‘Schools to Sea’ Marine Environmental Program Established

The days were numbered and my time was ending in Mombasa and I was FINALLY given the go ahead to complete the Marine Environmental Program I’ve been dreaming of doing! To say the least I was rejuvenated. I was first … Continue reading

Dear Student Teachers: Go Outside.

The bell has rung and after a flurry at the door you’re left with an almost empty classroom. There are a few scragglers (as always) still trying to fill in their planners or stack their chairs so you don’t waste any time; you look around the room and start compiling your mental to-do list that seems to grow and grow but never be ‘to-done.’ Even before you finish making that never-ending list, even the most distracted student finally needs you to sign their planner. You do so, reminding them not to forget their gym strip on Monday– and boom – like a flash they’re out the door.

My advice to you? Go outside.

Walk the playground. Join in on a basketball game. Play hop scotch or jump rope. Ruffle a few tops of heads and talk to the kids out there. They’re the reason you’re here and when you’re Continue reading

Six Weeks Turns Into Six Months

I was pulled away on a Thursday afternoon to have a chat with the project manager. Not really sure what it would be about I went in without any expectations. After a short while I realized what was happening and was beginning to feel hopeful. “Monika, we love what you have done here and the work you’ve been putting in with resources and how to change the programs.  I know that you are going on Safari this weekend – take your time and travel if you like – but instead of flying home after that, we’d like you to stay here as the Education Officer for our project.” Before she finished asking, my heart had already said yes. Continue reading

Celebrating ‘Official School Status’ & My Leaving Ceremony

Nyota Ing’arayo became an official school and today we celebrated. There was pilau, singing, dancing, smiling, and definite laughing going on at the school amongst teachers, staff, volunteers and especially the students. With Nyota becoming a school, the Students of Standard 8 are able to sit their Kenyan Certified Primary Education (KCPE) exam wearing uniforms representing their school. Now it’s official and Nyota is moving on from it’s child care centre days to a government recognized school. Continue reading

Volunteering Abroad as Professional Development for Teachers

Having done a teaching practicum in China, being a teacher in Canada, and now having volunteered in a Standard 3 classroom here in Kenya, one thing is clear: teaching abroad is a worthwhile opportunity for professional development.

In a grade one classroom in Xi'an, China where I taught in 2011

In a grade one classroom in Xi’an, China where I taught in 2011

The obvious aspect of professional development that comes with teaching overseas is adapting to your new environment. No electricity, limited resources, and bright eager students. At times I wondered how easy it would be if I had a document reader or an interactive whiteboard, but instead you have a few textbooks, a blackboard, chalk (sometimes), and an always disappearing eraser which is actually a small plush kitten. You realize quickly that without technology or even an adequate number of textbooks you can still be an effective teacher and find ways to reach your students in the best way you can. Continue reading

What am I doing here?

“Why on earth did I sign up for two months here? What am I even doing?
I shouldn’t be here!”

Dread, a bit of panic, and an overwhelming amount of doubt was there to greet me when I was driving to the project site from the airport in Mombasa.

I always thought it was cliché when they say,  ”you’ll never know what poverty is until you see it in person, face to face.”  But they are entirely right. To see it that close. To see it seem endless with every street, every corner, every sea of garbage you see a child and animal picking through, every crowded market, every person you see lying in the streets, every shack that you would never want to call home, every burning pile of rubbish, every repugnant smell that wafts into your nose, every broken down building, every child wandering alone, and the excessive amounts of people living in conditions that you would avoid even walking through will overwhelm you and help you understand exactly what poverty is.

It will make you too aware of your own fortune. Of how well off you are. To be coming into this entirely different world with the culture and history you carry with you. To hate where you’re from and want to forget that you even came here. To feel ashamed of the good hand you were dealt in life.  To want to hide away and not be here ‘to help.’ Which now, as you’re driving though it – seem so minuscule, conceited and ridiculous. Selfishly taking an ‘experience’ away from this place. And what are you really giving back? Nothing can ever be enough so you should just turn back now. Continue reading

When Teachers Blog/Tweet it Shows Students They Care

I’ve been preparing myself for my Volunteer trip to Kenya where I’ll be teaching in Children’s Centres in Mombasa for 6 weeks. To do this I’ve been doing the pre-departure course work from Global Vision International on Teaching English as a Foreign Language and I’ve picked up a few resource books myself. One in particular, “The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide,” seemed appropriate not only for my trip but for my own career at home as ELL students are numerous in the schools that I have worked at.

The authors of this book, Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski, start off this guide by outlining the three R’s that make up a positive and effective learning environment. Relationships, Resources and Routines. What I failed to notice, and what these authors pointed out to me, was that blogging is an easy and effective way to show students you care about them inside and outside the classroom.

“In today’s world, many teachers already blog and write about their teaching experiences. However, they may not take the extra step of sharing this writing with their students. This can be powerful on a number of levels, but in terms of relationship building, it shows students that the teacher things of them outside of the classroom.”

They are so right. Whenever students would ask me about Twitter I would usually say, “Yes I have Twitter and even a blog, feel free to follow me but I tweet and write about education/teacher stuff – you might not be interested.” But, students should see you on Twitter and your blog posts because it shows students how methodological you are in how, what, where and why you teach and how you learn. 

I did have students come up to me one day and say they found me on Twitter and that I tweeted a picture of my water bottle from class (students put a post it note on it reminding me to drink more water and not just coffee).  I explained to them how happy that post it made me, because even within our short two weeks together we had a community started where we took care of each other and got to know each other. I thought it was wonderful.

I now realize that this twitter-verse and blog-overse is not just for me to develop and network with other teaching professionals. But is also a way to show how connected we are with our students and that we are very focused on doing our very best to provide our students with classrooms we feel they deserve. 

“Taking a few minutes to write about the class (whether it is a simple reflection on how a lesson went, how a student demonstrated an exceptional insight, or sharing a few success and challenges from the week) and then sharing this writing with the class can increase trust and respect between the teacher and the students.”

So I’m urging teachers! Please, if you don’t have time to blog – because yes, it does become something of another job on its own, please tweet! Share your thoughts, your learning moments, things that inspire you and ways to change our classrooms for the better! Use hashtags to join the conversation!

There’s a great twitter cheat sheet to help you out found here: http://www.learningunlimitedllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Twitter-Cheat-Sheet-Tool-4-Learning-Unlimited-by-Kimberly-Tyson.pdf As well, some Districts have their own hashtags that are very helpful to guide the conversation to be specifically about their Schools. For Delta: #sd37 #deltaschools #deltalearns. Non district hashtags but helpful ones for my purposes: #inqBC #LiD #LiDinaction #BClearns

Here’s a reminder though, Hashtags are only as effective if they are being used! They can be great promotional tools for an upcoming school wide event, a district initiative, or if theres a topic you want to really learn/chat about with other professionals about. This is why some districts, like Surrey, can be so connected on Twitter because they seem to have agreed upon hashtags for their district that they use: #sd36learn #surreylearns #sd36 #edcamp36

So, If you can’t blog, tweet! Even 150 characters can go a long way to show that you are connected, learning, and caring about your students and your school. Adding a hashtag in between those 150 characters will help your thoughts be found and connected with in a much more efficient way too!

Lets Teach our Students how to be People – Not ‘Boys’ & ‘Girls’

This past week I was acting Teacher Librarian in a school and was left “Once upon a Motorcycle Dude” by Kevin O’Malley to ready to the little ones. Partway through reading the story I was getting upset because of the stereotypes being portrayed and reinforced throughout the book. But, much to my relief, was pleasantly surprised.

"Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude"

“Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude”

We have a Princess in distress because her ponies (almost all 8 of them) are being stolen by a mean giant. The story is being told by two kids (a boy and a girl) who just can’t agree on how the story should go. In the boys story instead of a Prince it’s a ‘cool motorcycle dude’ who only helps the Princess if her father agrees to have the Princess make gold thread every day for him. He agrees and the Princess is left to “just sit there and make gold thread” while the ‘cool motorcycle dude’ gets filthy rich!

The girls story includes a princess who has all these Princes trying to help her, but to no avail they cannot. She decides to “go to the gym and pump some iron” to become a ‘Warrior Princess’ and to fight the evil giant herself.

The two characters creating this story end up agreeing that they could fight the evil giant together. But then the female character adds that they fall in love and get married and have a little baby girl, which the boy ends up changing to be a little baby boy.

While I’m not 100% on board with the message this book brings as I still feel it’s reinforcing unfair stereotypes  .

Females… Males…
– Concerned about love, marriage, babies, ponies and want things to be pretty/ cute – Don’t care about love, marriage & romance in stories and want to look cool and tough
– Are passive and cannot choose for themselves – Don’t need female help
– Need men (father, prince, motorcycle dude) to help them. – Take from others for their own gain (money)
– End of the story has the female’s pony being saved by the male & a wedding. – End of the story has the male being “filthy rich” because the female makes him gold for the rest of his life.

I do like how it tries to break through some of them and has the Princess choosing to help herself and be strong. Although, the story doesn’t change much of how males are being unjustly represented.

What was interesting and very bothersome to me was the reactions of the kindergarten and grade 1/2 students upon hearing this book. Most boys only liked the male characters point of view and really liked the tough motorcycle dude. These young boys also found the girls story to be silly and unbelievable since it would “never happen” and is “wrong.” The girls reaction was positive to the princess being the heroine in the story.

Princess saving herself and giving the option to the Prince to make his own thread, but does not have him indebted to her like he did in the Boy's story.

Princess saving herself and giving the option to the Prince to make his own thread, but does not have him indebted to her like he did in the Boy’s story.

It’s alarming seeing how early stereotypes and notions of what’s considered normal or outrageous are set into these young minds. It’s totally normal to have a ‘cool dude’ only do things to become rich and take things from a woman who now has to spend the rest of her life spinning gold thread for him. Yet it’s completely outrageous to think of a girl fighting a giant on her own and saving herself. We need more examples of what’s normal for men and women in the books we read  to these students and in the lives around them.

It’s bothersome to think that a story featuring sensitive but strong Prince who is saved by a sensitive but strong Princess would be “wrong” to a child. Perhaps the focus should be being good people and not being a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’ whatever those stereotypes might be.

Boy's definitely wouldn't be interested in "love" or have that be part of their story

Boy’s definitely wouldn’t be interested in “love” or have that be part of their story