Gail followed a meandering path in her inquiry. She had spent two practicum sessions in the French Immersion program and she had attended that same program from Grade one to Grade 12 in her own schooling. Gail began her first mentoring session with a question around transferring students from French Immersion to the English program.
How can we make transitioning from French immersion to English more successful for more students?
Gail’s mentor teacher was one that she greatly admired but she became very concerned by the apparent lack of thought that was put into making transition decisions about students.
Gail: So, [I’m interested in] basically just getting teachers to see that the student who is being transferred should come first instead of the butting of heads and the frustration and the extra time they have to put in, and the duh, duh, duh. Yes you have to put in extra time but you need to be able to welcome that student into your classroom and….
Mentor: Yes, and help them.
Gail: Sometimes it’s half way through the year right? So we need more of a sense of community too.Mentor: That’s right and look for ways. Maybe the resources in the school could be focused on those children and help the teacher make the transition.
Mentor: I mean I know that gets tricky too because there’s just such a shortage of resources.
Gail: And communication between the two teachers. From what I’ve seen it’s like, okay… they may be struggling in language but they may be really strong in Math and Science. And really, the other teacher knows nothing about who they actually are, or what role they play in their community in the classroom. So I think there needs to be a lot more communication between the two teachers when kids transfer in. And it’s not like it’s from kids transferring [from out of the district], so it wouldn’t be hard to do that communication.
Mentor: Exactly. Try to build some bonds of understanding. It will be interesting to talk to some of the English teachers that have experienced that... I think communication is really key and it certainly would be interesting if you could talk to some people on both sides.
Gail: Yeah, I plan to.
Mentor: That’s great.
Gail came into her first mentor meeting clear on her topic and had many administrative questions around transfers such as can there be early screening for immersion readiness and the role of parents. Eventually, her mentor asked her how she had come to care about this matter.
Gail: Well, my [close] friend…was in my kindergarten and grade 1 [French Immersion] class, and then he was transferred into grade 2 in English. And he struggled with school for the rest of his life. He’s never been strong at school. And I often wondered if he hadn’t been put into English right away or kept in French, the whole time, would he have had those same struggles.
Mentor: Well then he would be an excellent case study.
Gail: Yes. I’m going to ask him some questions too.
Gail: And then… during my practicum… I somewhat witnessed the transfer of a student and what actually plays in and the politics involved in it. And it upset me that none of the adults in the situation were putting the kid first. Whether it was his parents, whether it was the teachers, the Board members, the Principal, it didn’t seem like anybody was going, “Okay, no, this is really about the kid and what does he need.” And then who has the decision if no one is looking at the kid? Then who makes that decision, right?
- What is the role of parents in these decisions?
- What is the balance between parents know best and the professionals’ judgment?
Gail left the mentor session and explored her topic by writing short vignettes about what she had observed of three different learners:
- Her close childhood friend who later struggled in school
- The child she saw being transferred while in practicum, who had physical disabilities that seemed to have influenced decisions that were made, and
- Her own siblings, two who were in immersion and one who was not.
In her second mentor meeting, Gail described how working with these cases opened up a new and significant avenue of understanding for her. She began to look at the issue of elitism in the French Immersion program and its effect on the staff and students at the dual track school.
Gail: I really did a big self-study last weekend. Going into why this is bothering me and what I’ve kind of figured out is that I had this bubble around French Immersion. I would have defended it to the end to anybody because of the benefits of it and what it has given me in my life. And the people that I grew up with because you’re in the same class for 13 years… you’re more siblings with everybody in your class because you’re with them all the time. So you look at them and the success they’ve had and the success that I’ve had, and to me French Immersion was this perfect little bubble.
Gail: And [during] this practicum, it exploded in my face, the issues that actually happened. Right down to the teachers… I felt that we had connections with our teachers that were huge… and then [as a preservice teacher] the bubble gets popped and you’re like, what do you mean? … It’s almost heartbreaking to see that when you see it from an adult view.
This popping of Gail’s bubble was a major stochastic event; an incident that was likely inevitable, yet unexpected. To look professionally at this situation, Gail had to become an observer and carefully reexamine her own experience. There were many layers of complexity that needed attention, including questions regarding administration, lack of teacher communication, parental hopes, and the heartbreak she had personally experienced. Her mentor supported her while at the same time took a back seat in the process.
Mentor: So I just encourage you to just go and see how far this can go and then to keep going with it because I think it’s a really significant topic to pursue and very timely and very needed. And as a young teacher, it’s something that you can either…become so disillusioned with it, [and then] you’re entering into the 3Bs; burnt out, bitter, blaming. Or you stop and say no. There has to be a way through this and let’s look and see what we can find, and see if we can’t make it better.
Accordingly, Gail looked closely at the teachers she admired and openly questioned many of her firmly held beliefs about the teachers and the program. She was willing to be vulnerable, and to dwell in the complex mess of her popped bubble. She listened carefully to the people in her vignettes, and moved into a position of witnessing what had happened with a developing sense of mindful attention.
Gail resonated with this quote from the Chambers article:
[This] really made an impact for me. The way that I interpret the quote is that we need to not only listen but really hear, and by doing that we learn. We learn about our students, their families and the relationships that drive them. The more we learn, the better relationships we will form with our students and the people involved in their lives… Not only do I want to be a lifelong learner academically and set a good example for my students, I want to learn through life and the people surrounding me. Once I start learning and understanding myself, I will be better able to understand the things around me. Learning, to me, is about taking a blind step forward even if I risk making a mistake. When mistakes happen, I will take advantage of them and use them as a learning opportunity, not only for myself but also the students in my classroom. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember and all I can say, after five years of school, is BRING IT. Bring all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. And I will continue to learn.