19 May 2017

Share Your World - Friday 19th May 2017

Time for another round of Share Your World. The original posts are much earlier in the week, but I'm thinking Friday evening is a good time for me to do this, so here are this week's questions with my answers.
How many languages do you you speak?
One, English, but I can speak enough Khmer to get me around and navigate shopping in the markets. I wish I had more, but time for language study hasn't been high on my list of priorities unfortunately. Teaching, planning, preparing, marking and studying have a way of eating up your time.
What are you reading, watching, listening to, eating?
Reading: Kicking Eternity by Ann Lee Miller (a Kindle freebie)
Watching: Nothing - the TV is almost never on
Listening to: The sounds of fans whirring - it's been another hot humid tropical day
Eating: Fresh pineapple - deliciously sweet!
What was the last photo you took with your phone?
My main phone doesn't have a camera, and the only photos I have taken on my mini-tablet/phone were evidence of a student's violent behaviour taken a number of months ago. Thankfully that doesn't happen very often. On my pocket camera that lives in my handbag the last photos were of my students constructing boats entirely out of recycled materials. They did a great job.
What is your favourite time of day?
Bedtime, when I put the air-conditioning on and take my Kindle and do a little reading before sleeping. I've also been enjoying walking time in the late afternoons early evenings lately.
Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 
Well first of all I'm grateful we had a four day weekend last weekend, during which I snuck in some pampering. Love that I had a manicure & pedicure, plus hair wash (complete with scalp massage) for just $10 on Tuesday afternoon. An occasional treat. Secondly, I'm also grateful for e-mail and prompt and helpful responses from AustSwim about license renewal and professional development. Finally I'm grateful for a visit from a professional librarian who was able to make some really helpful suggestions for designing a new elementary library.

What I'm looking forward to in the coming week is having my report cards finished, and getting to work on the nuts and bolts of the design of our new elementary library.

12 May 2017

Share Your World - Friday 12th May 2017

A couple of Facebook/Blogging friends have started doing this, and I thought it might be a fun way for you to get to know me a little better, and if you like to join in by answering the same questions in the comments that would let me know you too. Whether I'll be able to keep up with the weekly posts or not I'm not sure, but I'm going to give it a go. Each week a new set of questions are posted on the originating bloggers page. Anyway, enjoy!
When you’re alone at home, do you wear shoes, socks, slippers, or go barefoot?
Here in Cambodia I go barefoot, but when I'm in Australia (since it's usually winter) I prefer slippers or slipper socks. Having lived in Cambodia for 10 years I've pretty much adapted to the cultural practice of leaving outside shoes at the door.
What was your favourite food when you were a child?
Hmmm. That's a long time ago. I think Roast Dinner figured pretty highly, especially with Lemon Delicious (or Little Pud as Mum's family called it) for desert.
Are you a listener or talker?
Both. I do my best to be an active listener, and I enjoy a good chat. I've learned to speak confidently in public speaking situations. The more I think about it (which I'm not supposed to do in this post), as a teacher I'm probably a talker!
Favourite thing to (pick one):  Photograph?  Write? Or Cook?
Photograph - I love getting the camera out and capture the beauty of God's creation. 
Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 
This last week I was very grateful for my midweek holiday on Wednesday, and I'm really looking forward to my four day weekend. I'm also looking forward to having my report cards finished and proofread by the end of next week!
If you are interested in joining this blogging challenge, just copy and paste the above questions into a new post and answer them. Then put the link for your post here: Share Your World

11 March 2017

Relaunching Scholastic Book Club at East-West

Back in December 2016, after receiving approval from the school admin team, I enquired about re-introducing Scholastic Book Clubs at East-West. A lovely lady in the UK contacted me, we set up an account, and our first flyers were sent by DHL in early January 2017. On 26th January 2017 packages of forms, envelopes, and covering notes were distributed to staff with the hope that they would get their students excited about being able to order books. Orders came in over the next week, and on 8th February I got all the orders entered into the computer. A total of 257 items were ordered, over $2,500 worth of books. We then received 20% of the value in rewards and I was able to order 17 books/packs for the school library/teacher resource area. It took a little while to work out our payment processes, but it eventually went quite smoothly, and the order was processed.

Meanwhile Scholastic changed shipping companies, and that was definitely a learning experience. DHL had previously handled the whole process and delivered books to the school door, with no hassles over customs or anything like that. We'd heard from at least two schools that their orders were coming through very reliably with no hassles. First there was a delay in the warehouse due to the change over. Scholastic staff were quick to respond to my enquiries and very helpful. Eventually our shipment went out on 22nd February with the new shipping company. That same morning I get a distressed message from a colleague at another International School saying she had received a quote for over $500 to have her order (similar in size to ours) cleared through customs. I quickly contacted Scholastic and they said the orders were shipped in such a way that we shouldn't have to pay that but to let them know if there were any problems. We got a tracking number and that enabled us to see where the boxes were. They moved fairly rapidly from the UK to Singapore (via Germany and China), arriving in Singapore less than 36 hours after leaving the UK. They stayed in Singapore for 4 days before finally arriving in Phnom Penh on Tuesday 28th February. We were notified of their arrival and advised that we would need to arrange customs clearance through another company since the shipping company handling our delivery didn't do that. The shipping company delivered a packet of photocopied forms to our office and then marked the delivery in their tracking system as "delivered".

Meanwhile we'd been keeping the lines of communication open between us and Scholastic and been told that we would have to pay the customs clearance since it couldn't be invoiced directly to Scholastic in the UK. Scholastic assured me they would cover those costs, even though we were going to have to pay them up front. We went ahead and got another company involved and they said it should take about 3 days to get the shipment cleared through customs and delivered to us. Then we struck another problem. The packages were addressed to me using my initial and surname, but to get them through customs a copy of my passport was required. As you might imagine my passport has my full name on it and the staff at the shipping company said that because the names were "different" it could be a problem. Thankfully customs did accept our documentation and at 7pm last night 10 boxes of books were delivered to the school. Now, as you can imagine there aren't many people around at school at 7pm, and on this occasion there were even less than usual since some staff had gone away to attend a wedding. Once again God provided. Unbeknown to me until about 6pm, a High School "sleepover" was happening at school last night. Not looking forward to carrying 10 boxes upstairs myself, I thought I'd see if I could enlist some help from the high school students attending. At 7pm, when I got the phone call saying the truck was at the school, the teacher supervising rounded up 9 boys as well as carrying a box himself, leaving me with nothing to carry up the stairs to the 4th floor except myself. A big thank you to the Grade 10 boys and their supervising teacher. 😊
The boxes as they were when they arrived in my classroom.
So now I could finally get down to the fun stuff. Yes, I got to open and unpack all ten boxes of brand new books. Those who know me well will know how much please that brought. It was fun! I was glad I'd asked the boys to bring our "backpack" table into the classroom. By the time I'd finished all the tables in my classroom were covered in books and I'd had to rearrange a few other shelves to get some extra space as well. Here they are.

Having done that, I settled down to complete one more job before heading home for some rest. There were 270 plus items that needed to be checked off against the packing slip to make sure none had gone missing along the way (when you look closely at some of the boxes you'll understand why I needed to do that. I almost managed my 10,000 steps yesterday as I covered a lot of ground tracking down titles. Happily everything was there. 👍 At that point I called it a night, turned off the lights, locked up the classroom and headed for home.

This morning I undertook the first stage of the distribution process, matching the books to the individual student orders. Scholastic made this much easier for me by providing a series of "bookmarks" which each listed up to five items that a student had ordered. These were much easier to read than the original order forms, and four hours later I had finally finished. I've already delivered one batch to a classroom (I noticed a teacher in his room when I went past to go to the bathroom so I dropped off the books for both his class and the other class at that grade level since I was running out of boxes).Here's the rest of them, ready to go out on Monday morning. There are going to be some very excited students on Monday morning!

Next, I want to share what the school has gained from our efforts. Scholastic Books offer us 20% of the value of the books purchased as a reward for our school. With that 20% plus a donation from one family I have been able to get 41 hardcover books, and 79 paperback books for our school library and teacher resource room. I have no doubt these will be received with great excitement in the library.
Finally, my classroom library is getting some new books as well. The Science Vocabulary Readers have been purchased with one of our upcoming IPC units in mind, a couple relate to a unit we've already done, and others just looked good. I could easily have spent more, but I set myself a limit and this is what I got within my budget. I confess I've already read the National Geographic "Ape Escapes" book from cover to cover and it is good.

The other good news we've received in the last few days is that Scholastic are returning to DHL for shipping to Cambodia! That means we'll be doing it all over again, although hopefully with a few less hassles. The first time of doing anything is always a challenge, but in this case I think it has been worth it. Thanks to all those who've helped, supported and encouraged through this "first" and to those who prayed those books through.

01 February 2017

One month in

Today marks the beginning of the second month of the calendar year, and having just observed Chinese New Year I thought it would be good time to reflect on the goals I set at the start of this year.

The first goal was to increase my physical activity. I'm doing okay on that one. Some days it's really hard to get those 10,000 steps in, having reached that goal only 12 of the last 30 days, however I have managed it on eight of the last ten days, so that's progress. 20 flights of stairs a day isn't all that difficult with my classroom on the 4th floor and no lift (elevator). My record is 52 flights in one day, but getting even 10 flights on the weekend is a challenge if I don't go to school. Netball resumed, and I played last week, but this week was holidays. Hopefully next week I'll be able to play again. My biggest strategy for getting my 10,000 steps in is to finish school early enough that I can walk home the long way (about 3500 steps) and get home before dark.

The second goal I set myself was reading the Bible in one year using a structured plan. I'm really happy to report that doing these readings is becoming a habit. I've managed not to get more than 1 day behind at any time, and I've got myself back on track each time. So far I've completed Genesis and am part way through Exodus, and am nearing the end of Matthew, as well as small daily passages from Psalms and Proverbs.

Alas, I have been distinctly undisciplined in achieving the third goal, and this is something to keep working on. I really do need to limit my social media and computer games time. Definitely something to keep working on, so that I reclaim time for piano practice, school preparation, and other forms of communication.

For Chinese New Year I'm adding one more goal, which is a medium term goal. That is to lose the last 5kg to get my weight back to a level that puts me in the "Healthy BMI" range. My goal is 5kg by Khmer New Year (about 3 months). so that's less than 0.5kg per week, which is a safe and sustainable way to do it. I was encouraged today by a mum who noticed that I'd lost weight since last school year, which was really nice to hear.

Now, it's time for bed! A good night's sleep definitely makes for a happier teacher.

Happy Chinese New Year.

27 January 2017

Another celebration

One of the great things about living in Cambodia is the holidays! While I love my job, it is demanding, and a long weekend periodically helps me to stay sane and enjoy life. Tomorrow, Saturday 28th January is the start of Chinese New Year. While not an official holiday in Cambodia it is widely celebrated and many business were or will be closed as people travel to spend time with their families. Today as I walked to school (by a somewhat long scenic route) I thought I'd snap a few photos of some of the decorations I was seeing.

Offerings for the ancestors.

I love this one, with the Chinese New decorations blending in with snowflakes, probably left over from Christmas!

 Here's a news report that explains a little more about Chinese New Year celebrations in Cambodia. Chinese New Year is also celebrated by many Australians, especially those of Chinese descent. Here and here are articles appearing in the Australian news media, explaining both a little of the history and some things to do or not to do.

26 January 2017

Australia Day with a Difference

Australia Day this year was not "just another school day" this year for me. This year it coincided with the beginning of Chinese New Year holidays here in Cambodia, and it was scheduled as a Professional Development Day for staff, while students got to start their holidays a day early.

I had offered to run a session on Positive Behaviour Support and Classroom Management for our Elementary staff, and so decided that a good way to get everyone there on time would be to offer some snacks about 20 minutes before the scheduled start time. In honour of Australia Day I went to one of the local grocery stores and stocked up for a highly unhealthy morning tea, consisting of Anzac Biscuits (freshly made last night), a fruit cake (Black & Gold brand - pretty good), three varieties of Arnott's Shapes, a tub of cream cheese drizzled with sweet chilli sauce, and a wide selection of lollies (Minties, Fantales, Jaffas, Freckles, jelly snakes, Life Savers (musk and peppermint), bananas, false teeth, black cats, Chickos, milk bottles, spearmint leaves and a few "party pack" lollies.
It worked, and a number of people enjoyed lollies they had enjoyed as children in the UK. I think the most popular item was cream cheese "dip". Others really enjoyed the fruitcake, evidenced by the fact that I didn't have a lot to bring home. A couple of people took some goodies home to share with their family after it was all over, and I'm stocked for lollies for a while.

With tummies and/or sweet teeth satisfied, I started the session by displaying the statement "Prevention is better than cure" and asked if that statement could apply to school. We had some discussion and then I presented the session that I developed as part of my uni studies last semester. One of the goals of the session was to come up with four or five positive statements or rules for the elementary school. The photos below show staff discussing their points.

First they all wrote their own four "Be ... " statements, then they paired up, then groups of four, then four groups of about 8 each. Finally I wrote all the words from all the groups on the board and we narrowed them down to five.
We still need to do some work on this, unpacking each of the statements and getting some specific statements about what they look like in different areas of the school, but we've got a starting point, and teachers can think about unpacking them at least in terms of what they look like in the classroom. From there we moved into looking at creating caring classrooms and some specific classroom management strategies, finishing off by watching a brief video where a teacher shares some simple and practical strategies.

Next on the agenda was relaunching Scholastic Book Clubs in the elementary school. I'm hoping there will be lots of excitement among the children when they get their forms after the holidays.

After that it was lunch time, which ended up being fruit and a baguette, then I did a few more jobs around school, making sure the guy dealing with work permits has all the information he needs from me, and meeting some people from one of our "sister schools" within the bigger organisation that East-West is part of.

About 4pm I decided to call it a day, and go for a walk. I'm waiting on some snail mail at the moment, so I took a walk up to the post office. Unfortunately when I arrived there at 5pm it was already closed (usually it doesn't close until 6pm). That was unexpected, since Chinese New Year isn't an official holiday here, but I guess it shouldn't have been, since already I'm noticing other businesses closing early or not open at all. Cambodians love their holidays!

By the time I got home I'd walked about 14,000 steps and climbed 50 flights of stairs today. Yes, I'd say it was definitely a different Australia Day.

16 January 2017

Dear Miss Karen

Recently, among the writing choices I offered my students, was for them to write a letter to me. It could be about anything they liked. One of my students wrote a huge list of questions, and since they were mostly fairly basic facts that anyone who knows me well might know I thought it might be fun if wrote an answer to her letter here and then shared it with the class.Something I've learned is that children are often fascinated by their teachers, and it really doesn't hurt to let them get to know a bit about who you really are.

First of all, her letter:
Dear Miss Karen,
What do you like to eat? Do you have a pet in your house? Have you ever been to Canada before? What country do you like most? Do you have brothers or sisters? What colour do you like most? What book do you like most? What movie do you like most? What do you like to wear? When is your birthday? How many friends do you have? Can you eat kimchi? Where is your house? Do you like to wear glasses? How many cousins do you have? Have you ever taught grade 12 before? Who do you believe? Did you have a nice Winter break? Do you like to read books? Do you like to watch a movie? Did you ever go to Korea before?
At that point I think she was told to stop writing as it was time for Khmer class. So here is my answer to her letter. Enjoy!

Dear Student,

Thank you for your letter. What a lot of questions you have. Let me try and answer some of them.

I like to eat all different kinds of food. My favourite meal in Australia is Roast Lamb with baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and lots of mint sauce gravy. For dessert, I like apple crumble with custard. Here in Cambodia I like sweet and sour tofu from Ms S, ginger chicken, and lots of other things. I have tried kimchi, but I don't really like it. I do like kimbap though. 

I have never been to Canada, but I would like to one day. I think I'd find it very cold. I have never been to Korea either. Maybe I will go there one day, since it is quite close to Cambodia. My winter break was very quiet, with no students, and I enjoyed going to Bangkok. I have to say that I like Australia best of all, because that is my home country, where I was born. I have a house there, in a city called Toowoomba. Sometime I might show you on Google Maps where it is.

I have one sister who is married, seventeen cousins and many friends. My family mostly live in Australia, with a few in New Zealand. Some of my friends live in Australia, some in Cambodia, and others in different places around the world. I don't have a pet in my house, but I used to have a dog. One of the families I stay with in Australia has a dog that I love. 

My favourite colour is blue, but I like lots of colours. My birthday is in January. I like wearing glasses, but only because they make it possible for me to see well. Without my glasses, I wouldn't be able to read, write, play on the computer, ride my moto, or drive a car.
I love books!!! I love reading them, and I have quite a collection of books. My favourite series is The Chalet School series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, and I also love The Abbey Girls books by Elsie J. Oxenham. These are books I read when I was growing up, and I still love reading them. I also like reading mysteries, especially Christian ones. The best book I have ever read and will ever read is The Bible, because it helps me to know God, and how He wants me to live. You might guess from this that I believe in Jesus. The movie I like the most is "The Sound of Music". I like to wear clothes that are comfortable and that cover my body in a way that is respectful. Mostly I like to wear clothes that have lots of cotton in them.
Next time you write to me, I'd like you to answer your own questions so that I can get to know you better too!

From Miss Karen