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I am originally from the west coast of British Columbia. My parents were hippies and so we lived many places up and down the coast, Gabriola Island, Campbell River, Victoria, Prince Rupert, Masset (Queen Charlotte Islands) ... to name a few places. When I was five, my parents separated and my father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and he began his thirty years of living on the streets in Vancouver. By the time I was seven, my mother had remarried to a "traditional" man who believed women were inferior to men; women belonged in the home and should cater to men's desires. My mother pulled all of us out of school to homeschool us for two years-grades seven and eight for myself. My youngest sister dropped out of school when she was in grade seven and one of my older brothers dropped out in grade nine. My mother believed, and still believes, that the school system does not fit everyone and she was okay with both of my siblings dropping out-both of my parents never completed high school.
I grew up in poverty but somehow I had the belief that receiving an education was my ticket to break free from the lifestyle of my parents. When I was fifteen, I moved to Ontario to live with my aunt, as I knew I needed to physically move away from my parents to break free from that lifestyle (alcohol and drug abuse). Soon after moving in with my aunt, I discovered that my uncle was a cocaine addict and as a result my life became so much of a struggle that I failed my last year of high school, including all of my math courses. Instead of returning to school to retake courses I took a year off to work to try to figure out what I wanted in life. I figured things out and returned to high school and received honours in my final year of high school.
For first teaching job I taught up in the arctic of Canada for six years in a fly-in-only Inuit community with a population of 300. In the arctic, I was the English speaking high school teacher, pedagogical counsellor for the English speaking teachers, and a special education teacher for the English speaking learners.
Currently, I am 35 years old and live with my husband and two daughters, age twelve and eight, in Qatar in the Middle East. I have lived and worked in Qatar for the past five years, working at a college teaching preparatory math. I work with young Qatari men, usually in their early 20's, where most have "graduated" high school but do not have the fundamental basics of math; some cannot consistently add 7+4. Many have learning disabilities, behaviour problems, and very poor educational experiences. I work with them to try and help them to improve their math skills so they can enter our colleges' trades program.
Key Events. Teaching in the arctic was disorienting for me as I realized that my existing teaching and learning frames of reference (meaning perspectives) were inconsistent with what was working in the classroom-I only knew of traditional teaching styles and these often did not work for me. In the beginning, it was commonplace in our classroom to have learners' staring back at me blankly or all of the learners fast asleep on their desks. My learners' lives were filled with physical abuse, drug abuse, and turmoil; their lives were anything but easy. I was forced to change my style of teaching because if I did not my learners would not learn and I would not survive teaching in the arctic-I did not want either to happen. For six years, I tried to understand my learners-I took university courses on special needs and behaviour disorders, I talked to seasoned teachers that I felt were successful, and I read stacks of books on education.
In my second teaching job, Qatar in the Middle East, I discovered that working with the young Qatari men that were in my classes was very similar to working with the Inuit in the arctic of Canada. With this knowledge I was able to use and apply the knowledge that I had gleaned from my previous job and continue working on gaining knowledge as a teacher. Now that I was working at a college, I had access to more knowledge. I started to work closely with the college's Teaching and Learning Center giving workshops, helping other instructors, reading journals in addition to books, and engaging in conversation with other knowledgeable instructors. In Qatar, my classrooms dramatically started to change and consequently learner achievement started to dramatically change as well. However, I still continued to blindly struggle directionless in my search for strategies to improve the learning experience in my classroom.
My search changed the day I discovered the book Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer. It took me months to read, savouring each page with excitement, and in total agreement; I would read a few pages and then reflect, journal, and brainstorm practical implementable ideas to introduce into the classroom. In the book, Weimer discusses how to shift the focus in classroom from the teacher to the learners-learner-centred teaching. While reading her book, it was clear to me how I had been slowly transforming my teaching from a traditional style to a more learner-centered teaching style. However, her book gave me the language I needed that allowed me to discuss with others what I envisioned my classrooms to be-learner-centred. Obtaining the language offered by Weimer allowed me to not only dramatically transform my teaching, but strategically change my teaching as well and thus my growth was much quicker and efficient than previous growth attempts.
Nature of the Onset. My transformative journey occurred as a result of several types of learning. While my initial disorienting dilemma was trying to teach in a small Inuit community and continually meeting failure, it was also an immersive experience. I was immersed in two different cultures that shared many values and beliefs but differed vastly with my values and beliefs. My exposure to these differences initiated a critically reflective process that resulted in a struggle to understand these differences and lay aside my values and beliefs to help the learners learn in ways that worked for them. Rather than withdrawing from these communities, I chose to stay engaged and through this immersion I was able to gain a better understanding of my learners and, in a general sense, the values and beliefs of people from collectivist cultures. These differences in values and beliefs challenged my existing frames of reference (meaning perspectives) and forced me to broaden my understanding of different cultures and methods of teaching and learning in different cultures. A valuable result of these immersive interactions is that I am able to truly have and give respect to all people (even to the parents that continually beat and raped my learners), have great compassion for all, and have a need to nurture and accept others for who and where they are. My journey was also cumulative in that I constantly sought out new information through literature and other people, created plans of action, and applied the acquired principles or ideas to my teaching as well to my personal life. Each type of learning was important and had its place in influencing my transformation process.
Rationality. As a result of my transformative process there has been a shift in my understanding of teaching and learning which is noted through both communicative and instrumental learning. After reading Weimer's book Learner-Centered Teaching, I was able to distinctly conceptualize the differences between and the consequences for both learner-centred teaching and teacher-centred teaching. Consequently, I was able to critically reflect on the differences and consequences and make a conscious decision as to how I would like to continue to teach. Even though I was already on the path towards becoming a learner-centred teacher, it wasn't a conscious rational choice, but more of making decisions by what feels right or collecting a melange of strategies that had no common theme.
In the beginning, instrumental learning and rational reflective thinking played a major role in the process of how I integrated new ideas into my teaching repertoire. I would discover a strategy or new method to implement into my teaching, create a plan of action, implement it into my teaching, observe the results, and based on the results determine if the a strategy or new method should be accepted, discarded (permanently or temporarily), or modified and tried again. Additionally, after gaining the language for learner-centred teaching I was able to increase my instrumental understanding of strategies and methods for effectively running a learner-centred classroom.
Communicative learning between the learners and myself has been an eye opening experience, as I come from a different culture than my learners and, additionally, my culture tends to be individualistic and theirs collectivistic. Initially, I fell into hegemonic relationship with my learners-my cultural beliefs and views are better than your cultural beliefs and views-which came easily for me when I believed that there was a hierarchical relationship between the teacher and the learners. However, through language, as I came to understand that there does not need to be a hierarchical relationship and that knowledge is a combined collaborative effort of the teacher and learners and that I am just a designer of learning environments not a disseminator of information I was ashamed of my behaviour and humbly renounced my hegemonic behaviours.
Other ways of knowing. important and
Relationality. important and
Critical Discourse. important and
Social Support. important and
Individual vs. Social Change. important and