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Welcome to the 2012–2013 Teaching Portfolio of

Steven Teskey

Please, come in. It looks cold out here.

Who Am I?

My name is Steven Teskey, I am a current undergraduate in the Bachelor's of Education program at the University of Calgary and am scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2014. I have Bachelor of Arts degree, again, from the University of Calgary, double majoring in Religious Studies and Applied Ethics. I am specializing in Secondary Social Studies, however, a short week in a primary school has caused me to at least consider both options. Regardless of which setting I fall into, my vocational drive is and has always been to participate in the lives of incredible human beings.

Where I Have Been

I was born in Calgary, AB and have been lucky enough to live my entire life around its borders. I spent the majority of my time in the small town of Didsbury, AB, where I (poorly) played sports, learned a modest work ethic, and discovered the world of technology. That said, most of my adolescent years were spent roaming the vast country sides and beautiful prairie landscapes.

Where I Am Now

Living in the “big” city has been challenging. The hustle and bustle tends to overwhelm any sense of small-town courtesy and hospitality, far removed from what I had become accustomed. The difficult search for meaningful connections has not been as detrimental as it may appear. In a largely populated area have made the rewards that much sweeter. During my time at the University of Calgary, I have found a passion for academia and take great pleasure in trying to wrangle together esoteric philosophic systems with new scientific advancements.

Where I Am Going

My most cherished goal is to take my education and allow those less fortunate to benefit from it. I have a hard time reconciling the fact that I was born into such privilege and others such poverty. I feel my skills are of most use to those who have no other opportunities to empower themselves other than through education; therefore, I want to make my life’s work one of humanitarian aid. Economic stability has never been a serious concern of mine, I would work for free to feed my soul long before I settle for feeding my bank account. Despite the willingness to make light of my “bleeding heart”, this has always been my motivation to teach. Soon I want to be overseas in either Africa, Asia, or the Middle East.

Interests

I have many tangential interest other than my work. I spend a fair amount of time designing and developing for the internet. Take this site for instance, I crafted everything you see here from scratch. (If you are curious to hear more, I have a few ideas for educational research pertinent to the integration of new media and emerging technologies in the classroom below.) I have also dedicated many hours to perfecting my “blackletter” calligraphy. I have attached a few images of my doodling below.

My first few sketches for this site My second set of sketches, after changing my mind entirely Just a set of scribbles Another set of rough scribbles

Books

I tend not to get out very often, so I spend the majority of my time sunk into books. So, I thought I would share some of my current favorites. In no particular order, here are some of the books that have either caught my attention (and I am currently reading them) or have caught my spirit (and I am trying to live by them):

  • The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer (1998). Amazon Link
  • Educating Moral People: A Caring Alternative to Character Education by Nel Noddings (2002). Amazon Link
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (2008).* Amazon Link
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton (1850).** Amazon Link
  • The Bhagavad Gita. Amazon Link
  • Error by Nicholas Rescher (2009). Amazon Link
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979). Amazon Link
  • The Portrait of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde (2010). Amazon Link

* This book still, to this day, makes me tear up with joy when I re-read it. I love it so much I pick it up every couple of months.

** The copy I have at home was published in 1850, it is one of my most treasured possessions.


Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is deeply informed by my past experiences, especially those I encountered during the course of my education. I have always been fascinated by metaphysical interpretations of every day life. My goal for teaching children is to help them engage in a dialog, to decide for themselves whether a similar reverence for life and exploration is worth realizing. My hope is that by opening up a conversation through our time together that students will have an opportunity to self-actualize on their own accord, using some of the perspectives, skills and tools developed in class.

The journey to self-realization and actualization is a life long journey. It must begin in a safe and trust filled environment, where children feel they can take risks and evolve under their own direction. Beginning with the basic respect each person is entitled to the classroom environment will take on higher forms of acceptance and compassion to create an empathetic environment. I would argue that being honest with myself and my students, allowing what P. J. Palmer (1998) so aptly described as vulnerability to bear out, is completely necessary for my vision because only through mutual vulnerability and mutual growth can real trust be obtained.

I hope by increasing making the effort to create a trusting atmosphere that I could be a part of a classroom motivated by care (Noddings, 2002). Relational connections and motivations are of the utmost importance to my practice. While I hope to inspire students to strive for their highest levels of achievement, I would prefer to ensure that students I have the privilege of working with are also able to have conversations with others and to be caring, thoughtful and well-rounded human beings.


Davis, B., Sumara, D., and Luce-Kapler, R. (2008). Engaging Minds. New York, NY: Routledge.

Noddings, N. (2002). Educating Moral People: A Caring Alternative to Character Education. New York, NY: Teacher's College Press.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.


Professional Practice

TPGP

Goal #1: Gain a stronger foot hold in response to intervention (RTI) and universal design for learning (UDL) methodologies. The time line for this professional growth project is ongoing due to the constantly emerging nature of scientific data on the subject.

Strategies:
  • Talk to administration and other members of the teaching team to get a better sense of what RTI and UDL services are available and which are most beneficial to our work in the years ahead (April).
  • Survey the educational literature and gather a solid foundation for RTI and UDL best practices (Ongoing).
  • Watch and hopefully attend any number of online professional development webinars. Bring back the information these exploits to generate informative discussion with my colleagues (Ongoing).
  • Attend a conference dedicated to either of these two subjects specifically, for example the Alaska RTI Conference (Ongoing).

Measures: During the next few months I hope to amass a greater understanding of these two pedagogical methodologies. Any means that allows me to support students in which ever ways necessary so they can begin to flourish of their own accord is a primary goal of mine. Despite having no previous background in the sciences I am willing to explore every avenue to help my students succeed. Frameworks that take into account the growing awareness and receptivity for cognitive and physical impairments will only be help to aid in my professional development currently and in the future. Despite the difficulty of some of this subject matter, any gains in the overall quality of wellbeing for my students is worth the minor annoyance in keeping up to date with pedagogical methodologies.


Goal #2: Increase efforts to implement a system of differentiated instruction.

Strategies:
  • Begin taking more detailed notes about the particularities of students, paying attention to subtle details which will hopefully shed some light on unconscious preferences that individual students may have (April).
  • Give informal surveys to quickly gauge how lesson plans work for certain groups. (Taking the time to evaluate some of the “middle ground” students for ways to help support their efforts in ways that they may not have had before because of their precarious balance between high and low performing students.) (Ongoing)
  • Asking more experienced members of the teaching team about particular methods or tricks they use to implement differentiated instruction. Focus specifically on how to differentiate instruction and have the lesson appear coherent to everyone involved (April).
  • Attempt minor experiments about lesson delivery and the tweak feedback mechanisms accordingly to increase the flow of communication. (This assumes that better feedback from students will provide a more agile base to change instructional tactics in the future.) (Ongoing)

Measures: Owing to a Confucian pedagogy (i.e., the earliest literature I have read featuring differentiated instruction), differentiated instruction makes huge intuitive sense. No one thinks or learns in the same way, so why then should all instruction be the same. The trouble is to find a balance between providing differentiated and effective instruction, yet keeping lessons clear, coherent and fair. My hope is that differentiated instruction will help all students flourish, but I have a personal curiosity about increasing support for those on either edge of the low/high performance lines. I want to be able to provide supports for students like these so they can continue to grow and not worry about being left behind.

Future Research

Currently, I have two main areas of interest and despite their appearances, I believe that these two topics are not mutually exclusive. I have applied for a few research grants (e.g., the PURE Award) this semester, so hopefully in time these ideas will have an opportunity to take form.

1 Self Realization and Self Actualization in Education

Existential philosophy focuses on questions like “who am I?” and “what makes me different or special?” which are very pertinent when analyzing the development of self concepts. I would prefer to move beyond these descriptive questions into the deeper issues of why humans feel the need to embark on these journeys of self discovery and moreover, how we can get there. Given my background in Religious Studies, I would like to focus attention on how we make grand structures of meaning for ourselves in educational contexts.

My theoretical approach would begin with an investigation of the property of “connectedness”. A synthesized philosophical framework that could potentially bear fruit in this regard is a combination of systems from both the theoretical sciences and philosophers like Whitehead and James. I would argue that understanding some of the mechanisms that lay behind feelings of reverence for life could lead to stronger efforts in character education and self development.

2 Complex Uses of the Internet & Classroom Technology

I am fascinated with technology, as I am sure most are. I would like to explore technology use, specifically the technology use of students, not as a mere tool but as an expressive medium. The Internet and other means of communication create an entirely new field of identity exploration that is only starting to undergo sufficient analysis. What I would like to investigate is exactly how children leverage these platforms to extend their selves into and onto the Internet.

The Internet allows for the instantaneous connection of any number of unrelated subcultures to connect, creating opportunities to mix identity subtypes in ways that would have been impossible only years ago. Keeping in line with my earlier philosophical proceedings, this research avenue would look beyond using knowledge of these social dynamics to increase learning potential to include supporting the development of healthy self concepts and identities.

Another area of research interest is in mixing entrepreneurial frameworks into the classroom atmosphere. Specifically, I would investigate borrowing the agile process metaphor from the software development realm and supplant it into the classroom. The underlying motive for doing so would be to test if the communications platforms necessary for effective communication between groups and management could support the creation of pervasive informal learning communities online. If successful, the end result would be a means to help support students, and have students support themselves through robust social communications platforms that persist well after school hours and potentially after school entirely.


Community of Practice

I was fortunate enough to be involved with a very smart, capable community of practice (CoP) group tasked with presenting our peers with an analysis of “Wellbeing”. We did a fabulous job, mostly due to the talent of my fellow CoP members, if I may say so.

What I Contributed

We collectively decided that with a topic so broad and far reaching as wellbeing, we would each benefit from exploring those aspects of wellbeing that touched closest to home individually. My portion of the presentation focused on respect and compassionate listening. True to form, I took a more metaphysical approach, focusing on the reverence for life, or an appreciation for those awe inspiring moments where we truly feel our connection to others.

Listening is the simplest and most effective way to respect someone. It involves acknowledging their presence and communicates to your other that their ideas, identity, etc. are important enough to hear. Recognizing that we are each human, therefore, we are all “in the same boat,” concerning our own fears, shortcomings and inadequacies, was the theme that underlined my entire presentation. Connection to others, especially those in the midst of volatile identity change and formation (e.g., our future students) will help both parties involved lead happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives.

Pressed for time and nerve racked, I managed to give a somewhat coherent presentation. I made sure that there were ample opportunities to drop in a few somewhat obscure pop-cultural references (e.g., “The Chairman of the Board”, a.k.a. “The Archbishop” Don ”The Magic” Juan and quotations from Mitt Romney). I also created an activity that would have students consider what respect means to them, because I fully accept that my interpretation would not fit satisfactorily into the lives of others.

What I Learned

My fabulous fellow CoP members presented on instilling joy from appreciating the little things and wellbeing derived through giving, charity and forgiveness. Each of these presentations did at first glance seem to be self evident truths, yet I am shocked at how I have taken them for granted. On the walk home after our presentation, I took the time to appreciate the sunshine poking through the trees.

The Little Things A cookie cutter man, filled with my wide array of qualities Gratitude and a message to my future students

A moment like this would surely have gone unnoticed if not for that presentation and because I was “in the moment” I could feel happiness rise out of me. Thinking about celebrating these tiny moments causes me to consider those important but small victories that my students may witness. I hope I have the foresight to do then what I have just done, to show them that any moment regardless how small deserves celebration.

Forgiveness is another powerful tool to promote wellbeing, although it can be a heavy one to wield. Since hearing my CoP mate speak on the subject I have been planning ways to better integrate forgiveness into my life. The ability to let what once was remain in the past and to move forward will fit well into the classroom. Denying forgiveness in order to be “right” goes entirely against my teaching philosophy, I will thus take great pain to ensure that I am empathetic more often than I am correct.


The Gifts I Have Received

Just like my immediate presentation group, the seminar CoP had any number of fabulous presentations on professional development and life-long learning. For brevity sake, I have only provided two of my favourites, i.e., those that had a profound affect on my vision as a preservice teacher.

Qualities: One of the first groups to present was perhaps the most memorable. Their presentation on The Book of Qualities by J. R. Gendler (1988) was both unique and stirring. They opened with their presentation with a short soliloquy for every member of the group. Each person identified those qualities they admired in themselves, and those they were uncomfortable with in a true moment of trust and vulnerability. Reflecting upon my own qualities, I realize that I am deeply indebted to these brave people. The strength of character it must have taken to profess some of their most uncomfortable truths and to make light of them, to see the positive through them, has given me the confidence to begin to do the same. (As part of their activities, their group provided the class with a gingerbread man carved into pieces, we were tasked to fill it in with some of our qualities, see image above.)

Owing back to my teaching philosophy above, I have made it a personal mission to grow along side my students, both for my sake and for theirs as well. I believe that this willingness to analyze self, regardless of what comes up, is beneficial for our collective interactions. So often we cover up the truth in order to live the lives of other people, or perhaps, the lives of super humans, myths, or monsters. There is something so essentially human about struggle and the desire for change, it would be a travesty to deny this part of myself and to pretend that I could relate or even help my students without it. I would argue students do not need paragons of purity, morality and the like, rather they need role models who can model strong character in the midst of difficult truths. To paraphrase a former professor of mine, the only people that manage to maintain an even keel, a static and impenetrable identity, are figuratively and literally dead (Davis, Sumara and Luce-Kapler, 2008).

Giving: Another of my favourite CoP presentations concerned the topic of giving. Based on The Hidden Gifts of Helping by Stephen G. Post (2011) this group provided numerous reasons why giving to others enriches the lives of both parties. Moreover, their homework activity inspired me to help others and feel the effects of giving first hand. (Since then I have pushed numerous strangers out of snow drifts, bought many coffees and sought out opportunities to help wherever I am.)

Giving back to others, whether locally or at great distances, could easily be mobilized in the classroom. Engaging in humanitarian efforts, environmental conservation, or merely lending a helping hand sets a precedence for young people. Gaining the “helper's high” creates a foundation for greater civic involvement and by tying in social dynamics of classroom participation these small efforts could help perpetuate these feelings into more solidified social conventions. Encouraging small acts of giving and kindness in the classroom could entail immense benefits for an individual, their community and, perhaps, the world.


Post, S. G. (2011). The Hidden Gifts of Helping. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.

Gendler, J. R. (1988). The Book of Qualities. Toronto, ON: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.