Preparation: Who Needs It?

There’s always at least one in every group who doesn’t follow instructions.

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Last Friday, I gave my History class an essay question half a week in advance of their assessment task.

They were to prepare a plan and notes to use while writing the essay in class this week. I advised them that they could use their handwritten notes and their textbook while writing, but they were not allowed the use of any devices. All the information about the task was given to them in writing as well as my explaining everything in class.

I expected that today, when the students came to class, they would be ready to start. Happily for me, most were.

And then, because nothing ever goes smoothly, this happened:

Student A: “Can we type this?”

Me: No. No devices.

Student B: “My notes are at home. Can I use my iPad?”

Me: “No. No devices.”

Student C: “Can you write the question on the board please?”

Me: “I gave you the question on Friday.”

Student C: Yeah but I didn’t write it down.

Me: That makes me happy.
Bemused, I wrote the question on the board.

Student B: “What page is it in the textbook?”

Me: “Do you mean the pages you were supposed to read and study last week?”

Student B: “Yeah.”

Me: Speechless, I allow The Eyebrow to speak for me.

All the kids except two commenced writing. Students B and D, though? They’re still reading the textbook.

Serendipity: When Things Just Happen Really Nicely… For Once.

One of the things I really love is when, for even just a brief moment, my favourite things in the world converge.

There are a number of things in life that I’m passionate about. British history, especially the medieval period, has always been my favourite for reading and study, as have the works of Shakespeare, along with a good number of other writers.  A teacher by profession, I love interacting with my students and leading them to those golden “penny drop” moments when something becomes real and meaningful. I have always loved reading. And as an Indie author who understands how hard it is to find readers, and how much harder than that it is to get reviews, I’m committed to reading, reviewing and sharing great Indie books of all genres.  Annie Whitehead To Be A Queen

I was very excited recently to discover, read and review an Indie novel about the life of Aethelflæd, the Anglo-Saxon queen. To my absolute delight, it was well-written and beautifully told. I thought then that several Christmases had come at once.

Now, less than a month after posting that review, it’s happened again, and I find myself at a quite magical point in time where my passions have met and over lapped,  as though life has popped me into the middle of some invisible but very cool Venn diagram.

I’m currently teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ in one of my senior English classes. Not only is the writing and language incredible – there are curses and insult exchanges galore, along with some great monologues – it’s also the one with the hunchbacked evil genius who usurps the throne and has himself crowned king, the princes being murdered in the tower, and a fabulous haunting scene! The historiography of the play may be fairly tenuous, but the audience is left in no doubt of the creative genius of the writer.  All of this means that I am getting paid to be an absolute nerd about the language, the writing and the history, all at the same time. That in itself is pretty darned great.

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Tonight, though, as I was browsing through the Wordpress reader, I found an article about a great new Indie novel about the life of Henry Stafford, known in Shakespeare’s play as Buckingham, the ally and “other self” of King Richard III. When I went to a renowned global digital bookstore to check it out, I discovered the same author has also written a novel and several other books about Richard III.

That may not seem very exciting to some, but for me, it’s fantastic. I get to teach ‘Richard III’, indulge myself in Shakespeare and history to my heart’s content, and to read and review a couple of Indie books about two of the most fascinating characters in the play – and possibly in English history, it could be argued – at the same time.

My nerdy little mind is blown. I think I need to go and lie down.

 

Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ (2017)

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Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.

What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.

Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?

The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.

As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.

The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.

The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.

This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?

The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.

Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.

Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
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Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
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When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
 
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.

 

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.

 

This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  

And there’s no better time to start than today.

There’s no business like show business!

It’s wonderful to be able to honestly say that the show was spectacular.

Every year, this week is one of the busiest of my teaching year. It’s right up there with report writing in terms of stress, but it’s much more enjoyable.

It’s Production Week.
I’m the director/producer of my school’s musical each year, and this is the week where we hit the stage and everyone is wowed by the students’ performances.

The weeks leading up to the show have been demanding. There has been fear, elation, exhaustion, laryngitis, delight, and excitement in fairly equal proportions. Even so, there has been an overriding confidence – at least, most of the time – that the show would be great.

In every show we do, the kids are always amazing, and I’m always proud.
But during the first performance of ‘Les Miserables – School Edition’ last Friday night, I was so proud that I cried. For someone who doesn’t cry much, that says a lot.

It’s wonderful to be able to honestly say that the show was spectacular.

In saying that, I don’t mean to brag. This has been a group effort by singers, actors, orchestra, sound and lighting crew, set construction teams, backstage crew, parents sewing costumes, hair & makeup teams, vocal coaches, musical director and myself. A show like this doesn’t happen without every part of the machine running.

Most of you reading this won’t get a chance to see the show, so here’s a little article from today’s Warrnambool Standard, complete with a totally-unrehearsed-for video that shows you how talented, and how delightfully funny, my students are.

It’s no wonder I’m proud. They’re fabulous.

That’s an A+, right there.

One of my students has quoted ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Man In Black’ in a piece of writing exploring how people encounter and respond to conflict. 

I think I’ve died and gone to Teacher Heaven. 

A+. 

I tried.

From time to time, teachers are asked to cover lessons for colleagues who are absent for some reason. 

Today I had the privelege of covering a Y10 Health and Human Development class.
They could have been discussing exercise, nutrition or health… but, no.

That would have been waaayyy  too easy. They had to be learning about male and female body parts and their functions. 

While I was busy asking myself why these lessons always seem to be handed to me, I was interrupted by a student asking a question.

Student 1: “What’s the cervix again?”
Student 2: “It’s the trapdoor thing that stops the baby coming out.”

Wait. The what??

Very diplomatically, I suggested he might like to look things up in a dictionary, or at least the printed notes they had been given to read and highlight. I don’t think he did, though. 

A little later, Student 1 had another question: “Are the uterus and the urethra the same thing?”

Again, I pointed him to the printed notes and the dictionary.

“How is that going to help me?” he asked. 

“How indeed?”  I thought to myself. 


I’m sorry, Miss K.  I tried.