Thursday 31 December 2009

Looking Back, Looking Forward

With just under 10 hours of 2009 left, I suppose it's time I reflected on the year that has passed. All things considered, I don't wish to ever repeat the year. Although there were some high points, the private heartache I've had to deal with nearly broke me. Some were privy to it, and to those of you who showed love, support and a nearly limitless capacity to buy me beer, I am eternally grateful.

On a more uplifting note, 2009 was the year I finally figured out my place in the universe. Back in February, the local further education college was advertising for biology lecturers and I applied, not expecting to get interviewed. I actually did get interviewed, but did not get the position. In the meantime I took 10 days off to help out a UCL fieldtrip to Ainsa, northern Spain, by driving one of the minivans. My role was as a driver rather than demonstrator, but I couldn't resist helping out one group who were logging a stream section.

A postdoc overheard me and asked me if I was a teacher, and then said I had excellent teaching technique and a very clear way of explaining concepts and getting the students to investigate things on their own initiative. It was something I dismissed initially, but over the next month or so I mulled over it.

One day in May, out of the blue, I got a call from the FE college - they wanted to offer me a job. I accepted on the spot. I started in August, initially part-time, and I seem to have hit the ground running. The students like me and I like them. I consider myself pretty liberal, but I'm finding prejudices I didn't even know I had being knocked out of the water. I have one student who wants to be a palaeontologist because of me, and another who will, in a couple of days' time, know whether they've got into Cambridge University. A student who arrived in my class reluctant to smile actually laughed two weeks before Christmas.

I have a long way to go - I'm only four months into a two-year teaching qualification. I have some students who I just cannot see eye-to-eye with. I'm flying by the seat of my pants, and I've done a very dangerous thing - I've shown a degree of competence and IT literacy. This has served to give me more responsibility, more paperwork and more teaching hours.

I'm doomed!

Teaching and lecturing is by far the best thing I have ever done with my life. It is the most rewarding job I have had, and four out of five days it doesn't really feel like I'm "at work". I'm not going to make lots of new year's resolutions, but if I just say that I am going to work damn hard to be the best teacher I can be, and if everything I do works towards that, then I will end 2010 with a smile on my face.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Fractal Christmas Dinner

I did it. I finally got to try a Romanesco broccoli!

Paul and I had it with our roast pheasant for Christmas dinner. It does taste very similar to a cross between regular broccoli and cauliflower. And the fractal effect is even more noticeable with the Romanesco than it is with cauliflower or broccoli.

They are expensive to buy - about twice the price of regular broccoli at our local farm shop. But fortunately we have an allotment now, so we can grow our own!

Anyone else have any cool science food for Christmas dinner?

Saturday 19 December 2009

Things I Learned From My Students #2: Christmas 2009

Don't ask me how, but I survived the first term of teaching. And I managed to make enough of an impression to be asked to coordinate a new Level 1 (pre-GCSE) science course next term. I'll be branching out from Biology to teach general science (scientific units, method, how to draw apparatus etc) and a bit of Physics (space travel!), which I will thoroughly enjoy! Anyway, on with this half term's things I learned...
  1. Teenage boys are very often much better behaved than teenage girls.
  2. Not only does the word "dinosaur" have numerous different spellings, but my own name does too.
  3. There are some young people who have never heard of LOLcats.
  4. Younger students can easily be controlled by pointing to the lab skeleton and commenting that it was all that was left of the last student to answer me back.
  5. Hermaphrodites are the most fascinating subject ever.
  6. This is closely followed by brains.
  7. The precipitation on the day of the quadrat-throwing fieldwork is inversely proportional to the uptake of students for A-Level Biology.
  8. Some students know the most amazing facts, such as the ins and outs of the Battle of Thermopylae and the evolutionary history of the coelacanth (same student)!
  9. Kids of any age love playing "hangman" with new words.
  10. Dance music sounds just as dire in Korean as it does in English.
  11. Seeing my students get interviews and offers at universities fills me with more pride than I ever knew I was capable of.
  12. All the scientific literacy I embed in their brains will not stop them from genuinely believing the world will end in 2012.
  13. Apparently I get locked in the prep room overnight and at weekends.
  14. I am the only Biology lecturer who can identify blowflies.
  15. No teacher can compete with snow falling outside the lab window.
  16. It's probably just best if I don't tell the kids what is in haggis.
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