A day in the life of ... Dr Steven Van Zoost

For this Canadian teacher, 'The Shire' (aka his classroom) is a place of adventure, where students enjoy light-bulb moments of discovery and deep conversations about humanity

Ed Dorrell

I arrive at school early: early enough to greet my neighbouring colleagues as they arrive, early enough to boot up the class computer and open the files needed for the day, and early enough to meet students before teaching begins.

My classroom, nicknamed "The Shire", is like a second home to me. I have brought in lamps, art, student supplies and bookshelves that, to me at least, hold the promise of discovering new worlds. A highlight of my job is creating unexpected instances of learning for students - a "light-bulb" moment when the brain makes a new and meaningful connection. Often this occurs through literature but more usually it happens during our classroom conversations.

I teach three courses - two in advanced English with the 11th and 12th grades (ages 16-18) and a 12th-grade film and video production course - in one-hour classes at Avon View High School in Nova Scotia, Canada.

I teach five classes a day and every second day I have one hour for marking and preparation. Today is such a day, and I use that "prep period" to meet a colleague to discuss strategies for assessing speaking and listening skills in our courses. I have worked with this colleague for 18 years in various schools, grade levels and subjects and we love learning, and teaching, together.

At lunch, The Shire is always busy. Most often, I eat in my classroom - although I make a conscious effort to go to the small staffroom to chat. Not many teachers go there anyway; they, too, are busy with students. In my classroom, students spend their lunchtime on computers (often editing video footage for the film course that I teach), with me or with each other - in a space where they feel comfortable.

I check my emails to see what kind of workload awaits me. Some are from administration requesting paperwork about a student. And one from a student - who has made a late decision about what she wants to do after she graduates from high school - contains a request for a reference letter to apply for post-secondary education.

In the afternoon, to my great delight, a light-bulb moment occurs in my grade 11 English class. We are enjoying Macbeth and we make connections between different parts of the play and then with other texts that students have read in The Shire. One student remarks that the myth of Icarus relates to the tragic flaw of Macbeth and this opens a class conversation about humanity and how literature can help to frame our thinking about ourselves and the world. Early in the conversation I bow out and let them get on with it - after all, these are the students' moments of discovery, not mine.

I know that I am teaching important material, concepts and skills. For me, however, what I am really teaching is current and future citizenship.

After school, I make phone calls, respond to emails, start the marking and finish the preparation for tomorrow. I have made a vow to stay in The Shire to finish my work rather than taking it home with me. What this means is that sometimes I bring my dinner to school but most times I try to be home before sunset. There is no end to the work and no end to my passion for teaching, but there is a finite amount of time and energy in me. I turn off the lights in The Shire and smile about Macbeth and Icarus as I lock the door.

Your day

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Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell is deputy editor and head of content at the TES, former features and comment editor and former news editor. 

Find me on Twitter @Ed_Dorrell

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