Michael Barltrop is currently Head of Literacy at Western Techincal-Commercial School in Toronto. He is an avid traveller, loving father, and part time geek.
I graduated from The Faculty of Education at Queen’s University in 2006. Since then I have taught in a number of schools for both the York Region District School Board and the Toronto District School Board.
I am primarily an English Teacher but have a strong background in both Special Education and Drama.
For those who really want to get into the nitty-gritty, I’ve taught:
ADA3M1, ADA3O1, ADA4M1, ADD3M1, ADV3X1, AWE3O1, CGG3O1, ELS2O1, ELS2O9, EMS3O1, ENG1D1, ENG1D3, ENG1D6, ENG1DP, ENG1L1, ENG1L9, ENG1P1, ENG1P9, ENG2D1, ENG2D3, ENG2D6, ENG2L1, ENG2L9, ENG2P1, ENG2P9, ENG3C1, ENG3E9, ENG3U1, ENG3U6, ENG4C1, ENG4U1, EWC4C1, EWC4U1, GLE1O9, GLE2O9, GLE3O9, GLS1O1, KGL
You can learn more about my qualifications on my OCT page.
In 2005 I had only ever been as far north as Algonquin Park in Ontario, and the only place I had visited outside of the country was Florida. The 22 hour drive along I-95 didn’t even include stops to investigate the other states along the way. In 2006, having just graduated from the Faculty of Education, I decided that had to change.
Two months, and one broke minivan later, I could say that I had driven coast to coast, experiencing everything the ten Canadian provinces had to offer. From no personal travel experience to the great Canadian road trip, I was hooked. But I never thought I’d ever leave the continent.
Leaving the Continent
Fast forward to March Break 2008; I discovered a seriously discounted ticket to Tokyo, Japan. That the flight ended up being twelve hours delayed, landing me in a foreign country that I knew nothing about, long after all the trains and buses had shut down for the night, is a story unto itself. But I had left North America, and realized that travel was possible.
The Influence of Students
Whenever I asked students what they wanted to do if they could do anything they almost always replied by saying, “travel the world.” When we looked at the barriers that prevented them from living their dreams, the answer was equally the same, “it’s impossible. No one can do that.”
In early 2009 I realized that I had to prove, not to myself, but to my students that it was not an impossible task. World Travel was something within everyone’s reach. After a few months of planning, I took a leave from my job as an occasional teacher and jumped on a flight to Iceland. I told my family, friends, and loved ones that I wouldn’t return until I had set foot on all seven continents.
Thirty-some-odd countries, and thirteen months late, I returned. Now when students talk about the impossibility of World Travel, I can act as proof that it is possible. I can point them in the right direction when they begin their own planning.
When students change the lives of their teachers, that’s a wonderful experience.
Teaching can be a challenging profession. It’s easy to burn out if you’re not careful. Lesson planning, marking, and resource development – while staying on top of current research, digital literacy tools, and progress reports can be exhausting.
In my first few years of teaching, I stayed up late into the morning marking, and reading. Without a doubt, I would have soon found myself burnt out, no longer loving my job. This happens to the best of us. The only way to avoid it? Find something you love. It can be a hobby, or a personal passion, or an ambitious longer-term goal. So long as you’re working towards it, things will work out just fine. And if they’re not, spend less time worried about work, and more time focused on yourself.
For me, my passion is my family. Though current research is still being read, and student work is still being marked, at the end of the day, I’m more concerned with my son’s progress learning to swim, or his ability to recognize letters and numbers. You’re job’s important – and being a teacher, working with students, is not something to take lightly. But at the end of the day, your job is still your job.
Family, that’s should always come first.
Part Time Geek
There was a time when being a geek was a bad thing. Now it seems like geek culture that once got you stuffed into a locker has become cool. My high school self would never have seen this coming.
From a young age I was sent to programming camp. I remember this vividly.
10 CLS 20 INPUT "Enter your name:";your_name$ 30 PRINT "What's up ";your_name$;"?"
I also remember hating it.
Somewhere along the line that changed. Which is a good thing, as I spent many late nights staying up coding in Q-Basic, and Pascal. Fast forward a couple of decades and there’s the Android Studio SDK, MIT App Inventor, and MIT Scratch.
Computers have become so important to our daily lives that if we don’t work to master them, they might end up mastering us. It’s always better to be a creator than a consumer.
As an English teacher, there are always exciting opportunities to enrich the curriculum with coding, and programming.
The nineteen eighties saw Comic Books transition to Graphic Novels. Right then and there, something changed. Comics weren’t just for children anymore. They could be discussed as Academic texts, just like any others.
Comic books have always been an important part of my life. I’m not one to look up my nose at anything. Newspaper Comics are as important as Super Hero comics which are as important as Independent graphic novels.
I’m lucky to live in Toronto which has one of the greatest comic book festivals of all times (which also happens to be free): TCAF.
For those looking to add Comic Books to their classroom, I have a few suggestions.
Dungeons & Dragons
We’re far removed from the Santic Panic of the nineteen-eighties. Now it seems most people understand that a game that encourages creative storytelling and cooperation is less of a game, and more of an enriching teaching tool that just happens to be incredibly fun.
There are endless ways to use Dungeons & Dragons to teach key literacy skills without students explicitly realizing what you’re doing.
I’ve led games for years now, and run Dungeons & Dragons clubs whenever I can. Students who are looking for a place to go, and a way to explore complex ideas and problem solve with their peers often find D&D a tool. And as I said, it just so happens to be incredibly fun.
Just as Comics took a long time to be accepted, Video Games are now being accepted as possible academic texts. I have used indie games like Limbo as well as popular mainstream games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to help students refresh and develop their literacy skills.
While there are some barriers to entry for using video games in a classroom, the rewards are definitely worth the investment.