Where I'm Coming From
From 2012 to 2018 I taught in a Community Living Class (also known as a Developmental Disabilities Program) at Hillcrest High School (in Ottawa). It changed me. And I want to write a blog post about it!
I'll never forget the first day. Walking into a classroom with ten students, all high school aged but none of them performing academically higher than a grade two, and that was being generous. I wanted to be a high school teacher, and I realized quickly that I was going to be teaching in a high school, but not at a high school level. I was a little discouraged.
The traditional method of teaching in a high school is that you teach one thing one day and you build on it the next. But this was not going to happen in my new class. This was an insanely difficult transition to deal with and I had to COMPLETELY change my paradigm, and philosophy, of education. These young men and women were ages 14-21 and couldn't read, write and some couldn't even speak...who was I to think that they were going to learn to do any of that with me if they haven't already?
I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to have the impact I wanted,or thought, I was going to have on these students. But it would be much deeper.
In George Couros' book The Innovators Mindset he writes:
If you'll get comfortable with people learning at different paces, you'll help them reach their highest potential.
Now that I'm back in the "mainstream," reading those words really inspired me to write this post because I am confident that because I got comfortable with my students in the Community Living Class learning at different paces, I was able to help them reach their highest potential. I'm not writing this to brag, but only to reiterate that sentiment.
I learned SO much from the Community Living Class, that I'm going to need a number of blog posts to do it any kind of justice, but George Couros really put into words something I have been thinking about for a long time. One of the challenges in teaching in the traditional setting of classrooms with students in rows and the teacher at the front of the class is the timelines we need to follow. There are progress reports, midterms, finals, kids have one semester to learn everything they need to know in that subject.
It's all about content, content, content...BUT IT SHOULDN'T BE! What if I decided not to focus so much on content and tried to give students a little more opportunities to learn at their own pace. The hard part is, is that there are still certain timelines, no matter what,the semester ends and I need to give them a mark based on how much of the content they "know." But what if I gave students three days to learn something that usually gets taught in one? The truth is, I am doing this sort of thing, and I'd love to share with you how, via email. It's a little too long for a blog post...but I will share the activity I give to my grade nines to discover the periodic table, and I'd love feed back if you have the time! (See below...hopefully the link works)
The point I'm trying to make is that teaching the Community Living Class really showed me was learning was, and in turn, what teaching needed to be. So now that I'm back in the "mainstream," I'm trying to bring that paradigm, and philosophy, into my new classes and provide my students with the rich learning experiences that I was able to provide for my students at Hillcrest. It's tough, because the Community Living Class was all non-credit courses and there was no curriculum, so I was able to customize the learning plans and outcomes for each student (which is awesome and insanely stressful as well, but I'll save that for another post). In grade nine and ten science the learning plan has be standardized for all students and so have the outcomes.
It's a challenge, but I'm up to it...my students need me to be!