Exactly 288 days ago, I started a journey at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Yesterday, I had the chance to walk across the stage at Convocation Hall with my Bachelor of Education degree in hand.
As I was doing some cleaning a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a notebook that I purchased during my first week of classes in September. The cover is tea-stained and somewhat crumpled, but the first five pages are filled to the margins with writing.
The content of this notebook speaks for itself and, although I have never shared this with anyone before, today feels like a fitting occasion to revisit the words on those pages.
Here is the unedited text from that notebook:
September 11, 2012
Today is an absolutely gorgeous day in Toronto and I have been wandering around the UofT campus for the past hour and a half. Actually, I consider it to be exploring more than wandering, mostly because it is quite neat to be able to see and discover places that I have never seen or discovered before. Now I’ve found myself a spot on the patio outside the Arts and Science building, staring at a blank page in a blank notebook, not really knowing what to do with it, but also having an overwhelming feeling that I need to do something with it.
I stopped at the bookstore to buy this notebook because I left my English class this morning with my brain full of a thousand different thoughts and feeling almost embarrassingly excited and optimistic about my year ahead at OISE. I’ve tried this whole keeping a journal thing before, but with very little success. I’m almost convinced that this is because, for better or for worse, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and writing your thoughts on paper (and in ink) doesn’t leave much room for going back to fix spelling mistakes or reorganizing your thoughts afterwards to make sure they follow a somewhat logical train of thought. That being said, I think a large part of me is starting to realize that there can be value in my thoughts, ideas, or perspectives, even if they are not perfect. I’m not saying that I fully believe that about myself just yet, but I’m hoping that giving this journal a try will help me with that. I want to use these pages to help me unpack the year ahead at OISE and what is going on around me in general.
Anyway, back to the real reason that I was inspired to sit down and write anything at all in the first place – OISE. I’ve really only experienced Orientation Day and two classes, but I already feel more comfortable and at home in the classroom than I ever did during my undergrad at Western. That’s not to say that my time at Western was not worthwhile or that I didn’t enjoy it, because I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything in the world, nor would I do anything differently if given the chance. I think what I mean is that there is something to be said about the feeling that comes from knowing that you are getting something tangible out of the classroom and that you are a valuable member of a community.
I spent the majority of my time during undergrad thinking that my classes (for the most part) were interesting, but there were very few times that I thought to myself, “Yeah, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” This is partially because I invested myself in extra-curricular activities more than school and partially because I never really had a plan for what I wanted to do with all this Biology and English knowledge after the exams were over and I had to enter “the real world” – but also because I never really trusted that I had anything to contribute to the classroom or felt like I had the opportunity to share my thoughts, hear from others, or really engage with whatever subject matter I was learning.
Within the first five minutes of hearing the OISE Dean speak on Orientation Day last week, I felt at home. She didn’t necessarily say anything terribly profound, but just listening to her talk about the value of a good classroom teacher made me want to do everything possible to become one, because I finally felt like I had/have something to offer, as well as a lot to gain from my time at Teacher’s College this year.
Sitting in my TES class on Orientation Day and for our first class yesterday made me feel even more comfortable here. I can’t remember the last time I was in a classroom setting and got to introduce myself personally or listen to others do the same. I can’t remember the last time I really participated in class or small-group discussions and really learned from listening to the thoughts, ideas, and perspectives of those around me. I can’t remember the last time I put up my hand in class and felt validated by an instructors’ response. None of this is to say that I have suddenly become arrogant or overly-confident (because I certainly hope that is not the case), but more to say that I finally feel comfortable just being me inside a classroom.
In my class this morning, I had a quick conversation with a girl about why she was excited about being in Teacher’s College. Her answer was simple: “Because it feels like something that I can actually do. I’m not going to quit.” This resonated with me not because I have necessarily tried and failed at a lot of different things in terms of my academics or future career, but because it also perfectly describes how I feel after having felt a little lost throughout my post-secondary education. Not only do I feel like I can do this, but also that I want to do this.
I can only hope that I’m not just looking at the year ahead through rose-coloured glasses for the time being and that this embarrassing amount of excitement isn’t just a passing feeling. It’s a pretty cool feeling to be content with where you are and comfortable being who you are.
Admittedly, I never wrote in that notebook again. That being said, I think the many binders, notebooks, and scrap pieces of paper currently stacked in my room are a testament to the fact that I have tried my best to “unpack” every moment of my experience this year in some way or another. While it is safe to say that some of that “embarrassing amount of excitement” has worn off, I certainly do not need to look far to be reminded of why I began this journey in the first place.
When I walked through the doors of OISE for the first time in September, I expected to learn about how to be a teacher. I expected to learn about the curriculum, lesson planning, and classroom management. But this past year has turned out to be about so much more than just these things. I have had the incredible opportunity to be part of a community of people dedicated to making education equitable and accessible. I have been challenged to confront my personal biases and my identity as a teacher. I have also learned more than I ever expected to learn about my own views of teaching and learning.
And while the past eight months have been filled with a lot of professional growth, I have also learned a great deal about myself personally. I let myself fail harder this year than I have in a long time. I learned how to admit when I was in over my head and I let myself be okay with not having all of the answers. These were not easy lessons to learn, but I consider them to be among my most valued accomplishments.
I walked off the stage yesterday not knowing what I will be walking into next. But I also walked off the stage knowing that there are a lot of opportunities in front of me at the moment and that it is up to me to make the most of them. I think I always felt as though yesterday was supposed to be a destination – that one spot on the horizon that I had been looking forward to since the day that I made my decision to become a teacher. But when I woke up yesterday, I realized that the act of walking across the stage was just another part of the journey. I am far from being done with learning and growing, and I know that being a teacher is going to mean many different things throughout my life. I may not know what I am going to see when I look back on my life 288 days from now, but I am trying to believe that this is just what makes the journey exciting.