Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Die ac nocte (Day and Night)

Like a distant sea breeze,
It strikes my brow.
Ever growing nostalgia.
The Sun’s radiance, a golden sheen.
Like her love,
Eternally bright, my heart aglow.
Effervescent euphoria.

The oncoming night
Brings a resounding sigh.
Far too empty.
Quiet day, echoes of a lonely voice.
Longing touch, sweet embrace.
A new day to come.

Anticipation, a heart’s beat,
Two lovers again shall meet.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Experiences of a Flying Teacher from the Clouds of Education - Chapter 12

Welcoming Lesson Observations – Part I

Everyone knows its name, its purpose. Like an ominous, hovering force, it hides and waits, patiently awaiting the time to strike with objective indifference: The dreaded lesson observation. All teachers have been a part of this toiling, yet very necessary part of education in whatever schooling system they may be a part of. It is one of those intricate parts of the schooling process that simply has to be conducted. Generally, when you first make your way into teaching – most notably as a cover teacher – one does not cross paths with the observers of lessons. Understandably, you are at the school covering for the day, just passing by while delivering a small collection of lessons to kids in various subjects. This changes once you make the decision to go into more long-term teaching.

In the UK, for example, when you are asked to come in for an interview for a long-term cover position – or hopefully, permanent post – yes, there is the interview stage, filled with questions about your past experience, your specific schooling and the intricacies of getting to know you as an educator and a person. However, there is also, every so often, the prospect of a lesson observation to go through as a direct part of your interview process. Here, the lead teacher of the particular department you are applying for, will quite literally toss you into a classroom to teach a very short – usually 20-30 minute lesson – to a group of students you have never seen in your life. To many, this potential ordeal may seem terrifying. It can be difficult, intimidating, and most certainly can put many out of their comfort zones.

Nevertheless, that is the challenge that makes it so interesting. Even in today’s evolving education where critical thinking and student-centered learning is the way forward, teaching in front of 30 students every day is a sort of performance. You prepare, or are given a script – a lesson plan – which in turn you deliver, or perform, to the students you are teaching. Yes, you guide students as an educator most of the time, but there is still the element of standing in front of a group of people and needing to capture their attention – to command the room. It is those who embrace this that can really thrive going forward.

As you conduct your impromptu, albeit short, lesson plan, you may find that the students will be very much engaged. Many times the lead teacher will be very accommodating and place you in a class filled with Year 12 students – mature, attentive and more than willing to participate in whatever classroom discussion or activities you may have planned. Nothing to fear, on top of the fact that the lead teacher is sitting right there, making sure that any disruptions are few and far between. The pressure can be great, especially knowing that a big part of their decision for hiring you long-term rests on the observation itself. Still, this is where the performance is most vital. More than that, however, it is confidence in your own abilities as a teacher that count the most. The lesson plan guides you and sets the overlaying foundation of your lesson. Yet, it is faith in your skills – your delivery of the lesson, the way you interact with the students and the timing of each aspect of the lesson that is most important.

When you do succeed in securing a coveted long-term position, lesson observations come and go with the passing of the seasons and terms. Looking forward to Halloween this evening? You didn’t hear? Lesson observations tomorrow afternoon. Spring break just around the corner? Check your e-mail. Ofsted is coming for a visit. I think it’s time to take a look at your lesson plan for the day. It is as if you are in a travelling company of actors, expected to ‘perform’ at the drop of the hat, rain or shine, at whatever date or time of day.

I say opportunities abound for you to put your hard work, training and skills on display.

Lesson observations don’t have to be seen as a criticizing free-for-all session. Of course there will be comments and suggestion and, sometimes, objections or resistance to certain methods a teacher may have in a classroom. Things might not go as splendidly for you as originally planned, but they also can go perfectly right. Listening to observers make their comments, criticisms and suggestions is all part of the process. The key is how you react to it. You can be negative about it, self-critical, dejected, and even downright opposed to the views of the observer, whether they are objective or not. Still, being positive about any lesson observation is just as critical. Learning to understand what the observer is trying to convey to you and seeing the overall picture of improvement he or she is most concerned about is what matters the most. You accept another person’s view, who is in a position to comment on your teaching methods and delivery, and you apply it to your next lesson. Like our students, every educator is always in the process of learning as well.

We all have bad days at school, whether from struggling classroom management to the timing of the lesson not going exactly as planned. But another day is another day and, with it, the chance to shine anew on the stage of teaching.

In Part II, I will look at the actual process of a lesson observation in detail, including tips to help you welcome the next time your lead teacher informs you that they will be observing your next lesson…

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Forrester's Quest: Chapter 1 - A Farmer, two Fiddles and an Ox - Part II

The conclusion to chapter 1...

As Fenn approached the white gate of his family’s abode, he could hear the thudding of an axe against the wooden block they had in the small yard behind the house. Surely his father was hard at work, unceasingly. He swung the gate open casually and made his way around the house to speak to him.
     Ignatius was wielding the family’s old ax in immense anticipation, poised to swing at another piece of wood resting on the block. He quickly glanced up to see his son approach, then brought the ax down with a loud thud. Collecting the splintered wood and tossing it into the pile he had gathered behind him, he addressed his son.
     “How goes the marketeering today boy?”
     “All is as well as it should be father. I don’t suppose you want to know how the bread makers and fruit dealers faired in their business today?” he sarcastically prodded, expecting his father’s usual curt reply. Ignatius spared another glance at Fenn and groaned irritably. He set another piece of wood on the block.
     “Have you begun preparing for your journey to Ernvale? Your clothes and supplies won’t pack themselves you know?” His father countered, changing the topic expectantly. Fenn had only started gathering the things he needed for the journey south of Lower Mire tomorrow, to the sanctuary of Ernvale. There, any wayward traveler could find the freshest source of mineral water in the entire Kingdom of Eardgeard. Of course, many came from all parts of the land to spend but a few days basking in the warm breeze of the gentle hillside sanctuary, its sacred temples housing but a humble collection of beds and friars to attend to them. Fenn enjoyed the summer trips to Ernvale. It brought peace and relaxation from the long days on the farmland.
     Ignatius had noticed Fenn’s wandering mind and correctly guessed his lack of timely preparation: “Well get to it lad, no time to praddle about son. When your mother gets back from the market she can help you with the binding of the food you’ll need. Where’s that Horsfall? Is he as ready as you?”
     “His horse will be ready before either of us!” Fenn boasted as both men chuckled heartily at that. He began to make his way towards the front of the house when his father called out suddenly, “Fenn! Whose boar had the highest bid?”
     “I couldn’t tell you father, I left before the fun began. But I am sure there will be stories to tell by the time the sun comes down behind Ealdmoder!” Fenn yelled over his shoulder as he disappeared behind the side of the house. Ignatius nodded with a grunt, then brought the ax down for another blow.

     It was late afternoon when Fenn’s mother Beryl returned from the village square. She carried three sacks of various food items, a few delicacies, and even some radiant flowers for his younger sister, Rhoda, which she particularly liked. Fenn was busy packing clothes and supplies, but it was not long before the evening supper was laid out across the grand table they had in their dining room. When his father Ignatius had built the house with his own hands, he had vowed to create a spacious room for his family to eat in. A large request, but one which he insisted on to his mother. Beryl would always jest that Ignatius wanted such a dining “hall” as a result of his childhood home, which had been a sort of tiny shack, containing barely one room, a single bed and a fireplace.
     “Absolute shambles!” she would remember him reminiscing about his former abode in the direst voice. Beryl claimed that Ignatius even had nightmares about it from time to time. Yet, thinking back on it now, he knew there was no house as cozy as that small dwelling from a time long ago, now mercifully gone for many years.
     At his mother’s summons, off went Fenn to the dining hall. He greeted his mother and father as he entered, before welcoming his sister Rhoda – who had just come from the kitchen carrying a basketful of warm bread. They had all just sat down to eat when a gentle knock came on the front door.
     Exchanging looks with Fenn, Ignatius nodded towards the door in a rather indifferent manner. Rising quickly, the young man approached the drafty entranceway and swung the door open in muted anticipation. There standing before him was the drawn out form of his uncle Dill. Almost immediately he took his hat off in quiet greeting, afforded Fenn the slightest of grins, and nimbly drifted by the perplexed looking youth into the warm, comely home.
     Making his presence known almost immediately to all those in the dining room, Dill began his narrative of the afternoon’s events. For the most part, he skimmed by the less insightful occurrences of the market dealings, and before anyone had even began to eat their hearty meals, the conversation drifted inevitably to the haggling of the boars.
     “I tell you Ignatius, not a finer stock I have ever had, and still! Still, Borah wielded his magical victory! What is he feeding them? The gods only know!”
     Chewing his food silently, Ignatius could only stare back at Dill’s lively retelling of the haggling as he saw it. In the meantime, Rhoda had set up another plate for her uncle, which he in turn filled up only slightly with some bread, cheese and tomatoes. Rather, he continued in his detailed explanation of the bids that were the highest for the boars and how many each man was able to sell by the end of the day. An hour passed by steadily when Dill finally rose from the table to bid a less than gracious farewell, but humble nevertheless. On came his hat, his walking stick firmly in hand, and swiftly into the early evening did Uncle Dill disappear, none the worse than when he had first came.
     Calmness restored once again, Ignatius Eaeldred looked at his family with bemused eyes, then simply resumed his evening feast. Fenn grinned from ear to ear, obviously finding much to enjoy in the company of Uncle Dill. Beryl glance quietly at Fenn before slicing another piece of meat for her own rather enlivened palette to taste. Rhoda rolled her eyes lovingly. Fenn started to say something, but held his tongue at the last moment, for something outside caught the attention of his alert ears.
     Crickets were sounding off at a fierce pace in the bushes just behind the house, but not loud enough to overpower the fierce footsteps that could now be heard storming down the dirt road from the direction of the village square. Closer and closer they seemed to be approaching, and before long all present at the Eaeldred table could hear the furious mutterings of a man opening the gate of their home and stepping up to the porch of the house.
     A quick succession of knocks were struck on the door. Up Fenn jumped, too eagerly for Ignatius’ liking, and bracing himself as best he could, the young man opened the portal – in through the door, and shouldering past the surprised Fenn, rushed the grisly form of Uncle Turnavine.
     Into the guest chair he plopped his tall, lanky body, his face reflecting the furious features of an enraged bull.
     “Brother, this is absolute sacrilege!” he began rather earnestly. “30! 30 coins for my majestic boars! An insult I say. I spit on that untidy sum…and that Borah, 50! And 50 for his smallest at that! They’ll rue the day when they come to their senses, that belligerent lot, I tell you!
     Fenn coughed ever so slightly. Quick as an Asharan grasshopper did Turnavine turn his head towards the apologetic youth.
     “You, boy, stop eating your food so fast, you’ll choke I tell you.”
     “Sorry Uncle –“
     “And I tell you another thing, it’s that little Dill. Up to his scheming ways he was! I know for sure he was hovering about my hedges the past few weeks, thinking up ways to disrupt. Who knows what he could have slipped into the slop I feed them? A travesty! Gliding into the square he did first, before me! Of all the things that boy has done, I tell you!”
     “You know Turnavine, he’s not a boy anymore. And neither are you for that matter,” Beryl jested, to the obvious agitation of her brother-in-law.
     “Well,” he muttered, the scowl on his aged face getting even deeper and more pronounced. “What do you have here?”
     Out reached the hands of Turnavine, grasping the nearest plate on which he placed several potatoes, vegetables and a small piece of meat. Bread came last as he tucked in to the hearty meal that Beryl had prepared so warmly. Any sort of discussion was few and far between from this moment on, but by the time his plate was finished and clean, Turnavine shot up from his sturdy seat, bid all a pleasant evening, and stamped off into the evening air. His protesting mutterings could still be heard for a short while before he too vanished into the night. Ignatius could only sigh, but Fenn could not help but offer the slightest of grins, as did his mother and sister, who were thoroughly amused.
     Peace reigned once more in the home of the Eaeldreds. By this time, evening was beginning its steady progress into late night and soon the table began to be cleared. Ignatius was about to rise himself when a sudden gathering of noise could be heard in the near distance.
     Naturally, it was coming from the direction of the village square.
     The gradual shouting of several voices was getting nearer and nearer, and as Fenn raised the basket of bread to return it to the kitchen, he quickly recognized the most prominent voice of the shouting group approaching: Uncle Borah.
     Fenn placed the basket of bread back down on the table and headed to the door. Ignatius followed his son’s actions with an unconcerned stare. As he swung the door open, there standing on the old dirt road was the jovial form of the great Borah, absolutely beaming with joy and struggling to open the white front gate. He had two other villagers standing with him as he laughed off his difficulties with the latch. One of them was Lescott Trenchant, an old childhood friend of Borah, while the other was Lee Sutton, an old acquaintance from the village of Upper Mire. He travelled all this way to see Borah gain the highest haggling bid for the fifth year in a row it seemed. Expressing their many thanks and congratulations on an assured victory, off the two men went, clutching what looked like a leather wine skin, sloshing liquid in the chilly breeze.
     “Fenn? Is that you? My dear boy! You never cease to amaze me how quickly you grow!” Borah shouted, rambling up the steps to the open front door. He gave the biggest hug a man could possibly bestow on another, a hard slap on the back, and in he went through the comely portal. Fenn smiled immensely as the familiar smell of wine greeted his nostrils when Uncle Borah went by.
     A big, rollicking man his favourite uncle was, Fenn thought. How now he sat at the end of the table, opposite Ignatius, bringing good cheer to all those around him. His retelling of the day’s events at the square and market was the boisterous of them all!
     “In and out, they came and went Ignatius! But I knew, I knew they never had a chance. The poor beasts, and I’m not talking about the boars! Ahahaha!” rolled the words with the booming voice of the large man. Borah sat back in joyous amusement, surveying the rather barren looking table. He looked up suddenly and inquired, “Beryl! Do you have, perchance, any of that famous bread and savoury duck? I would give up three of my favourite boars just for a taste of those sweet delights!”
     As if from a dream, Beryl emerged from the kitchen with a plate filled with all the best collection of delectable foods that Borah could ever have imagined. She had made sure to set aside a good portion for him earlier in the evening. A silver of wine, carried in by Rhoda, also greeted him exuberantly.
     “Ah, dear Beryl, a glorious, glorious treat! Bless you, bless you dear sister! Ignatius, you speak of the foreseen difficulties you would have if you did not have dear Beryl with you. Ha! I say what would I do without the dear lady? Bless you all!”
     Even stern Ignatius could afford a gentle smile at that. As the jubilant, victorious Borah began his excitable shoveling of food into his great belly, the bright fire place continued to spread its energy and warmth throughout the loving home of the Eaeldreds.
     While outside, in the deep dead of the night, the stirrings of creatures and critters, common and ancient, resumed their mysterious existence.