For those paying attention to my personal life, a couple weeks ago I did two Brain Day presentations. The second presentation had several differences from the first, as the first day was at quite a poor school in front of a relatively small (19 students) grade 3-4 split class and the second presentation was at a much wealthier school in front of a large (33 students) grade 6 class. On a personal note, visiting these schools was the first time I have ever been to a Catholic school before. It was actually quite surprising the amount of religious paraphernalia which adorns the walls and permeates the daily rituals (both schools started the day with the Lord's Prayer, while the second school followed that with two more prayers). With all the highly publicized fighting over secularization of the schools that goes on south of the border, sometimes I forget that we have our own fuzzy line to draw up here. Personally, I don't know enough about the organizational reasons for the existence of a Catholic school system in addition to the public school system, but from my current (mostly ignorant) standpoint it rubs me the wrong way. Although there may be a good reason for its existence, I think there should be a public school system and a private school system. The private schools can be religiously motivated (though I would still expect them to adhere to an approved curriculum), but if a school has public funding it ought to be wholly secular. Religious studies classes are different than starting every day with prayer. Anyway, this is getting off topic...
Another thing which surprised me was that both schools started the day with our national anthem. I asked my girlfriend (who went to public school here in Ontario), and she says she also remembers singing the national anthem every day as well. Unless my memory serves me quite poorly, at my elementary and intermediate schools in British Columbia I only remember singing the national anthem at assemblies (I believe we also practised singing it in music class, but I think that was mostly just because it was a song that most students conveniently knew). It is a minor point, but still something I find interesting. Perhaps Ontario is just more patriotic than the west.
I am off still topic, however, so I will move beyond daily rituals of religiosity and patriotism. One thing which surprised me about the experience is how draining I found it to be. As I have heard said before, teaching is as much about crowd control as it is about imparting information (at least at the primary and secondary school level). While I do greatly enjoy disseminating information, I remain much more comfortable doing it on an individual or small group level. I suppose part of that rests in my difficulty with multitasking interpersonal interactions. While I can mentally keep track of multiple unfolding strategies in games like chess or Diplomacy, or keep track of the inner workings of multiple sections of computer code when programming, simultaneously dealing with more than one person at the same time horribly flusters me. If I am on the phone and someone in the room starts talking to me, I inevitably lose track of both conversations. When this is increased to dozens of students all vying for attention at the same time, it felt like a constant struggle just to keep track of what I was saying and where I had to go next in the presentation.
Another conundrum of teaching which I failed to think about before was the difficulty of dealing with problem children. While I remember going to school with rather hyperactive students, I don't ever remember feeling like I could not get attention from the teacher when I required it. I was also self-absorbed and egotistical enough not to notice that other students perhaps did not feel like that. Oddly enough, this problem seemed most pronounced in the smaller class we presented to first. There were several exceedingly quiet students who simply never got a chance to get attention because there were several of their peers who did not stop talking, whether it was asking a meandering question or blurting out some inane happenstance. One girl actually asked me in a very meek voice how to spell 'light'. While she may have been in grade 3 rather than grade 4, it still shocked me. What I only realised after the fact was that the only reason I had the chance to answer her question and tell her how to spell 'light' was because my partner was presenting at the time and dealing with the more hyperactive students. In a normal situation with only a single teacher, I doubt this little girl and the other students like her get any direct attention. They simply keep their heads down and drift by.
I don't know what the solution is, because constantly punishing the students who act out is likely to simply exasperate and frustrate everyone involved. They usually don't understand just how disruptive they are being, and neither do they truly understand that they are cheapening the educational experience for their quiet compatriots. However, doing nothing is hardly an effective solution.
I'm not sure this post really had a point, and it kind of meandered all over the place, but I'm going to publish it now and get back to my actual work. Perhaps those who are wiser than I can chip in on some of the topics I briefly alluded to, whether it is religion in schools or how the more effectively administer education to children. As it is, I will continue with my life plan of only entering into the educational system after all the difficult work of formation has been completed by other people and my students have already become respectful young men and women.