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Lately my daughter has moved on from watching Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig, to partaking of various kids films. Starting with Frozen, she has since moved to the various Disney princess films. Having initially seen them all when I was growing up, there are two strange feelings in watching them again. Firstly, the many themes and subtle story lines that just aren’t as present for a younger audience. Secondly though, watching the films with a cautious three year old, you get a different view about how dark and scary these seemingly innocent films can actually be.
It would be easy to suggest that this experience with my daughter makes me a better person and a better teacher. This was the lesson implied in a recent post from +Craig Kemp in which he discussed how being a dad makes his a better teacher. His premise was that being a parent has made him more aware of his students and their many diverse needs. Before this moment in his life he did not realise the impact that parents can have on a child’s life. Although Kemp must be congratulated on his openness and honesty, suggesting that being a parent makes you a better teacher misses the point.
In response to the Kemp’s assertion, +Corinne Campbell stated that being a parent does not magically qualify anyone to be a teacher or make them better than those who do not have children. Not being a mother does not make someone half a woman and not having children does not make someone half a teacher. Instead, all of our experiences in life impact and change us, adding spice to what we bring to the classroom. However, it is what we actually do the classroom which matters the most.
To me, our perspectives on the world are moulded by our experiences. As +David Weinberger posits, in his book Too Big To Know, “Perspectives are the maps we give to ourselves to represent the lay of the land.” However, to argue that certain experiences and perspectives somehow hold more capital than others misses the point, instead they simply makes us who we are. It is what we do with our experiences and perspectives which matters the most. We can learn from everything in life if we are willing and open to it. For example, I am sure that there are other parents who may put films on for their children and not have one iota what is going on in them. However, even realising this does not automatically make me a better teacher, it is what I then do with this insight, how I use this to inform my practise, which makes me a better teacher.
Here then are some of the experiences that I have had in my life and the perspectives gained:
A few years ago I had the experience of teaching a blind student in my English classroom. What was even more significant about his situation was that he had actually spent most of his life with full vision and only lost it late in his teens. Having him there really made me reflect on how I saw the classroom and how much we take it for granted when it comes to the senses. This has particularly impacted on how I deliver instruction in class.
Needs and Wants
When I finished studying my undergraduate degree, I went on a guided tour through South-East Asia. During this trip, I had the opportunity to stay in a traditional home in the south of Cambodia. I am sure participating in a Winter Sleepout would have given me a similar such experience, but it just made me realise that we don’t always need everything in life in order to survive and that for some having a deck of cards is a luxury, let alone a desk to do homework at. This has helped me empathise with students from different situations.
I recently lost my mother to cancer. During this time, I learnt many things, such as making the most of every moment, that denial never works for no-one and that at some point the show must go on. However, the biggest lesson that I feel that I have learnt is that I am not alone, that I am not the only one who has lost a parent to cancer. For example, I know someone whose father was told he had four months to live and was dead in two weeks. More importantly though, it really made me realise how much we can take for granted and how futile life can be.
For the last few years I have been lucky enough to split my time between the classroom and various administrative roles. This has included doing daily organisation, creating class timetables and coordinating timetables. This has given me a deeper insight into the impact of which teachers are used for coverage or when classes are timetabled has on student learning. Some of my solutions have been to improve learning by spreading core classes throughout the week, as well as trying to create some sort of consistency in regards to booking relief teachers and assigning extras.
This year I took up the position as councillor with the Australian Education Union – Victorian Branch. This has included representing my region at various meetings and reporting back to my constituents about various campaigns and complaints. It has taught me that there are no quick fixes to education and that politics is a messy game. For example, many teachers I know believe that the union has not done enough in regards to the Victorian Government’s new performance and development plan. However, with an election coming up at the end of the year, whether rightly or wrongly, it is not the battle to be had. It has taught me the need to provide people with a glimpse of the complexity involved, rather than simply keep them in the dark.
When I lived in Swan Hill a few years back, I was lucky enough to work for a year at the now defunct Koori school. Basically, the school was created to cater for those students not coping with mainstream education. My class consisted on secondary aged boys ranging from Year 7 to Year 10. As much as we encouraged the students to come to school, picking them up each day and providing them with breakfast and lunch, you still never knew who you were going to get. Therefore, I learnt the importance of being flexible, as well as an insight into what is and is not always so important in life and education.
There are many more experiences that I could discuss. However, I think that this smattering serves its purpose. At its heart perception is about developing a wider set of skills and solutions. I feel that the different experiences in life have helped me respond to various situations that have arisen in and out of the classroom. It is these answers and solutions that decide whether or not I am a better teacher or not, not the experiences that produced them.
So what moments in life have mattered to you and what influence have they had in and out of the classroom?
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