It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

Curriculum Maker Inquiry February 26, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Myself as curriculum maker — Jamie @ 11:59 am

One of the major assignments for my current M.Ed. class is a Curriculum Maker Inquiry.  The assignment was done in parts.  We were to tell three-four stories of experiences that had an impact on us at the time.  I have blogged about these experiences.  The first story I shared was a poem that I wrote about my experience having to quit gymnastics due to a back injury.  The second story I shared was about a teacher that had a big impact on me.  The third story was about a teacher librarian that did something wonderful for me.  The fourth story was about two interactions I had with students during my internship.  You can follow the links to read more.

The next part of this assignment was to reread these stories and examine them in terms of the four curriculum commonplaces: teacher, subject matter, milieu and student.  The following is what came out of this examination for me.

When I examine the places where these stories took place, three of the four of them are places where I really felt were “home”. They were places where I felt most comfortable. They are places where I spent a lot of time. They are places where the people I knew the best and cared about the most were. The only one that doesn’t really fit in is the hospital. And looking back on the story, thinking about it, rereading it… I think that the role of the hospital was minor compared to the role of the gym. So, the milieu of my most important stories seems to be generally important places in my history.

When I look at the teachers in these stories, I have a hard time really pinpointing who the teachers were, exactly… It seems to me that the teachers were everyone and everything about these situations. The people obviously played a huge role in my learning. They taught me good things and they taught me bad things… They taught me by their words, their actions and their reactions. The situations themselves and life taught me things. They pushed me, challenged me, and forced me to think outside the box. I also think that because of these challenges, I taught myself a thing or two as well.

In the teacher commonplace, you may have noticed that I wrote a lot about what those teachers taught ME. I am certain that other people may have learned a thing or two from these situations too. However, since they are my memories, and my stories, it is almost illogical for me to focus on what others learned. I can say that in my gym story, my parents probably learned how to change their focus from the gym to other things in life. My coach learned how to let go of the gymnast in me and support me outside the gym. In the library story, my librarian might have learned how to work around teachers that have a difference of opinion. There are others, but how can I say for sure if this was new knowledge for them? I can only be certain of what I learned. So, the true student in these stories was me.

When I look through this list, I notice the LACK of traditional school subject areas. Not one of my stories includes things I learned from the world of academia. All of these things have to do with my moral and personal development. These situations changed me. They changed what I believed. They changed how I looked at the world. They changed how I faced problems. That is what I learned.


So now, the next part of this curriculum maker inquiry is to look at how these stories have affected the way that I create curriculum for my students. I really wasn’t sure how to represent this learning. I did a lot of thinking about this. The only thing that really kept popping up throughout this project, and throughout this class, is MY role in my classroom. It has been about what I have learned, about what I am teaching, how I am teaching, how I am interacting with my students. So, I used a picture of myself to represent my learning and how it affects my role as curriculum maker for my students.

My Brain – My attitude truly affects the interactions I have with the world and with my students. I need to pay attention to how I approach my academic curriculum and my interactions with my students; particularly with the subject areas and with the students I find most challenging.

My Eyes – My eyes allow me to see beyond the initial interactions and impressions of my students. Many students have tough exteriors, tough home lives, tough attitudes. It is my job to see beyond these. I need to find a way to see beyond my feelings and frustrations.

My Ears – My ears allow me to listen to my students. I listen to their stories. I listen to their frustrations. I listen to their celebrations. Listening is a huge component to creating the relationship necessary with my students in order to teach them.

My Mouth – One of the most important things that I learned from revisiting my stories is that words can truly make or break a person. I need to be super careful about the things that come out of my mouth. I really have to be careful that the things I say are not off the cuff in frustration or anger, especially on days when I am tired or not feeling well. I also need to find opportunities to praise my students as much as possible.  Particularly those students who don’t often inspire praise.

My Heart – I truly believe that half of teaching is creating relationship with my students. Connecting hearts is the basis for the whole kit and caboodle (as my grandpa would say).

My Gut – Over the years, I have learned to trust my gut. It is important to listen to these feelings, even if that means sometimes forgetting about the lesson I’ve planned to talk about what needs to be addressed in the class emotionally. I need to follow my gut when I need to ignore some of the emotional things going on to get the academic stuff done too. It goes both ways. I also need to guide my students to understand the difference between a gut feeling and an emotional reaction and how to decide which feelings to follow and which to work through before reacting.

My Feet – Finally, sometimes we just need a swift kick in the butt. My students, their parents, me… We all need it sometimes.  I also use my feet to walk away from situations.  Sometimes, the best thing that we all can do when facing certain people or situations is to just walk away and find a better place to be.


What do you think? Have I missed anything? Do you have any other further suggestions? I appreciate any feedback offered! And thank you for reading.


The Year I Learned There Are More Important Things Than School February 7, 2011

I think I’ve said this before on this blog, but I’m about as middle-upper class as they come.  Although my parents taught me the value of working hard to get what we want in life, I have never wanted for anything.  I have always had food enough to be a little bit picky.  I have always had clothes enough to appreciate style and good quality.  I have always had the opportunity to participate in at least one extra-curricular activity.  Finally, getting a post-secondary education was never a question…  It was only a question of WHAT I would be studying.

I had never even been exposed to poverty.  I was a starry-eyed 22-year-old young woman wearing rose-coloured classes starting her internship in a high school in northern Saskatchewan.  It was that year that I learned, for the first time, that there are some things more important than school.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think that getting an education is important; it’s just that for some kids, it isn’t (and can’t be) at the top of their list of important things to worry about.  When I started interning, I was frustrated by a portion of my students who were frequently late to class, often sleeping and lifeless during discussions or work periods and rarely, if ever, completed assignments.  I couldn’t understand why this happened day after day.  I didn’t know what to do except keep talking to the kids and to try and figure out with my co-op teacher’s help how I could help them get through our classes.

About half-way through my internship (about 2 months after meeting these kids) when I had started taking on more of the teaching responsibility, two things happened that absolutely changed my world.  The first was during lunch supervision one day.  I saw one of my students who was in an afternoon class with me.  He often fell asleep in my class.  The day I saw him, he was sitting with a group of his friends but had no lunch in front of him.  I asked if he had forgotten his lunch that day.  He then told me the story of his family.  He had four younger siblings.  He had made lunch that morning, but their family could afford only one lunch per day and it wasn’t his day to bring lunch.  The siblings all took turns bringing lunch.  I immediately offered him my lunch, which he refused.  That day was the first time that I realized that there are some things that are more important than school.

The second thing that happened was an incident with another student.  This was one of the students who NEVER finished anything!  I was quite frustrated with this students, particularly because this student was so smart!  I had many talks with him about “playing the education game.”  It didn’t matter how smart he was, if he didn’t do the work, his marks wouldn’t reflect it.  One day, I made him come to my room during lunch break and complete one of the assignments.  He seemed happy and almost relieved that I had given him that opportunity.  I didn’t understand it, but was relieved myself at not having to fight him about it.  The next day, he asked if he could come back and work in my room.  I agreed.  This became a daily affair.  We chatted, he worked on whatever assignments he needed to do, not just my assignments.  Then one day I couldn’t be there so told him that he wouldn’t be able to use my room.  He told me that was okay, but the assignment I had given would probably not be done.  I asked him why and he finally explained: His father (who was uneducated) believed that by wanting to get an education, his son was turning his back on his family and snubbing his father in the process.  The father had a bad temper and would often scream and yell and sometimes beat him if he did homework at home.  I was flabbergasted.  I was sick to my stomach.  Needless to say, I told my co-op teacher and we made sure that from then on the student had a safe refuge to work.  That just solidified for me that there are more important things in life than school.

Those incidents during my internship have shaped who I am as a teacher.  They have helped me understand that there are most often reasons beyond laziness and lack of caring that students don’t work in my classroom.  Sometimes I forget in the moment, but I think back on my internship to remind me.


Situation – Thanking a librarian January 28, 2011

Filed under: Myself as curriculum maker,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 7:17 am

This week for my class, we were asked to write of a situation from our early schooling experience.  This came to me immediately:


I am a reader.  I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been a reader.  I don’t remember much from before I started Kindergarten, but I do remember going to the public library and coming home with BAGS of books to read.  I lived in Southern Alberta at that time.  Halfway through my year in Kindergarten, we moved to Northern Alberta.  I remember going to my new school and being just enthralled with my new school library.  I was so excited at the prospect of all these “new” books I could read.


As I moved into First grade, I had moved on from picture books and couldn’t get enough beginning chapter books.  My teacher recognized both my interest AND the fact that I was quite capable of reading them.  By Second grade, I had moved on from beginning chapter books to full-fledged chapter books.  However, I had also moved on to a teacher who didn’t (wouldn’t) believe that I could read them.  I remember that when our class went to the library, my teacher would not let any of the students venture outside the “Easy” section of the library.  I was absolutely devastated.  I would cry every time we went to the library.  The librarian just sat, seemingly helpless, watching this situation.  Now, as a teacher, I can see that she likely didn’t want to challenge this teacher while the students were around, but she was obviously scheming…


Finally, after watching this situation for a couple of months, I guess my librarian couldn’t handle it anymore.  She finally asked me to be a “library helper” during the morning recess each day.  I was ecstatic to help!  If I couldn’t take out the books I wanted, at least I could look at them, hold them, smell them…  (book lovers will get that)  However, when I got there, I learned that not only would I be able to help, but the “payment” for helping was that I would be able to sign out whatever books I wished during my working time.

Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of this librarian.  I moved away from that school at the end of fifth grade, but that situation has affected me for life.  Thank you to all the librarians (and teachers) who work tirelessly to get (the right) books into the hands of the students they work with.



Who influenced you? January 21, 2011

This week for my class, we were to create something about a person that has influenced who we are as teachers and as people.  There were a lot of people who have shaped who I am.  First, my parents.  Then, my band directors, my friends, my colleagues, my husband and my inlaws.  Of course, my teachers had a huge influence on who I am.  There was one teacher who had a particular influence on me.  This is his story:



High school wasn’t a happy place for me.  I didn’t really fit in.  There were 125 people in my graduating class and about 100 were a part of the “in” group, at least in my eyes.  I had one really good friend with whom I fought on and off.  The other 23 people spoke to me, but I really didn’t fit in with them either.  I was involved in a lot of things, though, so at least I filled up my time.  But, I wasn’t happy.


One of those activities I was involved with was the SRC.  I was treasurer, a teacher appointed position. The teacher who was responsible for this position was a superhero in my eyes.  He was the math teacher, a subject I was enamoured with.  He even wrote the textbook for our class!  He was tough as nails and wouldn’t budge an inch for marks with students who didn’t try in his class but for those who tried, whether they “got it” or not, he would spend hours and hours trying to get them through the course.  He gave praise where praise was due and without putting anyone down, showed his disappointment where it was needed.  He was the embodiment of these lines from Taylor Mali’s poem “What a Teacher Makes:”

“I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.”

He was also the first person who got me seriously thinking about being a teacher.  I had always said that I wanted to be a teacher, but I had not, until meeting this man, seriously thought about teaching as a career.  As you can probably tell, in my eyes, he was everything that I wanted to be as a teacher.


Aside from his influence on my career choice, he also had a huge influence on my self-esteem.  I wasn’t very happy at school.  (Although I was, thank goodness, part of a great community outside of the school building.)  He knew that I didn’t fit in.  Being the faculty advisor for the treasury position, we spent a lot of time together.  One day he said to me: “You are a unique soul.  It gets better outside these walls and some day you will be cherished for those qualities instead of shunned for them.”  Those words were honestly my saving grace at a time when things were really hard.  They changed the way I saw the world.  They stayed with me for a long time.


Later on, I was telling this story to a friend who was an artist.  She came back the next day with a drawing of a purple giraffe for me.  Accompanying the picture were the words: “Purple giraffe: different, yes, but all the more beautiful for it.”  This in turn became my first tattoo as a reminder of where I came from and of the people who have influenced me.


So, this teacher truly shaped the person AND the teacher that I am.  I thank you M. Eugene Jacques.


Inspired by Creech January 12, 2011

Filed under: Myself as curriculum maker,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 8:56 pm

During my new M.Ed class Monday night, my prof read us WHAT YOU KNOW FIRST by Patricia MacLachlan.  She asked us to think of a place that spoke to use both on the level of HOME and WHAT WE KNEW FIRST.  We later had to share this experience with the class.  I shared the story of my life as a gymnast.  I was a high level competitive gymnast when I was much younger.  I was either at school or at the gym. 7 days a week, I was at the gym until I suffered a back injury that forced me to quit.  For homework, I need to create something that speaks of HOME.  My prof wants a “creation,” anything that speaks to us.  She said it could be a collage, a journal entry, an essay, a story, anything really.  Last week I  finished reading Sharon Creech’s LOVE THAT DOG, and was completely affected emotionally by this book. (You can read the post here.)   Inspired by her free verse poetry, I decided to give it a try.  I’ve never really been a writer, so I would appreciate some feedback on this.

A special Thank you to Alyson and Shelley who helped me polish it up before I felt comfortable enough to post it on my site!

Thanks so much.