Time for a long weekend…

Is it nearly time for holidays yet?

I bloody hope so.

Despite the fact that I have been much less tired this term than I was this time last year, I think I am more emotionally worn down than anything.

The huge weeks that have been a regular occurrence in our faculty (year 12 marking, excursions, planning) have been very draining this year. As has the game of Wipeout my senior classes have been playing with my emotions and confidence and the dread I feel every time the staffroom phone rings; which parent has been in complaining now?

I must admit that the difference this year comes not only from being a year wiser but also from having my partner here as a stabilising presence to tell me it is actually bordering on certifiable if I mark til 3am or occupy every second lesson planning.

And although I am feeling utterly exhausted, I feel a sense of accomplishment this year; a sense that my lessons have continuity and that kids are building knowledge gradually but solidly in these areas as opposed to collecting bits here and there and somehow having to piece them together. This time last year, I was just trying to survive until the end of the lesson with my year 10 class.

I think this year my focus should be more upon emotional resilience rather than survival. With all of the new challenges I’m taking on this year (new courses, year advisor) I think I will need some coping mechanisms to deal with the barrage of criticism (not all of it constructive) that I will face, mostly from the wider community (read: parents).

It has taken me the better part of first term to work that out; how have your goals been altered by what has happened thus far this year?

Why do I care?

After having some hurtful things said about me today by a student, I started to wonder why it upset me so much, after all, is it important that your students like you? Think you are cool? Want to be in your class?

Now, I’m not talking about respect, I’m talking about positive feelings towards. Undoubtedly, a student must respect their teacher (and vice versa) for learning to occur.

Last year, I developed a thick skin. The students who hated me hated every teacher, hated school, their parents, and most things generally. The students who have expressed their displeasure this year, however, are the “nice” kids.

I have always felt that as a teacher or a parent, it isn’t important that kids “like” you, because, after all, kids won’t always appreciate you doing what’s best for them when they disagree about what it is that’s best for them. However this rationalisation hasn’t helped the feeling that today’s comments have planted in my stomach.

How do we cope with these comments about our personal qualities in a professional capacity?

Change is upon us!

With the NSW version of the Australian Curriculum to be implemented from 2014 in my KLA (English) for years 7 and 9, our faculty is planning how these changes can be incorporated into our planning for next year.

Our Head Teacher suggested that one of the most pressing things is to conduct planning with primary school teachers, particularly Stage 3, in order to map out how the new outcomes will shape the content we teach.

I have been pondering how this discussion might be best facilitated recently, and have wondered how other English faculties and primary school teachers have been preparing for this change.

I have thought about drafting a matrix like this and filling it out using backwards mapping: i.e. what do we want students to know by the “endpoint”? And working from there around the concepts that we teach in different aspects of English (which will fit into the different strands in the new syllabus).

Concept Desired End Point Stage 6 Stage 5 Stage 4 Stage 3 Stage 2

Syllabus outcome

Syllabus content

Suggested texts

Learning across curric

For example, if we take the concept of figurative language, we may have a desired end point of wanting students to understand the way comparisons affect the qualities and characteristics given to a person, object etc and be able to identify these qualities in common and explain the effect of the given figurative device. If we assume that the end of stage 6 is our end point, by working backwards, we see that this is what we must teach them in stage 6. So what must we teach in Stage 5? Perhaps the identification of these devices and an explanation of their definitions and the effect. Which devices are expected knowledge in stage 5? What kinds of texts would be appropriate for teaching these concepts? And the questions go on and on.

This may be a slightly simplistic view of how the new syllabus can be planned and programmed for, however I think that it is a good start to see what teachers consider THEIR role as a primary school teachers of English and high school teachers of English.

What I find especially daunting is the fact that some of the new Stage 3 outcomes resemble outcomes we are now teaching at the end of Stage 4 and into Stage 5. Now while this doesn’t sound like a dramatic leap when it’s phrased like that, the fact is, that the burden will now be put on primary school teachers to teach these extremely complex aspects of English, when previously it would have fallen to those of us who don’t need to be trained in millions of different KLAs like primary teachers.

I think that without working backwards, which is what most competent teachers do anyway in their everyday planning, we cannot possibly meet the demands of the new syllabus, which is that learning is supposed to be viewed as a CONTINUUM.

Please, any helpful advice would be appreciated! As I said, we are in our planning stage and would love to have input!

Memoirs of a second year teacher

Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

Was it really me this time last year in a frenzy of worksheets and with anxiety swirling in my stomach every time I thought about my Year 10 class?

Already halfway through Term 1, this year is flying past. My new goals and the new focus of my teaching, however, has left me wondering rather than worrying. My stress has turned to motivation and at the end of the day I am brimming with stories of enthusiasm rather than horror stories (mind you, there have been a couple of those recently).

This has made me wonder several things:
1. Will I start taking my brilliant classes for granted and become hardened?
2. Is my bubble about to burst? and
3. Seriously, this is considered WORK?

Dilemma #1

I have an Advanced Year 11 class and an extension Year 10 class this year. The biggest issue for students in both classes is the level of confidence they have and their willingness to attempt new things time and time again, even when they fail. I am studying the poet Donne with my Year 10 class and they are loving it, but they baulk every time they come across an unfamiliar word. I’m trying to teach them to read in context, and slowly, slowly they are catching on. I do love their enthusiasm though (and their giggles as we talk about sexual innuendo). They are also far more willing to take creative risks that my Year 11 class-we wrote conceits of our own last week and they embraced the challenge.
At the beginning of the year I was amazed by how much I enjoyed my classes; I was intellectually stimulated by the questions they asked and I could concentrate on teaching and learning rather than crowd control. Now though, my expectations are different; I’m disappointed when the kids don’t appear to be enjoying the learning, I’m disenchanted when getting through the material takes longer than I expected, I’m disheartened when I feel like continuity has been broken or when I’m unable to get the students to connect their learning.
Whereas, last year, small wins in my troublesome classes were so rewarding, now it takes something astounding to feel as though I’ve made a tangible difference for these kids.

Dilemma #2

When I had a meeting with my Head Teacher recently, she mentioned that the stress of an advanced class was yet to hit me as it was more about the pressure teachers of these classes place upon themselves rather than the pressure from external forces. I have this ominous feeling which seems like a hawk that’s circling, closing in.
What I do know is that my Year 11s have improved tenfold since the beginning of the year. We’ve focused on specific things and there has been rapid growth in those areas. Their confidence is increasingly, albeit incrementally, but they are still reluctant to volunteer information or discuss. Everything I get from them must be drawn out painfully.
I just wonder, when they submit their first assessment task, will how hard I have pushed them be hard enough? Will the amount of GROWTH matter, considering there is no real measure of growth? Or will the reliance on raw scores be my undoing?

Dilemma #3

I think I’m annoying people at work; I walk (sometimes I skip, I kid you not) around the school with a grin plastered on my face in the mornings. I love being there. I’m relaxed, I’m confident in what I’m teaching, I’m not paranoid that there’s always someone at my back, waiting for me to do the wrong thing (I mean, that person is possibly still there, but I’m far more willing to take them on than I was before!) and I’m much more assertive with both students and staff members.
The kids make each and every minute of my day, whether it be that they make me annoyed, they make me laugh or they make me think, they are the centre of my school universe.
It annoys my partner no end that I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than doing school work. Not only does he think that I need to seek counseling about an inability to separate work and home life, but he is also jealous of the room that school occupies in my headspace constantly. Because it’s something he can’t relate to, he could never understand nor sympathise with my genuine interest in the kid who serves me at the supermarket, whom I stop to talk to for 10 minutes when he wants to go home, nor the way I respond instantly to kids’ emails or edmodo comments, yet can take hours to answer his texts (oops!).

There we are then, the perils of being a second year teacher. No more am I likely to be pushed out a window… but the challenges presented by this year in my career are, in some ways, even more daunting.

Memoirs of a First Year Teacher

I have finally completed my first year as a teacher!
And what a year it has been. The good thing is, I feel like I have been teaching all my life now and I feel completely comfortable. I have learnt to be more flexible as I’ve become more confident in my own ability and I’ve become more resilient, no longer taking all the bad days personally, but still able to cherish those special moments.
The biggest challenge for me came in first term when I had to readjust my expectations of both my students and myself. I quickly got a handle on this however, and with the help of my #staraday was able to see the progress I was making each day.
After that steep learning curve, I focused on my classroom management. Something I would recommend to first year teachers is the observation of the old “don’t smile til Easter” tip. Once my first class ran riot on my on my first day I came down hard on my other classes the next day. In fact, listening to myself I could have been mistaken for something from Jane Eyre.
In Term 3 I could relax slightly, having earned a certain amount of respect from the kids through consistency and having completed my first reports. But man, being consistent is tough! Outlining the rules at the beginning of every lesson with year 7 and 8 is the easiest part of it. Ensuring you see and respond to everything is exhausting. Dylan, stop swinging on your chair, Corie, turn around and do your work, Zac, get your book out. I made a rule early on that for every correction I made to a child’s behaviour, I had to praise someone who was doing the right thing so as to provide a model for the other student of the appropriate behaviour. Eventually, my corrections just became names, pointing or a long stare, short cuts which ensured my delivery of content or instructions was not interrupted.
I also enforced 5 minutes “thinking time” with year 7 each lesson, which was 5 minutes students had to work in complete silence to establish their concentration. Sometimes this was purely for my sanity as toward the end of third term they became extremely boisterous. It also gave me a chance to check student’s homework or progress on activities.
I will also, next year, use a roll for my junior classes to check who did not complete their homework. This year I wrote lists and kept students back to complete unfinished work, but it would have been handy to have an ongoing record so I could follow up with parents.
Playing weekend sport in my small town gave me an opportunity to meet some of the kids’ parents and get to know my students outside of the classroom. Amazingly, this lead to a complete turn around in my year 9 class. They became angelic overnight as though I had passed initiation.
Having just one class which lights up your day can make all the difference, and by the end of the year I was lucky enough to have 3 classes I will miss next year. I was almost in tears when I had to farewell my Year 9s! Seeing the growth in these kids from the beginning of the year until the end was something so rewarding; I was really pleased that the majority of the reports I wrote at the end of the year were very positive ones, even for those students who had caused me anguish at the beginning of the year.
Being the occasional speaker at my old high school presentation night was a great way to cap off the year; it allowed me to express the gratitude I felt for the teachers and system which made such an impression on me and it also allowed me to reflect upon why I have found teaching to be such a comfortable fit. One of my ex-teachers cried because he was so proud of me becoming a teacher, which was just a phenomenal compliment as he has been my idol for years.
I will progress up the ladder next year as we have another first year teacher coming into the staffroom next year, and so I am going to pass on all of this useful advice to her. I will make it known that the only way she will get through the year is by slogging through it as it is HARD work, talking about her hesitations and experiences and accepting that she doesn’t know it all, can’t POSSIBLY know it all, and that she needs help.
She is lucky though, she enters a faculty which shares knowledge, resources and a laugh, and are generally good at spotting when you are struggling.
And so, I can breathe a sigh of relief, having shed the label of “first year teacher” now.

Year 9 Media: Gruen Challenge

Year 9, as an introduction to their media unit, completed a Gruen challenge over the course of our double period on Friday.

After discussing the purpose of advertising and some of the most common strategies they had noticed in ads lately, students were asked to brainstorm what sorts of things would be the easiest and hardest to sell as an advertiser. They came up with some interesting answers, like convincing people to re-elect George Bush (hard to sell) or convincing people that Apple products were better than Microsoft (something they thought would be a piece of cake).

Students were then shown the clips of the Pitch segment on Gruen, in particular the “sell the invasion of New Zealand” and “sell banning religion” advertisements. We then discussed the different approaches taken to the task: playing on emotions (guilt, anger, sympathy), intellectualising the topic and humour.

They were divided into groups and given their brief: they were asked to sell the shut down of either Facebook or YouTube.

There were three parts to the task. A brainstorm sheet on which they were required to come up with an approach (humour or appealing to emotions) and then formulate 3 ideas for a theme or plot for their ad. They then had to produce a storyboard for one of these ideas, planning 9 frames plus narration.

Students then had to use a computer (limited to PCs due to our wireless being down) to produce either a video or a PowerPoint vaguely resembling what they wanted their ad to look like. They then had to present their storyboard and ad to the class.

There were prizes to be awarded for: the best ad as voted by peers, the most original ad, and best group work during the creative process.

It would have been great to have been able to give students more time on this task. Most were extremely enthusiastic and I had to award 2 group work prizes as many students really worked well together even though I had mixed up peer groups.
The most original award went to a group who turned YouTube into a disease and interviewed a (fake) doctor about the symptoms. The best ad as voted by peers went to a group whose ad demonstrated how easy it was to hack a Facebook account, thereby leaving you susceptible to all sorts of nasty things.

We also got the chance to discuss their digital footprint and responsible online behaviour during the presentations.

Why I Blog

Recently, whilst writing the comment “Must practise writing analytical and creative responses” numerous times on reports, I realised that as an English teacher, it is also my professional responsibility to ensure I too am regularly writing. And I’m not talking about modeling paragraph structure in class or writing examples to show students. I’m referring to writing analytical and creative responses to a university standard.

Blogging is something which keeps me mentally stimulated and engaged in my teaching. I not only get the chance to write analytically and reflectively, but, as we always encourage kids to seek out, it is for an authentic audience which also places certain demands upon a writer.

I will often also engage in creative writing when I set my classes a task. For example, during writing journal time if the students are settled and confident in what they are doing, I will also complete the task. However, I feel that this is something I don’t do enough of, and it is a professional development opportunity I will definitely be seeking out in 2013.

Teaching the littlies

This year, our head teacher (Robyn) came up with a great idea which has gradually been shaped by the staff in our faculty, and then by other faculties at the school, into an official program. Once a fortnight, teachers in the English faculty go to one of the feeder primary schools in our town and teach a watered down version of a high school English lesson to year 5s and 6s.

This came up in response to the lack of information (and the resulting chaos in terms 1 and 2) provided to teachers about the students in year 7 this year. Considering that upwards of 30% of them have high literacy needs, as well as behavioural needs or other forms of organisational or physical education needs, this meant that teachers of year 7 (me being the teacher of 3 classes of them) were overwhelmed by catering for such a wide range of needs in the mixed classes.

Teacher’s aide time with year 7 classes increased, and another English teacher and I worked with the STLA to formulate alternative programs for Italian and English for certain students in these classes.

However, keen to put in place procedures to ensure this did not occur again, our head teacher delegated the volunteers in our faculty a primary school and suddenly we were in front of a class full of little people.

Throughout the year, I taught things which ranged in complexity from text type construction, like recount writing, to complex “high school” ideas such as how layout and structure affect the meaning in poetry.

Having access to the new curriculum for years k-10 has also been helpful in seeing where along the continuum these challenging students fall, and what they should be learning in those stages that they have missed/forgotten/not been able to grasp. Interestingly, I found that a number of year 7 students could not even achieve stage 2 outcomes according to the new syllabus.

We were then given a say in the structure of year 7 classes for 2013, given access to proposed class lists, and the opportunity to find out additional information from the teachers of those students this year in a more informal manner (ie having a chat while the kids are working).

Hopefully this program will prove successful and next year’s cohort’s literacy needs will be able to be addressed more effectively and more immediately. This should also mean that the program which was the brainchild of Robyn should be replicated in other areas which are finding literacy (or numeracy) a challenge with their year 7 cohorts.

You give teaching a bad name (insert guitar solo here)

On my recent holiday journeys I happened upon several teaching friends who have become disenchanted with the system. Not because they are burnt out, not because they have lost their passion, not because the pay conditions for teaching staff and schools seem to be low on the government’s priority list, but because they are tired of other less competent, and frankly, more apathetic, teachers who are, in the words of one friend “turning the kids against us”.

When you look around your staffroom, are your fellow teachers working hard for the students they teach? Or do they just float in and out without planning any lessons, without providing any guidance or leadership, and without giving the students the impression that they have their educational interests at heart?

I know that there are lazy people in every profession, but perhaps the closed classroom door makes the laziness of those in the teaching profession easier to hide. I was shocked by some of the stories my casual teacher friends were sharing with me and they themselves were outraged at the work left (or the lack of work in some cases) for the classes.

I was also surprised because I work in a faculty in which everyone works hard, and no one exhibits the kind of attitude my friends were talking about. And I have no doubt that were anyone in our faculty to display a lack of consideration, empathy or interest in their students, our head teacher would pull rank swiftly.

Unfortunately, it is this minority which seems to characterise the teaching profession for the greater public. Perhaps the public would benefit from knowing how much regard those of us within the fold have for this type of “teacher”.

Context as a precursor to critical thinking

Year 10 are part way through their novel study unit and with my low literacy class we are looking at the series Bloodlines, which involves following characters through various world wars and conflicts.

This was a perfect novel through which to study context, because it involves a lot of investigation by students of different battles, developing research skills, and also involves them thinking about how the context of the author shapes the story.

We spent a couple of lessons investigating WWII from different perspectives, with students having to then produce a newspaper article from one of these perspectives.

We then moved on to reading our first novel, which the students LOVED.

This week, we have been looking at the historical, geographical and personal context of the author and separating this from the contextual information required to understand the story. As part of this, students were required to reflect upon their own historical, geographical and personal context.

Students then had to investigate a context different to their own (some chose a different culture, some chose a different historical period) and write a narrative which used jargon in the same way as our novel, to give the reader an understanding of the context and give their story a sense of authenticity.

This week students will finish their narrative and we will reflect upon, as a class, how the context of an author shapes the plot, the narration style, and the themes of the novel. Students have already made the preliminary links in this critical thinking process, recognizing that having the main character as a war hero is shaped by the author’s occupation and experience as a veteran and the knowledge this entails.

We will then look at The Diary of Anne Frank, and contrast the points of view, forms of the text and how the different contexts of the authors shaped the content and themes of the two novels.

For these kids, critical thinking is something I have tried hard to embed into their teaching and learning programs, and in this unit in particular, I have tried to get them to think critically about both the content (why write about a war? What is a “hero” in war? Whose side in a war is “right” or the “winner”?) and the writing style of the novel (whose story is told? How are the nazis demonized?). I have used a lot of literacy strategies to do this, in particular graphic organizers, predicting activities, and teaching students to recognize different types of passages, sentences and words which give clues about character, context and themes, as well as narrative perspective.


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