30 December 2010

Looking back

As I write this entry there is just one day to go in 2010. It has been a year of change, of being broken, and of growth. It has also been a year of much pleasure, especially as I watched my students grow and mature. Here's a list of just a few of the events of this year.

  • Greg & Srey Dawson's wedding
  • Starting school again at the new Logos campus
  • 46th Birthday
  • Annual Logos Carnival & 1st ever Book Fair
  • News that I was not being offered a contract at Logos for the 2010-11 school year
  • Weekend escape to Bangkok
  • Northbridge Invitation Field Day for Grades 3 to 5
  • Continuing lack of electricity at school as the weather warms up
  • Highs and lows in the job search
  • Report cards
  • Brokenness before our Heavenly Father
  • Loving care of friends & reassurances of God's loving hands holding me up
  • SATs
  • Easter
  • Khmer New Year (holidays - hooray)
  • A growing knowledge of the special needs of my friend's baby (born in December)
  • The importance and joy of honest and loving friends
  • A contract for 2010
  • Electricity at last!
  • I'm teaching 3rd grade next year!
  • Time with friends
  • More report cards
  • Last day of school
  • Packing up!
  • Farewells (at school and church)
  • Holidays down under
  • Lots of appointments
  • Orff Schulwerk workshop
  • Refresh 2010 in Chiang Mai
  • Flight of the Gibbon
  • Holidaying in Chiang Mai - fun with Relle, Robyn & Terry
  • Coming Home to Phnom Penh
  • Information received at last - working through issues & learning
  • Relaxing, sorting, planning, learning
  • A new start at a new school
  • Flooded roads
  • First day with my new class
  • Precious memories
  • Swimming lessons
  • Getting sick
  • Lots of fun in the classroom
  • Starting the classroom library
  • Getting to know my students
  • Lots of learning
  • Skipping rope
  • More floods - even nastier than last time
  • Writing stories
  • Getting letters and writing them
  • Visiting the police station
  • Sharing writing
  • Cold weather
  • "I like Maths now!"
  • Clowns
  • Water Festival - the stampede
  • Mourning and thanksgiving
  • More germs
  • Leaking fuel
  • Busy days
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Classroom observations
  • Time to reflect and think about "control"
  • Traffic
  • Bush Dancing
  • Cookery
  • Christmas in Cambodia
As I look back over the year, I have to admit that it hasn't been the easiest of years, but God never said life would be easy. I will definitely admit that I have learned a lot this year. I've learned a lot about myself, and done a lot of thinking about how I live my life. If you had told me on the 1st of January 2010 that I would still be in Cambodia on the 31st December 2010, I wouldn't have been surprised, but if you'd also told me that I wouldn't be at Logos any more, and that I'd be teaching 3rd grade at a secular school, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Isn't God's timing wonderful. Through out this year, I would have to say the most valuable thing for me has been the assurance of God's loving care and His plan for my life. Thanks God.

27 December 2010

Christmas in Cambodia 2010

This was my fourth Cambodian Christmas and each one has been different. Christmas lunch the first year was ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches in a friend's kitchen. In the evening we went out to look at the Christmas lights at some of the big hotels and the US embassy, then out for dinner. The second one, I went to the Anglican church service (none at ICF that year), then had lunch alone with a book at a favourite restaurant, combined with a phone call from the family. Last year my sister and brother-in-law were here, so it was a little more "normal", with church at ICF then out for lunch, a phone call to mum, and then home to pack so I could move house the next day.

Sambath helps decorate
Rithy helps decorate
This year was different again. It started with music practice, followed by church at ICF, then I headed down to school where one of the teachers from the UK had bravely offered to cook Christmas dinner for whoever wanted to attend. In the end we had just over 30 people there. I was responsible for decorations, and was very grateful when some of our Cambodian staff offered to help me, especially when it came to climbing ladders. I do not like Cambodian ladders! There were a few expats there, and a considerabe number of the Cambodian staff, who were intrigued by the whole idea of Christmas. I set the Nativity set up, and simply let it be there, so that those who came might see part of the reason for Christmas. It created much interest, and I think was really appreciated by our Christian Cambodian staff. As I teach at a secular school I have to be very sensitive about religious issues, and so I choose to say little, and let the Holy Spirit do the talking. If someone asks questions I'm not ashamed to say what I believe, and I pray that one day the seeds that are planted in this day will grow into fruit, but that's God's job, not mine. Here are some snapshots from the lunch at school.

L to R. Alex, his friend, and our Chef extraordinaire, Ben!

Finished decorations

Karen & Mr Dy (with Esther & Tabi in background)

Kunthy and Heather - not working I hope!

 Tabi with her Christmas Hat!

The photos are all out of order since I couldn't get them to go where I really wanted them. Computer or internet connection is too slow today. Sorry about that.

Anyway, after taking down the decorations I headed across a few main roads to visit some friends from ICF, who had invited me to come and share a time of music, conversation, and more food. It was a lovely low key way to spend the afternoon. Finally I headed home to Skype the family in Australia. Christmas in Cambodia is definitely different, and I love that the rampant commercialism that is present in many western countries has not yet reached this country. Yes, there are a few decorations, but mainly in stores frequented by foreigners. Christmas Day is "just another day" for most Cambodians.

Almost finished decorating

23 December 2010

School's finished for 2010

Hooray for holidays! Yes, we have two whole weeks off school. I think the thing I'm looking forward to most is sleeping in past 6am. Even on Christmas Day I can at least sleep until 8am if I want to. Yes!

So what did the last week of school look like here in Cambodia. I can assure you it was very different to the last week of school in an Australian school.

To start with, this is just a short break, not our main holidays. Those come in July-August. That means we are not packing up classrooms and storing everything away, or anything like it. We'll be back at work again on 10th January, and in the time in between I have heaps of things to do! Lots of planning to do for the rest of the year, including meeting with the other grade 3 teacher and planning a new approach to Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. Instead of me teaching all the maths, and Nadia teaching all the Science/SOSE, we will both teach some maths and our own classes for the other subjects. At this stage the plan is to stream the mathematics classes, so Nadia will teach the more able students while I work with those who find maths more difficult. Actually the cut off point was really quite fine, and not all the students in Nadia's group can be considered brilliant math students. It will be interesting to see how it works out. I'm looking forward to only 21 sets of Math papers to grade instead of 43, and also to teaching some integrated units where we incorporate some of our Science and/or SOSE into our Language Arts activities.

So what did we do the last week of school. Actually, it was a pretty normal week. Students started disappearing for the holidays early in the week, and I did receive one delicious gift (along with a very beautiful one) on Tuesday from a student leaving that evening. I continued teaching activities pretty much as usual until today, even having a math test on Wednesday afternoon! What a mean teacher I am. Not really. This afternoon I was able to hand the tests back, with feedback, then students had fun with Multiplication Flash Cards.

As East-West is a secular school in a non-Christian country, I was guided by the principal to actually do nothing in terms of "Christmas" activities. Originally I had planned some simple ways of sharing my faith with the children, but on her advice/request I chose not to do that. Some other classes did some things, and some had gift exchanges. At the end of the day, I told the children that I preferred to give them other things which benefit the whole class, such as our classroom library. While sometimes Christmas seems to be all about "gifts", and it is true that Christians take this time to celebrate the greatest gift that we have ever been given, I'm slowly learning that there are other ways to share Christmas and it's true meaning with the children. God will use me, and give me the opportunities that He has planned for me to share His love with the children in my care in ways that are culturally appropriate and sensitive.

Having said that, I want to share a precious "gift" that I received today from one of my students. Here are some photos of it. It is something I will always treasure.
The student who made this card says almost nothing in class, but I know she is learning because she turns in the most amazing written work, and regularly gets 100% on Mathematics tests. She is very sweet, and I have grown to love her greatly. I pray that one day she will discover her voice in English, and I know that when she does, she will bless many around her.

So what will Christmas look like in Cambodia this year? You will just have to check back on Boxing Day to find out. I know it will be a great time to remember why Christmas means so much to me, and to pray that others will come to know the One whose birth we celebrate, because of His death & resurrection.

17 December 2010

Fun Friday

Brrrr! It was only 21° Celcius as I rode my moto to school this morning. That was cool enough that I wished that I'd put my warm jacket on before I left home. In fact, as I was about to leave it started raining, so I put my poncho on, and I was so glad I did, not because of the rain, because it was so cold. OK, so it's not really that cold, but when the average minimum for the month is 2° warmer than that, and the average maximum is 3° higher than it got today (and it didn't get to that until 3pm), it's a bit chilly. And remember this can be our coldest month of the year. Most of the time minimums of around 27°C are more usual, and maximums between 32° & 38°C, it feels cold, and for those who have never lived anywhere else, it is definitely cold.

Anyway, as a result of the "cold" weather, we were given permission to cancel swimming today. The big question then is what to do with the boys instead of swimming. We both have more boys than girls, giving us 20+ boys, and these boys love to move! We could have just done table games in the classroom, but it would be much better if we could keep them moving. Fortunately we were able to have the school hall during that time (the playground was already in use by the older children & the girls had PE on the basketball court), and so I suggest that we do some Aussie Bush Dancing. My colleagues agreed and so that's what we did. My class had done some before as part of our music program, so I was hopeful it would go well. It was great. First I taught the Mexican Hat Dance, which was rather interesting. Some of the boys tried taking giant steps and so had trouble, and many of them had trouble with the clapping pattern. Eventually they got it, and a great time was had by all. After they had mastered that, and had some fun with it, we tried the Heel and Toe Polka! Instead of using the waltz hold we simply had the boys hold hands, and it went really well. By the time they had finished two turns of the music they were ready to sit quietly for a little while. A great way to keep active boys happily occupied.

With swimming and PE time over we returned to our respective classrooms where I happily told my class that Fun Friday this week would be cooking! There was much excitement. We packed up ready to go home, and then headed upstairs to the Home Economics room. Once there I quickly learned that it would be best to do cookery with half the class! That said, I managed to involve all the children in the process by having some measure the flour and sugar while I added the egg, baking soda, and melted butter necessary for our biscuits. There was some improvisation, and I ended up having to add extra flour to one batch when I misjudged "half" the melted butter. One batch turned out really well, while the other batch was too liquid, so I simply kept adding flour until the dough was the right consistency. All the children took turns in putting mixture on the baking trays and we quickly got the first batches into the ovens. Unfortunately I'd misjudged the timing so the children had to go home before the biscuits came out of the oven, but I promised them we would share them for recess on Monday. I patiently waited for the baking to be completed then loaded them into a container, sealed them with plastic wrap and stowed them safely in the refrigerator until Monday. I will admit to doing a taste test or two, and I can guarantee that they tasted OK!

So that's a "Fun Friday". Praise God for good times. I learned several things this afternoon, and faced a number of challenges, but when all things are considered I think the children had fun and learned something too! I think the highlight for me was seeing how much the boys enjoyed the bush dancing. This is definitely an activity to be repeated, possibly with both Grade 3 classes one Tuesday afternoon. It might even be a fun after school program activity.

16 December 2010

Tales of the traffic.

Have to love Cambodian traffic!

I worked late today, and left school about 6.30pm (when I eventually was let out by the guard who had been off having dinner). If I don't leave by 4.30pm it's best not to leave until 6.30pm as Phnom Penh peak hour traffic is not fun! Anyway, shortly before I left an ambulance sped down the street past the school, then as I was about to leave one sped up the street in the opposite direction. Hmm! I pondered my choices. Should I take the back route (still mostly major roads) or should I take the main road (Mao Tse Tong)? Choices, choices, choices. I made the wrong choice! At least I think I did.

Mindful of the ambulances I'd already seen, I very cautiously made my way down to the main drag, and headed north along it. Traffic was heavy but still moving. Got through a couple of intersections and past Parkway OK, and hear more sirens. Another ambulance heading south. Then get to an intersection where there was some manual traffic direction in addition to the traffic lights. now that was interesting and took a little longer! To get through you had to sneak between two cars crossing the intersection at right angles to you, and hope they don't start moving while you're in the middle (even while you have the green light). Part of the problem is that you can turn right or left or go straight ahead all at the same time. That works OK during off peak times generally, but it can be a recipe for disaster during peak hours. More sirens and another ambulance heading south. Still moving, albeit slowly. Eventually made it to a major intersection that is about halfway home, and somewhat hopefully thought my troubles would be over! Wishful thinking. I forgot the "Mondial Centre". It's the season for parties, and this place is a major venue for parties for those who can afford it. Oh boy. There was some traffic control taking place, but its focus seemed to be getting Lexus's in and out of the centre, and who cares about the people just trying to get home! I have been caught at this spot before, so you'd think I'd have learned.

So, since I'm writing this post, I obviously made it safely home, and it really didn't take that long. Maybe 35 minutes (for a trip that takes 20 minutes outside peak hour). Could have been much worse. So where were the ambulances going? Who knows? Probably never know. I'm just grateful that I wasn't in need of them. I want to conclude this post by giving praise to God who truly does protect me as I travel on Phnom Penh roads. This doesn't mean I do stupid things, but I really do believe He protects me in this aspect of my life (as well as many others). Thanks Lord. I really appreciate it. And thanks to all those who pray for this aspect of my life here!

15 December 2010

Control - In a bumper car?

Home group is over for this evening, and I thought I'd share an interesting analogy that one of the other group members shared. She'd been doing some reading recently, and in the course of that reading discovered this gem. Our life can sometimes be a lot like riding the bumper cars at a fair/fete/show. You think you're heading along in the right direction, when something/someone nudges you from behind and you end up "off course". You think, "OK, I can deal with that", so you do, and get back "on course" when all of a sudden you get bumped from the side. So you deal with that detour and get back on track and whammo, you get a thump from the other side. And so it goes. Life's like that. Even when when think we are going in the direction that God has led us, things happen, and so we have to deal with it. Sometimes we get back on the original track, and sometimes those bumps lead us in a totally different direction. Sometimes the bumps are God things, and sometimes they are not. No matter where the "bumps" or "nudges" come from, we can be sure that God will use them to work out His purpose for our lives.

So how does that relate in the classroom? Well, teaching is also a lot like that. You can be really well planned, and have everything "under control", when the unexpected happens. The power goes off. The swimming pool is closed. There's no water in the bathrooms. There's no water in the school. Your teaching assistant has to take an extra class becomes someone is sick. A colleague is struggling and needs you to help out, so you've got 40 kids instead of 20. You're sick. You're an hour late because the roads were flooded. The kids just don't "get it", no matter how you present the information. The activity you planned fails miserably! The list could go on indefinitely, but I won't keep going. Teaching can be like that! Hopefully all these things don't happen at once, but even if they do, somehow the teacher seems to survive, and the children seem to learn something (even if it's just that the teacher doesn't know everything) and sometimes even both manage to enjoy themselves despite the circumstances. The longer I teach, the more I believe God is teaching me to be flexible. He's also teaching me to be sensitive to the needs of colleagues and students, and I pray that I continue to develop in this area, being open to His "nudges".

Life is often "out of control". Does it really matter in the overall scheme of things. Probably not, because no matter how much we think it is "out of control", God truly is in control, and He sees the whole picture! I pray that I'll remember that each day as I seek to serve Him with all of my life, and to be surrendered to His will.

12 December 2010

Out of control = anxiety or ??? student led learning ???

This week I received some constructive feedback from a colleague. Included in the feedback was a comment about control. I think the comment made, that I feel more relaxed when I am in control, is very true. In fact, I tend to get fairly stressed when I feel like things are getting "out of control". Being relaxed is a good thing, but is being "in control" always a good thing? For example, I tend to be fairly reluctant to go to new places, where I don't know exactly what the facilities will be, and by a method of transport over which I have no control. Funnily enough, I'm happy enough to fly places, but really don't like bus travel. Even in Australia I would much rather drive myself somewhere than be driven by someone else, no matter how competent and safety conscious that driver is (although capital city public transport is OK). To get back to the topic, I wonder, is it possible that more learning might take place if I somehow lighten the level of control I have in the classroom? It was suggested that this this is indeed the case.

The Oxford Dictionary defines control as "the power to influence or direct people's behaviour or the course of events". As a teacher, especially of young children, I definitely have a level of "control" in their lives. This is a huge privilege and also a huge responsibility and I pray that this will be a good thing and not negative.

So, how can I lighten control in my classroom, and do I really want to? I mentioned earlier in the year some reading I was doing about differentiation through personality types, and this reminded me that we are all individuals, and some children learn best in ways that are almost polar opposites to my personality type. They need to talk about things to process them. They need to move in order to learn. They learn best by doing. Some children learn best with lots of freedom, while others learn best with lots of structure. Children need to be able to make choices about their own learning. At the same time, because they are children, they need guidance as they make those choices. Rather than "free" choices, children need to be offered two or three choices, all of which are helpful to the children's learning.

Consider another example. Have you ever had to write an assignment, and been given free choice as to what you write about? How difficult did you find that? Some people will not have had a problem with this at all. Others will be totally lost. What about in the classroom? Should the children have a free choice about what they learn? Or should they just be given some choices within certain parameters that will guide their learning.

One thing I've been working on this year in the classroom is the whole issue of classroom noise. Should children be allowed to talk whenever they like, about whatever they like, at whatever volume they choose? Should children be free to talk as they complete worksheets, or does this need to be done in absolute silence? In the past I thought it had to be silent, but I'm learning that some talking is OK. Something I've been really conscious about, especially in Mathematics classes, is allowing students to talk quietly while they are completing worksheets. The same applies in Language Arts. I still need to work on this, but I think it's a step in the right direction. I haven't seen it, but I've heard about teachers who have "noise meters" in their classrooms. Depending on the activity, the teacher chooses a level of "noise" that is acceptable. For example, during a spelling test, the level might be set at silent, but during project work time, it might be set at "normal voices".

I sense that there are many more ways that I can relinquish "control" without learning being reduced, and in fact, it may even be enhanced. So what does it look like when the children take greater control of their own learning. Can I facilitate learning that might just take a different direction to the one I initially planned, but which is equally (or even more) beneficial to the students' learning? If you are a teacher (or parent) and are reading this, and have ideas that might help me (or others), please leave a comment. I will be continuing to contemplate these issues, and also to look at what God has to say about them, in the days, weeks and months to come.

03 December 2010

A full week

It's been a while since I've actually had a 5-day school week, and I have to admit that it was really good to have it this week. It was great to get back into routine, and to be able to follow through with various activities with the children.

This afternoon, it was jigsaw puzzle time. Each Friday we have time set aside for "Fun Friday". This is mostly a reward to students who complete all their homework and classwork on time, but occasionally we do other things. The last time we had the jigsaw puzzles out some of the students discovered that one puzzle was missing a piece! Oh no. That was not what I wanted to hear. Not that they were particularly expensive, but 48 & 100 piece children's puzzles are not that easily available here, so I was not happy for a piece to be lost after only a few months. So today I told the children we needed to make ALL the puzzles, and make sure we were very careful about putting all the pieces away in the correct bag. Well, they did a great job. We didn't get them all finished before school finished, so I stayed in the classroom to make sure we didn't accidentally when the cleaner came through, while Mr Dy took the children downstairs to go home. A short time after he had gone, the cleaner came it, and was captivated by the puzzles, and sat down at the hardest puzzle of the lot to help put it together. Meanwhile I'd finished two puzzles. The first had a piece missing, but fortunately I found it when I finished the second one and had a piece left over. Hooray. Only 3 to go now. I was working on the next one when Mr Dy came back to the classroom, and settled down to work on another challenging puzzle. I tackled another that was partly finished, only to discover 2 pieces missing. OK, Mr Dy have you stolen my puzzle pieces? No. Are you sure? Let me look? Hooray, found them! Another puzzle complete. Two to go. Mr Dy was next to finish, so then we all worked together on the final puzzle. It was so much fun to do this with Mr Dy and the cleaner. I'm not good at names, but she was really happy when we finally finished it (and she had done quite a bit of it), although she did tell Mr Dy it made her head hurt! Hooray. I can happily report that there are no pieces missing! The children will be very pleased to hear that on Monday morning.

So as well as Jigsaw Puzzle Friday, we had a packed week. Today was Gr 3-5 assembly, which went well. On Tuesday we had music for the first time in a month or more, and on other days we also had all the "Specials", including swimming! Brrrrr!!! The water was the coldest I've felt it. Once I got moving around it was OK, but some of the kids were shivering. The pool gets very little sunlight, and the weather has been rather windy lately as well, so it was definitely cool. Yes, we even did some learning. In Language Arts we're working on Persuasive Writing, which is really interesting. Getting the children to come up with reasons for things to be different is really challenging. The whole idea of questioning "why" you do something seems to be culturally not done. We'll keep working on it though. In Mathematics we continued working on our Multiplication Facts, so we now only have one fact left to learn. I love teaching facts using Number Sense, because the children discover how easy it really is, and with the strategies we teach now, it's not so hard to learn the facts. Some people might think you have to learn 110 multiplication facts (0 to 10), but in reality you only have to learn 66 facts. Why because if you know 2 x 8, then you also know 8 x 2! I love it!

Oh, that's right, we also had a staff meeting on Thursday afternoon, and on Wednesday afternoon I finally bought a cupboard to store my teaching resources in, so I could use the bookshelf they were on previously for the classroom library. Now I can go and buy some more books! Yay! Then this morning I had an observation by the principal of part of my Language Arts lesson. Looking forward to receiving her feedback on that. She will come back sometime soon to see a Math lesson where I have the whole class rather than just half.

Well it's time I headed for bed. Hope you enjoyed this reflection on a "normal" week. Normal weeks are good, even if I am rather weary by the end of them. In His strength!