News, Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Matthew Houghland, student teacher

June 17, 2015 - By Leon Kalligerakis

Matthew Houghland was a social worker working with children with disabilities when he decided to enrol at Simon Fraser University. It was while taking part time courses that Matthew, a mature student, discovered his direction through a major in First Nations Studies. The program taught Matthew the impact education has on society and also helped him understand what his role in education could be.

Through his experiences, Matthew believed that there was a way to fuse his passion for academics and education with the social and relationship foundations he was making with people and the community. With a visible need for educators educated in the implications of colonization and Aboriginal peoples, his past experiences and teachings, applying to the PDP program and becoming a teacher felt like a natural step.

University Highlands (UHE) implements Learning In Depth school-wide, an imaginative approach to learning developed by SFU’s Dr. Kieran Egan. The PDP Module based at UHE has the opportunity to participate in this innovative pedagogy as beginning teachers. As a student teacher, Matthew attended classes within an elementary school classroom. With his community first mindset, Matthew fit right in. “You are being taught while you teach,” said Matthew. “The school teaches teachers to become teachers while teaching others,” added University Highlands Principal Lori Driussi. “It’s a collaborative learning approach.”

The Burnaby Community Module provided Matthew with hands on experience and a better feel of being a teacher. “As a mature student, Matthew’s previous experiences have helped him,” said Sheila Rawnsley, PDP Coordinator. “The kids see student teachers like Matthew learning while they learn creating a unique community-based environment.”

Emily Ginter is Matthew’s School Associate. An SA is a teacher working in the BC school system willing to mentor pre-service teachers. Already an SFU alumna with a BA in English and a Graduate Diploma in Education, Emily recently completed her M.Ed. in Educational Practice with the Faculty of Education. Both Emily and Matthew note that students go into PDP thinking its one thing, and then start their practicum and their perceptions towards teaching change. Emily drew from her experience as an Education student to help Matthew identify where within the teaching community he fit. “As a School Associate, Emily’s role is to help guide Student Teachers and let them figure out where their place is,” said Lori.

Matthew notes that a lot of his success stems from Emily who has been instrumental in his development. “We are part of a teaching community,” said Matthew. “The mentorship and apprenticeship is second to none.” Emily has been able to apply her Graduate Diploma experience of metacognition and inquiry-based learning into her classroom. Her education at SFU has changed her teaching practice.

PDP students are exposed to teaching and engage with real life environments right from the onset. John Nanson, a Faculty Associate in the program, noted that Matthew has been a leader pulling from his experience working with kids with disabilities and from his degree in Native Aboriginal Studies and Emily has embraced technology and progressive assessment practices. Both have successfully brought into the classroom what they have learned during their coursework at SFU.

Lori, John, Emily and Sheila all agree; Matthew came into the classroom ready. There’s a maturity level in his approach, understanding that he is responsible for a space and a group of young minds where social, emotional and academic learning is a priority. “Matthew knew that the students were the focus,” said John. The success of Matthew and Emily is based on a partnership. “Matthew is so good that he can get the class going with ease,” added Lori.

As an SA, Emily focuses on the strengths of her student teacher and how she can help. The goal for Matthew and Emily is to enrich the classroom experience for the students. “Emily comes in and adds the support needed,” said Sheila. “Not all students come in at the same place. Matthew and Emily focus on how to help each student.”

When asked if they had any advice for new students in PDP, Matthew was quick to respond. “Approach the program with an open mind. Learn from the experience. You’re going to get experiences good and bad, difficult and challenging,” he noted. “In order to succeed in any program you have to remove all preconceived notions and be open to feedback. Be open to bettering yourself no matter your path.”

Both Emily and Matthew agree that those who don’t do as well are the ones that think they know what it’s going to be like. Education is always changing. Every class, teacher and student is different. You must learn from your experiences. Be prepared to work really hard. Learn to teach while you teach.