10 09 2011

Camp this year at the school I work at was many things, and ‘boring’ was not one of them. From the ‘night service activity’ that turned out to be a carnival complete with popcorn, cotton candy, Kung Fu Panda 2, to the roasting of marshmallows by bonfire for s’mores, to the water fight and capture the flag game organised by the Student Council, and the requisite camp talks and cabin messes, this was a thoroughly enjoyable, and thoroughly exciting 2.5 days and 2 nights.

The house system of 6 colours was kicked off, and the enthusiasm and friendly competition was a wonderful thing to witness, a far cry from the aggressive chanting and in-fighting that went on when I was in school myself.

During the Talent Show, a group of boys from the senior year danced to a Korean pop song, and I was asked to sit in front to witness it. It was glorious, and one of the many, many reasons why I love this group of students:

The boys also serenaded the girls, a long-time tradition at the school:

After the serenade by the boys, it is customary for the girls to sing a ‘response’ at breakfast the following morning. These senior girls did theirs shortly after the allotted time for breakfast so they could have a lie-in. I can’t find a video of the girls’ response, but will post one when I do.

One of my favourite photos from the whole camp experience was taken on the morning of the first day:

The image of the group of students I am advisor to, except for one who is the Student Council representative of the ‘tribe’, is shown here giving each other massages. True community? I think so.

Reading minds…

9 03 2011

One of the prompts for this week’s blogging asks whether I would read minds if I could.

As an educator, one of the things I struggle with is maintaining relevance in my classes. I try to teach with humour and an understanding of the needs of my students, but I will be the first to admit that I am not always successful: my classes sometimes flop because the connections I’m making are not clear, the discussions we’re having are not challenging or engaging for my students, or, simply, that I had not planned every detail that I could have done before teaching the lesson. After one of those classes, I come away metaphorically “facepalming” myself out of frustration and ineptitude – why didn’t I do it this way? How did I not remember that that wasn’t something that helped last time? When should I have said what I said just now? What amount of time should I have allocated to that particular task? What would have been a more effective foundation task, back-up plan or extension activity?

In short, to answer the question that was the prompt, I don’t think I’d want to be able to read minds on those kinds of days. Being able to always know what my students are thinking about me, as professionally enriching as that may be, might have the ability to shatter the last vestiges of my self-esteem. For that, I use Google Docs for a survey which shows me what my students think of me so I can make changes.

I may have taught for 5 years now, going on for my 6th, but I still feel like I am doing a terrible job sometimes. Not all the time, mind. But the times when I feel like I’ve not taught anything the students can use later are the times I seriously question my choice of career.

And then a student takes a candid picture of me in class where I look like this, and I remember again what it is about this job that I love so much.

But when the rubber hits the road, I want to know how my students are relating to, and thinking about my classes; that’s why I work so hard at making my classroom open, and make myself available. I do take suggestions seriously, and like I wrote on my under-construction Wikispace, I am always looking for ways to improve the way I teach. This is an area of my life that is very clear to me.

Everything else, on the other hand…

The walls may finally fall now

5 05 2009

I was in the shower earlier, and was thinking about the meaning of the title I have given this blog: “Walls Finally Fall”. I dimly recall having heard this portion of a line from a song a long time ago, when I first set this blog up; it was playing on the radio station I had logged in to.

The meaning of the title, I have increasingly found, changes for me depending on what I come to writing thoughts down with. On some issues, the walls I envision go no further than the four other people in my family. On others, they reach out to what I do for a living, my career and current (pre)occupation.

I am an educator, a teacher, a “facilitator”, as the snobbishly educational would say. I facilitate learning and other wonderful things like that. But I have come to realise that my job involves much more than this. I encourage students to come in during their study halls (although sometimes when they want to come in I have to turn them away because of a meeting or something like that); I answer questions as honestly and as frankly as I can (although they can be quite, quite embarassing sometimes) because my youth need to know these things and they’ll learn about the things in college – some preparation now does not hurt, in most situations; I spend time with my students, even though I’ve been busy many afternoons with rushing off to class and so on; I have listened to my students; and most significantly, I have always tried to facilitate self-acknowledgement and recognition.

I don’t know what brought this post on, except it irks me when people think teaching is just about classroom – or “instructional” – hours only, and neglect what is actually going on. The goodness, the love, the care, the time and the energy… and it annoys and saddens me even more when students begin to see it that way too.

Ah, something to mull over some more…

Excitement but…

30 05 2008

Work today was hard, because the lesson that was supposed to be observed didn’t happen until quite a bit later than I had thought, and the students were trying to be good for me, and stayed silent. Totally silent. Even though we’ve been working on speaking out in class, participating in discussions, and brainstorming out loud for a whole year. They reverted to the “silence = obedience” philosophy. And I was sad, because it took some coaxing to get a reaction out of them. I saw their eyes dance with laughter, but they kept it all in because they wanted to show the best of their teacher, see how obedient we are

My heart ached because I have to farewell them soon. I was talking with a colleague about leaving, because she’s leaving at the end of next week, having found an administrative job, and we shared about how we feel on the threshold of this new stage in life. It’s an amazing, but terrifying thing.

Tomorrow morning I go to the new place to check out one of the courses I’ll be teaching next year. I am at once excited and frantic about it. There’s a lot to do this weekend, but I’ll feel much more relaxed on Sunday.

And why not? It’s God’s day. I’m grinning broadly in case you didn’t figure it out.


28 05 2008

This morning, I was talking with a student about the earthquake in Sichuan province in China, which is so close to us. There was a news story recently about a teacher who, upon feeling the first tremors of the earthquake, ran out of the school and was the first person to appear on the playground of the school. When her students exited the school, they asked her, “Why didn’t you come back for us?”

Since the story came to light, she has written an explanation on the Internet, saying that she is human too, and why are people judging her on the basis of her vocation. I would be devastated if my students had cause to ask the same question of me.

But I wonder what I would do in that situation. I would like to think that I would unquestioningly sacrifice my life for these students under my care, but the truth is that when the moment actually arrives, I don’t know what I would do. Instinct kicks in, one would think.

What would my instinct be?

And I was reading on a blog this afternoon that we are, at one time or another, someone’s ‘doorknob.’ It really made me think. I wonder whose doorknob I am, and whether I will know enough to open the door.

Questions, questions. Mercy is when God does not give us the things we fully deserve. Grace…

Something by Christopher Idle:

“His justice is full and complete, his mercy to us has no end; the clouds are a path for his feet, he comes on the wings of the wind”


What do we expect of our young people?

7 05 2008

This morning in the assembly, an announcement was made to the effect that students are not to post videos of themselves in uniform or recorded on the school campus onto video sharing sites such as YouTube and Google Video, and this morning in class, my students were in revolt. “Communists!” they cried. “Fascism!” they shouted. They felt that the school had overstepped its boundaries, and were now trying to stifle their freedom of speech.

Because of how they all seemed to be feeling, we had discussion time. We talked about how they’re feeling about this, ‘this’ being the announcement. Some students were outraged, and accused the school of just caring about its reputation, and not caring about the individual. Others said that it’s easy to just speak, and expect everyone to obey, but if we just blindly acquiesce, then how much better than robots are we? I listened, debated a few things with them, and tried to encourage them to see the other side of the argument. All those skills we learn in the teaching diploma do nothing to prepare you for some of the things you face in the classroom.

As an individual, I believe it is alright to question authority, and it is alright to voice those questions, but only if these questions are actually being asked, rather than shouted or even accused. If all there is is just complaint after complaint, and mindless dissent for the sake of argument, then there is no point to this kind of discussion – one may as well just write them down, and bury them in the ground. All that realistically can be heard is the sound of clashing cymbals, which drowns out anything and everything else. And then I came back to my desk in the staff room and saw this:

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”
— Robert Anthony

An email I received yesterday made me feel awful – selfish, self-absorbed and everything else that I don’t like to think I am. I felt upset about it for the whole of the day, and even talking about it with someone else didn’t help. I’m talking with the person who wrote it now, and whilst some of the things that are being talked about exactly aren’t really “helping” in the sense of alleviating the burden of guilt with it, but it’s good to feel that knot untangle itself. The person who wrote the email says they need to talk to someone outside the situation, because it was something to do with how they felt afterwards too.

Sometimes, I just don’t get anything. At all. It’s like, the situation can seem so clear, and then get flipped totally on its head, and I never even saw it coming. I wish I were a grown-up.

Wish things were different?

26 02 2008

It was the last day for Form Five today, and it’s been a kind of emotional one, where tears have been cried, gifts exchanged, cards signed, pictures taken, farewells said… too much. Too much…

Right now, in another window, I’m watching Goodbye Lenin! for class tomorrow. It’s a good film. I like the interplay between the relationships of the characters with th country, and especially the responsibility Alex feels towards his mother. I can well understand the the choking sense of duty and yet, somehow, the great and all-cncompassing love he has for her.

And I love that the mother loves her son and all he tries to do for her, but I wonder if Lara did tell her. Is it better to live in blissful oblivion of ignorance, or is it better if Lara told her, and she knew what the country she so loved had become? The fact that Alex is the one who lives in bliss, without knowing the truth… earlier in the film, he said that he thought of the new version of Berlin as being his version of Berlin, perhaps… is there a fool in this film?