In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

June 9, 2014
by annavarna
1 Comment

Exams and why we must revolt

It’s June. For people without kids it’s the time the weather gets better and they can start hitting the beaches of their countries. Or those of their neighbours’. For those with kids under the age of 8 or 9 (depending where you leave) it’s still a good time, enjoy it while you can good people. For the rest of us with kids between the ages of 8 and 22 (depending where you live) it’s that time of the year again. Yeap, it’s exam time. If you come from a country like Greece you have probably been conditioned to talk on the first person plural when it comes to exams: “We have an exam in Ancient Greek tomorrow, so we can’t join you to the beach, sorry”. Even if you aren’t such a helicopter parent, you probably worry about how your children are doing. It is possible also that you like me are fed up with seeing them learn useless things. You may have hired private help to tutor your kids, or may be spending hours helping them to revise for the exams. Whatever is the way you approach this in your family, I am pretty sure you think there is something genuinely wrong with the system.

The last few days, I have been seeing various posts from friends and fellow educators in my timelines. One of them still resonates with me after a few days. He was saying: “marks (at school) can say nothing about a child’s effort, critical thinking, cooperation, curiosity, respect, politeness, ability to love, emotional and social intelligence, honesty and so much more…”  At first sight it seems like a parent’s gentle complaint that his child is not seen as a whole human being at school. But I think the problem goes deeper than that and we parents/educators have a hard time balancing our roles. On the one hand we have to help our kids excel at a system which is far from ideal. And as educators we understand that the system is so outdated, so distorted, so not preparing our kids and our students for tomorrow’s world that sometimes you feel like banging your head on the wall.

At least there are people out there who feel the same and they are encouraging us to do something, to not keep quiet. To scream instead of banging our heads. To talk to our colleagues, to our children’s school directors, to other parents, to our kids, to our students. One such person is Will Richardson. I know Will from twitter and has been following him and his education tweets for years. Two days ago I bought his short book Why School? and I was fascinated with it. I have highlighted big parts of it and at every page, I was thinking, this makes so much sense. Will explains very clearly how insufficient the work that is happening in schools right now is in preparing students for a future world. Things you may have heard from Ken Robinson or Clay Shirky or even John Dewey are summarized in a really lucid way so that I strongly recommend this essay to all educators and policy makers out there.


The following extract is the one I originally shared on Facebook and it seemed that many people found it relevant: “ The important irony is that test scores tell us little, if anything about our children’s preparedness for future success in a fast-changing world. A recent IBM survey of CEOs asked them to name the most crucial factor for future success, and their answers had nothing to do with state assessments, SAT scores, or ven Advanced Placement Tests. Instead they cited creativity and “managing the growing complexity of the world”. I can’t find a state or local test currently in use that captures our kids’ mastery in those two areas. You?”

Another extract ”Connecting and learning with other people online, distinguishing good information from bad, creating and sharing important works with the world: None of that (and a whole bunch of other stuff I could mention) is on the test. And sadly, therefore, we don’t value it. It finds no place in our classrooms.”

But of course how can we teachers go on to teach our students these things when we cannot do them ourselves. When we keep on creating tests that are about content (content that is dead, that people can find in 30 seconds) and not about critical ability about cooperation about creation. When we do not ourselves collaborate with our peers in creating new content.

My fellow educators back in Greece, complain heavily and resist the (don’t-know-what-is going-on) government’s efforts to impose teacher assessment. I don’t agree at all with the way this is implemented and I know how unprepared the educational world is for that. But I think the problem is elsewhere: the Greek government as governments all over the world, as the American government for that matter,  insist on trying to make things “better” by placing the blame on teachers, by weakening teachers, by focusing on test results. The point is we have to make things completely differently, otherwise in a few years’ time we will be so obsolete we will disappear.  As Richardson cleverly notes: “In a nutshell, proponents of this view believe that education can be improved by identifying and getting rid of the teachers whose students underperform on the test, by privatizing schools and by “personalizing” the curriculum via computers that deliver content and problems to individual kids based on their assessed skill level.”

Our vision should be focusing on learning, on preparing students to become good learners, on teaching them how to create their own networks, developing good habits of questioning what is served to them as truth. If you are a teacher, maybe you should start wondering how you can do that in your class. If you are a parent, maybe you should start questioning if this is happening in your child’s classroom. If you are both, you are the first one that has to react.

Courage to all parents, students and teachers out there, going through exam period, one more time. And courage to me who is writing this just to procrastinate from studying for (yet) another French exam J.

For some fun check this test created by a teacher in a religious school in the USA where everything you think you knew would be marked wrong. Because there is hope in this world, the school closed since the test was given due to lack of funding. You can read the whole story here: Science Test


April 1, 2013
by annavarna

Είσαι νέος το ξέρω…

Μια ανάρτηση στα Ελληνικά. Αφιερωμένη εξαιρετικά στους μαθητές που με άκουσαν σήμερα 🙂 

Είναι ένας χρόνος σχεδόν που έφυγα από την Ελλάδα για τις Βρυξέλλες. Στη νέα μου δουλειά ασχολούμαι και πάλι με την εκμάθηση των γλωσσών αλλά όχι από τη θέση της δασκάλας πια αλλά από τη θέση της συμβούλου, της συντονίστριας, της παιδαγωγού. Αν και η λέξη παιδαγωγός δεν ταιριάζει και πολύ γιατί ασχολούμαι με ενήλικες. Όμως στα Γαλλικά, pedagogue, είναι κάτι σαν υπεύθυνος σπουδών, υπεύθυνος για το περιεχόμενο των μαθημάτων και την ποιότητα τους. Αυτό κάνω εκεί.

Έχω μάθει πολλά πράγματα αυτό το χρόνο που είμαι εκεί. Έχω μάθει πως λειτουργεί μια τεράστια δημόσια υπηρεσία στην υπηρεσία του πολίτη: κυρίως με πολλή διαφάνεια. Έχω μάθει τί είναι σημαντικό όταν κοιτάζουμε τα βιογραφικά των ανθρώπων που θα προσλάβουμε: κυρίως αν αυτά που γράφουν είναι σχετικά με τη θέση.  Έχω μάθει τί προσέχουν όταν προσλαμβάνουν νέα παιδιά για τα τρίμηνα ή εξάμηνα stage: οι γλώσσες και η συμμετοχή σε σχετικές με τη θέση δραστηριότητες. Έχω μάθει τί έχει σημασία όταν βγαίνεις να δουλέψεις σε άλλη χώρα και μάλιστα σε ένα διεθνή οργανισμό: η προσαρμοστικότητα περισσότερο από τα πολλά πτυχία.

Και όλα αυτά που έμαθα ήθελα να τα μοιραστώ με αυτούς που νομίζω ότι ενδιαφέρουν περισσότερο. Με αυτούς που σε λίγα χρόνια θα είναι υποψήφιοι για stage στην Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή, για μεταπτυχιακά ή για Εράσμους. Με τα παιδιά που είναι σήμερα στο Γυμνάσιο και το Λύκειο.

Ευτυχώς εδώ στην πόλη μου, οι περισσότεροι φίλοι είναι εκπαιδευτικοί. Η φίλη μου η Μαρία, από το Γυμνάσιο Πλατυκάμπου είχε πρώτη την ιδέα να μιλήσω στους μαθητές του Γυμνασίου στα πλαίσια του Σ.Ε.Π και η φίλη και διευθύντρια του 3ου Λυκείου Λάρισας, Μαρίνα Κολλάτου ενθουσιάστηκε επίσης με την ιδέα. Οπότε σήμερα μίλησα ζωντανά σε ένα κοινό απαιτητικό, 60 περίπου 16χρονοι, γεμάτοι ζωή και απορίες. Είπα τα τρία πράγματα που ήθελα να πω, εκείνοι με άκουσαν και με ρωτούσαν ενδιαφέροντα πράγματα. Οι πιο εσωστρεφείς ήρθαν και με ρώτησαν κατ’ιδίαν στο τέλος. Οι υπόλοιποι ελπίζω να διαβάσουν αυτή την ανάρτηση.

Εσείς μπορείτε να δείτε την παρουσίαση!


December 19, 2012
by annavarna

Farming Style and how to bring it in the classroom

This is for all my former colleagues in Karditsa and Larissa

In 2005 I first arrived to work in a school in rural Karditsa. I am not at all a city girl, I grew up in various little places with many different accents, from mainland Lamia and whereabouts to Rhodes with its characteristic singing intonation and Italianati diction that so confused me when I was a kid. But nothing had prepared me for the first day of assembly and common prayers in Karpohori, that small village of 1000 inhabitants: The first time I heard a kid saying the prayer, I thought someone was kidding me. I was looking at the other teachers waiting for them to stop the kid telling her to start again this time with all the vowels included. But no. This was it. Welcome to Karditsa!
TO learn to pronounce the name of that village, the name its inhabitants had been using since 1700 before the Independent Greek State gave it something sounding a little more Greek and less Turkish, was a challenge too. Try saying Gerbesi without the vowels and you will have an approximation!
But anyway, that year I was so happy to be working as a permanent teacher only 80klm from my home (the previous year I had been working somewhere near the borders with Turkey, 650 klm away) that nothing could curb my enthusiasm. The next year I went to a different village, this time with a pretty easy-to-pronounce name, Itea, which actually means Willow tree and I was even happier. The friends I made in that school, will be forever, no matter where we are…
And since 2006 until May 2012 I was working there. Oh boy, the things I learnt about agriculture and tractors and tools and animals. My posh friends in big cities, laughed at all the cute pictures of ducks and turkeys and cows and sheep I post on Facebook, but secretly I think they envied that every day I had the chance to get out of my ugly city and go to the countryside and enjoy glorious landscapes and endless skies!
One of the highlights of my time there was when we opened our first student e-mail accounts and I encouraged them to write to me. That was pre-FB times when people sent e-mails to each other! So the first e-mail my student Kostas sent to me was this: “Hello teacher. How are you? My favourite tractors are John Deree tractors. What are yours?” As you can see my education on tractor makes had already started!
Back to the present. It’s the year 2012 and Gangnam style has gone viral and is being danced by teenagers and serious eurocrats alike. And my friend Monika sends me this link with a parody of the song.

The Peterson brothers made their version of the song that has gone viral and they hit a nerve! What I like is that they take pride in their work, they talk about it as the most important job on earth and they aren’t wrong. As I remind my daughter every day the person who is putting the food on the table is the chief.
Into our classrooms now. This is a song I would bring in my classroom. I would talk about agriculture with the experts, that is my students, and would discuss what the brothers are doing. I’m sure they would have lots to teach me! Plenty of vocabulary opportunities there. I would also discuss how fresh food is hardly featured in the video. At some point when they are singing about providing food they show a table full of cereal boxes and no fruit or vegetable whatsoever. Plenty of opportunity for critical thinking there and discussion about cultural differences and similarities. With some older classes I could even discuss GM food and the differences between European and American legislation.
And of course there would be lots to discuss about different makes of tractors people!! But even if not much of a conversation in English could take place I am sure we would enjoy the movements.
Now it’s Wednesday morning and I’m getting ready to cycle to work. No teaching for me this year, only observing teachers, designing eLearning courses, checking the quality of courses and so on. But if any teachers out there are inspired by this and they go on to try it I’d love to hear from you people and feature your work here!
Happy Holidays!

June 8, 2012
by annavarna

ROMA or not, React!

A few months ago, when I was still living in Greece and working as a teacher, there was a big upheaval caused when ROMA segregated schools were closed overnight and their population was asked to “integrate” in “normal” schools. I was appalled, furious and totally disillusioned by how our educational authorities handled the issue, but even more so by how my fellow teachers refused to go to work, or send their kids to the schools where ROMA students would go from the next day. Back then I chose not to write anything about it because I was so angry and so disappointed I was bound to be unfair.

My friend Nikos, a really  Brave Teacher, was not at all hesitant in speaking out and even writing a heated article about it, but I’m not sure whether it was published after all. Local societies have the means to preserve their own and they wouldn’t concede even to listen to different views. Fortunately there were calm voices too and their scientific and sound arguments were expressed.

And then I left, and amid all the personal struggles to relocate to a new country, a new job, a new culture, far away from family and friends, I lost track of the case. But loose ends follow you wherever you go and as the poet has said no matter where you travel you will always get off at the same stop, at the same city..

So yesterday I was invited to an event about ROMA integration. There were some serious presentations about the work of the Commission on the issue and some very passionate people spoke. There were also some very talented young people of ROMA origin, from various countries, who shared their experiences. Some stories were cheerful, some humorous, some haunting…There was an energetic young woman, a stagier in Brussels, and one of the creative minds behind this site.

Somehow she reminded me of  little V a student of mine, back in Greece, in Itea. V and her brother and sister , of Roma origin, came to our school last year. Not everything was ideal from the beginning and even recently you could occasionally hear prejudiced remarks. But the truth is these kids were so cheerful, so happy to be going to school, that I think they won us from day one. I remember very well the first day they came to school and how disappointed I was (again) by some of my fellow teachers. But we talked about it. We argued, we even fought with some. And gradually, I think we won. Not only did the kids stay at school but they were fully accepted too. Earlier this year I remember we were doing an exercise about different languages and V mentioned that she could speak her own language a little. For a moment I held my breath because I was not at all sure how the other 9-year-olds would react. But they reacted as all children in their age: with honest curiosity!

All three siblings were exceptional however. A, the younger sister is an adorable child with the highest degrees of social and emotional intelligence, clever, sparkling eyes, cuddly and confident at the same time. N, their brother should be given a prize for the student who loves school most, cause he is the first boy I have met who cries when he can’t come to school. His special abilities and speech impairment do not prevent him from becoming part of our small school community and he has such a sense of humour, he kept impressing his teacher, Ms Helen almost every day. Special mention for this Special Education teacher here, who is such an assertive person, a teacher who stood for her students  every day against all odds, against all the prejudices of a small rural society!!! Three cheers for Helen. All the teachers who were involved with the kids were fantastic in their approach, Christos, Kostas, Andreas, all of them played their role in helping the kids to become part of the group as smoothly as possible.

So last night, I was listening to these beautiful young men and women speaking about their history and their origins and I couldn’t stop thinking of V. I am pretty sure that if she is given a chance, first by her family and then by our schools, one day she will be talking at an auditorium in Brussels too!

Big thanks to my new friends here who invited me to this even and gave me the chance first to meet all these interesting people and secondly to reminisce about my students and appreciate once more what a unique educational group I was part of, before I left. But of course you have to take your distance to understand that…

May 1, 2012
by annavarna

Norwegian Schools: A trip to the future

Since October 2011 I’ve been participating in a European Comenius multilateral project called CORE (Clil Objectives Resourcekit for Educators). As its name suggests it’s a project about CLIL implementation and our main objective is to see how CLIL theory is applied in various educational systems, as well as create a resourcekit for any educators that might be interested to give it a try. There are seven partners from five countries in the project and there is a lot of diversity regarding our experience in CLIL. Our Spanish partners for example are already practicing CLIL in their settings, and Victor Pavon our Cordovan partner is an academic whose main focus is CLIL and bilingualism. On the other hand our Norwegian partners are very new to exploring the possibilities of CLIL and so are we, the Greek partners. Nevertheless this diversity is one of our strong points as a team.

So now that I have explained the basics of our project I’d like to describe my experience in Norway where the second meeting was held, and in particular my impressions from visiting two schools in the area of Karmoy.
The first visit was at Holmen school. This is an alternative school in the area of Karmoy. There are very few students and they are pupils that had serious trouble to follow the “regular” school program or children who dropped out of school so this is their final effort to graduate. They do the usual school subjects but they also do a lot of practical work, like bike repairing, painting, cooking and such. When the first school opened some 13 or 14 years ago one of the educators had the brilliant idea that if they wanted to keep the students in this school they had to give them a dream. And the dream they decided upon in this beautiful fishing town of Karmoy was to build a ship! We are talking about a real 15m long ship that will be able to sail and not a sorry model.
12 years ago they started building it, along with their teachers, little by little every year, working hours and hours, and studying all kinds of theory in order to learn how to do it. Combining science, mathematics, shipbuilding skills, and whatever else necessary now it is almost ready. In about a month she will go into water.
When our group went into the school , the head Johanes, briefed us into the story of the ship. But no briefing could have prepared me for the beauty of the vessel, its size, the kind of work that went into it and the pride of the students working on it. We met three of the students working there and they were all smiling, clever, polite boys who seemed to work with earnest love for the boat.
Talking with the teachers was enlightening as well: “There have been many students who have worked on the ship over the years. We show them that if you are patient you can achieve something big. But you have to wait. So this might help them when they go back to regular school and they will have to be patient in order to see the results of their efforts”. How true! How many times have we had students who don’t see the meaning of trying hard and working diligently? I’m sure if you have worked with adolescents you will have encountered situations like this pretty often.
Another thing that amazed me with the whole project was how few students were there. The three alternative options of Karmoy school system are the Holmen, Tarnet and Botoppen schools. All in all they must deal with no more than 40 students. But people there do not see it as an awful lot of money for so few students. They see it as an investment for the future: if they manage to keep these students at school they are convinced their investment will pay off and in the long run it will come cheaper than if these adolescents were lost in the forests of juvenile delinquency.
The second school we visited must be one of the flagships of Norwegian education. Mykje Skole on the outskirts of Haugesund is a school taken out of the Fairy Tale Schools book. We arrived there on Friday morning and we experienced the Friday assembly. In a beautiful hall (Scandinavian Design at its best) candle lit, and with music played the 300 students gathered in a most ordered manner, quiet, wearing their clogs or their socks, they sat down next to their teachers and they waited until everybody had sat. Our mouths had already dropped because everything was being done so quietly and peacefully. The music teacher announced the program which included a song sang by the school choir (I think this was done for our sake, but maybe not), some presentation about traffic safety, awarding the most careful students of the week wishing happy birthday to the people whose birthday was that week!
When the choir sang “California Dreaming” I think I started crying. Whoever has tried to teach children a simple (monophonic) song will know what kind of work it takes to achieve such a result. I am sure you will agree they are simply fantastic!

But our visit had just started. As soon as assembly finished we were assigned two student guides (who spoke excellent English, as well as all the other Norwegian people I met) who would take us around the school and explain everything. What can I say? That the facilities are of the highest standards? That classrooms had no doors but that there were specially designed rooms for group work? That there were computers and interactive boards everywhere? I think the point isn’t to describe facilities. What I saw was a school where children are free to work on their own, where there is a lot of peer learning and teaching (like in the music room where there was no teacher but the students taught each other how to play the cello), where teachers cooperate to teach a class. I saw a school where students and teachers are respected and they are given opportunities to take initiatives and create and be innovative. I saw a school where I would like to teach, and in which I would love my child to attend.
The following night we were invited to Holmen School again. This time a teacher of the school, who is also an accredited chef, would cook for us and two of the students would help in the kitchen and with the waiting. Again we experienced this look on the eyes of the students that talked about the pride they took in their work. And I couldn’t help wondering how often we give opportunities like that to our students.
A huge thank you to our Norwegian hosts who organized this visit and gave us the gift of getting to know from up close such marvelous education system. Thank you Britt-Mona, Per, John, Helga, Jane, Johanes! See you in Greece in autumn.

Here you can find the set of images related to these two Norwegian schools:

February 10, 2012
by annavarna

Lemons and lemonade

I’ve been trying to write this post for a few months now. I tried to write it in September when we went to school and there were no books to give to our students. I tried to write it again when teacher underwent another cut in their already meager salary. I tried to write it again when the teachers’ unions resisted the integration of Roma students in our schools. But today I read this article by photographer David Du Chemin and all the pieces fell to place. I have been following David for a while now and I love the way he writes because his posts are not exclusively about photogrpahy, they transcend in all fields of life and they are meaningful to everyone.

So in this post (which I hope some of you will read carefully) he talks about photographers but we could very well replace this in some paragraphs with teachers or lawyers or whatever profession you may like. David writes:

 …Things are changing. Is it easy? No. Is it fair? Does it matter? EVERYTHING is changing. It always has. It always will. If you are in business for yourself as a photographer, your job, as the CEO of You Inc., is to meet those changes head on, to navigate the rough waters and do it in a way you love, while not sinking the ship. No one promised you safe passage. No one owes you a waveless voyage. …f you are floundering, it’s not because you don’t have a better camera or the same 85/1.2L lens that that other, more successful, photographer on the other side of town, or the other side of the internet. It’s because you aren’t being as creative as you thought you were or you aren’t hustling…”

 Do you get it? If things aren’t going well in your teaching situation, if your kids aren’t interested, aren’t learning, are bored, are raucous and so on and so forth, it’s not the fault of books, or the lack of equipment. It’s because we aren’t creative enough. OK, the situation is dire, and it’s not our fault, and it’s unfair. So now what? Are we going to spend the rest of our working time whining and bithcing about the indifferent ministry and the good-for-nothing people who make the decisions? Are we going to waste the time of another school year by doing nothing?

 David has expressed it better than me I think: “…Yes, things are changing. They always have. But you can either make the change or react to it. Either way you need to be creative. You can do two things with your time on this earth – play the cards you’re dealt with all the energy and conviction you can, or whine and moan about how lousy your cards are. But whining and moaning never once changed the cards in anyone’s hand. Yes, Detroit was decimated by the economy, and it was left in literal ruins. But it’s making a come back. Not because it sat there feeling sorry for itself (ok, some did, but they aren’t the ones making the comeback), but because they got creative. They stood up, dusted off the seat of their jeans and looked the situation square in the eye and said, “OK. Now what?” It’s hard work. It’ll take time. And if you don’t love that work, give up now.”

 So, to get back to our situation in my poor little country: the (new) third grade book is colourless, badly drawn, the listening material you have to download yourself etc etc. So why don’t you organize a competition for the best coloured book at the end of the year? We have already started but you may want to join us! 

January 14, 2012
by annavarna

Little K and the music

Let me tell you a story that happened the other day at school that had me thinking: It’s the story of K, a third grader and a complete beginner in English. First of all, although I teach K for the first time this year, he is not unknown to me: I used to teach his brother who was notorious in our school and little K comes laden with this burden. As soon as you meet him, my colleagues say: “Oh he’s V’s brother” (with that look that says – beware). Fortunately, V may have been very difficult at times but I remember him as the guy who wrote a beautiful poem about the universe and the stars, in English!

The second day I had a class with K I knew he had his own exceptional view of the world when he showed me what he makes with common school things such as pens, pencils and rulers. I was amazed! I asked him to make one for me too and he did; he made me my very own airplane which I have proudly exhibited on the announcement board.

Fast forward to last Thursday when we do a little listening exercise from our book (I am not going to comment here that we got our coursebook for third graders in late December – maybe it was our ministry’s attempt to get us into unplugged teaching). The exercise was actually a rap rhyme about family. I had my doubts about this thing because my adult, politically correct brain could see all the faults to it: the lyrics were talking about a fat grandmother and a short sister, the language used was unknown to the children and more difficult than what they are used to and so on and so forth. So I put the CD player on, I tell them that first we are going to listen to it while reading the lyrics from our books and I push the play button. The rhyme starts playing and K is already up and dancing. The whole class stands up from their desks and they don’t do what I asked them to do!!! My teacher brain revolts! What a mess! What did I do wrong? How am I going to calm them down again? Quick, quick stop the music. I stop the music and I restore order.  I look at K with my teacher’s look which is specially designed to terrorize even seasoned teenagers, but what he tells me throws me off my feet: “Sorry miss, but I CAN’T resist”. For a few crucial seconds I resist bursting into laughter. But then I realize what I am doing: what a wet blanket, what a killjoy! I don’t resist anymore either, I burst into laughter and I push play again and we start rapping all together (OK, I rap more, they dance and say the words mammy, daddy, grandpa –which was the purpose after all). We start walking around the class stomping our feet to the rhythm and we have great fun! For homework I ask them to practice the rhyme. Next time it’s going to be fantastic, it’s certain. And we are already making plans about performing the 3rd Grade Rap in one of our upcoming school shows.

Late that night, I reflect about the lesson.  When I started playing the song and saw the chaos that followed my first reaction was to stop the activity. Things were not going as I had planned them, therefore something must be wrong. The only thing going wrong was that I was naïve enough not to have predicted what would happen under those circumstances. The good thing was that I was flexible enough to take advantage of the general enthusiasm and make something out of it. I have a little one-to one with myself: What’s the purpose of you there Anna? To teach people how to follow instructions? They learn that everyday, thank you very much. You are there to expose them to language, to instill a love for learning in general, to kindle their creativity and nurture their talents. And if I take all these into consideration it was a successful lesson. If the objective of the lesson was to have 14 9-year-olds still and quiet for 45 minutes then I failed completely!

This was my story about little K who outsmarted his teacher. Sometimes we teachers are too worried about appearances, about curriculum and the nuts and bolts of our profession that we miss the big picture. Fortunately there are many little Ks out there to remind us what we are there for and that one of the keys to happiness is not to be able to resist the music!

February 5, 2011
by annavarna

Feeding the chickens may lead to a class fight

I teach English to a class of 4th graders, nine-year-olds that is, and many of them seem to have Facebook accounts. They all know that FB is for adults but they have registered a false birth date. So far nothing surprising, I’m sure thousands of kids do this around the world mainly to play these addictive games. My kid (11 years old) has been allowed to do it too.

Last year many of my students were asking me persistently if I have a Facebook account and if I would add them as friends. For months I resisted because I didn’t want my private life to be visible to my students. I was thinking that sometimes I may share a song or a video inappropriate for children and I didn’t want to censor myself like that. Back then FB didn’t have this tool where you can group your friends in various ways and share or not share with them your content. Anyway, after thinking about it for some time, I decided to follow my friend’s advice and set up another FB account which would be only for students. That way I would keep my own life private and I would be able to share with them what I thought appropriate and maybe teach them a couple of things too.

That was last year. For some time it worked well, most of my students found me there and we were happy to exchange gifts and silly nothings, I would post interesting sites and no one would try them, I would post songs with interesting lyrics and they wouldn’t listen them, they would find me on line and would try to chat with me and then get mad at me when I spoke in English to them. A very pleasant experience all in all…

It proved that me and my students had a very different view of how FB worked. For me it was a platform to share interesting material, it was the portal to something else. For them that was it. They were in FB for the sake of FB. They uploaded photos of them, in most them they would pose in a way that made them look older, they would tell each other (especially the girls) how good looking they were and that was it. For me it was also a way to share photographs with them. I like taking photographs at  school and the  kids like it too, but until now there was no way to show them these photos. So FB was a way to share some of the photos I have taken during the last four years I have been in this school and since I had arranged all settings so that photos were visible only to my students and nobody else I thought everything was safe (as safe as it can be online, anyway).

Some learning opportunities came up too although they weren’t what I thought they would be. There were some rude comments under some photos that gave me the opportunity to talk about netiquette, and I was amazed at how fast they were withdrawn.

But the other day I went into this class of 4th graders and there was a lot of turmoil over some private FB messages exchanged between two girls who had allowed other people to access their accounts and these people supposedly had said nasty things. Baffled? So was I and mostly I didn’t know what to do with this class that was divided in two, half supporting one girl and half the other, the two girls on the verge of tears and me in the middle trying to handle the situation. What I did that moment was say a few things about FB, how we shouldn’t allow other people to have our passwords, (but miss who’s gonna feed the chickens when I’m out playing?) (probably with some real chickens) how we shouldn’t forget our good manners wherever we are. I tried to get on with the lesson and asked the two girls to stay behind after class to discuss it.

Since then I have been thinking a lot about it. Are they too young to handle Facebook?  In my opinion yes, but it is so trendy to do it that they didn’t give it a second thought. And their parents? Do you allow your kids to “play” with such obviously adult applications? And what have you done to protect them from uncomfortable situations? Are there any safe networks for kids and how popular are they?  Is it the novelty of Facebook that appeals so much, the fact that it is a grown-up thing to do or the beauty of networking per se? I’d love to hear from you, wherever you are.

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