Treaty Education in Schools: We Are All Treaty People

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There are many teachers who make excuses about why they don’t teach treaty education. I don’t have time. There are no Aboriginal students in my class. I don’t know anything about treaties. I don’t want to offend. The list goes on and on.

This is perhaps why some students do not take topics such as treaty education seriously. They sense that their teacher does not think the topic is meaningful and so they choose not to engage in the material. In addition, some teachers may not choose to teach treaty ed. at all and this, again, is an indicator to students that such a subject is not important. This, in combination with media and news perpetuating stereotypes against Aboriginals, makes it no wonder why the cycle of racism seems to be an unending one. Indeed, from Claire Kreuger’s presentation in ECS 210 yesterday (check her out on Twitter), she talked about a  article that CBC news posted in the last couple of years. The article polled people about whether they would date someone of Aboriginal descent and a startling 50% of those stated “no”.  Upon searching for the link to this article, I found that I could not find it and I hope that the outcry of people about the racism inherent in such an article forced CBC to pull it down. Yet, CBC writes what the people are interested in and that they would feel that such an article would pique people’s interest is disturbing in itself. After talking about this article, Claire asked the class to think about what Aboriginal adolescents would feel upon seeing such an article. If that was me, I cannot even describe in words what I would feel – the alienation, the anger, the hopelessness…it would be overwhelming. Yet, this is the reality that many Aboriginal adolescents face. It is one that no human being should ever have to endure.

Every student deserves to feel like he or she belongs is school; every student should feel welcomed. I would argue that, even in the most multi-cultural school, there is evidence of white privilege. It is shown through the smiling white men and women on posters across the school, the existence of only white staff members, the curriculum which has traditionally furthered white ways of knowing, and even school being organized around the Christian calendar; it is everywhere. From this evidence, it seems that achieving a truly multi-cultural school could be an insurmountable task. However, we are making gains; although our school system is not perfect, this progress is important – we are trying. Yet, by some teachers completely dismissing the idea of treaty education – and schools not holding them accountable for that – this progress is being severely inhibited. By failing to recognize the existence of treaties, teachers are furthering to perpetuate white privilege – the phrase “We owe them nothing – comes to mind. Indeed, there needs to be a major change in how teachers view treaty education in order for students to truly understand why treaty education is important.

Treaties are in effect as long as the “sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.” That means, even though treaties were signed 150 years ago, they are still binding. We obey laws that were created this long ago and the treaties are essentially that; they are a contract, an agreement, that both white and Aboriginal peoples signed. In this light, it is curious that there is so much resistance towards treaties and this may point to those of European descent actually enjoying the privilege bestowed upon them due to their skin colour. This, obviously, will be a big hurdle in overcoming the existing stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples. Yet, we are all treaty people – white people signed the treaty, too. It was not a one way street. Promises were made that haven’t been met. Injustices (ie. residential schools) have been committed that have forever changed a culture. These are things that we cannot simply ignore as educators. Treaties are a part of Saskatchewan culture; Saskatchewan exists because Aboriginal peoples agreed to share their land. This cannot be taken for granted. More than this, however, the past must be understood in order for a better future to be secured. We cannot remain ignorant of past mistakes because that means we might commit them again and we do not want this for our children; teachers educate the next generation and thus, by incorporating treaty ed. into our lessons, we can hope to instil in students just why we are all treaty people.

One last thing – the fact that teachers don’t want to teach treaty ed. in fear of offending someone else is a valid one. Teaching a culture that you know nothing about is a scary task. However, something that Claire said in class really stuck with me: as long as you approach the topic of treaty ed. humbly, very little could go wrong. That is to say, as long as you make it clear to students that you do not have all the answers and that you do not claim to be an expert on Aboriginal culture, you will not offend other students. One way to practice this thought is to tell students that we are going to learn together; together, we are going to learn about treaties and we will make make gains, together, about why we are all Treaty People. With such an approach, students will really feel like they are part of the process of learning and they will be more inclined to engage with treaty ed.

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Pushing Students Beyond Boundaries

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“M, you are not bad. It’s just your behaviour that sometimes needs to be better”

“I’ll be better tomorrow,” M would say apologetically. And each time we had this conversation, I would leave with a profound sense that something was not right.” –pg. 20, Against Common Sense by Kevin Kumashiro

“Why didn’t you just tell us the answer in the beginning? Did we have to have this whole discussion?”

“I didn’t want to just tell you the answer. You don’t learn when you’re just told an answer. You learn when you figure out yourself and come to your own answers.”

“But you already had the answer. Weren’t we just trying to figure out your answer?” — pg. 23, Against Common Sense by Kevin Kumashiro

Out of all that I read in this chapter, these two passages were what left me with the most to think about. I can remember specific instances in which I was in the exact position as Kumashiro. There have been times when I would get frustrated when kids like “M” weren’t listening in class because I thought that was a direct reflection on my inability to teach. I would get upset at the student because I was upset at myself; I would ask myself, “Why can’t I get through to them?” Like Kumashiro, I have come to realize that, in most of these cases, it is not my ability to teach that is in question, but the ways that I teach. Sometimes, the “traditional” classroom does not work for certain students; even though schools constantly tell students such as “M” or “N” how to act and think, kids rebel against such notions, even though they don’t realize they are rebelling at all. Instead, they are simply saying and doing what feels right to them – they are learning in ways that makes sense to them. And who are we, as educators, to say that this isn’t how you learn? The school system is overly concerned with shoving information at students – here are the outcomes that you need to master by the end of the semester and we are going to learn them on my terms. What teachers need to realize is that education is a two way street; there needs to be give and take. Of course, there are some things that the students need to learn, whether they like it or not. However, the method in which you teach these things should be altered according to your students’ needs.

Most of all, however, you should encourage students to learn the material on their own terms; don’t teach to impose your own views on students. Instead, question the common sense answers and make students uncomfortable with their current ways of knowing. Learning is not about being complacent; it is about challenging your views and pushing knowledge to the limit. Oftentimes, students just adapt the ways of knowing that their family and peers have – there is a transmission of knowledge that occurs outside of school. The job of school, then, is to address these views and challenge them. Why do you think this way? Have you ever considered different ways of knowing? Investigating these different kinds of understanding is a way for students to learn more about themselves and question “common ways of knowing.” Doing so will not only improve their critical thinking skills, but it will also allow them to become more engaged in the world around them.

The Tyler Rationale: Out With the Old, In With the New

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The traditionalist model of teaching is one that is perceived by many as a “common sense” approach to education. However, as I talked about last week, issues arise with these kinds of “obvious” solutions because then people never stop to think: Is this still  working? Indeed, while the traditionalist model of teaching may have worked wonders decades ago, kids now live in a different society and teachers therefore need to consider the variety of students’ needs when thinking about lesson plans and assessment.

The Tyler Rationale is one that is built out of a traditionalist approach. It is as follows :

  1. Determine the school’s purposes
  2. Identify educational experiences related to purpose
  3. Organize the experiences
  4. Evaluate the purposes

When we went over Tyler’s Rationale in class, my first thought was, “If only it could be that simple!” Indeed, the allure, I think, to this kind of approach – perhaps explaining its popularity when it was introduced – is simplicity; follow these steps and you will have a school where all the kids will learn! And while I think the Tyler Rationale does have its merits as a starting point for teaching – it can be helpful when thinking broadly about lesson plans, determining what kind of teacher you want to be and determining how you want to organize your units, providing a good educational experience is not as black as white as this rationale may suggest.

When I was in school, a structure similar to The Tyler Rationale was used. I am the kind of student who is well suited for a traditionalist approach to education – I like memorizing and my skills are in language and writing – but many of my peers struggled because the teacher had such a concrete perspective on what knowledge and assessment was. Instead of the teacher observing the class and catering his/her lesson plans to fit students’ learning styles, it was the opposite: the students had to meld to the teacher’s way of learning. This, unsurprisingly, had negative consequences as the students started to resent the teacher and I doubt that they ever got anything meaningful out of the classes.

When I was in high school, I did not realize that this was the wrong way to teach; I grew up in a small town so I thought that memorizing facts and spitting them back out on exams was a good marker of knowledge. Perhaps more startling than this was that I thought that those students who were struggling in class weren’t trying hard enough; “if you actually sat down and read the material, you would be getting good grades,” I thought to myself. It was not until I came to university that I realized how inaccurate this was. Yet, that’s the way I was taught; that was the way that someone else’s “common sense” transferred as my own.

Education is a field that should always be changing; as society changes, education needs to change. Being stuck in one teaching methodology is counterproductive as if we, as teachers, fail to constantly challenge our teaching approaches, we will not be able to give students the education they deserve. The truth in schools today is that every student learns differently and that every students has different ways of showing knowledge; while it is true that teachers may not always be able to cater to these different needs, it is important that we still understand them so that, next time, we can give options of how a student could complete an assignment or the kind of activities we do during a lesson plan. Education today is all about acknowledging the diversity of one’s classroom and therefore trying one’s best to accommodate to these different needs; indeed, by doing so, the students are far more likely to learn and the teachers are far more likely to cultivate students’ success.

Look What I Found: A Blast From the Past

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While trying to clean up the documents on my computer, I found a gem: my application for education that I completed in 2013. The question, I believe, was something like: “What are three of the most important qualities that a teacher must possess.” Reading over my answer, I still think it is a nicely written piece but I feel like, back then, I hardly knew what I was talking about; I really didn’t know the meaning of what I was saying because I had no experience as a teacher in the classroom. Now, being in the classroom and having taken several education classes, I feel like I am able to talk about education with much more authority; I am able to share my opinion with confidence on this blog, Google PlusTwitter and in every aspect of my life because I know that I, as a preservice teacher, am part of the future of education in this province. In addition, this class has given me the confidence I need to be able to use social media tools to get my opinions across in a professional manner which, in turn, also helps me build my Personal Learning Network.

The following is my answer to the writing prompt for my education application in 2013.

“Throughout the school year, teachers spend an enormous amount of time with their students, supporting their growth so they can acquire fundamental skills for life after high school. Therefore, teachers have exceptional influence in developing the minds of the next generation. With such influence, however, comes great responsibility. Thus, it is vital teachers possess certain skills, traits and characteristics that allow them to provide the best education possible. There are three qualities that every great teacher has, particularly those teaching English. First, teachers must be enthusiastic about what they teach. If teachers have passion for their subject, they will have a greater ability to convey the material in a compelling way. Students will become more engaged in the class and will thereby be more likely to succeed. Teachers, however, must also possess classroom management skills and ensure that, with this interactive learning environment, there is not a loss of substance in their lectures. Second, teachers must create a sense of belonging in their classroom because, in this community-like environment, students are more likely to participate in classroom discussion. This is especially important for English classes because by students contributing to discussions, they are forced to think critically and consider alternate ideas. To promote this engagement, teachers should ensure there is respect among pupils while also showing the same respect for their students. While sustaining this open learning environment, teachers must also recognize that every students’ needs are different and adapt to these needs accordingly. Lastly, it is vital that teachers have high expectations for their students. When teachers believe that every student can achieve what the students themselves think is unattainable, it gives students the self-assurance they need to reach their potential. This is especially important for English because, writing and reading being fundamental skills, it is important students have the self-confidence and support needed to develop these skills. Teachers have unparalleled influence over today’s young minds and it is essential they use this opportunity to hone every students’ abilities. The future generation – consisting of possibly the best and brightest minds yet – will thank them for it.”

I hit all the right points in this response as, in the classroom today, these are things that I try to focus on. Yet, being a great teacher requires a lot more skills than just the ones described above. Thinking about it now, I don’t even necessarily believe that being a good teacher requires ten years of teaching experience. Don’t get me wrong, I think seniority in teaching certainly helps, especially with class management skills, but as long as you have an enthusiasm for teaching and passion for what you do, the students respond well; in my mind, if you show students respect they will, generally, give you it in return.

To end, I’m going to leave you with a video that makes me so excited for my future in teaching. I want to be the “champion” of my students, I want to help them learn in ways that they never thought possible. I want to help them realize their potential and most significantly, attain their goals. Well, that’s the plan, anyways. I was never known for taking little steps! What I like especially about this video, however, is the sense of humour that this teacher obviously has and employs in her classroom. I think using humour in the classroom is a sure way to create relationships and to create a sense of community within the classroom. It is an excellent way to lessen tensions, ease anxieties and make students laugh. When they say “humour is the best medicine,” I absolutely agree; it’s amazing how good laughing feels after having a bad day and it is therefore nice for teachers to use humour in the classroom.

Anyway have any thoughts? What qualities do you think it is important for teachers to have in the classroom?

Diversity in the Classroom: How to Respond

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To begin my blog reflections for this class, I found a great article about how teachers can be successful at dealing with cultural diversity in their classroom. In this particular blog post, the author talks about how in teachers’ busy day-to-day lives, they often get stuck in a certain way of doing things and so, throughout the years, they become less receptive to students’ needs. The author thus suggests that teachers should listen more to what the students want, rather than just shoving material at them in a way in which the student is unable to connect with it meaningfully.

The author goes on to say that being receptive to students’ needs is especially important in today’s schools as the students’ backgrounds are so different. He also says that, because these backgrounds are diverse, teachers need to change the ways they view their relationships with students. We’ve all discovered through our ed classes at the U of R that, even though we may be ignorant to it, the race of our students does add complexity to our teacher-student relationships and to the general environment in the classroom. Therefore, instead of being ignorant regarding the challenges that a culturally diverse classroom presents, teachers have to face the reality head-on. To help us with that, the author gives a few tips.

1) Build relationships. Show the students that you care. Keep the relationship professional but, at the same time, make sure that they know that you want to help them. From Kindergarten to Grade 12, students have an exceptional ability to be able to read the teacher and so, right at the start of the school year, you want to ensure that you create an authentic connection with your students. If you don’t, it will become increasingly harder to build a healthy relationship with the student. Why are relationships important? Ultimately, they help students succeed. If there is a level of trust and respect between students and teachers, then the student will be more apt to try and seek help when needed.

2) Create a fair and equitable environment. No one likes to admit that they may hold stereotypes about certain races. It is important, however, as future teachers, that we ensure that we do not harbour any prejudices and, to do so, we must not let pride get in the way. We all want to regard ourselves as good people and so oftentimes, people say they are bias-free without reflecting on their attitudes. This, of course, becomes a problem when, in certain situations, people realize that they are not as morally pure as they once thought. Teachers, in a sense, shape the next generation and so it is vital that they all regard students equally; if the students we are teaching feel as if they are being unfairly treated because of their race, then this will perpetuate difficulties in the child’s life and in the classroom. The author in this article raises an interesting point: if a student (perhaps of a certain ethnicity) comes in late for class, do you automatically yell at him or do you take him/her aside and ask he/she to explain? Teachers are faced with these kinds of predicaments everyday and how we respond to them will change the classroom environment and how the students respond to you. Here is an interesting resource that may open your eyes concerning the systemic racism in our society today. Also, if you haven’t already done so, this article on white privilege is an awesome read for those of you who do not necessarily think that there are racial divides in society today.

3) Ask Questions as a Form of Disarming. In my personal experience, I know that the teachers who were willing to make themselves vulnerable – ie. admitting that they were wrong or that they did not know something – were the ones that I liked the most. Being a teacher is not about having absolute control over your students; teachers do not have to be Superman and, in fact, by showing your students that you make mistakes, too, you become more approachable. Lots of times, teachers teach for so long that they just go through the actions without asking questions. For example, a teacher who has been teaching for 30 years might not have an interest in incorporating technology in the classroom or reflecting on the ways in which the diversity in his/her classroom has changed. This passivity, of course, is one thing that teachers should never fall into; society is always changing and so it is important for the mindset of teachers to change with the times. Thus, if a teacher has a negative relationship with a student of a certain race, for example, it is important for the teacher to ask why and how that relationship developed. Also, if a teacher is having particular difficult with trying to teach a student a particular concept, s/he should ask what s/he can do to help that student, even if it branches out of his/her repertoire of lesson plans that s/he accumulated over the decades. If you want to spend what probably could be a good hour researching how Canada has become so ethnically diverse, you can click here. If you want a quick overview, there is a good chart on this page if you scroll down a little. As preservice teachers, it’s important to be informed about the way our classrooms are changing and I know we’re all up for the task!

I thought this article was very insightful; it focused on the relationship between teachers and students rather than just focusing on the teacher’s side of things. Ultimately, teaching is a profession in which the teacher must find a way to connect with the students and so it is important for teachers to experiment with ways to do that. Connecting with students is, of course, becoming harder and harder as classrooms are becoming more and more diverse and educators are, most predominately, white. You can see research on that here. What can we, as educators, do to close this gap? It’s an issue that the education system today is grappling with and rightly so. With students in Regina coming from overseas and not even speaking English, teachers are facing a huge challenge. There is, of course, not going to be an easy-fix answer to this issue but it is something that we, as preservice teachers, must keep in mind.

To end this blog post, I’ll pose a question: Do you, as preservice teachers, believe that accommodating cultural diversity is the biggest challenge that faces the education system today?