Saturday, October 29, 2011

School School School

I heard plenty of warnings on how chatty the kids at American Creativity Academy (and I assume the whole of Kuwait) were. Classroom management was one of the professional goals I put down during orientation...I was told I would sure get a lot of work at that!

I was familiar with assertive discipline from my practicum in Australia and was anxious to try it out on my own classroom. For those unaware, assertive discipline tries to focus on positive behavior with the premise that most behavior issues are due to attention. If you give the positive behavior the attention, then students will try to get attention by doing positive things.

One of my colleagues wrote her thesis on this theory and she let me read it in preparation for my first days of school. I certainly could have done a lot better of a job implementing it, but I am sure it has helped quite a bit as well. I have a pretty good group of boys and very few if any complaints about how things are going. As long as they continue to work hard I will consider the year a success. I am considering taking them ice skating as an out of school reward for good behavior. We will see if that works out.

I recently purchased a new camera, although it isn't working the best right now, I do have some pictures of what my classroom looks like that I will share. I won't post any pictures of my students as that would be unprofessional, but if you really want to see them, let me know and I will get them to you.

Everything is going okay within the classroom. I still don't know exactly what I am doing, but I am learning a lot along the way and know that next year everything will be so much easier. I am looking forward to teaching the same things next year.

So far this year I have taught Place Value in Math and Map Skills for social studies. I teach each of those once a day and teach two periods of Language Arts everyday. That puts me at four classes a day out of seven or twenty for the week. The other fifteen are specialty classes, six Arabic classes, three Islam classes, two PE classes, two Life Skills classes, an art and a computer class.

The school is an English instruction school, so everything is done in English other than Islam and Arabic. That means the level of the students English is far superior to that of the children I taught in Korea. The students in my class--grade 3 and roughly 8 years old--probably understand about 80% of what I say where as I would be surprised if any of the classes I taught in Korea even understood 40%, or half that of these 8 year olds. The one class that may have had exceptions was a high school class I taught, and they were all close to 10 years older.

That isn't to say it's not ESL, because it certainly is. These students are behind in literacy. There are ESL teachers for the younger grades. One ESL teacher talked to us and told us one of the biggest differences between these children and the children from back home is being read to from a young age. We have been encouraged to include reading to the students.

This is a hard thing to do because of all the curriculum stuff we are supposed to get through. I enjoy reading to them myself and had already been doing it a lot before we were even told to do that. I was starting to feel guilty about doing that because of the curriculum stuff we need to get through. Hearing that has put me at ease a bit.

I feel like I am so far behind in everything I am trying and supposed to do within the classroom. Things in the school always come up that push my planning back and don't allow me to get through nearly as much as I need to. This past week was 'Reading Week' where the school tried to focus on reading. As a result, there were some special activities planned that cut into class time, like for instance a parade of characters from the books we read (my class read Horrible Harry Goes to the Moon), and an assembly with an author of a new comic book series (I may need to write a small blog post about that later).

In addition to that, the grade 3's are preparing for Hajj, an Islamic ceremony where they are preparing for what they do when they go to Mecca. That is this Sunday, and I lost a few classes this week because they needed extra practice. They are also doing standardized tests next week, and this is the first time grade 3's have done these tests before. I spent several periods last week doing practice tests in preparation for the tests Monday and Tuesday. Those were classes I was unable to teach curriculum, the 4 periods they take the test I will be unable to teach curriculum and the whole day they are at Hajj I will not be teaching either. Other teachers are calling me lucky because I have an easy week before my week break starts, but I am just worried about not being able to get through lessons these kids need.

At the same time, my hands are tied and there isn't much I can do. If I go through things too slow, I go through things too slow. I have 5 days left until I get a week vacation. I will spend that on a beach in Sri Lanka. I am looking forward to that!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Travel Opportunities

I've been in Kuwait for a month and a half now. Part of the allure of coming here was the travel opportunities available, because I am in the middle of the world. Not too far from here is where the roots to human existence lie!

Several things have contributed to my thinking of this. First, my upcoming week long break in November. I ended up deciding to go with a large group to Sri Lanka. A place I know very little about. I feel like it will be more of a vacation than a travel opportunity. I'm sure I could use a vacation however, so it should be an okay trip.

I was looking at the stats of this blog for the week and noticed someone read my top 8 travel locations post, which made me reread it. I feel as though I could knock a lot of those things off my list this year. I also have things that I may want to do more than the list itself has. An English high school teacher at my school from across the hall was telling me about his planned trip to Jordan during November break. In addition, he was telling me about a 21 day trip from Jordan to Istanbul, Turkey that sounded fascinating. It included some pretty significant historical stops, like the Red Sea, Dead sea, and the Nile to name a few. I don't know if that trip is plausible, but it is certainly worth looking into.

Looking at the list, I think by this time next year I will have knocked off , or started to knock off, three things on it. Also, realistically I don't think I can see all 30 stadiums in one fantastic trip, but I can certainly see a few at a time, and plan to next summer!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The First Day of School...

I have perhaps put off far too long talking about the classroom. Luckily I wasn't just thrown in there and told to teach like  was in Korea. We had meetings as a faculty whole as well as grade level meetings during the first week where we had to prepare our classrooms.

I believe I mentioned that I was left with very little to start out with and my room is comprised of the things other teachers had no use for or no longer wanted. That is fine as I really didn't know what to expect going in anyways.

We saw our classrooms for the first time on September the 4th and had until September 11th to prepare them, although we had orientation on the 8th for all the students to meet their teachers and get the orientation packets. We were running around a lot before the Thursday making sure things were in order. On top of that, we also had some visa requirements we had to fill, like medical tests for our civil identification cards.

The work week here is Sunday to Thursday, as for Muslims Friday is their holy day. It is a lot to get used to. I am still making the mistake of calling the day of the week the day after it really is. For example, it is Friday here and my first day off of the weekend, so I keep thinking it is Saturday. I spent my off days, Friday and Saturday, relaxing, but I also went to the school both days just to put a little work in on the classroom. By the Sunday it didn't look half bad. That is when the fun began!

Sunday, September 11th I started my first day at American Creativity Academy, teaching grade 3 boys. Most, if not all of them are Kuwaiti. One did spend the first six years of his life in Canada on the west coast and another was born in Hamilton Ontario, about a 2 hour drive from my home town. I was without a doubt slightly nervous, this was a brand new experience for me! I don't mean living in the Middle East. I simply meant having my own classroom. This was going to be quite different from Korea for sure! I actually had to create lesson plans and teach these guys subjects other than English. Plus, it was larger than any class I had in Korea (24 students) and it was my only class. In Korea I taught several different classes of all skill levels everyday. I liked the idea of teaching one class all the time and can think of a few Korean classes I wish were them.

I received a lot of advice from different people as to how to handle my classroom. Classroom management was a goal I set for myself from the start of the year and a lot of people basically told me I had to be mean. I also don't seem like that assertive of a person--anyone who saw me substitute teach knows it is true (luckily no one watched!)--so I think people were telling me that a little more.

I took it all to heart, and tried to implement it as soon as possible within my class. I am actually quite pleased with how things are going a month later. I don't need to vent nearly as much as my colleagues seem to and I generally enjoy my class. Progress reports are due next week which is a little stressful, but I am taking it in stride. Some students aren't doing that well, but it is a small sample size really. I just need to work on being organized and making parents aware of how their child is doing.

Back to the first day, we practiced one procedure the school asked us to do school wide. It's called "Give Me Five" and is basically a way to get the students quiet and listening quickly. My kids were quiet and pretty shy on the first day. Which makes teaching the procedure difficult because they were already quiet. I also needed to teach them where they should put their bags and things in the morning. I basically got them to put their things away in small groups and had the rest of the class make noise while they were doing it, whether it be clapping their hands or just making silly sounds (I tried getting them to talk but they wouldn't). As a result, we practiced the procedure about 15 times before doing anything else in class. They are experts at it now, and still do it for me quite quickly.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I had 2 spare periods in a row and then taught something for 45 minutes before I had another spare and lunch. The teaching job here is really nothing to complain about. We have 3 spare periods everyday. That leaves us teaching only 4. If I was better at time management and better organized I could get everything I needed to do done during those prep periods and not need to bring my work home. Maybe that is something I can work towards. On a typical Sunday my prep periods are spent writing the newsletter and creating the homework package. Someday I will have that ready by Thursday, insha'Allah.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Blog from a Muslim

I thought I would share this blog post:

I found it during some sort of search and thought you may find it an interesting perspective from someone experiencing the same country in a completely different way than me.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Five Senses of Kuwait

I have already mentioned what it is like walking around the streets of Kuwait, and trying to cross those streets with the insane traffic.

There is a lot more the the streets than just the traffic, although the traffic is certainly a major crazy aspect. I decided to break this blog down to describe as best I can each of the five senses. It will be slightly difficult to do, especially without a camera for a visual but I will do my best! (I lost my Ipod touch which was my camera when I first got here).

Seeing: It's the desert, so obviously there is sand everywhere. Where we would have grass back home, it's sand. That spills onto the patio steps that the side of the streets are made of. I say side of the streets because it is hardly a sidewalk when a lot of the space is taken up by parked cars. Areas made for walking usually have a lip covering them and they are right outside of stores in shopping areas.

Some of the buildings look amazing. It is clear that a lot of money has been put into the architecture of these buildings. Right beside these buildings however, are ruins, eye sores. Broken down buildings that looked like they were recently bombed. Perhaps they are remains from the Gulf War in the early 90s. I have no idea.

The streets are littered with garbage. There is no recycling system in place and people seem to just toss the garbage anywhere. A lot of this garbage is piled up in the formerly mentioned ruins. There are also wild animals living in them. By wild animals, I mean stray cats. They are uglier than cats normally are, super skinny and I just have the urge to kick them all. But I am afraid of how dirty they are, so I avoid them at all costs.

Smelling: I think you can imagine that the smell near the dumpsters is not pleasant in the slightest. I have to hold my breath. Away from the dumpsters there are sudden bursts of unpleasant smells that I can barely describe. Perhaps it is sulfur or rotten eggs, or something in between. The sand around the dumpsters and in random lots acts as a giant litter box for the multitude of cats wandering the area. Sudden whiffs of kitty waste can pollute the air as well.

I have found there are a lot of perfumes in this country, so a lot of the time there are various fragrances in the air when walking in crowded areas. Some are rather strong, too strong for my liking. Also along the streets you can catch the sudden whiff of sheesha being smoked at the many hooka bars. There is also the aroma that fills the street of the many food options within the country, including the many Lebanese and Indian restaurants.

Hearing: The days can be pretty quiet as there aren't nearly as many people out and about doing things, but you will still hear traffic and horn honking. That all increases as the sunlight begins to cease. Cars honk at anything and everything here. People seem to think when they honk other cars will magically move out of the way.

Perhaps the most interesting sound to hear in Kuwait is the call to prayer. It is music from the Qur'an that is played five times a day out of outside speakers on each mosque. It is making people aware that it is time to pray. Perhaps like the church bells I used to hear as a child to let people know Sunday mass was beginning. Except it happens everyday and 5 times a day. On Fridays, the holy day here, there is preaching over the speakers for an extended period time. I don't know exactly how long.

Early in the morning when I first got here I could hear people doing construction across the street. Not a unique sound, but it is pretty odd to hear it when most people are sleeping. Speaking of people, obviously a lot of language will be heard. Most people seem to speak English and Arabic. As a result it's easy to get by not knowing Arabic. One Arabic phrase I hear constantly--especially since I started talking to the parents of children I am teaching--is insha'Allah. This means God willing, and is said all the time. I said to my student "See you Sunday" and his mother responded "Insha'Allah."

Tasting: My favourite taste of Kuwait is chicken. I seem to eat it daily, as the other meat options are not always available. There are plenty of food options though. As mentioned, Lebanese and Indian restaurants are very common. The country is riddled with foreigners as Kuwaiti's don't work hard labour or do customer service. Hummus is very common before many meals and curry seems to be a  common dish. I love ordering chicken Kebabs.

Walking around, the heat makes my throat dry so a common taste of Kuwait the cold water I am constantly using to hydrate myself, but maybe that is a stretch. They sell some pretty awesome 'cocktails' here. Not what you think, they are basically fruit juice. I like to get the lemonade, although it isn't really lemonade. It is limeade. It is still pretty good though.

Touching: The hard patio steps on the uneven sand seems to be pretty hard on some peoples bodies. I haven't experienced any problems other than the occasional stumble. I am always wearing sandals or flip flops, so I can always feel sand in my feet. Walking in the sun is a sweaty affair. That makes my shirt sweaty and damp.

I don't live too far from the Gulf, about a 10 minute walk. So part of the touching includes the salty warm water of the Arabian Gulf. I've been there a few times, while playing frisbee and tossing a baseball on the beach and then once during the day to relax.