Special Watch

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Teachers are ...

the nicest/kindest/best/most considerate/most gracious people on earth!

Why? I have not met a single teacher or teacher-to-be who proves otherwise since I joined the education field, short it may be. My thank you list in my post "My oldest students thus far" is a good example of this. My stint in a sec school from Mar 05 to Aug 05 is another. Staff culture there is simply superb. Everyone helps everyone else, despite hectic schedules. For example, after reading a reflection written by a Sec 2 NA girl, for not handing in homework and not bringing textbooks to class repeatedly (she wrote about her 'selfish parents', who are separated and who refused to give her more than $2 pocket money per day and money to replace the books she has lost), I approached her form teacher to see if she is aware and to discuss if anything can be done about it. She then shared the background of the student with me and also told me she has spoken to her parents about the issue before but things remained status quo. She then promised to try again although she was not hopeful that it would bring positive results. And as a back up, she would help her apply for free textbooks. What a wonderful teacher! And this was just 1 of the case I had to approach her with regards to her rather problematic form class!

Teachers weren't like this in the past. I grew up watching my classmates getting slapped by teachers, yanked all over the place by the ears or hair; and watching with a sinking heart teachers throwing students' books out of the door, or into the dustbins (aren't they supposed to respect books?); as well as getting caned on the hands when I scored 16 out of 20 for a Science test. Then, I continued to grow up under teachers whose sole purpose in life was to finish teaching what was in the syllabus, without making any effort to 'beautify' or make interesting their lessons; as well as teachers who were biased against those in the last few classes. Pathetic.

Of course there were good teachers, though a minority at that time. The first teacher who showed he really cared for us is now a principal in a pri school in Sengkang. I have not met him since I left school but we were able to exchange news of each other thru my other good friends. :) And I heard he is terribly glad to know that I am becoming a teacher. :) Then, I had one of the best Chinese teacher who conducts her lessons by engaging us in group competitions (not quite CL but one step ahead of the conventional style of teacher talk teaching), and all of us did very well for our Chinese. My improvement in this subject was a phenomenon. :)

I am glad things are no longer the same. And all teachers today deserve to be happy on this Teachers' Day!


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Of Lly and Wh

Lly's micro-teaching
I like her confidence and her own energy level which easily infects those around her and keeps students engaged.
I like the 'stretching' start. But then this depends on the class because I once did this for a Sec 3 exp class (er..., ok, I asked them to smile to their neighbours when they stretch as well) and the students retorted "Cher, childish la." Sigh... Maybe just simple stretching will do.
I like her videoclip. Made things easy to understand and also a teacher's job easier.
Replaying the video was certainly fantastic. She could tell students where to focus on this second time round.
Confiscation - yep, very strict. No exceptions. Well done! Message sent across loud and clear to students. But is there a reason Lly chooses to place the items in her pocket? Hee hee, I was thinking I will need a super-big pocket, going by what I confiscated last week (book and VCD).
And personally, I tend to prefer teachers who smile a bit more and laugh more readily in class.
There were a few occasions when she told problematic / troublesome students to see her after class. Too many of these 'see me after class' may not achieve the effect that she wants.
Last, Lly tends to use lots of 'all right' and 'ok'. Something I myself am guilty of. But too many of those became a small flaw in Lly's next-to-perfect micro-teaching.
To sum up, the session was conducted really well, and within the time limit too! :)

Wh's micro-teaching
I like her Flash diagrams, especially the one where the drawn lines of a fold were initially superimposed on a picture, but later moved downwards to an empty space just below. Simply superb. Never thought of that myself. And of course those Flash stuff must have taken up a lot of her time.Wh really opened up my eyes to how Geog diagrams should/can be like. :)
I like the photos that she distributed to the class. But I thought it would be better if she has gotten the students to draw the folds on the board, and not do it herself. And of course, if the visualizer is working, I am sure she would have shown the pictures she has given to the other groups to the entire class.
But she does need to work on her voice which tends to 'break' when she wants to sound stern. Impact is not that strong when that happens.
Time given for group work was too long, as she was checking on the students. It was too simple a task to take up much time.
To sum up, it was a great Geog class. Folds have never been so explicitly and well-taught to me.

Sorry the above thoughts have to be so short. Am so short of time nowadays. Plus the fact that I have been feeling groggy and slightly high the whole of today, after being high on drugs the whole of yesterday. It was worse in the morning and I have problems concentrating on what my team mates were saying during our Ed Psy discussion. Terrible. And then I have to present to my exhausted Lit tutorial mates what Irony, as a poetic device, is all about. I think everyone lost it when I had to mention Socratic Irony... poor things. I suppose everyone has problems coping with NIE's pace, because the Arts faculty in NUS runs on roughly 10 hour per week (I know I had this luxury in the past). That's the difference between working life and life of a student. And I guess everyone have better get used to such a pace, because it is going to be worse next term (Practicum) and also after NIE. Life will be extremely hectic then.

But my Geog lesson managed to jolt me out of my euphoria from yesterday's drugs, since I was the topic of discussion for the first part of the lesson, plus all the laughter and excitement during the 2 micro-teachings. That's good. And I think I really woke up when someone mentioned the word 'maternal' - I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. :) :P :D Then the vent vs the pipe thing - pipe forms part of a vent, and a vent is a passage from the inside of earth to the earth's surface, is how I understood it. But I chose to label the vent (in my ppt and handout) near the top because I don't wanna confuse the sec ones, and also by labelling it at the top, the idea of a vent (from within to without) can still be explained (which of course I forgot to elaborate). Also, Wh brought up a point she forgot to mention in class earlier - the crater would be confusing to sec ones since I did not say anything about the cooling and hardening of the lava and that a lake forms only after some time. Yep yep, great point. Then also using more dignified analogies are more appropriate. Yes, will try. Another tip from tutor K - when confronted by unexpected anwers, bounce it off by asking other students what they think/feel. Then, too many objectives. Yep, had 6. It certainly might put students off. But I could have said, 'Yep, that's a lot. But if you can master all these by this lesson, I will be so proud of you.' Challenging them might do the trick. Then, the webcam thing. Great idea! Actually I did think of using video camera (yes, I have one) and then projecting the lava flow thingy to the whole class. But then, I cannot manage so many gadgets all at once, so I dropped that idea. And then the spelling of volcano and vulcanism, yes, indeed, I should have gone to class prepared with the answer. Then, even when one chooses to ignore the offender, the message must still go to the offender that the behaviour is not acceptable. Also, to 'test' if students understood your lesson, come equipped with some questions. Good tip.
Thank you to everyone for being so forthcoming, especially my observer C. :)

Ok, I have better stop. Lumping the above altogether is a sign that I am incoherent. Better get some sleep.


Friday, August 19, 2005

My oldest students thus far

Hi hi, I think I need to say a very big thank you to all my tutorial mates for letting me off so easily. Even the 'almost going to fight' and the crying thing stopped really soon. I guess it's because no one knows me well enough to try some really jia lat tricks on me (phew, since I graduated way before), plus the fact that I come across as a no-nonsense kind of person. (I am one, but it's only restricted to my expectations of myself, not my expectations of others.) Anyway, I really want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, and with a nice deep curtsey. :) I really enjoyed myself today. :)

And I know this would sound like a 'thank you' speech if I don't get on to other issues, but there are still many people I have to thank. If I forget anyone, pls forgive me.

First, when I started off greeting the class, quite a few of you gave me the cues that you were not acquainted with my surname yet. Sorry about that and thank you very much.

Then, I have to thank KF for lifting me out of the situation which threatened to become a never-ending story (whether the students can understand me or not), by putting the attention elsewhere so that I could go on. Thanks so so much.

Then, to W, who did not put the fits thing into action. But I've already made up my mind to start loosening the clothings, the first step in first aid... hee hee. I was trained in first aid many years back, so...

Then to LY and WH and W and D and K and R and a few others, for helping me clear up and for packing my stuff at the end of the class. Thank you very the much.

And thanks to SJ and those sitting around her in letting me know that there was a prob with my handout. Thank you.

And also to WH for following my movement faithfully when recording. Poor thing. I hope I did not give you motion sickness. Thanks so much.

Ok, now to my reflections.
Things I know I did wrong:
1. Got my sequence totally wrong at the beginning.
It happened because my Gan Jeong level suddenly shot up very high, because I allowed tutor K (sorry to say this, tutor K) to 'pass' his Gan Jeong-ness to me (which he obviously was not aware and did not mean to, and which reduced me into an ungrateful brat to say this here because he was being thoughtful on my behalf - sorry, sorry) because of the time constraint. I must not let it happen to me again.

2. Awkwardness
Then, I suddenly dunno where to put my arms or what to do next etc and ended with some really wierd poses. Reason, as above. It became better after I started to really warm up.

3. Giving out the handouts
Should have given out the pink one first, so that they won't copy the diagram from the white one. Something that did not occur to me.
Also, the awkward silence while SJ is giving out the handouts for me.
I usually get students to give out my notes to students for me while I get my ppt up. But because today's ppt is already up, it became awkward for me.

4. No consistency between handout and powerpoint slides
I am referring to the labelling of the volcano parts (and also something else). I did not realize this point initially, because I zapped the handouts for everyone a few days before today. But I made some minor changes to the slides after that. So careless of me.

5. Should have put the paper throwing to an end
I should have been firmer on this matter so that no one dares do it again.

6. Explanation is unclear
Got to work on my explanation to students. Everyone looked lost or bored today. And I should have my slides of previous lessons with me so that I can refer to them to refresh the students' memory if need be.

7. Use of pointer
I brought 1 today (the extendable kind) but I forgot to take it out initially. And later on, I was too 'into' teaching and so did not want to start digging for it halfway thru.

8. Oblivious to what is going on
Yes, I did not pick up a few things until it became really obvious (the drawing on the handout episode for eg). Sigh... must work on this.

9. The initial part of lesson after the drawing part
It was so boring right? I could have improved on it (say use a body - legs = magma or any other possibilities which I am too tired to think of now). But this is related to my bad explanation. So....

10. Energy level in class
I am usually more animated in class because my students were not vocal at all. I have a problem with today's class on my energy level partly because I was really exhausted and partly because I was not used to this class' style. I must learn to be flexible and adapt.

11. Group or individual work
My lack of creativity on how lessons can be delivered is showing. I need to sit and meditate over how to make use of cooperative learning effectively. This topic certainly has the potential to be taught with cooperative learning but because I haven't meditated enough on that, I didn't want to do it. Will need to work really hard on this part.

12. Things I didn't handle well
Lots of examples. The most obvious one would be I couldn't steer the class in the direction I wanted so that I could continue with the lesson (I refer to my asking students to put up their hands if they understood or not etc). Sigh... And of course I didn't handle all the little little naughty students episodes well. Was even quite slow to respond to certain incidents. Sigh... I think I went into the energy-saving mode.

Anything else? There certainly will be, after the reflection session on YZ abd LY's sessions. But I have not digested them enough to put them up. Will do so after my zzz. And I will have to depend on tutor K, my observer C and all my tutorial mates to fill me in on those problem areas I do not realize I have gone wrong. Please go ahead and shoot. I have my bullet-proof jacket on. So, it won't hurt but it will retain the bullets. Thank you in advance. :)

Some comments from observer C and tutor K:
1. Voice
I have my previous experiences in uniform groups (both in my own Sec sch and my previous job) to thank for that. I think I can control my voice volume very well. It is good to train up one's voice so that one can control it easily.

2. My HAHs and LAHs at the end of my sentences
This was done deliberately on my part. 2 reasons. First, I see this way of speaking as toning down my really overpowering presence, which can put students off. I don't want my students to hate the subject so I do not want to give them the full tongue lashing I am capable of. This is only stage 1 of my actions against misbehaviour. It will go up the next level should the need arise. (Which I think I should have used on some of them today.) Second reason, this is what I call the 'gangster language'. I learnt this trick from a teacher whose teaching style was very well-received by students from one of the most problematic class. They were able to identify with her and sort of see her as the 'gangster queen' of the class. Yep, those were the 2 reasons. Note also I switch my talking style once I am back to actual teaching.
But of course, if this spoils everything, I will have to stop doing this. :)

3. Tapioca flour vs lava
Even though many think it is an interesting idea, I have to say that we need to tell the students that this is mock lava and that real lava cannot be placed in a plastic bottle unless it has cooled sufficiently into a rock. Pls do not forget this part. If not they will grow up to always remember they can bring lava home in a bottle as a souvenir.
Also, personally I would not have let the students handle it unless they are the well-behaved (maybe upper sec) type, and if we are in a lab environment. But of course, how this is to be delivered, as a lesson to students, depends on everyone's preferences.
And preparing it is quite easy (needs some practise if you cannot cook). So, no prob preparing for 10 classes at one go, one to three days in advance. Beyond that it will probably turn bad. And this is also the recipe for glue (other than food) as well, so, it will get more and more sticky as time goes by.
Here's the recipe:
Tapioca flour (5 big spoonful for 2 bottles)
Orange food colouring
1 spoonful of salt and/or vinegar (optional - this will make it last longer)
Cool water (half a cup)
Lots of hot boiling water (at least half a kettle)
Some hot water for you to decide the viscosity

Place tapioca flour and food colouring (and salt/vinegar) in a big bowl.
Pour cool water in and stir quickly to dissolve the flour. Do start with little water and slowly add more water, if you cannot get all of the flour to dissolve. Once you stop stirring, the flour will settle. So, make sure you stir it well before you pour in bowling water.
Slowly pour in hot boiling water as you stir hard. It will reach a point when the solution starts to become sticky. Stop pouring water and stir thoroughly. You are likely to have your viscous lava at this stage. Take some out, put into another bowl and pour in some more hot water (not boiling hot), to thin it down. Reason why you don't use boiling water at this point - so that it will not be thoroughly cooked. We want the half-cooked one. Once thoroughly cooked, it will look really translucent, and then it does not show well once you put it on whatever background you have prepared.

If all else fail, look for me. :)

4. Introduction of topic
Yes, actually wanted them to compare the white study notes at the end with the pink handout to show them that they have learnt lots of new stuff today, and hopefully, that will keep them motivated and interested, since they now know that they have not wasted their time in my class. Also, I wanted to praise them on a job well done.

Ok, my brain is now dead. More next time. Thanks so much for reading, if you ever get here. :)


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Micro teaching of LY and YZ

Hi hi, this is going to be real short, not because I have anything against my tutorial mates or their micro-teaching sessions. The problem is personal, being the next one up today.

The following are some thoughts, which will serve as reminder to myself as I continue to stroll along my teaching career.

Some thoughts:
1. Great job!
First, both LY and YZ did an extremely great job and prepared themselves well for the class. Well done! We can all tell that the ppt and handouts have been created with lots of time and 'love'. And the other stuff (rocks and models etc), simply superb! They could have chosen not to use those but they did! :)
But I would make it known to students that all the stuff created by teachers are done with them in mind. So, perhaps, letting the students know that would be nice. I usually do that on my slides, with words like "prepared especially for my lovely students" and "brought to a bunch of great students by a great teacher". I know some people may feel like puking after reading this, but it does work with some students. After some time, they look forward to what little messages I have for them.

2. Confiscating ezlink cards
I am not a 'confiscate' person although I always threaten to be one. This is certainly one good item to confiscate, provided we don't add on to the problems (like losing the cards etc).

3. Smacking our students, even in jest
Certainly a no-no. Although a teacher can have a really kawan-kawan relationship with a student and that student does not mind being smacked for fun, it might be perceived as something else by someone who is not aware of the classroom dynamics. One can be regarded as lucky if we can get away with it. We can never be sure if our actions are taken down by students who have some other agenda in mind. Or am I being overly paranoid.

4. Tone
Both teachers were really firm. That's great. But again it depends on the class. Some students do get put off if they get put down by teachers. But for such naughty students as our class, we certainly need and deserve it.

5. Verbal 'sexual harrasment'
I don't know what is a good way of handling it. Should we just let it fall flat and not pick it up, and not encourage the student? Or should we make it into and joke and hope that it be forgotten? Or should we give a 'lecture' to the boy that this is wrong? Or something else... But personally I think my immediate response will be to say something like "Everyone knows that we are in a Geog class and not a Bio class now except you. And if you need something to be done to remind you of that, you will stay back for counselling with your parents." Hopefully that will stop that student and others who are planning on doing something similar. I hope that that is not too hurting.

Ok, tat's all I have now. Got to concentrate on my upcoming 'challenge'. And I certainly did not pay someone to hypnotize himself to be good today. :)


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Some thoughts and a teacher's dilemma

Many things happened in class today and I wanna quickly get my many thoughts recorded, before sleep comes and erode part of my memory ...

First, Steve Job's speech is going into my list of 'motivating stories', which I can tap on in times of need. I was given the advice that students love listening to interesting stories and generally, I find that it is quite true, provided one can tell a story well. So, this will be one of those that I can make use of, together with the life stories of Walt Disney's etc. In any case, these will be the politically correct stories to tell, as opposed to ghost stories, which I was guilty of telling once or twice in my 4 months of teaching, in order to bring the class to focus on me. Oops! I won't be blacklisted for this, will I?

Then came CY's well-thought out and splendid micro-teaching on Tourism. Well done, CY! If MOE can promise that all teachers are like her, I won't mind becoming a 15-year-old all over again. In fact, I would wish for that if all teachers were like her.

Some thoughts:

1. Tone of voice
Wow! What a friendly tone. There is no 'I am the teacher and you are a student' air at all. A good demonstration of 'tender loving care'. This is certainly the kind of teacher I would like to have. So, I think I need to work on this.

2. Instructions to students
We should give instructions explicitly. We cannot assume that they know. Often, they don't know. So, instructions should be as detailed as possible, but broken down into understandable steps. Common sense to us may not be common sense to others. So, never assume. But then, we are not them. How are we to know the instructions we plan to give are not clear, until students start doing some strange things they think are right? Well, I can only think of 'testing' the instructions on someone (non-teacher and non-student) to see if he/she can grasp what is expected of him/her rather quickly. And as time goes by, hopefully our brain will be automatically programmed into such a mode and giving explicit instructions becomes something as natural as breathing in the air.
But if all else fail, teacher's intervention is necessary.
In addition, it would be good if instructions are put up somewhere. Students can refer to them when they are lost or have forgotten the next step. Also, they serve as reminders not to go off course.

3. Learning goals
I think learning goals should be told to students, especially if the link of the activity to their curriculum/textbooks is not that clear, yet. I think saying or writing on the board something like "At the end of this lesson, you will have learnt ... blah blah..." will be good. The more goal-oriented (or results-oriented) students will certainly want to know why they need to do this, and what bearing this has on their curriculum, tests and exams. And the low-end students may not be able to link them up on their own if the goals are not told to them. The learning goals should be mentioned again at the end of the lesson. The loose ends should be tied up. And of course, our supervisors will want to see this done. :)

4. Logistics
I would agree that all materials for group work should be pre-packed before the lesson itself. It would save time distributing them for sure. And it also prevent all the unnecessary squabbles from happening.
Related to this would be the method of distribution. Personally, I prefer to get students to distribute materials for me. That will free us up for other things. When new to the class, we can rely on the monitor/monitress and those with the councillor badges to do a good job for us. But as time passes and we know more students, we can actually assign such tasks to other students, be they responsible students or students who need to be taught what responsibility is. And I do know of students who take pride in helping teachers out in such simple tasks.

5. Be creative, be bold
Honestly, I would not have thought of using STB's marketing means to conduct a class. My creative level is almost nil. The best I can think of is to ask students to list the places they would want to bring their foreigner visitor. So boring right? So, I really need to expand my creative cells a lot more! Everything can become a geographical teaching tool if we think different. Certainly, I have to get out of my comfort zone now!

6. Budget
For the budget issue, I think the amount should be decided for the students instead of by them. First, of course it 'forces' them to think deeper and more realistically. But more importantly, it spells the start of some learning points, ie an average tourist to Singapore stays only 3 days and hence their expenditure is not that high. This can then lead them into examining why this is so, and what can be done about this. These are all important issues in both the Tourism chapter and the Development chapter (tapping on tourism to fuel development). Ok, I may be going a bit too far.. But my point is, whatever we do, there must be a point to it. If not, I don't think it should be there at all.

CY's micro-teaching also brought to mind a couple of dilemmas which I will mention briefly here:
1. If a couple of students are always not paying attention in class, what can be done? (Am referring to those who have no fear of DM, no parents to guide them etc). Should we stop teaching and address the problem there and then? Or should we leave them alone and focus on those who wish to learn? In the former, we are taking away time that can be used in teaching, to discipline the naughty students, thereby keeping the good students waiting. And we run the risk of not finishing the syllabus because of these one or two black sheep in class.
If we choose the latter, what kind of teachers are we if we do not 'bring' those students onto the learning path? Should we leave them alone so long as we can still teach the majority of the students? ???

2. When a squabble or potential fight breaks out, should we raise our voice or should we remain mild and gentle?
On the one hand, raising our voices sometimes makes matter worse. But sometimes, it stops the problem there and then. Shouting at them can make them 'lose face', as CY pointed out. And because of this, students sometimes see the need to win the squabble or fight so as to protect his own pride.
On the other hand, if we remain mild, the squabbles may persist and escalate, although being mild has the advantage of protecting the self-esteem of that student.
But then, we must also know that there are other students watching. We must send the message across that such nonsense in class will not be tolerated and should not occur again. So, dilemma... dilemma...

The End.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My Students

Hi hi, didn't plan to come up here so soon. But the NIEportal is down. Sigh.... Can't get my homework done. Am actually at a loss what I should be doing next. Hai .....

So, here I am again. To record my experience as a contract teacher since March 05 and my 4 weeks' school experience.

Started off contract teaching with a rather 'kind' timetable. Nothing too heavy. 17 permanent periods per week (Geog + Eng). But of course, there were lots of classes to relieve on an adhoc basis. I had such a wonderful experience then. I could spend lots of time and effort designing my lessons, even making 'models' for students to use (minus the lesson plans since my HOD said that as I was not trained in that, she was happy to receive a copy of the slides I give my pupils - phew!).

While some classes are manageable in terms of discipline, I had 2 really challenging Geog classes. Newer teachers are always 'bullied', and getting them to hand in homework was next to impossible. At that point in time, I was really glad to be of a very big frame, with eyes that can turn murderous in split seconds, and a really loud and shrilling voice. But of course, these only helped to scare some of the more cowardly students into listening in class and getting their homework handed in. I was and still am clueless what I could/can/should/will do to motivate them. Sigh.... If anyone has any clues, please feel free to leave a message etc.

Then, came the holidays. While other contract teachers were having their holidays, I was enlisted to chaperone pupils on some activities/events, eg Kidsfest '05 held in ACS Barker Road, and The Community Drumming Festival '05 held in Simei ITE East. I am really glad that I said yes when different teachers approached me for help. It was during such activities that I really built a good rapport with most pupils involved, including those with discipline problems and who never listen to me in class. I was always barking at them for homework etc during lessons. But outside that context, I joked with them, laughed with them or at them, and encouraged them (I do crack jokes in class as well, in case you are mistaken). And of course, looking after their welfare (their drinking water, their food, their belongings and being there for them) did the most magical trick of all. So, my conclusion - the environment outside the class is more conducive for building rapport and gaining pupils' trust. The picture you see here is one taken during the Drumming Festival, where students had to put up a performance with tambourines. True, I had to handle quite a fair bit of paperwork. But those were time and effort well put in, with the best results ever. And when the term started in end June for my 4 weeks of school experience, I had a better time with the more problematic students. More of them handed in their work and showed more enthusiasm in class. Yippee! I was so so glad.

But then, life was not a bed of roses. My time table for term 3 increased to 27 permanent classes per week. And had other classes to relieve as well. I had less time to put into planning my lessons, which made me really unhappy. In addition to that, I was given a Sec 3 N/T class, for English. I had to rack my brains to get them mentally into the class, although they may be physically around. They were simply not motivated at all. Teachers told me they love coming to school because they can be with their friends. And they come to school with empty bags, with no writing materials at all. Sigh... So, I struggled throughout the 4 weeks. But towards the end of those 4 weeks, I decided that my games and movie-times in class were not done for nothing. They began to warm up towards me and became more involved, although it was still really hard getting them to do any written work. 4 weeks was simply too short. But if you do have any 'express' or 'fast-forward' ways of motivating such students, please let me know. :)

Oh well, this is getting too long so I have better stop.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Infant Blogger

Here I am, an infant blogger new to the blogging world. :)
And an infant in a teaching career too!
This blog will record events and my frame of mind as I grow.......

More next time.