Tuesday, May 29, 2012

End of TP2: Discipline

And that's a wrap. I spent the weekend recovering from the week of TP, and here are a few thoughts about the week overall.


This was the first time I've had an issue with discipline in the classroom.

Firstly, there was a boy who lied. A lot. Every word out of his mouth was a lie, and they were all about ridiculous things that had no bearing on anything beyond the fact that he hadn't done his homework, and the fact that his lying (and the amount of talking it involved) was incredibly disruptive for the whole class. But then again, my asking him to be quiet every few minutes was also very disruptive.

How I dealt with it:
The students have to line up before entering the class, and may only enter when instructed to do so. I think this is a bit silly and wastes time, but it did give me the chance to hold the Boy Who Cried Wolf back, along with his best friend, so that I could quietly talk to them about how they disrupt each other and get no work done, and how this makes it very difficult to teach, and how much I would appreciate their cooperation in future. It worked like a charm.

Problem number 2: Homework (or the lack thereof). Geez, kids. What is it with you and not doing your homework? Even when we asked you to recite the instructions back at us. Even when you had had the instructions glued into your books for days beforehand. Even when the homework involved eating sweets. Seriously? I think the main problem here was that they had their annual fun day that day, and so they figured it would be a day of chaos and sitting in the wrong classes, and running about, and not doing work. So homework that wasn't done would go unnoticed. They were wrong. But having three teachers shouting at them for not doing it kind of put a damper on the lesson. Meh.

How I dealt with it:
It wasn't ideal, and I haven't quite worked my way around it. Basically, if the work hasn't been done, it hasn't been done. They get zero.

Let's talk about good things instead.


The absolute highlight of the week was when a very frazzled teacher ran up to us and said, "You have a free now, right? Please go supervise the grade 4s on the rugby field! Just stop them from killing each other." And we did. I spent an hour playing "I wrote a letter to my love" and "touches" and "broken telephone", got covered in grass and had enough exercise to last me a week. And they all hugged us goodbye afterwards and begged us to be their teachers forever and ever. And for the rest of the week, two or three of them would come to our class during break and draw pictures with/of us. ^______^

It made me wonder if I'm teaching the wrong phase. But then I thought about it, and I figured that everyone loves playing with cats, and petting cats, and being loved by cats. Have you ever tried to herd them? Yeah. YEAH. I think I'll stick to high school.

Another highlight (well, scattered bits of brightness that were more of a twinkling glitter effect) was the connection with certain individual students. The gamer geek boy who has a gift for debate. The boy who tries so hard to get things right that he'll spend his free sitting in your class (despite the grade 8s who are also having a lesson then) just to finish his work and ask you for spelling advice. The girl who shyly explained that her stepfather doesn't let her have sweets, so she couldn't do the homework. The boy who was terrified of his autobiography project because of his awful, awful, heartbreakingly horrible childhood (but who then got carried away with it once he realised he could include his awesome drawings and leave out the bad bits). The grade 6s who begged us to come back. The grade 11s who were hell bent on having a discussion about drugs, smoking and sex... until I cunningly turned it into an essay topic. The matrics getting excited about their upcoming matric dance. The headmaster telling us stories about his early days as a teacher.

It was a great week at a great school, and I've put it as my first choice for my term-long TP (July - September), both because I really enjoyed teaching there, and because it means I can get experience in a school where I neither speak the language nor am familiar with the culture, and because I can teach both my methods (Home and Additional English).

And hopefully during the long TP I won't need to teach 5-6 lessons a day, because their usual teacher has returned from hospital.

I'm exhausted and my immune system has taken a knock, but I think I'll survive.

Oh, and last but not least:

A grade 6 boy presented me with a red pen. An ACTUAL Red Pen of Doom! He gave it to me "for keeps". ^_^

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thinking up a research project

This is something I've been struggling with since I found out we have to do a research project on our long TP (roughly in August/September).

But now I've finally got something! I think the best way to go about it is this:

1. Think about what you love, what interests you, what you're passionate about.

I'm a complete bibliophile. I love reading. Seriously. Check out my obsession on Goodreads. I was also horribly upset by the library that had been closed for a year at the township school. So looking at something to do with reading seems the way to go. But how do I narrow it down? How do I turn it into something measurable and worthwhile?

2. Chat to people. Bounce ideas off them, and put out some feelers.
I chatted to my supervisor about all my different ideas regarding this project, and a lot of them bounced right off her and into the "discard" pile. And then today, at the end of a meeting about something completely different, she added, as an afterthought - "Oh, by the way, some people are doing a workshop on a specific method for encouraging reading groups in schools."

3. Check out the scholarly interwebs to see how much literature there is on your vaguely defined topic. Where can you fill in a hole, or give a perspective from your specific community?

I'll admit I haven't done this yet, but it's my next step. For sure. It's totally a good, academic, professional way to go about doing things, isn't it? Right? RIGHT?  


There we go. My plan is to implement this method in a township school and see if it is feasible, worthwhile and self-sustaining enough to make up for the clearly inadequate attempts towards the curriculum-mandated extensive reading program. I can track certain learners' marks to see if it makes a difference, and I can interview batches of learners to find out why there doesn't seem to be a reading-for-fun kind of culture in less fortunate schools. I have a few assumptions or guesses already. For example, a lot of these kids are either in very time-consuming after-school volunteer tuition programs, or they are the caregivers for their younger siblings, or their family's attitude to books is that they are either for educational or religious instructional purposes, not for fun. A lot of them don't have electricity to power a lamp in order to read at night. Most of them don't have a room to themselves or a quiet spot in which to read.

But the schools also don't have much in the way of extra-mural activities. The school I went to had a hiking club, a rugby team and a netball team, and that was it. In a school of about 3000 learners, surely not all of them are on the teams. This could be a good thing to do as an extra mural.

So, there we go. I've finally got a research topic/idea. How 'bout you?

Day 1 of TP2: Russian dogs, Plannites and 6th Graders - Oh my!

Today was the first day of our second Teaching Practice. On Friday, A (my student teacher partner) and I met with Mr L, the home language teacher at the only Afrikaans medium school in our town.

Some background here: I grew up overseas. The languages I speak fluently are English and French, and I can barter down a price and order a beer in Mandarin. That is it. I do not speak a WORD of Afrikaans. Oh dear.


So we met with Mr L, and he told us that we were going to have to teach all the English Additional Language (EAL) classes because their teacher was going for surgery for the week.


A very large mustachioed man went "Garblegarblegarble" at me in Afrikaans. I blinked at him (there's been a lot of blinking) and said, "Sorry, I don't speak Afrikaans, I speak English." He threw his hands up in disgust and stomped off. It turns out he was the headmaster.


Mr L told us that Mrs G (the teacher we were replacing) had left work for the students, so that eased the worries a bit. However, we didn't get to see the work until today, and so we spent the weekend planning a lesson flexible enough to teach to all the grades (a creative free-writing exercise) as a back-up.

We arrived today (late and with A somewhat inappropriately clad for a conservative Afrikaans school - I sneakily wore my pyjamas under my suit pants because it's so freezing at the moment) in the middle of the staff meeting. One "kind" lady told A off for wearing that miniskirt and those lacy stockings, suggesting that the male students might be somewhat distracted by it, and that it might be better to wear something below the knee for the rest of the week, and that she was just saying this out of "love".

Well, at least they're facing the front of the class.

Then Mr L whipped out the most thorough week-long lesson plan I have ever seen. Mrs G has given us instructions regarding chapters, pages, which questions, which projects, where the materials are stored, how to deal with each class, and mentioning a certain very helpful mystery student who we have failed to distinguish from the sea of faces so far.

Will the real Johannes van der Malkovich please stand up?

We have an assignment requiring us to plan and teach two observed lessons each, which we evidently can't really do now because there is really no room for manoeuvre here. We'll just have to pretend that we planned the lessons that Mrs G has planned, and use her resources, and try to teach it in our own style. Which is interesting, because this whole year, we've been taught that Transmission Learning is Bad and Constructivist Learning is Good. And this school is most definitely a Transmission Learning kind of school.

Transmission learning: Me teacher. You students. Me smart. You dumb. Me provide knowledge. You absorb it. End of lesson.

Constructivist learning: Me teacher. You students. You have amazing wealth of knowledge and experience, which we can all put together into a shiny rainbow of glittery learning by working together and contributing equally. You must discover all this through the magical process of Making Learning Happen, while we gently prod you in the right direction and prevent you from murdering each other with your home-made shatter-proof ruler-shivs.

Whaddaya mean Pluto's not a planet any more?
The morning went well. We had grade 10s, who did something fun and creative (and for some reason climbed over their desks in the middle of class for no apparent reason), and grade 8s, who did something fun and creative and wrote down things like "Love is like spitting around in the garden with my eyes closed", and grade 11s, who did something boring and examinable very quietly, and matrics, who very quickly did a Listening Comprehension exercise (UGH). Then we nipped into town for lunch and to buy sweets for the grade 8s, who have another fun, creative, and sugar-filled lesson tomorrow (because that won't make the drug-addled Jack Russels harder to deal with at all...).

And then...

We got the 6th graders. And I thought grade 8 boys were bad...

This is tame in comparison.
We are high school teachers-in-training (TITs, if you like). We have all sorts of theory regarding how teenagers deal with the hardships of adolescence, and how their minds work. I have now learned that 12-year-olds are aliens from outer space. Which was handy, because the lesson was a reading comprehension about the universe, and our solar system. So yeah, that wealth of knowledge and experience, hey...

They were curious about us, especially after we gave them the spiel about how they needed to speak only English because it wasn't fair that I didn't understand, and because it would help them with their English anyway. One boy needed a translator, but his 12-year-old translator translated everything he said into "Pig" - Oink. Oink oink. Oink oink oink.
What did you just say about my mother?

A bunch of the girls blatantly copied each other's work, so we'll have to have a chat about ethics, cheating, and why they're getting zero even though the answers were right. One poor boy either did not understand a word of the instructions or he was taking the mickey, with his answers looking a bit like "I am a bumblebee. I love you. Lemming!" Others had such bad handwriting and/or were writing in Afrikaans/Alien Code, such that I couldn't understand a word of what they were trying to say. They also all spelled "planets" as "plannets", "plannuts" and even "plannites".


We spoke about how the Russians shot a dog into space, and the kid who spoke in "Pig" asked, "If the dog is Russian, is it a sausage dog?" At least he said it in English. It was pretty sharp though.

Om nom nomski.

Finally, one very strong cup of coffee, a hug from my boyfriend and several minutes of ranting to my digsmates later, I can breathe again. I've suddenly re-discovered what it feels like to sit down. And I'm pretty exhausted.

Well, at least this week will be interesting.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Improvisation and Public Speaking

They weren't kidding when they said that to be a good teacher you need to be able to think on your feet. Yesterday my EAL method lecturer (C) came up to me and asked me to spread the word that she wasn't going to be able to supervise our community outreach project that afternoon. Every week we meet with some top maths and science Grade 10s to 12s to help improve their English. They also get additional maths and science tutoring to give them that extra edge. C asked us to have this week's focus be on public speaking.

And then no one else showed up for our lecture, which meant I wasn't going to see them before the outreach program that afternoon, and I was unable to contact them. Instead of running around looking for them, I decided to Consult the Holy Oracle: I googled for some fun public speaking improv activities, and C and I quickly put together a bag of random objects that we picked up around her office for some of the activities I had planned.

Praise the Oracle!

Here are a few of the ones that worked especially well with our group:

Public Speaking Activities 

Volte Face

(From Personal Development is Fun.com)
"In Volte Face, you’re given a topic first. You DON’T get any time to think about it at all! You have to speak FOR the topic for 30 seconds. AGAINST the topic for 30 seconds. Then FOR the topic for 30 more seconds. And then AGAINST the topic for the next 30 seconds! A beep or buzzer-sound tells you your 30 seconds are up!

Apart from giving public speaking practice (because everything has to be so spontaneous!), this will really fill any place with laughter because the guy who speaks keeps contradicting himself again and again!"
Some example topics:

Animal cloning should be illegal

Monday morning sucks.
I love mosquitoes.
Students should not have to wear uniforms.
School should start two hours later than it already does.
Girls have it better than boys.
Beauty is only skin deep.
Computers should replace teachers.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Alcohol should be illegal.
Females are better students than males.
Winter is the best season of the year.
Exes should remain friends.
Homework should be banned.
The Earth is flat.
Global warming is not real.
Science is a threat to humanity.
The moon should be colonized.

These topics can be used for other activities as well, or as assigned speech topics.

Pass the Tennis Ball

This free word game encourages split second thinking! It sounds easy but actually requires real concentration to play it well.
Sit your group in a circle. Have one person in the middle with their eyes closed.
Pass a tennis ball clockwise from player to player.
When the middle person calls 'Stop',and a letter ( A, B, C, ...) the person holding the tennis ball has to name 6 words starting with that letter.
Meanwhile the ball keeps being passed round the circle.
The goal for the person naming the words to have all 6 done before the ball comes back to them. If they haven't,they change places with the middle player. If they have the middle person closes their eyes once more, the ball starts being passed and when they're ready they call 'Stop' and another letter name.
Don't allow place names, first names or some of the tougher letters.(X for example!)
As your players get better increase the number of words required.
The reason for having the middle player's eyes closed as the ball is going round is so they won't know who has got it when they call.

Scientific Discovery

Before the lesson, collect a whole lot of random, everyday objects. Some of the objects we found included plastic forks, used toilet paper inner tubes, playdough, a pinecone, a printer ink cartridge and an empty tube of lip balm.

Put the objects in a bag. Divide the class into groups, or for an added challenge they can do this individually, depending on the ratio of students to objects. Each group gets to choose one item (without peeking) from the bag. They then have to come up with creative uses for it. When they have had some time to brainstorm, each group must stand and present the object to the class as if they are giving the sales pitch for this latest and greatest invention, the tool or item that will save (or destroy) all of mankind.

For example, (this was actually said by one group!): "You may see this as a roll of sticky-tape. However, for all the single ladies out there, this item has a plethora of amazing uses. Firstly, it can be worn as jewellery guaranteed to attract any man. Secondly, you might use it to put up your hair. You can also use it to decorate your clothes. Now, our scientists have devised the perfect perfume for this sticky-tape to emit; it makes the men go crazy!...But the perfume is lethal to mice, so if you rest it on the floor like so, you can get rid of that little rodent problem you've been having..." 

Will you pay me overtime for this, Mommy?

There are tons of other ideas out there in the ether; a bit of Googling should do the trick. The lesson went over really well, and now we have a bag of "Mystical, Magical Objects" that can be reused as a resource in the future.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Grade 8 Boys' hilarious letters of complaint

I taught a lesson at a prestigious local boys' school on Thursday, with some fantastic results. My observer was a little bit late, which threw me off only slightly.

The lesson began with a little word game to let the boys catch their breath (they had to run there from the other side of the school, a 7 minute walk away). Each person had to say a word that started with the same letter that the previous word ended with. It worked quite well - by the time we'd gone around the class, the boys had settled down (this being a relative term - a friend described grade 8 boys as Jack Russells on steroids) and their brains had switched on.

Then I spent a bit longer than I had meant to explaining  the format and use of humour in a letter of complaint. I had an example letter that was utterly bizarre - it involves a man finding a shark in a bottle of water. Unfortunately the boys got a bit distracted by the bizarreness, so we lost a lot of time there. But eventually they did settle down and get to work.

I asked them to drawn a piece of paper with 2 names on it from a hat. They then had to write letters of complaint from x to y. Some examples were Saddam Hussein to George W Bush, Bella Swan to Stephenie Meyer, Albert Einstein to their Maths teacher, and so on.

I got some real gems:

Saddam Hussein to George W Bush

Dear Mr George W Bush,

Your National press is painting me as an evil man when all I want to do is bake and learn to dance. Unfortunately your men killed me two days before my first ballet lesson, and I just learnt how to make lemon marrang pie!

I am deeply upset since it has been a life long goal that I dreamed of since I was six, all I was waiting for was my limes to arrive from South Africa then the Lemon Marrang Pie would be mine.

Therefore I want you and a Scottish bagpipes band to dress in full Scottish war suits and play to my grave, and it will be broadcasted to the world!

Saddam Hussein

Enclosed - (Death certificate, Scottish bagpipes band card)

Lord Voldemort to Harry Potter

Let's just hug it out.

Dear Harry,
I am sick and tired of you and your friends trying to hunt me down and kill me. I know I killed your parents but that dosen't mean anything to me. You gave me a little zap with your wand and I now have a big bruise on my arm. I'm also think you should give up, let me kill more wizards and come and bring me a coke to make my bruise feel better.

I really think that this has gone on for far to many movies and we should take a broomstick to Australia and catch up with each other.

Yours Sincerely,
Your forever nemesis until you kill me in the last movie,
Lord Voldemort

The Three Little Pigs to the Big Bad Wolf

Dear Big Bad Wolf,

On 25 October you started Blowing down our houses, which we had spent a long time trying tobuild and were very proud ofand now we have no houses at all.

We are getting very angry because you are blowing down our houses. We know that you are hungry because your teeth have recently been taken out, so you have not eaten in a long time, but it is very mean and disrespectful that you are targeting us for your next meal, so please can you try kill the other pigs who live across the road from us.

To fix the problem, we are asking you for 1000 bags of grain, so we can build new houses and to say sorry we will give you pork chops for your next meal.

I look forward to your reply, please can you answer soon and hopefully you will agree and we will all be able to get on fine.

The three little pigs.

Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker

Dear Luke

I'm writing to complain about the lack of respect for me and the Sith Lord. We successfully overun the galaxy and built the empire and you still don't surrender! I'm laying charges for vandalism (death star) and abuse of the elderly!

You must surrender the rebel alliance of suffer the consequences! We kindly wait for your responce.

Darth Vader

PS You and your sister should come for a visit soon.
PPS Christmas is a my death star this year.

Einstein to Maths Teacher

Dear Mrs H,

On the 8 May you gave your students far to much work on a level that not even I can cope which, and that is the reason for this letter.

Unfortunately, the work you give to your standerd 6 student is inapropreitly hard, and algebraiic eqation are illegal in this country.

I suggest that you shoud stop giving your student work intirely. If you do not do so I wil sue u.

Albert Einstine

*The student was aware of Einstein's dyslexia. Nice touch, I thought. 

Bella Swan to Stephenie Meyer 

Dear Stephenie,

Re: Twilight storyline.

Seriously! Were you drunk when you came up with the storyline for Twilight.

I am extremely greateful for you casting me as the main character, but what happen to the rest of it! Sparkly vampires... vampires are supposed to be scary, not coated in kiddies "Glitter - Glue"! Then there is the Werewolves. You almost made the books better, but now we know they are just adolescent shape-shifters with love-impulse problems!

I would appreciate it if you rewrote the books with REAL vampires (that don't sparkle) and REAL werewolves (not shape-shifters) and please remove that etternally depressed attitude that seems to follow me.

I look forward to action concerning my problem. If there is no action I will seek new employment by a new author. That is my ultimatum.

Bella Swan

Shrek to Donkey

Dear Donkey,

On the 1st of April I asked you to babysit my kids at my house in the swamp.

Unfortunately you did not do well because you let my kids eat too many eyeballs. My kids have been throwing up all over the house and I'm very dissappointed.

To resolve the problem, I would appreciate one million gold coins. Enclosed is my money bag, kindly fill it up and return it.

I look forward to receiving the money and will wait until the 11/05 before contacting an angry mob to assassinate you. Please send the money to 21 Swamp St.


Helen Zille to Julius Malema

Dear Mr Malema,

Though I am currently pleased with your suspention, I still cannot contain my concern with your political strategies and the way you conduct yourself in the political ring. Even though comedians take pleasure in your antics I would like to request that you stop popping up and commenting all over the scene.

I would like you to know that the purpose of this letter is not intended to your race and I hold nothing against you, but just the way you conduct yourself. One of the many incidents you have led to is the insulting of a BBC journalist and the singing of 'Shoot the Boer' hatesong. This is completely uncalled for and is not what politics is about. If you ever plan to become the president of this country then you may want to start thinking before you release your violent thoughts into the world.

I would highly recommend that instead of continuing your career in politics until your expulsion from the ANC, that you retire to your large house in Sandton with your many cars and expensive watches. If you are worried about your economic well being, your "connections" will keep your funds healthy.

My apologies for consuming your preciously corrupt time
Helen Zille

Superman to Woolworth's Men's Underwear Department

To whom it may concern,

On 10 May 2012, I bought a pair of tight underwear size 76 (with skidmark proof nanomaterial) at Woolworths on Main Street.

Unfortunately your product has not performed well because they tore and fell off while I was on my way home from mars  Uranus. I am dissapointed because this has caused me great humilitation by the TV cameras.

To resolve the problem, I would appreciate a money back. Enclosed are copies of my records.


Kei$ha to Jack Daniels

Whaddaya mean it's not mouthwash?

Dear Jack Daniels

On the 24th April I bought a bottle of your '35 year' old tennesee whisky, that absolutely tasted like rotten Milk. I think that the people who bottle your product drunk all the whisky and put some cheap liquid in it.

I was a regular buyer of this 35year old whisky. I refuse to buy this whisky from you untill you resolve this problem. I also would like my money back, cause this drink costs a lot of money.

To improve this problem I would really appretiate it if you could get to the bottom of it. Please contact me on 1241412314. Thank you.

Yours Sincerely,

Many a giggle was had. What a lovely class - and people told me that grade 8 boys were difficult! They were cheeky and rowdy but as far as I could tell, the chatter was about the work, and that was fine by me. They seemed to enjoy the lesson a lot. My observer was impressed. The marking was fun.