Teaching to Bring Out the Best in Students
When Alex Noel graduated from Ambrose in 2013 with a double major in Music and Biology, he thought he was finished with school. “My undergrad was one of the most fun experiences of my life, but I chose two degrees that were a lot of work, so I was glad to be finished,” he recalls.
Thanks to his education, Alex was soon employed as a Community Education Program Coordinator at the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre. Through this job he learned what a critical role a teacher can end up playing in someone’s life.
We sat down with Alex halfway through his first year of the Bachelor of Education program to find out how he decided to become a teacher, and why he chose Ambrose for his after-degree.
So you were already working in classrooms and enjoying it, what made you decide to go back to school to study teaching?
It was my wife’s idea, actually. Because my job was to facilitate discussions about sexual health and healthy relationships in classrooms across Calgary, I would, on rare occasions, have a student approach me after a presentation to disclose that they had been sexually assaulted.
Legally my responsibility was to report this to the teacher and afterwards I wasn’t allowed to mention it ever again, unless the student brought it up. Now that I’m training to be teacher I understand the importance of that rule, but at the time I was torn up.
When I came home one day and explained how I felt helpless in those situations my wife pointed out that maybe I was looking at a possibility rather than a problem—as a teacher I could make more of a difference for those kids.
What made you choose Ambrose for your Bachelor of Education?
Even though I had an amazing experience in my undergrad, I wanted to make a well researched decision, so I interviewed at several different universities.
I asked each school a series of questions about their Education program: Are you going to talk about politics? Classroom management? How to interact with parents?
At every other school I interviewed at, the short answer to these questions was “no.”
At Ambrose, the answer was “yes.”
Now that you are in the program, does it measure up to your expectations?
Yes, it really does. Ambrose prepares you for things that many other schools don’t.
The feedback we get from the Rocky View School District is that, alongside students from the University of Lethbridge, which has a reputation as the best school in the province, the district consistently wants to hire graduates from Ambrose. That’s impressive—our program has only been around for a couple of years, but it’s already a clear leader.
I used to think that the quality of a classroom was largely defined by the kids that ended up in it. But now I recognize that a lot of it comes down to you as a teacher. You set the tone. You’re in control. If you expect that students have the potential to behave and excel, you are giving them the chance to live that out.
It sounds like the classroom experience has been a highlight—can you tell us about some of your favourite classes?
I think the most practical class that I’ve taken so far was Curriculum Planning with Nicki Rhen. With everything that we learned, she showed us how it would look in practice and we had to apply it to our own lesson plans. It was more work than any other class I’ve taken, but it also had the most applications that I could take and use in my own classroom right away.
Society and Culture with John Picard was another highlight—it was all about how the world views teachers. My favourite part of that class was understanding that most of the concepts in education aren’t really new.
There’s been a lot of debate in the news about the new methods of ‘inquiry-based learning’ or ‘discovery math’. I learned in Picard’s class that an Ancient Greek philosopher coined the term ‘discovery math,’ so the concept isn’t new at all. It’s helpful to recognize that teaching methods cycle in their popularity, and that when we understand a range of models and approaches we can draw on whatever approach will work for our students.
What about the hands-on aspect of this degree? Your practicum is also an important part of the program right?
Yeah, we started our practicum on the second day. For several weeks we were moved around to different schools, from the Calgary Board of Education, to Rocky View, to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation —to give us a taste for the variety of systems and classrooms we could end up working in.
Then, for five weeks I was placed in a class of lively grade four students with many diverse needs and sparkling personalities. We work in tandem with another grade four class and the wall between the two classes is a giant sliding door. Because of this I get to work with another incredible teacher and two groups of rambunctious kids instead of just one. It's been tiring but amazing.
Ok, last question: what is one of the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far?
I used to think that the quality of a classroom was largely defined by the kids that ended up in it. But now I recognize that a lot of it comes down to you as a teacher.
You set the tone. You’re in control. If you expect that students have the potential to behave and excel, you are giving them the chance to live that out.
Here’s how Bernie Potvin put it in one of my classes: “Parents don’t send their bad kids to school and keep their good kids at home. They send us their best. The kids we get are the only kids they have.”
Our job as teachers is to make our classrooms a place where students grow, and that starts with making sure that we have good expectations for the students and for ourselves.
Interested in the Bachelor of Education After Degree at Ambrose? Apply by March 15 to qualify for entrance scholarships.