Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tempus Fugit - Month three of the academic year

By now, teachers the country over are all wondering what they actually did over their long December break. Nerves are slightly frazzled as one looks at the planning and how little seems to have been done. Self-recriminations begin around now, the closer the first term marks' deadline looms, the more one wonders if it really was important to attend great-aunt Ivy's funeral after all.

Don't despair, just take charge of every day which remains of the first quarter. It is vital that preparations are done for the days one has left. Make every activity count and dispel any fancies that some tasks are more than others in the students' minds.Combine assessment tasks enabling them to be used for more than one category of marks. In the English class, for example, you could have learners research a specific topic and present their work in the form of a discursive essay. They could then present their work orally: as a reading piece or a persuasive speech. Combining written research and presentations work well in all the subjects which require a presentation mark.

Make sure your mark lists for CASS are up to date and ready to simply add the March mini-exam marks thereto. Think ahead and make sure that you give the senior classes an April holiday task and the younger learners a book or set genre to read before the start of the new term.

Start thinking carefully about each child in your register or home class - are you ready to make an academic report comment about somebody's child which will bring them praise from their parents or a self-esteem draining dressing down, or worse personal criticism?

Plan your holiday carefully too. Which days will you dedicate to assessments and preparation and which days to recharge your batteries? Keep holiday tasks manageable - if it is house painting you wish to do; choose just a room or two - if you return to school exhausted, you will be of little use to the children who are far more important to your sense of well-being in the end than the physical exertion suffered painting five rooms instead of two. Teachers know better than anyone else that the saying "Rome wasn't built in a day" holds true for anything the outcome of which we place value upon.

Choose your holiday novel now, don't leave it until the last minute. The very best way to find a holiday read is to ask your closest colleagues who their favourite authors are and maybe even ask them to stick their neck out and choose the one book that is their favourite of all time.

Increase the level of your informal assessments and judgements of inherent talents or promise shown in your subject and other areas and school activities you have observed. Listen carefully to how your learners respond and structure their responses to your verbal quiz and class questions. Make notes if you need to and encourage specific areas of your learners' interests. Now is the time to boost your learners emotionally. Give children individual attention - even if during some classes it is in the form of direct eye-contact, an affirmative smile or a nod; but communicate.

Regardless of what the child's results are at this stage of the year, they must at least feel confident that you have not written them off, that you do not treat them according to the standard of work they produce. Provide slower learners with simple revision tasks to complete over the holidays, so they have already focused on improving their subject understanding and results, before the new term begins.

Try to find out if any child has a stressful holiday ahead of him or her, such as a wedding which will see a step parent enter his or her life; or a visit to a father the child has seldom or maybe even never seen.It is vital that scared teenagers at least have one adult with whom they can share their fears and concerns. If you deem it necessary, make sure the child has your number and the assurance that he or she can phone you anytime if there is a crisis. Remember to warn your family there may be a call and to ask on day one of term two how the child managed the stressful event.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some ideas for the new year

The children will soon return. Everything is ready for them. The teachers are overjoyed to see each other and some quietly murmur " School is just so perfect when there are no children here."

The week before opening provides each teacher with the perfect opportunity to live out the adage "Things begun well, end well." As teachers, it is our duty to start every new academic year in the best possible way. Managers must oversee this start and keep checking on the progress of the preparations for the return of the pupils.

Here are a few tips for teachers on beginning the year well:
1) Make sure your classroom is organised from day one. Ensure you have discarded last year's mess and all superfluous papers.
2) Colour code your files and preparation books according to the subjects you teach, so you do not waste time looking for your teaching tools.
3) Examine your classroom from the point of view of your pupils, especially new children who are seeing the room for the first time. Does your classroom look organised? Are your display boards attractive and interesting? Can the children see what subject venue they have entered? Every new child should be able to step into your classroom and think, "Well, this is obviously the English classroom," for example.
4) Ensure that your administrative documents for the first few days are ready and easily accessible in a filing tray on your desk or in your drawer. Your class list will be essential obviously. Your ten day registers and office returns will be vital too.
5) The week before opening is a good time to create birthday charts for your new class. Think of creative ideas to make your chart attractive. Think Kindergarten - create a colorful clown and use a balloon for each month of the year and add the birthday dates for each child therein.
6) Make sure that all your teaching resources and handouts for the first few weeks are already copied and ready to distribute to your classes. This time is vital and you will need to spend your time wisely - setting the tone for your classroom management expectations and getting to know your new pupils.
7) If you are not really good with names, consider giving your children stick on name tags to wear for the first week or two. A classroom seating plan with each child's name thereupon is a good idea to assist you too.
8) Start filing from day one. Do not let piles of paper build up into insurmountable mountains. It is a good idea to file daily, before leaving your classroom at the end of the day; and make sure the next day's handouts are ready on your desk or shelves for distribution the following day.
9) Keep your record of marks updated from day one. Make sure that all tasks are marked within a maximum of three days; make sure too that you have entered the marks before you hand the tasks back to the children. Remember to sign and date tasks and make relevant comments. Use assessment tasks as an opportunity to boost your pupils' confidence. Contrary to popular belief, even a great big pimply seventeen year old will relish the sight of a bright sticker on her test paper.So when the year begins, make sure you have a stockpile of bright stickers ready to use.
10) For those of us with green fingers, it is always a good idea to have plants in the classroom and flowers when they are available. Plants add a touch of life and a reminder of God's creation. If you are a person who can kill a plant by simply glancing in its general direction, consider silk or realistic looking plastic plants in pots. If your school manager is agreeable, a beautiful singing bird in a cage on a very secure stand is a lovely touch. If you are in a Biology Lab the possibilities are endless - a fish tank, a snake tank, a colony of rats; it is always good for children to see and learn by example the incredible responsibilities one undertakes when taking on a pet.Remember too that even on cold days, your classroom windows should be open - fresh air is vital to clear minds and aids concentration.
11) Lastly, once you have gleefully circled all the "free" periods on your timetable - scrutinise carefully how best to use each teaching period each day. Use the lessons early in the day for tasks requiring maximum concentration. Plan to use the problem lessons such as straight after lunch, or the last lesson on a Friday for exciting tasks that do not require large amounts of concentration, but lots of participation.

Regardless of what we say, we all know that the school without the pupils would just be another boring work environment like any office or corporate concern the world over. And I am willing to bet that when you see those shiny faces next week and smell the brand new books and plastic covers; your spirits will soar and you will remember why you chose this, the noblest of all professions, in the first place.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where did the year go?

I look at this blog of mine and wonder how a month passed by without my even noticing. And then I look at the year , 2010 almost gone. What did we achieve?

Our children are all in a holiday mood. They are talking a little louder, walking a little faster and an air of expectancy mixed with the smells of floor polish fills the corridors.

As teachers, we must review the year and critically examine any mistakes we have made. The object of review is to make sure that in the 2011 academic year, we offer our students the very best of ourselves from day one.

That many teachers neglect their homes and families during the year and put the school first, I acknowledge. That members of the public jealously espouse opinions on how long our December holidays are,I know. Do we need an annual break? Definitely!

In defense of our profession and our much envied holidays, I always tell family members that the December break is spent on preparation for the next school year. Unfortunately this is not true for all members of our much-maligned profession.

While teachers start to wind down and begin to hand in final mark-sheets; I would urge them to look very carefully at the results their students have attained. I would further like to suggest that if a child has not fared very well or even failed in your particular learning area or subject; that you are responsible and accountable for his failure. So what could you have done differently? Did you try to reach the quiet children who clearly experienced language barriers this year? Or did you follow the policy of "As long is the child is quiet and not disturbing my class, I will just leave him undisturbed and unchallenged" ?

Did you notice the little girl, ever studious, always writing down notes while you spoke, never venturing to answer a question this year? Did you leave her unacknowledged? Did you smile at her often enough? Did you make eye contact with her while you were teaching? Did you find out why she was so fearful of failure? Did you notice her final mark this year? How did she do? Are you willing to take responsibility for her under-average results?

Think carefully too about the labels you have used this year. Did you use words like "useless", or even "stupid"? Do you think those words spoken in haste may stay with that student for the rest of his life; or do you think, that as a teacher, you really have no influence on a child's self esteem?

Think back to your own schooldays. Which teachers made a real difference in your life? Have you tried to be like them, to emulate their example in order to change young lives? Or have you been too busy, too hung up on finishing the curriculum to even notice the children who needed a solid role model?

Now , as you spring-clean your home and set off for the family holiday, will you spare a thought for the children you will teach next year? Do you think they have a bed to sleep in, enough clothes apart from their uniform to wear? Do they have a mother, or a father? What will they be doing while you cut the Christmas ham?

Maybe you cannot feed and clothe them all, these children that you teach. So what is that you can do next year to really make a difference? Love them and teach them well. Prepare properly so that from day one, all the preparation admin is behind you and you can focus on what happens in the classroom - your point of contact and access. Keep your notes and activities graded - cater for the slower children and decide to keep the faster ones busy - prepare extension activities, reading cards and materials designed to extend their interests and skills.

Resolve to make learning fun in 2011; and spend an hour or two a day of your long holiday focused on what and how and who you will teach next year. Collect unused books from friends and family, start collecting extra resources that you know could attract the interest of your classes. Cut out the ads that smack of materialism and think of ways to protect and dissuade your learners from being sucked into their message. Read a few teen magazines and try to imagine the pressures placed upon the children in your care.

Teachers, during the long break ahead, spare a thought for the children you will teach next year.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to become a GREAT teacher

Many still believe the old adage that "Great teachers are born, not made" to be true. To an extent this philosophy makes sense; generally the world's best teachers belong to two broad categories: those that knew from an early age that all they wanted to do when they grew up was to teach; and those who stumbled upon their teaching talents and passion by accident and later in their career paths.

However you came to join the ranks of this noble profession; you too can be a great teacher overnight. These teachers share a few common characteristics which separate them from the average and competent teachers of the world. Great teachers inspire a passion for learning, for achieving, for taking the world to pieces and viewing the findings with ever-increasing curiosity; in their charges.

When a class moves on to the next grade, the true teacher's influence will go with the students. The students will continue to apply the skills they learned and will approach all new problems with confidence; because they have learned how to ask the right questions and where to find answers to their questions. These students will move from grade to grade equipped with study skills and methods that they can apply across all subjects in order to attain the highest marks and grades possible.

Great teachers start with great passion for their subject and profession. They are often idealists who have resilience and are able to face that the reality of teaching isn't what they expected it to be. Their positive attitude towards "life, the universe and everything" enables them to look for and find the good in even the most ill-disciplined child. A born teacher will view every setback as an opportunity and look for the lesson contained therein. These professionals seldom repeat their mistakes: they learn from these and adjust their approach accordingly.

The greats in the classroom are also empathetic people, sensitive to body language and other non-verbal communication forms. A great teacher instinctively knows when a hurting child needs a good hug or to be left alone for a while. These essential soft skills will be played out in the staff room too. No great staff member ever sat in a corner gossiping and criticizing school management teams. Great teachers embrace change and react positively to new ideas that have the potential to improve a system or the whole school. Only the whiners, the barely competent teachers will be heard to say, "That will never work in our school."

Great teachers are flexible and are unfazed by unexpected interruptions or changes to the daily school program. An unexpected evacuation drill or fire drill during a test won't cause an uproar. Setting a new test is not so difficult after all and the unexpected always brings ideal opportunities to introduce relevant topics. After the fire drill, the excellent teacher will abandon the test and move into a discussion of, for example, Internet and chat-room safety.

Great teachers connect with their students and find creative ways to get through to even the most unlikable class members. They patiently try new learning and teaching methods with slow and difficult children. They even look forward to grading students' work because they are excited to see if students have grasped the concepts and if there are any students who have shown an improvement in their grades. Students will testify to the fact that a superior teacher's comment on a test paper looks like an essay in comparison to a comment made by the mediocre teacher.

While average teachers tend to avoid contact with parents, the greats are so excited about the breakthroughs they make in students' lives that they often seek out parents to share their excitement. Average teachers tend to want to be the expert in the classroom at all times, they seek control of knowledge and processes and seldom admit to not knowing an answer. A truly great teacher on the other hand, is not threatened by her students and will model problem solving behaviors for them. If for example, a student asks her the meaning of a word, the teacher might say, "I actually do not know that answer. Let me get the dictionary and we can find out what it means."

You know you have become a great teacher when you go out on a family shopping spree, for example, and feel qualified to confront the smoking teenager whom you have never met about the perils of smoking and peer pressure; and he relates to you not as an interfering older person, but a truly concerned adult with his best interests at heart.

In summary, great teachers enjoy their work, look forward to school each day, start missing their students during vacation times and see a teaching and learning possibility in almost every situation in which they find themselves. Great teachers are resourceful, caring, flexible and positive people and they leave the world a better place when they die.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Take out the red pens...

The examinations are upon us. Many children are unprepared to sit these exams and pass. What has happened over the last few years that our children no longer have the skills to read, write properly or even comprehend the questions posed?

That the standards once applied have lowered is beyond dispute. That the children are weaker academically than ever before is evident. That many students see 30 percent as a pass for a subject is terrifying.That many students who have been in our schooling system for 12 years still struggle to attain 40 percent for English as a Home Language is heartbreaking.

The impact of the Outcomes Based Education System on our youth is now a great big Albatross around our teachers' necks. Changes in a system as unwieldy as the South African National Education Department, take years to impact. The 2011 academic year is almost upon us and once again we will face the new year with uncertainty. The curriculum will be tweaked, not transformed, in 2012. Billions of rands will be spent on new teaching and learning resources.

Once again I must state that, in the end, the education system, curriculum and students' results depend on the quality of the teaching that takes place in a particular school or system. Principals need to be one step ahead of the curriculum changes. We need to reintroduce the basics, refine the allocated times for numeracy and literacy on our timetables and make sure that the good old fashioned methods that worked are still applied.

It is quite simple really, teachers should cover the assessment tasks for moderation and CASS purposes and minimise the areas that have brought about the crisis we now face. Group work should be kept to a minimum over the next few years while we try to improve the performance of individual students in our classes. The consequences for failing to do homework should be immediate and act as a deterrent. Projects and assignments should be marked on content and presentation of facts and not dependent on what the assignment look like at a glance.

Over the last few years, many teachers have made the fatal mistake of giving marks at face value. Students have been so obsessed with handing in projects that are colorful and attractive that they have failed to apply the necessary research and reference skills which they should be learning when they are researching their assignment. Teachers have fallen into the trap too. We allow children to submit beautifully typed work and are blinded to the plagiarism contained therein. We accept printed graphics, charts and graphs as illustrations. A child who has cut and pasted a graph or diagram of the life cycle of a frog, for example, has learned nothing other than the cut and paste function.

If we are to save our youth from a bleak future of illiteracy and innumeracy, we need to act fast. 2011 could be the start of our embracing the basics, drilling the things that need to be learned by rote like the times tables, insisting that children use reference books and not just Google searches for their research.

It is time to cast off the fluff and irrelevant window dressing that the OBE system has created and start teaching again, like we did before the RNCS, the Curriculum 2005, the Revised curriculum, and every other variation attempted to mask the fact that OBE has failed in our country.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is your child ready to go to school next year?

Stay at home Mothers the world over wish to prepare their children for school. School readiness is vital if a child is to face the Kindergarten years with confidence. Many parents will visit a toyshop, read the words on the box, spot the keyword “educational” and spend money (which could well be wasted) on the item.

Mothers afraid of the worst words ( almost) that they can hear , “Mom, I’m bored”, will instinctively turn to the easiest and most dangerous distraction, the television set. Mothers, you really could be more creative than this! With an internet-enabled desktop or laptop computer and a printer which uses cheap ink or toner, you can within minutes, download and print fun games, craft ideas and coloring pages – for FREE; from one of the many teacher websites, homeschooling sites or even parent and homework help sites.

Many stay at home mothers, because they do not hold a teaching qualification tend to relegate school work and even school readiness to teachers. Parents always have and always will be not only their child’s primary caregiver; but primary teacher too. Remember the theories and spine-chilling words, “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will show you the man”. Before your children enter the formal schooling years, they are learning from you. Are they learning what they should? Are you stimulating in your child a love of reading, a curiosity about the world in which they live?

Every parent should have a craft cupboard at their disposal for rainy days and even for when your child is sick and needs a few quiet activities that can be completed with a lap tray, a few resources and ingenuity; from his or her sick bed. Don’t rush off to the shops, unless you are going to purchase story books or activity books. Open you cupboard, get out the scissors, the glue, crayons and printed activity sheets which you can access for free of the Internet and spend some time with your child.

Children often value the presence of the parent more than the activity itself. A sick child deserves some of your time and a few hours of quality interaction. Together, you and your child could create a cut and paste collage on the themes you have chosen.

The school readiness skills are easy enough to cover and it can be great fun doing so. Coloring in pictures, cutting along a line and then around more difficult shapes are skills which can be practiced for an hour a day, or longer if the weather is bad and you are more or less trapped indoors. Sorting and classifying items into similar and different piles is an easy everyday activity that you can engage in while doing even the simplest of household chores. If you do recycle your garbage, as you should, you will probably have a bin full of glass bottles and jars.

Separate these items according to size or the product they once held. Count out loud, let your child count too. Fill each bottle of a series of five to seven bottles with varying amounts of water. You and your child can then place the bottles in rank from the one containing the least water to the one containing the most. Grab a metal household implement, a fork, a blunt knife or a spoon and start “playing” melodies by pinging on the bottles in sequence or randomly produce the sounds that emanate from each water-filled vessel.
The home computer has some use, but do not let it replace the television set as an electronic babysitter. Access one of the many free sites for teachers and pre-schoolers and let your child play interactive counting, alphabet and classifying games. Start by getting your children interested in the world around them from as soon as you possibly can. Spend time outdoors with your child, play with water and sand. Collect insects and leaves and feather and stones. Identify common garden birds, and keep slugs and snails and frogs and crickets in glass tank torture chambers for a few days before you release them.

Invest in a cheap science kit or home microscope. If you see a flea on the family dog, place it on a slide and magnify it so your child can see it properly. Talk about sucking mouthparts. If you can catch a mosquito do the same. If you find a dead butterfly show your child its incredibly built-in straw for drinking nectar. Generate curiosity in your child and get him ready for the many years of schooling which lie ahead.

The pre-school teacher will expect that your child has knowledge of self. Download big pictures of body parts and build a little person in his room. Label the parts in a neat print and play the “show me your nose” game every now and then. School ready children also possess knowledge of left and right. Easy – stand together, sing the songs: “you put your left leg in” and so on and your child will have fun learning.

What of placements? It is easy, find a few containers, dust off the old building blocks and start playing. Place the first block “inside” the box, the next “behind” the box and so on. Developing the fine-motor co-ordination required to master pen and pencil work, is no problem. Let your child manipulate small items like Lego pieces, use a household clothes peg to pick up small stones in the garden.

Need to work on the hand eye co-ordination for school readiness – easy peasy; play lots of ball games. Catch and throw and add a bat or two. Play marbles with your child and set up a good old-fashioned marble competition course with water-filled hazards here and there which should be avoided, or the marble is forfeited.

School readiness is important, but while you are thinking about ways to ensure your child will cope when he goes to school, enjoy the time you have at home with him. Quality time sprinkled with love and affirmation will produce a confident school-goer. Confident children face the world, including school, with no fear and openness to learning.

Does your clothing say: “I am a professional”?

The English saying, `before you have opened your mouth, you have already created a first impression’, is particularly important in the business sector and service industries the world over. How then does one create a positive impression before one addresses the client in a face-to-face context?
Clearly the manner in which you are dressed, and the way you present yourself (including your body language) speaks volumes to any customer or potential customer. A truly professional employee will always dress with inspiring the trust of the client in mind. A professional employee will always dress in a manner which befits the company’s image and vision.
Professional dress sense is really about common sense and societal stereotypes. A professional woman needs first and foremost to be well-groomed. Grooming is a simple matter of taking care of your skin, hair, make-up, and your hands and nails.
An employee who has clearly made no effort to keep herself well-groomed will not inspire the trust of the client. The basics of good grooming include clean, styled and naturally colored hair, carefully applied make-up (which is not garish) and neatly manicured nails ( which are not painted in outlandish colors).
As a professional, you should dress with efficiency and service, not seduction in mind. You should avoid clothing that is too revealing, too tight, or too short.
Professional dress is best achieved by sticking to the basics, such as the careful color co-ordination of your outfit and accessories. For footwear, avoid open or chunky shoes: a slim-fitting sensible work shoe with heels in which you can walk, and work, is advisable. Neutral colored pantyhose always add to the professional’s image.
Tailored skirts and trousers matched with a jacket, or even better, a skirt or pants’ suit always look professional.
Lastly, what you wear on your face is as important as your clothing – a genuine smile speaks volumes; it says: “ I am at your service, I am here to help and I love my job.” Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.