Tips for the End of the School Year

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was checking into the York hotel and going to orientation with my fellow incoming teachers here in Singapore. The past nine months have have gone by so quickly here and my flights home to NY for the summer are already booked! Some of you might be saying, it’s only April, slow down.

Since I end school the first week of June, the countdown has definitely started. Here are a few tips and ideas I’ve had swirling around my head these past few weeks as I’ve been pondering the end of my first year here in Singapore. I will admit that the last two months of school are usually pretty crazy. Here are a few things I’m going to try to do in order to make it to the end successfully!

1. Plan out the end of the year. Like the UBD model, do some backwards design and make sure you have enough time to cover what you need before the end of the year! Make sure to factor in all of the end of the year field trips and assemblies.

2. Start early on report cards and projects that need to get done in the last weeks of school. The last two months of school are always super hectic, with last minute things popping up. So get a head start on those things you know you have to get done at the end, so you are a little bit less stressed, if that’s possible! 🙂

3. Delegate the work. One of the projects I like to do is creating a short video clip of my students from the year that I can show my students at the end of the school year. Creating these videos can get pretty time consuming, so I try to start it EARLY! This year, I’m going to try to get some of my students to help me on this big project and try to delegate some of the work.

4. Make time for friends. I know this sounds obvious, but for international school teachers, the end of the school year can be pretty emotional as there are always teachers leaving the school and country. Make sure to carve out time to spend with those close friends that are leaving and giving them their proper farewell. I know I was pretty emotional when I had to leave Korea after four years. I’m glad I got to spend a lot of time with my friends that my time so memorable in my last weeks.

5. Overplan for the last few weeks. Even if your grades and report cards are due a week or two before the school year ends, keep your students working! I’ve always found it a lot easier to manage when students have projects they are doing in the last week of school instead of a lot of free time (obviously). The end of the year is a great time for them to reflect on their learning from the year and be able to show their learning whether through presentations or projects.

6. Start planning for next year. This is a great time to start reflecting on what you want to do next year. I know for me, there are a lot of changes and tweaks I want to make. If there are a few projects that I can get started on now or at least write down, to remind myself when I get back after the summer, I know it will be helpful.

Here’s a fun comic I found on Chris Pierce’s blog, called teachable moments, that I just discovered. Thanks Chris for letting us use your comic!

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What are some tips you have for the end of the school year?

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Guest Blog Post: Finding Depth Through the International Experience

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I’m excited to introduce this week’s guest blogger, Paul, who is from Toronto, Canada. He took a detour from his original path of pursuing law by going halfway around the world to teach ESL in Korea. After realizing his passion for teaching, he pursued a degree in teaching and is currently teaching high school computer science at an international school in Dailian, China. It’s always refreshing to meet other educators who love what they do!

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a revelation I had in a ginseng tea shop at Incheon airport in Korea 5 weeks ago.  I was sitting there with my own cup of tea, passing the time on my laptop, when I observed a couple ordering some tea at the counter. Immediately, two things were apparent.  The first was that they were newly-wed and the second was that they were on a backpacking trip.  Accordingly, two thoughts ran through my head: the first was ‘it must be nice to be newly-wed’ and second, ‘I wonder how they enjoyed Korea?’  The latter thought made me reflect on my own time in Korea, and that’s when I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment.  I realized that the Korea I knew and had experienced for 4 years was nothing like the Korea this couple had experienced in quite possibly a few days.  As common-sense as it may be, I realized that the more time spent in a place, the more intimately one would come to know a place, and this got me to thinking about the breadth and depth of knowing things.

So here’s my pearl of insight:

We all have a finite amount of time and energy.  How we invest this time and energy results in increasing either our breadth or depth in knowing a thing.  For example, when we travel, the reason we visit different countries, even if it be for a couple of days, is to experience and see new things.  In this case, we are expanding our breadth of knowledge.  If we spend more than a year in the same place, we begin to drift away from breadth and begin to move towards depth.  Things are no longer new, and through repetition, we begin to delve deeper into becoming familiar with a thing.

To take an example, when I lived in Korea, I really went out of my way to try different foods.  Whenever I tried a new food, I would be expanding my breadth of knowledge in knowing Korean food.  However, it’s not everyday that I would be able to try a new food.  Rather, more often than not, because I would be working at school, I would usually eat common foods such as rice, kimchi, and doen-jang jjigae (bean-paste soup).  Through the repetition of eating the same food everyday, a depth or familiarity developed with that very food.

And do you know what happened to me last month when I visited Korea?  I was sitting in a traditional Korean restaurant in Kang-won province, with a bowl of rice, a side-dish of kimchi, and a bowl of doen-jang jjigae in front of me.  I went to taste the doen-jang jjigae, and I kid you not, my eyes began to tear.  It wasn’t just the taste, which in itself was exquisite (being in the country-side, it was as authentic as it gets), but it was also the depth surrounding the experience.  In that first taste, recalling the four years I spent in Korea, eating doen-jang jjigae day in and day out, I said to myself, “dang, that’s some good doen-jang jjigae.”  And the point here is that I knew it only the way someone who had lived in Korea for 4 years could know it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “So what? I’m glad you have a special relationship with doen-jang jjigae.  In fact, I think you and doen-jang jjigae should get a room…”  Okay, well…no need to be facetious.  I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by depth.

One of the things that attracts me to international teaching is that it gives me a chance to develop this very depth that I’m talking about.  Whether it be working abroad as an international teacher, or living abroad in some other capacity, isn’t it fair to say that living in a place for 6 months is different from 1 year, which is still different from 2 years, which is still different from 5, or even 10 years?

I believe being a good international teacher is greatly helped if you have a love and passion for learning another place in depth, which includes embracing such things as different culture, language, and food.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of international teachers out there who have no interest in learning their new country of residence, yet still win my full approval for being a good international teacher.  However, I would make the argument that performing to your best ability requires being comfortable.  If we are comfortable, this means we are familiar, and if we are familiar, it means that at some point, an investment of time and energy has been made.

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Classroom Makeover

I admit there are times where I’ve teared at the end of the Extreme Home Makeover when the family sees their amazing and dream like home after all the struggles they’ve gone through.  There’s something about the predictable formula of makeover shows that draws me in. Well, my classroom has slowly been having a makeover throughout the year, not quite as drastic as the makeovers on the TV show, but enough to make an impact on learning.

The past few weeks we’ve been doing a coaching cycle with our literacy coach, where we’ve done various walk throughs in classrooms. We’ve been going in small groups, looking at classroom charts, libraries and classroom setup. I absolutely love being able to see other classrooms. There are so many amazing teachers in my school, and I hardly ever get a chance to go into the classrooms of the other grades. I enjoyed having the chance to walk through classrooms from 3rd-8th grade.

It’s so interesting to see how other teachers set up the same amount of space that we’re given in our classroom. I was so impressed by all the creativity and uses of the spaces I saw. I felt very inspired to really reflect on my own classroom space and be more intentional with how I set things up. Here are a few reflections after my visits:

1. Create bold, visual and interactive charts. I decided to try to get more pictures and visuals with the text on my charts. Also, I used various colored post-its to make things pop out.  I have some interactive charts like the one that keeps progress on our book club groups. I love to go to chartchums when I need some inspiration on spicing up my charts!

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2. Utilize the entire classroom space.  In my original classroom, I had wanted my meeting area in the back and it took up 2/3 of the space in the back with pockets of space not used for anything.  I changed my meeting area in the front, that way I can utilize my projector and document camera during my mini-lessons.

I also divided the back into two equal areas. I got a new table so I could do small group lessons there while keeping the library in the other half. My students and I are really enjoying the new set up!

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3. Create more interactive bulletin boards. Again, I’m trying to be more intentional in how I use my classroom space including bulletin boards. On one section of the bulletin boards in the back of my classroom, I’m using to keep track of post-it notes that students do in reading workshop. I’m sorting them into categories we use: progressing, secure, & exceeds expectations. That way, students can see where they are in the spectrum and can help them push their thinking and writing to becoming in the secure and exceeds expectations categories.

We’ll continue to add post-it notes as we continue through our fantasy unit. You can see the post-its hanging in the picture above. I got this great idea from another fabulous 5th grade teacher on my team, Kate!

How do you utilize your classroom space effectively? What tips can you share? When was the last time you visited another colleagues classroom for ideas? 

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FAQs About Becoming an International School Teacher

Last year, we had posted about How to Become an International School Teacher? This post continues to consistently get a lot of hits and comments from people all over the world. So we decided to follow-up on that post and share out some of the answers to the many questions we have received. 

Q: What would be the next step for me if I wanted to have the possibility to teach at an International School?
M: It depends on where you want to go. Most top international schools around the world require a teaching license, and there are several programs that can get you your teaching license in nine months, and a lot of universities are offering online programs for it now as well (usually you have to do your internship wherever the university is located).

Q: Could you give me a bit more info on these teaching licenses? I’ve looked on the internet, and mostly I’ve run into TEFL licenses for teaching English.
J: I recommend going through the process of getting your master’s degree and a teaching license through an accredited university. You can do that easily online through a lot of different universities. I just did a google search on online masters degree in education. Here are some universities here:http://www.elearners.com/online-degrees/master/education.htm?page=8  Make sure that the online master degree program allows you to be certified.

Q: Is a Masters Degree in Education after I get my bachelors the right thing to do? Do you get a teaching license along with the degree? And is there really a difference whether you take up the course online or actually sit in the college? 
M: YES get a masters in education, but you don’t necessarily have to. There are programs you can take to get your teaching license in less than a year without getting your masters. One thing to be careful of if you do decide to get a masters in education, is to make sure that the program also gives you a teaching license. Certifying yourself to teach, and getting your masters in education are two separate things, but many programs will offer them together. They are usually two years long. In order to teach at any international school you must have a teaching certificate/license.

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What qualifications are necessary in order to become a teacher at an international school?
J: Most reputable international schools will want teachers to be certified and have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some of the more competitive schools would like you to have at least 2 years of teaching experience and/or your master’s degree as well. If you are already living abroad and you want to pursue teaching, you can start an online teaching program where you can get certified and/or your masters.
M: No matter what, to become a teacher you should have your teaching certificate (as mentioned several times previously, but hey- some people overlook it!). There are several programs available that last from one to two years, and others as short as nine months. There are also programs that will give you a master’s degree as well as a teaching certificate, but not ALL education master programs do that, so make sure you do your research.

Q: 
I read on this post that Nov. is when the recruitment starts happening? Is there a general timeline I should be aware of as I start searching?
J: International schools tend to recruit earlier than schools back in the US. Many international schools will require teachers to let them know if they are not coming back the following year anywhere from October-January of the previous year. The recruiting fairs start as early as January and many schools even hire before that if they already know of openings! It never hurts to start looking for openings and send your resume to schools that you are really interested in earlier on.

Q:  Do you know anything about teaching at a DOD school on bases overseas?
J: Unfortunately I can’t say that I know much about the DOD school system.  You can find more information on their website here: http://www.dodea.edu/  

Q: Is there anything else specifically that they look for in international teachers, that I should be aware of?
J: It really depends on the school, and what fit is good for them. There are some newer schools that may tend to hire more young & single teachers, verses some schools that prefer married couples. Many schools do generally prefer married couples when hiring. Some schools may have more of a focus on a certain type of curriculum like IB or AP, and may prefer candidates with experience in teaching that. While other schools are willing to spend time and to get teachers trained for those programs.

Q: How hard is it to find a job as an international teacher given you have very limited experience in teaching, but have the necessary degrees and attitude? 
J: There are actually many international schools out there. Again, if you are willing to teach at newer schools in countries or cities that are not as popular for foreigners to live at, you will probably have a better chance. It really depends on how picky you are going to be with the school and country you want to live at.
M: To go off of what J said, once you have a solid two or three years of teaching experience at a possible “less popular” international school the chances of getting a job at a school and in a country that you desire are much higher.


Q: What should I prepare to become as an international teacher in IB?

M: To my understanding (and quick research) there is no special “IB” certification you can get, you receive the training that you need when you work at an IB school.

Feel free to leave us any further questions you may have in the comments section!

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Guest Blog Post: World Changers

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This week’s guest blogger is not only a rare high school math and physics teacher, but also my younger brother. Even though teaching was not something he originally planned on doing, he is quite good at it. (It must have been due to all those times we played school together and I was of course the teacher and he was one of the students in my class.) I had the unique privilege of teaching at the same school as my brother in Korea and I could tell that he was making quite an impact on their lives.

World Changers

By Brian Kim

As a certified nerd and non-certified math teacher for the last 5 years, I’ve realized quite a few things about my “oh-so-lovely” students.  The most important of these can be spelled out with a simple cliché: every single one of my students can change the world. I don’t mean this in a butterfly effect type of way where if they flap their barely post-pubescent wings now, it may cause a storm of ominous and unavoidable chain reactions leading to the complete, utter, and mass destruction of the world. But I mean this in a genuine way, where I’ve come to believe that I’m teaching the future leaders, policymakers, and trendsetters in a constantly changing and evolving world (that hopefully won’t end in mass destruction).  My students are world changers.

In my ‘selfless’ quest to prod my students along on this journey towards success and hopefully a share in their future billion-dollar corporations, I started off with some new classroom decorations. Realizing their need for good role models outside of their suicidal celebrities, largely absent fathers, and their overly sarcastic math teacher, I decided to post up pictures of my heroes in the math world for them. As I desperately tried to explain how Einstein, Gauss, and Euler are important to their future successes and why giving equity to past teachers is a good business decision, I didn’t get much of a response from my iphone-hugging, gangnam-styling students. A few blank stares, nervous nods, and a feigned laugh later, I realized I needed to change my approach. 

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A bit discouraged, but still unfazed, I decided to turn the tables on my students. I gave them a simple homework assignment: Come to math class with 3 math quotes that are not from google (aka write them yourself!). The following class, we took time to share the quotes in class and we voted for which quote we liked the best for each student. And then we went for an impromptu photo shoot in our classroom armed with my DSLR, the bulletin board, and a pinch of creativity (aka adobe photoshop). I printed out the pictures along with their quotes, laminated them, and posted them on my back wall.

Now everyday when my students walk into the classroom or look to the back because they’re tired of looking at my handsome face, they see a wall full of world changers: Einstein, Gauss, and Euler, next to Bae, Kim, Lee, Nelson, Crystal, Jung, and probably some more Kims.

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Guest Blog Post: The Science in Making Mistakes

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I am excited to share a guest post by Chris this week, whom I first met a couple of years ago at New Philadelphia Church here in Seoul. And now we are co-workers! Chris is a passionate and well-connected educator with a blog titled Teach Science Right. I think Chris is our first high school international teacher to be featured on our blog, so check out his site, you won’t be disappointed.

As a science teacher my younger students often look at me in fear at the beginning of the year. The first things they tend to notice is my buzz cut, facial hair & low voice and immediately assume that I’m an intimidating, hard-grading type of science teacher.

But that doesn’t last long!

I’ve learned that many students have these views of my classroom and me because often their previous teachers have filled their heads with this impression. I also know that it’s usually not me that they are intimidated by; rather it’s the content. Science is given a bad rap in many classrooms (not all, but many). It’s often seen as a subject that only the socially awkward students tend to enjoy, or only the really, really intelligent kids enjoy.

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It doesn’t take long for me to right these wrongs…

I’m beginning to lose count of all the parents that have personally thanked me during PTCs. Many of them express that their child grew up with a love for science, nature and experiments but quickly lost that love as they grew into adolescence and the pressures of content, tests and memorization squeezed the joy out of it for them. They express to me that their son or daughter finally enjoys science again.

What music to my ears!

And now I want to share my biggest teaching secret….

Room for Mistakes.

Now I realize many readers may teach younger students in which mistakes happen all the time and are common-place, and rightly so are seen as vital to the learning process. But somewhere between lower elementary school and middle & high school teachers have unlearned that mistakes are such a part of the learning process.

Now if a student forgets their homework at home or misses a deadline… well too bad. If a student forgot to answer a question on the practice worksheet (I repeat… the practice) we take points away that can never be made up (because we are calculating their grade based on how many points they got correct out of how many points they could have gotten correct and then wonder why they always ask for extra credit).

And I want to ask, where is the room for mistakes?

I put a lot of effort into creating a class atmosphere that is safe – safe from ridicule of mistakes, safe from rewards for not making mistakes, and safe from a grade being lowered for making mistakes.

Does everyone get an A in my class? – Nope. Not even close. Does everyone have a chance to earn an A? You betcha!

“Forgot your homework? That’s alright, get it to me tomorrow.”

“Forgot to do that problem on the practice? Well show me now that you know how to complete it and I’ll give you credit.”

“What?! You did the wrong page in the textbook?! Oh well, while we work on Activity D why don’t you complete the correct problems and then show me?”

My methods aren’t popular. Many arguments I receive are along the lines of “Not adequately preparing our young people for the future workforce”, and “You are making it too easy on them.”

To which I ask, What made you decide to teach? Did you want to prepare students for jobs? Be a tough, hard-nose teacher?

Or did you simply want to inspire?

Think about your hobbies – i.e. the things that you really enjoy doing and get energy from doing. Most likely they are activities in which you are no expert and you make mistakes.  And most likely they are activities in which you had freedom to learn, freedom to experiment, freedom to mess-up without somebody punishing you for it.

That’s all I’m doing. I’m teaching my kids to not only learn science, but to enjoy science – by taking the fear out of it.

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For more information, be sure to search Google for “Standards-based grading and reporting” to see where many of my methods were derived from.

Guest Blog Post: Pecha Kucha More Than Chit-Chat

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We are excited to start off 2013 with our guest blogger Jackie. She took the leap of faith and started teaching internationally at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia this past year.  I had the privilege of meeting her in person in Singapore a few months ago when she was visiting during her vacation. She is a faithful reader of our blog and currently teaching 7th & 8th English and technology. We are thankful for her thoughtful contribution! 

Seventh grade students in a growing English proficiency literature class struggled to comprehend Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman until the setting and social issues came alive through their compositions of pecha kuchas.

What is a pecha kucha and how did students compose them in our classroom? To begin, Pecha Kucha is the Japanese word for “chit chat.” The term refers to 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The idea originated as a way to prompt presenters to create thoughtful, compelling representations as an alternative to a popular presentation method that tempts people to be wordy, not in a good way.

Our class took a cue from a previous teacher at our school, Jabiz Raisdana, to attempt amini-pecha kucha (10 slides shown for 20 seconds each) as a way to familiarize ourselves with the setting of Boy Overboard, Afghanistan. Because students appreciated the visual aspect of pecha kuchas, we decided to expand it to examine the themes of  the book, Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. Also, the Middle Years Program (part of the International Baccalaureate program) at our school, requires a “Visual Literacy” criterium for English Acquisition Learners which pecha kuchas provide an opportunity to demonstrate.

“Pecha kuchas helped me understand the book better,” was overheard by one student in the middle of researching this project. Boy Overboard proved to be somewhat challenging with its vocabulary referencing war and its Afghan setting. When asked why and how pecha kuchas helped her, the student responded that the slides allowed her “to see” scenes from the book.

Students gravitated toward the social issues surrounding the book as well. We tied the theme of gender equality, prevalent in this book set during Taliban control, to the UN Millenium Development Goals. Students followed the unfolding story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for her BBC blog and views on education for girls–and connected this to the characters in the book as they are forced to leave Afghanistan because their parents run an illegal school for girls.

We capitalized on the text-to-world connection and the visual nature of pecha kuchas to build a scaffold for students. My hope was not only that the students learn about Afghanistan and themes of the novel, but how to comprehend written and visual texts.

Here are the steps we took to compose our mini-pecha kucha reader responseassignment:

  1. Discussed the elements of the book: characters, setting, theme, etc.
  2. Identified setting or themes that would help students better understand the novel. (Made a list.)
  3. Partners chose a theme and began planning by copying and sharing this planner.
  4. Carefully evaluated and selected images that supported an understanding of the topic.
  5. Cited each image, while starting with a search of Creative Commons images.
  6. Composed text for each image that reflected an accurate reading of the image while connecting it to the topic and how it helped the students better understand the book.
  7. Recorded the pecha kucha while timing to be sure the slide was shown for roughly 20 seconds only.
  8. Screened the pecha kucha for the class, answering questions about why certain images were selected and explaining how the slideshow connected to the novel.

Pecha Kucha Evaluation Rubric.

Here is an example of a finished mini-pecha kucha on the topic of Desert Life in Afghanistan by 3 seventh grade students; Holly, Elaine and Da Ran.

Reflections: After the assignment, I had these thoughts:

  • We are still working on beginnings, middles and endings when writing. Although the pecha kuchas encourage writers to focus on the specific image shown, we are still thinking about we can incorporate a “wrap-it-up” ending and tie the topic to the novel.
  • Many students struggled with selecting images that “looked” like they fit the topic, but they were not sure if they were taken in Afghanistan or Pakistan or elsewhere. We discussed how Flickr images often include a description of the photo and could provide more context than a simple Google image search.
  • Students shared the citations with me on the planner, but where should they include them on screen in the final project? Rolling credits?

For more from Jackie, go to: http://jakartajackie.wordpress.com/