In her early assignments Ashley thought a lot about the importance honesty holds for teachers, remarking in her description of her collage that she made a strong effort “to be honest and true” to who she was. Shortly after, the Chambers article led her to write,
Our profession puts so much responsibility on us to do great, to be aware of everything, to not make these mistakes… How do we be honest about the situation when we are so worried about what parents will think, what the public will think, what our principal will think? [This] ties back to the question about writing …to please what we think the reader will appreciate vs. writing from the heart. It is important to monitor but to what extent? Do we really have freedom of speech?
Initially, Ashley painted a rosy picture of her practicum, seeing the inherent challenges as learning opportunities.
Although I was nervous and didn’t know if I was ready, it all came together when I got in front of the class and immersed myself in teaching. With the help of my supervisor and mentor, I grew into a confident individual and this allowed me to grow immensely as a teacher.
Ashley felt that in her practicum in a grade 5 classroom it was very important to create an “inclusive environment where the diverse needs of all my learners are catered to” yet she resonated with the positivist paradigm and tended to “be the one standing at the front of the room directing.” Her mentor teacher had a similar style saying that she “tended to lecture but then advised me against it. It was hard to adapt to what she wanted when it wasn’t modeled for me.”
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in teaching is that you can’t please everyone; it’s impossible. But as someone who strives to perfection it’s a hard thing to accept.
Ashley believed strongly in the importance of her heritage as a Metis, and felt it was her job to pass this knowledge on; thus her initial inquiry questions:
- What does Aboriginal Education look like in different districts?
- What does Aboriginal Education entail?
- How, as a student teacher, do we know when/to what extent we can incorporate Aboriginal Education?
- What is immersion vs. integration?
- What are the benefits of Aboriginal Education in schools?
Coming into her first TI mentor session, Ashley had a clearly developed plan of inquiry in which she would interview her grandmother, read family documents, check out professional literature on the subject, visit the local Native Education Resource room and maybe talk with some of her fellow pre-service teachers. The tone of her inquiry began to shift however, when she shared that she had withdrawn from her practicum before completion, due to issues around her “being too creative” with her teaching style.
At this point, her TI mentor assured her that she was not alone - other students in the program had similar situations. Together they explored how her experience might relate to her particular inquiry. After explaining that some members of her family still struggled to identify with their Aboriginal history, Ashley admitted that she didn’t really know where she was going with her inquiry yet. The mentor supported Ashley in her spaces of uncertainty by responding that it was okay and better to be in a space of uncertainty than one of over-certainty, where every step was laid out ahead of time. You “don’t want to get too narrow too quickly,” she suggested.
Together, they discussed worldviews, the purpose of schooling and different tools that Ashley might use to explore her topic more fully (moving mind maps, defining her terms, “painting” a picture). As they talked, the mentor eventually asked about the elephant in the room, suggesting that Ashley might want to explore what went wrong in her practicum. This led them to a discussion of how her creative ways of teaching might be in line with indigenous ways of learning, but in discord with her mentor teacher’s expectations. Ashley began to show an interest in connecting with her topic on a more personal level and wondered aloud about how she might begin to “break the mould of schools.” Ashley worried that she might not want to share such a personal process with her peers. Recognizing the richness of the topic and also the vulnerability, the mentor told Ashley that when the time came, an alternative assignment could be arranged if needed.
The mentor also suggested, “if you can open that up and look at it really honestly, it could help you and it could also help other people… I can guarantee that there are kids in your classroom who feel those same pressures.” The tone in Ashley’s voice changed audibly, “that’s way more resonating with me …I can connect more to it, for sure! …I feel much better now that I have a direction. …I tend to want to put it to the side and not think about it when it is painful, but yeah.”
After this, Ashley’s questions shifted:
- How can I effectively incorporate Aboriginal Ed/Ways of knowing and creativity with balance in my future classroom?
- How can I be creative as a student teacher?
- How have my personal experiences affected my confidence?
Ashley continued to explore her topic, and in her second mentor session described how it was easier “now that I have a personal kind of connection to the topic …and it’s become more of an internal thing.” However, now that she was being more honest with herself, there was a sense of guilt and shame arising from what had happened on practicum. She worried again about sharing with her peers, finally admitting:
I do want to get into a place before my next classroom where I’m able to be okay with it and right now I’m not okay with it! I still have anger! I want to address the thing, but….
At this point, Ashley’s mentor suggested she might do an anger collage. “Just feel what you’re feeling and see what images you are drawn to…in that anger there is important stuff, there’s useful information for you.” She went on to say that Ashley could take the time to look at what was upsetting to her, why she was feeling hurt, suggesting “not to do it in a self indulgent kind of way, but to do it in a really truly, reflective way where you bring thinking friends in.”
Through the collage process Ashley realized she was dealing with much more than anger. She shared some of this with her mentor at an extra session:
- I was confident and had many dreams before the practicum (Woman with clouds around head)
- I was doing things the way I thought I was supposed to be doing them (robot)
- I felt I was left alone and falling short and being drowned underneath my work (hand in paper)
- I couldn’t get to Maslow’s higher levels of self-actualization (triangle in middle)
- The power of the circle – interconnectedness and sitting in a circle during class where you can see everyone and everyone can be heard (red circle)
- Hands on learning instead of sitting in chairs (diver exploring)
- The poster of the environment (rainbows)
- Everyone is graduating except me (grad)
While discussing the collage, a significant touchstone story came up. In her practicum, Ashley had wanted to incorporate a lesson in which her students would partner up, go outside and put blindfolds on one person in each pair. The blind partners would then be led to a tree to explore it with their other senses. Later each person would remove the blindfold and find the tree. Ashley’s mentor teacher shut down the activity, calling it a “tree hugging” exercise. As Ashley shared this story, she became tearful.
I just felt like I was being shut down and she didn’t really respect who I was. …For me [the activity] is who I am. It’s like, you’re calling my people…I don’t know…it was kind of hard for me. …So it made me lose my confidence… I ended up teaching in the sort of methods you were talking about, like up in front of the classroom, and note taking. And that’s not who I am, but it was like I didn’t know what else to do… I was in a bad spot after my practicum… I felt like who I was, was the problem. … Like they were against me and not for me.
Ashley’s emotions in the collage extended beyond anger to disappointment, fear, shame and frustration around the practicum experience. At this point her mentor felt that it might be confidence building to find a way to share some of her story. She suggested the possibility of framing the story as a vehicle to imagine how she might respond to her mentor teacher’s tree hugging comment. Ashley agreed that this might be useful and at the Guided Inquiry Conversation (GIC), she began by discussing the benefits of creativity and tree hugging. Spontaneously, she veered from her plan, and shared that she had to withdraw from this practicum.
The most influential part of my GIC was the support my classmates gave when I opened up about my practicum withdrawal. I was very nervous and became quite emotional talking about my practicum, but I was so happy that my classmates were so understanding and had such good advice to offer me. Our discussion was so open and honest and continued my emotional inquiry journey. I am glad I talked about such a deep issue because it helped me come to terms with what happened on my practicum. If I had just addressed a general question about creativity I don’t think it would have had the same effect for myself or my classmates. Our conversation really helped me think about what I would do in a similar situation [that might arise] in my next practicum. My inquiry is not in any way finished.
Although I have begun to address my path with heart, it is my path with heart that must be followed throughout my teaching career. Right now I feel like I have gone below the surface but there are still issues I have not addressed. Some major questions are still in motion for me.
- How am I going to create a classroom community where creativity and Aboriginal ways of knowing are fostered and supported?
- How can I be creative in my next practicum?
- How will I teach my history with confidence, especially as a student teacher?