Friday, 5 October 2012

Travel blog + new teacher = far too infrequent updates

Yes, I'm not neglecting this site on purpose.  But after a month of adjustments, my life is finally achieving some measure of balance.  So without further ado, a quick note that I sent to my favourite math practicum associate.

Good morning,

Well, I guess after a month of doing it, I can start to think of myself as a teacher.  Despite the insane amount of work required, especially since I don't have math this term, it has been an awesome experience.  Unfortunately, one of the unfortunate things about teaching three subjects that I wasn't prepared to teach (grade 10 science, 11 physics, 12 chemistry) is that I have had very little time to be a tourist while living in a fantastic country.  For as much as the people around here are incredible (whenever you need help, if the person you ask can't speak English they will find someone who can), I had no idea how tough it would be to learn Arabic.  At least my students are helping me with my Arabic; even though they aren't supposed to speak Arabic in class, there will usually be a 5 minute break in which I ask them to teach me how to say something new.

The students over here are wonderful.  They are far better negotiators than Canadian students so assessment is definitely a careful process.  And the joys of teaching in a private school where all of the parents know what the other parents' children are doing ... differentiations and modifications are extremely difficult to pull off.  Overall, picture a room that's half full of energetic students with the other half comprised of students desperate to get good marks.  There's only been one series of treats so far - my grade 10s marks leapt from a 70 average to high 80s after they worked incredibly hard on the first unit test ... so I had to get them some treats.  I haven't been able to get them their favourite treat yet (cupcakes of all things) but will find an excuse sometime.

I even avoided the new teacher's "teachers' college didn't prepare me for this" rant for the most part.  Oh, there were issues like:
  • Where are all of the grade 10 & 11 resources that you promised me so I wouldn't be developing 3 courses from the ground up?
  • How do you plan lessons when the power is out? 
  • How do you manage a class in a laboratory environment with rolling stools?
  • How do I teach with only a small rolling whiteboard, no projector and no access to computers?
  • Ummm ... where are all the grade 11 physics textbooks that you ordered? (back order cancelled as text out of print)
  • How do I teach waves and light without any laboratory equipment?
I figure that these are just the challenges that any new teacher would face (different issues, same stresses).  I realized very quickly that you get what you get ... so you can grumble or you can learn to deal.  I imagine that my desire to watch Shawshank Redemption again ("you either get busy living or get busy dying") was due to my initial stresses and 2 weeks of illness because of it.  But overall, my feedback has been great, my students are learning and administration has been incredibly supportive.

One of the best things that has come out of teaching science is that I remembered how much I loved science.  It had been years since I'd considered anything but math and history.  (get ready for an obscure reference)  Aside from the discussion with your students on elevator problems and normal forces after one of your grade 11 academic math classes, I hadn't thought of science in ages.  Strangely enough, despite having been a far better chemistry student (there are reasons I headed towards chemical engineering), I'm finding that physics is the class that I'm loving.  You don't get to slide textbooks (friction), hi-five students (Newton's 3rd law) or toss whiteboard markers (projectile motion) in chemistry.

The only difficulty I'm having with teaching physics is my class.  They've had a tough time in the school, and playing catch-up is extremely difficult.  One of the joys of international schools is that teachers who sign on for 2 years can't always survive the adjustment period.  My students had 7 math and science teachers over the past two years, and they're incredibly weak (mathematically and scientifically).  I'm still not sure that they understand why d = .5 a t^2 despite my attempts using v/t graphs, average velocity, and the ever popular "it's just one of those rules."  They are fantastic when you give them a formula and they know when to apply it ... but it's almost impossible to get them to visualize things outside of the box.  From what I understand, it's an outgrowth of teaching ESL students ... it's incredibly difficult to conceptualize things in a second language, especially when much of their Egyptian schooling is based on rote practice worksheets.

Well, I'm off to start getting my 10 science put to bed for the week.  After 1 month, I'm finally on top of the paperwork, interim report comments are done and I can finally devote most of my weekend to prep.  I keep telling myself that this will be the week that I finally can relax a bit during the nights ... perhaps this is the weekend that I get enough done to actually live that dream.

Best wishes and thank you again for such a fantastic practicum.  I find myself going back to many of the lessons you taught me - whether my students know it or not, my boardwork was far worse.