Thursday, May 31, 2012

Professional development in schools

Here is a post I've just written for my school, following on from an #edchatsa discussion on Monday. Comments and feedback appreciated!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Punishment vs. discipline

With all the talk about the Zuma spear, and whether the artist should be punished, I found tonight's session in the parenting course rather topical. What do you see as the difference between punishment and discipline? Is there a difference? Is punishment part of a discipline strategy? Are they two separate ideas, ideologically incompatible?

We were given an answer, which I happen to agree with, but before I give you that answer, I'd be interested in knowing how you see it. Do you discipline your children, or punish them, or both? How do you view these two concepts? How do you understand these two words?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I did it!

This is a short video I've edited from Monday, after an afternoon of Nathan playing on my laptop. Google Chrome has a nanny site called Zoodles. Once you've set up a profile, including the age, for your child, it selects appropriate games. You can veto any game it selects, but at least you know that the games your kid is playing are good ones. So, today, Nathan and I (since we were both sick at home) worked on his colour and shape recognition, as well as learning how to use the mouse on a laptop (not the easiest thing for a little one who isn't even sure whether he's right- left-handed!)

Monday, May 28, 2012


I'm usually so god with pain. I have a high threshold. I mean, I gave birth naturally to 3 kids (although, granted, with the second one I had morphine, but then, I think that's okay under the circumstances!). For 2 of them I had no epidurals, and I only had gas & air for the first one. I usually don't take pain killers unless the pain is REALLY bad - as in, migraine status.

But these past two days... this has been a completely different sort of pain, and to be honest, I've welcomed the drugs.

I have a cold. I know, I know - it's just a cold. However, my sinuses are so swollen (not congested, really, as I can breathe fine - it's not like flu) that my teeth ache so badly I can't eat. In fact, it's so bad that even with my mouth open, every step I take makes my teeth feel like I've just fallen 10ft and landed with a massive bump. OW!

Of course, this hasn't helped my (non-existant) diet, as I can suck chocolate and eat dunked rusks, and dip bananas in nutella or peanut butter....

But it's meant I've had to stay in bed cos otherwise I a) fall over or b) have to do this funny crab-like shuffle to keep from hurting my head and teeth.

Aaah, the "joys" of being sick.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Skies of freedom

One of the things I remember best about the UK is walking on the commons. Not because they were pretty, or anything, but because they were the only places in London where you could see the sky. The lack of open sky is one of the reasons I found London so oppressive. My spirit would long for weekends in Guildford, or anywhere out of the city, where the sky was unfettered, unimpeded. Returning to SA, one forgets all too quickly what a blessing it is to see the sky.

Just recently, in the maelstrom that has been my life, I would catch myself driving somewhere, paying no attention whatsoever to the road. Instead, my eyes would be glued to the sky. I would be drinking in the vastness of it, the colour, the wind-sweptness (is there such a word?)... eternity made visible. Somehow, blocking out everything else and just focusing on that would grant me enough peace to carry on. Similarly, when I felt I was drowning, I would find myself longing to be outside, staring up at the sky.

While browsing through my photos this afternoon, I realised how many photos I have of skies - cloudy, rainbows, sunsets, moon risings, sunrises, mountains lifted high against them, even an unintentional self-portrait of my hair against the sky.... It made me realise that there is something truly spiritual about skies. They breathe freedom into my life. (Maybe that's why prison cells have no windows with a view of the sky....)

I find it interesting therefore, that the gospels describe how Jesus left, rising into the sky. Revelation (not Revelations, people!), similarly, talks about Jesus returning from the skies. What is it about the sky that is so elemental, so fundamental, so profound? Is it merely that it is so vast? Or is there something more to it?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Beautiful on the inside

You know those moments that are just so precious, you want to stop the world and freeze-frame them? I had one of those this morning.

#1 was having a  friend for a play date today. As I was getting dressed I remembered that the play room was in a terrible state. I called her to ask her whether she had brushed her teeth, and if so, I was planning to ask her to go and tidy up. As I asked whether her teeth were brushed, she replied, "No, but I'm busy cleaning up the playroom because all the toys were spread all over and it's very messy. I'll do that as soon as I'm done."

My daughter. Clearly. She likes a neat, ordered space to work (play) in.

Then a few moments later, she appears again. "Mom, I want to put some flowers in a vase for XX. Can you help me?"


Needless to say, I hurried to help her. We made a cute little posie of garden flowers in a small vase that is now sitting on her little tea party table.

I am so proud of her, so proud of the beautiful spirit she has, of the beautiful person she's becoming. I am so blessed to be her Mommy, and I told her as much. I know it's a small thing, but the respect, initiative and consideration for her friend that she showed this morning are actually really big things for me. They're life skills and I'm thrilled as punch that she's already showing she's learnt them (to some extent). Encore! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Post-Apartheid demographics

I'm not a Born Free (i.e. born post 1994). I was born and raised under Apartheid. I benefitted from it to some degree, although I never voted for it. In fact, the first time I was able to vote was in the 1994 elections.

I try to treat all people equally. I try to look beyond the colour of a person's skin. In most cases, I think I'm successful. In I do notice skin colour, it's usually because something else has drawn my attention - nationality, socio-economic background, etc.

While I have an intellectual understanding of what it was like to be a non-white under Apartheid, that's all it will ever be. I frequently get frustrated that we haven't moved on from the "race thing" in SA, yet, periodically I am reminded that it's only the whites in this country that feel that way. For many blacks, coloured and Indians, the legacy of Apartheid is still very much a present reality.

Today I was reminded about this again. While having a discussion about how one should go about appointing teachers with some colleagues, I was amazed, yet again, by the passion with which various non-whites spoke regarding their disillusionment with the system - that it still fails to deliver the kind of equality it should.

I've deliberately chosen to send my daughter to a school that is majority non-white, over the closer (almost entirely) white school. I don't want my child thinking that majority white (or nearly all white) is normal. While academically it may be a better school, there's a lot more to life than academics! I want my kids to grow up with friends of colour (which has happened for my daughter). Our issue, instead of colour, is dealing with people of different faiths. (How DOES one explain to a child that while we may believe our God is the only God, her best friend believes something different, and that we need to demonstrate respect, love and tolerance towards her in that regard?) Similarly, I know that when it comes to choosing a high school for my kids, the demographics will have a big role to play in that.

I confess though that I do find this whole topic almost boring. On the one hand, I feel like telling those who bang on about how many white males or even white females (we're also not acceptable in this new country of ours) there are in positions of authority to just get over themselves. On the other, I sympathise with their plight - even nearly 2 decades is not long enough to erase the cultural brainwashing they received or to put right the educational wrongs that were perpetrated.

It feels like I'm stuck between a rock anda  hard place. I know that to put right the wrongs, to do the ethically correct thing, means that I and my children won't just be 2nd choice, or 3rd, or 4th, but completely last in job applications. The knock-on effects are huge - lower salary, poorer standard of living, fewer educational opportunitites, etc.

Of course, we have the alternative of leaving SA, but all over the world there are discussions about nationalism, and what it means to be "British", or "Australian", or "American", and immigrants and minority groups are given a raw deal. The grass isn't greener, necessarily, on the other side. It's just that today it didn't feel particularly green on this side either. I was very disheartened by the discussion I was part of - I felt like all the good we've been trying to do hasn't been seen; it's disregarded because it isn't enough.

As any good teacher will tell you, in order to know when you've reached your obejectives, you need SMART targets - specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time sensitive. How will we know when we have reached the goal of being a fully integrated society? How will we know when we've hit the target and can do away with affirmative action (which, simplistically, is just Apartheid in reverse)?

And who will make the decision? If the youth make the decision, then their targets will be completely different to those chosen by the older generations. Who says which generation is more correct? Have we integrated if the youth no longer see the colour of each other's skins? Or will we be integrated when every institution has a demographically representative management (including those with disabilities, sexual orientations, genders, etc)?

Big questions - and not ones that will be easily answered, I guess.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My son, the singer

Every night I sing to the kids as I put them into bed. The current favourite (which has been Nathan's song of choice for almost 2 years!) is the jazz lullaby 'Summertime". Until he and Nellie started sharing a room, she would request a different song every night, but he's definitely stuck in the rut - not that I mind at all. I've enjoyed  working on my performance of it each night, gradually developing my own version of it in my head. (I can now hear all the different instruments as well as my own voice!)

Just this past week, Nathan has made a stunning development - not in choice of song though. No, instead he has started adding his own voice to the mix! Instead of it being a case of me singing to him, it has become a duet. (Aaaaaaaahh!! He's just so cute!) I love hearing his little voice, trying to copy the jazz nuances....

Around the same time, he's started singing in the car - I'm not sure if it's a song he's made up himself, or something he's learnt at nursery, but it's definitely not a song I know. (It might be a mix version of 'Clap your hands all you people' with 'If you're happy and you know it', actually!) It's rather cute though.

Sitting watching American Idol tonight, I wonder whether my little songbird will grow and develop any real talent in this area. He certainly has the personality to be on screen!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A friend like Henry

I'm reading the most amazing book at the moment. It's called 'A friend like Henry'. It's the true story of a family coping with autism. It's written by the mother, Nuala, and she simply tells of the family's journey as they struggle initially with their son, and later with their daughter, to cope with undiagnosed autism, then to get a diagnosis, and then to get treatment.

It could have been a very heavy read, but Nuala has written so well that it's incredibly easy to read - although not easy on the heart!

Reading about the struggles she has in dealing with her son: the lack of sleep, the physical demands of caring for a child who is unable to comprehend or demonstrate love, the lack of understanding of others in the community,  the damage it does to her marriage ... I am amazed by the capacity of the human heart to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

I was also reminded of a friend who's son has Tay-Sachs. I know that she has endured similar heartbreak, heart ache and difficulties. I know that those who find themselves in that situation have no option but to do their best for their child, and can find it patronising when others say "I wouldn't be able to cope with that", or "I don't know how you do it". I know that, if we were thrown into such a situation, we would cope, because we have to, because our love for our child is greater than the obstacles we face.

And yet...

Yet it is unbearably hard at times. Reading this book I have wept - at the cruelty of medical professionals who think they know better than a child's mother, at the unfairness of life, at the hardship of loving another who cannot return that love.

When I was in the UK I spent a few weeks working in an autism unit for autistic children who were trying to integrate into a mainstream school. At the time, I found my time there intimidating. I was very pleased not to have to stay any longer than I did. After reading this book, I see now that I was hopelessly under-prepared by the staff. I could have done so much more if I'd just understood the children better.

Having lost my own child, when this book was recommended to me, I had my misgivings about reading it. I don't often willingly expose myself to anything on the topic of children in difficulty. My heart is too broken to deal with it. Yet, because it was recommended by a friend I really love and trust, I thought I'd give it a go. I'm so pleased I did! Despite the honesty in this book, the detail of hardship and difficulty, despite the pain and suffering so clearly evident, this is a book about hope, about beating the odds, about never giving up, about the beauty of the human spirit. (Oh yes, and there's a lot in it about a dog too - a golden retriever called Henry, of course!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seesaw life

This morning #2 was being a pain. A right, royal, pain in the you-know-what. He didn't want to get dressed. He didn't want to brush his teeth. He didn't want to get in the car. He didn't want to go to school. It was one of THOSE days.

I was coping quite well, until I told him that his dummy and Doggie had to stay at home today - that they couldn't go in his bag or with him to school. At that point, the world ended for him. He screamed non-stop all the way to school, and all the way into school. I had one of those experiences where people walking by stopped to stare, and I could see, written on their faces, the question about what I was doing to torment and abuse my child so.

I carried him, stiff-bodied and screaming with rage, into school. I calmly told him I loved him, and that I was going to work. I asked for a kiss, but that wasn't going to happen. I put him down, at which point he threw himself on the floor, kicked his boots off, and continued to have a raging tantrum. I calmly walked away and got into the car.

And burst into tears.

#1, sitting in the back-seat, asked why I was crying. I managed to answer semi-coherently, while sobbing and trying to drive the car to our next destination. As I drove, I calmed down, and we arrived safely.

As I gave #1 a hug and kiss goodbye, she whispered in my ear: 'Don't cry, Mommy. It will all be alright. You'll see."

I nearly started crying again. What a wonderful, caring, supportive child I have!

As soon as I got to work, I sms'd the nursery - only to be told that within minutes he'd been calm and happy. So his whole performance was just for my benefit.... which, naturally, makes me feel terrible. I know that his teachers know that he only performs on the days I drop him off, but I sincerely hope they don't think he's always like that with me, or that I'm a bad mother, or something, 'cos any outside observer could quite easily draw that conclusion from his behaviour.

And while HE might be fine, my day has been off kilter. I've been down in the dumps ever since that episode this morning, and I just can't quite seem to shake it. No doubt, when I see him this afternoon, he'll have forgotten all about it!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Breaking point

The past month of so has been ... stressful to say the least. In addition to the mini-Expo that I've been working on, there's been our own Science Fair (run twice, once for Gd 9 and once for Gd 11), and then prepping for exams (I still have one paper to finish setting for that), while also trying to sort out various IT-related issues at work, in addition to my own troubles at home.

The home troubles include having a thunderstorm wipe out my gate bell & camera, a computer, the router and the modem; my ceiling just about coming down because of the leaks on the roof (unintentionally caused by my gardener who failed to follow my instructions about how to walk on the roof and has cracked about 30 tiles...), my car's starter motor failing, and a host of other "minor" hassles.

Add to the mix the fact that G has finally started his new job, and from the get-go has had no end of BIG issues to sort out (and hence has been very stressed at home), and that all of the home issues have resulted in serious financial strain for us, and that Zoe has been very much on my heart and in my mind of late, and I'm sure you can appreciate the stress I've been under.

I have been at breaking point for what feels like forever. In reality, it's only been a few weeks, but prolonged stress is never good for the mind, body or soul. It has felt like forever.

On Friday, I knew the wheels were coming off. I could feel it. For the first time in YEARS my jaw has been dislocating again, which means that I must be seriously grinding my teeth at night, which means that I must be very stressed! I decided to take the bull by the horns, even though it made the evening a bit late for the kids (which causes it's own set of stress) and insist that we all go to the gym, so that the kids and I could swim and relax together. We had a blast, and I felt infinitely better after spending some quality time just playing with my kids, and just relaxing (for the first time in far too long). Sat was then the mini-Expo (STRESS!!!! but once it was underway, I was able to relax entirely and let go).

As I started relaxing though, the inevitable happened. You know how it is - the moment you start to relax after a really stressful or busy time, your body gives in completely. It can hold it together for a long time, but when you start to relax, it sideswipes you with all the accumulated results. Unusually for me, I haven't responded by getting ill (yet). Instead, I had a breakdown. And what a whopper it was!

I haven't had a breakdown like that for ... well, I can't remember the last time, so it must have been quite a while. What triggered it was losing a set of keys. We have a security gate on our patio door, and I lost the keys to it earlier today. I thought I had put them back in their usual place, but as my mother had just arrived for lunch as I putting them away, and I was flustered as the table wasn't quite ready, I concede that I couldn't remember WHAT I'd done with them.

The problem was that I wasn't comfortable about leaving the house without the gate being locked. While I know the alarm would have gone off if there had been a break-in, I would rather have just prevented the break-in in the first place. We don't have insurance, so losing stuff is a very costly business for us.

Since it was Mother's Day I felt that G should go to tea with his mother (which had been the plan) and I would stay home to look after the house. Yet, emotionally, because it was Mother's Day, I felt that I shouldn't be the one to have to stay at home. I was also furious with myself for losing the keys (as we don't have a spare - and it opens two gates). To top it off, I was furious that G could see I was really cross and upset, and did nothing to alleviate the situation. (Poor guy though! I would have run away too if I'd been him!)

In retrospect, I can see that it was all complete over-reaction. There was an alternative solution - lock the bike lock around the security gate, which would secure the house and allow us all to go out, and then look for the keys on our return - but I was too close to the edge to see that at the time.

Once he and the kids had left, I ran around like a lunatic, looking for the keys. Now, something you should know is that when I'm upset, the my absolute hatred for mess (I'm a neat freak) is like a red rag to a bull. It simply makes me even madder. Of course, having just had lunch, there were dirty dishes and glasses and pots everywhere - and I just exploded. Given my state of mind, I was incensed that I should be left with the mess to clean up, on Mother's Day, of all days.

As I can't really think straight in a mess, I started clearing things away, and for the first time I can remember, I honestly wanted to smash every single glass and plate we owned. In the end, I only broke one glass, but I was a hair's breadth away from breaking everything. As I said, I can't remember ever being in such a rage - I'm sure I have though! (I do have rather a temper.)

Well, breaking the glass made me even more mad on one level - because now I had a whole pile of glass to clean up - but it provided me with the emotional release I needed too. I promptly burst into tears and ran out of the kitchen. I sat on my bed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed - with a mixture of rage and shame. As my tears subsided enough to allow me to see, I wandered outside. I needed some air - to just get away from the mess in the house. Of course, there's mess outside too - from the long grass that needs cutting to the dog's mess, and the weeds and the snails... and I started crying afresh, despairing that I would EVER have time to get my house as neat and pretty as I would like it. And that's when I saw them - I had dropped the keys in the garden while I was cutting some flowers for the table.

After clearing up the dogs' mess, and picking up the keys, I went back in and tackled the lunch-time mess, and the broken glass. By then, I had such a headache from the constant crying, and my face felt so puffy, I felt I couldn't face G's family, much as I wanted to see them. Instead, I climbed into bed and felt sorry for myself, with a bit of DVD-therapy thrown in. It (mostly) worked.

I'm grateful that no-one was here to witness my break-down. I'm glad that I was able to direct it away from my family, and my pets. I'm glad that I didn't harm anyone, or myself, but I'm disappointed in myself that I allowed things to get to that point.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Yesterday saw a project I've been working on for weeks come to fruition: 230 children from 18 different schools from Greater Cape Town show off their unfinished science projects, in preparation for Eskom Expo in August. This event offers the Expo committee and the judges the opportunity to work with disadvantaged schools to improve the teaching and understanding of the scientific method.

As my school was hosting it, and I am on the Expo committee, I spent many days working flat-out with the team to prepare all the logistics. It was thus with a deep sense of achievement and pride that I watched the event unfold. Despite how much work it was, it was deeply satisfying knowing the part I played in making the day happen. I was grateful for the generosity of both the school and the principal in allowing us to host the event at the school. The thing that made me most proud though, was that, in a very real way, both the school and I contributed to building our nation and improving the state of education within it. I know that for some, those are pipe dreams, but I became a teacher for days like today.

While I love teaching at this school, and I believe I’m doing good here, from time to time I catch myself wondering whether I could do MORE good by teaching at a township school. Then I have a day like today, where I’m able to facilitate the learning of not just the kids, but the teachers too, thus influencing generations of children to come. I realise afresh that I wouldn’t have those opportunities if I were teaching elsewhere. It’s because of principals like this one, a ground staff like the one we have at the school, caterers like our Consumer Studies teacher (Oh. My. Word!), fellow teachers who cover my lessons (and those of the others involved at Expo) without complaint, and the ones who simply offer the moral and technical support, that I am able to have these opportunities. So, a huge thank you for today must go to them.

Put 135 projects, 235 kids, 18 schools, and 25 judges together, and this is what you get!

But back to the day itself…. The vibe in the hall was incredible! There was a constant buzz as children from different backgrounds and schools connected with each other, and children and adults discussed science. To occupy the children while pre-judging took place, we had Detlef from Cape Town ScienCentre (who is a stalwart on the Expo committee, and that at age 77!) present a science show, which included “magically” changing the colour of water, putting a knitting needle through a balloon without popping it, and creating a 1m 5000oC flame, not to mention other fabulously loud bangs and explosions. Needless to say, all the children (and teachers) were thrilled! More than that though, if these same children will bring their completed projects to Expo, having learnt a great deal more about science. Some may even pursue a career in science as a result of this experience. What a great day!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

So I'm maybe not as clever as I thought...

A while back a friend told me about a news item he'd read. The story was about a study done on the link between the type of web browser you use, and your IQ. IE users were the most stupid, it said. Yay! I thought. I HATE IE. I don't understand why so many people still use it. I understand even less why developers still use it.

Then, today, while I was just browsing (something I haven't had time to do for MONTHS!) I found this. Damn!

Google wallet

Oh. My. Word. How cool is Google???