Digging Through Text

Fifteen interviews of high school instructors and learners are officially transcribed. To celebrate, I will eat a bag of chips, curse that foolish decision (post consumption) and then begin to analyze the material to determine which comments will make the cut…or be cut from the media installation. Making these choices is always tough; some comments might be relevant to the project but the delivery by the interviewee might not be convincing enough to draw the audience’s attention. The beauty of this project though is that I am learning so much about what it takes to be a valued instructor and that was one of the key reasons I embarked on this project.

I thought I’d share a few good quotes from some of the learners. Can you guess (in some cases) which students attend a public, private or alternative school?:

Question: If you were to design a school, what would it be like? What would you like to learn?

Answer 1: “Stuff that relates to the world”

Answer 2: “Football. I love it and would like to play it. I don’t care about the other subjects.”

Answer 3: “I like philosophy… Courses in school don’t mean much about life, that’s why philosophy is so interesting!…There needs to be adventures; learning survival techniques–considering we originate from nature!… Long division didn’t exist 10000 years ago and they survived!”

Answer 4: “I would want it to be as balanced as possible; I have friends who are at schools where rules are non-existent… I’d want to be sure that the learning environment is disciplined but relaxed.”

Answer 5: “Start later.” (Boy was this a common wish!)  “Learn English, French, math… that’s about it.”

Answer 6: “I’d be learning hip-hop… we’d have pep rallies… more urban stuff like jazz class and filming.”


Question: What is your opinion of private, public  and alternative schools?

Answer 1: “At [my old private school] nobody was open. At [the alternative school I went to] there was a homeless kid; I could relate to the students more there.”

Answer 2: “I wanted to come to all an girls school because I was intimidated by boys–like during public speaking… There’s a difference between people who have gone to private schools and public schools; maybe because of the bond that forms [at private school]”

Answer 3: “Girls at private schools are not getting a better education but the teachers are expected to do more so, they take the classes more seriously and classes are better organized… If public school teachers were paid more maybe there would be more motivation to do a better job.”

Answer 4: I use to go to a big [public] high school, like a 1000 some odd kids, and I liked it there… but I got caught up in the whole social thing and some kids get into drugs… but when I came here [to an alternative school] it’s such a tight community and the teacher invite you to come and learn.”


Question: How can a class be made exciting? Or describe an exciting class you’ve had.

Answer 1: “[You] can’t make math bland. Get hyped about the content! Take us on a trip to show how math affects us everyday. Have fun!… Teachers can’t assume that student will come to the teacher when you need help (it’s the elder that should come to the student). We need a relationship with the teacher.

Answer 2:  “[I need] a challenge. I’m not looking for something out of my capabilities but rather to take the material that you’re teaching and look at it in a new way… If it’s a basic way of teaching I’ll have a hard time with it.”

Answer 3: “Anything that incorporates media, to keep us stimulated–because we grew up with technology.”

Answer 4: “[A science teacher] used Power Point a lot or YouTube video… he’d use people and himself. He’d really get up there and show you; that way, you see it happening  in front of you and you’d make the connections and then you’d begin to see examples everywhere you go!”


Most of the students that I interviewed were reasonably proud of their high school. In a recent discussion with my academic supervisor, she asked me what themes were emerging from the the interviews I was transcribing. I mentioned that a common determining factor of a student’s happiness was when teachers, even just one, takes a keen interest in their well being and talent. Learners need someone who will believe in them and help them to discover the talents that may be aching to surface, regardless of their grade point average; grades might determine who will successfully climb the academic ladder but let’s face it, grades are far from proof of one’s talent. “Empathy” she said. Yes, empathy is in fact a distinctive theme that resonates throughout the remarks of each high school learner. They need to feel it from their environment–as we all do–and if we’re not exposed to the value of empathy when we’re young how will that effect our sense of self worth and communications skills throughout our lives?

I’d say a fun review of Jeremy Rifkin‘s Empathic Civilization by RSA Animate, is now in order:



About cayoup

Colleen Ayoup was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. She has been engaged in media creation for nearly twenty years. After attending the Dawson Institute of Photography (Montreal), she worked as a commercial photographer for several years until the craving for different creative pursuits gave way. This desire led to two subsequent degrees in Psychology/Film Studies and Film Production (B.A., B.F.A) at Concordia University in Montreal. Her short fiction films and documentary, Kings (2001), about drag-king culture in Montreal toured festivals internationally. In 2004, she joined the National Film Board of Canada where she coordinated Doc Shop, a program designed to give emerging filmmakers an opportunity to learn trade skills from industry professionals and produce a short documentary for broadcast on CBC. She also contributed to the development and creation of CitizenShift (citizenshift.org), the NFB’s first social-media website that she subsequently coordinated for five years. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program in Documentary Media at Ryerson University (Toronto, ON)