A short conversation with…Cale Birk @birklearns
How long have you been teaching?
This is my fifteenth year in education. I began teaching in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia at Osoyoos Secondary. I taught Junior Science, Senior Biology, and PE for five years and loved every minute of it! OSS was a great school to start my career, and we had a fantastic Principal who inspired me to get into administration. I then moved to Prince George to become a Vice-Principal for three years, and then became a Principal. After two years of being a Principal in PG, I moved to Kamloops in 2006 to become the Principal of South Kamloops Secondary. I have been there ever since!
Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?
Absolutely. In my first year, I thought the most important thing in a classroom was control. I thought that classroom management came through keeping students busy with piles of trivial work, and through rewards and punishment. I docked marks for late assignments. At parent teacher interviews, I used to say meaningless things like “Your child struggles on tests”. I would give students ridiculous marks like 4% as a final grade.
Fortunately, I had a revelation very early in my teaching career. On the second to last day of that first year, I had a reluctant learner turn in about a dozen assignments. They were all late. They were all of substandard quality. And all I could think was that something inside of this student motivated them do all of this work at the end of the year for my class. How could I not mark it? I also looked critically at the work this student had done, not for what they had done, but for what I had assigned. It was crap, and I was ashamed. From that moment on, I never docked another late mark. And I vowed that I would never assign crap just to keep students busy, but rather that I would try to make my lessons so engaging that students were always busy learning rather than ‘regurgitating’ meaningless minutia like ‘questions 1-4 at the end of the chapter’.
Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?
I have only been tweeting for a few months, but without equivocation, it is the best perennial Professional Development that I have ever taken part in. I have never felt more invigorated as an administrator to learn, and I make time every day to get on to Twitter and connect with educators all over the planet. It is pleasantly overwhelming to discover all of the great things that others are doing in their schools and districts, and to feel as though you are truly part of a global learning community. My only regret is that I did not get on to Twitter sooner!
What’s the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?
I think it is important for a teacher to have a sincere and insatiable curiosity about their students. To be curious about what their interests are, where they have come from, what they already know, how they learn, and what experiences they bring to the classroom. By truly being curious about these things, students will know that the teacher cares about them, that they care about making that class meaningful, and that they care about discovering what each student knows. My first Principal told me “Create the class that you would like to learn in, and that you would like your children to learn in.” and I think that still applies today.