Monday, November 12, 2007

Detour: Heather Doiron, Past & Present

I am often amazed at Alex's great luck. In school, he had some great teachers, willing to work with him (and me!) and some really great Teacher Assistants working 1:1 with him in most of his classes for most of his school life.

In the summer months, he attended swimming lessons, actually "Red Cross Swimming Camp", which involved 2 weeks of half day swimming lessons (at the beach, not in a pool) as well as other fitness and nature activities. Again, he had 1:1 staff, provided by the Red Cross, and their reports made it obvious that they enjoyed the challenge and the kid. The staff all knew his name and they were always happy to see him return every year.

As well, every summer during his elementary school years he was involved with The Education Coalition. For a couple of years, Ben was involved in this program as well. The program was dissolved in 2006 (due to a lack of funding I believe) and taken over by The PEI Council of the Disabled (who recognized the obvious need & success of the program), renamed The Summer Tutoring Program.

"The Summer Tutoring Program is a Province-wide service first offered by the Council in 2006. The program is for children with disabilities who would otherwise lose school and literacy skills over the Summer months. The program had been offered for 19 years by an organization called the "Education Coalition" [which has now been dissolved]. The program is structured to meet the individual needs of each student.

A number of Instructional Assistants are hired across the province and each are assigned a number of children to work with. In the weeks before the end of school each child's teacher or resource specialist supplies the Instructional Assistant with an individualized program to implement over the Summer months.

The program is generally delivered in each child'
s home. However, in circumstances where the home cannot be used, an alternative setting in the child's community is found. The goal of the program is to help children and youth maintain their skills and prevent regression of those skills when they are not in school during the Summer months."

Most of the tutors come out of the Education program at UPEI, students on their way to being teachers. Again, Alex had the most wonderful luck with the tutors he was assigned every year. The program was devised by me, with help from his SLP, Teachers Aide and teacher. Each tutor he had brought their interests into his program as well. The emphasis was primarily on communication. For most of his elementary years, text (typing) was his primary method of communicating but speech, which had only just started midway through grade 1, was encouraged and formally worked on as well. Because of my own (extreme) discomfort level with having people in my house, most of his assigned hours happened out in the community. Here's how I have described this in the past -
"The idea was to take him out to cool places and to do cool things and give him all the more reason to type about where he'd been and what he'd done. So... since by then I had 4 kids and didn't have the luxury of giving Alex my undivided attention and taking him cool places (many of which would be my idea of hell mind you...) I could have this young energetic person keen to take him places, all I had to do was pay gas and expenses. As well, I knew Alex would make a difference in these kid's lives. I probably told them, like I used to tell every teacher "you're really lucky to have Alex in your class...... you don't understand what I'm telling you right now, and may even think I'm nuts, but by the time your time with him is done, you'll understand"
--and they did."

Along with all the various skills he learned & practiced doing all these different things, they would return home where he would write up a report, diary form, of what he had done, where he had gone, the weather, the best and worst parts etc. Looking back of the reports filed by these tutors, they were all very good, some of them were truly exceptional.

Most we've never seen since, some we have - one turned out to be the daughter of Gary & Carol Craswell (race directors of the Wally Rodd), and then there's Heather Doiron. Although we've only seen Heather a handful of times since she worked with Alex (I think she was his very first tutor), we've followed her career and one can't help but run into one of her many siblings around here. Alex & Heather loved working with each other, Alex still has a great love of music as well as some demonstrated talent, and I can't help but think that Alex helped Heather in her chosen teaching field.

Finding the right note
A teacher from P.E.I. has been using music to make it easier
for her students in Japan to learn history

The Guardian

When Heather Doiron started teaching in Japan 11 years ago, she faced some challenges.

"How do you get first- and second-year university students with limited English to study American history? How do you get them to come to class?

"And how do you connect with them emotionally?" asks Doiron, who conducts her classes in English at Aichi Shukutoku University in Nagoya.

After examining these issues, Doiron, who is a classically trained vocalist from P.E.I., came up with the idea of adding a musical element to her classes.

"Many chapters of American history have been turned into songs. For instance, when we came to the section on slavery we listened to Amazing Grace and learned the story behind it," says Doiron.

The popular hymn is about its author, John Newton, a slave trader who converted to Christianity after surviving a terrible storm.

After listening to the story, the students' attention was piqued.

"They loved the class. So we started exploring the passion and the feelings behind songs to get them to study history," she says.

The next song was The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down by Robbie Robertson.

"It's about the horrors of the American Civil War.

"The lyrics tell of Virgil Cain watching as the Union Army General George Stoneman destroys the railroad where he makes a living, and then witnessing the fall of Richmond, Virginia.

"Virgil relates and mourns the loss of his brother in the lyrics, 'He was just 18, proud and brave/But a Yankee laid him in his grave," says Doiron who puts countless hours into preparation for her classes.

Her passion for teaching is appreciated by her students.

"Heather's classes have encouraged me to become interested in many topics. Now I know that I can learn history from music, movies, novels and not just from a textbook," says first-year student Mika Masui in an online interview.

It's a passion that has followed Doiron throughout her life.

Doiron, who has studied classical music and jazz since she was 14, always wanted to be a teacher.

In 1996, after graduating from UPEI with a bachelor of education, the North Rustico native moved to Japan to teach high school and university.

She also took her love for music with her, playing in clubs and recording CDs.

Her creativity in music has helped her teaching career.

"As a teacher, whether you're helping someone cross the road or plant a garden there's part of you in there. You're creating something.

"So being able to draw on your experiences is important," says Doiron who returned home to P.E.I. this past summer.

"As a teacher, I try new approaches and hope that they're going to work with my students. I like to plant the seed, do the watering and see what will happen," she says.

At a glance

* Who: Heather Doiron.

* Influences: Nina Simone, Sheila Jordan, Diana Krall, John Coltrane, Bach.

* Teachers: Pamela Campbell, Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton.

* CDs: After Midnight, Heather Doiron & Co.

* Getting in touch: ,

1 comment:

Marla said...

Tutoring is great. We are blessed to have found an amazing tutor.