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Canada, home sweet home!

It's good to be home,

As I write this it is 5:30 am and minus 15 degrees in Calgary. I arrived home from Vietnam 3 days ago, thankful to have just barely flown out before a Typhoon hit the area. It’s bittersweet to be home. First of all, it’s freezing! I’ve barely worn socks in the past 5 months let alone winter wear. Secondly, I almost had a heart attack grocery shopping in this country again, I can see why people go to South East Asia and never leave. But overall, I am relieved and happy to be home. My first stop on the way home from the airport was Tim Horton's. I sent a picture of my coffee and a picture of the roads covered in snow to my new friends in Vietnam (two Canadian staples: timmies and snowy road conditions). I've been periodically checking updates on the typhoon that hit Vietnam shorty after I left. I was saddened to learn that it caused flooding in Hoi An, a magical town only 40 minutes from where we were staying. Hoi An is a touristy area that left a lasting impression on us. We returned multiple times to enjoy the shops, lanterns and relaxing atmosphere. It is disheartening to think of the damage caused by the flood.

            Being home still doesn’t feel completely real so I haven’t really begun to deeply reflect on the entire experience. I am still trying to catch my bearings in this winter situation. In Vietnam we joked about all the things that would feel weird about being back in Canada, such as the open spaces, the silence and using crosswalks. I haven’t really noticed that anything about Canadian culture feels weird though. It feels as though I never left (apart from the weather and the atrocious price of food). But I suppose that is because Canada is home, it will always feel just right.

As happy as I am to be back in Calgary, I am sad about leaving Vietnam. We met so many wonderful people who helped us along our journey. It’s funny how just as we are getting used to the culture we have to leave. I am so grateful for this trip. I think it's still too soon to fully grasp exactly how valuable this experience has been but I know It will be something that I look back on often.

 Since returning home, I have been thinking a lot about practicum and to be honest I am a little nervous. I had finally gotten used to teaching in Vietnamese schools and now it’s time to teach in Calgary again. The schools we taught at in DaNang were very standardized and simple. Teaching entailed a lot of lecturing and textbook reading, something I find very different from teaching in Calgary. It will also be very different and refreshing to have access to technology in the classroom again. Something that I really missed in Vietnam. 

I can't wait to see how this experience has affected my confidence and creativity as a teacher. I'm hoping I get the chance to share some of my photos and stories with my grade 2/3 practicum class, because it's really all I want to talk about right now. 

cảm ơn và tạm biệt!! 

(Thank you and Goodbye) 

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Algumas semanas em Goiânia!

Bom dia! Tudo bem?!

This is now the start of our fifth week here in Goiânia, Brazil. Now that we are more comfortable and confident moving around in the city and coming and going from place to place, I think I’ve really hit my stride here. The weather has been a blessing, the friends we’ve made have been amazing, and even most strangers we meet have been welcoming and kind. Once you venture out of a big tourist city into a more off the beaten path type of place, I think you really get to see what a country is made of and it’s heart and soul. So far, I think Brazil is made of kind, fast-talking people, beautiful food and drinks, gorgeous scenery, and breathe taking heat (which I happen to quite enjoy!). Also, now that I’ve spent more time here, I’ve really gotten a feel for the education system, how it works and what it’s motivating factors are; at the university level and the secondary and primary levels. I am by no means an expert, but I certainly am more comfortable in talking about it.

The view of Goiânia from the window of our Portuguese class.

Does it get any better than this?!

To start our time in Goiânia, we’ve visited 4 different public schools, and I can say with confidence that they are all very different from each other. We visited three elementary schools and one high school. Similarly to in Canada, the academic rigor, appearance and overall success rate of the school has a lot to do with where the school is located within the city. However, the economic differences between sectors within the city are much more exaggerated than it is in Canada. Walking into an elementary level school in Brazil, you would think you were walking into an elementary school in Canada. They are warm, colorful, loud and vibrant places with lost of busy kids running around playing, socializing and learning. The classroom walls are lined with student art work, and two of them even had a room and teacher dedicated to those students who require a little bit of extra help. The teachers are all trained and passionate teachers who, like in Canada, don’t get into teaching for the money, but rather for the love of education and kids. The high school we visited however was starkly different from a high school back home, once you peel a few layers back. Teachers at the high school level are not trained teachers, they are instead trained in different fields such as history, geography, English language, Portuguese language, math, etc. then are simply hired by the school board. Since teachers at this level aren’t trained teachers, they often lack skills surrounding classroom management, assessment, etc. High school teachers are also paid significantly less than primary school teachers, so much so that most of whom we’ve met have second and third jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, there is a lot of teacher turn over at the high school level. Additionally, at this level, there is a relatively high threat of violence, particularly against male teachers. With all that being said, we did meet some absolutely fantastic teachers who really had a passion for education and who took the time to get to know their students and connect with them. Even though there are a lot of negatives about the job, there are still teachers who are working hard everyday to ensure that students leave high school with the best chance at success they can be offered. In a way, it was inspiring to see. Despite all the odds stacked against them, they still try and push on and offer success to their students as best they can. Unfortunately we did not get to see how things are different in a private school versus a public school. We do know that privates schools are incredibly expensive and many of the do not offer scholarships or financial assistance to lower income students. Many private schools claim to offer an “American” curriculum or “Canadian” curriculum, and I think it would have been useful to see what exactly that means, but unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to do so.

The high school students were very interested in the kind of music we listened to. They suggested we should listen to Brazilian Funk music. 

As we move through our education here in Brazil, we will continue to participate in Portuguese language classes as well as being observers and teachers in the PUC Language and Extension Center. The language classes we have been apart of have been so helpful, and even though our progress has been slow, we are still making progress! We can ask and respond to most basic introductory questions, and now we tackle pronunciation and more complex conversational skills. Pretty good progress for only having one class a week if you ask me! I’m most excited to be able to (hopefully) teach a few lessons at the PUC Language and Extension Center. This is a place where students of all ages take extra curricular language classes. This sort of class is almost exclusively offered to students who have wealthier families, as these classes are quite expensive. Regardless, it is really great to be able to see students learning English with many of the ESL teaching strategies I’ve seen in schools back home. I have three different classes, one class with teens (ages 11-13), one with juniors (ages 7-10) and one pre-intermediate (ages 16-55). We will be in these classes for the rest of our time here in Goiânia. I look forward to being able to build a bond with the students and the teacher, a hopefully teach a lesson or two!

When Anthony Bourdain says "If you're ever in Brazil, you need to eat Acarajé", you immediately search every street market you can find until you find it.

Once we found it, it was definitely worth venturing out in the heat to find! 

Apart from education related things, we’ve been exploring our community, making friends, eating our body weight at least once a week and laughing the whole entire time. While we haven’t yet ventured too far outside of Goiânia, we’ve been too busy soaking up all the fun and exciting things to do in town. These last few weeks we have here, we plan to venture outside the city limits and visit all the untamed and wild nature that surrounds us. Did you know they have waterfalls here?! GUYS… WATERFALLS! I don’t know if I can really explain to you all reading this how excited I am for waterfalls, camping and hiking in the next few weeks. I can honestly say that I truly feel thankful to have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country with Meghan and Courtney. I couldn’t have asked for better adventures buddies! #blessed  


Até logo!!


P.S. The most useful Portuguese phrase we’ve learned since we got here is “Tocar o seu cachorro?” or “Passar a mão no seu cachorros?” Which both mean, “Can I pet your dog?” 

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Introduction to Amazing Australia!

Greetings, Ning blog readers!

My name is Tracy and I will be participating in the Teaching Across Borders 2017 program in Perth, Australia! I am beginning this very special first blog post as I fly to Perth from Cairns, the tropical Northern tip of Queensland, Australia. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent the past five weeks touring around New Zealand and up the East Coast of Australia with my best friend, a fellow Elementary school teacher. As she reluctantly boards her flight back to the Great White North, I continue my adventure to Murdoch University, where I will be staying for the duration of the program. The pilot has informed us that the temperature in Perth is a cool 22 degrees. Not bad for the end of Australia’s winter season, if you ask me.

I could not be more excited to begin the Teaching Across Borders program. I have met so many amazing people and seen so many amazing things on this trip already, and I know Perth will bring so much more. Though I’ve had a blast these past few weeks, the TAB program is the whole reason I’m “Downunder”, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I applied for the TAB program because I believe in the value of international experiences for every career path, and for education in particular. I believe nothing influences a society more than education, and thus as teachers we have the power to shape the future as well as the responsibility to ensure we do so from an open and informed perspective. The importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and being exposed to other countries, cultures and education systems is crucial to mastering the art of diversified and inclusive education.

In Perth, I may not be exposed to culture shock or a language barrier as some others in the TAB program will be, but there will be no shortage of diverse experiences for me. Included in my placements in Western Australia are Indigenous schools (with the option of travelling quite far from Perth - details to come), a private school with a Highland Games experience, an inclusive education school, and a school with an intensive language centre that prepares students in exceptional circumstances (e.g., refugees) for integration into the school system. I will also have the privilege of sitting in on Murdoch University Education courses and professional development sessions. I look forward to sharing as much as I possibly can about my experiences on this blog, and to reading about everyone else’s experiences!

To conclude this post, I would like to share some highlights of my trip thus far (classroom-friendly fun facts included). I hope you enjoy them, and get a chance to experience them yourselves one day!


Sydney, Australia! Did you know the Sydney Opera House exceeded their original 7 million dollar estimate by 95 million dollars!? 

Whale watching at Gold Coast, Australia! These humpback whales travel all the way from the Arctic Ocean to mate and have their babies in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean on Australia’s Eastern coast.

Fraser Island: the world’s largest island made entirely of sand! The SS Maheno shipwreck has been there since 1935 when it was hit by a cyclone. 

Magnetic Island: the perfect place to spot koalas and echidnas in the wild. Echidnas make up 4/5 species of mammals that lay eggs! (Can you guess the other?) 

Hiking in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, where the mountains are active volcanoes!! Also the perfect place for Lord of the Rings fans to get a view of Mount Doom. 


That's all, folks! Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more from Perth.

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See You Again Sapporo

Way back before I ever started this B.Ed. and went through with TAB, I thought to myself I could improve my pedagogy immensely if I experienced education through another culture. This notion was supported by some of the teachers I met during my first field experience, all of who had taught abroad for a certain period of time. Seeing and reconciling differences is how they said they achieved a superior pedagogy, and it showed in how their classes were run and how their students responded to them. It hasn’t yet been a week since my return, but I find myself thinking often about what I have learned and how it has shaped my pedagogy. As I look ahead to starting Field III, I catch myself thinking back on my TAB experience and thinking about a plethora of ideas that I want to try or incorporate into how I have already taught before.

Aside from that though, this whole experience has been so rich, that pedagogy is only one of many things I find myself thinking about. I don’t have the words right now to do my experience justice, because it was simply that amazing. Each and every day brought with it several precious memories. This is due primarily to the relationships I have built during my time in TAB. It’s one thing to be told about the power of relationships in class, but it’s entirely different when you’re placed in a foreign country where you don’t know the language so well and have to form those relationships with the people around you. All of those people around me tried their hardest to accommodate me, and in turn I tried my hardest for them. Forming those bonds with my host families, making new friends, becoming like one of the staff at my school placements, and earning the trust and attention of all the children at the schools I was at was a wonderful experience. The love, gratitude, and appreciation they all showed at the end put that experience over the top though. I rarely heard a “good bye,” but rather “see you again” was always the parting phrase of choice. I took that to heart and replied in kind, “see you again.” With the bonds I’ve formed and all that I’ve learned, I will definitely be seeing my family and friends in Sapporo again.

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The Power of Relationships // Farewells

Throughout this Education after-degree, I’ve read articles, watched videos, listened to instructors, and written reflections about relationships. Relationships between the teacher and the students. Relationships between teachers as colleagues. I never doubted how important they are, but after my TAB placement in Spain, my realization of its importance skyrocketed. The teachers within the English department were practically family; our liaison there explained to me that it hasn’t always been this way, and that it has taken years for this group of teachers to finally come together in one department. They travel together, celebrate birthdays together, and spend time together on the weekends. During school hours, I’ve personally seen how strong their relationships are, simply by looking at how they interact with one another. It is that obvious. Since our first day in that school, we were immediately welcomed into their department and into their family. I feel that they went above and beyond for us throughout the 6 weeks that we were were there. Saying goodbye was hard (we probably said goodbye at least 3 times); they even had a “goodbye party” for us, with holiday treats and small gifts. We promised to keep in touch in the future. They are an amazing group of colleagues that I will not soon forget, and will forever be thankful for.


As for positive relationships with the students, that was also evident during my time there. Students address teachers by their first name, which I think is one of the first steps in creating a suitable level of closeness between them. The town we were in, Rubí, which is an hour commute from Barcelona, was mainly a working-class community. One teacher explained to us that many students come to school lacking the care and affection that we usually get from parents. For this reason, she is not only their teacher, but also plays the role of a parent and sometimes a friend. She believes in letting them know and showing them that the school, and her classroom, are a safe place and that they can confide in her if needed. There is often a touch on the shoulder or a pat on the back from the teacher, and the occasional hug between them to let them know that they genuinely care. There is a lot of respect towards teachers, and both parents as well as students are openly grateful for what the teachers do for them.

When I first arrived at the school, our liaison told me that many of the students will be able to relate to me, since a lot of them were of a Moroccan background, meaning that they speak the same language and practice the same religion as me, as I am also a Muslim Arab. From what I experienced, they were ecstatic to see that. She further explained to me that because they live in a working-class town, many of them don’t believe that they will leave that area. It would give them hope to see that I personally had the opportunity to travel and see a different part of the world than the one I lived in. During my time there, I felt the need to put in the extra effort to speak to some of those students, just to listen to their story. With the risk of sounding “cheesy”, I truly hope that they are able to believe that they can go places in life, and that they don’t have to remain confined to the place they grew up in.

Saying goodbye to students was also difficult; more difficult than I thought it would be. The teachers made sure that we got pictures with our students as a way to remember them. The students were extremely thankful for us being there. We received many rounds of applause before leaving, personal thank-yous, and signed cards from them. I have so many great memories from my time with them, and I will really miss them all.


[Brittney and I with the teachers of the English Department]






[Last day in the school in Rubí]

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Monoculturalism Versus Multiculturalism

For the most part and surprisingly, Canadian and Japanese life are extremely similar. The big difference that I have witness are some of the core values of peace between people and, in schools specifically, the monocultural versus multicultural foundations. Canada is a multicultural based country which is clearly shown in our school systems. We as teachers walk into classrooms with the knowledge that we will have students from different countries, cultures, and often languages. Japan however, does not have this type of system and instead has classrooms that are clearly Japanese only, especially in smaller cities like Kushiro. This creates both advantages and disadvantages in schools, as multiculturalism does in Canada, that we have discussed at length with teachers and professors here. 


Some of the advantages of monoculturalism in the classroom is the freedom for teachers to go deeper into subjects like history, geography, politics, because they are uniquely Japanese. In general, almost everyone comes from the same style of upbringing, the same values, traditions, and experiences as far as society go. This makes it easier for a teacher to not worry about coming to a topic from many perspectives as everyone has similar understanding. Teachers can do deeper into cultural activities because they are common to everyone and hold meaning
for everyone. For example the opportunity the Grade 6's, 2nd year education students, and Michelle and I had to experience traditional iron making. This tradition is only continued in southern Japan today and was and still is used to make true Katana's, or Samurai swords. The iron is special because it is so pure that it does not rust. This event was planned and executed by the university students, and the grade 6's and their teachers - without fear of danger or liability - were able to participate. Not only was it so special to me to learn how to make iron from scratch, it was impressive to see how the lesson taught social students through history, science through iron, and also morals through the value of patience and 'breath of life' tranquility that it takes to make the iron. This was an important part of traditional iron making and carries today. Monocultural classrooms make classes such as moral education possible because across Japan you will find similar if not identical values of peace, hard-work, dedication, and this desire for tranquility. Therefore morals can be taught from one common set of values and perspectives. Lastly, these common values and notions of a good life mean that the government can set a national education curriculum for all students and teachers to adhere to. 


The disadvantages though also stem from these shared values and especially shared perspectives because it means little to no questioning of social constructs and behaviours. There are professors at the Hokkaido University of Education that we spoke too who are wary of this because they fear students becoming complacent. There is a strong sense from the teachers here that while some nationalism is good, too much could lead to the same subservient behaviour exhibited for the emperor before WW2. Which they see now when students do not question what the government is doing or what social constructs they are following. In Canada this lack of scrutiny is not possible because we have so many different expectations from the many cultures who share in the creation of social constructs and government. This is not to say that Japan is doing badly or wrong in any way, only interesting that teachers see this and want to try and create more world-based thinking and values through widening curriculum, questioning society, and exchanges like these. 


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Colegio St. Agostinho...

I had the opportunity to visit the Colegio St. Agostinho a school located in the heart of Goiania. It is a Catholic school and their faith is very much a prominent influence in how education is approached. Halls and spaces throughout the school are filled with images of saints and Catholic figures. It provides the school with a very welcoming feel as the images are beautiful, and yet sacred. Although the families from the Catholic faith are favoured, the school accepts families and students who are non-Catholics as well. 

The school teaches students from age "infantil" (infant age) up to Grade 9 students. As a result there are a variety of programs and collaboration done between teachers who are teaching the younger students and teachers who teach the older students. They have an excellent administration and the access to resources is unbelievable! The school truly believes in supporting students in whichever discipline it is that they are most successful in. They have large Chemistry labs, Physics Labs as well as large areas for Art to be taught and a even a massive theatre for students who wish to engage in the performing arts. This school is an example of science and the arts mingling in a way that each discipline is supported by the other. Families who send their students to this school are very focused on the success of their child's education and eventually post secondary education, so the school does a very good job at making sure students have access to resources in every discipline. 

 It is my belief that  the school does such a great job at supporting the students in terms of their interests, and at the same time the school establishes a welcoming community through the Catholic faith to an extent that students are very excited to be there. This is the type of community that I would like to create within my own classroom and school community as I become a more experienced teacher because it truly benefits the student and their engagement. The classroom no longer becomes a place of simply learning but it becomes a space in which students can come in and build strong relationships, be supportive of one another and trust each other. My partner teacher told me that he teaches 21 classes of level 6 students in the morning and he teaches another group of students in the afternoon. He stated that it is very tiresome, but that he loves it because he truly sees how much success there is in supporting the interest of the student. My partner teacher himself was an individual who was very engaged and interested in the lives of his students and it was evident that he had created a strong bond where students could come and talk to him about almost anything. It is my hope that when I return to Calgary I will be able to take what I have learned in my short time at St. Agostinho and instill this experience within my own teaching practice 

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I visited a college just outside of Goiania. The college has programs that are strictly focused on the health sciences. Students can earn certifications in nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nutrition and more. The campus has a very ‘health awareness’ feel and the hallways, classrooms and library are filled with posters with information about staying active and healthy. They have numerous amounts of guest speakers come in and talk to students about different current issues the world, and particularly Brazil is facing in health and wellness. I had the opportunity to attend several of these seminars and one particular night was called “Cultural Night.” 

The night consisted of a guest speaker who spoke about multiple types of mosquitoes that were passing on life threatening viruses within specific regions of Brazil. Students had the opportunity to listen to the speaker and ask him several questions after his presentation. At the back of the main hall were the event was taking place several posters were up of students who had done projects on different health issues (very similar to our own showcases we hold at U of C in the Werklund School of Education). There, students could present their research, knowledge and engage in conversations regarding health and wellness. At the very end of the night, students were asked to come back together to watch a cultural show. This show consisted of many different acts of music and art. There were many performances that consisted of Brazilian dances, singing and other Latin American dances.

Being at a health focused school, I was at first confused at seeing the cultural performance because for some reason or other I thought it really had nothing to do with health education. I was told that several of the performers were students that attend the health college who had come together with students from surrounding art colleges to collaborate and put together a cultural performance. It was then that I realized that this was exactly interdisciplinary education in action at a post secondary level. The idea could very well be applied to Elementary, Middle, and High School level education. The health professors at the school explained that in Brazil there is the belief that you cannot have one field of thought without the support of its opposite. One professor explained it very simply he stated: “We believe that when we send out a doctor into the working field they cannot be a well rounded and established doctor if he doesn’t understand the people. The people who they are working with are more than just their physical health and well-being. They are people who create art and who make up our Brazilian culture.”  

His explanation of it sent chills up my spine. I would like so much for this idea to be implemented in a country like Canada. In Canada we have so much potential to introduce programs and interdisciplinary form of thinking at this level.  It starts with us teachers at the grade school level to establish this form of thinking in the minds of our youth. 


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My thoughts on schools in Japan

I have now been in Japan for almost nine weeks. I was homesick for a while. Being away from family and friends and being in a place that I am unfamiliar with took me out of my comfort zone to some extent. I am now loving and enjoying my time in Japan, especially the people. People in Japan will go above and beyond to help you, whether they are host family members, professors, teachers, students or girls from the dormitory. If you ask them for something, they go out of their way to help you. They are really kind and their culture seems like they focus on society (helping others) rather than focusing on self-interest.  

I feel like I have just adapted to this wonderful culture and comfortable navigating the place. However, I'm returning to Canada in about two weeks. I am also trying to speak in Japanese as much as I can. I did not take a Japanese course prior to this trip, so getting the opportunity to learn Japanese in September and being able to use a few words and phrases here and there has definitely helped me get around.


Schools in Japan:

 Jr. High School                                 Elementary School

I volunteered at an elementary and junior high school, two weeks each and mainly attending English classes. I realized there are some similarities and differences between Japan's education culture compared to Canada's. I find the differences very interesting. For instance, it is very common for students to eat lunch with teachers.It was very dissimilar from what I was used to when I first had lunch with students. I was uncomfortable walking in to a classroom with school lunch prepared for me while students waited for me. It was just out of the ordinary! But now I am used to it and it feels so natural to just sit in a desk and talk to students while having lunch. I actually like it. The students were extremely polite and they served us lunch. After lunch, some students would offer to clean up after me. I was quite surprised as this is not often seen in Canada.

I also learned that it is very common for students to do classroom cleaning. Not simply picking up garbage off the floor or putting away pencil crayons. But actual cleaning, such as sweeping the floor, emptying garbage, cleaning washrooms etc. Sometimes, teachers would help too. I swept the floor and took the garbage out at the first elementary school I visited in Sapporo. I worked as a team with students. I think this is a good idea because it teaches students to be responsible at an early age. Students would  more likely clean up after themselves and take care of the school and environment knowing that they will have to do classroom/school cleaning at the end of the day. I'd like to introduce this idea to Canada and perhaps use it in my future classroom. However, if I was the only teacher asking students to do classroom cleaning, it may be a conflict as other teachers do not require students to do classroom cleaning. My students may complain and say how this is unfair.

I also feel like students in Japan generally quiet down quicker when teacher asks for their attention, at least at the elementary and junior high school I volunteered at. Students can get really loud at the elementary school and teachers do not tell them to lower their voices, whereas teachers in Canada would immediately tell students to be quiet. But students in Japan stop talking almost immediately when teacher asks for attention. Additionally, during play/break time, it is very common for students to ask teachers to play with them. Overall, I feel like students in Japan generally follow order and are more integrated.

Volunteering at schools in Japan have been an incredible experience! I may even consider teaching here. I was able to compare Japan's education culture to Canada's. Both systems have pros and cons. Students in Japan seem to respect their teachers very much. When they see me in the hallway, students often say konichiwa (hello) even if they haven't met me.


Brief reflection

So far, I feel like I have developed at a personal and professional level. On a personal level, I feel like I have gotten out of my comfort zone. I have done numerous presentations and self-introductions that I am more confident when speaking in front of others, even in Japanese. However, I'm not sure if I will remain this way when I return to Canada. I guess I will see. On a professional level, interacting with people from another culture and practicing it allows me to understand them more at a deeper level. This is an important characteristic to have as a teacher because we must understand and know our students in order to be a great and trusting teacher.  

This journey has been a great experience so far. I feel like my outlook has broadened and I have learned so much. I look forward to see what the rest of the trip brings me as my journey in Japan comes to a close end.  

Some photos: 

Wearing a kimono



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