Monday, March 28, 2011

A short conversation with...Alec Couros @courosa

Alec Couros

How long have you been teaching?

I’ve been teaching since 1993. While I was initially trained to become a high school English & History teacher, I ended up teaching just about every subject there is from grades 6 through 12. Beyond my high school & middle school experience, I spent several years as a teacher/therapist in a youth correctional centre. I’ve also taught in technical institutes, but I’ve spent the majority of my teaching career as a professor and ICT coordinator in a teacher education program.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

There were so many clichés that I bought into in my early years. Myths like ‘be hard on the kids at first, and then gently let go of the reigns’ - that whole classroom management myth. Or, the idea that the teacher is the expert in the classroom, the person with all of the answers - some sort of superhuman. So much of my philosophy has since been replaced with a focus on student engagement, continuous experimentation, and messiness. If you’ve watched me run one of my open courses, while things may seem very ordered and planned, in reality, it is as spontaneous and chaotic as it gets. While I follow the official syllabus in the course calendar, day-to-day planning gives way to student interests, serendipitous connections, and unplanned generosity.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

In my first year of teaching, I had one of the most difficult Grade 8 classes imaginable. I co-taught this group of students with another teacher who happened to be a First Nations elder. When students got loud, I got louder. When they became angry, I became angrier. I felt I really hadn’t been prepared for anything like this, and I became emotional and ineffectual as a teacher. My colleague taught me how to listen to students. I cannot describe how she taught me this. It may have been the softness of her voice. Her gentle nature. The way students came to her for advice. The love she showed for them, even when they weren’t on their best behaviour. But I do remember how she listened to our students. How she focused on each, looked at them in the eye, and how she made them realize how important their voice was to her. Since then, this has always been the most important to me - focusing on that relationship. Listening, rather than always telling.

Can you share a few thoughts about your TEDx talk experience?

It was a great experience. What I loved the most was that I got to listen to voices that I would normally not have heard. Often, as educators, we listen to mostly other educators, and I feel that in general, we need to be more diverse in our influences. As for my own presentation, I know it could have been much improved. The format is difficult, and I am sure that I didn’t prepare well enough for it. Additionally, there was a technical glitch with the clock so I actually ended up rushing through part of my presentation when in actuality, I had plenty of time. I wish I had a retry. :-)

Overall though, I think it’s a format that we need to focus on with our students (or perhaps something like a shorter Pecha Kucha format). If students can do this format, and do it well, they would be at a great advantage, not only for such presentations, but a whole range of genre, including literary and multimedia forms.

Alec Blogs here.

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