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?”
“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.