Sunday, 19 February 2012

Educating Mrs. denHartigh

The first three weeks have been a blur.  Without air con due to a power failure on the first weekend before classes began, I felt I would perish. Thankfully, it has been reliably cool in my classroom ever since, but temperatures have been usually into the mid thirties, with a few days in the upper thirties. My energy level has been weak. Concentration is frustratingly NOT THERE.  Sweat soaks my clothes even as I guzzle liters of water each day. Dehydrated contacts make it tough to read for long, or to focus on details. Accents made for a few interesting misunderstandings, mostly on my part, complicated by a zillion acronyms, as many as 4 different ones for the Department of Education alone(true!), much new vocabulary (textas? zoomas? A3 or A4 sized folders? Did I enjoy the "bitch?"...whaaaT??!! oh, the BEACH...she asked if I had been enjoying the beach...) a mountain of good intentions and precious little real ability to absorb, prepare or respond....
I must say, support has been amazing.  Everyone on staff has made me feel welcome, cared about and empathized with.  The collaborative design of the school program, as well as the integrated approach and continuity of resources across grade levels, combined with the clear focus on teaching to the NAPLAN standardized tests in May, has left me with quite a clear path for instruction.  Even in my numbed state, I am beginning to see a path.  Relying on pure intuition, I have managed to organize what is currently passing for teaching. Students have only had a couple of instances where they seem to have sensed my lack of response to their increasing volume as they test me. It hasn't lasted long, as I have an excellent group with quite good behaviors. I've been able to regain their focus, if not really mine! Defaulting to storytime works well, as do action-packed body breaks to counteract the very looong periods,  I must rework my timetable to avoid that! After all , these are 8 and 9 year olds who need to be active.  The classroom is much smaller than I 'm used to, with no area to gather the group on the floor for teachable moments.  It's very hard to stay in their seats all day!! I don't teach that way!
Our first trip outdoors to shady areas for a nature hunt produced relief from the 4 walls, but a wall of heat that  felt like the searing high setting on a hair dryer. While about 3 boys ran amock, most students were very  intent on sketching 4 specimens of flora or fauna that I had assigned.  Clipboards in hand, we hunted with our eyes and aimed to record observations. First, Peter found a dead bird, headless, under a nest. OK, we'll try not to touch it kids, just sketch what you see. Let's consider how it may have become headless.... Five minutes later the missing head was produced with glee by Bayley, who was sent to wash his hands after depositing the wee skull at the foot of slightly hysterical girls.  I decided we'd move on from that area. The contained raised flower beds near our new library entrance seemed innocuous enough.  Let's sketch the "kangaroo paws", that are blossoming here, class...Redback? Deadly poisonous spider, you say? OK, everyone take a big step baaaaaaaaaaaack.......yup, our librarian came out to confirm that it was a fine big female, spinning a rather lifeless looking grasshopper up in her web. Juicy dinner, indeed. Luckily, another staff member zipped off to find both my camera and our deputy principal, Johan Van Wyk, who doubles as a poisonous insect remover...., but not before we got both great pics and sketches! Of course, our lovely librarian, Jenny O'dea, handed me the perfect book on venomous creatures of Australia right on cue, so we sat down in the cool shade, on benches to read about redbacks.  I'd call that an unforgettable first Science lesson in Oz, wouldn't you? Quite a collaborative dance!
It can only get better.

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