Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Teacher Problems

June 16 just passed by. I didn't want to commemorate by wearing school uniform and I certainly wanted nothing to do with teenagers. I didn't want to share with them how important education and learning is. I didn't  want to talk about the struggle or Hector Petersen. All these things are our day to day;our 9 - 5. Every day we are faced with young people who don't fully grasp the opportunity they have to learn that so many don't have. Give us a break on these holidays!

It's that time of the year. It's nearing the  midterm and I have very little energy to get up and teach something new. But I know there is work that I need to cover because after midterm, the mid year exams will come and I don't  want to think that I have done these kids an injustice.

Maybe it's some way of consoling myself to say that I have not sold them short. It's just that with all of our lesson plans and term schedules, one would think we have some train of thought and intention with our teaching, right? But then there are assessments and marking of assessments and loading of marks and setting up remedial work then tracking their progress then filling the gaps then.... I feel myself drowning

And in the end I wonder what I have really done to help them....

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Red Abyss

I crawled out of bed, showered and dragged myself to school. Fortunately, where I teach we only go in when we have to invigilate and that particular morning wasn't an early one.

Shoulders drooping I walked into the staff room. Craig, my colleague was sitting at the corner scrolling up his phone. He looked up at me with the same vacant look I'm sure you'd find in my own eyes at this time of the year. We exchanged details about marking deadlines and he went silent. "I'm dying!!" I confess in melodramatic exasperation. Everything I've been doing for the past two weeks has been revolving around how many scripts I've marked or am going to mark. Such  monotanious living really does drain the spirit. Relief swept over Craig's face. He knew exactly what I was talking about and I suddenly felt better because for the first time, I didn't feel so alone.

I'm sure there are hundreds of teachers out there who seriously consider alcohol or some kind of drug abuse to help get them through the messed up answers we get in the endless pit of exam scripts that sit staring at us from our study tables. We question our career choice just a little bit as it becomes clear that a vast majority of our learners still cannot identify a simple pun even after a very elaborate and exciting lesson on the subject. You begin to wonder if you are the problem or if these kids just really don't care, don't get me started on their parents. Are they sure their offspring is studying on those ipads or are they going through social networks and watching schmoney videos? What does it even matter? You will never be free until all 200 scripts have your red marks of approval - or disapproval.

I've tried compiling rules on how to get through the exam season. I've tried to be optimistic and to keep somewhat busy, but at the end of the day, exams mark the end of the honeymoon phase of our career. We're faced with the ugliness that is teaching. The reasons why most people become teachers as a last resort if at all. It all boils down to the the deep dark red abyss.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Sonnet

While this one did not follow all the the conventions of an English sonnet, I found that it was the most pleasant to read. Enjoy!

By Ana Fuca Pedro

Your poems make me feel all warm inside.
When I'm with you, my heart glows
Sometimes I just can't decide.
What would I do without your prose?
When we are together, the world is alive.
You make me feel like a princess
how could I ever survive?
I can't focus on any other business.
Let's run away
you and I
This coming May
My oh my...
We'll forever be
Just you and me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Desk Job

The first school I taught at had few of the luxuries the standard teacher would like. One of those luxuries was having your own classroom. We had to move from classroom to classroom and we could never maintain the desk arrangement we wanted.

This year at my new school I was assigned my very own classroom! Al my paperwork and my work space is on one place! I was getting so much.more work done than ever before. But these las few months I have become more and more comfortable, too comfortable in fact, behind my desk. I don't walk around as much as I used to and as much as I know this needs to change, I find that I am glued to my chair.

So here's the plan. I will from now on ensure that I am standing when my learners arrive and remain so for the duration of the lesson.

On the bright side, it's good to experience such things, because one learns new ways to solve problems. And being able to identify the problem is really how we move forward and be better teachers

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The English Sonnet

The most rewarding thing about teaching is when your learners surprise you. They take an assignment that you have given them and they run with it. I have been teaching my grade 9s the English Sonnet,its  structure, thought patterns and themes. I then challenged them to write their own sonnets using the same conventions. Below are two of the sonnets I enjoyed the most:

Burn My Heart By Lehlohonolo Dube

Your eyes compete with the sun's glare every day
questioning if later yourself would be the sun.
Oh how I'd watch you rise every single day
your brightness pierces me like a bullet from a gun
The sun is too hot for me to hold
although you are just as hot, you aren't as big.
you would make the perfect fit, truth be told
If my love for you is a hole, so on I dig.
But let the sun be for we can't live without it
as I can not be without yourself
to replace it you would become with it
but with you out of this world I'd be by myself
shine on, that is what you are meant to do
as forever you will burn my heart too.

By Keletso Nakedi

What better word to use than love
because it is all that you give
as white as that beautiful dove
you are all that I need to live
Your voice as deep as the base in that song -
the beat that is pumping at the pace of my heart
what could ever possibly go wrong?
 our love can never fall apart
oh yes my love for you will always grow
even with the pains it may come with
when you are in my sight my eyes will blow
your love only comes once like snow
I vow to love you as big as the sun
and promise you never to run.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nearing the End

An old house builder who was approaching retirement was asked by his employer to build one more house before retiring. He had spent many years building some of the most beautiful houses ever seen and he was now tired. He did not put much thought into the materials he used and really just worked to finish the house so he could stop working for good.

Finally the house was complete and he was eager to take his package and rest.  To his dismay, the builder's employer handed the builder the keys to the last house he had built as a retirement gift ....

It's two days before we close school for a month long holiday and I am bushed! It would be so easy to just go with the motions and put in no effort. After all I can pick it all up again next term when both me and my learners are fresh and ready to work. But it is important even in the last few days of school to keep working hard because hard work now will pay off later. It's too bad this particular pay off won't be in the form of a beautiful  house, though ;)

Friday, June 27, 2014

How to Survive Exam Marking Season

I've been teaching for four years now and I still don't really have a handle on marking. Mark is the guy that has us procrastinating as teachers. Our houses are never cleaner than during exam season and we tweet and facebook more about the silly answers our kids give us as we mark. Not to mention gym. My muscles are cut faster now than they were doing before the exams. It's all coping mechanisms, really. I have some mechanisms of my own and they have proved pretty reliable.

Rule Nr 1: Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. The biggest mistake after my paper is written is making up excuses like, I'll start over the weekend. It's not going to happen. Sure, you'll get started but by the end of the weekend, you will have marked about 5 scripts, 10 if you're lucky! So, on the day that your exam is written and they hand you that mountain of papers; START!! Which leads me to Rule Nr 2: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. In my first year of teaching, I used to lug my papers from my work desk at home to my work desk at school and get very little actual marking done. I then discovered how much easier - and lighter - it is to carry smaller packs! Commit to marking a certain amount of papers during the day at school, even if it's just 5 scripts, and another 5 when you are at home. Some days ( only some days) I feel so motivated about the work I've done that I do just a little bit more!

 Rule Nr 3: "I don't have time" is the grown - up version of "the dog ate my homework". When marking season comes upon us we often stop doing everything else in our lives. Gym takes the back burner,you don't eat properly. Your house is basically the equivalent of what your res room looked like when you were writing exams at Varsity. I find that I am much more productive when I am under more pressure. On a Saturday morning, for example, I will do the laundry and clean all the while marking. Relax gentlemen, I don't mean do it all at once! A load of laundry takes a minimum of 45 minutes right? Surely you can do 3 - 5 scripts in that time! That's 9 - 15 scripts by the time you get to your darks assuming you split your laundry into whites, colours and darks and do your laundry in that order ( I think I take laundry way too seriously!). By lunch time you can reward yourself with a shower or a snack! Which leads me to Rule Nr 4: Being organised leaves more room for spontaneity. Don't stop going to gym or socialising just because you have to mark. Instead, make the other things in your life a kind of reward for the work you are doing. If I have the whole day, I don't shower until I have marked a certain amount of scripts ( overshare much?) after that, I don't have a meal until I have marked another certain amount of papers. After say, 15 scripts I go to gym or that braai a friend invited me to ( even if it's for just an hour and I have to head back to the marking). Before you know it, you will find that you have covered much more work than you would have if you had put the whole day aside for marking.

To be quiet honest. I find the marking season rather depressing. It is during this time that you come face to face with your work and realise what your kids know or don't know. I can't spend too much time marking because eventually I just want to cry because sometimes it seems like they just don't get it. These rules have been very helpful for me. It's like chasing smaller deadlines and has actually made my marking a lot less rushed. Try one or two of these rules and tell me what you think, ok?