Thursday, August 30, 2012

Above and beyond (and below)

Today the headmaster said something about how he expects us to think of our job descriptions as a guideline, not as a limit as to what we do - basically, take the description as a basic minimum and go above and beyond it.

Which makes me feel a bit bad about whining about all the substituting (babysitting) we've been forced to do lately. With the sudden resignation of one staff member, and others away on leave, ill, or otherwise not at school, my co-teacher and I have been roped in to help out at the junior school.

I chose to teach high school for some very, very good reasons. 

Some of my responses over the past week:


Holy cow! I think someone put crack on my Grade 9's oatees. Well, at least this time round (crit-wise) they weren't staring at their desks (connection-wise) and had a lot of fun (lesson-wise). I think they might even be a bit... wiser... now. All my lessons done for the day! WOOHOO!

(and then my boyfriend told me he was locked in my flat, with the alarm on. Had to rush off to save him. Very professional)


Holding thumbs for Tuesday to go swimmingly (no crits, no hair being set on fire, minimal teenage drama, no strange insect things that trick you into thinking they're leaves and murder you in your sleep, no sudden changes to the staff and no people getting trapped in my flat with the alarm on...) Is it too much to ask for one normal day?


Dear sweet mother of all things holy, may I please never, ever, ever, ever, ever have to teach the grade 6s for two lessons in a row ever again. Please? *rocks quietly in the corner*

Weekend. Here. Now. Don't make me come over there... Wednesday, stop pulling Thursday's hair! No, Monday, do NOT spit in Friday's face. Tuesday, for the last time, listen to the instructions and stop sticking pencils in your nose.

I cannot wait until 4pm - seriously need to whack something against a wall to rid myself of anti-primary-school-kid aggression. Maybe it will be a squash ball. Maybe it will be a small child who has suddenly reached the 'spitball' phase. Who knows?


Annihilated any hopes the Grade 7s had of even thinking of spitting wads of paper at each other today by sternly telling them that anyone caught chewing ANYTHING would be sent to the deputy principal, and then giving them a brief period of amnesty during which they could spit their paper wads where they should - into the bin. Disciplining LIKE A BOSS. Kept the grade 4s in during break to clean up their mess and was helped by a very nice grade 6 who decided to organise all the magazines and books. Am completely in love with my grade 9s, though, who were working like angels without any begging necessary, when the headmaster decided to pay the class a surprise visit. ♥

Now for my crit, which I'm feeling pretty confident about. Unfortunately it's happening in the middle of an arc, so it's mostly work and not much teaching, but I guess that's real teaching and not a show. :) 10 minutes to go and counting. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reviving Momentum and Rookie Mistakes

Gosh. My grade 9s have had a pretty rough term so far. We had an okayish momentum going, and then the sudden and tragic death of one of the kids in the class knocked the whole class off kilter*. That week ended up being a write-off as everyone was too upset to focus on anything beyond a basic grammar exercise. The next week was cut short by public holidays, and the whole class failed their Spud test miserably (despite the week long postponement and their amazing ability to finish writing it with 25 minutes of the 45 minute lesson to spare - I am not amused).

Before everything started going wrong, our momentum looked like this:

Now it looks more like this:

The long weekend has definitely helped us all to get back on the bus, even if it's a skedonk. But how can I wake this class back up?

I decided to try the fun arrange-stuff-on-the-board exercise that is ALWAYS a favourite, giving them character names and pictures and so on to arrange in a way that makes sense. It just didn't work. They were not interested. They half-arsedly tried it, but half the girls claim to have read 60 pages of the book and yet don't know who the MAIN CHARACTER is.

On the right is one of my stronger students. Tomorrow we're going to try turning the book the right way up.

It was okay, but needed some more work. I had to move the whole paper and prestik jumble to a different board to make space for boardwork for other classes, and in the process I organised it into a doodly web diagram flow chart thing that I used to explain the novel to them in class. This should have been done in the first week! God, I'm weeks behind with them. It's ok. We'll catch up. Deep breaths.

And yet they've done so much - they've written character sketches, made facebook profiles for the characters, written letters, love letters, diary entries...

So today they asked what activity we were doing next. And then one of them said, 'Can we read the book?'


face palm of note

Idiot. Stupid, stupid, stupid teacher. After 3 years of English Lit and Philosophy, I am so used to the dynamic of reading it in your own time and discussing it in class. These are grade 9s who, judging from their spelling, are barely literate in their OWN language, let alone their second. For as long as I've been teaching them, I've been giving them activities that dip into the novel, but we have only read bits continuously once or twice. They have no cooking clue what's going on. Clearly I have fallen into the rookie teacher hole of being so excited about making it fun and interactive and relatable for them that I have missed out on the point of doing so - to get them to read and understand the story. Of COURSE the momentum has died. Of COURSE they're lost. It doesn't matter if the car/bus/jalopy is rotting in a pond somewhere. They're still waiting at the bus stop.


So today we read Spud's first encounter with Debbie, his ethereal blonde 'Mermaid' girlfriend. The love of his life (for now). His one and only (until he meets Amanda. And Christine. And...). And I even acted out some of the things. The language of the book is actually quite advanced - words like retaliate and so on that they wouldn't know as second-language speakers - so I summarised it and acted out Spud's responses as they are literally (and hyperbolically) described. 
e.g: When Spud sees Debbie, he nearly drops a tray of drinks and his leg goes numb. Then she says 'Hi' and it flattens him. 
A close approximation of Spud's reaction to the thought of the Mermaid slipping into her bathing suit in his bedroom, just on the other side of the door, while he waits in the corridor, wishing he'd bought a video camera.

 It helped that the quietest girl in the class was reading at the time, and whispered 'Hi'. I ended up sprawling wildly backwards over the desk on which I was sitting (mm, I'm not supposed to sit on desks, nothing to see here, move along), hair flying, hair band breaking, things falling on the floor, with amazement and horror that the Mermaid had SPOKEN to me (Spud). The kids fell out of their chairs laughing. 

And they loved it. The were engrossed, they were responding. They get it. They're finally on the bus.

Now I just hope I can drive it.

*Please don't think that my brushing over this is a sign of insensitivity or lack of caring. I don't think a blog is an appropriate place to talk about this, and it is not the point of this post. The student's death was a horrible, horrible tragedy and the school has been very supportive towards the student's family, teachers and all the kids who were his friends - basically the whole school. It's actually amazing how much like a family this school is, and how much they care about each other. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Zille on Western Cape school closures

The DA has published this on their website:

Putting learners' interests first – the reasons for school closures

Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance
7 August 2012
There is a rational question at the root of the outcry against the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) proposed closure of 27 schools: “How can this be justified at a time when the demand for places in Western Cape schools is increasing dramatically?”

Paradoxically, the rising demand is one of the reasons. Escalating urbanisation, migration within urban areas, the changing age profile of communities, and the need to improve schooling (among other factors) require the Department to align the supply of quality schooling with the demand.  This means building many new schools, modernising old ones, and closing some.

At the end of our provincial government’s 5-year tenure (2014/15) we will have built 81 new or “replacement” schools (of which 31, catering for 30,000 learners, have already been completed).  So why has the public focus been exclusively on the 27 proposed closures?

Change is never easy and almost always generates resistance.  But part of the reason is that the ANC and its alliance partner the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) have been vocal enough to shape the public discourse.  Their protest has struck a chord because it appears to be valid.  The ANC Youth League has gone one step further, threatening to make Cape Town and the Province “ungovernable” unless proposed school closures are stopped.

The greatest paradox is that, over the past decade, the ANC has closed thousands of schools in the provinces it governs.

According to statistics from the national Department of Basic Education, more than 1,000 schools were closed in ANC-governed provinces between 2006 and 2010.

And, starting from the year 2000, the South African Institute of Race Relations puts the figure at 2,388 schools.  The provincial breakdown is:  1,116 closed in the Free State; at least 648 in North West; at least 590 in the Eastern Cape; 215 in Mpumalanga; 173 in Limpopo; and 111 in Northern Cape.  During this period, 49 schools were closed in the Western Cape, most under the ANC’s tenure in the Province.  In fact, the only period during which the Western Cape Education Department closed more schools than it built was during the period of ANC rule.

Apart from exposing the ANC’s customary hypocrisy, what is the point of quoting these statistics?

They show that the “shape and size” of the education system is in constant flux, everywhere.  Provincial education departments build new schools, expand and replace existing schools and consider schools for closure every year to meet changing education needs.

This is particularly the case in rural areas.  Out of the 27 Western Cape schools proposed for closure, 20 are rural schools with very few pupils.  Because national laws and regulations allocate resources based on the number of learners at a school, many of the tiny rural schools have “multi-grade” classrooms, where one teacher is responsible for educating several grades simultaneously.  In the most extreme cases a teacher may have seven different grades in a single classroom.  This requires the preparation and delivery of 50 lessons each day to cover the syllabus of each grade.  Despite the exceptional dedication of many of these teachers, this is an impossible demand.

When these schools are consolidated into larger schools, they have more resources, including teachers, and the quality of education for the children improves as a result.  Most of these children use transport provided by the Department.

Seven of the schools proposed for closure are in urban areas.  Three are primary schools with declining numbers (because parents are voting with their feet, usually in search of better quality).  All learners from the declining schools can be accommodated in neighbouring schools.

Learners at a fourth primary school (that is constantly being vandalised) also have easy access to nearby schools which are better managed and maintained.  The Department cannot continue to pour scarce resources to repairing infrastructure that is repeatedly vandalised.

Consistent underperformance or extremely poor infrastructure and high drop-out rates are among the reasons why the Department is proposing the closure of three high schools in greater Cape Town.  The Department can and should accommodate these learners in better, safer schools where they are more likely to succeed.

In short, the educational interest of learners is the motivating factor behind all these proposals.  The Department of Education is, today, releasing a detailed analysis for the proposed closure of each of the 27 schools.

The provincial minister will have to consider all the representations made during the public participation process, weigh up the evidence and make the final decision on whether or not to close each school on the basis of the best educational interests of the pupils.  Teachers, too, will be accommodated at other schools.

The Department will do whatever it can to initiate and maintain an open and frank debate.  However, I expect the process to degenerate into high-profile public posturing led by the ANC and SADTU.  The last thing on their minds is the interest of the learners.

The question is:  Will public discourse be swept along in their wake?  Or will people debate the merits of each case, knowing that the accountability they demand in education sometimes requires tough decisions?

Bowing to pressure from SADTU has ruined Eastern Cape Education, where some schools remain open with a full complement of teachers, despite dwindling pupil numbers.  In a school in Butterworth, for example, there are only 55 learners left -- and 22 teachers.  At the same time, other schools are bursting at the seams, but the Eastern Cape Education Department cannot fill the required posts, because they have far exceeded the available budget.  That is the heart of the current crisis in the province.

Managing growing demand on the basis of limited resources requires some difficult trade-offs and tough decisions. If we want to fix education, far more difficult decisions still lie ahead.  As long as we ensure that our choices are focused on the best interests of the learners, rather than the vested interests of SADTU, we will be moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

EPIK will give preference to offline TEFL qualifications

Cliff from Teach Korea has posted this:

TeachKorea constantly gets eMails asking us about the legitimacy of online TEFL/TESOL courses. While we have always been reticent to encourage these courses the fact is that they are currently recognized in Korean Public Schools provided they are a certified 100 course hours or longer.

This is about to change. The following communique has been released by English Program In Korea (EPIK) As EPIK is the largest national program in South Korea it is just a matter of time before this becomes the new standard for public school recruitment.

"In recent terms, the application process has gradually become more competitive. At this point, it is almost impossible for level 3 applicants to secure a position with the EPIK program. As such, the most common way for level 3 applicants to increase their qualifications would be to enroll in a TEFL or TESOL course.
  Currently, we accept a minimum 100 hour TEFL or TESOL certificate as a qualification criteria for level 2 or higher pay grade, regardless of how the course was taken. However, starting from the Fall 2013 term, when we recommend candidates to the POE/MOEs we will give a priority to the applicants possessing a minimum 100 hour TEFL or TESOL with at least a 20 hour offline, in-class component, as opposed to those who only completed a strictly online course. We strongly advise you to take the TEFL or TESOL programs including at least a 20 hour offline, in-class component. This decision was made to meet requests from the POE/MOEs and schools who wish to have the most qualified Guest English Teachers possible."

A consequences that must be kept in mind is that people who have done online courses in the past and are currently working in Korea or start their first contract with a purely online course before the new requirement takes effect will very likely find they have to sacrifice a salary level increment when they sign up for a second contract.
 Interesting. Yet another reason to do a PGCE or an offline, classroom-based TEFL course - having completed an online TEFL course, I think that if I had gone to Korea with only that, I would be completely unqualified to teach. Having the experience of standing in front of 50 blank young faces is a lot easier if you do it in your own language, in your own country, before doing it (for money) somewhere strange and new. So, if you're planning to go to South Korea, maybe you should bear this in mind.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Setting Tests

My co-teacher and I ran our first ever test today. It was for the Grade 6 monsters darlings, and went pretty well, or so it seemed.

Marking, on the other hand... Well, let's just say there are several good reasons why I am training for FET and not Intermediate or Junior Phase. The horror, the horror.

You can shove your spelling rules up your ass, ma'am.

Tomorrow my only lesson is a short content quiz for the Grade 11s on Animal Farm. Aaah... It's like a mid-week holiday.