Wednesday, 3 October 2012

#84 I Am the Walrus

In a rare change of direction (ie NOT running-related), I'd like to share with you a reflection that I've been asked to do as part of a course I'm currently taking at OISE (Teacher's College at U of T). The year-long course is called 'Teacher Education Seminar' and essentially is a course which outlines and introduces us as teacher candidates to various issues, ideas, topics, tools, strategies and situations that we are likely to face as potential educators and challenges us to think critically about who we are as individuals and what that will mean to and for our development as future teachers.

The following prompt was provided for us to reflect upon and will be the focus of my subsequent ramblings. It is part of a larger 'Professional Growth Portfolio' assignment and essentially highlights my current, but constantly evolving, 'Philosophy of Education.' It asks:

In what ways have your personal values, beliefs, social identities, strengths, personal biases, and assumptions influenced the way you teach and learn?

The short and simple yet unsatisfactory (and slightly sarcastic) response would be: A LOT! How I learn and teach, what I choose to learn and teach, with whom and for whom I choose to learn and teach, where and even why I choose to learn and teach are inevitably based on my personal 'lived' experiences, both past and present. These experiences, in various ways, have subsequently led to the current set of values, beliefs, and attitudes I currently possess which in turn directly and indirectly contribute to my sense of personal identity (how I see myself or imagine myself seen by others) as well as my social identit(ies) (how I am seen and viewed by others). Tied in to all of this, are the various biases, assumptions, and preferences I have/hold towards ideas, events, individuals and ultimately the world around me.

In order to better understand 'where I come from' and 'what I see' (ie to understand my unique perspective of the world...the world according to Dan Way), the following information is most certainly relevant and should thus be openly disclosed.

I am a white, 25 year old, heterosexual, Canadian male from a middle class background. This affords me a tremendous amount of power, privilege, opportunity, advantage and social 'capital' which I may or may not be aware/conscious of at all times but inevitably exists. In sum, I am extremely lucky!

Gazing West. Dairy Way Farms Inc. 
However I did not come from a particularly wealthy or 'well to do' background. I grew up in rural Ontario and spent a majority of my childhood and adolescence living in the country on our family (dairy) farm where I spent many years working hard and building a strong work-ethic and sense of responsibility. My parents divorced when I was quite young but I was always surrounded by what I would call a loving and nourishing extended group of family and friends, an environment which has grown and exists to this day. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic elementary and high-schools but currently hold no religious or spiritual affiliations. I do not believe in God, ghosts or goblins but am open to the idea that extra-terrestrial life exists somewhere in our universe. I am highly educated, possessing both an undergraduate (BMSc) and graduate (MSc) degree and have been fortunate to take part in two separate international exchange programs, to the UK and Germany, as well as travel extensively within Western Europe. I have enjoyed my education, predominantly of the life/biological sciences and have a great appreciation for the natural sciences and the physical world in which we live. As a science educator, I am predominantly concerned with understanding and explaining the natural world including laws, theories and facts about how it all works. I am particularly interested in human biology and how this relates to health. There was also a time not so long ago when I knew the capital city of every country in the world as well as the formula for every amino acid. I also knew a great deal about the Star Wars films but have sadly lost a great deal of my nerdiness and knowledge of useless facts. Sharing and extending my knowledge and understanding of the world is a major impetus as to why I want to teach and inspire a new generation of thinkers and doers. I don't expect and won't attempt to change the world, but am open and excited to make a difference, no matter how small.

I am also currently highly committed to distance running as a serious hobby and form of amateur sport and so value health, fitness and physical activity. From this I've also come to value competition, performance and a constant dedication to self-improvement and mastery. In other words, I believe in objective outcomes. I also believe in meritocracy and being rewarded for ones hard-work and effort. I believe that individuals, or groups of individuals, are largely responsible for themselves, their health and their overall sense of well-being. That said, I am all too aware that many complicated, complex, and higher order 'factors' exist (race, class, gender, etc, etc) and contribute in significant and lasting ways. The world is indeed unbalanced and some have it better than others. That is a fact of life. I feel that it's important and indeed essential to be conscious and aware of these factors, to understand and appreciate their impact and extent, and in fact work towards finding meaningful and measurable solutions where inequalities exist, but I do not feel this is my main focus or objective as an educator and thus my approach is far more moderate. I am not an activist or an evangelist; I am an educator and seek to provide knowledge and understanding. The rest is up to you.

My philosophy of education is likely to change, perhaps dramatically, as I develop as both a teacher and as an individual over time. I look forward to the journey and the inevitable highs and lows to come. For now, I embrace and accept the person I am including all my various strengths and weaknesses, my biases and assumptions, my preferences and priorities. Recently, during a discussion with friends, someone asked: "If you were stuck alone on an island for an entire year; could you live with yourself?" My response, accompanied with a cheeky chuckle, was 'Of course I could!' And I honestly believe that.

PS: In case you were wondering, I also ran 168k last week, week 10 of training for NYC. Only 5 weeks to go.

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