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Juggling all the eggs in one basket

small-poppins

So it’s been just over a month since the beginning of the school year and my schedule has me running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This year, at the school I work at, I’ve had the owners hire a second English teacher to cover the kindergarten classes and first grade. I continue to teach second grade through sixth grade. I thought it would free up my time some so I didn’t feel like I was dying at the end of each day like last year when I taught 2 kindergarten classes and five elementary classes (I combined some of the groups into mammoth groups to accommodate the school day and my availability). However, although I’ve given up some tasks, I have taken up others.

Instead of teaching kindergarten, I designed the curriculum and textbooks that the kindergarten will be using for all 4 levels, maternal, first, second and third grade. That took more than a few hours of my already limited time. I like doing that sort of work, but it doesn’t compare to the joy of teaching the little lovely happy souls ages 2-6.

The curriculum is already in place for first grade, but it’s been challenging to bring the new teacher up to speed. She’s had more experience at teaching kindergarten than elementary and the additional requirements that come with elementary teaching include things like diagnostic tests, parent meetings, grading with numbers rather than excellent, very good, good, regular, deficient and so on and new to her. Plus, the textbook we use comes with video and computer game components and she’s not really tech savvy. I’m glad that she’s open to learning these things, but it means more work for me at the moment.

Then there’s the pay. I’ve been making less money for more work each year I work in the Mexican school system. When I started, I made 85 pesos per hour and had 8 weeks off in the summer. Now I make 70 pesos per hour and have 4 weeks off in the summer. Of course, everything else has gone up in price during that time. Tortillas used to cost 6 pesos per kilo, now they are 13 pesos per kilo. And the peso had devalued to 19 per US dollar what seems like permanently now.

I’m also supposed to get a provisional teaching license from Guanajuato. Because of all these educational reforms, I’ll need to take the official exam too. The thing is, everybody knows the system is rigged. Several teachers I know that took the exam last year and passed, this year took the same exam and didn’t. What’s up with that? The list of requirements SEP requests keeps getting longer and longer and each required document has a price. So is it really worth it when I make $68.75 USD per week?

mototeacher

Then there are my private and Saturday classes. Since I’ve been working online, I decided to only teach private classes on Wednesday and Thursday during the week. I only kept my long-term students. However, lately, students have been canceling left and right. I have 7 classes scheduled for those two days, last week, I only taught 4. The same thing happens on Saturday. I have 4 scheduled for Saturdays, last week I only taught 1. If I were depending on these “regular” classes for my weekly income, we’d surely starve to death. Not to mention I haven’t raised my prices since I started. I still only charge $50 pesos per class, per student, per hour. That’s $2.64 USD per hour.

Camille Online

You might think that my online classes are my salvation. After all, they pay in US dollars. However, I’ve had internet connection issues this month. One day, my internet dropped just for a minute. I was able to return to the class, but my audio wasn’t working. The tech person instructed me to restart my computer, so I did. Only when I did, Windows 10 decided it needed to do updates. My computer was out of commission for over an hour while they installed. Then another day, the internet went out 10 minutes before my scheduled shift, in the entire town. It returned the moment my shift was over. Then, I’m only scheduled for about 10 hours per week, although Labor day weekend vacation requests bumped my schedule up to 15 hours. It’s not enough to live on, dollars or not. Plus, if the internet continues to be so unreliable, I’m pretty sure I’ll get fired.

I haven’t come up with any good solutions yet. I’ve committed to this schedule until December, then I’ll have to reevaluate the value of my time. Suggestions anyone?

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Learning and Teaching Summer Course–Year 3

summer course image 1

For the third year in a row, I was asked to participate in the summer course. This time, not only would I be the English teacher but the organizer. I started looking for teachers in mid-May. As SEP had reduced the summer vacation period and added extra teacher work days, many teachers were less than enthusiastic about committing themselves for the entire summer. As a result, scheduling was a nightmare.

seed name

Then, the popularity of the course swelled our numbers. We ended up having 2 groups of 25 students, although it would have been better had they been divided into 3 groups. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough teachers available to do that. We offered art, music, crafts, English, P.E. and computer classes. The large number of students per group meant that they had to share computers. After the first 2 days, I split the groups even further. I had 10 or so students doing an activity in the adjoining classroom while the rest were using the computers. As each student finished the activity, he or she would take over a computer and send the user to complete the activity. This meant that I was at the school the entire day.

sunflower snack

As the owners of the school had begun construction on the vacant lot, we were not able to use it for planting this year. That seriously impacted my proposed classes. We still did the indoor planting and activities, but it wasn’t nearly as intensive and hands-on as I would have liked. I also added some plant-related crafts and at least once a week we had a “cooking” activity. For instance, one week we planted sunflower seeds in toilet paper tubes, then did some paper ball sunflowers, then construction paper and seed sunflowers, then peanut butter, raisin and celery snacks. When the sunflowers sprouted, we planted them along the edges of the soccer field. Unfortunately, the school gardener thought they were weeds and mowed them down.

planting

I wanted each student to be able to take home a plant at the end of the course again but wasn’t able to find any terracotta pots in the area. I ended having them paint Styrofoam containers instead. I know, not environmentally friendly, but I was desperate. The kids had a good time and rarely missed a day, so all in all, it was a success. Yet I would have liked to have done more.

painting pots

The stress of making sure the teachers arrived on time, supervising during lunch and recess, assuring that the teachers had the materials that they needed for class and the occasional discipline problem or injury was tremendous. Plus, I was also teaching at least 4 of my own private English classes daily in addition to the summer course classes. By August, I was exhausted. I’ve decided to rethink my participation this summer now that my son will be too old to attend.

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Learning and Teaching Summer Course–Year 1–The Thematic Approach

As summer approaches, it’s time to consider if I will teach a summer course for the fourth year, or if I will take the summer off. It has been a great way to supplement my income during the vacation period and up until now, my son could attend with me. This year, however, he has reached the cut-off age of 13 and although he has volunteered to be an assistant, I think that our time might best be spent in other educational activities.

The first year that I taught English during a 5-week summer course was extremely challenging. I had 22 students that ranged in ages from 5 to 13. All my students were ESL learners with an extremely mixed level of English abilities. Therefore, I had to be creative with my English language teaching approach.

I decided to use a thematic approach. Each day would have a different topic. All activities would be centered on that topic. There would be a variety of activities so that all the students could participate to the best of their abilities. It would be fun because, after all, this was a summer course.

pirate kid

One day our theme was pirates. We sang (I played the piano) some rousing pirate songs. We learned pirate words. We talked about commands in English grammar. We role-played. We made eye patches and hooks. We designed a pirate ship. We made treasure maps. It was great!

farmer kid

Another day our theme was farming. We sang Old MacDonald and played the Farmer in the Dell. We talked about present tense. We planned our gardens and farms. We talked about animal sounds and names. It was great!

circus kids

Yet another day was about the circus. We talked about conditional tense and imagined “If I were in the circus, I would…. ” We sang The Man on the Flying Trapeze. We drew clowns. We made a construction paper big top. We learned circus words. It was great!

And so on and so forth. I must admit it took an incredible amount of planning for each class, but the result was well worth the effort. The school also offered music, P.E., cooking, art, and computer classes to round out the day. Those students that attended were disappointed when our summer course was finished. And that’s the way a good summer course should make a student feel.

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Parenting Challenge–Education as a Discipline

Our vacation education project!

Our vacation education project!

Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight. –Charlotte Mason

During the long 2 week vacation that comes with Semana Santa (Holy Week), I started my 10-year-old son on an educational path that involved the book “The Most Dangerous Book for Boys” by Con and Hal Iggulden. With a title like that, you would have thought that he would have dove right in, but it took a little prompting and finally a stern mandate that he was to read one section of the book and complete the activity (if it had one) each and every day of the vacation period. However, I moderated that he could choose whatever topic he wished. So reluctantly he took the book to his room and thumbed through the table of contents, only to return a few minutes later to ask if he really could choose whatever topic. I responded affirmatively, and his excitement was evident. He went back to reading and came back again asking if he could do more than one section a day. Of course, he could.

As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the act of knowing. –Charlotte Mason

The first thing he read was about how to make paper airplanes. The house is now littered with the ones he learned from the book and several that he made his own adaptations to. Then he read about building a tree house, although I asked him what he thought he would do with that information since we do not have any trees large enough to support a tree house (cactus is not inherently stable enough to house a tree house.) But he wanted to read it, so he did. I came home from classes and found he had adapted the information to make a second dog house for Cocoa all on his own. (The first dog house, constructed with the help of his dad, has been taken over by 2 kittens and Hershey the new puppy.) Another day, he asked me to bring home vinegar and blotting paper for the newest experiment, a battery made with vinegar, quarters, copper wire, salt, and blotting paper. As blotting paper could not be found, he substituted thin cardboard and set to work. After a failed attempt (he had forgotten the salt) he tried again, his dad looking on. The second attempt also failed, (the light bulb was too large), so he tried again, doubling the number of quarters. He still wasn’t able to make the bulb light up, but he was able to create a spark, so the experiment was deemed a success.

making a battery

Working on making a battery from quarters and vinegar.

The bad habit of the easy life is always pleasant and persuasive and to be resisted with pain and effort, but with hope and certainty of success, because in our very structure is the preparation for forming such habits of muscle and mind as we deliberately propose to ourselves.–Charlotte Mason

My son’s new found enthusiasm for experimentation has sparked my husband’s mind as well. My husband has retooled our moto (motorcycle) wagon and is now gathering materials for making an attempt at a windmill to provide us with electricity since it seems that the powers that be in this area are not interested in their civic duties. My husband has always been creative but slipped into complacency this past year. I hope that his new projects will reawaken what was once a sharp and agile mind.

side car

Moto-cart. Just the thing for transporting!

Physical fitness, morals and manners, are very largely the outcome of habit; and not only so, but the habits of the religious life also become fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life. We need not be deterred by the fear that religious habits in a child are mechanical, uninformed by the ideas which should give them value. –Charlotte Mason

Having myself been raised in a religiously strict household, I have taken a more indirect approach to religion with my son. Instead of attending regular religious services, we look for God in the everyday. Instead of forced bible readings, I present tidbits that prompt his own investigations. “The most Dangerous Book for Boys” contains sections on the greatest battles ever fought since the beginning of recorded history. Of course, this included biblical figures such as Nebuchadnezzar. He read the section covering the conflict in the book, then went off with a bible to gather more details about Nebuchadnezzar’s life and times.

It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. –Charlotte Mason

There are sections on scientists, explorers, inventors, poets, excerpts from Shakespeare, The Declaration of Independence, and the King James Version of the Bible. There are readings on overcoming adversity, scientific discovery and reaching out towards self-awareness. I was delighted to find some of my own childhood favorites included. After all, my own life is based on what Frost tried to say “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference” and it is my hope that my son will find his own path armed with all the knowledge and education that I lay before him.

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