Friday, 8 October 2010

Consistency year after year

This is the first year in my teaching career where I have had some of the same children in my class for two years consecutively. In my school it is very rarely the case when children have the same teacher. In fact those people in working in the administration department deliberately do not put children with the same teachers year after year. Although I have never delved further into the reasons why, I can see that there are benefits for children having different teachers, particularly English teachers. Children can gain a wider understanding of the differences in culture even between different western teachers, get used to different accents and experience a range of teaching styles which can prepare them for further education. On the other hand, difficulties may arise because English is the second language of these children and consistency in teaching style and accent ensures that children feel stable and confident learning a second language. I have always worried about the ability for young children to understand and adapt to different accents, when learning phonics for instance.

Well, so far this year I think I have become a fan of this consistency in teacher and class, especially for children this young. I am now teaching 4-5 year olds, the ‘Lower ' level in my school. Half the children in my class are from my ‘Nursery’ class that I taught last year. The next step for the children will be ‘Upper’ level. My life was made a lot easier at the beginning of the year because I only needed to remember 12 names instead of 25. In turn, this meant that I was able to concentrate better on settling everyone into a new classroom routine and get on with the extensive curriculum that is quite different from the Nursery level.

I have found it easier to speak with parents and can continue to develop on where the children finished up last year. As I already know half the class’s strengths, and areas to improve, I can easily observe the other half and plan for activities that help the whole. I have noticed some of the children in my previous class trying to push my boundaries as they know me well, in these instances I have had to lay down different ground rules, but this is usual for a new term and new school year anyway.

Overall, I am pleased that I can nurture these children for another year and watch them develop new friendships with different children and become more competent in English and begin writing and reading. It is a great pleasure.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

One month in.

Over one full month in my new role as Deputy Head of the English Department has proved to be a challenge and most definitely a learning curve. With numerous questions from staff needing to be answered, a speech to approximately 150 parents, meetings with the head mistress and other senior members of staff I have experienced a lot about the day-to-day running of a Kindergarten as well as a lot about myself. My capabilities, my limitations, my skills and my attitude to early childhood education.

This role gives me scope to extend my passion for teaching young children to other teachers. I can share my thoughts, research new and exciting ideas to communicate with the staff in the area of teaching as well as administration. By giving the teachers more of a voice through communication channels that were before either non-existent or unavailable, new concerns have come to light and some of those concerns already dealt with and smoothed over. Although I have noticed that many of the concerns of individual teachers and groups of teachers alike are tricky and will take time to work through and take a lot of understanding. Often these types of concern require only a listening ear as most teachers understand the difficulties in pleasing everyone in such a diverse team of people.

I have never worked so close with adults expressing different opinions and expectations. I am always happy when 1.30pm rolls around and I go to my classroom to see my amazing class of 4/5 years old little ones. That is my little escape from the hectic meetings, paperwork, computer work and answering staff questions. I can close the door and do what I love. They make my day complete!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


I have never been a person that dreamed of being famous, or having my picture in a magazine. In fact I think that would be one of my worst nightmares, but since becoming a Hong Kong Kindergarten teacher I have found my fame.

Walking around the school brings shouts of, “Miss Abby” from previous and current students and some I don't recognise as ever being in my class. I wave and smile as I go about my day. When a lot of parents come in, such as on party days, parent's days, or sometimes just normal school days, the paparazzi arrive. Photo shoots have become the norm.

I have just sorted out a huge bag I brought back from school at the end of term. Inside were photos, drawings, cards and letters from the children and parents of those children that I have taught over the past five years. They have been taking up a very big space in my classroom cupboard for so long, and now I will be changing classroom I thought it would be a good time to bring them all home to take up space in my spare room. I now have part of a shelf dedicated to fan mail.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Hong Kong Way

Teacher Training in Hong Kong

I have finally finished my two year, part time Post Graduate Diploma of Early Childhood Education. The second cohort of the course. Still guinea pigs to what seems to be a popular and worthwhile course for a rapidly changing culture committed to providing quality education to young children. Although, to me it seems overdue for Hong Kong's exam-based, academically focussed education system to realise the importance of training teachers to provide quality early childhood education. Recent change in legislation has lead to the need for all kindergartens to ensure that class teachers are qualified to at least 'QKT (Qualified Kindergarten Teacher) status' before 2012. A positive change towards a positive future for both kindergarten children and kindergarten teachers alike.

Although I had had a lot of experience working with young children before moving to Hong Kong from England in 2005, nothing really prepared me for the differences I would encounter in the next few years. Of course the language was a huge factor in the beginning. I remember when I had to take the register on the first day and tried my best to pronounce the names of the children, not without a few sniggers from the parents (they were there to help their three year old settle into school on the first day). Over the years I have come to understand more Chinese in the classroom, both Cantonese and Mandarin and can often repeat instructions given by the Chinese teacher, in English. (I am ashamed to say that I am still not confident to speak Chinese, especially outside of school, except when taking a taxi or buying fruit. But those who have ever lived in HK will know that there really is no need, and as English is widely spoken it is a good excuse not to make too much of an effort. Even the locals say that Cantonese is a very difficult language to learn).

Of course language was not the greatest difference I observed when I first started working in the Kindergarten, which although is named 'International', follows the strict local curriculum with the added component of a native English speaking teacher in each classroom. One of the things that baffled, but later after some thought, inspired me, was a statement from a parent of a three year old girl just starting her first day at school. She said something like this, “I'm happy my daughter has come to this Kindergarten because now I know she has a good chance of getting into a good University!”

Now, in my young, naïve frame of mind I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this mother was, for want of a better word, crazy. Why are you thinking about your daughter's University education already? Shouldn't you just let her be a child and have fun? Shouldn't you relax and let your child enjoy her first school year? Are you one of those pushy mothers? Just some of the questions that went through my mind at that moment and also for the next year to come, when I frequently heard similar remarks from parents. It wasn't until I learned a little more about the competitiveness of the HK education system, how important Kindergarten is for the following years into Primary school and how much emphasis there is on assessments and exams throughout HK childrens' schooling, that I realised this mother actually had a point.

My first inkling that HK Kindergartens are somewhat different to the free playing, creative, messy early childhood centres I had worked in previously in the UK was the time I first interviewed a 1 ½ year old child applying for a place at my Kindergarten. With only stories of the queue of 3000 applicants lining up outside the school gates on interview day, the interview procedure opened my eyes to what these young children would experience throughout their school career and after.

In HK the curriculum is structured, with book work and homework a prominent feature from 3 years up. Teaching is often very much the same as I experienced in my University lectures, with minimal participation and a lot of teacher directed activities. Coming from a different background with training in free play, child initiated and inquiry based learning I found I needed to be flexible and try and incorporate all aspects from both learning cultures. Even my current training in an HK context is significantly different to what is often expected in an HK classroom. I am now quite skilled at planning for interesting child initiated and inquiry based learning activities for the short time the children spend in the classroom (only 3 hours a day inc. outdoor play time, music lesson, teatime).

The children however, are amazing. Bright, happy and eager to learn, they rarely complain about their heavy workload, it seems they often enjoy the homework set and love to take part in all the activities. I have worked with children of many age groups and learning abilities in England, Malaysia and Thailand, but the children of HK are by far the smartest I have had the pleasure to teach. Their diligence, patience and keenness have provided me with the ambition and drive to teach them with all my devotion and love. I really should thank each and every one of them.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Worry Wart

One of the things that was on my mind over the past few months was my frequent worry for the children in my class. I've not been worrying about their academic performance or their social skills, but something that is a little further from my control: climbing. How high they want to climb, where they want to climb and how many children want to climb on the same part of the climbing frame all at once. I have heard it before from parents that worry too much about their children and cushion their every move to make sure they do not get physically injured. Even more so since I have been teaching in Hong Kong, where parents worry about their children touching a little bit of mud when playing outdoors. Or prevent their child from playing in the playground near their house because of the dangers that might be involved.

Of course, as a trained practitioner I know that children need to be independent in their play and even experience minor injuries and learn from their mistakes. This is much easier said than done however. Particularly when one is watching from the sidelines as two, then three, then four children climb onto the same one meter length platform on the climbing frame, one meter above the ground, each trying to manoeuvre around the others to get to the other end. It is hard not to intervene and help children across, make sure they don't fall or push others. I would often stand behind them and shout out less then constructive things like “be careful”, “don't push others”, “there are too many people on here”, “somebody must come down”. But in the excitement of their play and enjoyment the children rarely listened, but also (thankfully) never fell either.

There came a time about 2 months ago when my worry hit a new high, when 6 children were literally scrambling over each other on this small platform and climbing up, or bending down to let others cross. Alongside my worry came a new emotion, pride. The children were learning new skills of problem solving and courtesy, physical skills and social skills all in one go. They had found a way to master the issues they faced on this little platform above the ground without my help.

I had almost resolved to let this one go until a few days later when one little girl lost her grip and fell that one meter to the ground and grazed her knee. She cried for a moment and after I cleaned up her knee I called the class to gather around. I asked some children to fetch all the dolls and teddy bears from the classroom and bring them outside. As they came back I asked them to line them up one by one on the small platform. After about 6 toys were lined up there was no space for any more so I asked them to put them wherever they could fit in. They put them on top of the toys and squeezed them in. This had the obvious effect, some of the toys fell down. We discussed how this platform was not big enough for a lot of children (or teddy bears) particularly if they all wanted to move across it to the other end. I asked the little girl that fell to recount her story and show children the plaster on her knee.

“What do you think we can all do about this, to make sure children don't fall off and hurt themselves again?”, I asked. After a bit of discussion and pointing in the right direction the class as a whole came to the conclusion that only 4 children should be allowed on the platform at one time, they cannot stay on there for a long time and should let others climb up once they have crossed to the other side. Children must wait on the ground if there are 4 children already on the platform.

The last couple of months I felt a weight had been lifted at playtime. The children really did obey the rules they came up with (sometimes with a few reminders from me) and they continued to use their problem solving skills to get themselves across the platform in one piece. I no longer felt I needed to stand by to catch falling children. On reflection it wasn't only the children that learnt from consequences and action, I had too. There's no point in spending energy worrying when simple solutions can make life easier and less nerve racking for teachers too. It is also helpful to remember that children are often much more capable then we think.

Blogger's block or just not enough time in the day?

It's been too long! As well as a lot of things going on: finishing my studies (becoming a fully fledged Hong Kong teacher), getting a promotion (now Deputy Head of the English Department at my Kindergarten), the end of year show and generally being at school every day for my kids, writing a blog takes more effort than I realised.

I have kept it mind however, and noted down things I have wanted to post. Now it's the summer holidays I have time to dedicate to writing. I hope my next few posts can come thick and fast :)


Monday, 8 March 2010

Loyalty amongst 3 year olds

Last week was another hectic week, one full of fun, laughter, tears and tantrums. Where friendships were formed and bonds made between demanding but ever loyal three and four year olds.

'KK' and 'TC' two little boys, self confessed best friends; on the school bus, in the classroom, in the playground, until it comes to sharing and playing nicely that is.

“Miss Abby 'TC' hit me.”
“Miss Abby 'KK' can't share with me.”
“Miss Abby 'TC' like this to me” ...*makes hand into a claw shape, vigorously moving up and down*
“Miss Abby 'KK played [on the tricycle] for so long”
“Miss Abby 'TC' took my toy”

At the end of the day however if you ask either of them, “Who is your very good friend in school”, they will undoubtedly name each other.

Can we, as adults, say that we would be so totally loyal in a our friendship with someone we had so many conflicting issues with?