Sunday, January 15, 2012

Monday, November 29, 2010

In closing

I figured I would take this time to not only update, but close this travel teaching blog since I have returned home to America. What an interesting journey it has been. I have morphed from the girl I once was, waltzing into the education department at my university with dreams of student teaching abroad, and prayers of not watching these dreams become crushed rubble underneath the feet of the department in charge of approving it, to the girl I am now. I am only a year older in age, but miles ahead of where I ever dreamed of being in my life. I would like to thank everybody who made this experience possible for me. You've all been so supportive, and I couldn't have done this without you. I accomplished SO much in the four months that I was back in Australia. I went through a lot mentally and emotionally, and it all made me a stronger, more capable, productive person. Relationships ended, new ones began, friendships were made, and rekindled. There were days where I felt like I was the best teacher in the world, and there were days where I felt like the worst teacher in the world, but through it all I knew that every move I made gave me another opportunity to learn. No matter how many times I fell down, at the end of this thing, I had something, and it was my thing, and that matters to me.

The last time I wrote was around the second week of October, and the month leading up to my departure was both busy and bittersweet, but not at all a blur. In fact, I soaked it all in, and I managed to soak up a little sunshine as well. My last few weeks at Newcastle High School were filled with experiences, hopefully for both my students and myself. I spent quite a bit of time teaching to standardized tests that the students at Newcastle High School are required to take, the "School Certificate Exam" and the "HSC exam". If you are American, and you have taken the SAT exam, these exams are similar. Most of the teaching I was doing revolved around reading comprehension, grammar, writing techniques, and the dreaded essay. While not all days were smooth, I did my best to make the "boring stuff" more interesting for my students. For my year 10 class, I picked stories to read that I thought they hadn't heard of, were challenging, and were fun to read (or at least I thought they were fun to read when I was their age), for example "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe and "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke. I also chose to analyze these stories with them because I knew we could hit a few points with each in the short period of time I had left with them...Things like metaphor, symbolism, irony, and concepts such as one piece of work having multiple interpretations, were vibrant in both pieces. What I found with my year 10 class was that as intelligent as they ALL are, I think as a teacher I made the mistake of assuming that EVERYTHING I said was important enough to remember. This caused me to forget that I was once a 16 year old, and things did go in one ear and out the other...actually, that still happens. Just because I told them in the beginning of the year what multiple interpretations meant didn't mean they would know how to find them on their own 12 weeks later, and it didn't give me the right to be frustrated with them for it. I simply had to spend a lesson or two reviewing and practicing it with them before we could crunch down on an actual poem that had multiple interpretations. What I found to be helpful was even when I taught lessons where I felt I had failed, I could at least gauge were my students were at. Being a teacher takes an incredible amount of patience, and if you find yourself saying, "I told you this a thousand times already", perhaps consider a different occupation. because You will  it a thousand times more, and it's your job to say it as many times, and in as many different ways as you can muster, until they finally pick up what you put down. By the end of the two weeks, most of the students in my year 10 class were getting between 8/10 and 10/10 on the practice reading comprehension exams we were taking. I look at that as a huge success.

Of all my classes, I think I learned the most about MYSELF from my year 11 class. It's funny how much you assume you know going into a class that everyone has warned you about, and how easy it became for me to defend them against people, like myself, who judged them. It was a class that reaffirmed my dislike for bullshit, and rebuilt the way I deal with it. And it's interesting how much students change once they realize the person who they think is there to make their lives miserable, is actually a person who wants to make their lives easier, and better. And on days where the students said "Aw miss you're expecting way too much of us", I smiled and said "Well somebody has to", and we all carried on. Some of my favorite memories with this class included the battles. Helping students struggle with putting their feelings on paper, and applauding them when they had a piece of work they were proud of, was one of the most humbling and gratifying experiences. I had to find ways to make English seem relevant to this class, as it was a class designed for students who decided taking the HSC and going to college was not their lifestyle. Sometimes this meant having them practice writing cover letters and sitting for mock job interviews, or reading sports news articles to understand the difference between objective and subjective. It was a class that really taught me how to teach to my students needs, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to work with them.

On my last day at Newcastle High School my classes threw me surprise parties, and I hadn't realized I had made a difference until I saw the amount of work my students put into my last day. One class ordered a bunch of pizzas and we talked about the 14 weeks together. I asked for feedback about what worked and what didn't work, and they asked me questions about America. We laughed over the times they drove me crazy, and reflected over the things that made them really think. Another class also threw me a surprise party, and each student brought in something different. We played a game of English Jeopardy, ate, laughed, and a few students wrote thank you speeches. One girl wrote me a really nice letter and handed it to me on the way out the door. 

Doing things for the last time is a weird feeling. You can do something a hundred times and take no notice, but when you know it's the last time, sometimes that reminds you how much you love something. Walking out of Newcastle High School for the last time was very sad, and I'll never forget the feeling of looking back over my shoulder at the school before leaving and thinking, "Wow, this is the last time." The school told me if I wanted to come back later on down the road, all i would have to do was call ahead so we could get the paperwork started.

I don't know when I'll be back, but I do have a feeling that I will make that call someday, and that it wasn't actually the last time,

just the last time for a while.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Some days the crowd will go wild...

All days simply won’t be triumphant. It’s just not the way teaching works. Some days your “best students” become your biggest nightmares, and some days the students that wear you out, surprise you. Most days here at Newcastle High School have been pleasant, with the exception of a few minor bumps and bruises.

I could tell it was going to be an off day when I asked my advanced year 10 class to take their laptops out, and only ten students reacted.

“Wait a minute, where are everyone’s laptops?”
“We don’t have them” Cindy retorted.
“What do you mean you don’t have them? You know it is part of student conduct to always be prepared, including your laptop.” –Immediately I thought, right Carley, because when YOU were 16, YOU ALWAYS had your book, your notebook, and a writing utensil…not
“Well we haven’t used them in a week or two, so we just stopped bringing them.”
“Alright, well we will just have to improvise!” I said cheerfully. I wasn’t about to can the lesson. This was true; we hadn’t used the laptops for a few weeks. We had been preparing for the advertisement assessment so we had been working mostly with magazine and newspaper articles.

I had a brilliant lesson planned out, based around the school certificate. The school certificate is an exam that the year ten students will be taking a few weeks after I leave Australia, which basically allows them to graduate high school. My lesson for today revolved around having them independently log on to the state board website and take the year ten English literacy school certificate practice exam, and afterward, answering a few questions in their notebooks which revolved around reflecting on personal strengths and weaknesses, along with class strengths and weaknesses. How could we do this with less than half of the class having laptops? I logged on to a school computer and checked the lab bookings, and every lab except for the Art lab had been booked, and the Art lab only had 15 computers, how inconvenient. This day was not running smoothly. I split my class of 28 up and those who brought their student laptops stayed in the classroom with my cooperating teacher, and took the practice test. The other half who did not remember their laptops came with me to the Art computer lap.

Once we reached the computer lab I noticed something interesting. ALL of the girls in my class had followed me to the lab. I thought perhaps they had done this just to stay together, but I counted, and the number of people who had previously raised their hands for not having their laptops was still the same. All of the girls forgot their laptops, and all of the boys remembered theirs. This intrigued me, because it is a class that can at times be female performance based. Two girls had to double up, Cindy and Sara. Cindy and Sara are the kind of girls who can perform excellent…without each other. With each other? They choose not to. Cindy does well when Sara is not in class, and Sara is able to focus when Cindy is absent as well. I thought about splitting them up, but there weren’t any more computers, and things were already hectic enough with my class taking the practice exam in two separate locations. I decided to let it slide. Once everyone was on the state board practice page, I explained the directions, that they had 40 minutes to complete it, and asked the class to treat this like it were the real thing. Once they began, Cindy, Sara, and a girl named Barbara all began talking.

“Girls, please take this seriously.” The girls looked at me and ignored my request. “Girls, stop talking.” For a minute or two it was quiet, until I heard Barbara’s voice again.
“Barbara, please stop talking”
“Barbara, please don’t yell at me, I only asked you to stop talking.”
“Alright I fucking get it!”
“WOAAAAAAAH!” I took a step back, and wore a look of complete shock and disbelief. Yes, I realize that ‘WOAAAAAH!” probably was not the most sophisticated initial response that could have escaped my lips, but it’s what came out either way. Barbara is a great student. Barbara is always pleasant, always participates, and does well on her assessments. Sure, she can be chatty, but she’s never been disrespectful.

“Barbara, if you want to use that language, you can go to the principal’s office.”
“I’M GOING!” She yelled. She stood up, kicked her chair over, and stormed out of the class.
About ten minutes later Barbara returned.
“I asked you to leave.”
“Well the principal wasn’t there.”
“Here are your options, we can talk outside about what just happened, or you can go wait for the principal to return.”
“Let’s talk outside.” Barbara followed me out to the hall and I asked her if everything was ok, and if anything else was going on outside of school that caused her to react like that.
“No Miss, I’m sorry, I think I’m just going through a phase. It’s not you.”
“Okay, I’m going to ask you not to return to class. However, I understand that you might be going through something. Go for a walk, I’ll write you a pass, and try to cool off. We’ll start again on Monday.”

Barbara seemed to appreciate the chance to cool off, and I returned to the girls taking the practice exam. Most of the girls were taking the exam properly, quietly reading the questions to themselves, and answering the multiple choice. However, out of the corner of my eye I saw Sara and Cindy Google imaging.

“Girls you shouldn’t be looking at Google images, you should be doing this practice exam.”
“We’re finished!” Cindy laughed.
“Cindy, you have 40 minutes to complete it, and it took you girls not even 10.”
“Yeah, we just clicked through it randomly.” Said Sara.
“But we got 7 out of 20!” Cindy giggled again.

“Ok girls, if that’s your score, go back to the classroom. There is a question on the board for you to answer in your notebooks.” Once Cindy and Sara left, and with Barbara gone, the whole lab was quiet, and one girl sighed in relief that she could finally concentrate. Another girl expressed a ‘thank God they’re gone’, and things continued on.

Once the last few girls had finished their practice online exams we went back to meet the rest of the class back in the classroom, where my cooperating teacher had them answering the questions on the board. I walked back into the classroom and shut the door perhaps a little harder than I would have on an average day. At this point I was beyond frustrated with my ADVANCED year ten class. First, half of the class didn’t bring their laptops to class. I book a lab, and ask them to take the practice exam quietly, and they spend the first half of the class fooling around. I ask one last time for them to be quiet, and I am sworn at, and a chair is kicked over. I catch students doing what they aren’t supposed to be doing, and they say they are happy with 7 out of 20? THIS WAS ABSURD. My brain felt like it was going to explode, but I knew I had to remain collected. As a teacher, sometimes it’s very hard when you’ve had a shitty day to not flip out, but you have to remember that it’s your job to get through to them, not to be their parents, so that’s where I started.

“I am not your parent, I am not your mate, I am your teacher, and the behavior that was displayed today is not only unacceptable, and extremely disrespectful to me, but it’s cutting yourselves short of what you are all capable of. You are an advanced class, and if you are telling me that 35% is what you are happy with for yourselves, then perhaps you need to consider a different English class. I, however, have seen all of you do exceptional work. If you want your future universities, and your future employers, to see that the best you could have done on the school certificate exam was a 7 out of 20, let me know now, and that’s the level that I will teach you at. On the other hand, if you want to reach your fullest potential, and score in the 80’s and 90’s like I know you all can, then that’s what we’ll do. I REFUSE anything less than your best, so you tell me RIGHT NOW if 35% is your best.”

The whole class became a combination of horrified looks, shaking heads, and immediate no’s. I wrote the words ‘STRENGTHS’ and ‘WEAKNESSES’ on the board, and asked the class to think about what their strengths and weaknesses as a class were. The class listed debating, vocalizing, analyzing, media studies, and public speaking on the strengths side. On the weakness side of the board they listed following directions, listening, language, reading comprehension, and grammar. I then told the class that for the next two weeks we would be using our strengths to study our weaknesses, so that they could bring all of their grades up, whether they scored a 35% or an 80% in the practice exam, the goal was to improve for the next time we took it.

After I said 'the goal is to improve', the bell rang. I asked the class to wait a minute before leaving, and ended with one last statement

“Please come on Monday with your laptops.”

All days simply won’t be triumphant, some days your best students become your worst students, but if you can find a triumph within a day which seems to have failed completely, your day won’t seem quite as long. This can be said about life in general. I won’t always be triumphant. Some days I will be successful, standing on a fifty foot pedestal, beaming brilliantly, as I watch students transform their insecurities to confidence. Some days the crowd will go wild, the ball will be out of the park, a home run, a touch down, a break away goal, a three point shot with the fade away swish, to win the game as the crowd goes wild. And some days, I’ll be the one in the middle of the field, or the ice, of the court with my head in my hands wondering what I did wrong. The trick to not beating yourself up comes with a lot of practice, patience, and the ability to acknowledge that while I didn’t touch every single mind in the classroom, there WERE positives. The boys, who often contribute to 70% of the noise, all brought their laptops and completed their exams without a single disturbance. Some students WERE happy with their practice test scores, and as a class we were able to come up with a list of strengths, and a list of things to work on in the next two weeks. Although it took a few stumbles to get to that point, I’ll stand up and try again on Monday

Hopefully my students will too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Risk Taking

Many people think that teachers are the ones that administer the learning experiences, and the students are to take away what the teacher presents, but until you stand in front of 25 lower level students, who 10 weeks ago wouldn’t even open their notebooks, and realize that they are now asking clarifying questions, digging for examples, cooperating successfully in groups to find answers, and standing in front of the class to present their work, you don’t realize how much they have actually taught you.

If you asked me three months ago after my first day with this group of students, or even two months ago after practically being sexually harassed by the entire class of teenage boys, if I ever though that they would reach this point in ten weeks, I think I honestly would have laughed. I was hopeful, and positive, because I forced myself to be. I knew if I didn’t convince myself to be hopeful and positive, I would have given up on their learning abilities like many people have. These kids are not stupid, but they can be lazy, and rude. Teaching takes a certain mental toughness, to convince yourself to believe in somebody no matter how many times they insult you, no matter how many times they tell you that your class is “gay”, no matter how many times they walk out on you and slam the door in your face, to keep believing that there is something deep inside of them that you can bring out is mentally draining. It’s almost like being in an abusive relationship sometimes, and I’m choosing to stay in it.

When the clinical faculty member who observes me, met with me, and filled out my mid term evaluation, he had mostly positive things to say, but the one piece of constructive criticism he gave me was that it’s ok to take risks with lower level classes, even if I fail miserably. I take plenty of risks in my advanced year 10 class, and even my standard year 9 class, but in my lower level year 11 class, where the students have been known for stealing cars, fighting, and verbal harassment, some days I feel like stepping into the class at all is a rink, so to convince myself to do something wildly different troubles me. They are a class that gets very flustered over change, and that is why they rebelled against me at first, because I was making them do work that nobody had ever asked them to do, and they were FINALLY comfortable with the work load, so I’ll admit it, to ask them to alter that scares me a little, but yesterday, I took a risk.

Newcastle High School has a fantastically expensive and elaborate classroom called “the connected classroom”. It’s a technologically advanced, specially designed classroom, and is brand new to the school. It has a smart board, a brand new projector, brand new laptops and a massive charging station, a new flat screen television, a few couches and coffee tables, and these impressive puzzle piece desks that you can arrange in any shape you want. I had brilliant idea for a lesson floating on one half of my brain, and $100,000 worth of student caused damage electrifying the other side of my brain, but I jumped at the opportunity to “take a risk” when I saw that the connected classroom was free first period.

The new unit for the start of this term is a sports literacy unit, focusing on the analysis of “sports language”. The start of the unit suggests beginning with a class discussion on national anthems at sporting events, and national athletic chants, but instead of just a starting class discussion, I decided to make the entire lesson about this. After some research I found four countries that have different sporting event chants, songs, or anthems.

Ireland – “Ireland’s Call"
England – “England til I die”
Africa – “Shosholoza”

After an introduction to the lesson, what I was hoping to do for the main part of the lesson was to split the class up into groups of four or five, and give each group a country. Each group would have to research a YouTube clip that goes along with their chant (I had already researched these so I knew they existed), why the chant first originated, who sings it, and what the language and words say about the country’s national pride. Then, they groups would show their YouTube clips to the class, and give a five minute presentation to the class on their country and the national chant.

I arrived at school an hour early and went to the Tech staff room to speak with the head of the technical support. He and I went to the connected classroom and hooked up all the technology I would need to make my master plan work. I arranged the puzzle piece desks into clusters, and put two lap tops on each cluster. While those powered up, the tech guy set up the projector, the main computer, and the internet for me. I put my lesson on a desk at the front, made sure everything was in order.

When the bell rang I rushed back down to my classroom and met my rowdy group at the door. I was also being observed today, so I had a brief chat with the clinical faculty member who would be taking notes on me. Then, I had a chat with my class about responsibility. I told them that I was really trusting them with the technology in this classroom, and that I couldn’t afford to give first and second chances, if anybody was irresponsible or disrespectful to the opportunity they have been given to use these resources, they would leave immediately. The whole class listened to me speak, nobody spoke over me, and to my surprise they all seemed to take it seriously. I asked them when we first entered the connected classroom to sit in groups of four or five, to not move from the table unless I asked them to, and to not touch the laptops until it was time.

We then travelled across campus to the Math department, where the connected classroom is. All of the students sat four or five to a table like they were asked, and I walked to the white board, next to the smart board, and began to introduce the new unit. On the board, I started a “SPORT” web, and asked a few students to come up and web a few words and phrases that came to mind when they thought of sport. They grumbled a little bit over having to get out of their seats, but I told them if we were doing a sport unit that the exercise would be good for them. After we had web full of terms, we analysed the words as a class. With words like “footy”, “rivalry”, “pride”, and “team”, we looked at why these words are particular to sport. I wrote the words “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!” On the board and as soon as I asked the class what it said, all of the boys chanted the words in perfect unison. It is a national Australian chant, and it was so cool to see the whole class say it together at the same time, in the same tone. We then discussed how this was a way of expressing national pride, and that many countries had chants like this, and that is when I handed out the assignment.

As I walked around, many students had questions that blew me away. The group that had been assigned Africa’s chant, “shosholoza” asked me why I thought they kept it in their language instead of translating it to English. Instead of giving my opinion, I told them that was a great thing to think about as a group and to discuss when it came time to present. The boys who had the “USA! USA! USA!” chant were fascinated by the fact that the chant started in the 1979 Olympics when the US played the Soviets, and I watched as they clicked on YouTube link after YouTube link of clips from different sporting events where they could hear the whole crowd chanting USA. They stumbled across the trailer for the movie “Miracle” and asked if it could be the movie we watch for the unit, and I said I would think about it. The groups who had Ireland and England, after listening to the songs on YouTube, looked up the lyrics to the on their own and wrote great responses to what they though the songs meant.

After about a half hour of this, it was time for the students to present. I asked the groups to close their laptops, and called each group one at a time. They were a little reluctant to speak in front of the class, but they didn’t challenge me or refuse like they would have months ago, and once they were presenting they had some really great things to say. The group who had Africa said they felt like keeping it in the native language kept it true to their culture, and the group who had England said the thought the words “England til I die” said that England was so proud of their nationality, that they would do anything for their country, even die. The boys who had been given USA chanted the USA cheer for the entire class, and enthusiastically talked about the “Miracle on Ice”.

With ten minutes of class left, I asked them to think about the fact that while all of the countries are very different culturally, sport is something that brings us all together, and that even though we may be competing for the same title, we all have this sense of national pride that binds us.

The clinical faculty member and I had a meeting after class and he said that he was happy to see I had taken a risk, and asked how I thought I did. I felt like the students had taught me so much about my own capabilities during this class, and that giving them a little more trust and responsibility also taught me more about their capabilities and how far they had come. He also said I have the natural ability to connect with the students on a personal level, and that I should always use that to my advantage. It really felt good to see that he acknowledged that I took his advice at our last meeting before the holiday, and it also felt good to see that taking his advice really payed off, not only for my students, but for myself as well.

I was so proud of my class that I went to the video store and picked up “Miracle”. Before class this morning I told them that I was extremely happy with the way they handled the lesson yesterday, and how far they had come. When I pulled out the movie the whole class began to cheer, and a few of the Aussie boys started the "USA" chant. Today we watched the first half of the movie, and tomorrow we will finish the movie and begin discussing what it means to “represent” your country, and sports jargon. I am hoping they continue to show me during my last three weeks here how much they have improved, and how much they will continue to improve once I leave, because I for one know I will take everything they have taught me into my next teaching experience.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tyler Clementi

As a teacher, this was something I felt compelled to write about.

What were you doing when you were 18 years old? I was a Freshmen at Plymouth State University, I had a boyfriend, and I was lucky enough to attend college with my best friend Becca, because when you’re 18 years old in college what could be better than going to college with your best friend? I couldn’t have asked for more. Every day first thing I would rush down the back stairwell, which reeked of booze and urine, but when you’re 18 in college you learn to wear flip flops everywhere. We would discuss the plans for the night, which involved being reckless at times, drinking because our parents weren’t around and we could finally get away with it, and dancing until the sun came up, and then we did it all over again the very next weekend. I studied, I did my homework, I made good grades, and I had a phenomenal time. I’m sure most students in the United States have stories which would be comparatively similar to mine, perhaps doing homework and making good grades could be substituted with other various non academic activities, but I feel safe in saying for most, college is fun, because when you’re 18 in college you learn that life is “too short NOT to have fun.”

True, life is short, and I am not 18 anymore, I am 22, and I am currently student teaching in Australia. Every day I am reminded that bullying is an international issue, and that when I decided to become a teacher, I wasn’t just deciding to teach kids how to structure sentences, what  nouns and verbs are,  and the difference between your and you’re. I decided to become a teacher because it gave me the opportunity to teach kids about society, morals, rights and wrongs, and about this thing called “life”.  What I did not sign up to teach was how to destroy other people’s lives. I did not sign up to teach them to torment other students, how to be close minded, and how to completely forget that every human being, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, and sexuality, has parents, siblings, and friends, people that love, cherish, and respect them.

"Jumping off the GW bridge sorry”, was the facebook status 18 year old Tyler Clementi posted before committing suicide. The body of 18 year old Tyler Clementi was found by police, after jumping from the George Washington bridge because his roommate posted a video online of a sexual encounter Clementi had with another male.  I feel as not only a teacher, but a human being, it is my job, all of our jobs, to consider how our behavior affects other people. Words are a powerful thing. We all have the power to  say things and do things that could save somebody’s life, to make them feel wanted, cared for, and appreciated, but we also all have the power to say and do things that could end somebody’s life, to make them feel worthless. Our words and actions have the power to cause somebody else’s last words to be “Jumping off the GW bridge sorry.”

To all my fellow teachers, if you are reading this, remember that your students don’t often times wear their emotions on their sleeve. I was 18 years old once, and while life was fun, I had my struggles, we ALL did. If you hear bullying in your classroom, or in the halls, remember that your job doesn’t just involve teaching a subject, it involves teaching life skills, and one of the most important life skills is tolerance.

To my peers if you are reading this, please remember that we are all on this earth together and if we don’t work together, others will suffer. You can have your own view points, you don’t have to agree with other people’s life styles, but you also don’t have to be destructive. Anybody who has ever been a parent, daughter, son, friend, or sibling, remember that the people you come into contact with every day may also be a parent, daughter, son, friend, or sibling, and you do not have the right to take these people away from the ones that love them.

How often we forget that everything we do touches other people's lives, in both positive and negative ways. Life is so short, that while we are busy living our lives today, somebody else's life may have become a yesterday. So, today, take a moment and think about somebody other than yourself. Think about Tyler and the life he will never get to live because of this hideous cruelty. My heart goes out to the Clementi family and friends.

MTV Article:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Holiday and "Christmas" are NOT the same thing.

This will be a moderately pointless post with no educational relativity.

I am on holidays
That does not mean that Australia celebrates Christmas at a different time of the year just because the seasons are opposite.
It just means I am on what we like to call “vaca”. 

Every day I take one of the several buses than run through Kotara, a suburb in Newcastle. The bus rides are always interesting. Let me paint you a picture of what a ride on a Newcastle city bus is like. Depending on the bus you take, you become familiar with some interesting characters. Two men in particular get on a few times a week when I am riding home from work. They both wear their hair long, greasy, and uncombed, one always wears his in a ponytail and the other lets his hang down his back. They are short, one is old, both reek of booze and body odor, and they always sit in the back. Once they’ve taken their seats at the back half of the bus, they wait until the bus stops at Westfield mall to begin their useless chatter about the length of the school girls skirts. I only catch these conversations on days that my ipod has died before the end of the bus trip, and lucky for me, this is when I press the "bus stopping" button, and usually where I get off.

I always wear my ipod on the bus. Let me rephrase that, I always wear my ipod, full stop. I’ve become moronically dependent on to the point where at times, I will get absolutely nothing done if I don’t have music. I lose myself in music. Music allows me to become a genius multi-tasker, but the moment someone starts speaking to me, a human voice with no harmony, especially one that nags or questions or talks to him or herself next to me, I lose focus. Many days at Newcastle High School when I have my free periods, I spend them in the teacher resource center in the library, because nobody goes there, it’s quiet, and I don’t feel antisocial or rude for wearing my ipod. On some level I think this allows me to be a more understanding teacher, because I get it.  It’s hard to focus when the kid next to you is breathing heavy, cracking his gum, or clicking his pencil, and sometimes you just have to hear one song to feel complete.

My last few days on vacation have been calm, almost boring. I’m learning to accept being bored. I’ve always been a busy bee. I can come off incredibly laid back but to be honest, I will reduce myself to becoming a workaholic if I am given the opportunity. I like being busy. That being said, the last two months of student teaching, not getting paid, being in a foreign country, and having complete and utter independence, is mentally draining. I’m a fee bird, I like my independence, I like not knowing where I am going, not seeing faces I know, not having mom and dad around to help me, relying on common sense and survival skills, I like the feeling I get when I look in the mirror and acknowledge that I’ve made something out of myself, for myself, and by myself,  but DAMN IT…I am exhausted. And not an accomplished, successful, good kind of exhausted, but rather a “bartender get me a tall drink” kind of exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel accomplished and successful, but I’m drained.

The last few days of holiday have been sincerely healthy on my brain. I didn’t mark anything, I didn’t read anything school related, I didn’t even look at my school bag, but I did manage to I spent an entire day in bed. Seriously, a whole day.  I crawled out of bed to make tea, I ate yogurt for brekky, I watched 5 episodes of friends, listened to the new Sara Bareilles CD on repeat, wrote a few letters, and didn’t TOUCH my work. Other than that I have spent about 4 days at the beach, a mixture between alone time with my book and with friends, because the weather has been remarkable. One day crawled up to 79, and naturally I forgot that Australia is lacking ozone, and sunscreen. I’m sure you can guess how that ended. 

Newcastle Beach takes my breath away. Many people our age cringe at Newcastle Beach, because it’s where all of the “Westies” go…or maybe it’s where the “derros” go, all of the colloquial language begins to blur together. Unarguably there are more spectacular beaches in Newcastle, but Newcastle Beach just represents a completely carefree time in my life when I was studying abroad, lived down the street, and was first finding my way around this city a year ago. Now, whenever things seem to get too hard or complex, and trust me as simple as I like to keep things complexities always seem to find me, going to Newcastle Beach brings me back to the mindset that everything can, and will be, simple again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Sweet as"

Grading. Grading. Grading… (Or, if I’m going to be Aussie about it, “Marking. Marking. Marking.”) In the last two weeks I have marked roughly 60 school certificate exams, 25 year 9 Romeo and Juliet assessments, 25 year 10 vocabulary exams, and 25 year 10 written speech assessments, while lesson planning daily, attending faculty meetings/ parent teacher meetings, not getting paid, keeping up with student teaching work for back home, and your basic shower, get dressed, eat, breathe, sleep, scenario. I am HALF WAY through student teaching, exhausted, worn out, but somehow completely and genuinely happy. It’s a phenomenal feeling.

In the past few weeks I have been preparing my year 11 boys for their exams. During week eight and nine of the semester, all year 11 students go into an exam period, and these exams factor into their final grades. Each exam is quite extensive, and since this is the first year Newcastle High School has accepted the “English Studies” bottom level class as an option for students who don’t plan on continuing on to college, that also means there has never been an exam. I sat down with the assistant principal and we created the exam together, which I felt was a real honor because it is an exam that will be used in the future, and knowing they wanted my input seemed really special. We decided on three parts for the English exam, where in an exam setting they would utilise tools that I have been teaching them all term.

20 points Part a) they would be given 4 job advertisements, and they would have to pick one and write a formal, hand written cover letter, in correct format, addressing all the things that should be addressed in a cover letter.

20 points Part b) They would have to write a presentable speech for one of the movies that we have studied this term, and discuss it in terms of theme, plot, setting, character analysis, conflict, camera angles, special effects, etc.

10 points Part c) A multiple choice literary terminology test.

Last week being week eight, the year 11s began exam period, and this week being week nine, the year 11s will finish their exams. Before weeks eight and nine, each class period we practiced one part of the exam so that in the week leading up to the exam the student’s minds were fully refreshed on the material. I marked the speeches and the vocabulary, and I have to say that for a class who wouldn’t write a single sentence and couldn’t tell me that a “theme” was or what “drafting” meant, their exams looked pretty damn remarkable.

With my advanced year 10 class, I have been working with a unit on the media. It’s been a really fun unit to study, analyzing advertising, commercials, magazines, newspapers, word choice, audience, and all of the other aspects that come together to create the media. In class on Monday, I worked with quite a controversial lesson, and I was not sure how it would go over, but it turned out to be one of the most fun and interesting lessons I have taught so far. Religion is always a touchy subject, so when I was given an Australian show to look at about religion in the media, I cringed a little. The show was hysterical, and posed some really appealing questions and ideas, but I knew I had to find a way to make it less about religion and more about a tool to analyse.

Before even watching the show, I asked if anybody would be offended by the material. I never want to show anything that will be offensive. The show was not about religion being good or bad, it was about how companies have used religion to advertise products, but I still felt obligated to ask. All of the students seemed excited to watch the show, so I went on with the lesson. I had the students complete a work sheet while watching the television show, and I tried to make all of the questions, questions that could be open for discussion with no right or wrong answer, and I made sure before we discussed the answers to remind the students what we don’t have to agree, but we do have to respect each other’s feelings and opinions. The class handled the subject matter beautifully, debated, argued, and came to individual conclusions. The questions that seemed to spark the most interest in class discussion were, “Which do you think is more controversial, religion using advertising or advertising using religion, and why?” and “What do the members of the show think about scaring people into religion? Example: The gun advertisement”

For the question regarding religion using advertising, one student felt that it was more offending because not everybody believes in one religion so advertising it seems wrong. I asked the student to think about religion as a product for a moment. Not everybody uses the same kind of shampoo, but each brand has a right to advertise their name. The student looked at it from that angle, but still felt it was wrong to advertise religion because it is a personal matter. I absolutely loved that the student argued back and forth with me, and I made sure to remain objective. I only ask my students to think about the opposite end of the spectrum to help them think critically before making a decision, I never ask them to think about the opposite end to sway them into believing something that I believe. In this case, I didn’t even say my opinion, because they did not ask for it, and the lesson wasn’t about my opinion, it was about helping them form their own.

The second question referred to a religious commercial that involved a young boy pointing a gun at the screen. The words on the screen then implied that if you didn’t choose to follow God, then you would make wrong life decisions. The commercial was shocking, but my students really got into analysing it. They made the connection that they had only noticed religious commercials in times of struggle, for example war or extreme poverty or in economic crisis. I asked them why they thought this particular commercial would be aired in a time like that and they came back at me with the idea that people are more likely to follow what seems to be a solution when they are scared, so using a commercial that scares people would be more convincing. It was really nice having this kind of mature class discussion about a controversial topic where the students bounced more ideas off each other than they did off of me. Being the teacher, it was seriously cool to watch the students teaching themselves and teaching each other.

And lastly my year 9 class has been working with documentaries. I had an interesting experience with a boy in my year 9 class; we’ll call him “Marcus.” Marcus is a bright boy, but terribly insecure. He goes through moods where he hates the world, hates me, and hates his classmates, and on Monday, he was in one of those moods. We were on week two of the new documentary unit, and we had just completed a week of watching a documentary called “The Buried Life”. Every day the show was “gay”, and it was really starting to frustrate me. The buried life is a documentary about four boys in their twenties who set out across the country with a list of 100 things they want to do before they die, and for each thing they cross off on their list, they help a stranger accomplish something amazing. Everyone EXCEPT Marcus reacted quite positively, some of the students on their own even came up to me after class to show me their own personal bucket lists that they had started on their own.

The following week, which would have been this past Monday, we were starting “Bowling For Columbine.”

“Why do we even have to watch this crap, it happened like 10 years ago this is gay.” Marcus put his head down on the desk. I could tell it was going to be a “gay day” for Marcus, and on top of that, I was being observed this period.

“I’m sorry you feel that way Marcus, maybe after you understand it a little better you will change your mind, but for now can we pick a different adjective.” The class discussion started off wonderfully. Everyone seemed very engaged in the idea of America’s gun laws being so different than Australia’s gun laws. In Australia, unless you have an occupation that requires you to legally have a gun, you cannot own one. After this law was enforced, everyone in New South Whales was required to turn their guns in.

The class discussion turned the Columbine High School Massacre.

“Why do you think it was so easy for these boys to get hold of these weapons?” I asked

“Because everyone is gay.” Marcus remarked. I ignored his rude comment and decided to pick my battles, and not waste my time giving this person the attention he was seeking when I had 25 other students in my class with thoughtful answers.

“Before watching the film, let’s discuss some possible motives for this kind of action, and after we watch some of the documentary we can see how we feel. Why do you think something like this could happen in a high school?”

“Because they’re gay.”

“Enough,” I said. Marcus laughed, and not just a giggle, he tossed his head back and cracked up. The person observing me looked up from taking notes. Did this boy really just laugh in my face? I thought. “Marcus,” I said very calmly “It disturbs me that when someone tells you that you’ve done something to upset them, that you laugh at them. It’s not very polite, especially in regards to the subject. Before you start laughing, I want you to just for a moment think about how it would feel to have 15 of your mates killed, and then tell me if it’s funny.” He didn’t say anything, and suddenly looked quite sad. “Is it still funny?”

“No Miss.”

“Okay then, let’s keep going with the lesson.” I picked up with the class discussion and then we watched 20 minutes of the documentary.

Marcus has also recently been suspended, and the school has put him on a restriction book, where each teacher has to mark a check if they have completed the task successfully and an X if they did not. For example, in this period I marked a check for attendance, but an X for respect. After class while I was filling out his book, I asked if could chat with him.

“I really like having you in class. I understand everyone has bad days, and if something else is going on and you want to talk about it I’m here, but you can’t be rude and offensive. I’ve asked you several times not to use the word gay, and you actually really offended me today because the subject matter is something very serious that happened to my country.

“I’m sorry miss, I had a really bad night, I got back from Sydney with my family at like 2 in the morning and had to catch the ferry at 6 and the bus at 7:30. I’m just really tired and cranky.”

“Ok, go home and rest. Try to come in tomorrow with a better attitude.”

The next day Marcus came in with a smile on his face and told me he went to bed extra early. I could tell Marcus was trying to make a conscious effort in class, participating without me even asking him to. After class I was happy to mark all checks in his book and told him I was much happier with him today.

I was at first worried that I had not handled it properly, because my evaluator wanted to speak with me after class to give me feed back, but he said I had far more patience than he would have, and it would have taken all of his power to not scream at the kid and kick him out of class.  One thing I really try to remember with students is that they have bad days just like I do, the only difference is, as a teacher I have to try a little harder to not bring my bad day into the classroom. It’s harder for a 14 or 15 year old to do this, and sometimes they are going to come in and be cranky and I just have to remember it probably has nothing to do with me. I’ve also realized that aside from attempting to see my student’s bad days from their point of view, in MOST scenarios, if you explain to a student WHY their behaviour is inappropriate and offensive, instead of just telling them to stop and leaving it at that, they are more likely to see things from my point of view also.

So, with all of that being said, I feel completely content, comfortable, and as I said HAPPY with my life here in Australia and my work at Newcastle High School. I am eagerly looking forward to my last half of my trip here, and hopefully I will be successful and make everyone back home proud. This really is turning out to be an astonishing experience, and every day I find myself growing a little bit more. 

As the Aussies would say, everything is "sweet as"
I’ll write again soon, school vacation is coming up and I’m sure I’ll be a busy bee over the holiday, but for now I have to prepare for the parent teacher meetings I will be attending tonight.

~Carley B