24 December 2011

Last Day Before the Holidays!

Holidays are finally here, but it was definitely a different "end of year" to those at many other schools. To start with, unlike at home in Australia, it is not the end of the school year, so we aren't have end of year concerts or graduation ceremonies or any such things. Secondly, as a secular school in a mostly Buddhist country, celebration of Christmas isn't exactly high on the agenda. Then, in addition to that, the holidays are only two weeks long! The weather isn't that different to what I'd be experiencing at home in Australia, although maybe it's a little cooler than some Christmases (though warmer than it may be this year).

So what did we do for the last day of school. Well, I don't believe in last days being one big holiday, but I do believe in having some fun and making the day a little different, so instead of a 35 word spelling test to start the day we had a mathematics test! Don't worry, it was a short one! After that we did some editing, and then split for our Language Arts time. The first group is reading "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" by Beverly Cleary, which they are really enjoying, while the second group are reading "Fudge-a-Mania" by Judy Blume. They are having a lot of fun with that. I've given each of the children a character, so when we read aloud, they read aloud what their character says. As well as making the reading more fun, it means they have to stay focused or they miss their character's lines, which is embarrassing.

Next comes recess, and then it was time for our "Go For Green" class auction. Highly prized items were a plush puppy, and pencil cases filled with coloured pencils. "Angry Birds" rulers were also in demand. Several of the children seemed to be collecting a variety of rulers, which was interesting. Bendy pencils were also popular, so I stocked up on them again today. After everyone had spent their "tickets", we did a "cubby" tidy out, and I sent home any bits and pieces that needed to go, along with quite a bit of returned work, and school calendars. Once all was tidy, and belongings in backpacks ready to go, the children were given a double length "Fun Friday" so out came jigsaw puzzles, games, and even a book or two.

After lunch, the children went back upstairs to collect all their belongings, then came downstairs again for a surprise. By the time they arrived, I had served up 21 bowls of chocolate ice cream! Now that is a quick way to put a smile on the faces of 21 nine or ten year olds! They enjoyed their ice cream followed by a quick game before it was time to go home!  What a great way to end the year. They had earned their treat, and they all appreciated it. While I'm enjoying the fact that I'm on holidays for a couple of weeks, I'm also looking forward to their return in two weeks time! School is hard work, but it's fun too. I love my kids, and they make all the effort worth while. Praise God that He has chosen this way for me to serve Him, because it's a privilege to serve Him by teaching children.

21 December 2011

Teaching might not pay much, but the rewards are awesome!

I love that this year I've had the opportunity to teach many of my 3rd grade students in 4th grade. We work in two groups for English Language Arts, and one of my groups is currently reading "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" by Beverly Cleary. It's a fun book and they are enjoying it. Having used the book last year with a different group of students, these lessons are easy to prepare for, but that's not what I'm enjoy the most. This afternoon I had a chance to take a look at one of my student's written responses to some questions about the first two chapters. If I didn't know better I'd think I'd picked up the wrong book. I am so impressed with this student's work. I'm not saying he has interpreted and answered all the questions "correctly", but he has used complete sentences, and his responses show some thought. His handwriting is incredibly neat, and it is obvious that he is really taking a great deal of pride in his work. I'm really looking forward to writing his report card soon. What a privilege to make a difference in this youngster's life, and to see such growth in his abilities and maturity.

Then this afternoon my class were working on a social studies activity. We had spent time last Thursday exploring Egypt through our atlases, using half a dozen pages with maps and charts giving all sorts of information, from climate to economics. Yesterday I provided them with a note-taking worksheet, with 4 boxes headed "Draw It" and 3 lines for each box, headed "Write It". I turned the students loose with the atlases again, working with partners, and asked them to write and draw about what they learned from the atlases. They didn't finish yesterday, so I let them have another session this afternoon. When the time came to say "pack up", I was greeted with groans. They were really enjoying what they were doing. Some were finished, and had started a drawing on the back, while others have taken them home to finish off tonight. I've had a quick look at the finished ones and it's amazing some of the things the students have noted. Definitely an activity to repeat. Learning is supposed to be fun, so it's great when the students think it is.

Two days to go! I wonder how much more learning we can pack into those two days. We'll fit some fun in as well. Time for trading in "Go For Green" and "Homework" tickets for treasures like bendy pencils, sets of coloured pencils, and other fun items. And there's a special treat coming on Friday afternoon, but I'm not telling what it is or it won't be a surprise! Stay tuned for photos of the day before the holidays!

13 December 2011

Weather Report

For those of you who think that the weather in Cambodia is just hot, hot or hotter, well I have news for you. There are actually 3 seasons here in Cambodia. The hot wet season, the cool dry season and the hot dry season. We've just been through the hot wet season and are currently enjoying the cool dry season. For the record, everything is relative here! Consider this.

Today we reached a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius, and tonight it is forecast to get down to a low of 19 degrees. Brrr! Some of my students were wearing their winter coats this morning! After all it did get down to just 25 degrees overnight. I will admit that I did not enjoy my cold shower this morning by candlelight. Yes, the electricity was off this morning when I woke up, and as my bathroom is an internal room I needed a candle in there. To get hot water I need electricity, since we have small wall heaters rather than the big storage style heaters that are common in Australia. It heats it as you want it, so if the power is off, so is your hot water. Cold shower this morning was a bit chilly.
Will we swim this week? Hmmm. We'll see how many boys turn up without their swim suits tomorrow because it's too cold! Mind you, the pool never gets particularly warm as it is pretty much enclosed and gets very little sun.

It's been funny watching people's comments on Facebook about the cooler weather. Some are saying it's cold, while others are just enjoying the pleasantness of lower than usual temperatures with low humidity. It is a pleasant change after the hot and sticky weather of the rainy season. As I said earlier, everything is relative! When it has been 35 degrees Celsius or hotter, with humidity between 80 and 100%, then 30 degrees with 50% humidity is truly very pleasant.

Wherever you may be reading this, I hope you are enjoying pleasant weather, and if it's not so pleasant, then I hope you have a more pleasant time coming up to look forward to.

11 December 2011

What are you doing for Christmas?

This seems to be the question on everyone's lips at the moment. Quite frankly, I'm tired of it. Christmas is about two things. First and foremost it is about the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in human form, so that He could pay the ultimate price for our sins. That part of it I always appreciate. When I think about what He left to come to Earth with all the limitations of a human being, and then paying that ultimate price of a painful death and separation from His father, how can I not be thankful and want to celebrate. I can't. I really want to read that precious story to my students and have them know the truth of what Jesus did for them. Not really an option for me unless God provides it in an unusual way. So I'll just show them His love. He placed me in this school for a reason, and so I just trust that He will give me the opportunities that He wants me to have.

The second thing that Christmas is about is families. My family is thousands of miles away, and the best I can do this year will be a Skype video call (but probably just an audio call). The last Christmas I had with my family was 5 years ago, in December 2006, and was Dad's last Christmas with us. One day I'll have Christmas with my family again, but meanwhile God's called me to Christmas in Cambodia.

So what will I be doing for Christmas? There'll be a church service on Christmas Day, and I'll Skype the family, and hopefully I'll find some friends to spend some time with. I'll probably enjoy some guilt free reading time, maybe watch a Christmas movie, and hopefully cook someone a delicious Christmas dinner (or go out somewhere for a special meal). For most Cambodians it will be just another work day, even though it's Sunday this year as well.

Do I begrudge others their Christmas celebrations? Not at all. I'll be celebrating too, but in a quiet way.

As I've been writing this, I've also been thinking of those who cannot celebrate Christmas openly for various reasons. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to not celebrate Christmas at all. There are people who can't. Now that would be really tough. I also pray that God will show me a way that I can make Christmas more special for someone else. Stay tuned to find out how I do end up celebrating Christmas. I'm sure I'll have a lovely day.

By the way, what are YOU doing for Christmas?

09 December 2011

Planting seeds

Sometimes, as a teacher in a secular school, I wonder what impact I'm having for God's kingdom. Yesterday, God gave me another opportunity to simply plant a seed, for Him to water, nurture and bring to fruit. Three times a week I have to do duty (supervision). On Mondays I have fun with the grade 3 boys on the playground equipment, and on Tuesdays I help make sure everyone eats their lunch and stays seated until it is play time. on Thursdays, I'm back at the playground equipment, but this time with my own grade 4 girls, and often they like to just sit and chat while they eat their snacks. (When school starts at 7.30am and lunch isn't until 1pm, a decent snack at recess time {10.10} is important). Yesterday, one of my girls asked me what I thought was most important about Christmas. The door was wide open, and I quickly responded with "celebrating Jesus' birth". Two of my students promptly responded "yes, that's important for me too!", while another said "presents"! Fair enough. I didn't say any more, but it was just one of those special moments in the course of a day. While I do have several students from Christian backgrounds, I also have many who are not, and so I need to be a little careful how much I say. Instead I just love them, and hope that they see something special in my love, and know that Jesus is the reason I have so much love to give them.

02 December 2011

Contemplating Curriculum

This week has seen a new task added to the "To Do" list! One of the joys and challenges of working in an International School is that we do not have a curriculum set by an external body, such as the state or federal government. Instead, the school develops its own curriculum, taking into account current research, and various publicly available curriculum documents. It's a joy, because we can really try to make sure the curriculum meets the learning needs our our particular student body. It's a challenge because it can be time consuming. Either way it's important.

Our current curriculum at East-West has been in place for about six years, so as part of our Accreditation process we are now reviewing that curriculum. First subject off the block for primary school teachers is Language Arts. This is a really interesting and useful process. To start with, it forces one to really read the current curriculum, and think about how it is working well for us (and especially for our students) and also to consider if there are some things that could be improved. While our student population is largely English Second Language learners, we have a curriculum which is based around native English speaking standards. This isn't a criticism, it's a fact. I personally believe that is a good thing. We want our students to be fluent English communicators, and having native English speaking standards definitely helps us work toward that end. It's also interesting to have a look at what other curriculum documents are saying, and seeing how they are similar and how they are different. Sometimes the differences are really just in the way the outcomes are expressed, because they ultimately mean the same thing. Sometimes the differences are quite pronounced, and students on one curriculum are learning things earlier or later than their counterparts on a different curriculum. Which is best for our students?

This week, a colleague and I started looking at the Grade 4 Language Arts curriculum, while colleagues across at other grade levels do the same thing for their grade. So far it has been really interesting to see just how much of what I have been doing this year actually addresses the curriculum really well. Hooray! I'm doing something right. We'll see what the rest of the review brings out. I'm sure there are things I'm missing, so this will help me find those gaps so I can better meet the needs of my students. It was also really good to hear the other teacher (who isn't currently teaching fourth grade but did teach it last year) identify a number of points as being important that I feel are important. Positive reinforcement is valuable for teachers as well as students.

The last time I was involved in curriculum review I dreaded it. This time, I'm enjoying it! Thanks to God for bringing me to this point, and to giving me the strength each day to serve Him by teaching my precious students, and to do all the other jobs that go along with teaching. He is good, and He is my source of strength and peace.