Category Archives: Blog

Hey, UK English teachers…you don’t need to settle. Move on.

I used to work 60-70 hours a week. It made me absolutely miserable.

I was an English teacher in England teaching English to students who hated English. Every six weeks they had to do a ‘controlled assessment’, which was an essay exam with strict perameters, and over my week off for the half term I had to mark the papers.

It took days to get through 120 papers; it was no way to live. My British colleagues would take a few days off then spend the rest of their days half marking, half enjoying their families and loved ones…hating their lives, dreaming of retirement, staving off or taking personal leave for recovery.

They were burned out or on their way to becoming burned out. 

I looked into the situation. While writing papers for my master’s degree in business management, I did some research and discovered that 60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK.

As a volunteer in suicide prevention, I found this highly disturbing. This terrible fact became my new mantra for change.

“60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK. In 2015, 50,000 left the profession, leaving the system in crisis.” I announced, disturbed and determined that people should think about it.

What could be learned from this?

I learned that I could not change the system. Every time I tried to be an individual in an English department in the UK, it backfired. The kids loved the classes but some resisted heartily. It was too strange to them, too demanding for some – writing a one-page letter in an hour was too much to expect from one Year 7 class. I’ll never forget it. I had too little time to exact change and my competence was questioned.

It just wasn’t going to work. The system wasn’t conducive. My passion was being drained dry.

I loved being Head of English for 11 years in Saudi Arabia at an American international school where I could and did teach an array of creative and academic skills pertaining to the subject – creative writing, filmmaking, essay writing, presenting, debating, literary analysis and response to literature using multiple modes of communication including technology based deliveries.

My students in Canada and Saudi wrote 50-page family histories in their last years with me, kept journals, wrote letters, wrote persuasive and analytical papers and walked away equipped for university, self employment and more. They work today in tech companies like Texas Instruments and Microsoft inventing things. They are doctors and scientists, artists and humanitarians. One works for the UN with refugees in Jordan. One is a philosopher. Another works with unwed teen mothers. My students of English in Saudi Arabia achieved top grades in American SAT exams, and today they are teachers and more.

Teaching English in the UK…in a non-project based system where I had absolutely little to no freedom to develop my own classes…drove me nuts.

I also learned…

I need to be able to create as a teacher, not merely deliver a ‘canned’ curriculum. Pre-written units in full that could not be deviated from were problematic.

Sometimes they were not well written or inspired. No wonder the kids hated the study of English.

I needed to return to my passion. My first love was drama and theatre and I am an artist at the core. My passion is and has always been the arts because of the great power of artistic expression and the freedom of interpretation in these subjects.

So, I quit my job with a supply teaching (substitute) agency that kept me barely employed (you cannot live on supply teaching in the UK). Long term contracts weren’t paying off; no one was giving me a permanent job.

I was being used by administrators who wanted to hire the next top gun to come out of university…for literally two-thirds of my salary. The system makes teachers sick, literally, and I wasn’t in the position to take sick leave (as an ancestry visa holder and immigrant).

My British English teaching friends watched as I went to London one weekend with Search Associates, got myself a top-paying job teaching theatre in a top-tier school in the Middle East – and KAPOW! Instant happiness.

I love them for their fortitude (and obvious – I believe – passion for teaching their subject). They watch as I have grown my drama program exponentially since arriving in the desert to ramp up things in my school.

I teach full time drama and theatre as part of a fine arts team I love, I am district leader for fine arts innovation in our school district (7 schools).

I put on three or more shows a year with my students. Meanwhile, I sadly hear from colleagues in the UK that their administrators are cutting back time for the arts while I get to teach drama and theatre for 70 minutes, three times a week.

Takeaway: don’t bang your head against a brick wall. Life is too short. Take a page from this and either protest the working conditions in the UK. Or move on.

Sir Michael Wilshaw: Teachers leaving for classrooms abroad is “brain drain” on talent

There are great jobs everywhere but possibly not where you live. If you’re afraid to get moving, don’t be. Take a risk, get a job somewhere else, aligned with your passion.

Make sure the company’s values are aligned with yours, too.

And fly.

If you need help sorting out  your plan, I’m here for you. Get in touch. I coach professionals ready for change.

PS. Seems nothing has changed since 2015. Another teacher shortage is projected for 2017 in the UK. Meanwhile, my best friend’s son in Canada was almost recruited to go to London. I told him: don’t bother unless you’re armed and ready for the conditions. He found himself a job he loves in Canada.

Filipino Jeepney Art – Soon to be Extinct?

I have a fascination with these share taxis called ‘jeepneys’ in the Philippines. They’re leftover jeeps that have been sold to the Filipinos and decorated and dressed up by the owners and drivers. No smog protection, but cozy.

Warmups – Breaking the Ice

I am attending a drama teachers’ professional development conference – part of the EARCOS Teachers Conference in Manila, Philippines. Incredible way to end the day. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘reach out and touch someone’.

On Paris and Beirut

The news in Paris is grotesque and unfathomable. My heart goes out to that nation and to those directly affected by the terrorist attacks where at least 8 suicide bombers shot and then 7 blew themselves up in densely populated areas of the city on a buzzing Friday night. And where the story of this, the events, are still unfolding. This is not over. The world we live in…I cannot begin to finish that sentence. It is too big. It is much too big.

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The news has not reached the world in the same way, but there was a Da’esh (ISIS) terrorist attack yesterday in Beirut, Lebanon also Continue reading On Paris and Beirut

Tuk Tuk Taxi Dash – My kind of computer game

I’m soon about to start travelling again. Ahhhh…the tuk tuk life.

Click on the image to play the Tuk Tuk Taxi Dash game…’cause life shouldn’t be all work and no play!

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Success with highly distractable students

Teaching is a noble profession, an artform, a talent, a honed talent, a compilation of skills, attitudes and aptitudes that take years to acquire. Masterful teaching is an ongoing learning process. When you’ve had a success, celebrate and keep learning.

Today, I taught a Year 11 class and the co-teacher, their regular teacher, was out for the day. My students sometimes look like this:

A supply teacher came in and quickly I noticed that students had played musical chairs. Of course. It’s a supply teacher day. I herded them back to their regular seats, and they realised I would be teaching the lesson. I was intent to seize the opportunity to fill in the mental gaps from the last lesson: these lads and lasses did not know how to analyse the language of a passage on a Mongolian woman in the rugged wilderness. I loved the literature, but they were disconnected from it.

We had a go at pulling out six quotes: three on the land and three on the woman. Then came the choice between analysing the more obscure reference in one line on her cheekbones, which were thick and spread out, signifying her race but also her strength, her masculinity, her independence (bravo to the student who so capably articulated this)…and the weathered wrinkles on her face, signifying her long life in the outdoors, and what she has ‘weathered’ and survived – the elements, the hardships of a rural, nomadic lifestyle with little but her animals and the land. The debate over which example to choose engaged most students, I’m pleased to say. They actually understood, finally, at that point, what I had harped on about: choose the quote first, after reading the question. Know what you’re being asked to do, find the evidence, then work out your paragraphs and key points. It’s hard to know what to say, if you don’t understand the passage enough. Getting these kids curious about the writing is a bit…tricky. Dive right into the words, I say. The sooner the better.

So, hooked. One part of a seemingly mammoth task for this group…done. Next, PEEL paragraphing. Point. Evidence. Explanation. Link (back to the question). There are enough YouTube tutorials out there to allow me not to say more than this, but with regard to the students I was teaching today, and three or four of the boys like to talk through the entire class, I’ve noticed (but NOT through mine, for I’m not having it, and when one lad could not simmer down he was given the option to leave and speak with me outside – the situation resolved fast). I just don’t waffle with behaviour. Somehow, high expectations work for me. No doubts. Participate. Focus. Engage. We’re talking. We’re doing. We’re thinking. Give back. I’m giving. Take it. Give to each other. Help one another. But get in the ‘game’.

It wasn’t long before I had a class full of unruly-ish (but actually very nice) Year 11 students who are ‘sick’ of revision for their March final GCSE exams fully engaged in the task, writing. The last class, they mucked about, the whole class, some of them when faced with – sadly by my colleague who is surely just delivering what she has been given in terms of instructions and curriculum – death by PowerPoint lessons, copious wordage!!!, notes and notes and notes of LECTURES. Even I was hard pressed to stifle my yawns. Less is more. Teach an example, and work through one with a class. Then they can run with it. And today they did. I’m proud of them. It’s made me realise, it might be time to offer up some workshops on this. I have the perfect name for it, too: Last Chance – Kick in the Pants – GCSE Revision for Dummies (not).  Tongue in cheek, of course.

I always say to my students who, all too often, call themselves ‘stupid’: anybody can get an A. And I still and always will believe it. With enough support, patience, time, practice, guidance and motivation – anyone can.

How the class ended? One of my students packed up and said, “Miss, this is the first lesson I have ever had a supply teacher (ie. substitute teacher) in and learned. Wow. Word.

Free Education

Education is a human right. Let’s get that straight. It is a fundamental human right, and the United Nations says so.

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Meet a young Cambodian girl who ‘hearted’ us when my Qatar Academy students and I went into the jungle for Week Without Walls (a week of experiential learning outside of the school, something every school should have). We went to paint this little girl’s humble school with a new coat of love. We hear you. We will never forget you. We know that there are people on this planet who have LITTLE to NO access to education, and it is unacceptable. It is a moral imperative that everyone with the means to provide it do what must be done to uplift the situation and provide children AND adults with education and further education. Because education is a fundamental human right. 

Cambodian heart
Click the photo to see more.

Daphne Koller of Stanford University tells us this, articulately and intelligently, from experience.

We’ve got children in the world who cannot get an education. And we also have the problem of adults on this planet who cannot get a decent means to work. The issue for adults is an economic one. The costs associated with post-secondary education have risen exponentially in recent years to the point where education has become as hefty an investment as a house. It frightens people. And some like Dr. Joel McDurmon refuse to pay. He penned ‘B.A. to Ph.D. for under $15,000: How I did it‘ and it’s an eye-opener. Straight talk about how to get an alternative education, and it can only have gotten easier in the 21st Century. Right? Not quite. 

The question is: why should we force people into economic hardship to gain an education? If you look deeper into this issue, you’ll find that others have asked this question and provide solutions for not only those living in developing nations but also those everywhere who are willing but entrapped in the confines of their lives, working to eke out a living, unable to afford to take the time off to study to change their circumstances.

Nothing comes for free, of course. Education is a human resource heavy industry. Without teachers and instructors, there can be no education. They create the curriculum and, as such, there are costs to an education. But governments and industry partner up to subsidise these costs. And that’s another debate. The assumption in this article is that willing parties will find ways to pay for and provide affordable educational solutions to all. For if we don’t educate the masses, the price we pay at the societal level is ignorance, and ignorance costs a lot.

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US-based Campaign for Educational Equity shows us: Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 09.24.46Read the full report here.

The UK media has been yowling for some time about the mismatch between graduates and employers. The costs of the lack of adequate educational provision are real. Look at these headlines:

Employers want education system to better prepare young people for life outside school gates – CBI/Pearson Study

Schools should do more to prepare students for work

The Canadian government recognises the problem, too, in this article:

At its most basic, he said, Canada’s rapidly changing economy needs workers with trades certificates, community college diplomas and university degrees. Workers with less than that already cost the country $24.3 billion in lost productivity.

Several numbers back up Munro’s argument:

• 81 per cent of jobs lost during the recent recession were suffered by workers without any post secondary education.

• Between 1990 and 2012, the employment rate for people whose education ended at high school fell to 48 per cent from 58 per cent.

•In Hamilton, the number of people working in jobs that require higher education has grown to 59 per cent from 55 per cent in 2006 and between Jan. 1 last year and this year the economy created 167,500 jobs for college and university graduates while losing 85,400 positions for those without post secondary education.

•Workers with less than high school have an average unemployment rate of 11 per cent and earn an average of $32,029 a year compared to 4.5 per cent and $56,048 for those with an undergraduate degree.

Even if an under-educated worker can find a job, Munro warned there’s a real financial penalty — over a 40-year career having high school or less means earning $745,800 less than someone with a degree.

“It’s clear that to be employable in this economy a person needs some level of post secondary education,” he said. “Without that you’ll have real trouble in this economy.”

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But, Houston, we have a problem. Putting costs aside, universities and colleges are in trouble. They’re not able to keep up with the real demands of the world. The Economist says so: higher education is ‘not what it used to be‘. Why? Because information is a river. It’s free-flowing. It’s an ocean. It’s vast, deep, much deeper than a few navigators can manage. It’s bigger than us all, and we must filter this information more effectively to allow people to develop themselves in accordance with the needs of the world we live in.

What our students should know in the 21st Century can be epitomised in a few words:

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But what does it mean? It means that the world has gone mobile. We have access to learning everywhere because of technology. Thus learning can and must be more individually tailor-made. nutshell_21c_learning-001In adult terms, this is what our world looks like and society needs to get to grips with it. Governments, higher institutions and employers, too, all bear the responsibility of educating adults.

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The world is changing. Information is like air. Data is everywhere, free-flowing, and accessible to virtually everyone for very little money, really, if you juggle the economics. The responsibility to ensure that education is provided to all affordably is a must. It is a moral and practical imperative. It would be innovative to think then that education should be provided to us all – for free.

Khan Academy and Coursera are leaders in this regard. Go get what you can.

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And if you’re looking for other alternatives to reducing the costs of university or college, look here:

Women, Leadership and Change Management

Learning never stops. Leaders aren’t born. They grow. Three little pearls of wisdom for today.

I am undertaking an MBA elective in Leadership and Change Management via the University of South Australia, a uni I have loved being affiliated with since I started my Master of Arts and Cultural Management degree in 2007. Where does time go? It was my last year in Saudi Arabia. I’ve been taking courses and applying them to various career interests ever since. It’s not what you learn. It’s what you do with it.

My current ‘callings’ take me down the path of organisational change, something I am interested in as I look at the lack of innovation in some organisations in the UK (sadly, within secondary education) and ponder the question of what to do about it.

This is in stark contrast to that within other organisations which, thankfully, throw out ‘rays of sunshine’ in and among the very dark ‘clouds’. The BBC, which is based in the city where I live, or the ‘attached’ city, Salford and Salford’s Media City, ten minutes from my home in Manchester comes to mind as a creative, inspired, inspiring and innovative organisation, despite its criticisms. After that, I’m stumped.

But then I volunteer with the Samaritans in suicide prevention, and am about to embark on a leadership role with the charity, or am dipping my foot in the waters (while paddling like a mad-crazy-busy woman-while-aiming-to-still-sustain-a-contemplative-life as I complete my post-graduate studies…so easy goes…eas-y goes-s-s). The Samaritans is certainly an organisation engaged in innovation, though I am not at liberty to disclose much about it – hey, volunteer! It will become evident how this organisation is reaching out to depressed people beyond the traditional avenues it has thus far effectively traversed. I love and am proud to serve the Samaritans in the UK.

These experiences have raised the quesiton for me: what is this business of change that I speak of, and how do you manage it organisationally? Stay tuned. I’ll share with you what I learn, as I go.

Call it a refinement of my passions. Oprah Winfrey sums it up like this: “Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

You see, as a Canadian who has travelled internationally across 24 borders and back, working in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UK and obviously my home country pre-1996 (when I left), I have discovered after (1) working in a school founded and managed by a Middle Eastern military hospital – part of the ‘Ministry of Defence’ – and (2) later accepting a position running a leadership and service learning program at a school nestled within the highly esteemed ‘think tank’, the Qatar Foundation, rising fast from the flat sands of that nation’s corner of the Arabian Gulf, my fascination with global organisations – large, complex, multi-faceted – has only grown.

My time at the Qatar Foundation, but also my various encounters with international conferences like Midem, where I signed a record deal with the one company in India that owns the majority of sugar plantations and also produces all the auto-rickshaws of the region, Bajaj…these have shaped my view of the accessibility of remarkable programs for global change. That is to say: change not just at the level of ‘improvement’ but at the level of ‘innovation’.

Watch this space, for I’m going ‘travelling’. Only this time it is a journey of ideas that, I’m sure, will cross time and space.

Taking back time

Busy professionals are sometimes too busy. Unconscious workaholics, on a mission to get from A to Z in the quest of achieving a dream or mission, plod on in a state.

They may think they are self empowered, driven, strong and made of iron. In fact, their hearts palpitate and their tempers flare. The most caring and well-intentioned people fail to sleep at night. They are so overburdened they do not see what is going on. They sense and intuit that something is moving at the pace of a disaster waiting to happen, yet it’s not until either an accident, illness or exhaustion that life’s mechanisms take the gravity of the situation to heart and slow it all down. What makes us think we can do it all, today?

At a recent seminar I attended, life-work balance was discussed, and if there was one point I will take away with me and use in my own practice of living better (happy), forever, it is this: know where your recovery points are. In the day, week, term and year, busy professionals need to know when these moments exist or are necessary, and then plan for these times when things can slow down. Or else.

But let me sneak in another little big thing: time management. Busy people need to chunk down major commitments and priorities into many more smaller ones, for this makes tasks more manageable, and completion is key. But why?

Because when life becomes about work and work only, the joy of living sours. Human beings are animals not machines. We weren’t born to work all of the time, 60-80 hours a a week, no matter how enjoyable the work may be. Arguably, we were born to fulfil our potential – too – as humans ‘being’, and self-actualisation in this regard is multifaceted. Among a myriad of priorities, relationships are critical. If you don’t have time for relationships – lover, family, friends, colleagues, God or Spirit (if you believe), community and most of all with yourself – then what is the point? What’s it all for? What is the point to this work that is so ‘important’?

Pomodoro is your friend. logoOnly, you may not own a tomato shaped timer, and you don’t necessarily like to work to a timer, either. The complexities of managing a super-charged work life with an equally full personal life is a real challenge and one not to be taken lightly. For your own inner life’s sake, for peace’s sake, for balance’s sake, give yourself space to breathe. Look at this question of self discipline and life-work balance, but do give yourself time to breathe.

For we can, at times, all ‘undo’ what has been done, backtrack if necessary and divest ourselves of commitments that no longer matter. With a little self reflection and some shifts in priorities, one can choose what is most essential and take care of body, mind and spirit. It is the essence of good living.

More in future posts.

Peace. Out.

Courage to Love

Yesterday, I sat in an assembly for Year 9 students. The school where I teach has decided to institute something called a ‘Culture for Learning’. The first step is to have the ‘Courage to Learn in Silence’. I like it. Twenty minutes of silent, independent thinking and effort – with teacher assistance nearby, as needed. Students find it hard. But they have been told to expect this in every class, every day. They’re improving, day by day. It reminds me of something…

This arrived on my Facebook page today. I love it. The courage to learn. The courage to kiss…and hug. Way to develop a ‘Culture for Love’. 

Do you need courage to love?