Kayla West teaches Grade 12 Biology (SBI4U) here at OVS. When asked to describe herself in five words she said: “Enthusiastic, dramatic, creative, adventurous, and passionate”. Continue reading to learn more about one of our fantastic teachers.
Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I’m from the Toronto area, Scarborough to be exact, but I didn’t always live here. Although my family is from this area generally, I was born in Whitehorse, Yukon! I moved to Toronto when I was 5 years old and have lived here ever since.
When did you realize you wanted to become a teacher?
I’d have to say my first experience wanting to be a teacher was when I was in grade school, playing teacher at home with my sister and cousin. It was very fun pretending to be the strictest teacher I could imagine. Then, while I was in high school, I felt drawn to the work of teachers by joining many peer leadership programs and co-operative education in the classroom. My secret is also that I love to mark and would often ask my teachers in grade school if I could help.
Where did you go for post-secondary and your teaching degree? What did you study/specialize in?
I went to post-secondary school at York University for 5 years. There, I studying Music as my major and later signed up for a minor in Biology, though I wish it had been a major as my favourite part is the labs. I even took a summer course out of Western University that took a group of students to New Brunswick for Marine Biology. After completing my undergrad at York University, I went to Queen’s in Kingston for the new, 1.5-year Consecutive education program. I studied there for 16 months straight. Although intense, it was well worth it. I specialized in Music education, but I have a shared passion for Biology and Writing.
How long have you been teaching in total? How long have you taught with OVS?
Right out of teacher’s college, I got hired for the JET Programme, which is teaching English in Japan. I worked there, on an island in Nagasaki Prefecture, for three years before returning to Canada. Since coming back, I have worked with OVS for nearly 1 year, so in total I have taught for 4 years. I also did a lot of volunteering in high schools and for music programs before teachers’ college.
Do you prefer teaching online or in a classroom? Why? How do they compare?
At first, I definitely thought I would only be able to teach in person, seeing as for music programs it is ideal to be there with a group of students holding instruments and directing the scores without internet lag and half-body screens. Even so with science, I think the labs would be very fun done in person with groups, but I am not opposed to online teaching. I think it possess many benefits, including being able to study and learn from anywhere as long as you have internet access. You can learn from someone who lives across the world and never have to leave your county. You can also set your own pace, which for some like myself may find difficult if they have too many other things on the go at the same time, but with the right time management tools in place like reminders and calendars, it can be possible. I think it also reduces the amount of time we have to travel and helps reduce our ecological footprint. There are still some aspects to in-person teaching I like, such as face to face feedback and the group work and socializing, but there is also a freedom that online learning provides.
What is your favourite part of being a teacher? What about this career do you find rewarding?
I’ve always enjoyed learning. I find it fun to share ideas and learn new things about the world around us. My favourite part about teaching is hearing back from the students that they want to know more. When a student emails me with a question and I find I cannot answer it from the top of my head, they inspire me to look into it further so I can help them better to understand it. I love working with the students one on one to help them understand the concepts in the text and lessons. Hearing from them is part of what gives me joy every day when I sit at my desk to work. In regards to the career of teaching, I think students have just as much to offer as my degree. Learning from them about different views, perspectives and new trends is something I look forward to. Teaching is about them and what they know, need to know and want to know, as well as what they already know and have to share. Being able to learn from each other is the best thing about this career.
What are some of your favourite pastimes, aside from teaching?
I love playing in a band, and unfortunately at this time, I cannot. Learning to play various instruments is fun and challenging, like playing the Taiko drum, fure and koto in Japan. My ultimate favourite thing to do though, besides making music and being outside in nature, is writing. I have been collaborating on a novel idea with a friend for almost three years now and we hope to self-publish our first novel within the year. I am so excited, I can hardly stop myself from writing, and in this short time we have collaborated on more than 10 novels worth of pages, including side stories, back stories and the main story idea. I also have a passion for collecting things, like coins, stamps, leaves, feathers, rocks and my all-time favourite – fossils!
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your OVS students?
Explore the site and don’t just read the material provided. I find the more you dig into a topic, idea or concept, the better you’ll understand how it works practically and how you can apply it to other things in real life. Also, taking notes. I’m a note taker, colour coded pens and charts, drawing pictures. For me, that’s the best way to learn and review. Reorganize what you learn in a notebook. Search the web for diagrams you understand and copy them into that notebook. Read current research on topics you’re learning and see how the science is advancing. It’s a growing field, and just because it’s in the textbook, doesn’t mean everything about the topic is known yet. And if you don’t understand something, never be afraid to ask. Whether it’s on the discussion forum or in a private email, maybe your peers will have an answer, or you can spark a conversation with them or myself. I love the concept of the forum, but I rarely see it used. I would love to hear more from the students outside of the assessments.
Who Would You Say Is Your Biggest Influence/Role Model?
This is hard for me to choose, as I’ve had various role models depending on the interest. I’d have to say my biggest influence has been perhaps one or two of the authors I read; Robert Jordan and Kristen Britain. Robert Jordan just kept writing, no matter what anyone thought. He came up with a fantasy idea and just went with it, producing more than 14 books worth of content. He was a master of description and I find being able to describe something elegantly or accurately can apply to any field. As for Kristen Britain, she writes such independent and realistic female characters that don’t overshadow her male characters that it makes for a great dynamic and a wonderful story. I hope I can write respectful, independent female characters like her in my own works.
What is the first thing you would do or buy if you won the lottery?
I would pay off my student loans. Having to owe money is the worst feeling ever. Then, I’d buy myself a house in the woods, like a cabin.
If you couldn’t be a teacher, what career would you most like to have?
I think my second career, besides writing full-time would be Marine Biology. I love working on the ocean and doing labs. I think it’s be great to be by the sea every day.
What is your favourite song? Artist? Genre?
This is hard. Currently, I am deep into Indie Folk/Pop music, which includes the Alex Rainbird music you can find on YouTube and iTunes, but I also love music from most genres including some country from the 90’s, movie soundtracks, classical – most notably Tchaikovsky, classic rock, Japanese pop and rock and most recently Indie. I guess though, one artist I keep coming back too this year is Vance Joy from Australia. I really love how deep his songs are and the musical tone. I also really enjoy listening to his voice, if I can stop myself from singing along.
What is your favourite book? Author? Genre?
Well, epic fantasy, of course! I love fantasy adventures, most notably those that take place in a medieval setting. World building is so fun. I love many fantasy series, but my favourite would have to be between the Green Rider by Kristen Britain and the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Though, that being said, the author who finished Robert Jordan’s series began his own epic fantasy series – Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive and I love the first book. The main character featured in this book was so deep and realistic, I found myself having panic attacks for him based on his experiences! I couldn’t put the book down.
What is your favourite movie? TV show?
Again, another challenging choice. Movie, Lord of the Rings, without a doubt. TV show? Hmm, I think it’s between The Witcher and Survivor. Though, I like so many, it’s really not a fair question!
Any other information or fun fact you would like to share?
I lived in Japan for three years, living and working at two local island high schools. I joined many extra-curricular activities there, learning to write calligraphy, practice tea ceremony, play the koto, fure, and taiko drums and wear a kimono. The culture and food of Japan is something I love with all my heart and can’t ever get enough. I wish Japan wasn’t so far away. I still remain in contact and send yearly Christmas cards to my friends there and hope to return for a visit soon. I spent a lot of time travelling around Japan and exploring many rural and urban towns. Everywhere you go there, no matter the season, has something special and magical about it. I once visited a hot spring at the highest altitude in Japan in Toyama, and I visited the only desert in Japan in Tottori. I went to Okinawa in December and went swimming, and went skiing in Hokkaido. The culture and history there is so rich and fascinating.