Being a professional educator comes with immense responsibilities and considerations one must take into account. Formulating lesson plans, attending professional development seminars, and regulating a class of 30 children are but a portion of the numerous responsibilities a teacher must be aware of. Nevertheless, one of the most fundamental aspects constituting a teacher’s identity lies in the self – a conscious, willing ability to recognize one’s transforming professional identity and philosophy through daily experience accumulated in the field. As a future educator, Field Experience 1 provided me with a transformative experience that not only provided me with practical lessons of the profession, but also constructed a changed teaching identity and Philosophy of Education that is now better informed of the implications of a teacher within the school infrastructure.
For this first Field Experience, I was stationed at Laurier-MacDonald Secondary (LMac) – a high school located in the East-End district of Montreal with a dominant population of Italian-Canadians. Due to a major Italian population of the district, the neighbourhood was heavily embedded within Italian culture and practices. Of course, this dominant culture permeated through the boundaries of school culture, where a majority of students enrolling were of Italian heritage. Female students displayed very eager and outgoing behaviours, while male students were very confident, sometimes almost braggadocious in their attitudes. Actions that may have been perceived as bullying in other contexts were merely brash, physical expressions of affection and friendship – a cultural norm that I had not encountered throughout personal experiences of high school. Overall, the “climate, ethos, atmosphere and character” (Parkay, p. 139) of the school was heavily influenced by the Italian heritage of its neighbourhood. In this respect, to genuinely communicate and build relationships with the students, I had to pay explicit attention and focus to the specific interests of students – issues such as video games and grades that dominated the discussions of my high school were not of much interest to the students of LMac. Rather, by approaching students with topics such as Hockey and school events, students were much more receptive and eager to build genuine relationships. By using such topics as stepping stones in establishing professional relationships with students, I was able to connect with students in an authentic manner. Although problems such as poverty and hunger were not explicitly present in this particular environment, issues of familial instability and lack of support for children were still very prevalent upon closer examination. Consequently, issues of drug-abuse were also prevalent among certain students. Nevertheless, the neighbourhood environment was a friendly and tolerant setting, as reflected within the all-inclusive and respectful classroom environments. To combat such social issues, programs such as peer counselling and intervention programs were employed, displaying the school’s “innovative steps [taken] to address social problems that impact students’ lives.” (Parkay, p. 155) Overall, the distinct cultural identity of the neighbourhood context along with an all-inclusive, welcoming school environment constituted a pleasurable, genuine opportunity of student-to-teacher dynamics.
This field experience provided me with more than a simply eye-opening opportunity. Rather, I was able to critically engage with and reflect upon initial, pre-informed understandings of a teacher’s role within the school. As a student, many teachers have passed by throughout the years of attending in a Canadian public education system. Among these various educators, the ones that stand out memorably – the ones that have inspired me to become an educator – always approached education in an engaging, enjoyable attitude. Participating in an English class where modes of assessment consisted of skits and play dialogues, the educator’s presence within the class seemed more as of a peer and mentor rather than someone above the students. As a result, the identity of a teacher I had constructed early on was more of a fantasy-like being than a real teacher on the field. Based on previous experience, a good teacher was simply one who could seamlessly produce lesson plans that are enjoyable to students. The teacher was simply a mentor figure who held authority within the classroom – nothing more, nothing less.
This under-informed understanding of the teacher’s role has become reformed through the first field experience. Prior to field experience my understanding of a teacher’s role within classroom was more of a peer than educator. As a result, upon receiving teachers who could not integrate fun and enjoyment within their lesson plans, I would simply dismiss them as bad teachers. This notion was proved false through the different classes managed by the C.T. While certain classes were naturally eager to learn and respectful, other classes were outright disruptive, expressing no concern for learning the content. Growing up in a school where 90% of the population are Asian immigrants coming to learn English, being exposed to a classroom full of disruptive students was an eye-opener to say the least. In response to this, the C.T. responded in a case-by-case fashion suited to each class’ “physical characteristics” and “social dimensions” (Parkay, p. 140). For respectful classes, the teacher would conduct lessons in a lenient, enjoyable fashion open for opportunities of student-socializing in so far as the class progressed in a timely manner. On the other hand, for more disruptive classes, time was largely spent in attempts to control the classroom, with desks physically distributed so that disruptive students are spread apart as widely as possible. Inevitably, the remaining time had to be reserved strictly for content instruction and delivery. In other words, the C.T. was paying close attention to the culture of each individual classroom and using methods of instruction suited to each “class culture” (Parkay, p. 140). As much as creating fun lesson plans was important to my initial understandings, I now realized that teacher’s must be receptive to different audiences and devise lessons based upon close consideration of individual students’ needs and standards. One who always placed the students first and foremost, constructing lesson plans catered to individual classroom cultures and standards – this is what a teacher is expected of within a classroom.
With this newfound experience being involved within a school environment, I have consequently developed a transformed philosophy of education. Why do I choose to educate? Why should anyone care that I teach? Foremost, it is important to touch on education in itself – its nature and relevance within society. It is my personal conception that education is the transferring of knowledge and ideas to provide children a sense of self-sufficiency and capabilities as a member of a democratic society. However, in order for one to be self-capable in a democracy, a fundamental skill is required – critical, autonomous thinking. With this skill, students not only gain the capacity to critically evaluate and analyze reality as it is presented to them, students are able to internalize external information, expressing ownership of their own knowledge and perspectives. With this internalized knowledge, students can enter democracy and contribute to the benefit of society. Therefore, as both an enrolling member of a Canadian public education system and a future educator, my inherent belief is that every human being, regardless of differences, has the right to critically and autonomously think for themselves. This is the internal motivation that perpetuates me to desire to teach, the intrinsic drive that constructs my overall educational goal: the fostering of critical, autonomous thinking. As a result, the role of the teacher is to foster an experience conducive to such critical thinking in an enjoyable fashion. Whether it is through “grouping students for cooperative learning,” “structuring the use of time,” or “establishing rules and procedures,” (Parkay, p.213-215) the teacher must provide equal opportunities and situations for students of all qualities and traits to equally delve into the fountain of knowledge.
Parkay, F. (2012). Becoming a teacher (4th Canadian ed.). Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.