Thursday, August 06, 2020

Of Things In 2020!

I see the last time I posted was about my first day as a volunteer, way back in 2018! 

Time to talk about what has happened since. I continued with the volunteering with the Ardoch Youth Foundation, at a primary school in Melbourne’s disadvantaged western suburbs, which invited me to be a guest speaker in Book Week that year.

I have to say that for a school with no real library - just a small niche for the younger kids at lunchtime, with older books and staffed by an aide - it did very well for Book Week. Every class decorated its classroom and the area outside, with something related to the theme(In 2018 that was Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) There was a competition for best classroom. The staff, including non teachers, dressed as Oompa Loompas. There was the usual costume competition and parade. As I recall, Twitter parents were complaining bitterly about having to do costumes for their children, and how their child was going to be shamed without a costume. Yet I saw some kids without costumes quite cheerfully joining the parade and the rest in basic cosplay stuff. Very basic, most of them! They were all enjoying themselves.

The winners of that year’s Children’s Book Council Awards was announced to the school. Apparently they got to vote their own winners as well.

I was delighted to meet a young mother who had been a student at my school calling out to me,”Hi, Miss, remember me?” and saying to her child, “Look, darling, it’s Mummy’s teacher!”

I also met a young lady whose older sister had been one of my favourite library users(that one went off to a private school on a scholarship). Zebib was an EAL student, but her younger sister now spoke with an Australian accent. 

Last year I worked with a Year 5 and Prep. The Year 5 kids were the same ones I had worked with in 2018, though different teachers. This year I was slotted in with Year 1, who were in Prep last year. 

We got a just few weeks together until the plague began...

I have tried to keep going this year, with Zoom professional development sessions run by Ardoch and VIT, but just not the same. I volunteered for Literacy buddies, in which you exchange letters with children at disadvantaged schools. At first, this was possible because the school was a regional one not affected by the total lockdowns. We couldn’t visit, but we could scan and email handwritten letters. I’ve benefited from this before, when I was teaching, so I know how it works. 

I remember last time I did it,with my EAL class, we had two guests from a sister school in Taiwan on a day when the kids were writing letters to their a Big Buddies. So I got our guests to sit with regular students and write a short letter themselves saying something like “Hi, I’m visiting Australia, so I thought I’d write to you...” That meant those Literacy Buddies got an extra letter. 

Anyway, we wrote our first letters to our virtual Little Buddies and were about to receive another one when the second lockdown happened. Not sure what is happening now,though I hope my two Little Buddies did receive and enjoy my letters before they, too, were locked down. If there is a way to keep it going from home, I hope they do, because it would be special for the kids to get this at home. 

I am so missing Year 1 and the staff at that school! 

A few days ago, I got an email from my lovely publisher Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, who has been very good to me. He asked if I could recommend any schools, including my old secondary school, to get a part of a grant he received to give a free virtual author visit and a box of books. He had three left to offer. 

My own school was not much use; there was no library left to organise it and the literacy teacher had other things on his mind - plus the junior campuses had moved to new buildings. Too much going on! 

So I suggested the school where I volunteer in better times, where the literacy teacher is an honorary librarian. She was thrilled to bits and decided that Year 2 would benefit. I assume that she will be in touch with the school’s IT person to organise something that lets the kids watch from home. 

As there were still two spots left, I contacted the man from Ardoch who looks after the western suburbs. He organised two other schools to benefit from this. 

It’s good to know nice things can still happen even in this time. 

How are you going in this time of stress, readers? Anything nice to share? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

First Day As A Volunteer!

 On Tuesday this week, I did my first day as a volunteer at a primary school, on the Ardoch Youth Foundation program. It’s aimed at disadvantaged schools like the one where I’ve worked for the past twenty years. This school is in the same area as I have been working, so I’m quite comfortable there. Likewise with the tasks I’ve been given, even though I’m a secondary teacher. After several years with a literacy program in which I worked with kids whose reading level was well below where it should be, it felt very familiar when I was asked to read with kids who were well below Grade 4. I just did what I have done with my older students. It was nice to start with something comfortable and familiar.

The Grade 4 teachers, who work together in an open classroom, seemed very competent and caring. They were a bit frustrated when they discovered that yet again they would have to teach the kids how to look words up in the dictionary, because they have forgotten during term break. I offered to help out with that, so they could have to deal with fewer kids in that area. 

It was quite nice to see that they were excited about having an extra pair of hands, even if it is only once a week. And as I’m a teacher myself, they won’t have to excplain as much. 

The second session was their fortnightly music lesson, with a very good drumming teacher. They loved it! 

I’ve also offered to help with Breakfast Club before school, though it’s more basic than the one we had at my school - that was as much social as eating, it was indoors and there was toast and hot milk. This involves handing kids a bowl of cereal, which they take away to eat, and washing the dishes. Still, worth doing and at least the lady won’t be alone on Tuesdays. 

So far, very glad to do this. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

New Ardoch Volunteer!

This morning I answered my phone to an unfamiliar number. It was a gentleman who introduced himself merely as Nick from Ardoch. After chatting a few minutes, and his asking me what my last school was, he suddenly realised, “Hey! I know you! You know me!” And I did. He came to my school last year during the Literacy Buddies program. We both laughed and chatted some more.

I’m in. I’ve been allocated a primary school in the same suburb where I used to work. He did offer to contact my old school in case they wanted a volunteer, but I had a think about it and decided it wouldn’t be a good idea. I only said to him that people might think I was breathing down their necks so soon after leaving, but there was more. I know the politics of that school. I have been in touch with a friend there and I know some of what has been going on this year, enough to know I’d open my mouth and give some opinions. Not a good idea when you are just there to help.

So, it’s a primary school for me. I will be learning something new. I’ve never worked with younger kids before, except for a single session at the primary school down the road from my own school, when the teacher running the school’s Writers Festival wanted us to do workshops. This is my chance!

And even better than this is a special reason why it will be good to learn about younger children. Nick knows I’m a children’s writer. He asked me if I’d be interested in another program they do, a writer in residence thing, where you go to a primary school and run workshops for the kids, ending in a book, for which Ardoch will pay the printing costs. Not paid, of course, just another volunteer thing, but fun - and again, I’d learn something I can use later.

Wish me luck, that this school gig will work out! For now, I’m delighted!  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Post Teaching Day

So, this morning I woke up, having slept through a month’s worth of rain - something I wasn’t allowed to do till this year. I’m now on my way into the city to buy a warm dressing gown, with a broken umbrella that I only got to use once!

I spent the morning fiddling around with my application for volunteer work for the Ardoch Youth Foundation. I thought I’d at least be spared a police check, as I already had one for my VIT registration, but no.

It’s a complex application process that involves:

- an online PD that is mostly about stuff that as a teacher, I already knew(but some things you also need to do as a volunteer that you don’t as a teacher)
-a police check
-a Working With Children check that involves filling in a long long form plus check of your ID(actually, not too bad, because all you have to do is give them permission to check your passport and your Medicare card.

However, you then have to take your passport or driver’s licence(I have the first, not the second) to the post office to get your card registered. The, presumably, they post it to you.

Then you have to do a telephone interview(done yesterday)and a full day PD, to which you STILL have to bring the paperwork you’ve already done in the other processes. Signed by a chemist or whoever, just like for access to your superannuation money. I actually have a signed photocopy of my passport from last time, because the lady wasn’t satisfied with the first one, but I also have to go and get them to sign a photocopy of my Medicare card, and bring both originals with me to the PD.

And still no guarantee I’m going to be accepted as a volunteer!

Fact: I miss the kids. I still feel weird not going to work. And I want to help.

Still... after I get my Working With Children card, I’ll finally have a photo ID so I won’t have to carry around my passport. I hate doing that, I’m terrified I will lose it.

Wish me luck in getting back to work once a week!

Friday, May 04, 2018

Some Catching Up On The Last Part Of My Teaching Career

I don’t have many followers here(most on my book blog The Great Raven), but those of you who are following here have been great about commenting when I post.  And I haven’t been posting much on this site and not at all this year. 

There’s a reason. Last year it was because I was flat out over school stuff and just stopped now and again to report a problem or a triumph with my kids. This year it’s because I finally decided I’d had enough and took my departure from the school system. When I have had something general to say, I’ve said it on Dreamwidth. But this started as a general blog, and no reason why I can’t post between here and Dreamwidth where, let’s face it, I am only read by fellow Dreamwidth members! 

So, let’s talk about the last part of my teacher librarian career and the first part of the rest of my life, which still involves kids to some extent. 

Towards the end of last year, I added a student to my list of Western Chances scholars. I had been kicking myself for not realising she was eligible till too late to apply, when I got an email from someone at WC asking me if I’d mind applying for a student they though deserved one, who was at my school. I had never heard of him and, as teacher librarian, I knew EVERYBODY on my campus, at least by name. I said so and suggested they contact someone on the campus where he probably was. But I thought, if they can sneak in another application this late, why can’t I? I asked and they gave me a few days, once I had emailed the young lady’s reports. Fortunately, this student is highly competent and organised and we got the application done in no time flat! I finished the on line form and invited her to press the “submit” button. She is very good at everything except maths and her maths teacher told me she was fine, just not top of the class. Nevertheless, she asked for money to help with maths tutoring. 

Western Chances, in case I hadn’t explained, is a special scholarship for kids in Melbourne’s Western suburbs(there is also an Eastern Chances, which does it slightly differently). The kids concerned have to be very good at something, whether it’s academic, arts or even leadership. And they have to be from a family without much money. The whole point is that these kids often have to drop subjects they love because they can’t afford textbooks, elective fees, etc. That’s unfair. So a few hundred dollars a year can make a huge difference. One of my students last year, for example, is a maths genius. He was about to be invited to do Year 11 maths in Year 8. But that involves a horribly expensive textbook and an even more expensive calculator which his parents just couldn’t afford. So I applied and he got all that PLUS a computer! We didn’t apply for one, but we were told it was a strong application. 

The young lady I mentioned before has a professional mother who can’t get work in her area. The girl is a lover of books who also writes. And one day I heard her humming Mozart! The Queen of the Night aria. Which she knew and explained what it was about to me. She deserved a scholarship all right. 

The third student is very good at multimedia, and his music teacher tells me he will be excellent at keyboard if he can get some individual lessons. His sister was another of my students and became dux of the school in 2016. She is at university now. I nominated her when she was in Year 9.

At the end of last year, knowing I wasn’t returning, I arranged for a friend at work to take over the renewals. We got together to work in this year’s, at the pub, over breakfast, as it was her first time.  And on March 21, we went to the Edge theatre in Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD to cheer them in as they went up on stage to collect their awards. We were so very proud of them! 

But the way things are going at my school I’m kind of glad to have escaped. And the library... Well, more of this tomorrow. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doing a film tex(and more)t with EAL

This year I'm teaching Year 8 EAL. Most of them are kids I taught last year, so I'm comfortable with them and they with me. Two of them are actually in my literacy class a second time, having moved up with me, so I teach them six periods a week,

We have sent off the students' first letters to their "Literacy Buddies", a program which enables EAL students to write to adults in a business of some kind - this year, it is the local council and people who work there. We have to wait for the replies till early June and next week we're having a guest from the Hundred Story House, who will do writing activities with them - they're really enjoying that!

But this week we had a breather, so we started our film text, which is Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. You might think that's a bit odd for a school film text, but really, there's a lot of meat in it for discussion. They did Raiders Of The Lost Ark with their other teacher last term, so apart from a new student, they are all familiar with the characters and background, which makes it easier.

Obviously, you're limited in how much you can do with a bunch of tweens(although we do have a fifteen year old international student in the group). But I did it last year with my Year 8 English class and they did very well. There are issues of family, of obsession with a personal "Holy Grail" as well as the real one, of faith - even that old duffer Marcus Brody says that at his age, one is willing to take some things on faith and is clearly a devout man. Every main character has a personal "Grail" or obsession. My English students last year got it very well - and they researched things mediaeval(they were doing mediaeval history anyway), the Crusades, religion, the legend of the Holy Grail, Nazi Germany, whatever, choosing one - and did a group presentation. I asked all of them to tell me what was their personal Holy Grail. And as we were doing the Hero's Journey to help with story writing, I did a session on how Last Crusade fitted in, which helped them understand and made their stories easier to write.

This class won't be asked for quite that much. Last term they did posters. This term we will also do a couple of character dolls to pin up and show they understand.

However, it was also interesting to see the students' reactions. One girl commented, just before Elsa Schneider betrays Indy and his father, "I don't think she's very nice, Miss." I paused the film and said, "This is interesting, so-and-so. What makes you say that?" She couldn't explain, only said, "The way she acts" but I think it was one of those times when you have reasons deep down but can't explain. That will come to her later. I continued the film and she was delighted to find she was right. However, when we got to the scene in Berlin, I paused it again and pointed out that, while she wasn't a nice person, Elsa didn't approve of the book burning. She didn't fight too hard when Indy took back the diary, either. There is at least one bit later in the film that shows she isn't quite as bad as she seems, but I left that for later. My student said, "Maybe she isn't that bad, Miss." I agreed - not very nice, but not quite as bad as you might think. So did the others.

And they picked up things last year's class didn't always, such as the meaning of "She talks in her sleep."

We will be continuing and finishing our viewing next week. Fingers crossed that it works out!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Week 4 - Still Learning!

Today is my quiet day, with only one class. This morning's literacy class was partly word lists and then a story-telling activity. The idea was to have them practise speaking aloud. I felt I ought to demonstrate, to give them the idea of what was required. The storyteller tells a short story, only about three sentences, and the other two group members have to ask questions. The idea was that they would all take a turn at storytelling, but there just wasn't going to be enough time in the session, so after doing my demonstration, I told them that only one in each group needed to tell a story, the others had to ask questions.

I think I did the right thing to give them a demo first - it told them what they had to do, far better than if I'd just issued instructions, even if it did mean there wasn't time for them all to take a turn.

I wrote the story topics on the board and told them I'd like them to choose one of those rather than waste time trying to decide on their own. Then I invited them to choose a topic for me to tell. The vote went to the subject of "food poisoning" and I told them, in four sentences, the(true) story of my father getting sick after a pub meal where he ordered butterfish. I then asked them to ask questions and the ones they asked were generally appropriate, so I knew they had understood the task.

My concern, as I told Chris, the teacher who had devised the activity, was that some would waste their small amount of time arguing over who was the storyteller, then what the story topic was to be - and those would be the ones who were actually making an attempt at the task! There were at least three students, a group of friends, who might just spend the time chatting.

In the end, it mostly worked. There was one group where one of the girls was sulking after an argument with the other two. She refused to participate and there wasn't any point in swapping her with someone in another group, because they were all busy doing the task. Not to mention that the other two girls were doing just fine between them, as a pair instead of a group.

This is the second time that girl has had some drama. One morning, she burst into tears over some childish quarrel at the lockers, but by the time we got to the next class, she was happily sitting next to the girl she had quarreled with only ten minutes before. I'll need to think what I can do, but really, in the end, all you can say is - "Year 7! Oy!"

But for the most part, I was able to tell Chris it had worked, better than I'd expected. In one group, when they had finished, they happily tried a second topic, only a boy in the group asked if he could make his own. That was fine - I'd only asked them to stick to the topics to avoid wasting time.

The other day, in my EAL class, the students were supposed to be writing a profile as the first in a program called Literacy Buddies. One of the girls, who is in my Group 3 Literacy class, wrote that her favourite book was The Hunger Games!

"Isn't that a bit hard for you?" I asked, but she explained that she had worked out hard words from the context, then the dictionary, which is how they should do it. She had seen the film, which helped too. This is a student I trust, so if she said she read it, she did. But does she belong in my Literacy class? Yesterday I took a copy of the book into class and asked her to read the first couple of pages to me, which she did reasonably well. I suggested that she might like to be re-tested - the On Demand tests don't always get it right - but she was dismayed at the thought of leaving my class, so I suggested that perhaps she could just wait for the On Demand tests in April. If she does well in those, she will really have to move - when work is too easy, it gets boring.

At Book Club yesterday I focused on the Premier's Reading Challenge. There was a little bit of interest, not as much as I would have liked, but enough for me to consider registering my school. Then anyone else who wants to try it can. I've never done it before, but I'm not sure it's of much use to my school, which has a lot of students who are reading below their official year level. The Reading Challenge is aimed at kids who are reading at the appropriate level. The rules say that a student may read a book a year below their level if the teacher says it's okay, but they still have to read the same number of books from the official list for their level. That's not a lot of use to kids who are in Year 7 or 8 and reading at Grade 4 level, is it?

I told the group that while the only gift they would get from the Challenge for reading fifteen books this year would be a certificate, we could make a ceremony of it and perhaps I might add a book voucher, seeing it's just then. But I might see if anyone else is interested, perhaps as an English activity, or some such, and we can still do the ceremony.

I don't think I'll get much interest, but I can only try!