Teaching: The First Half Term

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It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to think about blogging, but now that it’s half term I finally have the time to put in an appearance. What with all the recent strikes and changes to education going on at the moment, my plan was to write a piece in defence of music education, but in all honesty I’m feeling a bit disenchanted with teaching at the moment. Mostly my own teaching abilities, if we’re being specific.  It’s been a difficult 8 weeks to say the least, and there have been many times over the past half term where I’ve wanted to quit. I even spent one evening browsing the jobs sites trying to find a way out which didn’t involve bankruptcy after a particularly gruelling day with year 9.  However, after a few days off to regroup, rest and relax (alliteration, anyone?) I feel like I might just be able to get through the next 7 weeks without tearing the entirety of my hair out. Unbelievably I’m actually starting to miss school, and I’m taking this as a sign that I am in the right job, even if it’s a challenge sometimes.

I’ve been chatting to teacher friends about how difficult the first term is, and we’ve decided that the main thing you don’t expect is the relentlessness of teaching full time, as well as the emotional ups and downs it throws at you. As discussed in my previous post, there are some days when teaching is the best job in the world, and yet others make you wonder why you bother. Aside from healthcare, I’m not sure what other careers really involve this constant barrage of frustration, mild hysteria and paperwork. I realise this sounds very negative, and don’t get me wrong, there are frequent moments when I love my job. But I think part of the nature of what makes us effective teachers is that we constantly reflect on the moments that aren’t quite as good as we’d hoped, and try to figure out how to improve on them. I suppose it’s not really a surprise then that we tend to sometimes become bogged down in these moments, rather than focussing on the times which make us remember why we wanted to teach in the first place.

For fear of sounding like a one-track blogger I’m going to leave this post here, but keep your eyes peeled for my next article, which will hopefully make an appearance before the end of the half term holidays.  Although as there only seems to be space in my brain for music and/or education these days, ideas for articles are always welcome!

And if anyone can give me some tips on keeping year 9 in line, I’d be eternally grateful.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

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After a fairly depressing few days (weeks) of battling with teenagers, I couldn’t bring myself to blog about teaching this week.

Having said that, however, this morning I was at a really inspiring assembly about reading. Yes, really.  And it got me thinking about where my love of all things literary came from, stories particularly.  As a child, I always looked forward to bedtime stories (my love of sleep was also present from an early age), and the ones my Dad told were spectacular. He created his own stories, based around the life of a character called Freddy – a frog who lived in the pond at the bottom of our garden, had a racing driver for an uncle, and whose favourite snacks were chocolate covered flies or crispy lily pads.

Therefore, in honour of my dad – and the memory of Freddy the Frog cheering up a horrible week – here are my top ten facts about frogs.  Ribbit.

  1. Frogs can see forwards, sideways and upwards all at the same time. They never close their eyes, even when they sleep.
  2. Certain frogs can jump up to 20 times their own body length in a single leap.
  3. Frog bones form a new ring every year when the frog is hibernating, just like trees do. Scientists can count these rings to discover the age of the frog.
  4. One type of desert frog can wait as long as seven years for water by surrounding itself in a type of transparent bag that becomes its first meal once the rain comes.
  5. The golden dart frog is the most poisonous frog on earth and the skin of one frog could kill up to 1,000 people. a single touch of its skin can kill ten humans.
  6. Frogs can retract their eyes and when they do, they bulge inward in their mouths and help them swallow their food.
  7. A frog can only see moving things. It could literally starve to death with live prey in front of it if the prey never moved.
  8. The North American Wood Frog is the only species of frog found above the Arctic Circle and in winter it actually freezes, its heartbeat stops, and it thaws again in spring, coming back to life.
  9. A tadpole is also known as a polliwog (like Pokemon!)
  10. Australian Tree Frogs emit a chemical substance that heals wounds on humans.
English: A green frog on a palm frond.

English: A green frog on a palm frond. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sources:
http://www.gardenbuildingsdirect.co.uk/article/fun-facts-about-frogs
http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/animals/frog.html
http://lefo.net/documents/main/3klass/1kala/interesting_fact_about_frogs.htm

Teaching: The first week

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“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” 
― Aristotle

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?” 
― Terry Pratchett

My first two weeks as a ‘proper’ teacher have pretty much been spent with my mental state bouncing between these two quotes. I’ll teach a lesson that goes really well, and feel on top of the world, love my job. But an hour later I’ll feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, that I’m failing my students and wonder why I ever thought I could succeed as a teacher. 

On reflection, I think (hope) part of this is down to lack of experience, particularly in finding methods that work consistently with the majority of students. This, coupled with the shock of teaching back to back lessons all day every day, means that by the end of the afternoon I am often lacking in the mental capacity to walk and talk at the same time, let alone teach a Year 9 class about classical music. Teaching, I’ve learnt, is all about stamina. As an experienced colleague pointed out to me in the staffroom, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint – have a cup of tea and sit down for five minutes.” This is the adage I’m trying to bear in mind as I end my second week of teaching. There’s no point staying up all night planning super extravagant lessons if you then don’t have the energy to teach the lesson or explain the concept coherently.

On this weary Thursday afternoon as I contemplate an entire weekend of lesson planning, I am leaning more towards the Terry Pratchett end of the scale. I’ve been assured it will get easier. Fingers crossed.

 

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http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2013/aug/24/robyn-lawley-supermodel

Carrying on from mine and Charlotte’s previous blog post about body image, here is a lovely article from the Guardian about model Robyn Lawley… Her comments on variety in the fashion industry are particularly interesting – she’s basically summed up what both myself and Charlotte were trying to say perfectly in a couple of sentences, as follows:

Lawley finds the “real women have curves” brigade patronising and unhelpful. “People use me as a figurehead, and to me that misses the point and is blatantly offensive to thin women – my sister, for one. Curves don’t epitomise a woman. Saying, ‘Skinny is ugly’ should be no more acceptable than saying fat is. I find all this stuff a very controlling and effective way of making women obsess over their weight, instead of exploiting their more important attributes, such as intellect, strength and power.

The issue is not that models are too thin, she says: the problem is one of variety. “Look at fashion shows. We need a range of ages and ethnicities. There are just very thin, white, 16-year-old girls on the catwalk and that has to change.”

Don’t hate on people just because they’re not a perfect 10.  Variety is what makes the world interesting – embrace it.
I promise I’ll stop going on about it now.

Body shape: Is anyone a winner?

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At the risk of annoying lots of people, I’ve decided to write about an issue that has been bugging me for years now: weight discrimination.

I’m aware this might be a contentious subject, so I’ve invited my friend Charlotte to write a counter-argument which is published alongside my own, to get a more balanced view.

I am in the fortunate position of being naturally slim. Some would even say skinny [negative imagery, anyone?]. To clarify: I wear a size 6 top and size 8 trousers. I haven’t worked to be the shape that I am (yes, I’m aware that to many of you this makes me even more obnoxious). I’m fortunate to have a fast metabolism inherited from my parents, and a fairly small appetite. I eat my share of junk food – pizza is a staple in my diet – and I don’t go out of my way to exercise, although I walk places when I can.  Many people assume I must eat healthily and exercise a lot, when in fact, knowing that I don’t gain weight (and being lazy) means that I tend not to take as much notice of my diet and fitness as I should. No doubt my body hates me for it, and one day will take it’s revenge.

But whilst to many this is perceived to be the ‘ideal’ in terms of body shape, to me it’s a bit of a pain in the arse. For one thing, I really hate clothes shopping. There are not a lot of places that stock clothes that fit me. Admittedly, my cause is not helped by the fact that I am taller than average at 5′ 8″ and am somewhat under-endowed in the cleavage department [although that’s a whole other society-induced body image issue].  M&S, Next, Debenhams, Monsoon, White Stuff – none of them do clothes in my size, unless I want to shop in the children’s section.  Some shops, upon my asking if they do smaller sizes, suggest I go to the petite section. But there’s no way that clothing made for women who are 5’3″ and under is going to even nearly fit me. It’s particularly frustrating when shopping for workwear, as a lot of the ‘standard’ places seem only to cater for larger sizes. For example, in Primark –  their workwear range only starts at a size 10.  Do skinny people not work? Clearly they think we’re all too busy over-exercising and throwing up our lunch. And then there are companies such as Marisota who stock lovely clothes only for sizes 12-32. What with the current ‘obesity epidemic’ it seems bizarre to me that it’s OK for companies like this to advertise on prime-time television. I’m not sure that making size 32 an acceptable norm and size 10 seem unusually thin is really the best way to tackle obesity.

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I long for the days when people used to get their clothes tailor made – when society accepted that everyone was different. While this ‘standard sizing’ approach, might be economical, is completely nonsensical. People are not homogenous, and shouldn’t be treated as such. I want to be able to go shopping and not feel like I have the ‘wrong’ body shape because clothes are too big, or too loose around my boobs, or too tight on the hips. We should revel in our differences, not feel self-conscious because we do not fit the ‘perfect’ shape that clothing manufacturers prescribe to us. There are days when I consider getting plastic surgery or doing some serious binge eating just to make it easier to go shopping. But then I remember that it’s a problem with society, not me, and I refuse to let them win. I simply go shoe shopping instead.

A bigger issue for me in the last few years has become the fact that people seem to think that they can comment on my weight freely, frequently, and often in public. Last year whilst working in a boarding school, I found my colleagues commenting on the contents of my dinner plate. One said “I’m going to sit here and watch you eat all of that. I don’t believe you eat.” The same colleague thought it OK to comment on my weight in front of students and imply that I didn’t eat.  Aside from the terrible impression this might leave on the young (all female) students, what rankles is that it seems to only be acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people [see HERE]. Due to publicity campaigns to use less excessively thin models and more ‘real’ women in fashion images, it is no longer socially acceptable to criticise somebody for being overweight. You wouldn’t dream of telling somebody to ‘eat less’ over lunch, or comment on their few extra pounds in the workplace, so why is it ok to comment about my body? I am very much in support of positive body image campaigns and not using size zero models, but I think that part of this means realising that people come in ALL different shapes and sizes, not just size 12 and above. There is nothing unhealthy or wrong with my being slim, and just because my BMI says I’m underweight doesn’t mean I’m starving myself.

I also noticed recently that a friend of mine had joined a Facebook group called “Curvy girls are better than skinny girls”. Now, I’m all for curves. In fact I often wish I had more of them. But to state that someone is “better” than someone else due to their body shape seems to me, well, a bit – dare I say it – fascist [gasp!]. In my opinion, it’s equally as bad as high fashion’s known preference for Size 0 models. And what’s more, I couldn’t find an equivalent group supporting slim women, because that would be deemed massively offensive and be taken down due to fears that young girls would become anorexic.

So, here’s the bottom line: I am thin. I have never had an eating disorder. And please stop thinking it’s OK to comment on my body in public. You’re giving me a complex!

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Charlotte says:

Like a growing number of people, I am in the opposite situation to Ruth; I struggle with being overweight. At 5’9”, I currently wear clothes from sizes 18-22 (UK), and have been on the ‘larger’ side of average since secondary school.

Some may refer to my stature as ‘curvy’, ‘voluptuous’, ‘curvaceous’ or ‘shapely’, and each of these terms makes me cringe more than the last. Such rhetoric has been coined to excuse the expanding waistlines of women in this country, and yet those such as Ruth who are thin, are resentfully described as ‘skinny’, ‘rake’, ‘waif-like’ or ‘lanky’.

I will freely admit that I have a problem with overeating, which has obviously led to this weight gain over the years. The transition from skint student to graduate worker with an extremely long commute has not helped. Sweets to alleviate boredom and tiredness on my way home; a well-deserved ice cream and glass of wine at the end of a long day; takeaways when I get in from work at 9pm… I could go on! Being a child of the internet generation and a self-confessed know it all, I am not starved (excuse the pun) of information on how I should feed myself. From being a young teenager, I have spent hours in front of the computer reading up on the latest weight loss research, diets and miracle cures. However, as I hope fatties up and down the land will agree, it’s not that simple. Losing the weight and keeping it off requires total reprogramming of habits and lifestyle. It also requires a harsh dose of reality and tenacity to fend off that well-meaning diet saboteur who persuades the dieter that ‘one chocolate éclair won’t hurt’. I have sat in many a diet group meeting only to listen to excuse after excuse; ‘well, it was my auntie’s best friend’s dog’s birthday party – to turn down the banoffee pie would have been rude’; ‘I simply COULDN’T go to the seaside and not have fish and chips, ice cream AND candy floss’. You get the gist. I do not make excuses for myself – I know why I am overweight.

Clothes shopping can be a torturous task, as for Ruth; although a growth in online shopping has vastly increased choices available to us who are overweight.  Ironically, Ruth is my favourite person to go clothes shopping with. We could both try on the same item of clothing (at opposite ends of the sizing spectrum of course!) and both hate how we look in it. While the material might strain over my ample bosom, I realise that wishing for a small chest might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I do still envy her flat stomach though!

While plus size (ahem, size 12) models and mannequins are making headway in the world of fashion, the campaigns to see real women do not take into account stretch marks, not-so-pert breasts, and saggy stomachs. They are still airbrushed – an unobtainable vision of ‘reality’.

I disagree with Ruth that it is ‘only acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people’. I was horrified when a ‘friend’ posted on Facebook recently about a cinema trip, ‘well, the film wasn’t great, funniest thing was a fat man trying to find his seat in the dark’. There are also several groups dedicated to fat jokes on said social network. However, I do absolutely agree that there is an underrepresentation of those who are naturally slim. It is rare that one can pass by a magazine stand without seeing straplines targeting the skinny celebrity, who has cellulite ‘just like us’, or is berated for becoming ‘too thin’.

However, I am coming to realise that this is the body that I have been dealt and to make the most of it. On a recent group holiday in Italy, I consciously made the decision that my size was not going to hold me back. Not in a ‘screw you I’m so sexy’ ugly aggressive type of way, but grateful for the fact that I have working arms and legs and am able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Conversations on that holiday between women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes around the swimming pool and dining table at times revolved around weight, and I realised that it is a rare lucky soul that has never suffered from any form of anxiety around their appearance. I still want to shed this excess six stone or so, but for now I will smile and make the best of the body I have in this moment now. The weight loss will take me a while, so I’m not going to put life on hold until it happens.

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Daily Prompt: Far from Home

Daily Prompt: Far from Home

Tell us about the farthest you’ve ever traveled from home.
The farthest I’ve ever been from home [I’m going to go literal with this one. It’s too late at night after a long day to go all meta and talk about how distance isn’t always measured in geographical miles] is Australia. Or maybe New Zealand – I’m not sure which one is furthest away. In any case, I visited both on the same trip so I’ll talk about them as a ‘whole’.

It was great. Eight weeks of sunshine (and the occasional torrential downpour). I saw kangaroos, koalas, and bugs bigger than my foot. I shared a dorm with this weird girl who kept getting naked. I learnt to surf; visited glaciers and rainforests; climbed a mountain – I even went to Hobbiton. I travelled by horse, bike, train, jeep, mini-motorcycle, and only fell off two of them. I had a go at herding goats in the outback, and watched Shakespeare at the Sydney Opera House. And, possibly most impressively, I managed to end the trip on speaking terms with my travel companion – no easy feat when you’ve sat next to someone for the entirety of 20 hour bus ride only to then get lost trying to find your hostel.

And yet, predictably, my Dad’s first reaction when I got home after two months away was: “You had your nose pierced? Oh dear. Still, I suppose I should be glad it wasn’t a tattoo.”

Missed you too, Dad…

Priceless.

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New Primary Education Curriculum: Too much, too young?

I haven’t posted anything about education for a while, but what with the almost daily announcements about reforms coming from government, I thought it was about time I stepped back into the fray.

This article from the BBC, despite its slightly inflammatory title, presents an interesting comparison of Michael Gove’s new primary curriculum with those of Finland and Singapore, which have the most high-achieving education systems of any country.

The comparison can essentially be summed up as follows:

Prof Wrigley said: “The curriculum documents for Finland and Singapore make no demands for eight-year-olds to count in sevens and nines, or for the learning of long lists of spellings which exceed the range of children’s active vocabulary.”

In Singapore children do not begin science before they reach the age of England’s Year 4 children. By this time English children are expected to cover 20 densely-packed pages listing scientific knowledge. In Finland science starts at age seven, and until age 11 is taught within a child-friendly environmental and natural studies curriculum.

So when Michael Gove last week claimed that ‘the changes to the curriculum were necessary to keep pace with the achievement of pupils in other countries.’ and then ‘cited Hong Kong, Massachusetts, Singapore and Finland as “the world’s most successful school systems”‘ I think he was getting his research a bit mixed up. Yes, there may be seven year olds in some countries who can calculate complex fractions, but not in the countries he cites. Their education systems are successful whilst not piling too much academic pressure on very young children, and still encouraging thinking skills and creativity.

In my opinion, Gove’s whole plan to gear the curriculum towards more rote learning and a knowledge based curriculum is skewed. In a world of Google and Wikipedia, what use is rote learning? What we need is to teach our students skills that they can apply in the real world. And this doesn’t come about from our seven year olds trying to learn 20 pages of scientific knowledge.

Don’t even get me started on how this new curriculum will affect those children who aren’t necessarily the most academic.