Our plans include:
- Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
- Ferry to Manly beach
- Bondi beach day
- Bondi to Cogee Coastal Walk
- Winery Tour
- Blue Mountains Tour
With my best friend, in a beautiful city, taking on all opportunities we're presented. Since we are trying to fit two weeks worth of tourist-y Sydney activities into 7 days, you won't hear about my adventures until I'm back on the States' soil.
Our plans include:
Yet the reality is very likely that it will be. Except for the fact that if Donald Trump wins presidency I have been invited to live in about 40 different households in Darwin, I've been offered a job here whenever I want it, and Catherine and my students already have plans to Skype in January.
My last week with my students:
Monday: Elf, board games, and Christmas biscuit decorating
Tuesday: Catherine and I were chaperones for the excursion to the cinema with year 8 and 9 to see Mockingjay Part 2
Wednesday: Catherine and I were unable to be chaperones but we had two lessons off where we visited our year 7 kiddos at their excursion at the waterpark. They were so excited to see us, we were both soaked from their hugs. Then I said goodbye to my 8.8 students as we watched "funny" YouTube videos of their choosing that they wanted to show me. To end the day, Catherine and I had our nails done together and reminisced about our 6 weeks of a blossoming friendship.
Thursday: LAST DAY. Was offered a contract for a job teaching English and geography to some of my same students for next year that I could have accepted, got a lot of hugs, was given many gifts (lots of chocolate), and the students played the staff in a volleyball game to end the day. Oh, and Catherine and I were also on lunch duty where some of the naughty boys came to school, wearing bandanas as masks, egging the school and the car park. We tried to chase them, but big surprise, we just weren't fast enough. To their dismay, the police were faster.
Because this was the last week of classes and students do not take exams or even have any assignments left here, not many students come to school. So the pictures you see are not full classes because of course I did not consider taking class photos before they all left. I also did not get to see my little people in year 7 this week, so no class photo for them.
Since not much happened this week, I spent a lot of time talking about life with Catherine. We discussed a lot of different topics including the differences in education systems but also about life itself, various views and beliefs, and I was reminded how thankful I am to have met her. She gave me tips for my trip to Sydney, and she reminded me of all the potential and all of the dreams I have for myself. I spent the other half of my time this week sitting and talking with my students. Answering questions about America, where the answers astounded them. And the amount of times I had to answer the question "Why can't you stay and be our teacher next year, Miss?" nearly broke my heart to pieces. It is really bittersweet leaving this school, Catherine, and my darling students. It has not all been rainbows and butterflies, but I have been so welcomed, so loved and appreciated during my time here. More than one of my students told me that I made a difference, that I taught them something, and that I made them feel as if they could succeed. Because of that, nothing else matters. And because of that, I do not want to leave them.
So, all in all I had three placements during my practicum to finish my undergraduate degree in teaching, and each and every one of them will hold a very special place in my heart as the first groups of students I had the honor of teaching and three mentor teachers who became friends. But as of today I AM OFFICIALLY FINISHED WITH MY UNDERGRAD, and the next time I set foot in a classroom I will actually be receiving a paycheck. Cheers!
Nothing I planned to do actually happened. Before coming to Darwin, I did quite a bit of brainstorming and vague planning for the poetry unit I knew I was going to have to teach. I talked to one of my professors about it, planned activities from a poetry book one of my professors had given me, and even brainstormed lesson ideas with Evan on a visit to Grand Rapids. I had a perfect poetry workshopping unit designed that was all about learning how to feel confident writing, reading, and analyzing poetry, as well as working with their peers. However, just like when I arrived and found out I was also teaching the urbanization of China, the content of the poetry unit I was going to teach was no where near as in depth as I had planned for. Though the lessons were scaffolded and differentiated differently for the different levels of classes I taught, we spent 1 week on visual devices (similes, metaphors, personification), 1 week on sound devices (rhyme, repetition, onomatopoeia, assonance, alliteration), 1 week assessing these skills by analyzing poems, and 2 weeks writing and presenting a poetry portfolio. Or at least that was the plan. All in all, I did teach every day all day since the second day I was in Darwin. Though Catherine stayed in the classroom with me most of the time, she was working on marking student work or doing final reports for the students. I was always fully in charge, and the students respected that from the start, surprisingly.
It is typical to use worksheets and the textbook in classes throughout this middle school. So when I first started teaching the visual and sound devices, it was recommended that I just use worksheet resources I found online as well as any activities from the textbook that were appropriate. Though my higher level students could complete the textbook activities, my lower level class was going to struggle. So I was teaching the same content, but in very different ways. As I continued through the poetry unit I constantly battled my lower level students lack of interest in poetry. Though I wanted to get them engaged, there was not much interesting about simple worksheets and tasks that I was being asked to do. Finally, after having conversations with some of the students (who may not have done any work at all but were constantly talking to me about their lives, about my life, and about America) I realized that I needed to take a completely different approach if we were going to have these students turn in a poetry portfolio by the end of the term. This lesson I took two students' suggestions and played rap battles on YouTube for the class. Even though some of the other teachers in the school thought this lesson was inappropriate, too noisy, or non-academic, the students loved it, and they were able to have discussions about how it relates to poetry. At the end of the lesson, though we watched rap battles for the better part of the hour, the students developed an argument via a list of bullet points on the white board about how rap was like poetry and why rap should be taught as a type of poetry in this school. This lesson actually engaged this class of students. Now, it is important to understand that this group of 28 students have about 4 students who ever submit any work, about 8 students who can actually sit in their seat for an entire lesson, and approximately 0.5 students who can sit through a lesson without talking, running around the room, making a mess with food, etc. The day after the rap lesson though, they all showed up to class on time, in a seat, with their attention directly focused on what the lesson for the day would be. So, after I showed them one more rap battle (between two high school students), they were asked to write their own raps to battle for their final assessment. I could not just show them videos the entire lesson again, but I did play some rap music quietly in the background to inspire some creativity for their own raps. I also allowed them to listen to their headphones (against school policy...whoops) to get inspiration as well, so long as they were going to have a rap completed. The higher level students did not have any interest in watching rap battles, and they actually found them quite offensive, so for their assessment, they wrote 5 poems and presented one to the class in a multimodal presentation. After giving them a lesson where I asked them to work in groups, respond to different prompts, and create a brief presentation, they received very poor grades but a lot of feedback on how to make presentations more acceptable, presentable, engaging, and influential. This was a big deal, as these kids had never received a B from their teacher before, and no one received higher than a C on their presentation from me. It was good for them though obviously, because their end of the term poetry assessments were fantastic. In addition to the rap lesson during the poetry unit, I also included other music analysis lessons to engage all of the levels of students, a "chance poem" activity where students had to use their birthdate to look up pages in a book to find specific words that they then had to use in a poem, poetry bingo games with chocolate prizes, and an introduction to slam poetry.
For geography, I was to teach a 5 week lesson on urbanization. Before I came, students had learned urbanization in Australia, so I was to teach urbanization in China and if there was extra time I suggested I teach them a bit about America. I had to do a lot of research on China because I know about as much about urbanization in China as I do about the aliens that live on Jupiter. However, I did find it quite interesting once I started doing my research. I found information on why farmers were moving from the rural areas to the cities, how their lifestyles changed, what problems they faced, and how they struggled to build relationships. I also taught my students about different cultural practices in China such as the one-child policy (now changing to two-child), the hukou system, ghost cities, and hutangs. I showed a variety of videos and presented the information in a variety of ways (WebQuests, maps, graphs, PowerPoints) to help the students become engaged. Though they were not interested in all of the information, the videos that described specific people who had moved from the farms to the cities, the ghost cities explanations, and the videos on the one-child policy were fascinating to all of my students. I was quite impressed! And then of course, I taught the students a bit about America, asking them what they were most interested in learning about. We talked a bit about politics (because they wanted to know about Donald Trump), a bit about racism (because they wanted to know about the Black Lives Matter movement), a bit about gun control (because they wanted to know about the mass shootings that are occurring), and a bit about the classes that I teach and how the students in America are different from them. Their final assessment for this was to create a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the push and pull factors of Australia (which they learned prior to my arrival), the push and pull factors of China, and a comparison between the two countries.
Besides the content, some of the struggles that I faced most often was the fact that the way that the classrooms were set up, other classes could so easily interfere with the class that I was trying to teach. Because there were only partial walls between classes, if another class was doing group work or watching a movie or having a party, my students were never going to be able to hear me giving a lecture. In a similar way, students wandered constantly, and since I had some fun with my students (especially during the rap segment of the unit) students from other classes were constantly coming and going from my class. It was definitely an environment where you had to be flexible because even if I had planned a lecture, I often had to give the students independent assignments or assign a video to relay the information instead because of the classes next door. Another interesting fact about teaching here is that it is not common for teachers to stand at the front of the room in front of a group of students. Instead, the teacher sits at the desk and teaches from the seat, either behind the desk or behind a laptop. This was something I had to get used to and changed as much as I could. It is also not common for teachers to walk around and monitor students when they are working independently. Again, this is a habit I tried to break my students into because I wanted to be engaged in what my students were doing--not sitting at a desk waiting for them to come ask me questions or waiting to scream at students for not doing their work and being too loud.
Some of the highlights:
There are a lot of practices I do not necessarily agree with that happen at this middle school--like streaming students and the attitudes of some of the teachers based on the level of the students, and the fact that most academics end week 8 but school continues until the end of week 10. However, I learned a lot about why we do things the way that we do in the U.S., and I learned a lot about how to build relationships with students in the short time I was here. I learned a lot about who I want to be as a teacher, and I learned a lot about how effective I can be as long as I show students I care. Perhaps the most important thing I learned, and the thing I am most thankful for is that I was able to teach students of such a wide range of academic level. This taught me not only how to differentiate and scaffold instruction for students, but it taught me how important it is to meet students where they are, at their level, and how effective this can be, as well as how easy it is to then gain students' trust and respect. I may have only been with these students for 6 weeks, but the relationships we built were so strong that we were able to be successful and have fun at the same time, two qualities that most of these students do not often experience in their schooling career. So even though nothing went as planned, it went far better than I could have imagined after Day 1. Those kids won me over; almost convinced me to move to Australia. Almost.
There were a lot of realizations, a lot of laughs, and a lot of thanks. This was my last weekend in Darwin, as I leave for Sydney on Saturday. It came quite quickly. Roger and I were sitting in the lounge on Sunday when we realized a week from now I will no longer be living here. It does not feel like it has already been 6 weeks. Though some of the days were longer than others, the weeks have flown by. As much as I am looking forward to spending a week in Sydney with Al, with no responsibilities and no obligations, I will miss the lovely people who have grown to take such a special home in my heart. So this weekend was filled with the ones who I will miss so dearly a week from now. It was a weekend to cherish the time we have together, to laugh, and to have fun.
On Friday, Roger and I cheers'd to a great last week with the champagne I got from the owner of the restaurant we went to on my birthday. He also set up their little Christmas tree, and I got some lovin' from Sammy--the dog everyone should be afraid of, but who has taken a great liking to me. it was a good night in after a late night out Thursday.
On Saturday, Kaye and I went into town to do some shopping in the early afternoon. I bought some gifts for my people back home. Kaye bought herself a Christmas gift from Roger, and I was browsing around while she found what she wanted. Before making her purchase, she ever so casually told me to just pick out a Pandora ring that I wanted, as a "love present" from her. It was such a beautiful gift, and since she knows how much I wear rings, it was so thoughtful and so loving. As she said, it will be a constant reminder of the love I have from Australia. When we got home, we spent the day laughing, making Christmas crafts for her 3rd graders, and sharing stories. Roger even made the extra apple pie we had in the freezer from Thanksgiving.
On Sunday, Warwick a family friend of Kaye and Roger's took me to the Territory Wildlife Park. This park is run by the government as a way of animal conservation. The rangers are constantly discovering new animals, and with the help of the aboriginal people they continue to better understand the land and the things we share it with. There have recently been 5 new spiders, a lizard, and a frog discovered. While at the park, we saw stingray and barramundi feedings, a bird show where a 5 month old emu was being trained, an aquarium, a nocturnal house, dingoes, and did quite a bit of walking. We even got to ride on the train to and from some locations. On our way home, in a rush because I needed to shower before dinner, we stopped so I could see the Barry Springs watering hole where many people go swimming. Unfortunately the swimming was not open due to crocodiles being in the water. Each day the water (as well as all identified swimming areas) is inspected for crocs, and if there are some sighted, it is closed and these signs, as shown, are put up. With 20 minutes to spare, I showered and made myself presentable for a dinner with Catherine, John, and Amelia. We went to The Wharf for dinner, where the view is absolutely beautiful. Because it is on the water, there was a bit of a breeze. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes also came out as the sun started to go down. John and Catherine brought their own cooler of wine and beer, and we sat around enjoying each other's company before ordering fish and chips. The Wharf is set up with a bunch of different food places, a food court of sorts. However, Catherine and John both recommended the fish and chips, and they were actually quite delicious! Not something I would have ever ordered before at home, that's for sure! After much conversation about the differences in teaching in the States and Australia (the pay being the most shocking for them) and discussions about the must see sights in Sydney we purchased ice cream and headed home.
All three of these days were a constant reminder of the people I have met in Darwin and how lucky I am to have had these experiences with each of them. Each of these relationships I have are different, but each of them I will treasure far beyond my departure on Saturday. And now it's just 4 more days of "teaching" (Christmas movies, crafts, and a trip to the cinema) and I will no longer be an undergraduate student!
My heart was heavy today. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday in the States. I don't particularly agree with the idea behind the holiday, but it always warms my heart at a time when the weather really starts to become bitter cold. I love the entire day spent at grandma's, with the smells of apple pie and turkey coming from the kitchen. The traditions and the company and the overwhelming love and laughter that fills the house. So it was with a heavy heart that I woke this morning knowing that not only was I spending the holiday on the other side of the world, but I also had to FREAKING GO TO WORK. Such a shame. However, Kaye and Roger had been planning a Thanksgiving feast with a variety of guests and American-style dishes, so I had that to look forward to at the end of the day. I invited Catherine, my mentor teacher, and her husband John and daughter Amelia. We had also invited Lorraine, who is the woman in charge of placing me with Kaye, Roger, and Catherine in Darwin; she flew in from Melbourne the night before to meet me and see how things were going at school, and of course to share a part of the feast. There were 13 guests total. And Kaye went all out. Even though she searched all the stores in Darwin for turkey decorations and found none, she did manage to find some autumn looking leaves to spread across the table and an American flag to hang outside. Not to mention the red, white, and blue napkins. Fran, a family friend, also brought a beautiful centerpiece for the table that fit the holiday nicely. And at the end of the night I even got to FaceTime my mom and dad, as Catherine really wanted to meet my mom. The night was full of laughter and love, and my heart was heavy again for different reasons.It was so full of thankfulness for the people that surrounded me and the love and welcoming that I have received in Darwin.
So on this day when I am so many miles away from all of the people I love and all of the places that feel like home, I am still eternally thankful. Thankful for a life that has been filled with such happiness, love, laughter, and experiences. Thankful for a family that FaceTimes me from Thanksgiving dinner at grandmas. Thankful for parents who have given me the world at my fingertips, literally. Thankful for friends who don't let the time difference change a single thing. Thankful for a new home and a new family in Darwin, for Kaye and Roger for being my Australian mum and dad. Thankful for not only an incredible mentor but a really good friend in Catherine. Thankful for the storm that finally cooled things off a bit today before dinner. Thankful for all the people I've got in my corner and all the corners I've been lucky enough to visit. Thankful for the memories and thankful for this present day. Thankful that tonight reminded me just how good this world can be.