10 June 2016

Why I do what I do!

When I became a teacher I wanted to make a difference for the children I taught. Sometimes you hear about it, and other times you don't. Today I was privileged to receive the notes below from a student and his Dad. I've blanked out the names to protect their identities. It is little notes like this that make the long days and sometimes nights preparing work and marking it, and just thinking about the children. I've received various notes from students and parents over the years, but this one was really special. I should add that not all parents want their children in my class. There are some who don't. That's OK. Meanwhile, I can only hope that they've seen Jesus is me, because on my own I'd be the mean, scary teacher this boy thought I was before he joined my class. I thank God for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Cambodian children. I thank God that He has softened me, and helped me become a kinder, more caring, while still strict, teacher. I pray that He will continue to guide and lead me to make the difference in the lives of the children He brings in to my classroom.

21 May 2016

Nine and a half years later!

From third graders to graduates
Today I had the privelege of seeing 17 of my former students graduate from high school. Fourteen of them I taught in both 3rd and 4th grade, another joined the class in 4th grade, another I taught in 4th grade one year after the rest, and the last was one of the students in my final university prac class.
It was fun to see them again, and to see how they have grown and matured over the years. Most are off to college next year, many of them leaving Cambodia.
Just for fun, I thought I'd see if I could find a few photos of them as 3rd and 4th graders.

 These young people will always have a special place in my heart. I wish them all the very best for the future, and pray that they will continue to grow in the love of Jesus.

18 March 2016

Something that delighted me this afternoon

One of the activities students in my class do is free writing. They have 10 - 25 minutes depending on the day and what else we are working on to write about anything they like. I try to do it every day, but somedays it just doesn't happen. Teaching's like that.

Managing to read and provide feedback on students' writing has always challenged me, so this semester I decided to try something new. I divided my class into five groups, labelled their book boxes, reading journals and writing notebooks with a coloured sticker on which I'd written M, Tu, W, Th, or F. Now students hand their books in on the correct day and I tackle 4 reading journals and 4 writing notebooks each day instead of having a pile of 20 at the end of the week. So far that strategy is working well. Wednesday can be a bit tricky when I leave school as soon as the class does in order to get home for my uni "Collaborate" session, but either they get done on Thursday morning (early start) or I bring them home (and do them when uni is finished).

So today I had 3 sets of books to read, from 3 totally different students. One set was from a very capable, confident and creative young lady, who had written some very creative fiction. The second was from a student who still struggles to put sentences together correctly, who had told me about races they ran in their PE lesson, and the third was from a student who has made huge strides in reading this year. As I read the third student's writing I was thrilled. Here's what he had written.

Reading is fun.
Reading is fun, at the beginning  of the year I know that reading was hard for me, and I keep saying that reading is hard, then when I do more of RAZ-Kids it become easier and funner to read. Reading is very fun and easier for me now, because I read lot's of books in RAZ-Kids and at school too. My favourite author is Suzy Kline, because sometimes she write funny book and sometimes sad book. My favorite book is about Horrible Harry, he always do horrible thing, but sometimes not. I love reading now, and I even read at home too!

Reading that piece of writing filled me with delight. This is one of those intangible things that makes teaching a joy and a privilege. Yes, it isn't perfect writing, but how many of us write perfectly first time anyway? This student's first language is Khmer. This was written directly in English. I couldn't do it! These kiddos amaze me.

04 January 2016

Did you read the instructions?

I'm sure any of my teacher friends will be able to relate to this post. I've been teaching for 9 years now, and I'm sure this would have to be the question I ask most frequently. Why am I writing about it? Just reflecting.

Today we were learning about time-lines in mathematics, and students had to create a time-line of a day in another class, using information provided in their book. I started the lesson with a demonstration, using our own timetable, of the various skills required. The biggest one was how do I make all that space show the correct amounts of time. After I'd demonstrated a couple, I had students continue the process on the whiteboard. Frustration abounded when the computer went into sleep mode (I've frozen the display) and I couldn't get it to come back again in exactly the same place. We worked around that, and it seemed like students were getting it, so I moved to the next step which was having students work independently in their maths journal.

Check for Comprehension Cards FREEBIE
Here's the link to where I got these
Before we got started I introduced our new Check for Comprehension Cards, and showed the student page using the projector. We talked about some of the more tricky parts, and then I sent to off to get started. Unfortunately, I forget to actually read the instructions at the top of the page with the students. Ooops!

As I wandered around the room, most students had either green or yellow cards displayed, which was a good start. After giving them time to get started, I took another walk around the room, and discovered that none of them had actually read the instructions, or if they did they weren't following them. I called the whole class back to the mat, and asked who had read the instructions. About 3 hands went up. I asked one of those students why they hadn't used any coloured pencils, which is what the instruction indicated. Her reply shouldn't really have surprised me, given the cultural context. She said, "No-one else was using colour so I didn't either."

We then reviewed the two sentence instruction at the top of the page together, highlighting the one word some might not have known, and then I sent them back to work. Alas, I still had students using a single colour for the whole time-line, and others who didn't put anything on it at all. Looks like I'll need to review the activity tomorrow. I'll see how many actually get it right, and I might have to get some new copies of that page and do a full demo on the board!

Ah, the joys of teaching! My favourite question: "Did you read the instructions?" Thankfully this was a learning activity and not formal assessment!

03 January 2016

Happy New Year

Another year has come and gone. I can distinctly remember all the work that went in to computer programs to ensure that Y2K (Year 2000) didn't create massive disruptions in the health system (and more particularly the BreastScreening program that I worked in at the time. At that time I had no idea what God had in store for me. In fact that was the year I embarked on a Graduate Certificate in Management (Queensland Health). I wasn't really sure where I was heading, but I guarantee that I wouldn't have even dreamed of being an elementary classroom teacher in an International School in Phnom Penh, let alone having been doing it for 9 years! Yes, I'm about to start my tenth year of teaching! Doing what I always wanted to do, back as far as primary school, and certainly for most of my high school year. God took me on a journey, eventually leading me to East-West International School, Phnom Penh. It's my sixth year at EWIS, and I still love it.

Tomorrow is the start of second semester for me. I've enjoyed the two week break from teaching (not completely from the classroom). Now I'm looking forward to seeing the children again tomorrow and getting them back into learning mode. Some of them have been busy over the break using RAZ-Kids and Xtra Math, which is good. Others have hopefully read the books they borrowed from the classroom library and school library. Some will have done both. My lessons for this week are planned and most of the preparation is complete.

Tomorrow we start work on daily number fact practice for multiplication. After we finish 40 days of multiplication we'll move on to division. Some of the students know their facts quite well so will be working on speed, others know them or can work them out very slowly, and they'll be working on speed as well, while others will be working on both speed and accuracy.

I'm not completely caught up on my marking, but there's not a huge amount to do. I'm hoping I can be completely up-to-date by the end of the week. I've still got after school program on Mondays for 3 more weeks, and then I'll do a term on Tuesdays, since uni has scheduled Collaborate lecture sessions on Monday afternoons.

My non-school goal for January is to read and take notes on my text book for the coming semester. The unit I'm about to embark on is called Inclusive Education: Theory, Policy and Practice. While the primary focus of the textbook is on the Australian and New Zealand context, I'm looking forward to exploring it in relation to the context of International Schools, especially in Asia, and particularly in Cambodia. Semester doesn't officially start until 22nd February, and actually teaching dates are 29th February to 3rd June, with a break from 26th March to 3rd April (I've got no doubt I'll be busy working on assignments during that break!). There will be plenty of extra reading to be done once the semester starts as well as lectures to listen to and assignments to write!

After a very early start this morning (4.30am wake-up to catch the flight back to Phnom Penh), I'm planning an early night tonight. I hope that plan works and I'm bright-eyed and well rested by 6am tomorrow for the coming school week. I hope that your 2016 has begun well, and is a good year. Soursedey Chnam Thmei. Happy New Year.

26 December 2015

Construction progress continues

While students, teachers, and cleaners enjoy their Winter Break, progress on the construction site between the two buildings has continued. The hallways are filthy and the cleaners are going to have a big job to do to get them clean before school resumes, however at least work is progressing, albeit slowly (or that's how it appears). Here are a few photos to bring you up to date.
First is shot of our new PE area, taken on 22nd December 2015. Framing for the roof was going up.
The roof is on the new PE area. Looking north west.
Looking South East at the PE area.
The roof has some sections of green poly-sheeting to let additional light in.
They are green, rather than clear, so hence the green cast on these photos.
Looking up at the roof of the PE area.
Definitely room for balls to go high in Volleyball and Basketball games.
Some of the area outside my classroom with with framing removed - 20th December 2015.
There had actually been some effort made to tidy things up.
Looking out the window from the "walkway" area towards my classroom - 26th December 2015
The white rendering definitely makes things lighter and brighter in the classroom.
This is what's going on at my end of the building. 26th December 2015.
And this is taken from my classroom looking the other way.
They're working on both ends at the same time.
26th December 2015.
I'm not sure, but from the noise going on outside my room this afternoon, they are probably also working on railings along each end of the building at the moment. I keep on shutting the doors that lead to the work area to remind the children that these areas are off limits. As you can see, cleanliness of the work site is not a priority, and we can't wait for construction to be completed, since all that cement dust gets routinely tramped inside the building all day every day. Poor cleaners. It has to be discouraging for them that 5 minutes after they mop the hallways there are dirty, dusty footprints all down them. Life's like that.

The last three photos were taken back on 22nd November, 2015 and show the progress that has been made with the new hall. We're hanging out for this space to be finished so we can be more comfortable for assemblies and other whole school events.

That's it for now. I wonder how much more will get done between now and when we resume school. I'll try and remember to take some more photos on the first day back!

19 December 2015

Winter Break Begins

Last time I wrote was after a crazy weekend. The week that followed was a good one, with two teaching days followed by an inter-school sports day at the International School of Phnom Penh. I think there were students from eight schools involved, all from Phnom Penh. It was a great day. The emphasis was on participation rather than formal competition, but there was opportunity for that as well. Our students had opportunity to try a variety of activities that they don't get to do at East-West, including an 800m run, long jump, high jump, hurdles, sprints, and shot put, as well as fun activities like "rocket throw" and "fish throw" (kid friendly versions of javelin and discus), sack races, three legged races, water relay races, and standing long jump. At the end of the day there were 4 x 100m relay races for each grade level with one team from each school in each race. It was a hot day, but my lovely head umbrella helped keep me cool. Generous lathering on of sunscreen was also necessary. Frozen water bottles, topped up as I emptied what had defrosted, kept me hydrated during the day.
One highlight for me was seeing a young man who I had known as a teenager during my first years in Cambodia, working as a responsible teaching assistant at that school.
We returned to school after lunch, and retreated to the classroom where I turned on fans and air-conditioning, and settled the students with a movie. We watched Treasures of the Snow, a story I have loved since childhood, and finished it off the next afternoon after the Grade 3-5 assembly. 
It was good to have a day off the next day, and then one more teaching day before the weekend.

This week we had a full week, but since it was leading up to holidays I decided to get most of the real work done by Thursday, and make Friday a fun day. I took it one step further, and decided to show a movie on Thursday afternoon. It's a fun movie, but the setting is Egyptian and it involves archaeologists hunting for lost treasure in a pyramid, so it fits in with our current Social Studies unit on Ancient Egypt and pyramids. Friday morning we played math games (practising multiplication facts), did a little grammar, and then either played a word game or listened to a Raz-Kids story on internet safety. 

Report cards were handed out on Thursday, along with school calendars for the coming year, and returned work folders. My students amazed me by ALL remembering to return their blue returned work folders to me, empty on Friday.

Today, I enjoyed a relaxed pace and worked on producing a news/prayer letter. There are quite a few hours work involved, but it's done now, and sent. Mission accomplished. I slipped out for dinner, and ended up sharing a table with our elementary principal who was on a similar mission. It was nice to have company after spending the day alone. Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to meeting up with one of my students from my first two years at East-West. Her family were in Cambodia for two years with Australian Volunteers Abroad, and I had the pleasure of teaching her and her friends for both 3rd and 4th grades. Her family is visiting Cambodia, and I'm looking forward to seeing them.