“The Wendy”

Gracie thinks that Wendy lives in my computer!  She will often come along, climb onto my lap and ask if she can see “the Wendy”.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I juggle work and family and this means that I often work of a night time, so that I can spend time with Grace though the day while Harry is at school.  What often happens while she is playing outside or with her toys, is I will grab a cup of coffee and Skype Wendy – it is one of my favourite things to do as it makes me feel connected to a colleague (who I now consider a friend).  Obviously we discuss all things Children’s Literature but we have also been known to have a chat about many other things as well. Wendy is often the person I complain with, laugh with, offload to and generally get up to shenanigans with.  I may be breaking a rule here but we even have a theme song, Eye of the tiger, we sing it before web conferences!  However, we are also respectful of one another’s needs and our relationship is professional. 

I also have Sharon, who I consider to be my mentor.  For the past ten years Sharon has guided me professionally and I trust her judgement immensely.  Technically, Sharon is my boss, my supervisor as well but she is also more than that – she gives me confidence.   She knows exactly how I work, when to push me and when I need a bit of time out. 

For my entire time in schools I had many mentors and friends.  People who guided me, who gave constructive feedback, who I laughed and cried with, and who provided many mischievous adventures.   Different people fulfilled different roles.

For some of you, this is your last unit at University – congratulations!  My biggest piece of advice is to find a mentor within your school. Respect and accept advice from others as you are learning – actually, you will always be learning!  

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Keeping promises

It’s raining here today.  It’s bleak and dark, which makes it difficult to believe that it is Summer.  As I sit for a while to complete a few jobs for Uni, my e-mail notification sounds and, as is my nature, I immediately jump at the distraction (as it means I can leave my monotonous task for a moment).  What a pleasant surprise! Wendy has kept her promise to blog about poetry, given that we are unable to delve into it for this unit as we normally would.

I thought that I would like to do the same.

I read a poem at my Grandmother’s funeral, another at my friend’s wedding and posted a poem in the paper when my daughter was born.

Poetry enables us to express ourselves – to shiver, rejoice, reflect, mourn…  it helps us to feel.

Do you have a poem that you remember from school or from your childhood? I remember that I loved D is for dog and I could recite it by heart…

D is for dog (W.H. Davies)

My dog went mad and bit my hand,

I was bitten to the bone:

My wife went walking out with him,

And then came back alone.

I smoked my pipe, I nursed my wound,

I saw them both depart:

And when my wife came back alone,

I was bitten to the heart.

 (Insert dramatic crying of a twelve year-old here!)

I wonder now if it would be acceptable to teach children a poem that contained smoking in primary school now? I also wonder why this particular poem appealed to me as I am not especially fond of it now.

Oh, and Growing Up by C.J. Dennis (I must admit that I had to Google the author!) – it still makes me giggle!

Growing Up (C.J. Dennis)

Little Tommy Tadpole began to weep and wail,

For little Tommy Tadpole had lost his little tail;

And his mother didn’t know him as he wept upon a log,

For he wasn’t Tommy Tadpole, but Mr. Thomas Frog.

 

I also loved Daffodils by William Wordsworth, My Country by Dorothea Mackellar and The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson of course.

Another I think about often is The man in the glass, written by Dale Wimbrow in 1934:

 

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,

And the world makes you king for a day,

Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,

And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife,

Whose judgement upon him must pass,

The fellow whose verdict counts most in life,

Is the man staring back from the glass.

 

and it goes on… until the final stanza:

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,

And get pats on the back as you pass,

But the final reward will be heartache and tears,

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

 Hmmmm, still makes me stop and think…

Allow yourself the time to emerge yourself in poetry.

To stop and to reflect.

Also, Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll will always be a favourite of mine– I remember this as a boy’s voice broke while reading it at college!   Verrrrrry entertaining!

Bedtime stories with Alfie

Bedtime at my place is Crazy – yep, with a capital C!   More often than not dinner has finished later than I would have liked, the kids are running around fighting over who won the ‘Jarmie Race’, the dog is barking, the television is blaring and then the arguments over who is going to choose the bedtime story begins.

We fight over whose bed we will all squeeze into, over the placement of the pillows and we fight over who sits where.   There are groans as we read Who sank the boat last night and because “Spiderman is not real, ‘Arry”.

Bed time reading

But, how I love this time of night.

The smell of fresh hair and big nappy bottoms (only Gracie has one of these of course!).   Of cuddles and of listening to my children read to each other.  Laughing to ourselves as Gracie often says, “Look mum and dad, I can read this page with my eyes closed” (she has pages memorized). Giggling along with Harry as he sounds out father… “faaaarter”.  Alfie, our kitten, often joins us too – perhaps he is worried he will miss out on something exciting.

Reading with children, whether they are your own or your students, is such a privilege.  I am so excited that I am able to share this journey with another group of students who will appreciate this as much as I do. Welcome aboard this wonderful, and not at all crazy train that is Children’s Literature.

Chocolate Fingerprints

As we know, when you are looking forward to something it often feels like it takes forever for the ‘something’ to arrive.   Birthdays, holidays, P!nk concerts.

When you are dreading something, however, the time flies and before you know it the ‘something’ arrives. Assignments, exams, work.

I think that counting weeks, as we do for Uni, makes time pass quickly.  Whether you are looking forward to an upcoming date or not, the mere fact that measuring time in weeks makes you conscious that the semester and indeed your degree is ticking along at a fair rate.

Here we are in WEEK ONE of SEMESTER TWO, 2013.

What does that mean for you?

I’m excited – which is a productive emotion. I am keen to become organised, to teach and to learn.

Are you prepared?

Are you excited?

Anxious?

Impatient?

Indifferent?

Are your thoughts productive? What are you doing to become organised, to ensure that you are off to a flying start this semester?

I wanted to write this Blog to ask you a question.  I thought I would come back to it in Week 13 so that we can appreciate our Children’s Literature journey.

As you will learn, I enjoy telling stories and they are often about my children. So, in my typical fashion I am going to do just that.

This evening after they had brushed their teeth, put on their pjs and had at least 10 ‘last drinks’ of milk, I asked Harry and Gracie to help me to decide upon a few children’s books to take to Uni tomorrow for my on campus class.  My instructions were simple, they had to be ‘good books’, ones that they enjoy and ones that make them think.  They were also instructed that they were not to climb the shelves and that the books had to be free of chocolate finger marks.

What interesting responses I had:

“Why would you want a book that makes you think Mum?”

“What does ‘fink’ even mean?”

“What does ‘good’ books mean?”

“Why can’t I climb the shelves?”

“Yeah, we do it all the time”

Together we sorted and collected books from the shelves.  Some were considered and discarded, however many were put into my basket for work.

My children were able to tell me which books they liked and disliked respectively, but most excitingly they were able to tell me why they were ‘good’ books and how they made them ‘think’. For example, Gracie likes Sebastian Lives in a Hat (by Thelma Catterwall and Kerry Argent) because she likes the page where the wombat orphan wees into a bucket.  Harry selected Wombat Stew (by  Marcia K. Vaughan and Pamela Lofts) because his grandma gave it to him and he loves reading with her. However, Harry also likes Mutt Dog (by Stephen Michael King) as “poor Mutt Dog wasn’t loved but he didn’t give up and now he has a home”.   He also mentioned Big and Me (by David Miller) because we chose to use this book about lovable building diggers to teach him that some very special people have to take regular medication to ensure that they don’t go wobbly and that they stay well – Harry has epilepsy.

So, my questions to you are these:

What is quality children’s literature?

What makes a ‘good’ book?

How would you explain this to children?

Happy reading, thinking and discussing!

Pardon?

While sitting at the table tonight I was more than surprised to hear Harry, who is five, announce that he “Hates Asians”.

My world tipped slightly to the left as I stopped, with a forkful of pasta mid-air, and calmly said, “Pardon?”.

“I hate Asians Mum!” he said.  Even around a mouthful of food, it was still clear…my child is racist.

This is obviously my fault. I am raising a child who has learnt to look at other cultures in a negative manner.  How does this happen? What does this mean?  Should I seek professional help to deal with this?

Andrew was at football and Gracie was never going to fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation… she is three.   I was left to ponder (panic) on my own.

I was slightly aware of Harry and Gracie chatting away, giggling and no doubt throwing their pasta shells at each other.

How have I contributed to this?   Is it because we don’t have Asian dolls or toys? Should I be taking Harry to uni more often and introducing him to my International colleagues?

“They should just stay where they come from”.

Desperately seeking answers, I realised that maybe I had been watching too much My Kitchen Rules, as the “villains” in this series are of an Asian descent.  Has he been listening from his bed and picked up on this?

“Why do they want to fly here anyway?”.

Is this Andrew’s fault?  After all, when I have Japanese or Thai for tea he always turns his nose up and opts for McDonalds.  Or maybe some of the children at his school have influenced his thinking….

“I’m going to think of a way to stop their spaceships from landing”.

What?

“‘Cept they will probably have ray-guns”.

Flying?

Ray-guns?

ALIENS!

Harry hates Aliens, not Asians!

As my world centred and my giggles stopped, I remembered the importance of discussion.  Next time I will ask more questions before I jump to conclusions… maybe!

I also remembered my Blog, after all I needed to tell someone!

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With a tap on the keys…

I wrote in a post a few weeks ago that teaching takes many forms.

I’ve been thinking more about this.

I have a friend who works at an eSchool.  She teaches students mostly by distance.

I was intrigued by this system, so I went and met her at her school for lunch and while I was there I had a bit of a nose around!

To be honest, it felt a bit like an office – I don’t know why this surprised me but it did.  There were some physical spaces for teaching (as there are certain days of the week when those children who can attend do), book areas, a staffroom and the Senior and Primary sections were separate from each other and from the administration area.  The walls were bright with displays and there were elements of a “normal classroom”.

But I didn’t see any children and it was obviously very quiet.

At desks in offices there were teachers who spoke into headsets and used their computer screens as their classrooms.  They used a program which is almost the same as we use for our web-conferences and most lessons seemed to use a PowerPoint presentation from which the teacher taught.

I was asked if I would like to stay for a whole-school assembly… I jumped at the chance!

As the assembly started all of the teachers went to their desks.   I perched myself closely next to my friend as she logged onto the computer and turned the sound up so that I could hear (usually she wears headsets).

Names of students began to roll on the screen as they entered the discussion.  I watched, fascinated, as my friend began to chat with her students as we waited to for the assembly to start.  With a tap on the keys she welcomed some, she congratulated some on making it, she asked them questions about things they had previously discussed and I noticed that the other teachers were doing the same.

The boards stilled as the assembly started and the students’ listened.

The teachers taught… and I learnt that teaching takes many forms.

Acceptance

Remember weeks ago I said that blogs can be a little self-indulgent?

Well I still think this, although I am beginning to understand that through the act of sharing and reading, we can learn and be touched by other’s experiences.

This post is going to be self-indulgent – because I need to write about me… I need to share.

I hope that by reading my story you will be able to relate it in some way to yourself, your study or your future teaching practices.

My Harry has epilepsy – there, I said it! 

Epilepsy, epilepsy, epilepsy!

Even to type it leaves a taste in my mouth… it’s not a bad taste at all but each time I say it aloud it makes it more real somehow.  It almost feels as though I am experiencing a moment of uncertainty while I gauge others reactions to my news.  I fear judgement, I fear pity, I fear fear.

I accept it…accept him – there are a million things in the world that are so much worse.  I guess as a parent, we just want our children to have an easy life – which I know he will have.  Many great people have this condition, there is no shame to be had and I want him to grow in a world that knows this and is accepting.

Harry had his first seizure when he was 9 months old – a tiny, cute little boy who had no sign of illness. He went blue as his breathing seemed to stop, he choked and he didn’t know who I was for what felt like hours later. 

He had his most recent one about 1 month ago.

From the time he had his first seizure I have worried about his schooling.  Andrew and I decided that we would share our workload so that he didn’t have to attend childcare.  Yes, I look back at this now and realise that we may have overreacted but I just couldn’t hand my baby to someone knowing that he may have a seizure. What if they didn’t know what to do?  What if they waited too long before calling an ambulance?  What if he was climbing and fell?

Imagine how hard I found it then as his kinder year approached.  We did the usual, we attended pre-kinder and the local playgroup so that he knew his peers before school started. 

The feeling of sickness and worry almost engulfed me…

I knew that the best thing I could do is to develop strong relationships with the school.  I met with the Principal who was more than supportive and we wrote his IEP – a plan for what we would do should the worst happen. I met his teacher who was also amazing – she told me that Harry would be her first priority should he have a turn and among other things that she would “administer affection” as soon as he needed it. I wanted to hug them when I left. 

The school also organised for the Epilepsy Association to come and talk to all teachers before school resumed for the year.

You won’t be surprised to know that Harry loved his first day of school.  He loves his teacher and every child in the class is his “best flend” (as Harry would say!). He told the Principal a joke during their first meeting (Why did the cow cross the road? To go to the Moo-vies!).

He is flourishing both physically and cognitively and has never been upset to attend; he is also yet to have a seizure at school.

But, do you know what?  If he does I know that it will be ok.

I have learnt a lot from this experience as a teacher and as a parent.

I feel that I now have a greater understanding of the importance of relationships.  As a teacher I knew of the need to have “mutually beneficial relationships” with my students’ parents. I have taught a lot of students with additional needs, yet I don’t think I fully understood the anguish that can result from the simple act of sending your child to school.

I also learnt that Harry will be fine – I realised this the first time he said, “You can go now Mum”. I’m sure if he knew how to roll his eyes he would have!

Tell them this…

Two months ago:

“So Amanda, what do you do?”

“I’m a student at the moment, I’m doing my PhD”.

“Oh… what else do you do?” Puzzled

“Well, I am a teacher – I’m teaching at the Uni right now, but I’m usually a primary school teacher”.

“That’s great, well done!” Relief, obviously I had given the correct answer this time.

“Why on Earth have you gone back to Uni?” Another voice, this one louder.

“To learn, I love the topic I’m studying….”

“Didn’t you like teaching?” Pity, complete with a sympathetic face

“What will that make you?  You’re already a teacher!” Interrupting.  Louder still. 

Honestly, sometimes I wish I could sit some people down and say, “Are you serious?  I’m a student because I love learning; I want to learn as much as I can”.

Have you been asked this question?

Sometimes the opposition and lack of understanding can come from your own family. I was the first in my family to attend Uni, are you?

Hopefully, you have heaps of support but if you do come across this, tell them this:

Tell them that learning is a privilege, not everyone has the opportunities or experiences which will allow them to attend Uni.

Tell them that the ability to learn is a gift – “I’m here because I’m smart, duh!”

Tell them that a degree opens doors and can provide job security and satisfaction.

Ask them what job is more important than shaping children’s futures.

Ask them why they aren’t at Uni.

Today:

“So Amanda, what do you do?”

“I’m a PhD student, I love it!  Honestly, sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do something I love.  I am so lucky.  So, what do you do?”

 

Singing in a daggy hat!

I miss teaching in a primary school setting.

I wouldn’t describe it as gut-wrenching longing, but more of a slow ache that occasionally twinges somewhere in the vicinity of my chest.

I miss the familiarity of children and their usual predictive nature.  The excitement of introducing new terms and ideas and expanding upon ones they already hold – I miss challenging their assumptions and questioning their ideas.

I miss chatting to parents and other teachers. 

I miss duty and the daggy hat I had to wear (much to the entertainment of my older students!).

I even miss being called “Mrs Liedown”, by the early childhood kids.

I’m sure this is a normal emotion for someone who has left a profession which they love and are extremely passionate about.  In some ways I envy most of you as pre-service teachers and the adventures you are about to begin. 

But longing for something that I have made a conscious and exciting decision to leave for a while is not a welcome emotion… so what do you do?

I will tell you what I did:

I packed up all of my teaching resources that I will no longer need (this was a massive task, they were all over the house), put them in boxes, taped them shut, drove them to my mother’s house and locked them in her shed!

How’s that for “boxing up your emotions”?! 

While I was packing (listening to The Way we Were, by Barbara Streisand on repeat and using copious amounts of tissues – not really, but it adds to the drama!), I found a box in which I keep all of my treasured teaching memories.  This box contains letters from students and parents, photos, awards, drawings and so forth and I spent an enjoyable hour or so having a read. 

I noticed a theme in these artefacts that was not expected. 

I pulled myself together, turned off my sad songs, gathered up my findings and went to show Andrew.

Andrew wasn’t at all surprised by the theme I had discovered in years of letters, stories and cards… in fact he was more surprised that I didn’t already know that this is how I was perceived.

The recurring theme was not that I am lovely, caring, warm, hard-working or even the “BEST TEACHER EVA!”

But that I sang a lot!

Yep, sang…a lot!

“Miss Williamson, I will miss you and your bad singing next year”.

“Thank you for coming on our excursion; it was so much fun singing loudly with you on the bus and making the other teachers crabby”.

“My memory of 2008 – singing Happy Birthday in our worst singing voices so that Mrs. Lydon didn’t feel too bad that she can’t hold a tune”.

“Best of luck at your new school Amanda, I’m sure it won’t be long before you swing open the staffroom door and burst into song!”

As I write this I am still shaking my head!  Not only did I sing (a lot!), but I sang badly!

Is this my legacy?!

I think of my past teachers and the influence they had on me… we all have them.  Those we related to and those we didn’t.

What will your legacy be?

I also realise as I type this – I love writing for this very reason. It allows us to make sense of our thoughts – that the things I miss about teaching in a primary school setting are actually things I can and do still do with you. 

Teaching takes many forms.

I still introduce new terms and ideas, I still challenge thinking and assumptions, I still chat to other teachers. 

The act of writing this blog post has also helped me to feel better – another wonderful function of writing – and to put things into perspective. 

So if any of you see me wandering around the grounds of the university wearing a daggy hat, chatting to random children and singing – please know that I am ok!

Aiming High!

Last night I was chatting with an old teacher friend, who is known to be an exemplary senior staff member in a school.   I was very shocked, however, when she referred to herself as being “socially awkward”. 

I would never refer to her as being awkward in any context and so I told her so.

“Oh yes”, she said. “I always have been, ever since I was in Primary School really”.

This got me thinking.

I thought about how my Gracie is known at playgroup as being a “little ratbag”, because in one of the first meetings of the year she pushed another child over.  She hasn’t exactly been a model toddler since then, but she is certainly no more of a ratbag than other children her age (at Playgroup that is, home is another story!). Yet, others joke about the fact that you don’t mess with her!

No one would ever tell Andrew or I, but we think that she is known as the group bully!

Is my little girl a bully? 

Is she destined for the “thinking chair” when she gets to Kinder?

The “Time-out” seat in Grade 3?

Should I be booking a spot at a youth detention centre now???

 

Do these parents’ and children’s opinions matter?

I would actually say, in some cases, maybe.  I know this will surprise some of you, so let me explain.

In every class, in every grade of every school, there is usually someone who is thought of as being a bully.

But there is also:

The quiet child.

The loud child.

The sporty child.

The good speller/reader/writer.

The secretary – the child, usually a girl, who spends all day worrying about the presentation of their work rather than the content.  These children are usually seen as being the “good kids” because they are compliant – but does being compliant mean that they are engaged?  Food for thought!

The good child.

The child who is great at Maths (but maybe not Literacy).

And my personal favourite… the naughty kid.

Basically, all behaviours will attract a label.

So what’s this all about?

Is this just the way it is? 

Is this fair?

Those of you who completed Foundations of Teaching would know about the relevance of labelling, teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies and you would know of the impact that these things can have on a student’s educational experiences.  The reading by Henslin and Possamai-Inesedy (2001), comes to mind.

Basically, it is thought that if you label someone as being a certain person, or behaving in a certain way, or coming from a certain background… then not only will you continue to expect behaviour from them that confirms this but the child will begin to identify with the label as well – they will behave in the way that they are expected. 

The sporty child in kinder might be known around the school as an athlete.  Each year their new teacher and peers will think of them in this light and eventually the child will see themselves this way too.    So the sporty kid, will in fact, be a sporty kid!

What’s wrong with this?

Can you remember a child from your own past who was the ‘naughty kid’?

The ‘annoying kid’?

Or the ‘smelly kid’?

Their new teachers may be warned each year… so might relief teachers.

Parents might complain.

If you expect ‘naughty’, that may be just what you get.

While you are on your placements your colleague teacher will sit you down to go through the class list and they will tell you a little about each child.  While this is essential – you will need to know about your students’ abilities, likes, personalities, fears, learning needs and what not – just see if there are times when perhaps they are passing on information that will taint your own relationship with the students. 

Withhold your judgements and see what happens. 

Remember, have high expectations and your students might just reach them!