Masking The Awkwardness With Humour

Teacher masks students covid COVIDSafe

Disclaimer: I don’t kneel for my students, as that would send entirely the wrong message. Besides, they are teenagers and I’m only 5’2″. Also, I can no longer kneel. Image via Pixabay

Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.

The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.

Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance. 

As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem. 

When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”. 

When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”

When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.” 

In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I  simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose. 

These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.

I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on. 

Masking Awkwardness With Humour
#TeacherLife #humour #blogpost

Note: Arguments about whether or not masks should be worn will not be entered into, and negative comments to that effect will be deleted. 

Is It Okay To End A Sentence With A Preposition?

The practice of leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence, often referred to as preposition stranding, has long been considered to be “against the rules”. Generations of teachers and grammarians have condemned it as a grammatical taboo. 

That isolated, lonely preposition, separated from its noun, is known as a terminal preposition, and may also be described as danging, hanging or stranded.

Albeit with the best of intentions, this was drummed into me as a child, so I simply accepted it and tried to avoid doing so in whatever I wrote. 

As I got older, though, I came to realise that it’s something we do very naturally in speaking. In fact, avoiding it in spoken English can make what one is saying seem very formal and stilted. 

When I was in high school, one of my History teachers told us a story about one of Winston Churchill’s famous comebacks. On receiving a correction about finishing a sentence with a preposition in the draft of a speech, he responded, “This is nonsense, up with which I shall not put.”  

As it turned out, it probably wasn’t Churchill who first made the joke. I don’t know if he ever did, despite numerous and varied attributions. It has also been attributed to various other people, and there are variations on the line that was said to have been delivered, so it’s hard to know who said what, and when. 

Either way, the story demonstrates that the rule is actually a bit ridiculous. 

So where did this rule come from? And is it something we still have to abide by?

Back in the 1600s, a grammarian named Joshua Poole developed some principles about how and where in a sentence prepositions should be used, based on Latin grammar. 

A few years later, the poet John Dryden, a contemporary of John Milton, took those rules one step further when he openly criticised Ben Johnson— another great poet— for ending a sentence with a preposition. Dryden decreed that this was something that should never be done. Nobody bothered to correct or oppose Dryden, and Ben Johnson certainly couldn’t because he had been dead for years, so Dryden’s strident and public protestations popularised the principle into a rule. Over time, strict grammarians and pedants began to actively oppose the practice, and the rule became widely accepted and firmly established.

Ironically, despite all the wise and clever plays, poetry and essays written by John Dryden, it was his consistent complaint about the terminal preposition that became his most enduring legacy.

Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, calls it a “cherished superstition that prepositions must, in spite of the incurable English instinct for putting them late… be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern.” Fowler goes on to assert that even Dryden had to go back and edit all of his work to eliminate the terminal prepositions in his own writing. 

In the last century or so, people have become progressively less fussy and worried about it, but some still seem determined to cling to the rule no matter what. 

I advise my students that in formal writing such as essays, speeches, official letters and submissions, it is best to avoid the terminal preposition just in case their reader is someone who might judge them for it. Any other time, in keeping with standard spoken English, they are free to use their prepositions wherever they feel most natural and make the most sense. 

Nobody in the 21st century is going to naturally ask someone “On which char did you sit?” rather than “Which chair did you sit on?”, nor will they say “I wonder for whom that parcel is intended” Instead of “I wonder who that parcel is for.” 

In the 21st century, that really is nonsense up with which we do not have to put.

Sources: 
Quote Investigator
Merriam-Webster
Fowler, H.W (1926) A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford Language Classics, OUP, Reprinted 2002.

Is It OK to End a Sentence with a Preposition?
#grammar #English #language

Back in the Classroom: Putting My Teacher Mask On

Thoughts on the first day of face to face teaching after months of lockdown and teaching online.

Image by HaticeEROL on Pixabay

After nine weeks of only seeing my students in little squares on my computer screen, a two week term break, and a final week of online classes, we resumed face to face lessons today. Things were a little bit different than they used to be, though. 

The desks were distanced from one another as practically as they could be. The bottle of sanitiser at the front of the room had been joined by another and, this time around, the students didn’t need reminding to use it. Most obviously, though, we were all wearing masks. 

We used to talk about “putting our teacher hat on” when we walked into the classroom, and taking it off again at the end of the day. I guess now it’s our teacher masks we have to consciously think about wearing, as this seems to be the new normal— in Victorian schools, at least— for the foreseeable future. 

The wearing of masks is something disliked by many students and staff alike. Personally, I don’t mind wearing one, and I am happy to not be breathing in whatever germs are floating around the room. Most of my students seemed to manage without any difficulty, but getting some of them to wear their masks properly and not keep touching them proved to be yet another new classroom challenge.

Still, there were some good things going on. 

The tone and humour in my classrooms was generally positive. One kid who doesn’t even like me much told me it was good to see me. I laughed and told him to give it time, and everyone laughed at that because we all knew it wouldn’t last.

Marking the class roll was significantly easier and quicker than online: once again, I could see at a glance who wasn’t there. Marking the roll in online classes was something I always found arduous. Today it took two seconds. 

I could see right away who wasn’t doing what they should be, and I could move around behind them and see their screens. There is no more effective way to make someone work than to be able to see their screen. 

At the same time, I could instantly encourage those who were working hard amd staying on task. It’s so much easier to be positive when you can be both natural and proactive about it. The added bonus is that when you praise and encourage one student for doing a good job or making a great effort, it tends to make those listening more inclined to want to do better and get some praise, too. 

Those few kids who have avoided doing much at all since we returned to online schooling finally had to do some work. Those who did not engage in online lessons found themselves no longer able to just sign in and zone out or leave the room. And because I was wearing a mask, they couldn’t see my wry grin as I watched them working. 

I was able to move around the room and look over the shoulders of my students. Delivering instant feedback and reminders about spelling, punctuation and paragraphs is significantly easier than trying to give that kind of advice online.

All things considered, while the day was not without a few issues and challenges, it’s fair to say that the positives outweighed the negatives. It’s hard not to be satisfied with that. 

Covid 19 and the Great Pestilence: How Much Have We Really Learned?

Image by ivabalk on Pixabay.

This post reminds me of the lessons I’ve been doing with my Year 8 History class about Medieval Europe and the Black Death.

My students were very interested in the plague, and surprised by the fact that this was when quarantine, social distancing, and the wearing of masks became the go-to modes of dealing with contagious disease. They were also surprised by the time it took the Europeans to understand the importance of basic hygiene, and how very long it took to develop good medical knowledge.

These lessons were highly relevant in These Times, and helped the kids to understand why we’re being reminded to wear masks, wash and sanitise our hands, and keep away from other people. It was good to be able to discuss how relevant history can be. 

We all agreed we are incredibly thankful for modern medicine, science, vaccines and health care. 

It does strike me as bizarre, however, that with all the scientific and technological advances we’ve made, we still have to remind people to wash their hands. Some things, it seems, never change. 

murreyandblue

This illustration is simply that, a suitable illustration – the Flagellants followed the first wave of the Great Pestilence and aren’t mentioned here.
from https://www.britannica.com/event/Black-Death

In this time of Covid 19, when we don’t know why it seems to affect men more than women, and some ethnicities but not others, it is interesting that back in the 14th century the tsunami of the Great Pestilence of 1348 was followed by lesser waves that differed in many ways from the original. The first of these, in the England of 24 Edward III (January 1360 to January 1361) was called the secunda pestilencia and appeared to affect mostly the very young, babies and adolescents. Women were not affected in the same way.

The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn notes: “…In that year [1360] began a plague among Londoners at about the feast of St Michael, where at first infants…

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Why Word Nerds Love The International Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet is a system of symbols that denote all the different units of sound — called phonemes — that make up words in any language. It was first developed in the late 19th century, and has been developed and updated ever since. 

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam. The IPA page in my copy of The Macquarie Encylopedic Dictionary, 2011 Signature Edition.

I learned the IPA in my first year at Macquarie University in 1985. and found it to be an incredibly useful extension of my literacy and learning.  It is knowledge and fluency that I have actively maintained ever since. 

While it has more symbols to learn, it is more straightforward than the English alphabet, where letters can have more than one sound, and a sound can have multiple letters and letter combinations assigned to them. In the IPA. there is one symbol for one sound. There are no silent letters, and there is clear differentiation between words such as ‘foot’ and ‘boot’ that look as though they should rhyme, but do not. It also avoids situations such as that created by the letter a having six different pronunciations from which the reader must choose correctly if they are to understand what has been written. Syllables in words are marked, so that the pronunciation of the word is clearly and accurately transcribed. 

Hypothetically, one could write any word of any language as it was heard, and anyone fluent in IPA could read it regardless of which other languages they could or could not speak or read fluently. 

That came in very handy when lecturers and tutors in other courses used words or names I didn’t know: I used the IPA to write them down, so that I could research and identify them later. When I wanted to keep something confidential, I used the IPA to make notes or records, confident in the knowledge that my friends and family would have absolutely zero clue what was written. That probably wasn’t always entirely necessary, but it did give me a sense of security at the time. The IPA also helped me learn and perfect key phrases to use when family from overseas came to visit, and again later on when I was visiting other countries.

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam. from The Macquarie Encylopedic Dictionary, 2011 Signature Edition.

A number of dictionaries, both online and hard copy, provide the pronunciation of every word in IPA, giving clear guidance to how unknown words should be spoken. As a fan of the IPA, this is something I consider essential in a dictionary for my own use. 

Because it is an international system of transcribing language, the IPA does include symbols that are not often used in standard UK or Australian English. They may, however, be very useful in transcribing the spoken English of migrant communities. It also has some symbols that are only used in English, and some that are used predominantly in American English.

All of this makes the IPA a versatile tool for all sorts of contexts: work, travel, study, clear communication, and general word nerdery. 

Resources: 

The Latest, Perhaps Greatest, Swear Word

Last week I asked my students to do something creative. 

 Today, Student A  wasn’t very impressed with the outcome of their efforts. “I tried, but it’s turned out a bit 2020.” 

“It’s a bit what?” I asked. 

“2020.” 

Obviously, I was expected to understand. 

“Mine’s pretty 2020 too, to be honest,”  Student B admitted. 

I looked at their faces on my screen. They were being serious. 

“So…” I asked, “Are we using that as a swear word now?” 

They’re right. It actually works.

“More meaningful than swearing, Miss,” said Student B.

The rest of the class concurred. 

“And we can’t even get in trouble for saying it.” Student A grinned, clearly rather pleased with that reality. 

I smiled, told them their work was way better than 2020, and moved the lesson on. 

I don’t know if they just started doing that by themselves or picked it up from somewhere else, but at least they’re finding some practical use for 2020. I may just follow suit. 

Is English A Salad?

Today’s English class was the most fun I have had in a long time. I wanted to exercise the kids’ minds and get them thinking laterally. I also wanted them to enjoy it. A lesson with a difference seemed to me a great way to start our final week of term and inject some interest into our online classroom.

I began by presenting my students with the contention that a box of chocolates is a salad.

This was not a popular suggestion. 

“No it’s not!” one student said… quite defensively, I might add. “Salad is salad. Chocolate is chocolate. You can’t ruin chocolate like that!”

But, I asked, what is a salad if it’s not simply a mixture of vegetables? Chocolate comes from beans… and if you add nuts, or fruit, or herbs like peppermint, then it’s definitely a salad.

We spent quite some time redefining food, presenting the most persuasive arguments we could think of, and debating the nature of reality. 

Every time it sounded like the students might be in danger of reaching a consensus, I made another suggestion. 

Ice cream, on its own, may just be ice cream – but the minute you put it in a cone, or add fruit or chocolate, it’s a salad. 
Coffee, like chocolate, is made from beans. It’s a salad.

“No!” was the response. “Coffee is hot – it can’t be a salad.”

So then I really twisted it up.

Is coffee soup?
Is cereal soup? Or is it a salad with too much dressing?
According to one student, and I quote, “Soup is not what soup is.”

Is the English language a metaphorical salad? Because it’s a mixture of a whole bunch of languages, right? The flavours are all mixed, but the parts are still recognisable if you know what you’re looking at.

Is the English language a sticky weed? Or velcro? Because you know, it takes something from every other language it swipes past. Maybe it’s double sided tape… 

I am not ashamed to say that I really had fun. Despite their groans and protestations, I think they did, too. 

Perhaps the most satisfying moments, though, were two comments made by different students: 

“You’ve just entirely ruined the English language.”

and

“These have been the most problematic fifteen minutes of my life.”

What started out as a brain tease turned into a really interesting discussion about how we use language and define things in our own ways, and often assume that everyone else understands what we’re talking about, and that everyone else agrees with us.

It’s safe to say most of them enjoyed it… but it’s also safe to say that I enjoyed it more. 

Stress Management Tips For Workaholics.

At a time when my state is still in lockdown, we’re back to teaching online and trying to tick all the boxes that go with that while at the same time dealing with all the other demands of life.

It’s very easy to become consumed by the job. It’s very easy to rationalise going those extra steps to create whizz-bang lessons that will engage and interest the students and hopefully keep both them and myself motivated despite the malaise that I have dubbed ‘online learning fatigue”.

I have learned over recent months how important it is to set limits for myself. I have consciously tried to avoid overburdening my students with work, and sought to develop learning activities that they can complete offline. I’ve tried to remind them to get up and walk around, to drink water, to get sunshine on their face and on their back.

Ironically, I’m not always so great at managing my own stress. In the midst of trying to be Super Teacher or Little Miss Motivator, I still have to remind myself to do those same things.

This post from Nerdome appeared in my feed at an opportune moment. It’s a good read, providing some quick tips and good insights about managing stress.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Nerdome

Those who spend more time with their works tend to suffer from stress more than the other. The mental and emotional burden that is often attributed to the demands of work can affect our productivity and efficiency with our task that would often lead us to troubles than not. This is one reason why it is very important for workaholics to undertake stress management to avoid compromising their career.

You don’t have to be in a special place to apply stress management. In fact, you can do it anytime and anywhere if you feel like it. You can do it while at your work desk, in the comfort room, or even out in the lobby. The idea here is to control your mind to relax so that you can continue fresh with your task — emotionally, physically, and mentally. Here are some tips that will surely help you out.

Tip…

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Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions

Today’s professional development day at school focused on Positive Education and how we can help our students and our communities to flourish. 

One of the aspects I found most thought-provoking was the discussion about positive or comfortable emotions and negative or uncomfortable emotions. It was particularly relevant to many of the things I have been experiencing and observing about life in recent weeks, and I want to share my observations and reflections on those things with you here.

Before I go any further, though, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not a medical or psychological expert or professional. I am, however, a high school teacher of 30 years’ experience, so I have had time and opportunity to make some observations about the things that happen in life and how we deal with them.

More personally, as someone who experiences chronic physical issues and mental health challenges, and who has experienced many conflicting emotions recently due to profound personal loss, I’m confident I know at least a little bit about dealing with adversity, and I’ve learned a few things about the importance of balancing negative emotions with positive ones. 

Both positive and negative emotions can be powerfully motivating.  Fear of failure or embarrassment is as strong, or stronger, in some people as desire for success is in others. 

Negative or uncomfortable emotions can motivate and fuel positive outcomes such as creativity, empathy, and relationship building.

Positive and negative emotions can actually be highly effectivecompanion emotions‘.  I don’t expect that this is a scientific term at all, but it seems to me a useful term that describes how contrasting emotions experienced at the same time can provide some healthy balance and perspective. 

I can testify from the past few weeks that gratitude can moderate grief, and enjoying a few quiet moments in the beauty of nature can transform abject misery into much gentler sadness.  

In different contexts, fear can be a healthy addition to awe or wonder – think of a child at the zoo, for example, for whom interest and desire to engage with the animals should always be balanced with both respect and a little fear or mistrust, so that the child and the animals all remain safe. In yet another situation, a little anxiety or nervousness can actually heighten deliberate preparation and performance if it is paired with intentional and thoughtful preparation, because it can stop one from making rushed or careless errors, or from taking success for granted. 

Life is not about always avoiding the feelings that make us uncomfortable or sad. Hoping to do so isn’t realistic at all, given that there are many situations that we can neither actually control or entirely avoid. 

Instead, it’s crucial that each of us learns to manage those negative or uncomfortable feelings and use the situations in which we encounter them to develop and consolidate our personal strengths and resilience.  Learning to look for the positives in life and choosing to find a balance for the negative experiences or emotions we encounter is how we grow and move forward in life. 

“Whether dealing with a major lifeshattering event or a small bump in the road, we can use gratitude to help boost our happiness and change our outlook. While gratitude won’t change our circumstances, experts say gratitude can change how we feel about them.”

Paula Felps in ‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps 

That’s certainly what I’m seeking to do while working through my grief. It’s okay to take the time to mourn my losses, but I can’t afford to unpack and live there. Finding a constructive way through my pain will enable me to heal, and come out stronger at the other end. 

In being honest about how I feel and what I’m thinking in my posts on this blog, my hope is that my words will help and encourage someone else get through their personal challenges, whatever they are, and to deal with both their circumstances and their feelings.

I have no doubt that knowing we are not the only ones going through grief or pain or whatever trial it is that is burdening us actually helps us to start to heal. That’s why empathy and compassion are so powerful. That’s why the support and love of family and friends is what we yearn for and seek out when things are hard.  

Tonight, as I reflected on these ideas and considered the fact that I had no evidence for my inexpert assertions, I did find a number of articles that show my conclusions are consistent with current science and research surrounding emotional and mental health. 

Of those articles, some were quite wordy and far too academic to be accessible, but I did find two easily readable and very interesting pieces that discuss the ways in which positive emotions such as gratitude and self-compassion can help individuals deal with adverse situations more constructively.  They are:
‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps via livehappy.com
’The Reason You Make Unhealthy Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander via time.com

“Being kind to yourself, as opposed to tearing yourself down, leads to fewer bad feelings and, in turn, healthier actions.”

Dr Fuschia Sirois, quoted in ’The Reason You Make Unhealthy
Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander
, via time.com September 25, 2014

Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions
#emotions #feelings #psychology #thoughts #reflection #personal #blogpost

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.