March 3rd 2010
"Grapefruit, Juicy Fruit" Jimmy Buffett
March certainly rolled around quickly, or at the very least I've been so busy lately I've scarcely noticed the passage of time. Here in Australia March means the end of summer but also the beginning of school. From what was largely a very quiet two weeks around the campus things have changed dramatically as the flood of new and returning students have made La Trobe a very busy place. More on school later.
I've been out exploring quite a bit since my last update and I've seen quite a bit of Melbourne itself. The city really is quite nice. It's very clean and there is such an eclectic mixture of old and new architecture that it all blends together in a way that seems planned from the start. The old Flinders Street Station in the heart of downtown was built in the 1850s while directly across the street is the very post-modern Federation Square built in 2000. It's an ever evolving being, this downtown core. There are busy, traffic filled roads rife with honking commuters and there are quiet, leafy side-streets filled with cafes and fashionable shops. I have to say that Australians love their coffee more than anyone I've ever seen before. Personally, I'll stick with tea.
I went out one night last week with some friends to a beer hall called "Little Creatures" on Brunswick Street for a few pints. Brunswick Street and the suburb as a whole is a very trendy place with a young population, lots of bars and cafes and a variety of vegetarian and alternative lifestyle restaurants. There is most definitely a hipster vibe emanating from the neighbourhood but not to the point of exclusion of anyone else. Little Creatures is a huge place (the interior looks like a converted packing house) with about twenty beers on tap so I've been sampling some local fare. White Rabbit Dark Ale is not bad. As pointed out by Al, the beer here is relatively expensive compared to back home while the wine is comparatively inexpensive. I might have to develop a taste for wine while I'm here.
Returning now to school, I've been through my first week of classes. As luck would have it all my classes are on Mondays and Tuesdays leaving the rest of the week free for other things. I will say that I'm going to need that extra time to get all my work done and when practicum starts in May I'll be in schools five days a week. The two lecture classes I have this term are called "Understanding Learning" and "Professional Practice". In essence one is more theoretically based (philosophy, learning styles, etc) while the other is much more practical (lesson planning, classroom management, etc). My professor for most of these lectures is the director of the program Ian Bentley. He first spoke to us on orientation day and I liked him right away. He was a high school teacher for 35 years in science here in Australia and he brings with him that kind of wisdom that only a lifetime of teaching can provide, not to mention the wealth of personal stories that come with it. He's tall, sixty-ish with white hair and round glasses. He has a natural warmth about him but takes his work seriously and stresses the importance of teaching as a profession like the practice of law or medicine. I think he made a lot of people in the lecture really re-evaluate their decision to come this far. It was a wake-up call for a lot of students who may have decided to go into teaching for the simple reason that they thought it was an easy career or that they didn't have anything else to do with their degree. How sorry I feel for them.
My other classes are my methods in History and English. These classes are hands on workshops with a variety of different instructors who are there to help us learn how to teach our subject effectively. A significant mantra of the course so far has been that if your students aren't learning then what you're doing isn't teaching. The reversal of focus in the last few years from the importance of the lecturer to that of the learner is I think in some ways a welcome change. It will, I hope, instil in me the proper attitude and skills necessary to effectively help every student under my care. That being said, I'm not naïve.Thinking about helping everyone from the safety of the lecture hall is one thing but actually having to do it out on the front lines is another. We'll know how ready I am in seven weeks!
One other item of note about school is that it was announced Monday that, if all goes to plan, Australia will have for the first time ever a national curriculum. Their education system, like in Canada, is state/territorially governed but the federal parliament has gotten all the states to agree to a single national standard curriculum for all grades up to 10. Any teachers reading this will understand how important this kind of decision is and the sweeping effect it could have on how Australian teachers do their jobs. It is, in the words of my History methods teacher, "a very exciting time and also a very scary one". There will be more on this later.
Aside from that I've made some friends and been to some parties which were great for getting to know not just other teaching students but other Australians as well. It's going to be an education, in more ways that one!