keelygriffiths

As some of you know I have moved back home to Cyprus and have been settling in slowly, getting the house organised and getting back online and into my studies. Today I am extending that to my Blog and I will be writing a few things that maybe of interest to people out there.

There will be a strong focus this year on my dissertation which is looking at using Social Networks and the Internet as an avenue for gaining professional development, for asking for and getting help, and for improving classroom practice. I will be asking questions, trying to understand how, why and when teachers all over the world has found this “global staffroom” and what they get out of it, as well as hopefully describing what I get out of it too!

However, there will be different topics, practically anything that would help anyone! In my head at the moment there is something on displays, on assemblies, on trips, and I hope to get them out in the next week or so. But I hope that you the reader will ask for topics of discussion and I will try to write something on anything that is mentioned, either here or on Twitter. Whatever the question, if I have an answer, I will put it out there!

As they say, “Watch This Space!”

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The dreaded word. Teachers are always worried about this issue more than any other I think. Students will either learn or not learn what we try to teach them. They are either capable or not. But, if there are students in the classroom that continually ‘misbehave’ then everyone is penalized. When a teacher finds them self spending more time disciplining than teaching them no one in the class can achieve their full potential.

So, what is bad behaviour? How you define the term is the starting point for anyone. The innate problem is that no two teachers will ever truly agree with each other on the definition. What one teacher accepts in class as ‘ok’ another may feel is completely inappropriate in their class. An observer may go in to the two classrooms, see the same behaviour from students and see two completely different approaches to the ‘problem’. And this third person may have a different view of what is happening and what to do about it than the original two!

This has to be where the school steps in. In order for teachers to create an atmosphere where good behaviour is praised and bad behaviour is not accepted the definition of the two must be made. And more importantly it has to be kept to. If everyone accepts differing standards of behaviour and if students are constantly changing their behaviour to fit in with the teacher’s expectations, then everyone is fighting a losing cause. How many students do you know that have given the answer “but Miss Such-and-such never tells us off for that”? Or worse, “Why can’t you be nice like Mr What’s -his-name?” On the other end of the scale how many of your students think you are ‘a push over’ who never disciplines anyone for anything?

Yes, these are the extremes. But the fact of the matter is that there are teachers out there like that and it’s NOT their fault! If the school has a defined behaviour code then these extremes cannot exist, if a school has a defined behaviour code teachers can spend more time teaching than disciplining because everyone in the school will be ‘on the same page’ and discipline issues in the classroom will naturally become less and less.

What does this look like? Naturally each school is different. Depending on the type of school, who is in charge, how big the school is etc etc etc, each school will approach the defining of a behaviour code differently. But it has to be there!

I introduced what happens in my school on @ePaceonline’s blog last week. I am not saying that schools should be the same as mine. However, we do seem to have just about every base covered. Academic, Negligence and Behaviour are all covered in our code, with a coding system for each. Teachers write the code for the behaviour along with the student’s name and this is put into the computer system at the end of the day. At this point the computer system creates a report, and if required a specific punishment. This is usually after repeated offenses of the same behaviour etc. it will also be dependent on the Grade of the student ie a student in Grade Ten will be more likely to be punished for a discipline issue than a Grade Two student because at their age they should really know better. Parents can see all the “infractions” on the school web site if they wish and the information is available to those who need to have meetings with the parents.

Academic infractions include such issues as Not Working, Not Paying Attention, No Homework, Copied Homework, Incomplete Homework, show that the student is not taking their education seriously.

Negligence infractions include such issues as No Book / PE kit / Pencil Case, Unprepared for Lesson.

Behaviour infractions have a huge range. There are almost fifty in this code alone. Starting with Improper Uniform, Sleeping/Eating in Class, Disrupting Class in a variety of manners, littering, going through Throwing Objects, Playing in Class, Disrespect, Missing Classes and to Bullying, Fighting, Damaging School Property, Stealing and Endangering Others. Teaching the younger end of the school there are many of these that I have never used ( thank goodness).

In fact, there are probably many of the infractions that have never been used by teachers in school. Why? Because students are more than aware of what the infractions are and how they will be dealt with if ever caught breaking them. So what can happen. For the ‘less severe’ there tends to be a build up of consequences. The first time there will be a verbal warning, subsequent times there may be detention at lunchtime, after school or on Thursday morning. From Grade Four there are report books issued that teachers sign if the student has behaved well and that parents have to sign to show they have seen. For the more extreme and severe infractions there are exclusions that last a day / week / permanent. Parents are brought into school once detentions outside of school hours come into effect.

As I said, I would not expect many schools to have such a detailed behaviour code as this, but it is something to think about isn’t it? All our teachers use the code, especially in Grade Three and above. Our little three-year-olds are given some leniency as you can expect. I mean, seriously, can they stay sitting for twenty minutes without moving or talking? The Infant Department only use the infraction paper in extreme instances. It is more likely that a quick ‘telling off’ and, if needed, a phone call home is what is needed. The child will not remember tomorrow what he did today. We build up to it. Detentions start in Grade Two once the students leave Infants and are deemed more self-aware and self-sufficient. Report Books start in Grade Four.

I hope that this has given you something to think about. How does your school deal with the issue of behaviour, misbehavior and discipline?

Tonight I was asked some interesting questions by a contact on Twitter (who will remain nameless because I do not have permission to use it), that made me realize that, although there are a lot of international schools in the world, and lots of teachers in them, there are a lot that do not know what the situation is with us. So this is tonight’s blog. What is it like to teach in an international school abroad? I can’t tell you all the facts, but I can give you my experience. I also won’t be telling all the facts – don’t want to scare you. Just kidding. Please remember as you read this I have been in international schools in one form or another for fourteen years – and I am not planning to change that any time soon.

Most teachers start on the international trail as their first teaching job. Either fresh out of college as a qualified teacher (as I did) or fresh out of college as an unqualified teacher. I left the UK straight after Uni because I did not fit in. I had been brought up overseas in military schools and quite frankly did not understand the mentality of those I went to Uni with. It’s sad but true. But that was years ago and I am who I am. I left Manchester on a plane to Moscow and never looked back. I have worked in the UK and Ireland since but only as interim gaps.

So what makes working abroad and in international schools the thing or me?

As a twenty-something year old it was to get away from UK politics and to explore the world. Salaries were paid to offshore accounts in those days with local pay as pin money. You were paid what you would be in England before tax and your accommodation was free. Having a local pay that you spent wherever you were and a salary that was paid into a bank account that you couldn’t touch meant that you saved. And saved. And saved.

It was an adventure. A new and different country to explore. Extra long holidays for trips to exotic countries. Opportunity to see things you would not get the opportunity to if you were back at home. And the money to do it. Our new batch are no different. Come half way round the world so that you are closer to all the places that you want to see. Twenty-something and can rule the world!

Times have changed. I am no longer twenty-something and quite frankly thank god for that. Schools are now paying what you would get after tax, but still with the free accommodation. Prices have risen around the world. And most of all you have to check the exchange rates on a regular basis cause most schools pay locally these days not offshore. Most people come abroad to still see the world but less about the saving of money. (I saw what our lot are getting paid this year so I can guarantee its not for the money).

If you can get a contract like “the old days” it’s now cause the school is somewhere most people would not choose to go. I’ve worked in these places. Moscow, Kuwait. What the military would call hardship postings for one reason or another. I am not going as far as to talk about Saudi – which I refuse to go to no matter how good the pay is.

But I’m not here for the money. Let’s face it, no one got rich in teaching. God knows we tried. The experience is different. The kids are different. Kids are the same, I will always say that. They are different too. International Schools are at the end of the day fee paying – and the more British, the higher the fees. They are businesses. A lot if teachers these days that come to our school cant get their head around the fact but its true. And those teachers don’t stay too long either.

I know what you are thinking about my kids. These kids are spoilt. They go to the best cause their parents can pay for the best. True. These kids know more than your average student – forget it. They are truly the empty vessels that we are warned about. Parents are paying for the education. You must educate! I don’t quite see myself as too old but… Before I went to school my mum taught me to read and write my name, numbers, and alphabet. These kids arrive with nothing. Nothing. And not because they are second language English. They know nothing in their first language either. But they are cute. And if you are up for the challenge they are yours! They are a lot more innocent in a lot of ways than you are used to, more insular. That is not to say that they won’t lead make you go grey though. Trust me on that one.

As I said, I am no longer the twenty-something year old that wanted to get away from the UK politics and see the world and make money. I am here to stay though. Why? Its the challenge. And it’s the lifestyle! It’s sunny and warm every single day. I don’t need to lock my door at night. How many of you can say that? Well, that may have something to do with the two dogs I have. We will have managed to pay off a mortgage in ten years. Everyone more or less is polite to you, especially when you say that you are a teacher. They look up to you. They are in awe. A teacher wow you must be someone worth talking to. We still have status!

I have worked in schools that charge the earth and have no resources what-so-ever. I have been given a piece of chalk and been told to get on with it. No National Curriculum, no social workers. No photocopies, no computers. Only kids. And me. I have also known teachers who have worked in schools that on the first day of the year every student is given their own laptop (and that was twelve years ago). This is something you probably wont know until you get there, so if you have favourite resources consider taking them with you.

Schools abroad are different to what you are used to in the UK (or the US or anywhere else you are reading this). Kids may be kids and schools may be schools, but you will be working for a business. I am giving you the opportunity to go into the move with your eyes open. Make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into before making the move. Do your homework – especially if you are thinking about coming abroad later in your career rather than as a newbie. You will have a year or two year contract that will be very hard to break if you decide you don’t like it. Please do not do as many do and go home at Christmas and simply don’t show up after it.

Read up not only about the school it about the country as well. No where is what you think it’s going to be. MAKE THE MOST OF WHEREVER YOU GO! As I said, it’s not like home. Your family and friends aren’t just down the road. Your local isn’t your local anymore. You have to work at international living. You cannot expect everyone to like you, or even talk to you, when you arrive. The reason people leave quickly is because they have not put any effort into it. Some schools have great staff clubs that ensure that everyone is doing something (especially in those ‘hardship postings’ that I mentioned) others expect you to be adults and run your own lives. My advice to every new teacher I meet is to make a life outside of the school walls. And quick as possible. It is too easy to lose yourself if you don’t. Most places with expats have a rugby club, a Hash group, women’s groups, choir, church. The list is endless. But you have to go out and join!

So, real practicalities. You will be employed through a telephone call or in a swish hotel in London (New York, Sydney…) you will be given the same prospectus that parents are given which are all glossy and pretty. You may be given some information about what it is like wherever you are going as a member of staff. It will give you an idea on what to take with you, dress code of the school, electricity voltages etc, and how much money to take with you for the first month or so.

Usually you are expected in country mid August for set up and training etc and you will not get paid until the end of September. A few schools will stock your fridge for you, some allow you to take an advance on your September wage, but remember that if you take that you will have less to live on in October too. Conservatively plan on a thousand to fifteen hundred pounds. There will be things that you will need for your house however good the school is. The kettle could be on its last legs, no drying frames (always on my list for the first trip to Carrefour) and an endless list of creature comforts that you realize that you cannot live without. A credit card isn’t a bad idea either. If you are bringing a family especially you will probably want to rent a car if it’s a country that doesn’t have that good a public transport system!

Expect upheaval when you arrive to. Remember, YOU are starting from scratch in a foreign country. The school will do what it can but most of it is up to you. Again, it is dependent on which country and region of the world you move to but there will be certain red tape wherever it is. The school will have banking organised – they have to pay you. Most of the paperwork is filled in for you, you just have to sign on the dotted line. Dependent on what you are getting paid and on the kudos the school has with the bank you may be offered a credit card straight away but will not be able to use it until your first pay goes in. Most banks will also give you a loan for a car – but not until you have shown wages going into your account for at least three months.

Working-Visa requirements are something else that you will have to achieve. The school will take you through the process but expect some sort of police check, fingerprinting to iris scans, and health check. AIDS tests are standard in the Middle East. And probably the Far East too. They will do a full blood work up. Some countries, I remember in Kuwait it was the case, chest x-rays are taken for TB. Females may have to have a pregnancy test (that was Kuwait too). You will be given medical insurance paid for by the school. Depending on the size etc you could have an international scheme such as BUPA or you could have a local scheme for that country only. Either way the cards will be valid for private medical care and you will be given a list of hospitals and doctors you can use.

You will also have to hand in certified copies of all of your education certificates to prove that you are entitled to the job that you have accepted. Your school should give a list of things such as this to ensure that you arrive in the country with everything you need. If they don’t, ask. Trying to get certificates from the UK after the fact is a headache. If you are married and/or have children that will be accompanying you, marriage certificates and birth certificates will also need to be certified. If you are taking family make sure that the school sponsor them as well. If you join on your own and then bring your family later you may be told that you have to sponsor them and although the school will help you, you will be financially liable for the process. Also if the school sponsors your family it will pay for your annual flights as well as giving discount for schooling (as long as they go to your school).

Some other things that you will have to jump through hoops for after all that is done. Your UK driving license will be acceptable up until the day you have your visa stamped and residence card in your hand. After that you will need a local one. This is usually a formality if you have a “major” license, a quick eye sight check, photo taken and hand over some money. Some licenses are not accepted though and you will have to sit a test – even if you have been driving longer than the instructor has been alive. But that is another story completely.

Here in the Middle East you will also have to get a liquor license if you want to have booze in the house. This is usually ten to twenty percent of your salary per month. And you are not allowed to buy more than that. Don’t worry though it is cheap enough! You do need the schools permission for all these things and a letter from them describing what it is you want, but if they are organised there will be someone in the office that only deals with the millions of things staff want. Again, remember that you are starting afresh. You are unknown in that country and have to create your life there.

During this time you are thrown into the classroom with your new class and you focus on that. If you survive the red tape and processes of the first couple of months then it’s plain sailing. Until your visa renewal when you have to go through the whole process again. Yep, including the AIDS test. After that you can really settle into the school and enjoy the teaching and learning experience.

A few other things to think about before taking the plunge. Some countries, all in the Middle East, have gratuity packages where you are give a percentage of your salary per year on successful completion of your contract. Some schools have schemes where they will invest a part of your salary and top it up. But you will need your own saving or pension scheme in place because there isn’t such a thing. If you want to continue paying National Insurance contributions that is up to you to organise. Your salary is tax free and so needs not be declared, but if you are paying a mortgage the tax man will want to know where the money is coming from – unless you are willing to rent out your family home. Make sure your will is up-to-date. Obviously the twenty-something’s that rule the world have just ignored this paragraph, but those who are older and more sensible will take heed. My dad ensured that I had a pension and investments before leaving the UK and thank god he did. Working where there is no employer contribution system means that you have to pay more than you would at home. Of course, a lot of people do not do this or, like my husband, do it later after lots of convincing. It depends on how long you are planning to stay abroad. If its just for a few years then heh. But be warned, there are lots of teachers that plan to go abroad for just a few years and spend the rest of their career there!

I hope I haven’t put anyone off making the move. However, it is probably the biggest decision you will make and there’s little chance of going back on it once it’s made. Most countries have a three month probation period after which you are entitled to submit your resignation without financial penalty but most schools try to ignore this. At the least they will not repatriate you and some have been known to charge for the initial flight if you do not fulfill your contract.

After fourteen years and half a dozen countries and schools this is the life I have. My next move will be home, but that’s Cyprus not the UK and so I guess I am a life-long expat. I will be working there too and no doubt will hit some of the red tape that I have done else where. And I am more than willing to jump through those hoops.

I hope you would be too…

Ok. School is kind of imploding at the moment and so I am NOT getting into it at all.

Let’s focus on what we can learn outside of school. In my quest for further learning I have started with other social media outlets to see what they are and what they do. Naturally this is going to start out very small.

Google+ What can I say? My hubby is in my family circle already. Very cool! Now all I need is a few people to follow or be friends with so that I can have other circles too. It’s very lonely otherwise. Any suggestions would be appreciated. The more you put in the more you get out so I really hope that I can do my best.

LinkedIn Have added a group to follow so I will see what I will see. This is all a professional site so education is key. Again, any good suggestions out there?

Quora Oh my! This is completely different. Like a wiki for questions and answers. Have seen some names mentioned that I know from Twitter so that is cool. Need to think of a question that won’t make me seem completely foolish and check out other questions to see if I can answer them. Oh Boy! Sounds like I will have to use my brain for this one!

Well, that was my week and weekend. Three new challenges that will pull me in different directions. Things to check and things to work out. I will hopefully be able to keep you updated in my quest for further learning and hopefully even see you on the quest!

Week One went all of a rush and exhausting enough that nothing happened outside of the school. I am probably not alone when I say that physical exhaustion sent me to bed hours before bedtime, after sleeping on the couch for half an hour.

Week Two is now done and what have we learned?

Take a four year old boy in my class. No, seriously, please take him! He saw my iPad sticking out of my bag on the first day of school and gave me a ten minute talk on how he has Angry Birds on his and how to play it. I then go and ask him to find his seat and he can’t find it even though his name is on the table in both English and Arabic. Now, I have been teaching a long time and expect kids to walk into the classroom not being able to read their name especially in English. After all that is why we have them written on the desks. So why was I surprised that this particular boy couldn’t? Was it that he was so articulate in his spoken English? Was it that I had expected him to have used other apps on his iPad that would have started him reading at home? Was it that other children who hadn’t even dared to even say hello had accomplished this task on their own? I honestly can’t answer that question!

As I said two weeks have now gone by. What does and can this boy do now? What has changed in the last two weeks for him? Well, he now knows where he sits. Great! He can read his name and other children’s names well enough on books and pencils etc that he can hand them out at the beginning of a class. Fantastic! He is very articulate when speaking and obviously knows a lot from home or previous schooling. Brilliant! But he hasn’t mentioned his iPad since the second day, in fact none of the class ever mention what happens in their house at all. Strange? Maybe not.

If I think back to last year I can’t remember any of my students ever talking about home either. is it something that we do? Or something that happens in the home? Do they think as they act – that home and school are two completely different worlds that have no bearing on each other?

I am sure parents, just as mine did, ask their children “What did you do today in school?” But I am seriously asking the question, of myself and those reading this, why do we not ask “What did you do at home?” other than when we ask then to write about it. Sure, if I wanted to do this for all the children in both my classes we would never get any work done. Sixty kids is a lot if you are going to listen to them!

I think though that this year I am going to try and break down these barriers between school and home, even if the barriers have been mine in the making. Have I just not cared what happens to these kids once they leave the classroom? I would like to think that that is just not the case but… I think the evidence speaks for itself. I DON’T KNOW!

A challenge for me in this academic year. Maybe a challenge for you too?

Hey Guys.

 

As the title suggests I am putting a proposal together to do my dissertation for my MA Ed on the use and uses of social media by teachers and others in the world of education. This has been approved by my tutor as I cannot possibly do anything within the school I work in.

The dissertation is due to start in January 2012, but as this is a completely new medium for me I am going to get to work as soon as I can. After all, this is all new to me!

I hope to be able to do the following, with your help.

1) A survey, possibly through twtpoll (or any others that people may suggest), on why teachers use social media / which they use / how often, what teachers gain from using social media, what ultimately teachers feel that their students gain because they are using social media.

2) Delve into YOUR blogs etc for/as research.

3) Use this blog to ask questions and hopefully gain a fuller insight not only social media but technology in general, how it is used in the different curriculums around the world and what YOU are doing to help your students in their Internet World.

As some of you may already know, I have not really used technology and social media before, it is not used in my school – the computers have been broken for three years and phones etc are banned from the premises, and I have only been using Twitter, Facebook and this blog since the beginning of the summer.

I hope to be able to do an awful lot more in the future!

 

PLEASE HELP! I know that there is no way I will be able to achieve anything without the help of my PLN and any other teacher out there who can give five or ten minutes of their time every now and again.

I would love to hear from ANYONE who has any ideas / suggestions / help and particularly support.

I think just about every teacher can agree that they assess their students on a daily basis on a range of concepts, skills and level of understanding, even if they do not write the assessment down and make it “formal”.

But, and this is my main question, what do they / I / you do with that assessment?

Let me give an example.

In September I will have thirty new Grade One students arrive in my classroom. Some of them will have been in a KG class, either in my school or another, and some will not have. In English for the first three weeks I will be teaching the class the alphabet. They will be working on how to write the letters correctly, how they sound phonetically, and what words begin with those letters. A-I will be covered in week one, J-R in week two, and then S-Z in week three.

In week four comes the assessment. Oral phonics will be tested where the students will be asked to ‘read’ the letters out loud to the assessor, a ‘spelling’ test will be completed where students have to write the letters correctly after listening to the letter sound and a word given that begins with that lesson, and a phonics test will be given with pictures of objects where the students have to write the letter the object begins with in a box. These are all things that they will have completed in the lessons prior and ‘should’ be able to do for the test.

At the beginning of the next week we teachers get to see the tests that have been completed and marked to see which students know the alphabet and which students have gaps in their learning. While it is hoped that all the students in my class have ‘passed’ the tests and ‘know’ the whole alphabet, this is somewhat unrealistic. Yes, I will have taught the work the best I could. Yes, the students will have paid attention to the lessons (?!?). Therefore yes, the students will know the alphabet and got full marks in the tests.

Now the reality.

Child B wrote a g for the elephant. Does he think that elephant begins with g, or he wrote the e reversed? How do I know and what do I do about it? WHEN can I fix this?

Child F missed the first week of school and therefore missed A-I with no time in school to complete the work that she missed. Missed lessons = missed knowledge. What can I do about this? WHEN can I do something about this?

Child X,Y,and Z all put b for d and d for b. Was it that they did not hear the letters correctly? Or Did they reverse their letters? What can I do about it? WHEN?

THAT IS THE BIG QUESTION.

I have taught the lessons, the students have completed the tests that are supposed to be formative assessment. But what happens now? If the test results simply go into my file and are ignored how can the assessment be formative? Ignored in the bottom of the drawer the assessment can only be summative – the students were tested to know whether they knew the alphabet, most did, some didn’t. Time to move on to the next concept!

Right? Wrong!

How can the students that showed gaps in their learning possibly continue onto the next concept or three. In week five we will be covering end consonants of three letter words, week six is medial a and e, week seven is medial i, o and u. Week eight are the assessments on those concepts. Child B will not write a letter e for a week and a half so how can he relearn what he needs to know? Child F will be introduced to b,d and g in week five, a and e in week six and i in week seven, but what about c,f, and h? Is it seriously going to be over two months before the student gets to hear and use these letters in a phonics lesson?

If we are to have assessment within learning we MUST use it to inform our planning. The first phonics lesson of week five should not be end consonants as the curriculum planned, but a recap of the letters that the students showed they did not know! Extra handwriting that week should be the word ‘bed’ to ensure that those letters are written the correct way! Child F will need extra time to complete the work that was missed and parents should be informed so that they can work with her – let’s face it, it will more than likely be down to the parents that she missed the first week to begin with.

OK. I know what you are thinking.

So there will be very few of you (none) that have tests on learning every forth week. There will probably be very few of you (none) that will teach the entire alphabet in three weeks to your Grade / Year One class. Most (all) will probably have read this and thought I am nuts. Yes, the example seems extreme to say the least, but the point is still relevant and obvious –

Assessment, however it is done, whenever it is done must be INFORMATIVE and USED by the teacher to plug gaps in the learning of those who did not come up to standard!

Assessment that is left in the bottom of drawers and ignored is SUMMATIVE not formative and might as well not have been done if it is not followed up!

So I ask you. What will you do with the assessments that you make next year?

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