Archive for the ‘School’ Category


The last month of school…

December 21, 2008

In the UK the last month of school is a fairly relaxed affair – kids in 6th form and year 11 are off on study leave and doing exams and the others are all dreaming of what they will do on their holidays.  The reports are all done, work is pretty easy – just the last topics to finish off and gained time to do other bits and pieces in.  Not so in Markham.  ALL the pupils in all the years sit exams in the last month.  These exams are written in school, invigilated by teaching staff, marked in school and count as 50% of their grade for the year.  If pupils fail a subject they have to do holiday work and sit recuperation exams in the holidays.  If they fail a number of subjects in recuperation then they have to resit the whole year.  It is tense to say the least and we have to have the exams marked and reports written for all the kids by the end of the second to last week.  We then come in on the Saturday morning to decide which kids have failed and need holiday work.  We then have to write the holiday work and the recuperation exams (and markschemes) ready for the lasst week.  The last week is on a COMPLETELY different timetabe – you have one or 2 lessons with each class that you teach to go through the end of year exams.  The kids don’t really care – the work ethic here is not ‘where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time’ but rather ‘did I pass the year – phew!’ If they didn’t pass the exam they listen, but only so they can try and beg a few extra marks. It’s quite sad really!  The IB kids also do their ‘Group 4 project’ in 2 days of the last week – the work never seemed to stop!

Also the S3 (year 10) Tambopata trip happens in the last month.  I went for both trips this year and hence had a week less than everyone else to write reports and do marking.  The Tambopata trip is great, but exhausting – you are working from 4am – 10pm (sometimes later if the kids won’t sleep) without a break, including the weekends.  I did actually get a bit of a rest, but only because I got stung by a scorpion while putting my trousers on one morning and had to spend a day in bed, then a day on the sofa.  I was lucky – the last person who got stung by the same species of scorpion had to spend a week in hospital with their whole leg swollen and paralysed – the guide’s quick action helped localise the toxins to my foot so 2 days not walking and one more limping about and I was fine!

Back at school it didn’t feel like Christmas at all – all the kids were focused on their exams.  There were no christmas decorations, no cards, no presents, no games, no videos, no carol concert – it was very weird.  There was however a LOT of stress and grumpiness and a complete lack of communication which was getting very frustrating – there are a lot of new staff in science (including the HOD) and noone really told us what was going on.  The reporting systems in the school are sooooo complicated that we wasted a lot of time getting nothing much done working it out!

Back at the flat I woke up one sunday morning thinking I’d go and read my book on the sofa for a bit only to find myself splashing through the lounge.  I quickly realised that the neighbour upstairs had a broken pipe (or something) and the water was dripping through my light fittings and  ceiling.  Thankfully, once I’d got dressed and gone upstairs to try and explain, she sent the workman she had clearing up her flat down to mine.  The ceiling is still wet though, and starting to go mouldy.  The arquitecht has been and said that it could be another 3 months or so until it is properly dry (this was after he’d drilled a number of holes in the ceiling to let the water out faster!). Delightful!

There were, however, nice things to break up the stress.  The British Ambassador’s Christmas Party was excellent – the house and grounds were gorgeous with fairy lights and candles and the food was delicious.  A nice excuse to wear a skirt (although my legs were still covered in bites from the jungle!) and high heels 🙂  The last 2 days of school had no teaching, they were ‘Commendations assembly’ ‘Speech day’ and ‘Graduation’.  All formal occasions.  I was out by 10 minutes on the length of the headmaster’s speech too, so didn’t win the sweepstake (or the bottle of champagne the head donated when he found out what we were doing!).  We found out who the prefects and house captains would be next year (with some nice surprises) and which kids had won prizes etc.  Graduation is a very American like affair (after all it is only high school) but the kids love it – it starts at 7pm, the kids in LN or UB who have now finished their high school studies process in in caps and gowns with different stripes depending on whether they have passed or achieved merit, honours or distinction.  A lot of this depends on effort and conduct during the time at school and if they have been involved in extra-curricular things.  What is strange is that a lot of people there only applaud for their own child, and after that just have a bit of a chat with the people around them and stop listening.  What is considered impolite here is quite different to the UK!  After the ceremony was a cocktail party and a chance to say congratulations and goodbye to my UB students.  It did seem a bit weird to see them graduating when they hadn’t actually got their IB results yet…  

After the cocktails a number of the staff went out for a celebratory drink in a nice bar in Barranco.  Somehow we ended up in a ‘club’ nearby and wended our merry way home at about 3 am.  Thankfully we didn’t have to be in school until 1230 the next day…

The final day of school involved nothing but the ‘Headmaster’s Christmas Lunch’.  All staff were invited to the headmaster’s house where we found the garden transformed into something similar to a wedding marquee – tables set with lovely christmas decorations and waiters bringing round wine, cocktails and nibbles.  We then had a DELICIOUS buffet meal with turkey and beef, rice (well it is Peru!), and about 300 different vegetables  (that may be an exaggeration…)  I decided to forgo dessert (either lemon or chocolate cake of some sort) for second helpings of the main course – especially the carrots and onions (which were dripping in butter and honey) – Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Saying goodbyes was strange – a lot of staff are leaving this year and many others are going ‘home’ for the 2 month break.  I’m one of the few that are staying here without family  – I hope I don’t get too lonely (although I’m sure Marco won’t let that happen!).  I expect I am about to find out what a traditional Peruvian Christmas is like – apparently it all kicks off at midnight on Christmas eve (when all good English folk are at Midnight mass singing carols…)

All in all it has been a very stressful end to the year, but I now have 2 months off and lots to look forward to!


Jungle diaries Day 10

July 12, 2008

Today I made a small error, but nothing too major! The geography kids who do standard level biology left with Geoff and Henry and I was left with the remaining kids who were all filling in their booklets. I went off with 2 of the giudes and 2 of the kids to try using the climbing gear – it was good fun, but VERY hard work. I was glad I only had to go 5m off the ground and didn’t have to go to the top of the tree to check on the macaw nest like the guide did! We also saw a mixed flock of tanagers (Thraupidae family) which included some Paradise tanagers (Tangara chilensis) which are stunningly beautiful, multicolored birds! There were also a couple of curious spider monkeys watching us climb (and presumably laughing at how bad we are at it…)

tree climbing
Me tree climbing

Me tree climbing

tree climbing

After lunch I deceided to let them rest until 3 when we were going to go off on a walk to cut a trail through an area that had become overgrown. We thought the others would be arriving at 6 ish, but they arrived at 3, just as we were about to leave. The guides continued without us, leading to the second problem. We needed the kids to go out in their groups and look for potential design projects. The lack of guides meant that I had to lead one group out for a while to get ideas. It wasn’t too bad really and they came up with some great ideas, but I was constantly terrified that we would come across a dangerous snake or an enraged herd of Peccaries or something dangerous! As it was, we didn’t see much wildlife at all! Just before we set out the taira appeared and 2 of his offspring (cubs, kits? not sure what you call baby taira!) came out of the undergrowth for long enough to get a good look at them – que lindo! We also glimpsed a couple of saddlebacked tamarind in the trees next to the lodge, excellent.



I got to practice a bit of spanish with the local staff today which was nice – typical touristy stuff – job, family, do I like the food in Peru, do I like the jungle etc. but they understood so my accent can’t be too bad! The dynamics are very different now Harry is back, the kids ADORE him and I’m very much 3rd choice (Loki is here now too!)


Teaching in a zoo…

March 24, 2008

As a teacher you sometimes feel like you’ve accidently walked into a zoo and not a classroom. In my case I might have… I thought I’d put up some photos of school and the zoo for those of you who either don’t have Facebook or can’t look at my profile because I don’t want to be your friend…

My room is nice, bright and stays cool for most of the day . I have already got some work up on the walls but, with 7 lessons per class a week I’m already behind with the key word lists – they may need a rethink.


The zoo is located behind my room. It has a pond with terrapins, many rabbits, 3 scarlet macaws, 2 red masked parakeets, a wild West Peruvian Dove that managed to get into the aviary but can’t get out, 2 tortoises, and a ferret. I have no idea what happened to the gunea pigs that they had the first week I was there. I haven’t dared ask…



To the side of my classroom is another cage which usually contains 2 squirrel monkeys and a spider monkey named Lucy. The spider monkeys are allowed out sometimes as they don’t go too far and come back eventually. Lucy is only allowed out on a lead as she runs off and goes places she shouldn’t. It is an interesting sight to see a small Markham student being taken for a walk by a wooly black monkey on a lead!


Another great thing about the school is the staff room. Not only is it a nice place to work or relax, it also has a fairly large kitchen area, with 4 microwaves, a big fridge freezer and sink, plates, mugs, etc (but oddly no teaspoons…). It has a TV with cable, lockers for each memebr of staff, decent toilets with nice showers, and the usual printer (which your laptop is wirelessly networked to), photocopier, guillotine, binding machine etc. As if that wasn’t enough it also has an area, that as of 4pm each evening magically becomes a bar selling beer and wine! At break time and lunch some of the obreros come with trays of coffee, milk, sugar and clean mugs and there is an outside catering man who comes at break with a selection of food including fresh fruit salad (breakfast – so healthy and so nice!), and sandwiches for lunch. He also has a ‘daily special’ lunch thing, which is a pot of food containing lunch. It’s different every day, but usually involves meat/chicken, rice/potatoes/Yukka and veg so I’ve eaten really healthily lately – I’ve even known what some of it is… For the service of bringing me both breakfast and lunch he charges S/ 9.50 (it’s about 6 sol to the pound…) which is worth every centino!


Better get to bed really – need to be up at 6 as school starts at 0730 and I like to be there at about 0645. There’s always coffee in the pot when I get there too – I really do love this school (even if I will end up with RSI and bad eyes from all the computer use!)


My first week of teaching.

March 10, 2008

I would have written this post on Saturday, but I spent a large part of it asleep and most of the time when I wasn’t asleep eating.  On Sunday I decided to follow the wise words of a Zen cow I got as a birthday card once – it suggested the one should ‘wander aimlessly and eat alot’ I did both on my way home from church.  I also had a very strange conversation with a woman in the inca market about alpaca fleeces (which you apparently can’t get – they always cut them up and make them into rugs of a more sensible shape).  I could have bought a sheep one for 75 Soles (15 pounds) without bargaining.  Alpaca is MUCH softer though, so I am currently in a quandry.  Natural fleece or softer, but slightly more manufactured rug?  Difficult choice, but I don’t need to decide until it gets colder.

 I have now taught right through my timetable once (last Monday didn’t count as it was mainly admin).  It seems OK.  I have bored my lower sixth to death doing a practical on the rate of diffusion into agar blocks and the effect of surface area (hence cells being small).  At least when you watch paint dry you can get high from the smell and don’t have to wear safety specs…

My GCSE kids are nice – I’ve already done activities with them that I wouldn’t have tried with most of my classes in ‘ull!  And weirdest of all they all say goodbye and thankyou at the end of the lesson!  I have had all the homework I have set back in so far too – I’m sure this can’t be normal, but other staff say it is!

The swimming standards were not as much chaos as I thought they’d be – the kids pretty much knew what they were doing, and seemed to naturally want to line up in alphabetical order.  Even the most unathletic kids did 50m and most were quite competitive about it!  The bit that confused me most is that otherwise fast and graceful swimmers took 3 or 4 seconds to turn round at the end of their length – very few of them could do those turning-under-water type turns you see in real races.  I think it’s because they do most of their swimming at the beach over the summer.  Stupidly I forgot to take sun lotion or my nice new Oakley sunglasses so spent a lot of the time squinting and trying to keep in the shade – still I’ll know better for next time.  Other house events that are coming up include a National Anthem singing competition, the proper swimming gala and a music contest.

 The main stumbling block to good lessons is the scarlet Macaw.  I am convinced now that he is being deliberately disruptive, safe in the knowledge that I can’t give him a detention.  I’m sure he watches me in the room, and only starts to squawk if I stand at the front and try and talk to the group.  When I’m walking round, helping pupils etc. he is silent.  As soon as I go near my desk, or pick up the eBeam pen, cacophony!  Driving me mad, but amuses the kids no end.  Maybe I should try bribeing him with fruit…


First day nerves…

March 3, 2008

Well I survived my first day of organised chaos! I am an S4 tutor this year (equivalent to year 11 in England) and spent most of the day with my new tutor group, trying to learn names (and failing miserably – if you know me from school in Hull you know how bad I am with names!), sorting out lockers, laptops (all the kids at this school get a laptop for school use), photographs, timetable problems (thankfully few!), attending assemblies and teaching my first lesson. I say lesson – it was more like half a lesson as we spent the first half of the lesson handing out textbooks (for all 3 sciences – I will get this group for 7 lessons a week for 6 weeks, then rotate onto another group but I’m their ‘science tutor’ so have to give out all the books and write their reports), and putting the barcode of each book in the computer system.

The kids here are lovely (although I had to send 4 of my tutor group home straight away because their hair was too long or they were wearing the wrong shoes) if a bit excitable and noisy at times – especially the boys! I can see myself falling out with one or two of them if they don’t learn to listen when their classmates are talking! On the whole they seem very focused and motivated – every student in my tutor group is expecting to go to university, and most of them want to study abroad and they know they need good results to do that.

My lab is nice (although the desks are fixed in rows which I don’t like too much) and stays pretty cool for most of the day. The main drawbacks with it are its proximity to the girls toilet, and its proximity to the mini zoo, or more specifically the VERY noisy scarlet macaw ( that takes great delight in squawking when I’m trying to listen to students. The tortoise that wanders in and tries to eat things (like my dictionary, my trousers, me…) is less of a problem as he only comes in if the door to the zoo is open after school or on the weekends!

Hopefully tomorrow will go as well as today (and at some point I’ll get round to taking some pictures to go up here) and then on Wednesday I have the swimming standards to look forward to – I’ve been put into Guise house ( who won last year after the previous victors had won for about 15 years in a row (although they had been cheating up until last year – they always ran in the inside lane, and the staggers were wrong so they were running a couple of meters a lap less than everyone else…). Guise is blue and has a badge with a flying horse – cool! The swimming standards are the first house event of the term – every student should swim, they get 1 point for getting in the water and swimming 50m, and then up to 2 more points depending on how much faster than last year’s average speed they swim.

I occasionally feel like I’ve wandered into a non-boarding version of Hogwarts, at least I’m not in Slytherin…


Whole School Integration

February 20, 2008

This year, for the first time ever (I think) Markham started the year with a Whole School Integration Day.  This involved ALL staff (both teaching and support, including the headmaster and the director of the school) from all 3 sections of the school (Early Years, Lower school and Upper School) appearing shyly, onto the school field at 9am and blinking foolishly at the 5 large, brightly coloured canopies, PA system and band that had appeared as if by magic overnight.  We were then handed t-shirts bearing our team colours and name.  You could spot the reluctants and cynics by the speed with which they donned (or didn’t!) their t-shirts!

 The teams were based on the 5 core values of the school; Respect for oneself and for others, Honesty, Loyalty, Generosity and Tolerance.  I was in the green team – generosity.  The task, we were informed, was to be the ‘Superhero challenge’!  Within the shade of our canopy we found; cold drinks, a load of random materials, cardboard, wire etc, and most importantly further instructions written in Spanish and English.  Harry Hildebrand (the former head of Science and one of the most natural and enthusiastic leaders I’ve ever seen) was instantly and unanimously voted group leader and began to explain the task.

With the help of some professional puppeteers and musicians (that the company runing the day had brought along) we were to write a short (8 min) musical about our superhero.  He/she/it had to be the embodiment of the quality we represented – in our case generosity – and we had to come up with a story, who they were, how they became a superhero, what their superpowers were etc. We thought we had a slight advantage as the head of upper school music was in our group!

 If you had told me 2 weeks ago that I was going to spend this morning helping to write a musical about a green, flying, generous superhero dolphin named Robin, I’m not entirely sure I’d have believed you!  Imagine if you will…

 THE SHOW OPENS [Star Wars Theme tune]

PROLOGUE [in song, to a tune I don’t know]

Robin the dolphin, was just a normal dolphin.  When he was young he never shared with anyone.  Then he grew up, he swam into some toxic waste.  Then he transformed, he grew wings and went to save the world…

Robin the dolphin, superheroe generoso.  Robin the dolphin, will share with you at anytime

Robin the dolphin, has super-echolocation.  If you need something, he knows just where to find you…

Robin our friend, superheroe generoso.  Robin the dolphin, generous with everyone.

SCENE 1 – A LOVELY CALM OCEAN YEARS AGO [backing music ‘under the sea’ from the little Mermaid] (at this point I’m going to improvise slightly as I don’t have the script, but I’ll include the main things…)

Robin [a giant dolphin puppet] is swimming in the sea catching fish.  His dolphin friends come, but he won’t share the fish at all.  He becomes unhappy and alone. He sees a sailing boat in the distance full of happy sailors and can’t understand why they are so happy.

[THUNDER, WAVES, WIND AND GENERAL STORM NOISES…]  During the fierce storm the boat is damged and there is a spill of toxic, possibly radioactive waste, which surrounds Robin and starts to kill him.  The sailors in the boat, selflessly generous to a man, jump into the sea and rescue him at the cost of their own lives.  [STAR WARS THEME TUNE]This inspires Robin to become a better dolphin.  He then realises that the toxic waste has turned him green and given him super powers (including super surfing ability)

MUSIC – Surfin’ USA

If everybody had a river, across the jungle zone,  then everybody’d be surfin’ like Amazonia, You see them wearing their baggies, Huanachi sandals too, A bushy bushy black hairdo, surfin’ Amazon!


As he is swimming about Robin finds a message in a bottle and reads it…

MUSIC – ‘Message in a bottle’ The Police;

Mining Company, Ruining our forest.  Another hungry day, all our food depleted.  No money for schools, if only they would share. Please rescue me, before I fall into despair.  I’ll send an SOS to the world x 2  I hope that Robin gets my.. x2  Message in a bottle x2


Robbie responds to the message, using his new wings he flies through the jungle to save the day

MUSIC – In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the dolphin flies above.  In the jungle the mighty jungle the dolphin spreads his love.  ahh Oooooh  etc.


Robbin, using his super hero persuasion, convinces the mining corporation to clean up its act and even put some of its profits into building schools for the local communities.

MUSIC – Give a little bit, give a little bit of your love to them, Give a little bit, give a little bit of your profits to them.  Clean up your pollution, and build some schools, help their futures.  Give a little bit etc.

 MUSIC – Robin the dolphin reprise


I’m sure you all agree it was a masterpiece…  🙂  Was fun though and I got to meet loads of people and listen to a lot of Spanish that I didn’t fully understand!(if people noticed I was struggling to understand they would appologise and switch to English which was great and some of the conversations were very much half and half which was cool too)  It did show very clearly though the difference between the foreigners who had learned Spanish and those who hadn’t – I want to be in the former group as soon as possible! I’m still not entirely sure why the star wars theme appeared, maybe I’l never know…

For as much as it was fun, I did learn a lot I think, about the way the foreign and local staff interact, about the way the locals think, behave, express themselves etc. I reckon it’ll help a lot with my understanding of the culture here.

Must mention lunch for those of you who teach at SHTC.  Lunch was provided in the cafeteria.  For starter you had a choice of asparagus souflé or tuna causa (a traditional peruvian dish), then main was either chicken with rice and veg, beef with rice and veg, or pasta with veg and a creamy cheese sauce.  Pudding was ice cream or lúcuma (a type of fruit) mousse, and there was also chicha morada or passion fruit juice to drink.  I think you’ll agree, slightly nicher than the usual UK lunch on training days!

One of the really good things is that, although the staff officially came back today, the kids don’t start until a week on Monday, so we have a good week and a bit to sort ourselvs out for the start of term, loads of department time and plenty of opportunity to get hold of other staff as they are all in too!  Looking forward to getting stuck in now!