Take a Trip With Me

What I come from, where I have been, and what it all means.

A Snapshot of Jessica Coleman

As strange as it might seem, answering the question "Who am I?", can often be more difficult than one might originally think. Some might begin with when they were born, where they grew up, and how these factors influenced their lives. If I were to start at the beginning, I would start on Thursday, March 16, 1989, when I entered into the world for the first time. Just under two years later, my brother was born, completing our nuclear family in the Ottawa east end suburb of Orleans. Growing up, I loved school and I loved learning. In addition to being on numerous school teams, I also took part in four different types of dance classes, as well as competitive gymnastics and soccer. Throughout it all, my parents were my biggest cheerleaders. They made sure they attended every dance recital, every gymnastics competition, and every soccer tournament. I always felt supported and loved and I believe that because of them the characteristics of love and support have been instilled in me, drawing me to situations where I can teach and nurture those around me.

Another reason why I was highly influenced by my mother in particular is because of her employment - for over thirty five years (she retired two Januaries ago), she was an elementary school teacher in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. I was incredibly lucky to have had my mother work in the school where I attended primary school, as I have witnessed firsthand all the behind the scenes workings of educators for almost as long as I have been alive. I saw all the early morning preparation work she had to do, all the grading of assignments at the dinner table, all the weekend lesson planning. She was always the first one into school in the morning, and (barring I did not have a lesson of some sort to attend) she was the last one to leave at night. I got to see how difficult and challenging her job was, but I also got to see how amazing it can be. When students identified with her information, and real learning took place, well that looked like an amazing thing that I wanted to be a part of.

Finding My Way

When the Tough Decisons Pay Off

Upon graduating from high school, I entered into my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa, majoring in Criminology and minoring in Psychology. You might wonder why after all the talk of how inspired I was by my mom and her work as an educator, I ended up with a degree in Criminology. Truth be told, it was mostly because of two television shows: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Criminal Minds". I loved these programs so much and wanted to be as cool as their characters, that my path was highly influenced by them. I enjoyed these four years of education immensely, and was incredibly motivated to get out into the workforce and start my career in the field of Criminology. Unfortunately, the world was not quite as ready or as excited to have me in the workforce. I had a very difficult time trying to find full-time, meaningful employment of any kind. It was a rough time for many new grads, and I felt it just as badly as the majority of my classmates. After quite a few years of feeling widely unfulfilled and figuring out exactly what I DID NOT want to do as a career, I decided it was time to make some major changes in my life. On July 22, 2014, I made the best move of my life and flew across the world to Taiwan.

I took a job teaching English as a Second Language in Taipei, Taiwan, and absolutely fell in love. At first it was an incredibly challenging transition, and I thought it was going to be a very long year. I felt out of my element, very unsure, and a little scared. But, just as it usually goes, with time things got better. Oh, and my amazing mother yet again played an essential role in supporting me and giving me the tools I needed to succeed. I remember vividly one night having a Skype conversation with my mom about what a hard time I had been having. She said to me this, "Honey, I'm going to tell you something very important that my mom said to me when I first started teaching, so listen carefully. You are the teacher. You are bigger than your students, you are smarter than your students, and you can do anything you put your mind to." I do not think I will ever forget this moment. Obviously change did not happen overnight, but things started to turn around. I ended up with such an enriching, rewarding experience, that I could not imagine myself doing anything else besides teaching.

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What Do I Have to Offer?

Living and working in a country other than Canada was an ashtonishingly eye opening experience, and I believe it has influenced me and my perspectives in a variety of important ways. Previous to this momentous move across the world, I had never lived anywhere other than Ottawa. I would like to think of myself as a relatively worldly person, but you really do not know what you are missing until you take a step in a new direction and are required to adopt a new lens. I also believe that many of the lessons I learned while working and teaching in Taipei can be translated to the incredibly diverse classrooms of Ontario.

Taiwan taught me the significance of making connections, nurturing those connections and holding those connections to the highest of importance. I have always held my relationships in the highest regard, but living away from my hometown family and friends, these relationships got me through all the highs and lows and every moment in between. I also made some fantastic new connections in Taiwan and I was given the chance to learn from people I may never have had the opportunity to learn from otherwise. The importance of collaboration, sharing ideas, and learning from colleauges was reinforced tenfold as I learnt how to navigate the difficulty that is teaching ESL students.

Although I was in Taiwan to be a teacher, I also took on the role of a student right from the beginning. I had to learn how to live in a new country, using currency I was not used to, using transportation I was not used to, and most importantly, using a language I had barely ever spoken before in my life. The majority of people in Taiwan speak either Mandarin, Taiwanese, or another dialect that most likely originated from one of these languages. On a daily basis I often felt inferior and unable to properly communicate my needs and wants to the people around me. Because of my experience with this, I believe I have been given a privileged inside look at what my students are often going to feel along the course of my tutelage. I will be better prepared to deal with my students' learning and the ways they may be feeling while learning in the classroom.

Lastly, and I believe most importantly, my experience in Taiwan has opened my eyes to the ways cultures can intersect and converge, and all the lessons we can learn when we are more aware of what is going on around us. We live in a multicultural world. Today's classrooms are incredibly diverse and the students in Canada have come from all over the world. I am conscious of this variance and I now plan on implementing as many multicultural initiatives in my classroom as I can to create an inclusive classroom where everyone belongs.