Both Andrea and I miss being students. As a teacher, we also really need to understand what it’s like to be a student. In this post, I’m going to explore a little bit of both of these things.
Being a Student
Life use to be straightforward. Things mostly came down to myself: if I paid attention in class and studied hard, things would (mostly) turn out well (some of those hard BCEM courses aside). Classes were structured, I’d know at the start of term what assignments I’d have to do and when all the exams were; there was a clear road map of what to expect for the near future. Furthermore, there was (surprisingly) ample time to relax, exercise, play squash, play board games, and tutor as well.
A large part of what I miss from those undergrad days is probably the Service Stop, now called Enrolment services at the University of Calgary Not exactly meant as a studying area, it somehow became one for us. No matter what time during the day, we’d always find a familiar face there studying. The tables were large, there were plug-ins available, and the chairs were comfy too. We built a community there that just sprung out of nowhere. We were from different faculties, different years, different walks of life, but we all came there to study. When we needed a break we could always roll up and chat with others. People were always willing to look after each other’s stuff while they ran off to get food. We were there to the point where the doors would be locked and sometimes security would have to kick us out of there because we were there too late in the evening. I also have fond memories of playing board games there; it’s also where the hardcore variants of Uno were played.
At some point, I had a pet project of taking a picture from the same position every time I felt like it using my phone. I compiled I want to say 100-200 photos (I forget the count) to chronicle the times. You’ll notice that the lighting goes from light to dark quite a bit because some days I would get to service stop by 7 or 8 in the morning and not leave until 10 or 11 at night. I then later turned it into a video.
Understanding the Student
As a teacher, things become less straightforward. We can’t just focus on ourselves and expect everything to go well because there are just too many variables involved. These variables being namely the students that we teach. Considering that each student is affected by daily things like their mood, did they have breakfast / lunch, did they get in a fight recently with their friends to much heavier stuff like their family backgrounds, cultural differences, EAL (that’s their version of ESL), our teaching job becomes significantly harder to sort out.
Being a scientist, I know the importance of keeping as many variables controlled and only adjusting one at a time to see its effects; in the classroom, this means trying out different methods / activities / lessons to see what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, this hasn’t turned out so well because what works one day might not work the second day because the students can vary so much on a day to day basis. A problematic student can be fantastic for two days, and then something may happen and they’re completely disruptive the next day.
Practically speaking, it’s rough because we know we’re improving as new teachers; mentally speaking it feels as if we’re not because we’re just constantly coming up against issues with different students in the classroom.
On a different note, I do feel quite blessed about my upbringing when I consider what some of the family circumstances are like for some of my students: absent parents, too many siblings, not enough living space, fighting siblings for the bed, complete lack of boundaries or stability within the household, and lack of love / care from the family. At first, it was quite jarring that I had students that struggled so much with following basic instructions or gathering really simple information from the textbook, but when I consider comparatively our different backgrounds (and that apparently I’m teaching in the only borough in London that doesn’t have a bookstore), things become much more understandable.
At the end of the day, I feel like there are issues here that I can type about, but aren’t really resolved even after being discussed. We’ll continue to get older, we’ll probably reflect on the good ol’ days (e.g. I’ll post something about what it was like being new teachers vs. teachers entrenched in their ways, or being newly wed vs being married for several years, being a married couple vs. being parents, single child vs. multiple children, parents vs grandparents… the list could go on)., but at this point I’m just content that there’s someone here with me that I can rely on to talk things out and figure my way through life and teaching.