Monday, 23 April 2012

First Day Back - Term 2

I was nervous and not really looking forward to going back to school this morning. I was still tired and needed at least one more week  -  as we all do I suppose! I find getting back into it all the hardest thing. Today though, it was relatively easy. One key student wasn't at school. My  Y9 class actually commented on how quiet it was. We actually managed to get through an entire lesson plan! These holidays I focused (tried to!) on reports and Collins Writing and finding new resources. The Collins Writing programme projects make/made sense and used one today in class. The kids enjoyed it and I was stoked to have some writing mileage.

At school we are lucky enough to have a very dedicated member of staff, who is completely dedicated to us as new teachers. We shall call him 'H'. Now, H regularly gives us PD and wheelbarrows full of advice and wisdom on behaviour management, professionalism, strategies for unruly students etc. To date I have a HUGE folder filled with lots of this ridiculously useful information - that has just recently been added with a behavioural pass. Thanks H! I love it :) It really helps show that I am not that nutty - I'm just a beginning teacher.

This is a copy of the pass he gave me. Does this speak true with you too?

To Whom it Should Concern,

Alex is a first year teacher and will, from time to time, exhibit the side effects of professionalism, hard work and dedication to teaching way beyond the call of duty and salary. These side effects may include, but are not restricted to, an overwhelming desire to sleep at odd hours of the day, an uncontrollable urge to write lesson plans at odd hours of the night, a craving to mark and remark exercise books, projects or exam scripts at any odd time, day and/or night, a propensity to forget to pull out the meat from the freezer most days or just being remiss when it comes to buying the milk on the way home. Be aware that, for beginning teachers, holidays are a time to hibernate at least for the first week and a half and then catch up on work not finished last term (check for decaying un-marked exam scripts and exercise books under the bed). Furthermore, watch out for signs of 'spring cleaning' out of season and other peculiar hormonally driven behaviours. Both genders are affected with this affliction.

We advise caution and understanding when dealing with the aforementioned staff member. If in doubt, indulge the staff member: use humour, administer lots of dark chocolate, suggest visits to the cinema, the beach, a museum, the Waitakere Ranges etc to ease the symptoms. Temporarily hide the teacher's brief case, the Xerox box containing a class-load of assessments to mark and the black Teachers Planner book. Use 'Tough Love' strategies if necessary.

Consider engaging in a deep and meaningful discourse on the topic: 'Getting a Life'.

Should the above remedies fail to effect a positive change, please contact the writer at (my school) without delay!

Thank you for your support and understanding.



Isn't that awesome? Love it. On to the next few days, Anzac Day, lessons, reports and challenges.

Monday, 16 April 2012

School Holidays - The Biggest Procrastination - Take Two

My last post was long. This one should be a lot shorter. I didn't realise how passionate and stressed out I was over the Facebook issue. Though it, and my idea for introducing blogging to my classes, will be an ongoing thing I suppose until our school policies have altered to allow for safe social networking, use of technology for learning etc.

The continuation of my discussion:

  1. Introducing Facebook as a learning platform
  2. Over-thinking the quality of my teaching
  3. The Challenge - Enjoying the holidays but still getting school work done

Over-thinking the Quality of my Teaching

I don't know whether it is just because I am a beginning teacher and as I am told we all over-analyse everything and worry we aren't doing it 'right' - but I'm always feeling like I'm not. I know I am, but I feel like I'm not. Does this make any sense? 

I feel it is important to reflect on my teaching - on how I teach, but also what I teach. I worry the most about time constraints - something I will continue to learn how to do properly and master as the years go on. I worry because I stress out that I haven't taught the students in the best way possible. As one of my good friends J said to me once, "You're not." Because.. I'm not. But, that's in part the learning 'curve'. As a beginning teacher you are expected to know basically everything. You of course, do not. So of course, you won't do as well as an experienced teacher whose been teaching for 30+ years. But struggle you will - to try to teach as well as you can, to the best of your abilities and in essence, I have done this. I've done the best with what I know, and can do.

Do experienced teachers do this too?
Will I continue to worry about not doing well for the rest of my career?

The Challenge - Enjoying the holidays but still getting school work done

I've discussed with friends whether they were going in to school these holidays. I think I may be one of the only ones who actually went in/will go in to school during the holidays. My friends said - I don't think I need to go in, and said things with a blank stare as if I was nuts to go back in during the holidays. 

My challenge is trying to enjoy the holidays but still getting my schoolwork done. I have a tonne of reports to do, albeit they are term two reports so they aren't too in depth, though still difficult! I also have to sort out my planning for next term. I went into school a few days ago and spent most of the day re-organising my desk, and the huge pile of papers on the small desk beside mine. I struggle to comprehend how other teachers keep such clean and organised desks. Maybe its because I'm a creative person? But aren't all English teachers? Or can I blame being a history/social studies teacher for it? 

I want to be able to enjoy my holidays but still do school work. Most teachers (not beginning teachers) will be off doing something fabulous - spending time with family and friends and enjoying their holidays and most of all catching up on sleep and relaxing! Now...beginning teachers have to do all of this - as well as all of the school work, reports, planning for next term, reorganising our classrooms etc. I can't wait til one day in the somewhat distant future where I can actually enjoy my holidays!

Now - off to pack because my best friend S has just reshuffled our plans for the beach. ;) Need to make sure I remember to pack everything:
  • towel - check
  • togs - check
  • warm weather/cold weather clothes - check
  • plan book - check
  • text books - check
  • reflection journal - check
  • school laptop - check
  • sanity folder (mentoring programme folder) - check
  • trashy novel - check
  • sunglasses - check
  • sunscreen - check
  • make sure Zo has someone looking after him and feeding him - check
See you all when I get back :)


I do love school holidays!

School Holidays - The Biggest Procrastination

Finally. The school holidays. Only one more week of sanity left before I'm back in front of my loyal students.

There are a few things I want to discuss in this post:

  1. Introducing Facebook as a learning platform
  2. Over-thinking the quality of my teaching
  3. The Challenge - Enjoying the holidays but still getting school work done

Introducing Facebook as a learning platform

I have discussed this with a few colleagues and friends over the past two years. Friends at teachers college were all for it. We were new, inspired, enthusiastic and not weighed down by school technology policies and protocol.Colleagues at schools I have done practicum at were also all for it, but slightly nervous about using it, although they still did it because they knew the experience and learning outran the risks involved. At my current school - I feel weighed down by policies and protocol. I struggle every day with a very slow internet connection at school (which is beginning to be changed and updated - after a strenuous process) and also struggle with myself and my knowledge and understanding that my students as am I are from a technologically advanced generation - and by using it, we can evolve in our thinking much more quickly. However, I do believe that learning through print media is absolutely important - but it seems that electronic versions will soon become the way to go. 

My struggle with using Facebook is this: I want to use it, and therefore add an extra dimension to my teaching space but the technology policies and protocols at school seem... outdated. 

Billions of people every day use Facebook. It is one of the main ways people can connect throughout the world and share information. Why do we limit our teaching spaces to just in the classroom? Or rather, why do we have to? I believe that it is important to 'move with the times' and change and adapt as new information and technology evolves. In theory, Facebook provides a fabulous platform to control a class page - which yes you do have to monitor (just as you would in your own classroom), and yes you do have to reply to students' messages and questions (just as you would in your own classroom) and of course there is the obvious literacy aspect - students writing. Sure, they may be typing - but doesn't this work just as well in finding spelling errors, grammatical errors, and syntax errors? Typing is also a much quicker way (for today's students at least) to get their ideas down on to paper. 

Of course, with any new initiative there will be concerns and issues surrounding student safety and privacy, and also teacher privacy and safety. If controlled correctly, this need not be an issue. Facebook has a variety of ways to enforce safety on its site, though sometimes it is difficult to quickly navigate and enforce particular settings on each individual page. Though it is possible, if you take the time and energy in learning how to do so. - Isn't this what we teach our students? To challenge the new and difficult? Why do we as teachers, (well some at least) refuse to move with the times, refuse to change, and reflect on our teaching and refuse to practice what we expect our own students to do?

I believe that Facebook is a fabulous tool - if used properly. In the last year, I have created four Facebook group pages for each of my classes. Each group was used in a different way - mainly because of the different age groups I was teaching. I would be slightly more cautious in involving younger students to partake in an e-learning environment (even though I introduced myself to the World Wide Web at a very young age) only because there seem to be more risk factors involved with them. I read bits and pieces of a fellow blogger today - (LINK - Invisible Teacher) in which she mentioned that she had created a Facebook page for her class - following Claire's instructions (something I will need to follow up on after this post!) which stated to email the parents about the Facebook page. Something I had neglected to do in the past. With my Y9 class this year in my introductory letter I did mention we were creating a Facebook page for our class and that it would be one of the platforms for homework and discussion. So far I haven't had any objections to this. Though I do not know whether the letter got home to my students' families - something which a quick email home would alter. 

Last year, I created three group pages. One for my Y10 class, and one each for the Y11 and Y12 classes I was relieving for my colleague on maternity leave. My Y10 class loved it. They would post relevant information, videos, ideas and stories on the page through comments, Youtube, pictures and posts. The Y12 class (top of their year) were a bit more reserved, but did use it to ask specific questions - things that they thought about coming up to their mock exams and NCEA exams that they had forgotten to ask me. I thought that having this extra platform for them was useful - but was basically the same as them emailing me on my school email address. Some students did use the page as a discussion/forum board to talk about issues, quotes, relevant key ideas and concepts from the texts we had studied - which to me, seemed a lot more relevant and important. The Y11 class on the other hand - either I didn't push it enough or play it up as being useful - but not many 'liked' the page - or found it as being very useful. (Though sometimes I feel Y11's are trying to be grown up like Y12's but still behave like Y10's because they don't know how they should be acting - which I suppose is what makes Y11's so interesting an age group to teach!)

I have trialed Facebook pages with my Y9 class this year - to a varying degree of success. The higher ability students are using the page the same way as my Y10s did last year - reacting and thinking about posts I add, pictures, and videos - relating to what we're studying. The middle ability students seem quite blase and use the page as if they're still in class and chatting away. The lower ability students do not seem old enough or able to react appropriately for their age group or adequately interested in learning - so play up and be stupid. I have yet to figure out a way to involve my lower ability boys with this Facebook group as at the moment, it is merely for homework tasks and questioning prior knowledge. 

Regardless of the varying degrees of success and failure for all of the pages - I still have the resounding issue where I am - I suppose - unable to actually use the platform because of our policies and protocols. My HOD agrees with me that our school should get up to date with technology policies current today - yet also seems a little nervous to actually engage with the process or allow it. We have a school interweb platform, which some Y12 students were interested in last year, as was I, but nothing ever really happened in creating it. Which is why I turned to Facebook - as it is an obvious answer to my problems in creating an extra teaching dimension. I have also trialed Wikispaces this year with my Y9's, the only problem is getting into the computer labs - though it has been a very trying time with them so far this year, which is why I have yet to launch the site with them as of yet. I have tried other platforms and Facebook is always the obvious choice for me. It's easy to use, navigate and teach from. I feel like an idea for my hons dissertation is working its way out from this post actually!! 

Anyway - that's how I feel about using Facebook as a platform to teach from - an invisible teaching platform. My questions to you are - 
  • how do we as new (and experienced) teachers navigate the issues around school policies and protocols when wanting to use new and exciting initiatives
  • do you use facebook or other teaching platforms and how?

Creating a Strong Foundation

Nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa!

Ko Tainui te waka
Ko Pirongia te maunga
Ko Waipa te awa
Ko Te Kopua te marae
Ko Ngati Paretekawa toku hapu
Ko Ngati Maniapoto me te Tainui toku iwi
Ko kaiako au
Ko Alex toku ingoa

Kia ora koutou. My name is Alex, and yes, I'm part Maori, hailing from the mighty Waikato - but I'm also a staunch French girl hailing from Normandy and the Channel Islands. I am the oldest of eleven children and I think these are the main reasons I chose to become a teacher. I love history, especially researching my own family histories and whakapapa, and also enjoy english  - reading, writing, speaking, dreaming, imagining.

I've always been interested in teaching others what I know - all the while knowing I am somewhat the mere muse for others as they take my knowledge, embrace it, evolve it with their own thinking and run into the hypothetical, sometimes literal sunset, growing, evolving as people and teaching others. I see myself as the muse, mostly because I can do quite a few things well. There aren't many things that I can do incredibly well though - unless you can call relating to others something that is worthy of doing well. Because this - I think - is the one thing that makes me able to teach the way I do. I've been told by many that this is my strongest aspect of my teaching. Probably why I've always been so interested in Te Kotahitanga actually.

This morning I stumbled through Google, and TKI trying to find the right forums to read and learn and experience fabulous ideas for teaching. Alas, nothing was very interesting, astounding or basically worth my time. What I did find through my search - was a link to a blog here on Blogger called 101 English Blogs. I was instantly interested. I've been blogging since I was .... 13? I've always believed in the power of writing down my thoughts and ideas - if only to get them out of my head, put on to paper, organised and focused so that I can continue on with my day. I've been diary/journal writing since I was 5 or 6 and have always found the process calming, relaxing and meditative. Before finding the link to 101 English Blogs  - I'd been pondering the idea of getting my students to write collectively as a class, as individuals - similar to Ms. G in the Freedom Writers and the concept of Freedom Writing. I think blogging is a fabulous way to increase students thinking, writing, and reading.

So, as a result - I've decided to create this blog to reflect on my teaching, my strategies, build a type of forum with other English teachers who also struggle every day with so many students wanting a moment of your precious time - who appreciate like-minded thinking and evolution of teaching. Thankyou to Claire who created this project, and allowed us to create our own thinking space to be shared by others in our field.

I have also forgotten to mention one key aspect about this blog. I am a beginning teacher. I am new to teaching - although I feel I have been teaching others my entire life. I am merely 24 years old and I am still inspired, enthusiastic, interested and hopeful. I have been teaching since June 27th last year. I have just completed my second full term, and have just finished my very first term of teaching my very own classes. Last year I was LTR (Long Term Relieving) for a colleague on maternity leave, though I did have my own Y10 class who I adored. I suppose you always fall in love with the first lot of students you have in your teaching career. When I left last year (though at the time I wasn't aware that I'd definitely be back) they gave me cards, pictures and two students even gave me flowers. Their drawings and messages are blu-tacked to my wall in my room. Messages of thanks, appreciation and acknowledgement that I am a good teacher. I look at these before going to school, and after a bad day especially, reminding myself that I am making a difference, that I am actually helping and that I am a good teacher.

For now - this is me signing off,