This week we have Tamara Rodricks. I met Tamara when I moved to Hong Kong and started at my current school. We immediately bonded as new arrivals and fellow Canadians.
Tamara is a learning support teacher in our school, and in my opinion, has the most difficult job of all. She works with students who have learning differences, and her teaching must accommodate their individual needs. On top of all that, she recently became a mother. What can’t this woman do!
I hope you enjoy her insights, especially what she has to say about burnout.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A learning support teacher and new mom, I’m an East Coast Canadian exploring the world. Currently based in Hong Kong, I enjoy the relaxing seaside each summer in Nova Scotia. Before moving to Asia, I made London my second home, where I met my husband and discovered a passion for theatre and Victorian history. In and out of the classroom my focus is literacy; I challenge myself to stay on top of new publications and books receiving high praise in the community.
How do you differentiate learning with students with learning needs?
Differentiating in the main classroom effectively usually means letting go of some control and allowing students to access curriculum through various means. Student choice and guided availability of resources are important ways to ensure content is not too far above students’ threshold of ability. For literacy work, I am a big supporter of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, specifically the work of Lucy Calkins and Carl Anderson. This program and their approaches to learning ensure students get exemplars i.e. mentor texts for which they model their work. It also dedicates large chunks of time to students ‘doing literacy’ through reading and writing. I believe improved literacy improves performance across the curriculum.
What do you think the education system needs to do in order to better support students with learning needs?
There is a lot of work that needs to be done on removing stigma and improving acceptance of learning needs. Inclusion too often means ignoring the severity of a need. There is extensive research that intensive remediation is needed to bridge the achievement gap between those with needs and their peers. This entails much more small-classroom, or one-to-one instruction than most students receive. We need to drop the shame and stop letting students drown in curriculum that is beyond their ability levels in the name of inclusion.
How do you juggle with being a new mom and a teacher?
Still struggling to find that balance between work and home life. Both roles require you to give a lot of yourself for others’ needs. I have a no phone or computer rule while my baby is awake, to avoid getting distracted or drawn into work emails. I’m attempting to schedule one ‘me’ activity a week for some self-love; be it a facial, massage, or exercise.
What do you think teachers should do to avoid burn out?
Learning to ‘say no’. This is a hard one because everyone will want you to do a bit extra, but small favours add up. They can deplete your energy and time. Try to find your niche and what you enjoy about the school and make that a bigger part of your day. It is a profession that requires internal motivation, so take time for what matters most to you.