Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My long goodbye to OISE

Last week I attended what will probably be my last formal class of this Massey College Canadian Journalism Fellowship at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. It's one of a few things in this final term of the program that is a somewhat mournful reminder that this wonderful experience is coming to an end.
Aside: Another is that the program is now accepting applications from working journalists for its 2011-12 year, with a deadline of March 1, 2011 (hint, hint to any ed reporters out there...).
Additional aside: Another is that we're headlong into planning our second European travel adventure, which will take us to Finland (Helsinki and Turku) and Denmark (Copenhagen and likely Samso) on 'official' travel with possible personal side travel to St. Petersberg, Iceland and/or London, U.K.
It was always a personal and professional goal of mine in this experience to take advantage of OISE's location. Massey College is only hundreds of metres away from the hulking 12-storey building that houses the University of Toronto's initial teacher education programs and graduate-level institute. From the application process onwards, I have to be quite complimentary to the deans and associate deans at OISE. Former dean Jane Gaskell pointed me towards associate deans Mark Evans and Kathy Broad, who've met with me numerous times since August.
As readers here know, I spent the fall auditing two courses -- a graduate-level course on the battle over history education and a Masters of Teaching (a two-year initial teacher education program) course on issues in numeracy and literacy.
This term, I was allowed to shadow -- as much as my schedule permitted given some conflicts with non-OISE classes and fellowship commitments -- the fourth year Victoria College / primary-junior cohort of OISE's concurrent education program. The program is still very much wet behind the ears as the students in the cohort I'm following are the first ever admitted to this program at OISE.
After a wickedly busy five weeks, these ConEd students are now at primary schools throughout the region in their first long-term classroom practicums that last until the very end of March, just as we're about to depart for Europe. They get another one in their fifth and final year of the program (compared to the four that the MT students get, or the two month-long practicums most B.Ed students get over eight months).
The term was instructive to my continuing curiosities about what we're teaching our teachers and how well they might be prepared to face the reality of their first classrooms.
As the literacy / numeracy course wrapped up, I heard about those students' late-fall placements. A good number were frustrated the things OISE was asking them to think about in terms of their pedagogy and philosophies on teaching ran headfirst into established systems and procedures in their placement schools. A number mentioned stark differences of opinion with their associate teachers, the people who welcome teacher-education candidates into their classrooms. I felt a little sorry for those as I have seen the practices in use in the program at OISE being used by teachers when I've shadowed classes for assignments. I also wondered whether the teacher-education candidates 10 years from now would say the same things about these folks as they were saying about their associate teachers today.
If they're patient enough, tactful enough, these candidates will bring change to the classes and schools they end up teaching in.
Though I haven't seen the ConEd students return yet, I'm very curious to see what their practicum experience will be like. I may only see them once or twice more before the end of my program. As they headed out, I wondered how many of them were really ready for what they were about to experience. My curiosity also leaves me wondering if they'll come back with the same feelings as the Masters of Teaching students.
Lastly, for now, I am encouraged by the quality of the faculty I've seen in the initial teacher education programs. I would have been glad to have any of the four instructors I've seen and am reassured that they're teaching teacher candidates-- if some of what they're doing at OISE rubs off on the students then that's great.