Monday, September 23, 2013

Winning, Losing and Loving It: have we taught sportsmanship?

So, I hear you ask, what have you been doing with the first weekend of your weeklong mini vacation/break thingy??

I've been waking up early, to get to school an hour before the normal school day starts, to load 13 teenagers and myself into a pilchard tin bus a bit like this one... that we could drive for forty minutes to take part in a three day, all day, chess tournament. Yay!

This entailed watching seven rounds of two hour long games, keeping score, trying to keep up with strategies and points tables and hovering around to defend my players when opposing players or managers become...over-zealous. It happens, people. Chess can bring out the killer instinct!

But aside from the obvious downsides, the tournament has been a great experience. Granted I have a headache, and bitten nails from a (nearly) photo finish in our group. Granted my holiday is now 6 days instead of 9. Granted my ears are still ringing a bit from the bus trip home. But I find it impossible to spend a significant amount of time with a group of teenagers and not start loving them, at least a little. And this particular group has been working towards this particular tournament so faithfully that by now my husband and I have spent a great deal of time with them. So I have started loving them.

Not in a creepy way. Not in a parental way. In a teacher way. I enjoy spending time with them. I find them funny. I care about what happens to them. I am interested in the next episodes of their love interests. I want them to win, because they will be sad if they lose. But I want them to win well, and to behave perfectly, and show the world what amazing kids they really are, beneath the hysterical love interests, and phone obsessions, and weird hairstyles... *sniff*

This particular tournament had a good outcome for us. It was the provincial playoffs for the whole of the Western Cape, and our u15 mixed team won bronze against some unbelievably talented opponents. Our u15 girls team won gold in their section and will be going to nationals in December.

They were happy with their results. I was happy with the results too. I was also happy with the way they acted around their success, and around the teams who did not succeed. But it could easily have gone very differently - as I said, it came down to a very tight points difference in the final round. And I can't help wondering how different their behaviour would have been if things hadn't gone our way.

I hope it would have been the same. The amount of effort and skill they put in would have been the same, and would have deserved a similar amount of celebration. Being defeated by chance or a stronger team is nothing to be depressed or miserable or grumpy about. We always try very hard to prepare the teams for good losing behaviour as well as good winning behaviour. But the proof, as always, is in the pudding. Today we didn't get to taste the pudding. Maybe next time we will.

The mark of a great sportsperson is not how he wins. It is how he loses.

But I must say, I still prefer to win. Not even the prospect of doing it all again at the beginning of the December holidays can dampen my spirits. I am sure my ears will stop ringing soon...

Yours triumphantly

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Planning vs Pantsing - NaNoWriMo 2013

I know it's early, but as you know I am already chomping at the NaNoWriMo bit. For those who don't know what NaNoWriMo is an epic challenge: write a novel in the month of November. 30 Days. 50 000 Words. Yes, that is the correct number of zeros.

I won NaNoWriMo last year (by that I don't mean "came first" or anything. EVERYONE who finishes 50 000 words is a NaNo winner) and am firmly addicted to the rush of hurtling through a story at 1 667 words per day. The feeling is kind of like caffeine on a high. So naturally I want to do it again. Duh.

Now according to the NaNo lore and prophets, there are two ways of writing your NaNo novel. Planning (self explanatory) and Pantsing (flying by the seat of your pants). Last year, having discovered the notion of NaNo in the 20s of October, I pantsed it. Largely, anyway. I had a more-or-less chapter plan scribbled somewhere on a piece of paper. I had a couple of characters developed a couple of days before starting...but that's about it. Perfect for my episodic, fantasy-ish romp of a story. Short of words for the day? Insert a new species of monster, and some flashy spells. 

But this year I'm thinking about emulating some of my favourite authors of all time and writing a golden age style detective story. Think Dame Agatha and her coven of cronies. Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers... *happy sigh* I do love a good murder mystery. If I had the creative energy to write Poirot or Lord Peter fanfiction I SO would. small problem... as we all know, a good detective story is built on timetables, and alibi charts and stuff. Turning clocks back, train schedules, tide tables, that sort of thing. Just the sort of thing which is impossible to make up on the fly. Not at 1000 words per hour, anyway. And in any case I may, possibly, skip over those pages in detective stories. I want to get to the good stuff, you know?

I have some ideas about how to do this without making myself miserable with tables and boring alibi charts, such as making characters like I would create computer game/dungeons and dragons characters. If and when I carry these ideas out, I will share them. Judiciously, of course, so as to save you all from the spoilers.

But basically, if I want this year's NaNo to be a win for me, and if I don't fall back on the interesting zombie apocalypse/teacher twist that is still a valid possibility... I need to start planning. Like, now.

So, er... bye! No time to talk. I'm planning...

yours prudently

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stayin' Alive: My Classroom Management Survival Strategy

I am not a disciplinarian. I am not super strict or super scary. And I think I've come to accept that. I'm young and relatively inexperienced - and occasionally I find their naughtinesses funny (anathema!). But I can still manage a classroom well. I can still make sure I am the boss when it comes to the important things. Even in a class filled to overflowing with rowdy, hormonious (sic) teenagers. Linking up (for the first time ever, go me!) with Megan at M* are my top survival strategies for chaos (I mean, classroom) management.

1) Insist.

Decide which battles you want to fight and be willing to stop the class and spend however long it takes winning. Once you've thrown down the gauntlet you MUST win. Unless a child presents a sensible argument as to why the gauntlet shouldn't have been thrown down in the first place (oops!) in which case apologies and move on. Everyone else in the classroom is willing to waste learning time to misbehave, so you sometimes HAVE to call their collective bluff and be willing to 'waste' learning time to insist on good behaviour. And break time too, if necessary. On a related note, if you say you'll do something as a punishment (give detention, call parents, whatever) you MUST do it. Not following through = discipline suicide. On another related, and perhaps obvious note...

2) Pick your battles

Don't throw the gauntlet on the floor for every little thing. It's too exhausting and time consuming otherwise. Ask yourself whether it is really worth it. Johnny putting a sweet in his mouth? Not so much. Johnny swearing at Billy? Definitely. Johnny and Billy having a quiet conversation about something unrelated? Your call. These are the things I will go to battle for, more or less in order of importance:
  •   anything that threatens the safety and well being of themselves or the other people in the classroom (hitting, nasty remarks, setting things on fire...)
  •  anything that severely impairs the ability of anyone in the class to learn (talking loudly, not taking books out, coming late...)
  •  anything that impairs my ability to teach (or irritates the living $&#% out of me - whistling continuously, throwing pens and papers, eating something that rustles or stinks...)

I try to think about a potential infraction VERY carefully before putting on my helmet and elbow guards and wading into the fray. If it doesn't fit one of those categories, I often let it slide. And if it does fit one of those categories...

3) Explain

I've always had a better response, and less repetition of bad behaviour if I have addressed the WHY and not just the what. If the class understands the underlying reason behind why I'm going all in on an issue, they are less likely to brush it off as the teacher being petty or just 'in a bad mood', and more likely to change the problematic behaviour. Okay, SLIGHTLY more likely.

4) Correct rather than punish

This one isn't always possible, but it's one of my favourites. If the behaviour isn't all that heinous, or hasn't been repeated all that often, or simply isn't that big a deal... as if often isn't (because let's face it, most issues we deal with are stupid petty little things), then there isn't always a need to provide a punishment. This saves time, whining and emotional energy. It also means that when I do punish, it is a lot more of a big deal. In my classroom a detention is a BIG DEAL. It doesn't mean that the other behaviours, the ones I correct without punishment, are acceptable. They still have to stop. They still provoke a discussion, and sometimes even a consequence. It just might not warrant a punishment. Starting with correction also leaves you with somewhere to go if the behaviour doesn't change.

5) Quality Time

That's all very well, but we all know those kids who are perennial offenders. The constant chirper. The lazy lout. The latecomer. The attention seeker. I honestly don't know how to deal with those kids, but the strategy that has come closest to working is... quality time. Call the kid over privately, after class, or when you see them wandering around after school. Find out their 'why'. Take an interest in their circumstances. Can you make any small changes which will help them correct their own behaviour. Most kids don't like being in trouble. Let them know you don't like their being in trouble either. Call the parent for a friendly, concerned chat. It helps more often than I would have thought. Surprise! Apparently that naughty kid ISN'T actually evil...

For that kid who doesn't respond to that, to ANYTHING... my last resort is:

6) Get help

I have been lucky enough to find myself in a very supportive school, with many helpful bosses at different levels. I have battled and LOST battles with various learners through the years, and have gone knocking on doors with a frantic SOS. People, you will get to the point where you're just not coping. In which case... Don't be a hero. Ask for advice. Ask for help. Your boss/colleague/SOMEONE might need to come to the rescue.


That's it from me. I haven't got all the answers, and goodness knows I'm still learning. I've certainly enjoyed working out how much I've learned about this whole aspect of teaching over the past few years, and I'm longing to read what everyone else says in the linky party "Better Together" at M*Print. Hope this contribution helps you too!

Good luck with the chaos management...

Yours in solidarity

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

November is coming...

Man, you know! I just blinked and August was gone. In fact, most of September is also gone. Yikes!

It's been busy and wet around here, as the entrance of my house one early school morning testifies...

But there have been unexpected moments of peace and sunshine...

And as usual, a liberal sprinkling of blessings...

So I can't complain on the whole! But it's definitely time for something seriously constructive...

Yes, I know that's only in November, but I have been mulling over my plans for a while now. Needless to say I am definitely attempting the challenge again and super keen for it. More details soon, but I am trying to choose between writing a golden age detective novel, or a zombie apocalypse...

Join me?

Yours productively,