Let’s get deep and meaningful, shall we:
As I told Justin Medved at the conclusion of this year’s Cohort21 launch, this was the best PD I’d ever been to. No soundbite hyperbole or millennial proselytizing needed. I loved the organized chaotic structure of this CIS initiative, especially how anti-baby-boomer or “un-conferency” the first PD session felt. An action research plan without a destination! An organic development of 21st-century skills and professional networking, slowly building over an entire year. Yes please! For years I’ve been silently reinventing my own personal teaching wheel, and wondering why no-one was noticing. Perhaps, now, there is a space within which to share.
This blog is but a humble plunge into that brave new Edtech world.
I have been teaching high school for over ten years, travelling the world for fifteen, and writing creatively all of my life. I am both a Canadian and Australian citizen, having recently spent eight years living and teaching in Melbourne, Australia.
I have recently begun to view myself, without any post-GenX irony, as a Problem Solving Poet of Teaching and Learning; meaning— I apply the same rules of constraint and creativity used to structure one of my poems (yes Virginia, people still write poetry!), as I do with innovating my ongoing teaching practice. I think in allegories and metaphors. I believe in the visual, aural and written power of language, and truly abhor empty pedagogical rhetoric. I find teaching to be a highly imaginative endeavour, ripe with real-time inspiration and real-time challenges. I love the use of new technology in the classroom, but only if it helps teachers improve engagement and achievement.
The poet in me provides the necessary critical and aesthetic perspective; ensures I maintain a personal, ethical, and spiritual balance with any classroom activity. Here’s how it works: I often structure my poems around a central conceit, basing the number of stanzas or lines or rhymes on a hidden value taken from the subject (eg. a poem about four-leaf-clovers might have a quarter-stressed rhyming scheme or have four words to a line or four-line stanzas). Likewise, whenever I’m stuck on what to do with the designing of a classroom assignment, I use these same creative principles, to try and reveal the inherent structure behind the topic. A recent example revolved around the teaching of that classic text, To Kill A Mockingbird. What to do? Surely, by now, everything had been done to death with this book. My Grade 9 English students had heard of it, of course, but they were also very wary of having to study it. And I didn’t really want to do the usual Plot, Character, Setting analysis with a PowerPoint presentation to round off the ritual compliance.
Considering the famous setting of the novel, in and around a small-town court case, and of course, my own students’ default cynicism towards an older text, I creatively solved my teaching problem by twisting the main themes of intolerance and justice around and put Harper Lee’s perennial soapbox favourite on trial instead. The central question then became: Does this book still deserve to be considered a classic?
Engagement flourished as half of the class defended the book and the other half gleefully tore it to pieces. For a few weeks last year my class was full of wannabe lawyers of rhetorical analysis and judges of metaphoric longevity. When the Unit had ended and we sadly discovered that Harper Lee herself had died, well, suffice to say, the power of great literature once again shone through.
Now, by no means did I think I was the only teacher to have ever attempted a thematic linking activity like this before. That wasn’t the point, for me. The point was that I had personally discovered a new way into creating relevant and resonating assignments. By taking the central themes or metaphors or history of the topic and then structuring an assessment based around those ideas. The teacher in me was reinvigorated. The poet in me was satiated.
I am currently the Academic Lead (Curriculum Director) at Rosseau Lake College in Muskoka, about as pristine and natural an environment as any poet could wish for. I’m also the senior English and Drama instructor. As RLC is a small, independent school, I have many hats and many roles, from PD Development and Training, to Academic Budgeting, Marketing, Junior, Middle, and Senior School Curriculum Development, Edtech Provider, Arts Committee Chair, Drama Production Director, Sports Coach, House Parent, Weekend Don, etc.
Teaching is not just a job at RLC, it’s a lifestyle. Maybe even a work of art.