Merry Christmas

As 2012 comes to a close and with Christmas cheer in the air, I’d like to wish one and all a very Merry Christmas! Not everyone would see this post (or my front door) but I thought I’d write this anyway.

Increasingly commercialised, I need to remind myself that Christmas is so much more than shopping or even exchanging gifts…fun as that can be. It is a time to share with family and friends, celebrate traditions, and also a chance to look back on the year about to close (a good one for me) and forward to the year about to start (a promising one for me).  Ironically, it’s a stressful time for many, lonely even.  So this is a reminder for me as well to chill out and enjoy the time I do have with family and friends.

I  have no new year’s resolutions; haven’t had any for years!  Perhaps I’m never resolute enough early in the year.  Anyway, change, if desired enough, can happen at any time.

Merry Christmas! Here’s to a happy 2013, full of pleasant surprises, peace and goodwill.

…one can wish….

Sometimes we break them

Orchid buds 2 by Mal Booth, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Mal Booth 

I was gardening yesterday and I was delighted to see that my “neglected” orchid had buds, very much like the photo above. It was not really neglected in the sense that these plants like to be outside, in dappled light…and obviously it was happy enough to flower!

That was the good news. The bad news was that I broke the bud cluster (or whatever they’re called). Yes, I broke it and my heart broke…a little. See, I wanted to bring it inside the house in the flower pot it vacated after flowering years (yes, years) ago. So, I thought I’d tidy it up a little and pull out some of the weeds and get rid of some snails. When I was done, I looked up and wondered where the flower buds were; they were on the ground….broken off.  Aargh (did you hear me then?).

Now, I know this story is RICH and full of potential metaphors but the first thing that came to my mind was – kids; and I thought that as a parent and a teacher. We want them to flourish in optimum conditions and when they  flower, we want to celebrate it and to be honest, glow with pride (yes – show them off…perfectly human, I reckon).

But not all kids survive such process, sometimes we break them. This is not necessarily due to the extremes of neglect or over-attention (can one love too much?). In fact, I’m more inclined to think it’s when kids disconnect (break off, so-to-speak) for which there could be many, many reasons.

My train of thought (yes, this was all still part of me grieving the broken buds yesterday) led me to think about my choice to only have 2 kids and my preference for smaller class sizes. To connect with kids, we need to get to know them and that takes time and effort. Hats off to parents with more kids and teachers who can handle many students. Me? I sort of know my limits.

So yes, it worries me when a politician says class sizes are not important and harps on too much about teacher quality. Doing my Grad Dip Ed, The Importance of Teacher Quality (2002, Rowe) really hit home. What really struck me then was that there were more differences in schooling experiences and outcomes between classes (not between schools, genders, SES, etc) …. which then got credited to teacher quality.

Little did I know that as a teacher, the experiences of my students would differ even during the same school year, i.e. my “quality” is not that consistent.

What gives?

There are so many variables when people are concerned. Dynamics are important. Yes, relationships….which, as mentioned above, need time and effort. And time and effort, we must expend (as teachers and parents) because ….we might break them (kids), even with good intentions.

So is it really teacher quality that makes the biggest difference or is it a combination of factors? Frankly, I’m a little confused now.

Many have said that our education system is broken. Or is it our society that’s broken because we’re all a little confused (not for lack of information but the glut of conflicting information, more like). Anyway, I have no solution. Is it to make classes smaller or give performance pay or give more strategic Professional Development or mentoring or selecting “high achievers”? Hey, maybe it’s none of the above or all of the above and more besides.

What we must remember is this….sometimes we break them. Sometimes, we notice straight away and can ameliorate but sometimes, it is too late….and that is tragic.



Of hopes and dreams

Yesterday I read 2 dads blog about their daughters.  @MrWejr said his world changed a year ago. @damonayoung used Nietzsche’s view of happiness to frame his view of his 3-yr old (yes, Damon is a philosopher so that’s not so surprising.  What surprised me personally is that I never would have used Nietzsche on the same line as happiness…which is why I’m not a philosopher).  The love both dads have for their daughters are apparent, though expressed differently.

Beyond this articulated love, what also struck me was that both said they’ve learned from their kids. Isn’t that awesome?  Parenting is a 2-way learning street.  I am happy for both dads as well as their daughters – they are loved!

I have 2 daughters and, for the first time and with much mulling over, I will introduce them with names – not bub1 and bub2 or Ms14 and Ms10 but as Vanessa and Megan.  That’s who they are and I love them.  I’m blessed to have them both and I’m very proud of them.

But this post isn’t just about expressing that love.

This is about hopes and dreams, shaped by what I have learned from them, so far.


Like Damon’s daughter, Vanessa was born with an “intense, interrogative gaze”; pensive even.  She was very good with words  and articulating her thoughts in a relatively clear way.  We thought she would ace English as a subject….she finally got her first A in English in year 9.  For years, she didn’t think she’s  particularly good with words really.  So what happened?

I don’t know how it is that she has literally found her voice on stage instead – singing and dancing.  Perhaps it was her kindy teacher who picked her as the kindy soloist in the school Christmas concert.  Perhaps it was her stint in the musical Annie playing Pepper (now the story behind that is a tale in itself).  Perhaps it’s her growth to stardom in the Scouts Gang Show.  Perhaps its her Year 8 Music teacher who told her she’s good and encouraged her to become part of the choir, take up singing lessons and study Music as an elective. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

Vanessa is not the best singer or dancer but she has stage presence.  I am biased, yes; that’s a parent’s prerogative.  However, many have told us – strangers in the audience really – who have validated such bias.

We thought she would love to pursue a career on stage but really, Vanessa wants to be a primary school teacher.  She dreams of building a school in *insert a 3rd world country* and for her school to spread widely so all kids can be educated.  Oh, she indicated she intends to sing to her students. 🙂


Megan was a happy baby.  She hardly cried and settled easily.  She loved playing with and in boxes. She loved to draw.  If words escaped her – often – she would tell her story while drawing.   She was also shy.

Coming 4 1/2 years behind her big sister, she was exposed to the same things. Dance. Netball. School band. Her teachers have been known to call her Vanessa. (Truth is, though they looked alike as babies, they don’t really past the age of 3). Anyway…

We tell her she’s good at art and we’ve got tons of her artwork.  Her teachers tell her she’s good at drawing; someone even told her, I’m lucky to have known you before you’re famous and that’s when Megan was in year 1!  Her year 4 teacher now believed in her and challenged her to work and think harder than she’s ever had; Megan loves to cruise.

She’s given up dance in lieu of Tae-Kwon-Do. She’s also given up band which I’m a lot less happy about.  What she did pick up is #massivelyminecraft.  She’s a gamer! Who knew? Here she can build in digital boxes and tell her story as a 3D drawing, so-to-speak.  She is learning to ask for help because it’s a good way to learn (“if you don’t learn, you die”).  She is always keen to help.  She is showing some ambition (she wants to be a mod).  She is better at Skype than me.  She can tell us stories after stories about her adventures without having to draw it for us.  She has friends and mentors there.  It is her world and in there she is well and truly herself.   Megan is less shy now.  For this, I thank @vormamim and @jokay; they’re vision, dedication and skill are inspirational.

Meagn is only 10 and a little young to consider career choices.  At the moment, she is saying she wants to be an architect (yep, building!).

A note to parents

Many parents will say that all they want for their kids is to be happy.  I used to say that, too.  I’ve changed that now to …. all I want for my kids is to find their voice and be confident enough to express it.   “Happy” is vague. “Find and use your voice” is concrete; it’s practical and achievable.  It leads to happiness, in my opinion.   My kids are on the their way.  I am happy about that.

We expose our kids to many experiences in the hope that one of those will spark an interest, a burgeoning passion, a platform for self-expression.   Let’s not get caught up in the busy-ness of all that ferrying from one activity to the next. Let’s pay attention to what is really happening and give things a chance to grow and blossom.

Help kids find and use their voices. Listen.

A note to teachers

Never underestimate your (our) influence on children.  Really see them – where they’re at and where they want to be.   Know that most parents have hopes and dreams for their kids (quite likely to be happy, but you know  better now right?).  Know that some kids don’t have such parents.

Kids may look alike (there is a reason I used the photos I did), but they are not.  Kids are individuals.   It’s not about ‘being special’. It’s about holding one’s own – an individual in a sea of commonality.

Give kids a voice. Listen. 

To my kids’ inspirational teachers….THANK YOU!

Learning to be ordinary

Last night I was immediately hooked by the 2007 Belgian movie, Ben X.  In a nutshell, it’s about a game-savvy teenager, Ben, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, his experience of bullying and his revenge.  Throughout the film, the audience is led to believe that he committed suicide.

I really liked the film; film-making was good and visual effects really effective. It left me moved and bothered. BUT, this post is not a film review . I really just want to note some of the most memorable lines/moments in the film (spoiler alert). It has raised many points for me as an adult, a teacher, a parent, a person.

(headmaster) Ben is an extraordinary boy who tries to be ordinary.

How many  students have been shaped to behave or think in an ordinary way – or industrial world thinking?

(teacher) As always, we did too little or too late.

How many teachers feel powerless to effect change?

(teacher) He (Ben) asked me how many reasons he needs to die…2, 5?

(newscaster) 10% of Flemish 15-18 year olds attempt suicide

How many kids out there experience such depths?

(Scarlite/Healer) Someone who’s got to level 80 needs a creative endgame…..You need to build an army.

Kids on a downward spiral need people around them who know and understand their strengths as well as the depths of their despair.

(mother) Someone needed to die.

It is unfortunate that sometimes someone needs to die (or close to) before authorities step in or for institutional change to happen.

(Ben) I learned to lie.

He lied (faked his death) in order to expose the bullies. Honesty is best for me but for this kid, it was either that or kill himself – his limited communication and social skills (and lifetime of bullying and exclusion) limited his options in a way that is not necessarily true for someone who doesn’t have the same condition.

(Scarlite) You have to learn to feel before you can learn to feel good.

So basic, so true.

One of the most powerful scenes for me was at the train station when Ben was looking for Scarlite.  The film vividly showed the visual and aural noise that those with Asperger’s syndrome might sense. And then, when Ben spotted Scarlite, everything and everyone froze (and sort of visually faded as in faded colours) except for Scarlite who was in red and still moving. For me, this was such a powerful representation of what I’ve read and heard about Asperger’s.

This post has more questions than answers. But that’s life, isn’t it?