All Posts Tagged With: "teaching"
Teacher’s college says we’re out of luck until 2015
I got a call from Montreal the other day. On the other line was a man who represented a teaching agency in London, England. He had seen my email and resumé and said that I could come over to teach after completing the required paperwork.
When I decided three years ago to follow my calling, moving across continents for a job was unfathomable. I predicted I would send out resumés after graduation, then a school board within a reasonable distance from my home would ask me to work for them full-time as a teacher, everything would be hunky dory and I would decorate my classroom with dry-erase markers of every colour (you can never have too many).
The above scenario was obviously a delusional fantasy.
I recently learned in an email from one of my instructors here at York University’s teacher’s college that, in keeping with regulations agreed to with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, school boards will essentially no longer be allowed to do external hiring until all current occasional teachers have had the opportunity to apply for available jobs. In other words, until the huge backlog of certified teachers—many of whom are fighting tooth and nail just to land a supply teaching gig—have had their shot at a full-time job, fresh teacher college younglings need not apply.
I did fine without teachers who ‘looked’ exactly like me
An internal memo circulated earlier this week within the Toronto District School Board explicitly states: “The first round of TDSB interviews will be granted to teachers candidates that meet one or more of the following criteria in addition to being an outstanding teacher: Male, racial minority, French, Music, Aboriginal.”
Although the school board is taking the stance that the hiring criteria outlined above is not meant to actively exclude other groups, I can’t help but think that if I sent in a resume after graduating from York University’s education program this spring, as a female, I’d be rejected.
I’ve been constantly reminded that, as an Asian female, there are special scholarships available to me—that I enjoy a special kind of privilege offered to women of colour. A representative at a job fair stand once told me that if I ever considered applying for a position with the Toronto Police Service, I’d be a shoo-in. The TPS was running low on Asian female police officers—their words, not mine. Some would call this affirmative action. Others would cry reverse racism.
I say: why should any of this matter? Shouldn’t merit, skill and experience be what really counts?
Jordan LeBel is a 3M National Teaching Fellow for 2013
Jordan LeBel, who began working in kitchens when he was 12 years old, was destined to be a chef. But his parents weren’t so sure. They persuaded him to take a hospitality management course instead, putting him on a career track that would include restaurant reviewer, author, and a renowned chocolate expert who colleagues and students call Dr. Chocolate.
Now LeBel, 44, teaches Concordia’s highly popular, one-of-a-kind food marketing class, where he shares his passion with students. It’s his enthusiasm for his subject—consumer psychology and the pleasure of food—that makes him a favourite among students and one of 10 3M National Teaching Fellows for 2013.
“There is just so much to learn about it from so many different angles,” says LeBel. “I want to open people’s eyes and teach them everything they can learn about food.”
Prof. Pettigrew rejects calls to be “more like California”
Every once in a while we hear calls for more emphasis on teaching among university faculty.
If we accept that some universities have, or should have, undergraduate teaching as their main function, why shouldn’t professors, or at least some professors, at those school be asked to focus mainly on teaching?
After all, if they are there to teach, why should we be paying them to pursue their own research interests, especially if that research is not paying off in tangible ways?
Something like this argument was made recently by Ian Clark writing in the National Post, who argues that more specialization among faculty would mean more research “productivity”—that is more output per public dollar spent. He argues, in this vein, that California does something like that and gets “more value for its money” that way.
From the turmoil of Quebec to the rise of the West
It was a record year for Maclean’s On Campus with more readers than ever, but perhaps that’s unsurprising considering how much there was to talk about. Based on clicks and comments, here are the top five campus news stories of 2012.
1. Quebec student groups helped toss a government and won a tuition freeze.
In March, Quebec student groups declared war on a planned tuition hike of roughly $2,000 over five years. By April, students at 11 of Quebec’s 18 universities and 14 of its 48 CEGEPs had declared “strikes” and were skipping classes. There were nightly marches in Montreal that made life miserable for many who lived and worked downtown. Students who dared go to classes, even after judges orders allowing them to return, were stopped by masked protesters. The nightly marches started turning violent and threatened the tourism industry. Something had to be done.
Prof. Pettigrew: student evaluations won’t help
A recent report from the Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter has got people talking about student teaching evaluations again. Hoo boy.
McCarter is concerned that evidence of teaching ability is not being taken into account when it comes to granting tenure and promotion to faculty. It’s a legitimate concern in theory. The problem is that this report takes student evaluations as a key method by which quality teaching should be measured. That’s trouble.
As the report rightly points out, the research on the usefulness of student evaluations is a subject of much disagreement. In fact, it’s actually even more hotly contested than the AG’s report admits. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) insists, for instance, that such surveys cannot be taken as a measure of teaching effectiveness.
CAUT may be trying to protect the jobs of its members. Still, student evaluations, from the outset suffer from a basic flaw which is that they often fail to meet a very basic standard for any evaluation. That is, an evaluator should be qualified to evaluate. More specifically, the evaluator should be an expert on the subject, should be motivated to take the evaluation seriously, and should be a disinterested third party.
Tyler Bozak’s Halloween horror, Star Wars sold & Psy in T.O.
1. If you’re planning to go out for Halloween at the University of Prince Edward Island, you may be out of luck. Tickets to the annual Halloween party at the The Wave pub on campus sold out in six days and people are desperately seeking them on Facebook, promising extra cash—even cookies. Last year, tickets were controversially resold for $50 each “a full $37 more than the listed price,” reports The Cadre. Oh the horror!
2. If you haven’t already got a costume, Kevin Hurren of Western U. has a few cerebral suggestions. My favorite is the ceiling fan.
3. But be careful that your costume won’t be interpreted as racist. Toronto Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak was criticized for wearing black makeup as part of a Michael Jackson Halloween costume. After a flurry of criticism, he Tweeted: “That’s a tribute to one of my fave artists. For anyone saying its racist is crazy!”
Online rants could hurt my future career
Writing was always an outlet for me. Whenever I felt emotionally constipated, I would grab my laptop and write my heart out. On top of the work I did as News Editor at Excalibur, York University’s student paper, I’d type out angry rants, poorly written fiction, and hazy recollections of childhood. One day I had the pompous idea that other people might like what I write, so I started blogging.
I ranted about unpaid internships, experiences in teacher’s college, and other embarrassing parts of my life. I managed to reconnect with a few old high school friends who came across my writing. My former teachers encouraged me to keep updating my blog. I was flattered that people were taking time to read my work. I was proud.
About four months and 30-odd posts later, I shut it down. Here’s why.
Pettigrew tells would-be reformers to knock it off
Follow the news and commentary around teaching in higher education these days are you will soon come across the little rhyme in the middle of this passage by Robert Mendenhall:
When faculty serve as lecturers, holding scheduled classes for a prescribed number of weeks, the instruction takes place at the lecturers’ pace. For most students, this will be the wrong pace. Some will need to go more slowly; others will be able to move much faster. Competency-based learning shifts the role of the faculty from that of “a sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” Faculty members work with students, guiding learning, answering questions, leading discussions, and helping students synthesize and apply knowledge.
One sees this little gem everywhere. The “sage on the stage” is the bad old way; “guide on the side” is where it’s at! It is trotted out over and over again by those who fancy themselves innovators in education. They need to knock it off.
Education degrees aren’t just for the classroom
I’m currently in teacher’s college at York University and sometimes I find myself worrying about my future career. The Ontario College of Teachers reports that one-third of 2010 education grads were unable to land any employment in the 2010-11 school year, not even supply teaching. In 2011, only 23 per cent had regular teaching jobs.
So what to do? Instead of focusing on how hard it’s going to be to find a job, I’m considering other options. It’s much better than depressing myself reading more discouraging statistics! With that, I humbly present 10 options every education graduate should consider.
1. Teaching abroad
There are many countries where English teachers are highly sought (South Korea, the Middle East, Japan). If you’re an adventure seeker with no immediate obligations, teaching abroad on a one or two-year contract is a great option. The classroom experience could prove useful when you return.
Dodgeball record, PETA billboards & Western homecoming
1. Students from the University of California Irvine shattered the Guinness World Record for the largest game of dodgeball this week with 6,084 players. The University of Alberta, a four-time record-holder, lost its standing. It had 4,979 players on Feb. 3. I bet they’ll try to get it back.
2. Western University’s homecoming parade will be held on campus today, rather than downtown. It’s because London Police won’t provide extra officers pro bono. (They may be busy anyway.)
3. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will put up billboards near Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Ottawa schools this Thanksgiving holiday, reports The Canadian Press. The billboards will read: “Kids, if you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a turkey? Go vegan.”
Low marks lead to bad online reviews
Tracy Vaillancourt, a University of Ottawa professor, has proven that students who get bad grades take revenge on their professors by giving them a bad online reviews. That’s a problem. If professors fear giving low grades, then they may unjustifiably give better ones. When that happens, students lose because they never get the kick in the pants they need to start doing better.
From the U. Ottawa press release:
The popular professor ratings site Rate My Professors contains over 13 million comments and 1.7 million ratings of professors. The comments and ratings purportedly help students with their course and professor selection. However, from the perspective of many professors, a lot of the comments are downright mean. Professor Vaillancourt was interested in whether such vitriolic comments were made in response to a poor grade from the professor.
Improved attendance and engagement observed
Research by Nipissing University professor Douglas Gosse shows that inner-city boys are more likely to succeed academically in all-boys classrooms and schools. From the release:
Gosse’s study involved four weeks of data collection in grades 7 and 8 in an inner city Toronto school. Most of the students were of African, Caribbean and South Asian immigrant backgrounds, where English is not the primary language at home. Many of the families live well below the poverty line. The study is based on in-school and extracurricular observations, interviews with teachers and the school principal, document analysis and a comprehensive literature review on boys and education from North American, Australian and British sources.
Guns on campus, a Bar Mitzvah video, teacher’s college…
1. The University of Colorado Boulder announced it will require students who live in undergraduate residence halls to forgo bringing handguns to campus. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a bold step for Boulder in light of a Colorado Supreme Court decision in March that affirmed students’ rights to handguns on campus. The rule does not apply to graduate students. Let it be noted that James Holmes, the man who killed 12 and wounded 58 others at The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado in July, was a graduate student.
2. A new $100 bank note with an Asian-looking woman peering into a microscope was deemed too controversial by a focus groups. Instead of simply rolling their eyes, the Bank of Canada purged the note in favour of a “neutral” Caucasian-looking figure. To quote from the report received by The Canadian Press: “Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology… Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes.”
3. Research In Motion is laying off so many people right now that it isn’t even bothering to meet with all of them in person. The BlackBerry maker dumped 100 workers in Halifax this week by herding them into a room and then showing them a teleconference link with someone at Waterloo, Ont. headquarters. One worker called it “inhumane,” because she couldn’t even ask questions.
A celebrity wedding, a man-eating snake and news for teachers
1. Researchers at the University of Florida have dissected a 17-foot-7-inch Burmese python, the largest ever found in Florida. It had 87 eggs inside. The invasive species, first found in 1979 in Florida, are known to prey on birds, deer, bobcats, alligators and other large animals. “A 17.5-foot snake could eat anything it wants,” herpetologis Kenneth Krysko told the UF News.
2. Actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis, 42, married his 29-year-old partner Quinn Lundberg at the University of British Columbia farm on Saturday, according to UsMagazine.com.
3. A researcher at Western University says the cholesterol egg yolks is almost as dangerous as smoking. In his recent study of 1,200 people, egg consumption greatly accelerated plaque build up on arteries, which is known to lead to heart disease. Egg Farmers of Canada, an industry group, says there is no link between eggs and heart disease.
Prof. Pettigrew on why teaching tips may be useless
When you’ve been a prof as long as I have, you are bound to reach a point where you go from resenting other professors who won’t change their teaching strategies, to resenting all those professors trying to tell you how to do your job.
I crossed this threshold last week reading this article by Rick Sheridan in Faculty Focus. Sheridan provides five tips to get students to come to class. My mental responses were as follows: no, no, okay I guess but no, hell no, and no. Let’s look at each of Sheridan’s suggestions.
1. Prepare learning contracts for students to sign at the beginning of the semester so that students know what’s expected of them.
No. Because students already get a detailed description of what’s expected of them. It’s called a syllabus. What difference does it make if you get students to sign an unenforceable document agreeing to do what they’ve already agreed to do when they enrolled in the course?
The joys (and frustrations) of teaching international students
For most of my career as a professor I have taught literature courses, and as such, have had relatively little contact with international students. But recently, I have begun teaching more a basic composition designed for students in all majors, and, since international students tend to take (at least where I teach) business and science, I’ve met a lot more such students. And so I have begun to experience the many joys and occasional frustrations inherent in that particular mode of instruction. Like all teaching, it’s been a learning experience.
One of the joys has been getting insights into other languages. For instance, the large number of Saudi Arabian students at Cape Breton University has led me to start learning a bit about Arabic. This in turn has allowed me to make at least a few comments about the differences between Arabic and English in class, which, in turn, encourages those same Saudi students to engage more fully with the course material.
3M Fellow Connie Varnhagen explains her approach
University of Alberta psychology professor Connie Varnhagen doesn’t always know what students will learn when they enter her classes—and she likes it that way. She wants them to discover knowledge on their own.
Here’s a story that shows what she means. In one class, she instructed her students to come up with a test to identify which of her two cats has a worse case of cerebellar hypoplasia, a brain disorder that causes the poor felines to tumble over when they walk. While trying to come up with tests, the class observed that both cats are left-handed. That was news to Varnhagen. Exciting news. “Most cats are strongly right-handed,” she says. Could left-handedness be related to the disease? The students jumped into the research literature to find out.
The result? “They developed better critical thinking skills and scientific literacy because it was something they discovered all on their own,” says Varnhagen. One went on to veterinary school and studied even more about it.
An experienced eye can tell when a student is in trouble
I didn’t set out to make a study of student exam-room behaviour, but by my estimation, I’ve invigilated well over a hundred exams in my career and, after a while, you start to notice things.
One thing I realized lately is that I’ve been getting good at telling who’s failing the exam even as they’re writing it. I don’t use this as a basis for evaluation, of course, but, as I say, you can’t help developing a sense.
Prof. Adrian Chan makes time to meet all of his students
When systems engineering professor Adrian Chan began teaching, he’d meet many of his students after final exams for the first time. They’d show up in his office after failing the course.
“I’d always wonder,” says Chan from his office at Carleton University in Ottawa, “why didn’t they come in earlier so that I could help them?”
A colleague suggested he make an effort to get to know his students better. “I don’t know if it’s possible,” he told her, “some of my classes have more than 100 students.” The coworker explained that her classes had up to 150 students in them and she still managed to meet with most in the first few weeks. “It was almost like someone threw the gauntlet down for me,” says Chan.
Since then, he’s blocked off 10 minutes with each student—hundreds of them—at the beginning of each semester. He asks students about their expectations and about why they chose engineering.