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.