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I am really finding it difficult to drag myself through this day. Unexplained, unexpected, feelings of exhaustion swim over and through my body. I want to lay my head on my pillow, but instead I am hiding in my glass walled office reading book reviews in the Washington Post.

Minerva, whose husband is a bus driver, has just read online that a bus driver has been doused and set alight in Brisbane. It is not her husband, she has rung to check, but she is none the less, rather emotional. This incident, coupled with the four tragic deaths this week at Dreamworld, has made everyone reflect on mortality.

Mr FD visited a friend from high school this week. The friend has vascular dementia and substitutes odd words for the words he can no longer remember. Friend’s wife took Mr FD to task for not visiting when we moved to Brisbane in 2002. According to wife, “he was very upset” that we did not visit. Mr FD is now upset that he did not visit. The thing is, I don’t remember an invitation to visit. We sent a card and a letter every Christmas; they replied with a card, though no details of health, happiness or family. If we did not visit them, they did not visit us. When do the actions of one become somehow worse, more unforgivable, than the matching behaviour of another? Do they get the moral high ground because now he has an illness? Life has too many complications and rules.

Our Senior students have about three weeks of school left until graduation. One of my students has applied to join the elite engineers’ unit in the military – the ones that find the bombs. Why, I asked. “Someone has to do it miss, so why not me?” I argue that if no one joined the army then there could be no war, but he stares back at me like I have just proclaimed I have seen an alien. His father died two years ago, his mother has only him and his sister. How can you do that to her? I ask. What I am really saying is, how can you do this to me? I know I will watch all news reports for his name for a very long time. These kids slip into your heart.

During home class, my little family of students cluster close to my desk. They are like a little litter of puppies rolling around and near me, even the seniors. I would not be surprised if one curled into my lap one morning. Today, my army bound student sat at my elbow, as we discussed life’s lighter moments. How can you make such decisions at this age, boy? How can we allow them to make life and death decisions at this age? I want to tell him he can’t do it, but I merely ask, again, whether he has been given the date for his induction. No. Time to change his mind. Time to make him realise that life is too precious, that things happen to people, and – but he won’t will he? When we are young we think these things always happen to someone else, don’t we? Untouchable. Mistaken.

I ate no small fry and went full frontal

back view

First student day and I forgot to wrestle my niceness into some form of control and found myself promising a mother I would personally deliver her obviously quaking daughter to a particular teacher. She was a year seven student on her first day. Mum was obviously very reluctant to leave her when asked to depart with other parents, and before I knew it I had offered comfort to mother and child. Turns out the child is in fact a learning support student (damn double good browns points for me!) and I not only promised to connect her with a learning support teacher, but to also deliver a message that Mum would collect said daughter from the learning support area at day’s end.

Mission shortly accomplished, I found myself wondering just who did I think I was, Mother Teresa for instance.

Today only years 7 and 12 started school, and so we had the seniors wander the school showing the newbies to their various rooms, and helping them work out their timetables. I asked the Seniors to share the important information, such as which are the best toilets to use, or how to get served at tuckshop fast, but to share nothing that would scare them or have them refusing to return to school next day.

As a home class teacher, most of my day was taken up shepherding new students, but I did actually get in some library work which has left me feeling pretty chuffed with myself.

We did have to have our staff ID photos taken though, and I must admit that I forgot the pearls. I asked them if they could just photograph the back of my head, but they said no one would know who it was, if they did that. I replied, “Oh yes they would!” Minerva agreed. It is a noble head, well recognised by teachers and students. However, full frontal it was.

Tomorrow is another day.

Pray there is never another potato famine…

VOGUE - ERWIN BLUMENFELD - 1949

Holy Mother of Whatever, the kids are feral!

First day of term, two periods into the day I felt as though I should have been issued with a chair and whip. It didn’t help that after never ever having a policy on mobile technology, in particular mobiles, this was the day that we got to announce that they were no longer to be seen, let alone used, during class time. Also no selfies at school, at any time!

I felt as though I was going to be chewed into minced meat and spat out, when I had to deliver the message to my home class.

I have to admit though, that it did feel good, that I no longer have to tolerate the “It’s my Mum” pretend excuse anymore. Mum, if you do phone your child during class time, you should be beaten. If it is an emergency, phone the school to deliver the message, don’t interrupt everyone’s learning and my teaching!

No use trying to say that they can’t chat, or text on their phones all day in the adult work world, either. The horror and disbelief on their faces was so real it was horrifying.

Minerva and I have a code word, “potato” which basically means we are going home to drink vodka.

POTATO, POTATO, POTATO!

I couldn’t make this up! No, not even me!

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Student walked into the library wearing a horse mask.

I called out across the Library “Why the long face?”

Yes, they did groan, “Miss, that is an Uncle joke!”.  Could you have allowed the moment to pass?

gingerbread

Students were in cooking class and making individual shaped cookies. One young year 9 student thought he was very original and shaped his… yes, into a penis.

Teacher didn’t notice until it was out of the oven.

Teenage boys never change.

just a word or two and a moment in history

 

bat

My students writers group now has seven new members, most  from year 7 and 8; one from year 9. The only boy is ASD, but obviously high on the Asperger spectrum. Incredible verbal skills and a passion for history. His levels of critical thinking blew me away.

The girls ran from one who was homeschooled for six months last year as she was having issues, another who has parents who are both pastors (obviously comfortable with catholicism though) and another who announced that “happiness is a word that has never been known in my family” and has a variety of parents, stepparents and siblings never met.

A couple are in my ICT classes this term and when I saw them walk through the does after school I sobbed to Minvera “God help me, what have I done to deserve this!” but what I feared as a difficult 90 minutes actually turned into quite an unexpected delight.

I particularly enjoyed speaking with the young boy, as he explained all sorts of Napoleonic sea battles and political machinations.

Then they moved onto the age old debate of “if there is a God why does he allow bad things to happen?” Of course, no one can answer that – why do bad things happen to good people? Our young man was of the opinion that it was better to live as a good person through a difficult life, than be a bad person living a so called easy life.  His levels of critical thinking and communication skills are incredible and I completely reformed the opinion I had formed of him previously. At the end of the workshop I thanked him for coming along and contributing. I hope he continues with us.

One of the younger girls became a little glazed over at the history discourse, but I  pointed out that she could use the details for her writing. She wondered how and I used the example of the Hunger Games and the parallels to the Romans and their Gladiators. I think she may have gained a new insight by the end of the afternoon.

Next week some of them are going to write about “My teacher’s secret life” Apparently I am being reimagined as a mafia boss!

it’s a gift

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A number of my student creative writers’ group are seniors and graduating this week. At our last gathering they presented me with a gift. I can only think that they must have noted every single thing I ever mentioned I loved for they filled a box with:

English Breakfast tea bags

Two small bottles of champagne

A box of chocolates

A bag of jelly baby lollies

A moleskin notebook

A pen inscribed with the word “Boss”

and a small white Teddy Bear.

 

I was stunned, and almost burst into tears, but big Flamingo Dancers don’t cry. I was just trying to form the words to thank them, when one of the students piped up and said,

“We’re sorry Miss, we couldn’t find the right stick to put in the box.”

Yes, they had even remembered my stick list!

They have all promised to dedicate their first novels to me, and on their author tours will return to the school and speak to the students of the time.  Good luck to each and everyone of them, bless their little writing souls.

finding the magic

teacher pupil

Twice this past week I have been gifted two wonderful moments by students.

The first was during my ICT class, which is a double period. I always pause the class half way through the double and allow students to go out for a drink or a toilet break. No one should sit for that long without a stretch, especially if they are working with their laptops for the whole period. So, out they go, and one student returned with a small gardenia flower from the garden near the library, and quietly placed it on my laptop keyboard.

The second moment was when I was walking across the school campus, and a student paused at the classroom door he was about to enter and called, “Hello, Mrs F.D., you are my favourite teacher!”

Makes a change from the students who ask how much I adore them! Those are far more in number.

I’ve got to remember those moments on the days I am so stressed I want to go and lie in the street. Speaking of which, the student who was suspended for, first swearing at Minerva, my erstwhile library aide, and then swearing at me and storming out of class, returned to class at the end of last week. He was perfectly behaved, but then nothing occurred to trigger him, I suppose. Just another three weeks of that class!

gardenia

Nine minus one.

rain in a glass

As first weeks go, it was a pretty good week. The air conditioning was installed in my office and Minerva’s work area, tick; the acting Principal whom we all love, has been offered the role permanently and he has accepted, tick; and it turns out it is a nine week term, not a ten week term as I though, tick!

I have four learning support students in my ICT class, one boy has a behaviour file about three inches thick from his primary schooling and was suspended last term for using the “f word” towards me in the playground, but he actually worked really well in the first class. He was absent for the second class, which from his class mates comments is fairly regular. The other boy has ASD and school refusal, but last week he came to school every day until 1pm so that was pretty encouraging for his support team. He is very bright, but can’t always distinguish from his fantasy world and reality. The only spark of excitement I garnered from his was when we played a “what if” in the last few minutes of the class and my question was “What if you had a time machine, what would you do? What would you take with you?” His reply was a rather disturbing reply that included violence and guns.

I have noticed this as a tendency in many of the Learning support males, a fascination with violence and guns. Perhaps those of you with more experience in this area can provide why our brains take us on this tangent sometimes when we are ASD. The fact that he doesn’t always distinguish reality and imagination must be a real concern for his parents as he grows older.

Another student wanted to go back in time and stop his parents marrying, or failing that, having sex. Deep issues there also. It is amazing how brutally honest these children can be in the classroom.

Thursday wasn’t the greatest day, in fact it sucked all around. I came home and drank a glass of scotch. We are a private school and we have a uniform. Until this year, the idea of actually wearing the complete uniform appeared to be a notional option. The previous administration was more of the opinion that “well, at least they are at school.” The new administration is more “respect for your uniform is respect for your self, and setting the right mindset to learn” which I follow also. I know it is the old catholic girl school in me! Though to be honest I went to a government high school and our uniform was policed very severely.

So, students and parents were given lots of warning of need correct uniform, no crazy hair colours, no facial piercings, no jewellery. They were asked to see admin if uniform was an issue and the school would actually supply missing items if there was financial hardship, as we have always done. SO back to school and the fun started. Those not adhering to the policy was segregated to a large room at the back of the library for the day, unless their parents came with the correct uniform or collected them. They were not allowed out at the same break times as the rest of the school, total separation. The first day was about fifty students.

The second day, there were eight and that is where suddenly it became my job to supervise them. So I spent the day in the glass room with the students venting at me. They knew it was not my rule but that I certainly supported it, but that didn’t stop them from arguing with me, or trying to present their side as victim. One girl was angry she had to take out her new nose piercings, that “give me confidence” – piercings that she had fully aware that she was not allowed to wear them any more. More than one became very concerned that they were missing out on lessons and class works… never happened before we these students, believe me. Well, enough said, none as blind as those who will not see or listen, but by the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted. Hence the need for a drink.

I spoke next day with one of the teachers who has student welfare as a large slice of his job and he said he often goes home and drinks a bottle of wine. My day was small stuff to his normal day, but he does such a fantastic job. He and his wife are off to Ireland next year for a life change, he is just thirty and already burnt out by teaching, and the school will miss him dreadfully. I will miss him.

One week down, another 8 to go!

irrigating the deserts

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Back at school today to be told by some of my home class students that they had missed me. I burst out laughing it seemed so incredulous, but there you go, truth really is stranger than fiction! Students never cease to amaze me!

Tomorrow I am going to introduce my ICT students to code. I don’t really know how to code, though we were forced to do a semester of computing back in my undergraduate degree which had us using DOS. I am going to use the tool Codeacademy  and the students will learn how to animate their own names.

There has been a big push in recent months to interest students in computing, active computing not just passive consumption of media, and a new ICT curriculum is being introduced. All students will learn basic coding, right from the start of school.

I won’t be involved in actual ICT classes once the new curriculum is introduced as I don’t really have the skills, but as a teacher librarian I currently teach basic year 8 ICT and use of their laptops (we are a 1:1 laptop school) I also teach information literacy and research skills in the term long unit.

Last week I had the students use PowToon to create a presentation on cyber bullying. I told them the site to use and assisted them in downloading it, and after that they were on their own. What fun they had! My usual difficult to engage students even created and for once, were open to sharing their work.

Occasionally there are lessons where everything comes together for you and your students and it is just magical. Then it is when you realise why you are a teacher. The lessons can be few and far between at times, but when they come along… priceless.

I didn’t have to correct one student for the entire double period. Miracle! They all worked solidly, and I almost became dizzy as I raced about the classroom trying to view all the stages of their presentations when they asked for feedback.

Tomorrow’s class is a little harder and requires them to use their literacy skills in reading instructions to complete each line of code, but I think that with the exception of one young girl who is on a modified learning plan and has the assistance of a school aide, most of them should be able to cope. We can but try!

Or drink.

 

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.
C. S. Lewis

 

 

on the seventh day She rested

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Just when I was so ready to take out a hearty section of the school population, I was gifted with a couple of memorable moments. We launched the arts festival – students have 72 hours to make a short film  (5-7 min) that contains five of given fifteen items or phrases last night, and though we have officially only received eleven team entries those that were there were so motivated and excited that it was a joy and a gift to be part of it.

One of the students is in my home class, and normally so quiet, but he and his mate were full of talk and plans as they waited with me for the launch. It was hard to believe that this was the same boy. A lovely moment with him.

Another teacher and I stayed back until 8pm to assist students, and my companion teacher, a media teacher is going to be at school all weekend in the computer labs to allow students to mix and edit, as well as to give technical advice. He is a teacher of excellence, but at the age of 31 is almost to the edge of burn out. We need to appreciate such individuals and given them more time to plan and create lessons and projects. The student just adore him, and rightly so.

I was exhausted by the end of this week, and I just needed rest and QUIET, so late morning I slipped back to be and slept for a few hours. Windows closed, curtains drawn, air conditioner set at 24C and it was the peace I needed. Well, the peace came after a few interruptions from Mr FD who I think was just making excuses to burst through the door as he missed me…he probably wanted to annoy me, but I will choose to think he missed me.

Autumns in the air. It may be the two cyclones fermenting in north Queensland, but it is darker in the mornings, and cooler at the start and end of days. Still hitting around 30C daytime, but an improvement. Head office honchos came through with the Principal on Friday and I hear him making mention of the heat in summer, but fingers crossed for some form of cooling for next summer. Toes crossed too!