Each of our teachers are truly unique and special. It is such a joy to know when we've found someone new to add even more awesomeness to the team. Mr. Ryan Cox is just that. He joined us for the summer to help run Camp Via Vita and will be joining our teachers this fall for Via Vita Academy's Year 2. He is talented, enthusiastic and passionate. What more could we ask for? Please give Mr. Ryan a warm welcome and enjoy his first, of many, posts to our blog.
I’ll often find myself at parties, self- stationed near the snack table, meeting new faces for fun, and inevitably talking about teaching. Recently, though, my side of such talks on teaching has enjoyed a new and exciting, long-awaited opening line.
Let me explain how the convo used to go, first.
“So Ryan, what do you do?”
For me, the seemingly straightforward answer has long been, “I’m a teacher.” However, it’s that classic follow-up question that so often intrigues me:
“What do you teach ?”
Well, the go-to, safety-first response has always been simple enough: “English, Social Studies, and Music,” and yes, it’s kind of a kickstarter for further conversation, but if I’m being honest, this answer sounds like Water Soup must taste: flavourless and predictable.
(Spoiler Alert: the following is the opening line that’s since been refined.) For the longest time, if the person I was meeting seemed genuinely curious, I would answer them with something a little less obvious...
“I teach the truth, as often as I can afford to.”
Sounds cool, right? This answer would almost always raise eyebrows, and I would always get a kick out of my own cleverness.
Still, sometimes I would be asked to explain what I meant. On those occasions The conversation would start sounding a lot clunkier, more serious, and far less cool and clever. Here’s an example:
New Face raises an eyebrow in curiosity. “Do tell!”
“Well, what I mean is that the subjects I teach are traditionally flexible...for me. As an English teacher, the typical direction I’m given is: Short Stories > Novels > Essay > Poetry > Play > Projects in between. So basically I’m given carte-blanche. Same goes for Social Studies; the materials are more concrete to be sure, but really, past Latitude, Longitude, the Compass Rose and Western Europe on a map, the cornucopia of human endeavour is mine through which to pick. And Music? After “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” the rest of the sky’s the limit! So really, with loose guidelines like those, how could I not afford to be truthful in my teaching ?”
New Face nods, grabs a piece of celery from the vegetable tray, douses it in ranch dressing, and chomps on it contemplatively while I get farther and farther from my once-cool line. ..
“I mean sure, I like getting to teach interesting things, but then I look around the classroom and see twenty to forty different learners. That’s when I shrug and just explore materials that excite me , in the hope that my excitement proves contagious to all of them. And yeah, it sometimes does. But what if the student enjoyed something similar to those carte-blanche guidelines so typically given to me ? That way students might feel like they have some genuine control over their own learning, and get to explore materials more likely to excite them. Doesn’t that sound like something much closer to the true nature of education?”
New Face smiles and says “Of course it does!” Then, having finished their celery stick, they move on to the plate of dessert squares, find a nanaimo bar, and (while I delve into act three of my monologue) begin nibbling away...
“I mean, we’ve both gone through school, so we know that a school where students are given a lot of control over what they learn is pretty much fantasy; in most schools, everyone--the students, the teachers, and the parents--still expect that the student be evaluated objectively, and mostly through the materials that the teacher tells them to explore. As a result, I still end up functioning in the classroom as that stereotypical sage on the stage--standing tallest, oldest, and so presumably wisest at the front of the class, wielding the whiteboard marker like a wand and sharing tidbits of my ‘invaluable’ knowledge through methods of my choosing. And while I may well convince them tha--”
New Face interjects with a question meant to help me get to my point.
“Sorry, but what is the truth that you wish you could afford to teach more often ?!”
“Oh! That there is no singular path in education, for either the student or the teacher. That both deserve a lot of freedom to learn effectively; students deserve the freedom to explore more material that engages them personally, and teachers deserve the freedom to instruct more around those materials. Alas, with class sizes and curricula the way they’re currently set, I feel like I can only afford for my classroom to work like this a couple of weeks of the year.”
In solidarity, New Face shakes my hand and says,“May you find a place where you can teach like that all the time!” Then I straighten my back a bit, and have a go at that dessert plate.
So recently, I found a new school that teaches this way all the time, which is how I came up with my new opening line.
Last night, at a party, near the snack table, I once again met a new face, who soon asked what it is that I do. After I told them that I’m a teacher, they asked what it is that I teach. This time I had a new answer:
“I teach at Via Vita, which means ’Way of Life.’ That’s what we teach--how for every learner, education is exactly that: A Way of Life.”
Then, beaming with confidence over New Face’s curiosity, I grabbed a celery stick off the snack table and started talking.
Please welcome a post from our oldest student, Charlotte Jones. She came to us at the start of grade nine looking for something different, not sure what she had gotten herself into here at Via Vita. It didn't take long for Char to become everyone's big sister. Winning this year's student-choice award for kindness and strong moral character, Char is a true role model for all of our students. She sent us a little note to post on the blog that we hope you'll enjoy reading. A true leader and inspiration for all of our students. We enjoyed every minute of being your teachers, Char. Have a wonderful summer!
My name is Charlotte. I am a grade nine student that loves Via Vita.
Next year, I will be in grade 10.
I don't want to go to public school because you don't form the same relationship that you do with the teachers at Via Vita. They make sure you are caught up and that you understand everything you're doing. I have had more laughs than ever this year. I have developed so many memories and made so many long term friends coming to Via Vita. It makes for an unforgettable childhood. I wouldn't change or trade my grade nine school year for anything.
I have never not wanted to leave school at the end of the year. I love my second family.
Something I will never forget is being called up onto the stage because I won the student choice award and bursting into tears because I realized I was around so many people that I love and so many people that love me.
I never knew what it was like to have a big family. I do now.
(From Left to Right: Helen, Charlotte)
Helen and I, with the help of our classmates, created a list of interesting stuff you might want to know about Via Vita Academy!
1. We are a big family.
2. There are 11 different grades but it feels like one.
3. We learn off of each other.
4. We cook and do physical activity everyday.
5. We have performances and cook for the families at the end of every term.
6. Grade 7 and up get to walk to Tim's or Avery's at lunch.
7. We get a lot of one-on-one learning.
8. We call our teachers by their first names.
9. We laugh a lot.
10. At Via Vita it feels like you leave your home in the morning and to another home.
Please welcome our guest blogger, Ms. Kaylea. She joined us for a day last week to observe our teachers, gather ideas, and learn what we do! As a teacher in a small school as well, Ms. Kaylea was hoping to gain insight into how she might be able to apply some of our philosophies to benefit her students. We were overjoyed to offer Ms. Kaylea some professional development that she could immediately apply to her own teaching. After her visit, she wrote us this little note to post on our blog. that we were eager to share with you! Enjoy the read!
Hi! My name is Kaylea and I am a classroom teacher at a small school in rural Nova Scotia. I am currently teaching a class of students from grade primary to grade three. I contacted Adele for the opportunity to visit Via Vita Academy to learn how they run their multiage classrooms.
When I walked into the school I was greeted by the warm, smiling faces of the staff members. I could tell right away that they were oozing with passion as they engaged with students and parents.
We started the day with a morning meeting. All teachers should run their mornings this way! There is a bullet point agenda written by the students on the front board. What makes it unique is that every person has an opportunity to add their thoughts, ideas and concerns to the agenda. I noticed immediately that teachers didn't have to waste time ordering students to pay attention and listen to one another. I couldn't help but smile while I watched all of the students sitting around comfortably. After we sang Oh Canada every student dispersed and knew exactly where to go and what to do.
While I floated around for the day, I was able to see students bake, do yoga, read, write, complete individualized math activities and work on their term projects. I had the pleasure of watching a presentation from a student in grade 8, a theatre class, chore time AND I enjoyed delicious cupcakes to celebrate the April birthdays!
I was amazed by the teachers’ abilities to question. They let their students draw their own conclusions and only ask more questions to allow them to dive deeper into their thinking. It made me realize how much more questioning I could be doing in my own classroom!
As a public school teacher visiting Via Vita Academy, I left the school feeling jealous but also inspired. They're on to some big things and will be graduating students who will be ready for life beyond school.
I can't thank the staff and students of this wonderful school enough for the inspirational experience!
Welcome to Our Blog
Each post is written by a supportive member of Via Vita Academy, be it a teacher, parent, student, community member, who is invested in the topic of education. Take a read and comment below!