> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: October 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Me and the natives

I’ve been teaching the Iliad and the Odyssey to classes this last while and – enjoying it too, somewhat to my surprise… Last week I had set students the task of writing a soliloquy for Achilles. They delivered their speeches this week, and to be honest I was flabbergasted by how confident they were. Considering that it is a mixed ability class, and that the Iliad isn’t an easy text, it was an eye opener for me. Only one pupil asked me if he could give his speech before a smaller audience, and even then he was willing to come in after class three days running to practice it before a small audience until it was ‘good enough’ to be graded. The point is, they took ‘the talk bit’ seriously.

I couldn’t help feeling that I have underestimated the role of talk up until now. These students have been giving speeches and talking before their classmates for years, and frankly, it shows. Added to that, many of them admitted not really understanding the Iliad until they had to imagine what Achilles was thinking, and then perform it.

Buoyed up with my success, I gave a somewhat disaffected student the words of the song ‘She moved through the fair’ and asked him if he would read it, not as a school text, but as if he had just found it on the ground. He read it in the stressed rhythm of a subdued rap poem. The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck by the time he was finished, and the class loved it.

I was brought back down from my American dream in the teacher’s lounge when I enthused about the speeches, and commented on the difference between American and Scottish kids in this respect. ‘The thing is,’ one colleague explained brightly, ‘You will notice a difference, because now you are teaching native English speakers…’

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I am slightly overcome with the American experience, and just getting through each day by nodding wisely when I am particularly confused. As a result the student impersonation of me includes an unintelligible accent (or brogue as they insist on calling it) and lots of head nodding...
It's a great experience seeing another education system from the inside. It's the small things you notice first. I regularly forget that 'foolscap' is called 'looseleaf' and that you don't 'take the register' you 'take attendance'.

I'm still looking out for ways I can use new technologies and actually add something by doing that. Our school does have a site for teachers to post lesson plans and homework to, which is great, but I am not aware yet of how much teachers here use the internet for, apart from that.

The students are doing that thing they do, of pretending that the Internet doesn’t exist for them in the context that I describe. They look vaguely embarrassed if I mention facebook or myspace in the sort of way we did when teachers asked us if we liked ‘The Stranglers or whatever they are called’.

Meanwhile back in Stranraer one of my previous pupils is writing away, blogging about all of these issues and wondering if teachers are planning to use them.

So inspired by Jemma I am looking out for a good project for a wiki.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Homecoming Week

This has been a great week at school with lots of excitement about the homecoming game. Today we had a big homecoming assembly at 11.30, and then the entire school was given a half day. The homecoming assembly was a surreal experience for me.

It’s difficult to describe. We assembled in the gym which was decorated last night by a large number of pupils wielding acres of paper, dozens of cans of silver spray paint and carte blanche to design thrones for the princesses. Each year group, 9th Grade (freshmen) 10th grade (sophomores) 11th grade (juniors) and 12th grade (seniors) had their own throne to design and build. After singing ‘The Star-spangled banner’, and various other songs accompanied with dancing cheerleaders, several girls were crowned as ‘princesses’ and escorted to their thrones by their ‘princes’. Finally our ‘queen’ was crowned, the crown going to the princess whose homeroom (sort of like their registration class) had sold the most candy bars for our big fundraising effort.
After that we were introduced to our football team (there seemed to be about 100 of them). Finally the school broke up. I had to pinch myself several times to make sure I wasn’t just imagining it all. So frustrating having no-one else to nudge!

Tonight is the football game. We are playing at a local stadium against another high school. As far as I can tell most of our pupils will go along, and they will be joined by past pupils (alumni) and parents.

The thing that struck me the most about all of this: the pupils loved every minute of it. Think I might have underestimated their love of seasonal rituals.