Category Archives: Musings

So You’re a TA, eh?

I’m very pleased to be back at Simon Fraser University (SFU) this term as a Teaching Assistant (TA) with the Department of English.  I am leading two tutorial sections for English 104W – “Introduction to Prose Genres: Digital Perspectives on Canada’s Media History and Messaging as a Prose Genre” with Dr. Paul Matthew St. Pierre.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you may guess why I’m particularly excited about being a part of this course. Given how much time I currently spend on social media, the course is a way to consider my online practice in a historical and cultural context.

I anticipate that the course content will support what I’m doing, it’ll challenge what I think, and it’ll motivate me to ensure my social media activities are pursued in an even more thoughtful manner.  With three lectures done already, I foresee that Dr. St. Pierre may be setting the stage for us to consider our time on social media as “work” within the digital sphere and electronic devices as the tools by which we complete that work.

To think of my time online as work adds a whole new dimension to my role as a digital citizen.

Aside from grounding my social media use in this context, I’m really excited about having the opportunity to work with undergraduate students again.

Sticky Notes

Why?

It’s not because of the marking, which is likely my least favourite aspect of the job, although assessment is important in the university environment.

It’s not for the office I get to use since it’s remarkable how infrequently students stop by to visit.

It’s not for the authority which the position bestows upon me although it’s wonderful to be able to think about the tutorial sessions as “my classes” and those enrolled as “my students”.

It’s because as I work with the students I feel — I hope — I’m making a contribution to their learning.  From exhorting them to look up words in a dictionary, to pushing them to care about writing, to asking them to see beyond the words on the page (or on the screen), I’m trying to show them that they have agency in this world.

I want them to know that their agency will be based on their ability to read, reflect, think, challenge, analyze, and communicate.  It doesn’t matter what their career aspirations may be, it doesn’t matter which field of work they intend to pursue, it doesn’t matter what subjects they may wish to study, these are the abilities which will serve them well in any career, in any field, in any subject area.

That is, I want them to value learning, I want them to value thinking, and I want them to know that the ability to fully realize their potential depends on their ability to focus on more than just their grades and to look beyond the message no matter the form.

And in working with them, I recognize that I value my work as a TA because it allows me to do the same with regard to my own agency.

It allows me to recognize the following:

  • I’m not so much a person who accepts as I am someone who questions.
  • I’m not so much a teacher as I am a student.
  • I’m not so much a person who imparts knowledge as I am a learner.

For life.

A Man For All Seasons

Author’s Note:  I’m sad to report that FUB passed away on May 27, 2014.  The world is a dimmer, duller place without him.

There is a man I know.

His name is Robert.

Bob.

Or as we like to call him FUB – Funny Uncle Bob.

Funny because he is witty and bright.  Even in a serious discussion with Bob, there will come a point when you find yourself laughing.  Maybe a chuckle, but more often than not a belly laugh, a laugh from the heart.

Bright because he is a spark.  He creates, he paints, he draws, he writes.  He is an artist, an inspiration, a giver, a friend, a husband, a father, a grandfather.

He’s not actually my uncle, but the dearest and closest of family friends.  If I were to ask my parents, I’m sure they would recall the moment when they first met Bob and his wife Carol.  For me, and I think for my sisters, it’s as if Bob has always been there.  There is no first moment, there just is.

Go Habs go!

In 2010 my parents received the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts.  Each recipient of a Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards is allotted a number of tickets to the events held for honourees. The number in our group exceeded the limit because my father lobbied to ensure he could include Bob and Carol.

Our four days in Ottawa were magical.  From evenings in the bar, to Question Period in the House, to receptions and galas, Bob’s wry gaze, Bob’s singular perspective, Bob’s irreverence enhanced and enlivened every moment.

Bob’s generosity of spirit has spilled over into his interactions with my son who is an emerging artist.  During a visit to Hornby Island in 2008, we went on walks together and we would sketch en plein air to capture the golden aura of Helliwell Park and the shimmering blue of the ocean.  I was even required to join in and put pencil to paper!

Bob also sat down with my son indoors and they drew together in the creative stillness of common purpose.  It was mentorship of a seven year-old to show what it means to observe as an artist, to be diligently aware of your surroundings, and how to express what you’ve seen for others to experience.

Hornby Island Landscape

This past summer, my mother, my son, and I went out to visit Bob and Carol at their home. It was an opportunity for my son to see Bob’s studio, to have a look at Bob’s world, the world of a successful artist.  My son was whisked away upon arrival and when the two rejoined us for lunch, my son was clutching canvases, drawing paper, and pens.  Gifts from one artist to another with the most priceless one being the encouragement to do.

That’s FUB.

That’s Bob and he has decided to discontinue chemotherapy.  He is at home with his family and he is embraced within a circle of love which extends beyond the boundaries of time and place.

His name is Robert.

There is a man I know.

And thus it shall be forever.

 

Ruminating On Paths Taken And Not Taken

Today the BC Supreme Court released a decision which finds changes made to the collective agreement with teachers in British Columbia, specifically those around class size and composition, unconstitutional.  In addition, the court awarded the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) $2 million in damages which the provincial government must now pay.

That’s what I should probably talk about today given my role in BC’s public education system, but there are too many unknowns at this point, including the government’s response, and I don’t have enough details for an informed comment.

Not that I have answers to the other topic which I’ve been pondering.

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Youth is wasted on the young” and we often hear the phrase, “If I only knew then what I know now.”

In a similar vein, I’ve thought of this:  there is no undo/redo.  

Computer programs have undo/redo, commands that allow us to zip back and forth in our work or our game to the point before we made an error or made a choice which we no longer support or chose a path which has not led us to the desired outcome.

In life, however, there is no undo/redo.  As much as people advocate for a philosophy of “no regrets” I think that’s simplistic and difficult to apply in our own lives.

Why?

Venetian Mirrors

Because if we are honest with ourselves, there are regrets.  We recognize points along the way where we made choices which were not good ones or decisions which didn’t play out the way we hoped they might or where we passed up an opportunity which, with hindsight, we think may have worked out better although there’s never any guarantee it would have.

I also think the idea of living in the moment, while it has merits, is not the answer either because we are not creatures of the moment:  we have a past that has shaped us and we have a future which beguiles us.

The question becomes how to reconcile ourselves with our choices and with their outcomes.

It’s difficult to do when we hit those bumps in the road where each and every decision is up for evaluation.  Where the “what-if” game becomes the one haunting us in the present.  Where our confidence and our understanding of who we are takes on the metaphorical aspect of a cannibal rat ghost ship.

And we’re lucky if we find our way before circumstances intervene to make a situation worse or to take the journey along life’s path out of our control.

And while there is no undo/redo, there is try which puts me at odds with Yoda, the Jedi Master in Star Wars.  With deference to the green sage, sometimes all we can count on is try.

Because without try, there is no possibility of change.

And change, according to ancient philosophies, is the only constant.

Getting to Know Me and You

In a recent blog post, Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools for West Vancouver, issued a challenge which involves providing 11 random facts about one’s self, answering 11 questions, and posing 11 questions for others to answer. I don’t have an athlete’s competitive gene in the way Chris does, but I’m not one to pass upContinue Reading

Time May Not Care But I Do

December looms. The last month of the year. I can only wonder how it is that 2013 has just over four weeks to go. The months have flown by, the year has evaporated. Like the contrails of planes which soar overhead, all that’s left are lingering impressions of passing through space and time.  I knowContinue Reading