eurocentric manner as this is both “easier” for them and familiar to them since this is how they were taught. It was difficult for them to adapt to their “audience” and develop a method of teaching that took into account the culture and oral history of Aboriginals.  This disparity is made more concrete when you look at the Provincial averages for standardized testing in the three different math streams. Recently, Manitoba released the Provincial Math marks on a divisional basis. Looking at these marks, highlight the achievement gap that exists. In 2015, the year I graduated, the Government of Manitoba Provincial test marks were as follows;

  • Pre-Calculus: Provincial Average – 68.7% and Division Average – 70.6%
  • Applied: Provincial Average – 57.5% and Division Average – 58.7%
  • Essentials: Provincial Average – 58% and Divisional Average – 56.6%

Additionally, the Provincial and Division average have continued to decline in the years since I have graduated. Typically Indigenous students are getting lower grades than white people – this is known as the achievement gap. Instead we should be talking about the “…opportunity gap, educational debt, and the investments in Whiteness. Because these gaps are the result of how we fail to support all children, not failures of the children themselves” (Felton-Koestler, 2017). If we consider that everyone has a “jagged worldview” that is not “…100 percent Indigenous or Eurocentric” (85) we need to revise our outcomes and expectations to better reflect the worldview of our students.

In Poirer’s article “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” she discusses a number of ways to challenge the Eurocentric ideas about the purposes of math.  The three that resonated with me are:

  1. The idea that mathematics is a universal language. It is now being recognized that, “different cultures have developed different mathematical tools according to their needs and their environment, and the Inuit community is no exception” (54).
  2. Sense of space is another area where Inuit ideas are in conflict with the Eurocentric teachings. Reference points for location and distance is often described using landmarks and senses rather than measurable distances.
  3. The adaptation to their calendar to reflect naturally occurring events rather than constricted time frames. For example, September in “Inuktitut means ‘when the caribou’s antlers lose their velvet’” (60). This can be longer or shorter than the lunar calendar that is often used, depending on when the antlers lose their velvet.

In summary, the Inuit teachings with respect to math, presses the Eurocentric view to be more “free-flowing” and less constricted. Recognizing and addressing this is essential as a teacher to help students achieve their best results.

 

 

 

Bear, L. L. (2000). Jagged worldviews colliding. In M. Batiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 77-85). UBC Press.

Poirier, L. (2007). Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 7(1), p. 53-67.

http://feltonkoestler.wixsite.com/realworldmath/single-post/2017/10/25/Privilege-and-Oppression-in-Math-Ed

https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/grad_rates/grade12.html