Profile: Education for the New Generation

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Education is one of the first things that come to mind when discussing Montreal. With access to six universities and twelve junior colleges in an eight kilometer radius, Montreal, Quebec (Canada) has the highest proportion of post-secondary students of all major cities in North America. This represents approximately 248,000 post-secondary students, one of the largest numbers in the world. Many innovative people in the field of education have made countless changes to the educational system in Montreal, with many others still working hard to make their mark on the way teachers educate their students and in those students' lives. From teachers in kindergarten, elementary, and high schools, to professors in colleges and universities, to principles, and any number of other educators, there are innumerable people pursuing change and innovation in education. One person who strives to improve the education system in Montreal, and who has exhibited a history of innovating, experimenting with, and rethinking how we should better educate the new generation is Ofra Aslan.

Ofra Aslan is a part-time instructor at Concordia University, an Assistive Technology Specialist and a private tutor and consultant. "I always knew that I was going to work with children. When I was young, I used to pretend play with my friends and I was always the teacher," Ofra said. After completing Cegep, Ofra went to McGill where she completed her Bachelor in Education (BEd) degree. Ofra believed in herself as a teacher, "I remember that the first time I stood in front of a class; I knew that it was right for me". Upon completing her degree, Ofra moved to BC where she worked in different educational settings and then went back to school to complete a Special Education diploma at the University of British Columbia. She got married and came to Montreal where she got a job teaching children with special needs in an inclusive setting. She continued teaching for several years in an elementary school in Montreal working as both a classroom teacher and as a resource teacher. She then went back to school to complete her Master's degree in Educational Technology with the goal of perhaps changing careers. She tried working for CN but she did not have any passion for it. She, therefore, went back to working in an elementary school as a technology coordinator. In this capacity, she observed the effect technology had on children's motivations and decided to go back to university to study the impact of technologies on children's learning. As a doctorate student, Ofra spent her time being involved in research related to children and technologies in general, and the use of technology with children with special needs in particular. Her dissertation thesis looked at the impact of oral retelling of folktales on cycle three students writing skills. Technology was used throughout her research to allow students to listen to stories and collaborate to retell them using an online tool called VoiceThread. Ofra is now a part time instructor in the Faculty of Education at Concordia University, teaching courses related to technology and education. She also has a tutoring and consulting business where she focuses on using technology to remediate academic difficulties of children with special needs.

Ofra believes that Quebec has a good curriculum in its schools and educational institutions. It recognizes the impact that technologies and globalization has on the generation of kids that are being raised today and the skills that are needed to succeed in a global economy. At the same time it is being based on current research in the field of education focusing on a constructivist approach to learning. The competencies that teachers need to develop alongside the subject area are essential for students' future success. However, at the same time, Ofra is concerned about the statue of the education system in Montreal: "The classroom size is large, which makes it difficult to provide the best quality education." Also she finds that the increasing number of students with special needs in the inclusive classroom makes the teacher's job much harder.  She is also concerned about the use of technology in the school system: "Many of the teachers do not have the training necessary to incorporate technology into the curriculum and end up using technology for low-level skills such as word processing." Ofra believes that teachers need proper training and modeling so that they could use technology to support students learning; that is why she appreciates the opportunity to teach pre-service teachers courses that are related to technology integration in the classroom. Ofra is hoping that when these teachers go into the school system they will use technology effectively to support students and curricular objectives.

Currently, Ofra Aslan is focusing on studying the impact of technologies on children with special needs' literacy skills.

 Our Interview:

Me: Ofra, what does it mean to be a teacher/Professor?

Ofra: being a teacher means that you are responsible for students' learning. Therefore, a teacher or a professor needs to first explore in depth the subject that he/she is teaching. It means planning a curriculum that covers the topics while being flexible enough to be modified if necessary to address students' need. I believe that teachers need to be available to students and provide constructive feedback on assignments and tests. I also think that it is necessary for teachers to reflect at the end of each session on what has gone well and what should be changed. This reflection and evaluation is also necessary when the course or the semester has ended so that a revision could be made to the course content and structure.

An elementary and/or high school teacher is also responsible for his/her students well being. In this case, it is the teacher's obligation to notice any change in a student's behavior or if a student is being harassed or bullied and take the necessary steps to ensure student's safety.

Me: why did you choose the field of education, teaching in particular?

Ofra: in my opinion, it is important to enjoy what we do in life. I get this great feeling when I see that a student understood the material or learnt something new or made great progress. Teaching gives me great satisfaction.

Me: what are some of the challenges in the domain of teaching?

Ofra: the biggest challenge is managing the diverse needs of the students. At the elementary level, it is mostly about students' behavior or managing the diverse learning styles. At the university level it is also managing the diverse needs of the students who may have other courses and obligations and setting up the class to meet these needs.

Me: how do you define good teaching? What are the criteria of a good teacher?

Ofra: when we talk about the quality of someone's teaching, we often think about techniques, content, and presentation. However, many teachers have tremendous knowledge but fail to communicate it resulting in students boredom or frustrated. Therefore, in my opinion, good teaching has less to do with knowledge and skills and more to do with attitude and towards students, subject, and work.

A good teacher:

• Expects all students to succeed;

• Is willing to adapt and change to meet students' needs;

• Is comfortable with not knowing;

• Reflects on his/her lessons;

• Is always willing to learn and explore new methodologies;

• Enjoys his/her work and students.

Me: how do you view the student- teacher/professor relationship, do you think students should behave with the professors like friends, or is it necessary to maintain a disciplined environment to create a good classroom environment? 

Ofra: I do not think that teachers should be their students' friend. I believe in a professional relationship.

 Me: what do you think must be changed in the current educational system in Montreal?

I believe that the class size has to be reduced. It may be unrealistic but if teachers had a maximum of 15 students in their class, I am sure that there is going to be a sharp rise in students' success. I also would like to see more gym periods in a school week. Recent surveys have shown that girls perform better academically than boys. Research has also shown that boys need to move around more. More gym period will address this issue.

Me: do you find that newly graduated teachers are ready to teach? Please explain.

Ofra: like any profession, good teaching comes with experience. Yes I believe that the BEd program provide teachers with enough background and experience to teach. With supported principal and co-worker he/she will develop the necessary competencies that we attribute to good teachers.

Me: do you believe that the current university teaching programs are well structured? 

Ofra: I don't know enough about teaching programs at universities to comment.

Me: qhat are your current research interests and projects in the field of education?

Ofra: I am interested in the impact of technologies of children with special needs' literacy skills.

Me: if you didn't get the chance to teach, what would you have chosen as a profession?

Ofra: I would have become an architect.

1 Comment

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