“Happy” Children’s Day

Today was Children’s Day. When I was a kid, Children’s Day was one of my favorites. Now that I’m a teacher, Children’s Day becomes a nightmare. I was the caterer, the waitress, the maid, the janitor, the host, the game master and the cheerleader. On top of that, my biggest challenge was to ensure that every kid in my classroom was happy.  By the end of the day, foods were a little too much and drinks were not enough, two kids cried during the game I hosted, one got his shoes wet after school, and some were constantly nagging about how I didn’t spend time playing cards with them. My goal of keeping everybody happy on this day was obviously not achieved. The mistakes I’ve made are as follows:

  1. No proper delegation – I should’ve prepared a job list for the kids to share some responsibilities. My mistake of thinking that cleaning means no fun for the kids. I could have made the process of cleaning up enjoyable with Barney the Dinosaur’s clean-up song.
  2. Food overload – I should’ve served the fruits first, let them chit chat for a bit. Then, I will serve them with the main course followed by deserts and then only then, junk food is allowed.
  3. Not enough of drinks – I should’ve let everyone have their cup filled first, then serve those who need refills.
  4. Crying students – Game rules should be instructed clearly so that everybody is satisfied with the punishment.
  5. Divided attention – There shouldn’t be overlapping sessions going on. Some kids were still eating, others had already started their board games while I was busy doing the cleaning. I should’ve insisted on having the kids to follow the program flow by being a better Master of Ceremonies.

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Happy Halloween

I love Halloween. I promised myself after the exam week which was the beginning of October, I would sit down with my kids and decide how to decorate our classroom with the Halloween theme. But right after the exam, I was busy marking the papers, collecting their fees, helping them to order books for next year, covering the final chapters, attending year-end meetings, and getting to other important duties I have before the semester break. I remember the day before Halloween, a kid of mine who’s just handed in her drawing assignment, asked me ‘Trick or Treat?’ and offered me a lollipop, and that was when I realized I broke my promise to myself. That night, I designed the PowerPoint slides with the Halloween theme and headed down to the store to buy a pack of sweet candies and a pack of sour candies. The sweet ones I gave to those who wanted a treat and the sour ones I offered to those who answered, trick. Lame, I know. I could’ve sworn the idea of decorating the classroom was better than this last minute arrangement, but fortunately, my kids enjoyed it anyway.

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Interruptions

Upon entering the classroom, I would usually be mobbed by my kids who tend to share with me whatever that’s happened to them. This immediately interrupts the smooth commencement I desire and wastes a lot of time in getting the kids ready for learning. I’ve spent months training them to follow the rules but obviously, I wasn’t strict enough. Once in a while, I’d allow them to bend the rules probably because I am still wondering if refusing them or kept saying not now would make me a cold and insensitive teacher.

I am an advocate for upholding the role as a facilitator in the 21st-century classroom instead of being a dictator, it doesn’t bother me so much if the kids are very expressive and assertive. In fact, I appreciate their enthusiasm and active participation. However, when there are times I have to gain control and make a few important announcements or deliver a presentation, it can be very frustrating having to be interrupted after every few words I’d said.

So, having several tricks under my sleeve can be very handy. Saying “flat tire” works for some occasions and then I realized that I can’t always be louder than their chatter in chorus. So when I need the kids to stop talking, sit down and get in position for learning, I’d usually walk away from my desk and stand right at the door, scan the class while wearing my poker face. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a reward system which I’d stick smiley faces or angry faces on the board; so, what I’d do is that I’d take one of the angry faces and showed it to them. It means I’m going to reward them with a negative mark that day. Besides, I also tried counting down with my fingers, standing on a chair, writing on the board, and etc.

After gaining their attention, those few seconds or minutes of absolute silence smell like heaven and that’s when I’d speak with utter seriousness in my tone and make my speech as succinct as possible. Having the kids to raise hands when they have questions while we’re talking may not work all the time because that’d either make the kids not paying attention to what we’re saying next or forgetting what their question was. So, the best way is to let them practice writing down their questions on a piece of paper.

Anyway, what’s worth mentioning here is that these tricks wouldn’t have worked if the kids were unconcerned about the fact that their teacher is upset or that their teacher needs to say something. So, what they taught us about building a rapport with the students during the first week is actually well-founded.

Interruptions are very common in the classroom and instead of finding them repugnant or feeling defeated, teachers should learn to embrace them and continue to experiment with different techniques of coping and keeping them to a minimum.

 

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This would only happen in a classroom without students.

 

 

 

Fear or Love?

According to my meager experience in teaching, I have observed that most of the teachers prefer exercising fear in their classroom management. I can’t say that they are not promoting love, perhaps their very basis of applying ‘fear’ theory is love per se.

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Teachers can’t be perfectionists. They just can’t. ‘Coz if they are, either they are fooling themselves or they are not doing their job right. Teachers prepare their lesson plans and contingency plans and prepare themselves for failures at times. Perfectionists prepare their lesson plans and expect everything goes their ways. The latter needs full cooperation from the kids and the easiest way to making the kids obedient is through punishment which spells F-E-A-R.

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Love can be found in the classroom in different modes. One of them is listening to the child, but that’s almost impossible if there are 30 kids in the classroom. You’d listen to one, the others strive for attention as well, and then before you know it, the bell rings and everybody goes home without learning much academically. Ironically, the teacher who listens to every child just to show that she cares will be too busy to teach or conduct the lesson which is sort of the core of her job and that can’t be love anymore.

Group Work

Today, 21st-Century Classroom emphasizes highly upon pair work or group work. You can see it from the ways they suggest teachers arrange the structures of the seating arrangement in the classrooms. It is obvious that they encourage the use of peer-based learning model. Some even suggested that peer-teaching has lots of benefits including conflict management. The irony is that sometimes it will cause conflicts, at least initially.

Facing a class of 9-year-olds in the middle of the year where friendships and cliques have already formed. Inclusiveness is apparently too new for my students. They told me, “we can’t work together, we’re from different channels,” or “I can’t sit with him, he’s too messy.” “She’s too stupid, I taught her many times, she’s still making mistakes. Teacher, I can’t teach her, the fastest way for us to be the first group who’s done with the work is to give her the answers to copy.”

Since the concept, one size fits all, doesn’t work all the time anymore, teachers are adjusting and adapting the materials or tasks for students with different abilities. However, streaming the kids into different groups according to their different levels so that differentiation instructions can be carried out smoothly will somehow cause a sense of pride in the advanced kids and shame in the slower and weaker kids. Should we educate our kids about the true purpose behind such streaming, will they be too young to understand? How to tell the proud kids that there’s nothing to boast about when in fact, we are showering them with praises and awards because of their diligence and especially intelligence? How to tell the weaker kids that it’s okay when in fact it’s not okay to be slow when we want to prepare them for such a rapid-changing world with high-edge competitiveness? These are the questions I need to continue to explore in my journey as a teacher.

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Feedback

Feedback is one of the key items in our learning kit. Great teachers exploit feedback to educate. Feedback can be in many forms including written, spoken, or body language.

Marking the students’ work is the best chance to give students written feedback which communicates the academic problems students need to pay attention to. Different teachers may have different styles of marking, it’s important to enable the students to first understand what each symbol stands for and what action is required of the students. Students can, therefore, learn better and witness their own progress.

When a student makes a mistake, teachers need to be wise when trying to correct the student so that the ultimate goal (which is for the student to learn from his or her mistake) can be achieved. Instead of making the student feels ashamed of his or her mistake and encouraging others to laugh at such mistake, a teacher needs to come up with different strategies that can help this student to learn the concept and thus ideally not repeat the mistake again. As the saying goes, don’t waste a good mistake, learn from it.

Sometimes, in the classroom, in order not to disturb the flow of the lesson, teachers adopt body language to give feedback to a particular student who got sidetracked or did something inappropriate, such as a wink, a glare, or a frown, which carries different meanings and again, it’s important that the student understands what that gesture or facial expression means and what’s the right thing to do instead.

All in all, feedback is a great learning tool and should be used judiciously and constructively. Positive feedback is motivation, negative feedback is a growth opportunity. Both giver and taker should have a mutual understanding in order for its objective to be achieved.

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Self-care is not selfish

It’s been a month now that I started working as a teacher in a real school. Challenges and demands are everywhere. It’s really exciting, but at the same time, exhausting. I constantly feel like I can’t catch a break or hold my horses because everything needs to be moving forward. Yesterday, I attended a one-day trip with my fellow colleagues and on the journey, many of them shared with me about the stress of working and some very beneficial coping strategies. I realized that many of them are trying their level best to keep themselves happy so that they are more productive at work. One of the common tips they shared with me was that taking care of oneself is definitely not something to be neglected. If you’re not in your best shape, you can’t inspire your kids. Your well-being, your physical and mental conditions influence very much your productivity and efficiency at work. Therefore, it should be one of your priorities.