22 September 2011

Just thinking ...

As Pchum Ben holidays draw near, my heart goes home, and I feel a little down. It's absolutely nothing to do with the actual holiday, but more because it reminds me, that it was on the Monday morning, just after the Pchum Ben holidays in 2007 (my first year in Cambodia), that I was woken at 5am by a phone call to tell me my Dad had gone home to be with our Lord.

It's interesting that it should be this particular holiday that reminds me of his leaving us, because for the Khmer people, this holiday is all about feeding the ghosts of your deceased relatives, and making sure they are happy. I'm so grateful that, because of what Jesus did for us, I do not have to deal with anything like that. In fact, I know exactly where my Dad is, and am certain, without a doubt, that he is at peace, and enjoying life beyond anything we can imagine. He's with his Lord, and I know that one day, I'll get to see him again! I know that, because the Bible tells me it is true. I know the Bible's true because God has proven it to me again and again. God's the epitomy of trustworthiness! He can be trusted when no-one else can.

Since the Pchum Ben holidays are based on the lunar calendar, it's actually another two weeks until the anniversary of Dad's death, but I can't help but think of him at this time. Four years on, I still miss him, and I know Mum misses him even more, but I wouldn't wish him back either. Dad's last 16 months were not easy, as he battled stomach cancer, but through it all he never lost hope, and I know that God blessed him and used him during those months. I know that in all things, he knew that God was in control, even if he didn't like the way things were going.

I also thank God that neither Dad or I had to earn our place in heaven. Jesus paid the price for both of us, and so many others as well. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for your peace which passes all understanding, even in the face of loss and grief. Thank you!

20 September 2011

Rainy season challenges!

This afternoon I went out for a while to help a colleague find some essential items in town. We took a tuk-tuk, which was a pleasant change for me, and while we were in the store the rains that had been threatening came down quite heavily. The tuk-tuk driver had already installed wet-weather gear on the tuk-tuk, and donned his raincoat, so when we came out there was no problem. We arrived safely back at school, and I headed upstairs to tidy a few things up in my classroom before heading to the markets and then home.

Hmmmm! That's odd, I can hear water dripping, and it sounds awfully close. Looking up from my desk, I noticed that water was steadily dripping into the classroom (well, actually it was running for a while). Now Cambodian construction is somewhat different to Australian construction, and so we have these lovely big sliding glass windows, set into the walls, with virtually no eaves or awnings to provide shelter from the rain. Some houses have awnings, and others have a ledge above the window to prevent some of the water running in, but the windows on the school have nothing like that. If you look at the photo, you can see the ledge around the top floor, but you'll also notice the rest of the windows are pretty much flush with the walls, with no protection. The other catch of course is that it depends which way the winds and rain are coming from. We've had plenty of heavy rain already since school started, but this is the first time I've had it in my classroom. Obviously the wind was blowing just the right way today! It's almost impossible to guess which way it's going to come. Life's like that.

Still, I've got plenty to be grateful for. First of all, where it has come in is the area where the children usually sit on the floor - fortunately I have foam mats for them to sit on, instead of carpet (can't you just imagine if the stink of wet carpet), so I just lifted all the mats up this afternoon when I realised, and I'll get the floor mopped over in the morning. The mats will have air-dried by then. Easy fixed. The kids won't even know there was a problem. Second, because it's my floor area, there were no books in that area, so no books got wet. Third, it was just the window leaking, so it's clean water (not sewage like many get in their homes when it floods here). Fourth, I discovered it this afternoon so could move the mats and get them dry overnight. Fifth, it is only coming in through the windows, and I don't have to cope with the roof leaking in totally unexpected places! Now that I did have to deal with for a couple of rainy seasons at my old school. Sixth, it happened after school, so the children weren't in the classroom, getting wet. So, with lots to be thankful for, I'll finish this post off by mentioning the fact that the rain also cools the atmosphere and makes the air temperature much more pleasant (even if the humidity is still 100% or nearly so). Got to love the rainy season.

Can it be fixed? Who knows! Just another one of the joys of Cambodian construction standards (or lack of them). Mind you, this building is one of the better ones I've seen here. I'll just work around the problem. Praise God that He truly is teaching me to be content with whatever He gives me, and in whatever situation He places me. I never used to be this flexible. God is changing me, little by little (as the old chorus goes).

Little by little every day
Little by little in every way
Jesus is changing me, He's changing me.
Since I've made a turn about face
I've been walking in His grace
Jesus is changing me!

He's changing me,
My precious Saviour,
I'm not the same person that I used to be
Well it's be slow going,
But still there's knowing,
That one day, perfect I will be!

16 September 2011

Three weeks in ...

After three weeks of school, routines have been established, expectations clarified, and we're really moving now on learning all the things a fourth grader needs to learn. This week I finally managed to print the children's photos for their "All About Me" posters, and they have now been displayed on the wall outside our classroom. They look great, and are attracting lots of interest from both my students and others who happen to walk along the hallway. (See photos below).

The big project each child is working on now is a "Book Butterfly". These are some lovely book report posters that I got from Scholastic last year, as a great way to start the year. Everyone is reading a book of their own choice, and writing a poster about the book. I finally finished the full-size sample today, so now the children are even more excited about doing their own.

We've also been busy learning about our body, and some of the systems that keep us alive. Yesterday the children enjoyed discovering a little more about "Why we yawn?" and the fact that scientists actually don't really know! Next week we'll look at broken bones, and then start making some "Read and Write Booklets". Should be lots of fun.

One of the biggest challenges I'm working on with the children is "Reading Directions". Some of the children are really good at reading questions or directions and completing assigned tasks, while others seem to be totally unable to read and follow simple directions independently. Others try hard, but struggle because their English doesn't quite allow them to be fully independent yet. Starting next week, I'm going to do some specific activities on following directions, which I hope will help.

I'm enjoying teaching "Go Maths", and I think the children are learning well. It's not always easy as some of them are not confident in basic skills, while there are others who are excellent with basic facts, but struggle to apply them in new situations. The joys of teaching.

This week I had some wins, and some losses, but overall it has been a great week. God is good, and I thank Him for the opportunity to love these children, and help them learn, as well as to learn from them.

12 September 2011

Welcome to Grade 4K

I've been promising some photos of my classroom, so here they are, finally!

To give you a little context, I'll start with a photo of the main entrance/exit on the corner, with our school signage, as well as photo of the buildings. This gate is only open for the beginning and end of day. At all other times, access is via the side gate between the two buildings in the second photo.

My classroom is on the 4th floor of the big yellow building. Most of our classrooms, as well as our library are in this building. The ground floor is open, and this is where staff motos are parked and the children play at recess and lunch times. No sports field or oval here. The domed roof in front is our basketball court / PE area.The sides are fenced all around to prevent balls escaping!
The stars on the door are all different, just like the children's names that are on them.

Come on in!
Everyone has a number. The goal is to keep a green card all day. To do this, students need to keep the rules. Generally they do fairly well. Consequences are not fun if you get to orange or red cards.

Looking for a good word to describe something a classmate has done well. Look no further than the positive words posting. These were made by my students last year.

Like most classrooms, things can get a little noisy at times, so now we have the "Noise-o-meter".
Loud is only permitted on special occasions. (Soft Voice now has an extra title - Partner Voice).
This is the Language Arts poster corner, with some great posters on the parts of speech, thanks to one of the previous 4th grade teachers, and 6-traits of writing, as well as the Noise-o-meter.
Developing ways of using the 6 traits is coming up very soon in our Language Arts program.
The desk in the corner belongs to my very capable assistant, Mr Dy.
And here's my messy corner. I can tell I took this photo on a swimming day from the extra bags in the corner. Notice the umbrella hanging from the window bars. I don't go to school without it at the moment, as the rainy season is well and truly in progress.
Backing onto my desk is the classroom library. This is what's left on the shelves after each child has two or three books on loan. They have one in their "boxes" to read in the classroom, one in their homework folder for home reading, and at the moment they have a third book for writing a book report.
Here are as many of my treasures as I could get in to the photo. We start the day sitting on the mats, taking attendance, listening to a story, or doing some other whole class activity. They may not look very happy, but they are. For some reason they don't like smiling for photos as a rule. Still haven't worked that one out.
And here are a couple of the boys reading those books for their book reports.
Wondering where the children keep their books and belongings? As you can see, we don't have individual desks, so instead each child has a "box" in the shelves along the wall just inside the door. These boxes are open, so there's some necessity for tidiness. It's a bit hard to hide a messy box than to hide a messy desk. Mostly they do fairly well.

Thank you for taking time to visit Grade 4K. I hope you enjoyed your visit and come back sometime soon.

11 September 2011

Did 11 September 2001 change your life?

Well, did it? There are probably many ways that the events of that day ten years ago changed all of our lives. Security on air travel is much tighter than it used to be, just for one. But what about you personally? Did you lose someone special on that day? Where you traumatised by all the video footage? Or did you, like me, experience some compassion for those directly affected, but not really think about it more than that?

Actually, as I listened to the sermon this morning, I realised that the events of that day indirectly changed the whole direction of my life. 10 years ago today, I was busy working for Queensland Health as a data manager for the BreastScreen Queensland program. I had done some management studies, but really wasn't sure where I was going past what I was doing at the time. I'd thought maybe I'd like to move into management, but maybe not. I definitely had no idea that in less than six years I would have moved to Cambodia and started a new career. God used the events of September 11 for His good. He changed the direction of my life. He led me back to my childhood dream of what I always wanted to be, a primary school teacher, in His time.

About a month after that not to be forgotten day, during an announcement in church about a need for people to do childcare at a missionary conference in Thailand, I strongly felt God say to me, "You can do this, Karen". Now up until then I felt that short term mission trips cost a lot of money, and didn't necessarily serve a great purpose. God changed me. He challenged me to go on that trip, and so I did. He provided the means and the leave that I needed, and made sure I was accepted to be a part of the team, despite the misgivings of some. While I was in Thailand at the conference, I sensed God's call to longer term service as a teacher. The initial vision changed, but God's leading has been clear along each step of the way. In January 2007, I came to Cambodia for 6 months. I'm still here! I've changed schools, but that was His plan too. Right now, I firmly believe I am exactly where God wants me, doing exactly what he wants me to do!

So what did 11 September have to do with it? Well, my recollection is that one of the major reasons why the team from STBC was needed, was because people in the USA were understandably reluctant to travel after the events of that day. So, while it was a tragic event, and many of the events that have followed are tragic, God has used it for good. He used those events to help me get where He wanted me. What an awesome God we have! Thank you Lord.

03 September 2011


Way back in January/February 2003, and again in 2004, I had the privilege of working with a team from Calvary Church in Pennsylvania doing childcare at a PITAR retreat in Thailand. I made some great friends during those two trips, some of whom I'm still in touch with. A couple of years ago, my principal said he would be bringing a visitor to my classroom after school. I was delighted to reconnect with Jody Williams, who was in Cambodia with her husband Brian, looking at ministry opportunities. A couple of months ago, Jody and Brian arrived in Phnom Penh to begin language study. Today, I finally had a chance to catch up with Jody over brunch. Jody, having been a preschool director, and with many years of teaching Early Childhood, was particularly interested in finding out what I have discovered about education here in Cambodia. I'm far from expert on the subject, but I do know that while things are slowly improving, there's still a long way to go. It was great to be able to share with her some of the good things that I know are happening, at East-West International School, where I am now, and at Logos & Asian Hope International Schools. It's always exciting to know that experienced educators are in Cambodia, and willing to share their experience with the Cambodian people. For me, it was a reminder of the friends God has given me across the world, many of whom have a heart to share Jesus love with children, and with other people as well. I pray that God will lead Jody and Brian into the perfect ministry for their skills and experience. It's great having them here!

Week One

It's hard to believe the first week of school has already come and gone, but it's true. It was a good week. This year I have 21 students, 8 girls and 13 boys. All of the students in my class were at the school last year (although not all in my class), so I already know their names, which is really helpful. With that many boys, it is definitely a lively class, and will keep me on my toes, but they are great kids.

The first week has gone really well. The children were excited to be back at school, and there were quite a few cheers when those children in my class found out that I would be their teacher (always an encouraging sign). We've started getting some routines in place, our behaviour management system is operating well, homework has been started, and we've started our learning some of the things on the fourth grade curriculum. Sometime soon I'll take some photos of the new classroom and post them here, and I'll start writing again about individual lessons and some of the things that are happening. For now, it's great to be able to say the new year has begun well, and I'm looking forward to the coming weeks and months with the children.