Step by Step back to “normal” life

Or as normal as it ever gets!  I’ve officially been cleared to work again, I’m no longer wearing splints and walking longer and longer distances until i start limping again and need to stop.  I did alarm the physio with a very swollen left ankle (the fractured tibia one) on Friday night so I am taped up for the duration of the long weekend but flesh coloured tape is much less conspicuous than big black lace up splints.

There are so many things you take for granted until you have your mobility taken away from you.  I’m really enjoying things like:

having a shower standing up

carrying things around from one place to another

walking around places

being able to get up off chairs

getting my own cup of coffee and indeed getting cuppas for other people

walking along hand in hand with my little boy

DRIVING – even though I have to use Anthony’s car for the time being.

I’m in the process of transitioning from convalescence to supply teaching again and I feel as if I am launching myself onto the world as a whole new person.  A wise person told me that all these thigns happen for a reason and I found that statement hard to take as I hobbled around on crutches. But now, as I find myself on the way out of it all I believe she may have known what she was talking about after all.


The Learning Environment

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about the Montessori approach to education in the past day or so and these words have stuck with me as I mulled it over,

The classroom itself will typically be beautiful and enticing. Great care has been taken to create a learning environment that will reinforce the child’s independence and natural urge toward self-development. This is achieved in three ways: beauty, order and accessibility.

Beauty. Order. Accessibility.  These seem to be great words to live by in setting up a classroom environment and a home environment for children which is another educational environment when it is all said and done.

Beauty

I’ve been scanning photos from my high school days to share on Facebook (much to the horror of some of my old classmates) and I noticed the framed prints on the walls of the hall.  In Montessori classrooms the walls are not filled with children’s artworks so that no wall can be seen.  Items to be displayed are chosen carefully and may include student work but also other art works and beautiful things.  The room is bright, warm and inviting to students and parents.  I’ve been in many classrooms that are certainly bright and engaging but are also overwhelming for a child because of the sheer amount of things on display in them.  I think an over-decorated classroom/learning environment can cause a certain amount of sensory overload and make it difficult for  a child to concentrate.  Quality rather than quantity seems to be the message here.  There is a lot of beauty in nature that can of course be introduced to the classroom environment.  I know my boys are entranced by the fish tanks in a few places in their school and potted plants and even flowers really “lift” a room and soften the hard lines of what is usually quite utilitarian construction.  At home I often find the “beauty” obscured by clutter.  As I write this I have two special items on my desk –  a terra-cotta pot decorated by Daniel with “decoupaged” and differently coloured images of himself and one of our best wedding photos.  Unfortunately I can’t actually see either of them because of everything else on the desk.  Fortunately the living areas of our house usually look a bit better but the clutter frequently takes over there as well.

Order

I’ve had the experience now of arriving in many different classrooms for a day of work.  It is a much better experience when I arrive to a clear desk with everything laid out for me to use.  I know this is not always possible because teachers are often away from work unexpectedly but it is really helpful in getting off to a good start with a class.  I’m sure that as a relief teacher, that if you can appear to be “on top of things” as early as possible in the day you are better off.  Some classrooms I’ve been in have been so ordered that I was a bit worried about being able to leave everything in the same state that I found it.  However when I get to spend a bit more time in these rooms I can see how the “order” in classroom materials and books actually helps the day to run more smoothly.  Even very young students know where to get things, where to put them away and this enables them to be more self-directed and self-sufficient.  They can work at their own pace and this helps everyone to be more relaxed.  Having experienced such wonderful “order” in several classrooms has made me determined to have a lot more order in whatever work environment I find myself in next.  When I arrive to a desk strewn with different materials I have been known to put it all in a pile to one side especially if I’m going to be there for than a day.  That seems to immediately make it easier for me to think through what I’m going to do with the class.  For me, order in the home has a lot to do with routines.  Knowing that there is a designated time for homework and that every other activity will have to wait makes it much easier to focus on homework for all of us.  The other thing that helps is having all the equipment necessary – pencils, erasers, colours, scissors, glue etc – in a tote box that can be shifted to wherever we are working means that the flow of work is not interrupted in order to hunt for things.  I have especially found this year that when trying to get  certain 6 year old to focus on his sight words that every second is precious!  Of course a bit more order around here would make life much less stressful.  I’m sure that a certain 9 year old who raced around the house yesterday afternoon searching for his hockey mouthguard that had to be worn for training would agree with this!

Accessibility

Every student deserves a desk and chair that fits!  It is good if students can lift lids of desks or access tote boxes without affecting others.  Large storage for individuals does not generally work well because things are too easily lost.  I’ve seen magazine file boxes used for student books and smaller tote boxes that work well.  Having the bare minimum of gear in a student’s desk and distributing what is needed when it is needed seems to work well with younger students and some older ones who get distracted by having too many things out at once.  I think teachers deserve to be comfortable too!  I have loved working in classrooms that have an armchair for the teacher to sit in when the students are on the floor because I can be close to students without having to be on the floor.  Ideally students should be able to get to as much equipment as possible themselves without having to rely on someone to open cupboards to get things down from high shelves.  Being able to access and then put away resources that they need empowers students to become more independent as learners.  Children can become more independent in the home when they have access to what they need.  We can’t have everything that the boys need at their level in the kitchen but we keep a step stool here to help.  I’m also in the process of re-organising some of my cupboards with tupperware so that they can get to breakfast cereal themselves.  This small thing could be life changing in terms of parents getting to sleep in.  I’ve also solved some of my own accessibility issues with my craft storage area.  Being able to grab something out of a sliding tote means more precious minutes of crafting time!

There is only a small chance that I will end up as a Montessori teacher and I’m far from being a Montessori “purist” but I do think there are things to be gleaned from this approach that will help in all environments in which learning takes place.


Plan A and Plan B

As I write this the working week stretches out in front of me as a blank slate.  I have no days of work lined up as yet and I don’t really know what will be happening.  However I have to plan a few days in advance so that I get things done and I stay in touch with people or else I can end up at home doing not much at all.

So, Plan A for tomorrow is working if I get a call in the morning.  Plan B is taking the boys to school, helping in Eric’s classroom and then making an appearance at the gym hopefully not causing any heart attacks amongst the staff seeing as how they haven’t seen me for so long.  I also predict some ironing and “finishing” work on two different knitting projects.  I’d like to get dinner done ahead of time because Dan is having a swimming lesson but I’ll have to see what is happening.  I’ve also got two after school “coffee dates” organised with colleagues during the week and book club on Friday night for which I gave myself a night off from Little Athletics.

(Just as side note, there is another good reason for not appearing at Little Athletics on Friday night.  Master 6 disgraced himself yesterday afternoon by “mooning” the Under 7 girls while they were together waiting for an event.  Maybe a night off will give people more time to forget!  It is Centre Championship weekend so I will be there on Saturday afternoon anyway.  We have laughed a lot at D’s antics but there have also been some stern words about what is acceptable in mixed (or any) company!)

If I don’t work on the other days I’m going to go around and deliver some more “relief teacher” letters to local schools.  I’m also searching the job sites each day for any new prospects because I’d much rather have weeks that are planned to be full of action rather than facing the great unknown every Sunday night.


Dipping My Toe In

I was in a classroom with an interactive whiteboard today so I thought I’d try finding something on-line to help spice up the lesson I had to do on climate, weather and seasons.  I ended up going with this Australian website but it wasn’t all that engaging for a lively group of Year 4s.  So I’ve got something in my arsenal for next time I’ve been hunting tonight for on-line resources that can be used with IWBs and I’ve saved the sites below to my delicious account so that I can try accessing them at different schools when I have the time.  So far I’ve found a lot for lower primary and not as much for upper primary and I will have to try them at various schools to see if they get through firewalls etc but it is a start.

I’m such a newbie at all of this that I was surprised to find classroom management tools on some sites – timers, weather and date charts etc etc.  There will be so much I can use when I get to have my own class again but for now I’ll just dip my toe into this brave new world and try out a few things when I get the opportunity.

If anyone has something else wonderful to suggest that I could be using or wonderful ideas on utilizing IWBs when relief teaching please let me know in the comments section.


Relief Teaching Mojo

We are in week 6 of term 1 and I seem to have found my place in the world as a relief teacher. As of today I’ve done 7 1/2 days in 4 weeks in 7 different classrooms and today was the first time that I went back to a class that I’d already had and I’m going to have the same class again next Friday. All I need now is for the money to come flooding in. So far out of 7.5 days I’ve only been paid for 1 and that wasn’t even my first day. I’d really like to do more days than what I have been doing to bring the old income up a bit. I’d also like to be more organised to get things done at home on the days I’m not working but it will all come in time.
I’ve got myself organised for whatever the day might bring with a folder for each year level and a folder with a pre-printed report form to fill out and leave for the classroom teacher and a supply of “Happy-grams”. A Happy-gram is a certificate I’ve designed with a big smiley face where I can fill in the student’s name and say that they have worked hard and cooperated really well during the day. So far I’ve used the happy-grams on three days. On the first day I wrote kids’ names on the board as I noticed them doing good things and then added ticks, on the second day I wrote everyone’s name on the board so I wouldn’t miss anyone but I was searching the list for names all day so today I made a quick seating plan after I took the roll and ticked the names on that. This worked the best because the students were very eager to hear an update on how many ticks they had throughout the day. They have all been very nice to the kids that have won the happy-gram so far – giving them a round of applause. I hope that lasts!
I’ve looked for evidence of whatever behaviour management tools the teacher is using in each room I’ve been in and I’ve put what they are doing into practice whenever I can. In most classrooms the “steps” for people who misbehave are up on the wall so it is easy to come in and adopt the system. I’ll have to think about my own system for when there isn’t one evident. Some days have been great as far as behaviour goes and some have been awful but when it is awful it is always comforting to know one is walking out the door at 3:00pm. I can see myself picking up a range of different strategies throughout the year.
I am missing having a class of my own and space of my own to work in and I’m missing the chance to use technology with kids. I guess I need to make it known that technology is my thing and then I may get more opportunities. Many classrooms I’ve been in have had interactive whiteboards but I haven’t done too much with them yet. I’m really keen to learn how to use them because there are so many “off the cuff” things I could be doing using websites which would be engaging for kids.
As for life away from work I have also found my knitting mojo again – that was lost for a few weeks there and I’m onto the second sleeve of Eric’s Lion stripe jumper. I’ve been to a couple of Sunday afternoon knitting covens, one Saturday morning and a couple of Knit and Natter sessions at Threads and More which has helped.
Goals for the short term:

  • Keeping my relief teaching bag stocked up
  • Keeping a supply of clothes ready in case I get a few days in a row
  • Having ideas for meals at least a day ahead
  • Making more use of the crock pot

And for the future:

Finding another full time job that I have a passion for.  It will be teaching in some form but maybe something different to what I’ve been doing.


Taking Care of Me

I have to admit that as the start of the school year draws closer I’m feeling very “homesick” for school because it is where I have always been at this time of year.  I am uncertain about what 2010 has in store for me and to some extent I have to literally wait and see what happens.

However there are some things I can do and have been doing to make me feel good and to take care of myself.

  1. I’m working hard on the sleep routine.  I’ve had a couple of late nights with athletics which have shaken things up but in general the sleep is better.
  2. I’ve asked to be referred to another doctor for a second opinion on my ongoing anxiety/depression.  I’ve been with the same doctor for seven years and I’m struggling with the medication I am on.  I had to be bit assertive with the GP to get a referral but it is important so I persisted.
  3. I’m dipping my toe into bible reading and praying about my situation often.
  4. I’m talking to people.  This is a big one.  I’ve had in depth discussion with a couple of people about how things are going to pan out this year and what I can do to make things better.
  5. I’ve gone back to Weight Watchers (again) and I’m giving it a really good go (again).
  6. I’m trying to stay busy with purposeful stuff. I’ve been updating Little Athletics record cards, covering books for Eric, knitting and trying to do things around the house.
  7. I recognized that the first day of school would be a hard one for me because simply put, I won’t be there.  My plan is to drop off the boys and then I’m using the voucher for a day spa treatment that my colleagues gave me when I resigned.
  8. I’m considering things that I can do to get myself out of the house on a regular basis during the day bearing in mind that there may not be much supply work initially.  One of those things was to offer my services for 1/2 day a week in Year 1 at school (Daniel’s year level).  I’ve e-mailed the teachers, offered my services and they will get back to me with a day and time that suits them with the  understanding that if I get called into work I’m going into work.
  9. Yesterday the boys had a big athletics carnival at Ipswich.  I knew it would do my head in sitting on the hill for six hours + so I volunteered as a recorder for one of the long jump pits.  I still got to see both boys compete in long jump and all their track events, I was kept occupied and the recording was one less thing the long jump chief had to organise for each event.
  10. Today I did the grocery shopping by myself, ate a nutritious lunch and had a pedicure and manicure (there was a special offer on).
  11. If all else fails I have lists I can consult for what to do next although more often than not the answer is “laundry”.

So all in all, despite the fact that it is a somewhat sad time for me as school starts without me there, I’m doing my best to rise above the sadness and to keep doing things that improve my situation.


Plans for a New Year

They are fairly simple but involve a lot of work and the common thread running through them all is “getting back on track”.  I’ve had my time out from the workplace and from just about everything else so this is the year to step up and take action in the following areas:

  1. Weight Loss – I won’t divulge how many kgs there are to lose but there are several.  This is the year to get serious about diet and exercise.
  2. Family – This family needs to work together, play together and pray together.
  3. Home – I have the necessary skills and this is the year to put them into action.
  4. Career – Teaching is in my blood and I need to get back to it!

New Year’s Day has been a slow one for us.  I’m taking the boys to see Fantastic Mr Fox this afternoon.