Sunday, January 29, 2012

Numbered January Randomness

Rocking her new frock
1. Last week, we realized that Belle was quickly outgrowing the wardrobe we came overseas with and we needed to go clothes shopping. This whole wardrobe replenishment has never happened before because I love shopping, am a massive planner, and have had generous friends who kindly passed on their children's clothing...  So we drove over to the mall and had a shopping for Belle day. Turns out my darling daughter likes pink and sparkles. (Not really a huge surprise)

2. Our neighbor, Mohamed took Rob out to get our car windows tinted as well, so we have been making loads of purchases off this monthly check already. Mohamed is one of our favorite neighbors and so helpful whenever we need an Arabic translator.  I met him while staying at the Yas, and he has quite a reputation with many of the EMTs (our new acronym - English Medium Teachers) as one of the nicest people around. 
Camel picture by Belle

3. I've discovered a church that I really enjoy in Al Ain after fruitlessly searching for the one near Oasis Hospital. It is a fairly recent Christian addition to the community, St. Thomas', and has a location that is beautiful, but unfortunately going through some dissension with the municipality about it being a church.  Please pray that this situation is resolved quickly because it has a very friendly, prayerful congregation.  Belle and I attempted to go this week, but the gates were locked, so we checked out some camels instead. We love camels.

4. I'm a health care facility's dream. While my asthma is MUCH better, apparently, I will never breathe through my nose again (the congestion will not quit - boy, do I miss my NeilMed Sinus Rinse - which my internalist is going to order for me so it will be in the UAE!).  I had a random allergic rash on my leg that required an injection to help the reaction. And was dehydrated to the point that I needed an IV. Yeah. It was a fun week. I can now say that the Tyler family has frequented four of the local hospitals, and at the moment, Al Ain Cromwell Women's and Children is my favorite - even if Tawam is closer and has a Starbucks.

5. We've also decided to make some changes in Belle's education, and are withdrawing her from her private school to homeschool. So, Rob will be taking on the dual roles of daddy and teacher.  It will be quite a transition but we think it will help her stay on pace with her US school better. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What really matters...

For those who know me personally, I am rarely silent, and probably less so on issues near and dear to me.  I became a teacher because I view young people as our future, as our leaders, as our greatest asset. The current climate for education in the US is upsetting. Teachers and schools are being vilified. Test scores have become the be-all, end-all of whether a school is good or not.  Percentages are being thrown about like schools are factories producing a commodity, which I guess in the way they are, because intellectual development, critical thinking and creativity are capital in today's world.

In the last few days, one of the topics under discussion in a Facebook group for ex-pat teachers is the situation in Pennsylvania where teachers are volunteering to work without pay because the governor is trying to move to a voucher system for charter schools.  Most of the discussion participants were upset, but not surprised by this report. However, one participant posted a link to the school's academic achievement report, which tracks its AYP (adequate yearly progress) based on NCLB (No Child Left Behind). This report looks at many factors but one of the most important are test scores.   The poster went on to comment that "any business running with these numbers would be out of business." First, let me restate that these posts are taking part in a group for educators, so ideally most of the members are educators or are connected in some intimate way to an educator.  We were urged by the poster to consider this information as we discussed the situation. What follows are my thoughts...

It would be lovely if NCLB really meant that, but to find out if children are being left behind, I don't think the answer lies in test scores, absenteeism or graduation rates.  These are all outcomes or benchmarks we can point to and declare whether we are successful or not, and they are handy for making statistics; but we should be looking at what these things measure. Tests measure one thing at one moment in time and it is short-sighted to believe that any one test can measure all that is actually happening in a classroom. Standardized tests are based on the perception that students share a background knowledge and cultural exposure that the test makers believe the majority of students have access to, when the reality is no one is "standard".  Economically disadvantaged and racial minorities are statistically less likely to have the required background knowledge and exposure to do well on these "standard" exams, never mind students who are not strong test takers, whose abilities will not likely be represented appropriately.  Economically disadvantaged students have been shown to be more at risk for absenteeism, low graduation rates, etc.  These are not necessarily the faults of the district, but a part of the many factors that accompany poverty, like less access to medical care, adequate nutrition, stable housing, etc. Taking money away from districts that are struggling is not necessarily the answer.

Education is much more complicated than test scores. Good teachers are one factor, but so are strong administrators, supportive communities and parents, access to resources, and student ability to concentrate on the task of learning, and yes, a desire/commitment to learn. Students are better able to focus on their learning if their basic needs are being met. I would question how bad the teachers actually are in their instruction in this Pennsylvania district because one factor that I truly believe really shapes the outcome of a student's education is the commitment of the teacher to the student. Teachers who are willing to work without pay, to put their student's education before their own economic security, must care an awful lot about providing the best education they can to their pupils.  I have never been in a situation where I could put the financial well-being of my family behind the desire to provide education to my students, and as teachers, I question how long they will have the resources to be able to sustain their mission. 

I wonder what would happen if we took No Child Left Behind more literally and really examined what it means to leave a child behind... I am from a state that in 2010 ranked 6th in the nation for child homelessness - which means we had the 6th lowest rate in the nation, meaning we had 4,436 children documented as being homeless. According to the Carsey Institute report, "On one day in January 2009, the New Hampshire Department of Education and New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services counted 1,402 homeless elementary, middle/juniorhigh, and high school students at school. Twelve percent (171) were unaccompanied youth under age18, with most of them probably homeless adolescents." I wonder how well those students did on a test that day?

My point is that many factors contribute to the development and education of a child and I really have to question a situation that creates more focus on test results and school report cards and less on what really matters, the overall well-being of a child.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sick days, sub plans, and stamps

In the US, most teachers that I know hate to be absent. Missing class means even more work because you are now required to not only teach material, but teach someone else through a short missive how to teach the material you need covered for the day. And then you have to follow up with what was successfully covered and what you need to reteach the next day (if your substitute actually followed your sub plans).  As someone who has spent time in both roles (the substitute and the teacher), I know it is easier to pop in a movie or print out some worksheets, but as someone who loathes busy work, this was not a solution I liked to resort to. So teachers are frequently the worst in taking time off when they need it, because it creates so much work to catch up.

Sick days are different in Abu Dhabi. At my school, we do not have a sub folder and emergency sub plans (staples of teaching in the US). We notify our vice principal, and if Cycle 1, the head of faculty, about our absence, and they find coverage from within our staff for the classes. For some teachers, it is a bonus bit of class time, or allows for an earlier class meeting.  The real work takes place on the part of the sick teacher. The teacher must go to the hospital and see a doctor on the day of her (I will use the feminine pronoun because hey, I'm a girl) absence. It may be a long wait depending on the hospital chosen.  The doctor will diagnosis; prescribe any medicines, vitamins, procedures, etc. to treat the sickness; and give a stamped sick note certificate to the teacher. The teacher then must go to the pharmacy to fill any prescriptions (usually in the same building). After which, the teacher will take the sick note certificate to the Health Authority for a stamp.
 The Health Authority stamp does not need to be done the same day, but it is open from 8-1:30 in my town, so if I want it stamped, I need to do it the day I am out or take time off to get it stamped.  After getting all the stamps on the sick note, the absence must be entered into our employee system, and the sick note digitally uploaded. It will require three people to sign off that the procedure was followed correctly.

It does not lend itself to a restful day, which, in truth, is probably what the teacher needed in the first place.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Working hard for the weekend

Almost ready to leave port
The week started with a visit from our friend, Rich and trivia at the Rugby Club, where our team, the Nor'easters, had a fun last place initial outing.  Next week will be better.

Belle & I completed our first week back to school, and so we decided instead of resting up for the second week, we all returned to Abu Dhabi to visit the Volvo Ocean Race again... Last week the boats were still in dry dock getting sail ready. This weekend, they were back in the water, with masts attached ready to set sail (leaving today)....

The air show at the Destination Village
Time at the beach

Our Abu Dhabi family


Belle's first pencil drawing from her art class

Tomorrow it is back to school... Wow, the weekend goes fast.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Back to school part deux

Our fabulous hotel room
One of the things we are still getting used to are the flyers that show up outside our door. I guess it is the UAE version of junk mail. I find it kind of funny that we can have just about anything delivered (pizza, groceries, McDonald's, fresh fruit and vegetables, water) but we don't have "addresses" and there isn't regular home delivery of mail.

In the last couple of days we received a new restaurant's menu and a 'back to school' flyer. I have never in my life seen a back to school flyer for January, but apparently, there are back to school sales after the first trimester break. While I was running about buying all the art supplies Belle needs for her first real art class, I was surprised at the number of families crowding the Bookstore, buying school supplies and new backpacks. Yes, new backpacks.

The view from our room
In the spirit of going back to school, Belle had her first art lesson tonight - they are starting with pencil and charcoal. She spent the evening sketching fruit and learning about shading.  By the end of the class, she will be painting with oils. It was refreshing to bring her to a class (and tonight the other two girls did not go, so it was just Belle and two boys) and she was fine with me leaving and fine with it being only boys. Art is one area where she is very confident.

Knowing that we were going back to school on Sunday, we took a mini-vacation to Abu Dhabi, spending a night at the Holiday Inn. We spent a day at the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village, which is the layover point for the Volvo Ocean Race. Here are some of the fun things we were able to see and do:
A falcon!
Paddleboarding on the Gulf


Construction games
Sailing a ship
Race boats
And the race trophy

Back to school tomorrow, my bag is packed and I'll be getting up to an alarm again. It was a lovely vacation.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello, 2012: Happy New Year!

Last night, Rob and I dropped Belle off for a sleepover at her friend Alanna's home, and headed to the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village (the Abu Dhabi stopover for the race), to ring in the New Year with Coldplay.  It was a great concert...  and the first time we've been out to celebrate New Year's in a few years.   The concert started at 10pm, but the line to get into the venue was pretty long when we arrived at 8pm.  Coldplay led the countdown to 2012 and then finished their concert with Every Teardrop is a Waterfall. Then we watched the fireworks and fought the traffic to get home. I was so glad Rob was driving on the way home because it was hard to recognize where the parking lot began and the exit lanes started... No one queues up well over here - even in cars.

Last week we went to the Dubai Aquarium at the Dubai Mall.  It was incredible. You can see the aquarium's big window long before you actually get there and in their huge tank, they have everything from eels to sharks.  The main window holds the world record for the largest single sheet of acrylic in the world, but to us, the coolest part was the clear tunnel you walk through UNDER the aquarium, and the glass bottom boat ride you take OVER the aquarium.  We spent a lot of time looking at all the fish and marveling at the experience of being under sharks and rays.  We also were able to watch scuba divers cleaning the tank and feeding the fish.  Afterwards, we climbed into the glass bottom boat, and could see the tunnel with people in it, below us. We also watched the rays come up to the surface and hang out on the coral.  With our tickets, we were also able to tour the underwater zoo, and see king crabs, a Finding Nemo tank (holding all the fish from the films), water rats, and penguins.  We timed our visit just right because we saw the water rats eating corn on the cob and carrots while being pet by a zoo worker, and then watched the penguins getting fed fish.

Afterwards, we went to see the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, the Dubai Fountain, which is choreographed to music, and the waterfall in the mall.  We did do a little shopping (it is an enormous mall), and ate dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. The food wasn't spectacular, but the "animals" came to life periodically, and there were fun lighting effects. Plus, you could still see the aquarium from our table.  We're going to have to go back before school starts back up because the Dubai Shopping Festival starts on January 5th.

We are all planning on enjoying our last week of vacation.