Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Collaboration and Maternity Leave Reflection

Teacher Musings:
Well, its been a whirlwind of a few months since I last posted, although the days go by much slower now. I have been officially on maternity leave for over a week, and I spent the time from Christmas break until my leave working hard to make the transition as painless as possible for the amazing teacher who is taking over my classroom. I am incredibly lucky that my students will continue to get taught, not babysat, while I am away.
In these last few months I have really found myself having to acknowledge one of my many weaknesses - I struggle to collaborate with other people. Let me be specific - I really enjoy and get a lot out of sharing ideas and discussing pedagogy with other teachers. These conversations have always improved my practice, and I really enjoy the process of taking ideas or even just germs of ideas from these conversations and making them my own. But (and you knew there was a but) what I struggle with is collaboration that involves an aligned curriculum. I am currently on a team with two of the most thoughtful and talented teachers I have ever worked with, and we have been lucky enough to have my equally thoughtful and insightful replacement planning with us for the last nine weeks. That means four thoughtful, interesting and dedicated teachers have been trying to align themselves with each other - and it has been damn hard (at least for me). What I have realized during my week of reflection (giving me ample time to read some teacher books and magazines I have been ignoring) is that part of the difficulty of this type of collaboration, for me, lies in the apparent similarity of all the people at the table. All of us our somewhat experienced teachers, but we all want to improve, and all of us know we don't necessarily have the "best" way of doing things. While we have similar goals and share some basic principles on the surface, I am starting to suspect that the actual goals and principles that drive our teaching may be just different enough to cause some tension without being able to pinpoint where that tension resides. Often as a group we will come up with a plan, or an assignment, or a reading, that seems fine at the time, but then when I go to use it, I realize that there are problems I didn't see. Most of this is due to a lack of time - we don't get nearly enough planning time together, and the time we do have is often squished between classes, which is not always conducive to real work. However, I have also realized that I have some strong beliefs and principles that drive my teaching that I was not acknowledging to myself or to the group. This meant I was pushing back on some ideas without knowing exactly why, which was frustrating to me, and I'm sure frustrating to others as well. So, in the last week I have decided to really reflect on and think about the principles that drive my own decision making on teaching, and really critically think about how those principles are useful and not useful. I am hoping that this will make me both a better teacher and collaborator next year. I think that the more transparent I am with myself and others, the more productive any planning can be.

Yummy Stuff:
Whenever I am feeling stressed or down (which has been off and on the last few months - its hard to tell what is mood swings and what is stress!) I love to have breakfast for dinner. For me, there is nothing more exciting than waffles and tofu scramble at the end of a long day - it feels like a special treat! Tofu scramble is one of those things that I have seen recipes for, but never used one recipe - instead I have taken ideas from a lot of places, but essentially made my own. So, here is one of MANY versions of a delicious tofu scramble:

Tofu Scramble:
1 block of firm or extra firm tofu (your choice)
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 a small onion, chopped
1 1/2 cup of chopped veggies (Your choice - I often use a stir-fry mix from Trader Joes, or veggie leftovers from other dinners. I suggest broccoli, bell pepper, mushrooms and carrots as a good start)
1 1/2 TB of tamari/soy sauce
1 TB cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp turmeric

1. Drain the tofu and crumble it over a saute pan with you hands. I like to have big chunks that break down more when cooking, but you can crumble it to the consistency you want.
2. Cook the tofu over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring every once in while - not too much (maybe 2-3 times). You can drain out some of the water that will appear if you want - it will help make a firmer scramble.
3. Push the tofu to the side of the pan and pur in the oil. Saute the onions for 5 minutes
4. Put in the rest of the veggies with onion and saute for 3-5 more minutes. Then, mix the veggies in with the tofu.
5. Pour in the tamari and stir it around to coat all of the tofu and veggies.
6. Put in all the other spices EXCEPT for the turmeric. Stir around to coat the tofu and veggies
7. Finally, put in the turmeric and stir it thoroughly so that it coats all the tofu. This will give it that nice yellow look, along with some flavor.
8. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are cooked through. Enjoy (with waffles!)

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