Life’s But A Walking Shadow

Over the past few days I have been struck by the paradox in which life seems to go by so fast, driven at breakneck speed by the demands of work and family and often leaving us little time to relax, but it can at the same time grind to a halt at key moments and leave us little to do but contemplate life itself.

As I sit by my father’s bedside and look out the window of his hospital room, watching the long morning shadows fade and transform in bright sunshine and reappear later in the day, this passage from Macbeth V.v has been running through my mind.

Macbeth V.v

I’ve had plenty of time to think about what it means. Thoughts about the transience of life, the fleeting shadows, the fact that tomorrow is neither promised nor guaranteed, and how easily one’s candle can be snuffed out have been foremost in my mind.

The irony and contrast of interacting with my students on Monday and watching a performance of Macbeth from the Globe Theatre and then spending so much time in this quiet hospital room since Tuesday, thinking about the roles I play and the importance of how I play them, has not escaped me.

While “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, II.vii) I’d like to think at this point I am not a poor one. Whether at work or at home, and especially this week taking care of my dad, I have chosen to prioritise integrity and kindness. I will not deliver rehearsed lines, seeking instead to project and embody meaningful words with total commitment to my character and roles as daughter, career, sister, advocate, communicator and encourager.

Life’s But A Walking Shadow ‪#Reflection #LifeisStrange #ThoughtForTheDay #FridayThoughts #Shakespeare‬

Shakespeare Nerd

Macbeth, V.v

This short speech by Macbeth is his response to the news that Lady Macbeth is dead. It is not as emotional as Macduff’s response to the death of his wife and children, but instead is quite poignant and philosophical. A soliloquy might have been more expansive on his thoughts and feelings.

It is a reflection on the brevity and meaninglessness of life. Every day we live is someone else’s last, and our stories are full of noise and bother, but ultimately pointless.

Perhaps he anticipated her death, given her descent into guilty madness. His observation that “She should have died hereafter;There would have been time for such a word” suggeststhat he thought he had bigger problems at that point, and he simply didn’t have time to grieve properly. Implying that her timing was inconvenient is the kind of self-interest that those who love to hate Macbeth might find…

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A Reflection on Teaching From Home: Week 1

While online classes may not be ideal, things could definitely be worse.

I wrote in Tuesday night’’s post that the first day of teaching my classes remotely/online was challenging. 

I thought it would be good to follow that up at the end of the school week with my insights after a few more days’ experience.

Things definitely got better as the school week progressed. 

All of my students seemed to relax and interact more normally as the week progressed. I think some of them found it really awkward and a bit artificial at first, and many others— myself included— just didn’t know what to expect. 

I had to make my expectations for behaviour and interactions super clear via email to a couple of kids. 
I actually made an explicit list of what I expected and what they were not welcome to do.  This helped to set boundaries for them, and they changed their attitude accordingly. Things were a lot better after that. 

My students have done some great work this week, and I have been able to give positive and constructive feedback to encourage them. 
This also encourages me: I can do this. The kids appreciate my effort and input. My classes are benefiting from the structure, the lessons and the encouragement I have given them. It doesn’t matter if I feel it’s not the same or not enough, or as though I am treading water. 
I am good enough. My teaching is valuable. I can do this. 

I am so thankful for  my school and its  consistent, uniform approach to the delivery of lessons and learning material. I’m also super glad we have followed the same routines and timetables. 

In times of turmoil and change, schools, teachers and students all have the greatest chance of success when everyone is on the same page and things are kept as consistent and stable as possible

In my discussions with friends and family who teach elsewhere, I have learned that this isn’t happening elsewhere. Timetables and class sizes have changed for some, some have new classes they’ve never had before, and others have no streamlined or consistent method of delivery or assessment. One poor soul is trying to deal with all of those complications and more. 
I am trying to be as supportive of that particular friend as I can be, and have suggested that if the school has left it completely up to him to manage, he might follow the practices my own school has implemented so that his students have some structure and consistency with his classes at least. He’s going to do that, and suggest those same things to his colleagues. 

Teachers worldwide are struggling with the same anxieties, challenges and logistics that I am. 
I am note alone. 
Nor are my students. 

We should not be discouraged if we don’t get through the regular program, or if things don’t always work the way we’d like them to.

Our online classrooms provide valuable connection and communication for the kids. It helps them to feel less isolated and cut off, and gives them regular opportunities to think and talk about life beyond corona. 

Ultimately, my students are safe and healthy at home, and learning every day. Those are blessings that should not ever be taken for granted in this strange coronaverse of 2020. 

I can honestly say I am looking forward to another week of positive, encouraging lessons and interactions after a well-earned rest this weekend. 

Why Teaching From Home Is More Difficult Than You Think

One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome

As a teacher, I know there is no substitute for being in the classroom, engaging with the students and supervising their work, making suggestions or guiding their thinking. When you create a constructive, productive learning environment, students thrive. 

Over the past few weeks, my school has worked really hard to reproduce that in an online learning environment. My colleagues and I have put a great deal of thought and preparation into making our students’ experiences of learning from home in online classes as interesting and beneficial as they can possibly be. From where I stand, we’ve done a great job of preparing for teaching and learning from home, and I really hope that our students and their parents feel the same way. 

Today was our first day of teaching and learning remotely. My students were well behaved and cooperative. Most seem to have coped with the challenges of doing school at home, some of them sharing an environment with their siblings who were also doing their lessons at home, quite well. We got through everything I had planned for those initial lessons. Judging from the work they handed in today, the kids generally worked as well as they usually do in a classroom environment. 

I don’t know how they all felt at the end of the school day, but by the time 3.30pm rolled around, I was exhausted. 

Make no mistake: online teaching is really hard. It’s mentally demanding in ways that physical presence in the classroom is not. It’s harder to hear students when they speak, and it’s harder to be sure that everyone understands what you say or what you want them to do.  Even marking the roll poses new challenges when you can’t simply identify empty spaces in the classroom. Things that have become instinctive for teachers are now impossible, and we find ourselves reinventing pedagogy, teaching, communication, and the delivery of lessons and lesson materials. 

You can no longer maintain classroom management by circulating around the room or standing in strategic places so you can see what kids have on their screens. You can’t just look over a kid’s shoulder and remind them of a principle or fact that they need to consider. You can’t make a teaching point of quickly correcting an error or oversight. 

To an extent, one has to just accept that and move on. If a student is easily distracted or willing to be inattentive, that is understandable: there’s a lot going on,  they’re at school without being at school, they’re in their own environment, and some of them are genuinely anxious about the dangers and the restrictions that Covid-19 has brought about. Really, the best you can hope for is to find a way to gently bring their attention back to the task and try to re-focus them. 

It’s a tricky set of circumstances for the kids as it is, and adding learning at home to the strangeness of social isolation and distancing is a situation that some kids — and some teachers — will undoubtedly find awkward at best. 

Still, it’s good for all of us, kids and teachers alike, to have a routine and a variety other things to think about. It is healthy and constructive use of the abundant time we would otherwise have on our hands at this point in time. 

As tired as I was, they day did end particularly well. After spending 90 minutes with one of my classes this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when three of my students thanked me for the lesson. In the past, wishing each other a good afternoon or a pleasant evening was not unusual, but having students actually thanking me for double English after lunch on Tuesday is totally new. 

I spent the rest of my regular school day responding to the work they submitted, and giving my students some feedback on their ideas and responses. It was nice to be able to 

At 4.15pm, I made myself a cup of coffee and almost cried into it with gratitude for my good but mentally exhausting day, and for the caffeine upon which I would rely for the next couple of hours while I cooked dinner and did everything else I needed to do. 

When dinner was done, I looked at my husband and asked if it was too early to go to bed. 
“It’s 6.15pm,” he said. 
“So probably, then?” I asked. 
“Yeah. Probably.” 

Maybe I’ll just spend the time between now and bedtime thinking about what gift I’m going to buy myself for Teacher Appreciation Week. 
Whatever it is, I will have earned it.

One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome
#teachingfromhome #TeachFromHome #TeachingOnline #teachertwitter

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Self Care At Home During the Corona Virus Lockdown

Taking care of ourselves has always mattered, but it’s even more important during times of restricted personal freedom.

I get it. We’re at home, our kids are home, we can’t go anywhere, so let’s stay in our pyjamas all day! Right? 

Wrong. 

When everything else in the world is in limbo and the rules are changing on a weekly — or daily — basis, it’s really important for our health to keep some kind of routine and not let the basics fall by the wayside. 

Yesterday, I mentioned that taking care of ourselves is one of the positive things we should all be doing. While everyone’s situation is unique, there are some commonsense strategies for taking care of ourselves which are particularly relevant during the disruption to our regular routines by the corona virus lockdown. 

Nutrition matters. It’s tempting to live on pizza, chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches, but being sure we eat well and nourish our bodies properly is crucial to maintaining good health.
The healthier we are, the more resistant we are to germs of any kind, and the recovery from any bug we might pick up will be quicker.
Not only that, but we’re going to have to go back to work sooner or later, and it would be good if those business suits or uniforms still fit when that time comes. 

Hydration is also crucial to keeping the body healthy, but most of us don’t drink as much water as we should.
It was only when I started keeping track of how much I was drinking in a day that I realised how far short I had fallen from what my body actually needed on a daily basis. 
Remember, too, that alcohol is a diuretic, so for every beer or glass of wine, we need to drink more water. 
For a great discussion on how much water we need to drink, listen to this interview from ABC Australia. 

Exercise is similarly important, and for more reasons than just not bulking out while we’re hibernating. Exercise is good for the brain and the emotions as well as the body, so even when we can’t leave home, it’s important to walk, or get on the treadmill, toss a ball with the dog, follow a cardio or dance video tutorial, or get into stretching and yoga. Even cleaning out a cupboard or doing some gardening qualifies. There are lots of options for people to pursue at home, and your exercise can be as gentle or vigorous as you want it to be so there’s no excuse for staying in bed or living on the couch for the foreseeable future. 

While it has been widely publicised that sunlight will kill the corona virus doesn’t like the sunlight, that is not actually true. Even so, it dos kill other germs and bacteria.
Stepping outside the house and into the fresh air and sunshine is highly beneficial for wellbeing. You don’t have to go far – just into the yard will do if you can’t or don’t want to go any further.
While people who live outside the city are at a definite advantage here, most neighbourhoods have parks, gardens or reserves where you can go and walk without being in close proximity to anyone else or even touching anything. 
Letting light into your house is important, too. it helps you maintain a natural circadian rhythm, and therefore promotes better sleep hygiene. 

Personal hygiene may seem mundane, and there are probably people out there who are treating it as optional, but showering every day, wearing deodorant, and taking care with presentation is an important part of taking on each day with a positive attitude. It’s psychologically proactive and It makes a difference to our physical health and wellbeing. Just as importantly, it makes you much more pleasant to be around. You might just be at home with your family, but they are actually the most significant people in your life. If you couldn’t be bothered doing it for yourself, do it for them. 

Maintaining a routine is also a very positive psychological strategy. If you normally work from 8.30 til midday then break for lunch, try to do that at home, too. You might have some interruptions, or you might be sharing a workspace, but it’s a powerful way to model to other people, especially kids, that keeping going in times of adversity is both possible and beneficial. It also keeps the brain trained for returning to work when the time comes, and gives you a great sense of satisfaction of achieving something each day. 

Similarly, keeping your home spaces clean and tidy promotes health by not giving the germs a foothold. Do the laundry, wash the dishes, and clean the surfaces regularly. That way, things are easily maintained without turning into hard labour. 

Relaxation should be part of every day. Whether it’s reading, crafting, meditation, writing, doing a puzzle or listening to music or a podcast, spend some time each day in quietness and peace.
If your kids aren’t good at quietness and peace — and many are not — now is a better time than any to model positive mindfulness and teach them some strategies they can use. They should also be learning to respect your need for some downtime, too. They may be getting frustrated, but it’s actually not all about them. 

In keeping with all of this, my own personal strategies include are: 

  • Maintaining my regular morning routine: get up at a reasonable hour, shower, dress, have breakfast, and then get into the things I need to do each day. 
  • Creating an achievable “to-do” list for each day. It helps me organise myself, and ticking things off the list is incredibly satisfying.
  • Sticking to my usual school timetable as much as possible when I’m working from home.
    I’m a teacher, so there’s always plenty I can do. I have to take care not to let work consume the entirety of each and every day. A routine helps me to manage that more effectively, and keeps me on task this week as I’m working to get done what I need for the beginning of Term 2.
  • During the scheduled term break of two weeks leading up to Easter, I need to ensure I have the break I have earned. There will be some school work to do — there always is — but I will not be working the whole time.
  • Spending time outdoors every day. I can choose to work in our courtyard, spend time in the yard with the dog and talking to the sheep over the fence, or spend time in one of the parks in town. Mixing it up from day to day is how I roll. 
  • Eating properly. The temptation to snack all day is huge, and having dropped a few dress sizes since August, that’s not a habit I want to get back into. I’m shopping strategically – I go only when I need to, and when my resolve is strongly in favour of buying apples rather than chocolate. 
  • Punctuating  between activities by drinking a glass of water. 
  • Maintain my regular habit of reading for at least an hour a day. 

Self Care At Home During the #CoronavirusLockdown #mentalhealth #HealthandWellbeing #selfcare #Priorities #stayinghome

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

If you have suggestions or tips to add, please leave a comment.

A Punny Thing Happened In My History Class Today…

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’ve mentioned here before that I enjoy a good pun. Today, to my delight, one of my students came up with a pretty good one, so I responded in kind.

It happened in history, where my students were mapping the three arenas of WWII.

Student A: Syria. Sy-ri-a. *grins* Are you…syyyyyyrias? 
Me: Hey, I was just dam-ask in’…
Student B: That’s SO bad. 

Well, we laughed hard. And then student A explained it to the rest of the class, and they laughed too.

Poor Student B, though. As Student A explained, he put his head on the table and moaned, “It’s like having my dad in the room… twice!”

Still, it it wasn’t enough to stop him from piping up a little later.

Student B: Did you know that it wasn’t just Darwin, Broome got bombed too? 
Me: Yes, the Japanese swept right across north-west Australia…
Student A: Haha! That’s genius! 
Student B: No. NO. That’s awful! 
Me: I didn’t expect you to bristle like that. 
Student B: I’m leaving. *walks out of the room*
Student C: Where’s B? 
Me: *just as B is walking back in* I made a joke and he flew off the handle. 
Student B: No. *walks out again*

It was a fun moment which we all enjoyed, but it also made the facts the students were working with more memorable. Once we’d had a laugh, they all just kept on working.

Opportunities like that don’t happen all the time, but when they do, they are welcome.

Humour is such good medicine, and it makes excellent social glue. It was wonderful to be able to laugh together during a week when the world seems far more uncertain and a lot less enjoyable than it did a couple of weeks ago.

I’m thankful that my students have the confidence to express themselves in my classroom, and that they do it in ways that are clever and fun. It really is a huge blessing to be able to have such great rapport with my students, and these kids make it easy to keep going to work every day.

These anecdotes were retold here with the permission of the students involved.

History isn’t “horrible”, it’s essential….!

Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay

While I agree with the author of this post that, in many places, history is taught differently and with a much more recent focus than in previous years, there are places where a broad spectrum of history is taught well.

In Victoria, Australia, the history curriculum is quite comprehensive in that it includes the study of ancient, medieval and modern civilisations and the issues and events that shaped and defined them.

By the time students at my school finish their compulsory education at the end of Year 10, for example, they will have studied Ancient Egypt, Israel and Babylon, medieval civilisations in Europe and Asia, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, both World Wars, the Civil Rights Movements in the US and Australia, and various elements of life in 20th Century Australia.

Like the author of this post, I am passionate about history, and I strive to make it interesting, relevant and engaging for my students. My interactions and experience with other teachers of the Humanities leads me to believe that this is true of most. We may all have different areas of particular interest and expertise, but we have a common goal: to inspire and teach so that students have an awareness of where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come, and how to apply that knowledge so that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past in the future.

murreyandblue

Richard III – from ‘Horrible Histories’

“…Imagine knowing the entire list of British monarchs by heart at age 10. Imagine knowing about cavemen courting rituals or what soldiers ate during World War I. Imagine becoming so invested in the life of the infamous King Richard III of England that you joined the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to finding his bones and solving the mystery of what happened to his nephews over 500 years ago…”

The extract above is from this study breaks article which, as you might guess, is all about ‘Horrible Histories’!

It made me think, because I did know my English/British monarchs by the age of 10…by 8/9 in fact. There was a chart on my bedroom wall and it faced me when I sat up in bed. I noticed Richard III even then, because he was so different from the rest. Slender, dark-haired, troubled…or so…

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A Crisis of Confidence

If you think kids are the only ones who suffer ‘back to school’ anxiety, think again.

On the evening before school starts back for the year, I usually hit a patch of anxiety that keeps me awake into the wee hours of the morning. 

Today, my brain has hit fast-forward and has dumped me in that patch just about as soon as I woke up. 

I know it’s not logical. I know I am good at my job. I love my workplace, and a number of my colleagues are also my good friends. I love teaching. I’ve done my preparation.I know that I will go back tomorrow and everything will be okay. 

Today, however, my brain is playing a different tune. I am plagued with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I am fearful of nothing in particular and everything in general. I know I can do it but I feel as though I can’t. 

This is what happens when anxiety, introversion and impostor syndrome get together for a wild party: they don’t get messed up, I do. 

What many people don’t realise is that many of their own kids’ teachers go through the same thing every year and every term. Some experience it much more frequently, even daily. 

To look at them, especially at work in the classroom, you’d never know it. But it is real, and it is genuinely awful. 

I don’t know what the solution is. The only thing I know how to do is hang in there, try to take care of myself, and keep going like I always do. 

A Gory Little Story.

It’s when you’re tired that the boundaries that divide the different “parts” of life from one another tend to get a little blurry.

This was evident yesterday when I was working through the online First Aid refresher course that I have to complete before attending the in-person training and re-qualifying on Tuesday. 

When I got to the section dealing with ‘Shock, Wounds and Bleeding’, the introductory notes featured an image of a wound that was bleeding freely. My immediate response was to exclaim, “Must be fresh… must be blood!” And then I  started singing, “Feed me, Seymour….feed me all night long.”

This is evidence of: 

  1. Full and complete engagement in my First Aid training… naturally
  2. Total and complete immersion in the show I’m directing next year
  3. Extreme tiredness at the end of term 4
  4. Consequent failure to observe the boundaries that exist between my different “lives”

And in case what I was singing makes no sense to you, here’s a clip of that scene from the film.

On Top Of The Mountain

Today, I reached the top of Mt Marking

Assignments finished.
Essays graded. 
Exams done. 
Results entered. 
Reports written. 
Proofreading completed.
Boxes ticked. 

And it feels like a huge achievement. 

Sure, there is always more work to be done. 
But tonight, I can relax knowing I have done my job well. 

Climbing Mt Marking.

I’ve been largely out of action here this week, because I have been on my annual personal personal pilgrimage attempting to scale Mt Marking.

You may not have heard of Mt Marking. It is a steep and imposing mountain, located right near Mt Grading and Mt Evaluation in the End-Of-Year Reporting Ranges. It is difficult to climb, and can quickly turn into a slippery slope if one does not pay attention to one’s preparation, time management, and self-discipline. 

After several very long and arduous days, I have made it about half-way up. It is getting somewhat harder to breathe, and it is exhausting, yet I must persist. I find myself relying more and more on coffee and, while I have been careful about nutrition in past weeks, I find now that I need to supplement my diet with chocolate to keep my strength and attention at sustainable levels. 

And when Miley Cyrus sang that “it ain’t about how fast I get there” and “it ain’t about what’s on the other side”, it was not Mt Marking she was climbing. There are deadlines, after all, and the dangerous, rapidly-flowing Reporting River is what awaits on the other side, with the broad and intimidating Planning For Next Year Wilderness beyond that. 

I will be able to see it all once I stand triumphantly on top of Mt Marking. On a clear day, you can see almost all the way to the end of the term.