Back to School!

Hello all!  It's Back to School time.  I know some do not return to school until after Labor Day, but for the rest of us on a traditional calendar, school is already in session.

I know I've been missing for a while, but if you recall, I mentioned that my middle school closed and I was relocated to an elementary school.  With that being said, I had to start over.  After I returned from Belize, I immediately had to return to work (off the clock).  Unfortunately, those two days I had, I was not feeling well and so I accomplished nothing.  The first Teacher Workday was on the following Monday and Open House was on the following Thursday, so in essence, I had four days to create a classroom learning environment.

I know there is a lot of empty space, but I prefer using more of my wall space to display anchor charts that aide instruction or student work.  Ready to see?  Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that now I'm teaching 5th Grade Science and I am so excited!

I took these photos on the afternoon of the first day of school.  This is my first time teaching in a 1:1 technology environment.  In other words, all students have access to their own computer.  We're using Chrome boxes for now.  So, I'm going to have to tweak my instructional practices a bit to incorporate cooperative learning opportunities, hands-on labs, and technology.  I accept the challenge!


5 Tips For Getting Kids To Clean Their Room {Guest Post}

Making your kids clean their room almost always turns into a war. You go through all the stages – from calmly reminding and bargaining to yelling and threatening. The result is frustrated parents, unhappy children and messy rooms. Obviously, the old method doesn’t work. Kids will be even more persistent to do the opposite to what they are told. So what can a parent do in such situation?

If you don’t want your kid’s room covered with dirty piles of laundry, food leftovers and garbage, then you need another strategy.

Understand Their Logic
As it happens with most kids, they don’t clean their room because they simply have more exciting things to do.  It can be anything from going out, pursuing a hobby or simply watching TV. Some children may get so involved in a certain activity that it’s the only thing they want to do, like video gaming for example. Consider the situation from their perspective. If you are faced with the choice to engage in something you like versus the boring cleaning chores, which one will you pick?
Sometimes the refusal to clean up their room is a matter of power struggle. Older children and teens tend to develop a more rebellious attitude. The more you try to control them, the more motivated they feel to resist than to clean.

Start Young
If you want to teach your child cleaning habits, then do it from the early age. Involve your kids in the cleaning chores. Choose tasks that are appropriate for their age. Toddlers and younger children can be very helpful. They can collect their toys and putting them in the box. While cleaning and organizing together, you also help them develop their motor skills.

Make It Fun
When it comes to kids, the key to fostering certain behaviour is by making it fun. Turn cleaning into a game. In this way you will establish positive association with these tasks. Instead of considering household chores dull and boring, they will find it entertaining. You can do this by turning domestic cleaning into a game. Be creative. Set a timer and see who will finish their tasks faster. You can go with the tried and tested method – positive reinforcement. For every job your kid completes, they will get a reward.

Give Them Some Autonomy
Kids, especially older ones value their private space. You need to respect that. Let them take care of their own place without intervening. This will make them feel more responsible for their room. If they are not cleaning their room, you should not do it for them, at least for a while. Most kids go through the messy phase and eventually overcome it. There is no need to overreact.

Take a Broader Look
Your child’s lack of cleanliness may be part of a larger problem.  If it is combined with other behavioural changes like low academic performance or socializing issues than you need to consult a professional.

Find more cleaning tips at: Useful Carpet Cleaning In Wimbledon

Guest post by Ella Andrews.

Belize: Day 9 - The Journey Home

While waiting in the International Airport a few hours before my flight arrived, I had the pleasure of talking to an older Creole woman who was escorting four young Belezian girls back to the states.  The girls revered her as they would their grandmother, although she was of no relation; merely a trusted friend of the family.  This woman classifies herself as Belezian, but still I noticed that although she never referred to herself specifically as being black, everything she discussed was in the context of being black.

This well-traveled woman has visited several countries in Africa, the UK, and of course the U.S.  As we discussed being able to connect with our ancestors, she made it clear that although in Belize, everyone is considered Belezian with no regards to which ethnic group you belong to, being Creole, she always knew she had a connection elsewhere, to Africa, and longed to travel there.  To her dismay, in all the countries she traveled to in Africa, she felt like an outcast, like she was not pure.  The problem, she said, was within our own people.  The Africans, she said, sold their own people into slavery.  It was not her fault that as a result she became of mixed blood.  Then when she traveled to the United States, she felt that same disconnect from African-American people.  Again, she was different.  No one reached out to help her.  She felt it was like every man for himself. 

She said that it was more painful to experience this negative attitude from people with her same descent that from anyone else.  From those experiences she learned that although she longed to feel a certain connection to her ancestral roots, she had learned to accept the fact that she is of African descent even if she is never accepted.  It is no longer important to her that she gains this external acceptance because in her heart she knows she belongs.  Her hope for me was that I was able to experience hospitality in her home country as she had wished to initially feel when she entered the United States.  Thankfully, I was able to inform her that I felt welcomed here in Belize.  I did not feel like an outsider, although clearly I was.  There was nothing but good feelings here.

On the flight home I had the chance to reflect upon what the woman in the airport discussed.  Why is it that my own people cannot always be more supportive of each other?  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that all of us have a desire to belong.  But it is quite shameful that as a people we do not always help others, regardless of race or ethnicity, to help satisfy that sense of belonging.  Now as I welcome a new group of children this school year, I must make conscious efforts to make sure to include everyone; to ensure that no child feels less than or that he or she cannot establish his or her place in the class, in the school, and in society.  We all matter.

Gaining Awareness,

Belize: Day 8

On Friday, I took my own little adventure to the bakery.  No, I did not choose to ride my bike because I was uncertain about the level of traffic that would await me.  After walking the long distance, I realized that I could have actually ridden the bike.  Oh well.

Yeager, taking a rest break
There's something quite peaceful about walking alone.  You get to take in the scenery a bit differently than when you are accompanied by others.  Walking alone also allows your mind to focus on your own thoughts - processing what you see and hear along the way.  At the beginning of my journey I was greeted by two young children sitting in a tree.  As I continued to walk, I was able to pay close attention to the different shops, taco stands, the people and their activities.  I wasn't concerned about dogs, which in the states is a big concern for me because I have been terrified of dogs for a long while.  In fact, this year, my cousin's dog jumped in my lap and rested there for quite some time.  That was my first experience with a pet of any kind that close to me.  In San Pedro, the dogs (for the most part) have been very calm.  I was told it was because their mood matches the mood of the island.  The dogs do not have a reason to fear or attack because no one bothers them.  The water has such a calming effect on everyone.  It must be true.

After eating the most delicious ham and cream cheese croissant and drinking yet another fresh fruit
smoothie, I was able to engage in conversation with the bakery owner, originally from the UK.  The bakery owner had previously owned his own bakery in the UK, but had decided to relocate to Belize in the past year or so and start a new business.  We discussed differences concerning traveling in the U.S. as opposed to the U.K. and how the U.K. has worked towards unifying the European nations through the implementation of the euro for their currency and healthcare.  What fascinated me about the health care was that if a resident of a E.U. country has medical care in another E.U. country, their home country will pay the bill.

When discussing health care with a 19-year old Belizian student, he told me that although their country does not have public health insurance, there are free clinics available to all citizens who cannot afford to pay private doctors.  I know that there are pros and cons to different types of health care systems, but I think it shows that our nation has a ways to go in creating a system that truly benefits all people.  As a developed country, we still have too many people who cannot afford health care and prescription medications.  For me, this solidifies that fact that all nations have something worth sharing and worth learning from each other.

The same is true in education.  Veteran teachers should take note of what beginning teachers are adding to the profession and vice versa.  I think we need to remain focused on our end goals and realize that we as educators are in this business together.  Remember, there is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together."

Loving the conversations,

Belize: Day 7

Belize City 
Belize City
Tuesday, my roommate and I conducted our first professional development (PD) in Belize City.  We left by 6:00 a.m. to catch the water taxi.  The ride was amazing!  Honestly, I think every aspect of this internship has been eye-opening.  On Thursday, my roommate and I co-presented to a group of teachers in San Pedro.  There’s something quite humbling about being able to present your life’s work to such appreciative groups.  In North Carolina, where the teacher turnover rate is steadily increasing, one of the key reasons that teachers leave is because they don’t feel appreciated.  Interestingly enough, although the salary is at an all-time low that has not been one of the main factors that influence whether or not teachers remain in the profession.

What I’ve noticed about presenting here in Belize, both on the mainland and on the island, is that when you (teachers) understand your content and have established an effective teaching pedagogy, having the same resources that you’re accustomed to in the states isn’t as necessary as you might think.  Yes, there are resources and materials that would make it easier to demonstrate concepts with others or supplement instruction, but that is not always what’s most important. 

San Pedro
On the flip side, what I have noticed in the states is that not having the same resources as other schools or not having the advanced resources that students from higher SES (socio-economic statuses) are often afforded is many times what is considered the deal breaker among schools.  Students with limited resources or lack of exposure to certain resources are definitely at a disadvantage.  As we prepare all students to meet the mission to become able to compete in a global society, we have to continue to consider avenues to make each student Career and College Ready (CCR).  Having adequate resources then becomes essential.

San Pedro
The only explanation that I can render at this time for my seemingly conflicting feelings is that Belize and the United States are in two different phases of economic and educational growth.  By having lived in the U.S. and received training on a variety of instructional methods and best practices, coming to Belize and not having all the “bells and whistles” that have increasingly become the normalcy of what we do has not been a problem.  The focus here has been on providing instruction, not having certain resources.  So when one of the ladies working at the Inn asked me if I thought the education was more advanced or better than the education in Belize, my answer is two-fold.  I don’t think it’s fair to compare them as such because it’s like comparing apples to oranges.  Of course there are advances that need to be made, but when creating systemic changes, you can only implement a few things at a time, master those areas, and then continue to move forward.

San Pedro
Reaffirming my place in education,

Belize: Day 6


About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to befriend a VIF (Visiting International Faculty) teacher from El Salvador.  We would share many life stories over the years and always, always, we were eating.  When I would visit her apartment, she would make the most delicious pupusas.  But even though they were the best to me, she would always remind me that the best ones were the ones cooked in her country, the authentic way – over a comal.  I have longed for the opportunity to try these pupusas the authentic way and finally that day has come, albeit ten years later.

I will admit, that although my friend taught me how to make pupusas, the ones I ate in San Pedro were of no real comparison.  I believe there’s something special about food cooked the way you remember.  It becomes more than about the food, but more about the associations you make with the food.  So when I think about it, pupusas are made from simple ingredients:  maseca, water, and whatever you want inside (cheese, beans, meat, or a combination).  But when I eat pupusas, I think of my friend. 

I believe that food is such an integral part of one’s culture.  It stirs up memories.  I think it’s shameful that those who immigrate to the U.S. often feel that they have to give up their culture to assimilate to what is considered the culture of America.  In the classroom I’ve witnessed parents forbidding their children to speak their first language or trying to do everything the “American” way.  Sadly, those that I have met as adults who endured this as children, feel that they have lost a part of themselves; a part that they cannot pass on to their own children.  So to them, I say, “Embrace your culture.  After all, that’s what’s supposed to be the American way, right?”

Nom Nom Nom,

Belize: Day 5

The day we went sailing, I had an opportunity to chat with one of the crew members.  He encouraged us to go to a restaurant that cooked authentic Garifuna food.  Lo and behold, we were already scheduled to dine at said restaurant.  If I travel to a new area, I want to engross myself in as much as possible with the people.  I want to walk where they walk.  I want to eat the food they eat.  I figure if I want hamburgers and fries, I can get that back home.

Tuesday evening I had the cultural experience of a lifetime.  Our group ate dinner at the Black & White restaurant.  Actually, Black & White was more than just a restaurant - it was an all-on history course with a Garifuna jam session.  Miss Julia is the owner of this restaurant/cultural center.  All the food prepared is cooked the traditional way.  We had a smorgasbord of traditional Garifuna and Belezian food.  I wanted to try it all, but I really don't think that was possible.  In all fairness, I tried.  :-)

In Belize, there are quite a few ethnic groups:  Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, and Maya.  Each of these
ethnic groups is actually a convergence of many different groups of people.  In the early 17th century, Spanish slave ships carrying West Africans sank off the coast of St. Vincent.  The West Africans that were able to make it to the island of St. Vincent, intermingled and intermarried with the Carib Indians there, creating a new culture of people - the Garinagu.  After warfare between the French and the British erupted, the Garinagu people were forced into exile to find a new home on the island of Roatan, Honduras and later to the mainland of Spanish Honduras.  Again, they were pushed out of Spanish Honduras during warfare and settled in British Honduras (which is now Belize).

We watched a movie while at Black & White that recounted the struggle the Garinagu people endured.  Forced from one land to another, fighting to hold on to their culture.  Immediately upon hearing the recount of the Garinagu struggle, my first thought was about the similarities between the Trail of Tears and the migration of the Garinagu.  Then, I began thinking about how so many people of color, in particular, have been pushed from one land to another throughout history.  There's something quite unsettling about this for me.  For years I struggled with the fact that black Americans/African Americans (although I don't refer to myself as African American, I do use the term for clarification purposes) have been stripped of the opportunity to properly identify with their ancestors and having a complete heritage to call their own.  I think it's beautiful that for all this time the Garinagu people have been able to preserve their culture despite all that they have endured.

History amazes me (so many untold stories), 

Belize: Day 4

Monday was not my day to present so my roommate and I decided to explore the town and volunteer at the local public library.  Let me preface this by saying - I have not ridden a bike in 28 years.  They say that once you learn to ride a bike that you never forget.  I don't know who the they is, but they should have clarified a bit more.

I did get my bike today and ride into town with it.  I ran into a fence or two, almost fell on passersby, and yelled out a few times.  The thing is, bike riders ride alongside cars and golf carts.  The roads quickly change from dirt to gravel to stones.  You know I'm not a quitter.  I wasn't raised that way.  So, I made it with the encouragement of my roommate and an accompanying professor.  I have the bumps and bruises to prove it.  But you know what fascinated me is that the passersby were very helpful.  At one point, a man yelled, "kickstand, kickstand" because my kickstand had fallen down and was dragging the road as I rode.  I love the hospitality here!

At the public library, of course I was fascinated by the collections of donated books and the activities that the children completed, but what stood out to me most was the passion for books expressed by the assistant librarian.  When she recounted various books that she had read, you could see the light in her eyes.  You could sense her thirst for more literature.  I could only imagine what more she could do for herself and her community if she only had access to more resources.  Here, although there are students who are voracious readers, most ELA teachers that I know have to beg their students to read.  Administrators even offer prizes for those who meet their AR goal each quarter.  And on the other side of the world, there is this deep appreciation for what many in the U.S. take for granted.  While the assistant librarian was speaking, I started brainstorming activities that my students can participant in to become more globally aware and to find ways to look beyond the walls of their own circumstances to help others.

I gained a different level of appreciation today.  Every time I've eaten with a group, the waiters have put all the orders on the same tab.  Some were paying in Belize dollars while others paid in US dollars.  It seemed that we spent more time trying to figure out how to properly convert our funds than actually ordering and eating.  I remember at one point slowly handing the clerk a $5 US dollar while trying to see if that would cover the bill that was given to me in Belize dollars and cents.  The clerk was very helpful.  At that point I became even more empathetic towards immigrants in the US who get confused while trying to pay for groceries.  Many times I've seen adults and children handing over their money, not knowing how to properly determine if they had enough or needed more.  It's those times when you can feel vulnerable in another country; needing help, but hoping that no one is trying to take advantage of you.  I believe now I will be a bit more attentive and be more assertive in helping others.

Learning something new each day,

Belize: Day 3

Happy Sunday!  Today was such a wonderful experience.  We started our day by walking along the beach and down several streets so that we could see more of what the city of San Pedro has to offer.  There were lots of food and jewelry stands, art shops, schools, and churches woven through the streets.  I found several stands that are on my go to list.  I can't wait to have freshly made pupusas and tacos.  There even was an authentic Mexican resturant.  Even though I've had all of these dishes before, nothing compensates for freshly made ingredients by the people who are known to make them.  In the U.S., so many of the ethnic dishes are Americanized.  I'm ready to try the real deal.

For breakfast a small group of us dined at Estelle's on the beach.  I ordered the special, which was 2 Fry Jacks, scrambled eggs with shrimp and chorizo sausage, coupled with black beans.  What I've noticed thus far is that every place that sold black beans as a side dish, the black beans were pureed.

After such a wonderful dining experience, I sat under a canopy of trees talking with some ladies who worked at the inn where we stayed.  The conversation was so rich!  One of the hot topics was the educational system:  curriculum, social promotion/retention, and government vs. private schools. When comparing the U.S. curriculum to the Belizian curriculum, one difference I noticed was that in Belize there is not a unified curriculum for the country nor a unified assessment instrument.  The "public" schools which are government schools are for students whose parents can't afford private school tuition.  Those schools may have over 30 students in each class.  On the contrary, private schools may have only 10 students in each classroom.

Currently in both the government and private schools, students must take an exit exam each year.  Each school is responsible for creating their own exit exams.  In government schools, if students are unable to read at the end of the term, regardless of how many wonderful grades they may have received, those students are retained.  They are not allowed to transition to the next level until they can demonstrate that they can read.  I'm curious now if this policy also holds true in the private schools as well.  Interestingly enough though, when the government issues an exam for all students after Standard 6, the government school students always outperform the private school students.  This does not hold true in the U.S.  Generally speaking, public schools, particularly public schools with high poverty rates, do not perform as well as their private and higher SES counterparts.

In the U.S. the educational structure is a bit different.  Since the implementation of the Common Core curriculum, there is more unification in the standards being taught nationwide.  Also, all end of grade standardized tests are created at a state level based upon the same set of standards.  In addition, although in times past retention was implemented more often than now, many students in the U.S. are socially promoted.  So the question then becomes, is it better to retain students until they master the curriculum (as in Belize) or is it better to socially promote students so that they can remain in classes with their age-appropriate peers?

To be continued,

Belize: Day 2

This morning, I didn't oversleep!  I still didn't see anyone to direct me to breakfast, but, it all worked out.  I started talking to someone sitting on the outside of our hostel, and lo and behold, she was a part of my program!  She invited me to go to breakfast with a group, so I hopped right on in that golf cart and experienced a joy ride to the Island Time restaurant.  There, I was able to have my first Belizian Breakfast:  Fry Jacks, eggs, and black beans.  Oh yes, and fresh orange juice!

Let me tell you, this breakfast was so delicious!  And the view was gorgeous.

After breakfast, we rushed right over to Ramon's to catch the boat taking people to snorkle and visit another of Belize's habited islands, Caye (pronounced Kee) Caulker.  No, I don't swim so I definitely wasn't snorkling.  I also wasn't going to swim with the sharks, but it was a great experience watching others do it.  I, however, very much enjoyed staying on the boat with another doc student, listening to a wonderful history lesson from one of the crew members.

The lessons that this crew member shared were priceless.  First he told us about his life:  He is originally from the mainland, but at the age of 11, he was sent off to make a living for himself.  On the mainland, the government had not created roads or other passageways for children to attend school past the primary level.  Therefore, he hasn't had any formal education since age 11.  But as it has proven true for generations ahead of me who sometimes never attended school past the 8th grade, the learning experiences obtained outside the parameters of a school building and the depth of the depth of their knowledge oftentimes has surpassed those who received diplomas and degrees.  So was the case with this crew member.

Even though he says he doesn't know all of the history of Belize, I was fascinated by the depth of knowledge he has.  He knew so much about his country's history and heritage; more than many U.S. citizens for sure.

As we sailed from the Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker, he explained that the Caribbean Sea isn't polluted like other waters, especially around the U.S.  The country protects the water and sea life by patrolling the area on both sides 24/7.  Those caught trying to fish or pollute in this place will be heavily fined and will lose their boat license.

We talked about the diversity of the area.  The languages spoken here.  The food.  We talked politics, which is normally taboo.  I learned that a proud moment for the Belizians is when their prime minister signed a treaty with Guatemala which surprisingly was the same day that President Obama signed a treaty with Cuba.  The crew member said they were happy for us and also happy for themselves, even though there still is a deep-seeded resentment towards Guatemala over the on-going border dispute.  Other than Guatemala, according to this crew member, Belize makes no claim to having issues with any other country.

The crew member explained that there is no minimum wage here in Belize.  In fact, even when chartering tours, the workers receive one flat rate for their work, regardless of how many passengers they carry.  Therefore, receiving tips is crucial.  Needless to say, I will tip everywhere tipping is expected.

After the snorkeling activities, our group spent a couple of hours on Caye Caulker.  We ate at a wonderful restaurant.  Ahh, the food was so good!  I ordered curry chicken with rice and beans and coleslaw.  Did I tell you that is was soo sooo good!  I believe food is such an important part of one's culture.  Food is such a fabulous medium to express one's culture.

While on Caye Caulker, I purchased a couple of souvenirs:  a woven bracelet, a 5x7 art piece, and a coconut popsicle.  That popsicle was so so good.  So fresh.

Having a blast,