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Shifting Sands

Posts tagged Australia

You know you work in a tough high school when you…

1. feel an overwhelming sense of pride when one of your students cares enough to cheat in an exam.

2. are not surprised to find an uprooted tree in your classroom when returning from lunch break.

3. once had a student suspended for plucking out his pubic hairs and flicking them at the girls during class.

4. have at various times confiscated items found in a student’s bag including a pet rat, 2 homing pigeons, a feral kitten, a snake and a bag of filled water balloons.

5. receive an email from a Deputy saying, “If you see Mr. Bloggs on the school grounds today do not approach him. Call me. He may be armed.”

6. set the absolute final, no more extensions! due date for any assignment by saying, “I am doing your reports Tuesday morning. Give it to me before then.”

7. cannot leave white chalk in the classroom because students will steal it to write, “F**k you” and “I am a c**t on the back of each other’s school shirts.

8. regularly receive letters, cards and emails from well behaved students begging you not to quit like their last 14 English teachers.

9. bring soap to class so you can send male students to the bathroom to wash penis drawings from their arms. (my husband wonders why they didn’t draw breasts instead)

10. spend the entire week before Parent Night inspecting files, folders, textbooks, blackboards, display boards and student jerseys for aforementioned penis drawings.

11. are an expert at dealing with belly button and nose piercing emergencies.

12. can’t allow students toilet breaks during class time. The toilets are locked because one of your students keeps setting fire to the toilet paper.

13. regularly send certain students to deliver a sealed letter to the Principal that says, “Please give Bradley (many Bradley’s are naughty) an errand to do and do not, under any circumstances, send him back to my classroom. Thank you.”

14. accept that climbing in and out through the window is a perfectly acceptable way for students to enter and leave the classroom, even when the classroom is on the second floor.

15. form close friendships with fellow survivors (former students, their parents and colleagues).

16. are not alarmed to pass a classroom at lunchtime and see students have made a huge pyramid from their desks and are perched on top of it, watching a video of the Muppet Show.

17. consider not informing certain students (and swearing the others to secrecy) when changes are made to the classroom roster.

18. are delighted when particular students become chronic truants. You are even more delighted when their parents avoid enquiries about the whereabouts of their child through phone calls, letters and the truant officer.

19. understand exactly what a parent means when they say they are, “all parented out” in regards to their offspring because you are “all teachered out.”

20. receive a prestigious teaching award and the first student to send a card congratulating you will be the worst student you ever taught (he actually turned out okay).

I am sure my friends and regular readers would be shocked to hear my lovely husband, Jeff, thinks I am not an entirely honest person. This belief arises from an incident that occurred in the first year or so of our relationship. Jeff had to travel frequently for his work and I would drive him to the airport in his Saab sedan and pick him up. One day we set out somewhere and the Saab started making a strange knocking sound, as cars of a certain age tend to do. The conversation went something like this:

“I should get that noise seen to,” said Jeff

“Has it always made that noise?” I asked.

“Yes. Why?”

“Because I was going to say if you asked me that I had never heard the car making a funny noise before- so you wouldn’t blame me for breaking your car.”

“You would lie to me?” asked Jeff incredulously.

“Of course.”

“You’d lie?”

“Mum said we could lie to protect someone’s feelings- so by lying I save you the feeling of being mad at me for breaking your car.”

“You’d LIE?”

He didn’t seem grateful at all.

My personal history is littered with numerous examples of my consideration for the feelings of others, particularly my teachers. Sometimes, I was just being a mean little kid.

As in this first example:

1. When she was 5 and I was 7, I told my youngest sister she was adopted.

My middle sister (MS) should take some of the credit for this as well. In fact, it was probably her idea. My youngest sister was different to us because she was blonde, slim and green eyed whereas we were brunette, compact and brown eyed. We had her believing she was adopted for ages, although I’m not sure she knew what it meant. We made her do stuff for us because she was like Cinderella. Which, I suppose, made us the ugly sisters. The fun ended one day when she asked our Mum, “Am I dedopted?” (sic) I don’t remember if we got in trouble or not. Probably.

2. When I was 11, I invented 50 literary quotes, books and authors

My last year of primary school was a nightmare. My mother and stepfather sent us to a private Catholic school and our teacher was a maniac. She gave us an exercise book of 50 pages and told us that when we were reading novels and we came to a splendid piece of writing, we had to copy it into the exercise book. We were expected to fill the book. I was a keen reader but the chances of interrupting my reading to laboriously copy out long pieces of prose was zero. Therefore, on the Sunday before the project was due, I made up 50 literary quotes worthy of Dickens with fictitious book titles and authors to match. My teacher was deeply impressed with the quality of my examples and I got an excellent grade.

 3. When I was 12, I invented a parish

In my first year of high school we had to do an assignment on My Parish for Religious EducationThis was a bit of a challenge because we didn’t go to church. Going to church and getting myself a parish for the purposes of the assignment would have meant getting up early and riding my bike to the Catholic church a few streets away for a few weeks. That wasn’t going to happen. So I invented a Parish, complete with a floor plan and sketch of the church. It was a wonderful parish. I got a reasonable mark for it and MS handed it in at her school when she had to do the same assignment the following year.

If everyone showed the same consideration for the feelings of others the world would be a much happier place, that’s all I’m saying.

Photograph by Jeff Corey

Photograph by Jeff Corey

 If you’re a novice teacher ASSUME NOTHING about the students’ prior knowledge. They aren’t completely empty vessels but it would be easier if they were, because a scrap of knowledge is a terrifying thing.

I learned this lesson with a group of 15 year olds during a geography class. It was a hot day, early in the semester and I hadn’t been teaching them long. We were studying a unit on climate types and I gave them a climate graph activity with questions to complete. Everything was going well until it was time to mark the worksheet and discuss the answers. The climate type shown on the graph was in the northern hemisphere whereas we were in Australia, the southern hemisphere. I didn’t anticipate any problems with using a climate graph from the northern half of the planet. I was wrong.

The students answered questions that relied on a literal interpretation of the graph well. They identified the coldest, hottest, wettest and driest months from the information on the line and bar graphs. Eventually we came to the interpretive questions – when are the spring, summer, autumn and winter months? Most of the students chose December, January and February as summer months and June, July and August as winter months, which would be correct for Australia. I breezily explained these answers were incorrect as the climate type depicted was in the northern hemisphere. Naively I assumed this settled the matter.

I was mistaken. My explanation was greeted with a sea of blank faces.

“You’re wrong Miss,” pronounced Johnny, “It’s always summer in December.”

“It is here in Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere, but not in the Northern Hemisphere,” I responded. “This is a climate graph of New York, in North America. It’s summer in July in New York.”

“And it’s always winter in July,” chimed in Doug, ignoring my explanation. By now I was beginning to feel a twinge of despair. The few students who had answered the question correctly were giving me some serious side eye.

I grabbed the world globe from my desk and improvised a sun with a confiscated water balloon. “When we have Christmas here in December, it’s hot because the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. When people in the northern hemisphere have Christmas in December, it’s cold and snowing because the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. We did all this last week”, I persisted. My efforts were met with more blank stares, a few wrinkled foreheads and derisive snorts from the “tough” kids on the back row.

“Santa! Sleighs! Jingle bells! Dashing through the snow! Bing Crosby! White Christmas! Snowmen! eggnog!” I yelled.

Not a even a flicker of comprehension, yet when we covered the material about seasons in class previously, they all coloured in their earth-sun diagrams and seemed to understand the concepts.

Suddenly, the fog on Johnny’s face cleared. “I know why you’re confused Miss,” he announced.

“Do you? Oh please! Enlighten me!” I sarcased (this is a word I invented- it means, to reply back sarcastically when exasperated).

“Miss Valentine” he explained with elaborate patience. “Just because it’s December over here, doesn’t mean it’s December over there!”

“Yeah!” chorused the rest of the students relieved Johnny, at least, knew his stuff.

Apparently most of the class were under the impression that when it’s December in Australia, it’s actually June in the United States.

I wasn’t looking forward to teaching time zones.