Today I started my last semester of my bachelor of education degree. It's crazy to think that this time last year, I was anxiously wondering whether any experience would match my four years at Western. I was moving back in with my parents, I knew no one going to the same teachers college as me, and was quite nervous about the whole commuting to school thing. Half of me was excited, the other half of me confused. Somehow, here I am, at the very last leg of this journey.
I'm always so scared to share anything related to teaching on this space. But, for the few who have reached out to me privately during the last year, I owe you a huge thank you. Hearing you share some of the anxieties and fears that have come up during your own teachers college experiences, has reminded me that us "new" teachers often experience a lot of the same emotions and most teachers do not share how they felt during the starting stages of their profession.
I don't ever want to forget where I came from, and the experiences that have helped mold me into the kind of teacher I want to be. I know I've grown as an educator in the last year, and a recap of everything that has happened since is so very necessary.
SEMESTER 1 | September - November 2015
Semester 1 was a total blur, yet the semester that felt the longest. I spent nine weeks in class and four weeks in a grade 1 class during my first practicum block. I got really lucky, and met a great group of friends that I instantly connected with. Teachers college is 90% group work, so having made a great group of friends really made the transition easy for me. My advice to any new teacher candidate out there: MAKE FRIENDS. Working on assignments with people you actually enjoy being around will make your experience all the greater. Whenever I lost track of a due date, or procrastinated a little too much, I had people in my corner that helped make sure I was doing my share of the work. The first few weeks were a huge adjustment (I'm still figuring out whether it was a good or bad one). Having come from Western, a university with so much school spirit, it was definitely a little weird not having any connection to the school community. It was nice coming to school, and leaving right away. I felt like I had so much extra time to spend at home, something I hardly got to do in undergrad. School in general was much less stressful. You see, there are no exams in teachers college so you're not just memorizing mundane facts and regurgitating it during exam week. Teachers college is more about reflecting and working in a hands on manner, something that has always come naturally to me. I use to spend hours and hours taking psychology notes in undergrad, so it was a little weird not having to make notes for every little thing I read. I was able to read things without the added worry of whether or not I'd have to memorize a fact or a number for an upcoming test. The commuting was something I really wished I didn't have to do. Living two minutes away from all my classes during undergrad, it was literally heart breaking knowing how much money I was now spending on Presto each day. I was hardly ever late and missed barely any classes. During my Western days, I lived two minutes away and skipped class at least twice a week (oops). I guess it goes to show you that when you're doing something you're interested in, the motivation is already there.
PRACTICUM 1 | November - December 2015
Practicum 1 was hands down my least favourite phase of teachers college. I keep telling myself I hated it so much because of how big the learning curve was. I was so anxious, feeling so defeated, and felt as though I had made a huge mistake by pursuing a field in education. I had stopped eating, I was hardly getting any sleep, and thought about dropping out probably 5 times a day. I loved my grade 1s, I loved teaching, but it was something about the overall experience that made me feel so sad. Those four weeks were the longest weeks of my life, and probably the time I worked the hardest in school. It's those four weeks that will make finishing this degree such a sweet victory.
The one piece of advice I want to give to others who may be in a similar boat as me during their practicum experience is this: KEEP YOUR UNIVERSITY LIAISON IN THE LOOP. I never told anyone about how I was feeling. I was miserable, and I just kept telling myself that it was a "rite of passage" thing and I had to suck it up and keep moving forward. I convinced myself that it was normal to feel this way, and that it would get better as the days went on. Truth is, I should have told someone at the start, without putting my mental health in jeopardy. There will be people rooting for you, and others who think some sort of tough love approach is the way you'll learn the most. Quite honestly, having gone through it, I know for a fact that tough love is not the way to go. Talk to someone, let someone know that your practicum experience just isn't all that great. Although practicum #1 was my least favourite time, it was also the time that I learned the most about teaching and the complexities of it. I wrote a little more about my experiences during practicum #1 during an earlier post that can be found here.
SEMESTER 2 | January 2016- March 2016
During semester 2, I had felt like some sort of senioritis had kicked in even though it was only the start of a new semester. Even with all the transitioning that was involved during the start of this degree, I was somehow on top of my work during semester one. Semester 2 hit, and it felt like I was back to my undergrad ways, staying up late to start an assignment I should have started days ago. Semester 2 was when I learned what self-sabotaging looked like, and how easily it could be accomplished. Even before I had started my second practicum, I was convincing myself how miserable I'd be again and how much my experience would suck. My fears and anxieties were at an all time high (which was all exacerbated with my pessimistic thinking) , and I was back to feeling like this wasn't quite what I had signed up for. Some of my peers were so excited to be back in a classroom setting, and I was anxiously counting down the days until I'd meet my new practicum class. I felt so guilty feeling this way. Do I deserve to be a teacher? Do I want to be doing this for the rest of my life? I was associating my anxieties with teaching as a whole, and I felt my motivation slip away. So many people in this field don't end up teaching cause they lose the motivation to keep looking for a job. Was that going to be me? Semester 2 was a semester filled with questions (which I have yet to find the answers to btw), but it was a semester that really did fly by. Before I knew it, I was on my way to meeting my new grade 6 class.
PRACTICUM 2 | March 2016- April 2016
Practicum 2 was such a positive experience, and I swear if it wasn't for my awesome AT I would have probably dropped out. I finally felt what my peers had been talking about... how enjoyable practicum could be, and how unique of an experience it is to be a teacher and student all at once. I was supported, motivated, and hungry to learn. I was in my groove, comfortable doing things with a touch of my own teaching style. There were no pressures of being something someone else wanted me to be. I wasn't so focused on making my lesson plans look good on paper. I became more concerned with how I'd execute it for my students. That was such an important lesson for me to learn, and something I definitely lost track of. As long as the students were enjoying the lesson and were learning what I had intended them to learn, I was obviously doing something right. Of course I could nitpick all the little things I could have done better, but hey, that's teaching. You learn while you teach, and you teach while you learn and nothing good comes from being too hard on yourself. Maya Angelou's quote, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel" rang true during this semester. I was a good teacher dammit, and my students loved me. I made them feel important. I was doing something good, and they were learning! That's really all I could ask for.
I lost my grandma during the last little bit of practicum #2. When I found out my family would be making a school out of her house in Sri Lanka , I felt like I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing.
ONLINE SEMESTER 3 | May 2016- July 2016
Semester 3 was an entirely online semester, and a semester that completely went over my head. By the time I finally figured out what was due when, the semester was over. It was really cool to have experienced a semester entirely using Adobe Connect, but holy crap, I was not expecting it to be as difficult. You think of 'online', and you're are like "ahhh... I'll just wing it". But, when you have about 5+ courses all online, you start to lose your mind. When all your work is outta sight, you don't think about it at all (not to mention the summer months, when all you want to be is outdoors). My online semester was mandatory, so I didn't have much choice. But, I'd definitely not recommend an online program for people like me who need their work to literally be staring them down while sitting in a lecture hall. Not having to get out of my p-jays and re-load my Presto every other day was something I could have gotten use to. After this semester, I have a newfound appreciation for all the people who are enrolled in an online program. It's way harder than you think folks.
CURRENT SEMESTER | September 2016- December 2016
I spent my first week of September in a kindergarten classroom (practicum #3), getting to know the students and everything else that goes on during the very first week of school. It has been such an eye opening experience, getting to witness some of the classroom management techniques that teachers use during the first few days of school. It's been particularly interesting to see how teachers interact with the junior kindergartners, who have just entered into a whole new world. I'm already loving my time in the kindergarten classroom, and seeing kindies learn how to use scissors has been one of the sweetest things I have ever witnessed. They make my heart so full.
I officially started my (last) first day of school today. Although... I'm not quite sure a "last" first day will ever be a thing for a teacher. I spent the morning with my mom, reminiscing about how our mornings were like when I was just a little girl. I still remember the days my mom would dress me up, force me to eat my breakfast, put a bindi on my forehead before walking me to school everyday. Look how far we've come, mom!
Much love + Happy September ,
A 24 year old Canadian living (& teaching) in Shenzhen, China.