Jan. 25, 2016

When the teacher becomes the student

Desire for life-long learning brings Calgary teacher back to the classroom

Julie Nicolle starts her morning in a manner in which you might think a math teacher would—working with numbers. 

In Nicolle’s case, this means tackling one of her favourite diversions—a Sudoku puzzle, or two if she has time, as she sips her coffee and gets ready for her day at before a Grade Four class at Calgary’s Citadel Park School.

If you ask her, the veteran teacher (she’s been at it for more than 18 years) will tell you that math and numbers, and working with math and numbers with children, are two things she truly enjoys. 

But she’ll also tell you it wasn’t always that way. “For a long time, I didn’t know that I was passionate about teaching math,” says Nicolle, a graduate student in the Werklund School of Education.  

Nicolle, who is enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Master of Education (MEd) program, says that when the new math curriculum was implemented in Alberta in 2007, she found the change difficult as it was not at all similar to the manner in which she herself either learned math or understood about teaching math.

“The professional development I received at the time challenged my notions about teaching math and about math concepts in general, “and, she continues, “it soon became apparent that my assumptions about the way that students learn math were being challenged.” 

Learning a continual process

Since then, Nicolle has worked to extend her understanding of students as mathematical learners and has looked for ways to support them. When she found out about the Werklund graduate program focusing on Early Years’ Math Education, she signed up.

And Julie Nicolle says she hasn’t looked back.  As to how she feels about taking a seat in the midst of a class instead of leading it?  “I feel like I am always a student as well as a teacher, in the way that I am continually learning.  I’ve always been a very curious person with a wide range of interests.”
“I’ve always wanted to complete a Master’s degree for my own personal and professional development,” she says.

Self -reflection leads to discovery

For one of her courses this past summer, Nicolle wrote a paper, and in it, she reflected on her own teaching practice and the ways in which it has evolved over time.  

“When I began teaching, I didn’t realize that the knowledge one requires to be a teacher is really never-ending,” she explains.  “I thought that I would be on a steep learning curve in the beginning years of my career and that the learning might level off after I had a few years of teaching behind me.”

“As I wrote, I concluded that I will always be a work in progress as I seek to improve my practice.  The learning that we do in our lives is not just in the classroom.”

“Knowledge really is infinite.”