Archive for category personal

April poetry

The careful art of lawn maintenance

As good as mining blocks on a screen

Or thumbing an endless scroll

The pastime of encouraging grass to grow

In a suburban lawn plagued by weeds.

 

You may have heard there are a range of eco-friendly

solutions to the sprawling clover.

Something to do with vinegar and hot water

As so many solutions to contemporary problems involve.

 

If I took any of this seriously

I would have looked more carefully into the names

(characteristics and behaviours) of each weed by now.

Instead I non-methodically pry at tendrils and leaf unfurling through the blades

 

Elicit their reaching roots from the soil or

Snap their creeping stalks at the base.

Five major types at least stand out

As especially ambitious:

  1. Dark green leafy creeper, spreads close to the ground with thick, white roots spreading out in long runners under the soil. Pulling a thread up by the underlying white root is a deeply satisfying reward.
  2. Mini clover, spreading in patches via spindly stalks, criss-crossing between and around blades of grass. Can carefully be pulled up as a net, most successfully if edges are first unpicked.
  3. Sprouting grass: invasive. At first looks like healthy grass filling in a bare patch so it has been allowed to spread unchecked. May in fact be a weed. Pull up by individual tufts – tedious but high success rate with roots quick to relent. Evolving suspicion of an underlying rhizome.
  4. Spreading grass: invasive. Thin slender blades that form feather-soft patches of ‘maybe we should give up and let this grass take over’. Looks likely to burn in summer.
  5. Some kind of broadleaf weed. Starts as small, inconspicuous bursts nestled among healthy lawn. As it grows leaves spread wide out over grass, stealing sunshine and water for itself. Most likely to snap at the base when pulled. Roots plunge down in a tough spear as if clinging to hell.

 

My neighbour reliably tells me

We were sporting healthy Sir Walter buffalo

When we first moved in three years ago.

It must have been new turf, at the time.

 

Since then, the local mowing service has brought seeds

From corrupted yards far and wide

And a succession of resident bush turkeys have raked muck

From every neighbour higher on the hill, down through the low chicken wire fences.

 

But now we have our eye on you

And all the time in the world to invent

Runner breaks, cultivate watering routines,

Stage patch tests, chase the shade.

Images by author.

 

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Daily schedule for schooling (a 5yo) at home

I’ve seen a lot of teacher conversation about how much classwork they are going to try and continue running over the coming months during the school-at-home period across Australia. Most teachers in my network are secondary teachers and their approaches range from attempting a standard timetable live online with slightly shorter classes, to running new ‘skeleton’ timetables with large amounts of self-directed work to complete asynchronously.

I’d love to hear more about how primary school teachers are approaching this, and more from other parents about how many hours of school-at-home they can reasonably sustain each day.

In the second week of schools being closed, after I had a chance to feel out how a ‘school at home’ day might run, I penned this outline of a daily schedule for my five year old:

Planned schedule for my 5 yo school-at-home

Keep in mind that this schedule is us living our best day. Trying to keep a day running at a pace rather than just watching Frozen II, again.

If my teacher asked me about this schedule and how much of it I thought I could give to ‘teaching’ at home, I would say:

  • There are SIX activity slots in this day. You can’t have them all.
  • If there is no school to go to, I am not running a ‘school morning’ to get anyone dressed by 8am. This will create tension and ruin my day. Your earliest activity slot is 9.30am.
  • There are two hefty one-hour slots in the middle of the day, you can usually have at least ONE of them. Otherwise, only send activities of 30 mins maximum.
  • After 3pm my kid is too tired and strung out to do school.
  • Most days I can give you THREE or FOUR of these activity slots. Some days I can only give ONE or TWO. That’s a maximum of 2.5 hours a day, most days, to do school learning with.

As a professional teacher I am relatively comfortable with the idea of teaching at home. The curriculum doesn’t scare me – I will have to learn more to understand it but that’s OK. I only have one child under my roof to keep up with. I feel well resourced and capable of helping my five year old complete QLD-Prep (NSW-Kindy) activities at home. But that does not mean that I would ever agree to running a school-like timetable here. My home is already a place where learning happens of its own accord, where relationships are developing within an existing context. Emotions are fragile as we are existing in this pandemic-induced lockdown and everyone is going a bit stir-crazy.

I expect that many teachers who are new to the online learning environment are about to over-plan a lot of material that simply cannot be completed happily at home. 

If you are a teacher who has not yet consulted with parents about how much schooling they are able or willing to lead at home, it may soon be prudent to do so.

If you are a parent who feels they are expected to do every activity set by the teachers, but who cannot do so, it may soon be time to think about how to politely say ‘no’. Think about writing up your daily schedule like I have, to help explain to your teachers the available spaces in your home-based day. Your home is not a school.

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How about that virus huh?

It’s a heck of a time to be an online teacher/writer and try to stay ‘on leave’. With the global disruption caused over the past week due to the pandemic spread of the COVID-19 virus, social media networks and backchannels have drawn me in to the common story. Teachers and parents are reaching out to talk – to vent – about the decision to keep Australian schools open (so far) and the workload involved in shifting learning online. Parents are totally overwhelmed at the thought of having to simultaneously home-school their children and either work from home, or deal with issues like sudden unemployment. Teachers are tackling twice the workload, producing classroom as well as online materials, and crumbling in tears on their kitchen floors at the impossibility of the task – they were already working at capacity or burning out.

This post is to share some thoughts on…

Online teaching:

Wow, teachers, you are in for an experience. That drawn, haggard look you have noticed hanging around your university teaching friends the past two or so years? That is in part because we have been increasingly moving our work online in ‘blended’ modes – teaching courses both on campus and via online delivery. It. Takes. Ages. To. Get. Online. Teaching. Right. It is hard and it takes ages. The tech fails, the learning curve is steep, you can’t produce everything you planned so are filling unexpected holes everywhere, all the time. It can take 10 hours to make one teaching video when you are still learning the ropes, is anyone factoring that in? In the university sector the mantra from the centre has more of less been: this is the way we work now. Deal with it, or find a new job. In higher ed, if we burn out, we’re just replaced. But there are SO MANY MORE teachers than academics! That workforce is irreplaceable. Education leaders can’t afford to have their heads in the sand on this one – teaching materials don’t just “go up online” like someone waved a magic wand. The labour involved is huge. Teachers, I would estimate you will need to take all your current plans for what can be delivered online, and start by halving it. Half the content, half the assessments, half the feedback, at least. Start getting real about this earlier rather than later.

Parents keeping their kids at home:

What a bloody disgrace to see some schools being heavy handed with parents and pressuring them to send their kids to school! Even this morning the QLD Education stance was that voluntary isolation is an “unacceptable” reason for an absence. Shame! And a shame to see so many QLD school leaders so completely under the thumb of their employer, so totally intimidated by the “don’t criticise your employer” mantra, that they won’t advocate in public for a softer approach on absenteeism. The NSW Department of Education had updated their absentee categories on Sentral by Friday afternoon to include an “acceptable” absence category for voluntary isolation, if QLD schools are to remain open they should also urgently follow suit.

Self care – it won’t be business as usual:

With the advantage of a month of LSL under my belt before any of this started, I can tell you I was already feeling unsettled by having to stop work. Although I had planned for the leave and taken it intentionally for the very purpose of slowing down, the actual slowing down wasn’t easy. We currently exist in a mesh of systems that are slowing down (working from home, businesses closing, grocery shelves emptying) and speeding up (keeping up with demand from clients/customers, panic buying) and it is going to feel as confusing as hell. I don’t know what Self Care in the Time of Iso looks like, but we’re going to have to work it out soon.

Yes, teaching is a social service:

A final thought about a common message I have seen this week – a lament that teachers are seen as “a social service, not an educational one” and that they are being used as “glorified babysitters”.

I do agree with the frustrated sentiment behind some of these laments and I think Steve Kolber summed feelings up well here in an article on 20th March: https://educationhq.com/news/another-stinging-insult-teachers-are-being-used-as-martyrs-in-covid-19-agenda-75456/. And yet… the phrase ‘in loco parentis’ plays on my mind. I’m not saying that teachers should feel obliged to work against their will or to put themselves at risk (they should not). I do think that school systems need to at least partially close soon, to allow a swathe of teachers to choose to work from home. But I do wonder why so many are surprised at the expectation that teachers act as frontline workers in a time of crisis, especially in public schools. In loco parentis – in place of a parent. It has always been my understanding that teaching is as much a ‘social’ service as an ‘educational’ one. I might have done more before now to make sure my pre-service teachers understood that too. I wish the government messages included acknowledgment of all this work and care without fear of the next enterprise bargaining agreement. They are so scared of having to pay teachers more if they acknowledge the depth of service they provide.

If you can support a teacher with a kind listening ear this week, please do.

There is also a new Instagram account you can follow to hear their stories: @from_teachers.

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I have no idea how to be on leave

So, I am on Long Service Leave (LSL). If you don’t live in Australia and/or don’t know what that is, it is paid time off that your employer can give you after 10 years of work. The point of it is to have a short term break, so you can keep working in the long term. It’s to prevent you from getting knackered.

It is currently the start of week 4 of leave and I am finally getting slices of time with no work looming. Even though I’ve been on leave a few weeks, it will take another few weeks (I can see now) to resolve left-over deadlines and disentangle to various degrees from the multiple projects. It turns out that after 10 years work, there is a decent backlog of things to be finished, passed on, or discarded. All need sorting.

Things I will continue to do on leave include: volunteer committee work for ETAQ and QPF; supervision of three research students (meeting monthly); editorship of a scholarly journal.

Oh, and I am on leave for… FIVE MONTHS!

I took that sucker at half pay so I could stretch out the time off and boy I am so glad I did. If it takes about six weeks to really put the brakes on and be able to responsibly ‘down tools’, how ripped off would someone feel if their leave was only for 10 weeks! If you are reading this post and planning your own leave, let me highly recommend taking as long a break as you can, to compensate for your potential work hang over.

How do you like that term by the way? “Work hangover”. Also applies to the whole first week of any school holiday, in which we typically spend our time being sick or sleeping or drifting around in shell-shock. Surely someone has used it elsewhere, let me know in comments if you’ve heard it before.

I can see now that the best way to avoid the work hangover lag and get straight into leave would be to, well, leave. Go overseas, or outback, definitely off grid. Deadlines evaporate when you get properly out of range, but I am just here at my house, living the dream of getting up each day and not going to work. But for me the ‘get out of town immediately’ approach would have done more harm than good. I struggle to relax when I am stressed about the work I’ve left behind and I hate the feeling of coming back from ‘holiday land’ to the real world where the work sat and waited for me. No. For me this leave was a chance to clear the decks, so I will sacrifice these early weeks to do that, s l o w l y.

Anyway, to end this post I’ll return to what I came to say which is: this morning I have one of my first real mornings off. And I’m on my own, as hubby has a morning shift and kiddo is at school. And a little epiphany today is that I probably kept a few things on the boil because I don’t know how to “be on leave” and just “do nothing”. Is that even something that I have to have as a goal? Everyone seems to want that for me, but do I want to “do nothing”? I’m sure I’ll warm to it, work something out. It’s another big reason I took this break – to find out what happens in the absence of work. Who am I when I don’t work, that kind of thing. But yeah. I have no idea how to be on leave!

Advice, questions, or your own stories welcome in comments x

image: ‘alice was lucky’ by modeen19 via deviantart

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Thread: too much stuff

Captured Twitter thread, 16th April 2018:

too much stuff tweet thread April 2018

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Strategies for pulling all-nighters

  1. Eat a high protein dinner.
  2. Carbs for phase 1 – 10pm-midnight. Shapes are ideal. Doritos and salsa delicious, but hard to eat and type.
  3. Coffee is a morning drink. Try to hold out until 1am. But also don’t leave it too late.
  4. Keep the big lights on.
  5. Sugar for phase 2 – the between-coffees session.
  6. Coffee again if you are serious about this. At least a tea. Maybe at 4.30am. Or go get a few hours sleep, it’s not too laaaaaaaaate!
  7. (Big lights down and low lamps on 1 hour before you do want to catch a couple of zzzs.)
  8. Carbs and sugar crash means need water! Or fruit, or cereal with milk. Don’t worry about food keeping you up at this point.
  9. Coffee all day tomorrow, also a chocolate brownie around morning tea is ideal.

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Explain it like I’m an English teacher

You may have heard the internet expression ‘explain it like I’m five’ or ELI5.

Living with someone who knows a lot about science means I get a lot of things explained to me that don’t directly build on the expertise I have in my own field of English curriculum, but honestly, these explanations are much higher level than what you’d give to a five year old.

This morning, I woke up to this household share, and oh boy. It is good.

I had the thought – what really happens in my house isn’t ELI5, its ELI-ET: he explains it like I’m an English teacher.

If you are an Arts creature like me, but still like to have your mind blown by science – you have to watch this video uploaded yesterday by melodysheep.

It will be 10 minutes well spent!

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Back to work 2018

A re-tweet set from my feed to capture some 2018 ideas and intentions. Welcome back to work muggles!

2018 new year

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Why I still blog

This is my ninth year of blogging and I have just reached my 200th subscriber.

When I began blogging in June 2008 I managed to post nine posts in the first month. That’s heaps! I went back to browse them and was surprised – that I had written so much, but also that they were so short. These days I feel like everything I have to say needs so much explaining, so much backstory. It’s an occupational hazard. Writing lectures and research papers is wordy work, and that has truly seeped into all the other genres in my life.

Last weekend I was in Melbourne for VidCon, the first ever in Australia. It was amazing! More on that another time. And I met an excellent crowd of YouTube creators who are into education, and we had long and interesting talks. Getting to know each other, it was only when someone mentioned they have been blogging for a long time that I caught myself having not mentioned my blog. And I paused for thought. Then realised I hadn’t really, truly grasped the similarities between blogging (in which I am an old hand) and vlogging (in which I am a noob), until that moment.

(You mean I can transfer all this knowledge there? That is so darn handy right now.)

So, to articulate it for myself and others, here are the three big reasons why I still blog:

  1. I use the blog as a professional journal to reflect on my practice.
  2. I like to make a lot of my ideas and resources visible to others, because I trust the network and believe we are better when we share.
  3. The blog is like a pensieve. Or a portable hard drive for my mind.

ICYMI – in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore describes the penseive like this:

“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”

digital collage made by me using polyvore.com

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Teaching and work-life balance

This week I’ve given my pre-service teachers this ‘wicked problem’ to start a conversation about work-life balance:

Imagine it is dinner time on Tuesday and you have three things to do before school tomorrow:

  1. Grade papers
  2. Meet a family/friend obligation
  3. Sleep

You only have time to accomplish 2/3 of these things.

Which thing do you drop?

The decisions and justifications that ensued were sufficiently terrifying. Don’t worry – I also had an excellent follow up discussion about all the joy and fulfillment that teaching brings to your life…

Overwhelmingly, students chose to drop sleep (if they were the kind of person who could handle that kind of thing), or family/friend obligations. Many justified their choice by explaining that family and friends would be understanding, and they’d ‘make it up to them’ later.

Some home truths I needed to explain after we had our discussion included:

  • This is a wicked problem that most teachers (and ALL beginning teachers) face down pretty much every single night. And every weekend. Basically, in every moment of spare time.
  • You can only run on a few hours sleep a night for so long. Driving while overtired can be as bad as driving drunk. Your body will kick your butt come holiday time and you WILL crash. You will also cope less well with this as you age.
  • Your friends and family will only put up with being neglected for so long. They will get tired of coming second best. Many will move on as a result. Where will that leave you?
  • The assertion that “I will not get myself into this situation” is naive. A beautiful and important goal, but naive.
  • The claim that you will get those papers knocked over in a couple of hours ignores the reality of many teachers’ work. English teachers especially mark long pieces of writing – like essays and short stories. You’re looking at around 30 mins per paper, so if you have even half a class to do, you’re looking at 7.5 hours marking work.
  • When you’re not marking, you’re planning. There’s. Always. Something.

The follow up sharing has come thick and fast.

Here is an explanation of the Four Burners Theory that one student shared. She wondered if maybe women generally feel more pressure than men to keep all four burners running, and burn out as a result.

One student shared information about music that is purposefully constructed to reduce stress.

This article bemoaning ‘mindset’ culture and the way ‘good teaching’ is conflated with ‘tired teachers’ serendipitously came across my feed that same week.

And, just to prove that when a message is needed, it comes from all angles…Steven Suptic even made a video that same week about being BURNED OUT from making videos.

I’d love to hear from teaching colleagues about their strategies for solving the wicked problem above. Or their struggles in attempting the same.

Postscript, 12th May: And wow, this post from Tomaz Lasic this week with advice for new teachers is solid gold.

 

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