Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Classroom Management Nightmares in Abu Dhabi, T-Squared back to square 1

I originally posted this rather long lament in a UAE teachers group, figure there's a lot of non UAE teachers out there that may have had similar experiences(Hey Korea peeps!) or even non teachers with some wise experience (Hey rest of the world!) ......................................................................................................................................... Today was tough. In nine years of teaching I've never had students get to me like this. I've always been able to keep my composure with perhaps one or two instances in my very first few months in a classroom, and even then it was only momentary really. Tonight I can't sleep. What has worked for you all with classroom management? Two of my classes seem challenging but manageable. The third I feel is going to test my limits as a human being. On some level I know they are likely just testing me and trying to push my buttons because I'm the new guy. Other teachers have been helpful and supportive and told me not to take it personally. I'm trying really hard but I need to be honest, it's not easy. I'm no stranger to living in another culture and rolling with the punches, so I don't think it's as easy to explain as culture shock, though maybe that's a bit of it. I am ashamed to admit it but I've probably raised my voice more times in the last week than in my entire teaching career, perhaps even my life. My philosophy has always been that once I lose my composure I've already failed. The first week was so promising, with only a handful of the keen students showing up. I felt like I was really building relationships with the students and was so excited. Tonight I was brought to tears at 1 am. That's after coming home, reflecting, talking a bit with the teacher I am carpooling with, taking a swim and jacuzzi and making a conscious effort to look at all this positively and open minded. I've tried being strict, I've tried talking with my HOF and another Arabic speaking teacher a few days ago. Some students were sent home for a few days and during that time I tried changing my strategy, giving a short video at the beginning of class with the agreement of students that I would keep the videos at the beginning if they would promise to try to focus for the rest of class. It was actually working well, but some of the students who had been sent home for a few days came back and the whole dynamic went right back to Apocalypse Now. I've been trying to use a quick on the spot behaviour tracking chart of sorts, with green and red marks on the attendance sheet, though it's become apparent the students see it more as a work completion chart. The strange thing is, with many of the students who are acting out I do have some moments where I think they are really nice kids. And I have this feeling and sense that it's like another teacher said to me; really they just want me to like them and care about them. And I'm trying desperately, using everything I know and have learned over my career as a teacher. I just can't get why they are making it so hard, and even more, I can't get at all why I'm allowing myself to let it get to me. I've heard it said reflection is the key to improving as a teacher, so you could say I'm reflecting to stay alive here. I think tomorrow or maybe for a few days at least I may have to just focus 100% on building classroom community. I'm struggling to learn names as well, though I've got a few down. I think I need pictures. I'm contemplating bringing in my IPAD and using Class Dojo or something similar where I can put all their pics into a program and study, but I am genuinely worried about the safety of my IPAD. The Classroom door has already been broken, someone wrote on the projector screen when I wasn't in class. One of the students who I find very distracting, even though he is often somewhat friendly, (but in a way I can't quite tell if it's genuine or if he is playing head games 'pretending' to be trying to be helpful. He'll often say he's trying to help me, but the thing is he's a very big kid, with a huge booming voice, and pretty much simply refuses to stop talking, ever, when I'm trying to talk to the class) got angry and flipped out because I called him out for hitting another student in the chest with a backhand. It was right in front of me, and I could swear I saw him hit the other guy, who also seems to be one of the kids who constantly distracts and disrupts the class. He claimed he didn't hit him, just grabbed his head scarf or something. They both went off together and left the class without permission. I think they went to the principal because he said 'Mujeer' before he left. He also threw the already broken door handle, which we have to keep on a desk by the door, quite violently to the floor before he left. I think maybe he thinks I've singled him out, but he just always seems to be talking very loudly and interrupting me constantly. I feel like I can't win either way, if I keep trying to address the disruptions it's like I'm singling him out. If I let it slide it's almost impossible to keep the class on task. I somewhat suspect he may be intentionally playing me, knowing full well exactly how much he is pulling focus and taking control away from me, but I'm not 100% sure yet. There is always the possibility he genuinely feels like I've singled him out, or that he just has really poor impulse control. And honestly, it is not just him, not by a long shot. I'd say, on the bad days (and there have been some relatively good ones with this class), about 75-85, maybe even 90% of the students, are off task, talking loudly, refusing to stay in their desks. I do think, based on the few days that a few students had been suspended, that there are a few students that seem to kind of instigate a general low grade TV prison riot type herd mentality that just makes the whole class unmanageable. I'm sure a lot of it is just my feelings are raw right now, and maybe I'll laugh at it all someday, but I feel like some of the students really want to intentionally push me over the edge to see if I'll have a nervous breakdown. I'm not ready to quit, but somethings gotta give or change. There are some really nice students who seem to be 'on my side' (though I absolutely hate to have to frame it in that way) and want to help. I've talked to one of them a few times and he's kind of giving me a bit of honest information about whether or not he thinks certain students are deliberately trying to disrupt the class. I actually took him into the hall at one point to talk to him and sent him to try to get the VP or Principal. I even asked him, honestly, do you think that's a bad idea or good idea, because for some reason I trust his judgement. He's a good student, and I'm sure he knows a lot more than me about what's really going on with the class. He said "Both, good and bad perhaps, but there's no choice". I'm worried that this will all blow back in my face. As I said before, I know I shouldn't let it get to me. I've always in the past been able to keep a balance of being a bit strict but fair,when needed, while always maintaining a smile, and a clear message that I'm not angry with them with being casual and easygoing when appropriate, and always professional. I feel that's being blown out of the water with this class. I think what gets to me is that I've seen those few moments when they are being mostly respectful, so know they are capable of it and know the difference. A few days ago, the first time a class 'broke me' to a degree, for lack of a better phrase, I called up my HOF, who is Egyptian, and speaks Arabic, to come to the class to speak to them. They were completely silent and respectful for him, and I didn't sense it was out of fear either. He wasn't being overly stern or angry with them. He even translated a bunch for me. Afterwards, a bunch of the students apologized, but again, it was the students who were not causing problems, who were polite and helpful, who apologized. Actually, now that I think of it, that was another class, and they started off good, a bit rambunctious, but not too unreasonably, until that one day. I think I need someone (or several) from the Arabic staff, maybe the guidance counsellor, or VP, that I can call if the HOF is teaching a class himself and can't come, who can come and help from time to time, until I can establish some boundaries that the students won't cross. I am worried they'll think I'm not qualified enough, or just don't have what it takes, or that perhaps I'll discipline a student from an 'important' family or something and things will go bad for me. The other part of me thinks if I'm just honest and try to be professional, that they will understand and help me out. I've had some things work partially, and think it's a puzzle that needs solving, with the right balance of strictness, and friendliness, at the right times, with the building of relationships somehow. Anyway, I apologize for being so long winded and somewhat ranty at times, but really, really needed to do something, because crying myself to sleep is not a viable routine to get into, and although I've been teaching for almost nine years now, most of it internationally, I've never come up against classroom dynamics like this. It reminds me of that movie with Matthew Perry where he's teaching in an inner city school in Hell's Kitchen or something, like that, Coach Carter, or Dangerous Minds, you feel me? Any other new ADEC teachers feeling overwhelmed by the classroom dynamics here? Any vets care to chime in with constructive criticism, a wise or even just I partial take on it all? Some of my coworkers have said things like I'm doing well, and that it's a different ball game over here, and that the first few months are the hardest. I'm pretty sure I'm gaining some of that "If it doesn't kill ya, it makes ya stronger" experience, and that if I come out the other side with a solution that I'll be that much better of a teacher for it. Perhaps even a ninja! My inner ninja, bum, bum, bum, my inner ninja . . . For anybody else who is in a similar place or has been, or will be, I leave you all with an inspirational tune, cause lord knows we teachers need it sometime, . . . 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic: A Nice book, another Facebook Post Cut&Pasted

I'm reading an interesting book "Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine" by Paul A. Offit, M.D. 

Among other things, the book discusses the increase in cancer rates associated with increased vitamin use, the fact that there is a dubious distinction between natural and unnatural that supplement makers use to manipulate buyers. It's going to be somewhat of a long post, with a bunch of snippets from the book that really popped out at me. The reason this book is hitting so close to home for me is partly because I've had family members die of Cancer, and others that are living with it, and also because I've in my days used quite a lot of vitamins and supplements, and promoted their use to family and friends I'm sure. In other words, it could affect my own health or the health of those people I love. So getting back to the theme, the dubious distinction between "natural" which lulls us all into thinking that anything called "natural" must be obviously safe and "synthetic" which scares us into lazily thinking it's obviously unsafe. Things like Arsenic, spider venom, and certain poisonous mushrooms are 'naturally' found in nature. That doesn't automatically make them safe or good for us. The distinction between "natural" and "unnatural" or "synthetic" is something that has often fooled us into trusting or not trusting something, and I'm just as guilty of it as anyone. After all, many pharmaceuticals are made from plants, and some naturally growing 'natural' plants are poison and toxic. That's why we don't just eat any berry or mushroom we see growing in the wild if we don't know it, and recognize it as a safe one. It also discusses how there are extremely large corporations, making tons of money, and spending tons of money on disinformation campaigns, actively framing the debate as an issue of freedom to buy what you want, basically fooling the public into 'wanting' to 'not' know what is in what they are buying, due to a fear that if there is any regulation, the big bad government will take away their rights. It's similar to the way fear after 911 was used to push through an erosion of privacy rights when people were scared enough to do whatever they were told was necessary to protect them. I'm going to quote some of the book now. ....................................................................................................................
"Dr. Sidney Wolfe, representing Ralph Nader's consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, said, "This is a drug industry. The difference between large doses of vitamins and over-the-counter [drugs] is non-existent. Exploiting of genuine concerns people have for their health [by promoting] vitamin pill-popping solutions is no better than . . . fraud." Marsha Cohen, an attorney with Consumers Union, made a plea for common sense. Setting eight cantaloupes in front of her, she said, "We can safely rely upon the limited capacity of the human stomach to protect persons from overindulgence in any particular vitamin-or mineral-rich food. For example, you would have to eat eight cantaloupes to take in barely 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. But just these two little pills, easy to swallow, contain the same amount. . . . And 1,000 milligrams, it should be recalled, is on the low end of Dr. Pauling's recommended 250 to 10,000 milligrams daily." - pp. 76-77 

(This is my own words again) (Sidenote: By the way, there's a whole section earlier on Dr. Pauling, how he genuinely made many really important scientific/medical discoveries, but then eventually got taken in by the whole vitamin craze, and more or less abandoned his rigorous scientific training when it came to vitamins. It just goes to show, than any one of us, or any really intelligent person, can sometimes be fooled. The problem, as the earlier part of the book describes, is that when a really famous or respected person gets taken in, drinks the Kool-aid, so to speak, they often take many others with them, because so many people trust them. I'm not gonna quote a bunch of that stuff, you'll have to buy the book or borrow and read it later if you want to delve into that. But basically, he was a really famous and respect scientist, nobel winner, who sort of had a fall from grace, as far as the Scientific/Medical community is concerned. Unfortunately, because of his fame, and legitimate earlier achievement, he pretty much singlehandedly shaped a lot of what we all now take for granted about vitamins. It was a hell of an interesting read, but I can't quote the entire damn book, even if it seems that way in this day and age of Twitter, which I don't use, and other Social Media, like Facebook, which I do use.)

Anyway, back on track, and slightly less tangential (yeah, right, as if anything that comes out of my brain or mouth could even not be a really long extended tangent; if I were a super hero, I would be Tangent Man!), in other words, there are healthy aspects to vitamins, but too much of anything can be unhealthy. Getting vitamins and minerals by eating foods that contain them helps to make sure we don't get too much, but popping vitamin pills allows us to really easily eat way more vitamins than is really good for us. The vitamin and supplement companies love it, all the way to the bank. They, it would appear, have fooled us into thinking that we need much larger amounts of vitamins than we can get by simply eating foods with vitamins in them. In actual fact, since there are NO regulations that anything marketed as a vitamin or dietary supplement have to be tested for safety, or tested to prove that they actually do what they say they will do. I'm sure some of them 'might' be helpful. Some of them might do nothing for us, but be harmless. Others might actually be contributing to Cancer. Without regulation and testing, just like any food or drug, we the public have absolutely no way to know if a supplement is safe or not. Here's an interesting snippet of a debate between David Kessler, who was representing the FDA, trying to protect the public from false claims, and make supplement makers test and label what they put out, to avoid snake oil salesmen from simply putting anything out and making untested claims about what it does and/or it's safety. Now I'm gonna put the quoted passage, that contains part of a debate, plus Dr. Offit's commentary. I'll use a line of dots to separate what were my words, from the entire quoted piece from the book, and also another section of broken dashes to separate the exchange between Kessler and Hatch since formatting is limited here in facebook. There's also a quote at the beginning and end of the entire piece I've quoted followed by a page number in case anyone's actually interested in finding it in the book for some odd reason. .........................................................................................................................

(The quote from the book starts now.) "The exchange centered on the FDA's recent seizure of primrose oil due to bogus claims. Hatch: What safety hazard was the FDA addressing that warranted such intensive use of agency resources and personnel?
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(Still from the book, but it's a transcript of a debate) Kessler: Senator, I can read you the claims made for oil of evening primrose. The list starts with cancer. Hatch: Remember, the issue is safety I am talking about." Kessler: My real concern is the types of diseases for which oil of evening primrose is promoted. Hatch: But my question is: What proof do you have that this substance is unsafe? Kessler: This is being promoted for a lot of different diseases, anywhere from hypertension to atopic dermatitis. Hatch: Safety, Doctor, safety! This is the question! Is an American citizen more likely to die from an adverse reaction to a drug approved by the FDA or a dietary supplement? Kessler: Senator, I am amazed. What do you think are 'in' pharmaceuticals? Half our pharmaceuticals come from plants. There are chemicals in pharmaceuticals and those chemicals are found naturally.

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(Still from the book, just the end of the debate transcript) Kessler was making an argument that had been made for centuries. The source of a chemical doesn't matter; only the chemical matters. And whether it is synthesized by a pharmaceutical company or found in nature, the chemical is the same. And it should be regulated in the same way. Otherwise consumers will think they're getting a guarantee of safety when they're not. In the end, industry money trumped common sense. On May 11, 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act became law. The act defined a supplement as 'a product intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, or an amino acid.' "Breathtaking in its dimensions," wrote Dan Hurley, "[the act] would end forever the simple legal dichotomy between 'food' and 'drug' to create a third, hermaphroditic category that was both yet neither: the dietary supplement. And beyond the usual suspects-vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids-the law would permit manufactures to define a product as a 'dietary supplement' merely by saying so, no matter how artificially derived. Put lamb's brain in a drug or food, and be prepared to spend millions of dollars and a few years on studies showing that it is safe and effective; put it in a supplement and you're good to go, no evidence necessary." The New York Times called it the "Snake Oil Protection Act." - pp. 85-87 

(My own words again) And another tiny snippet comparing a drug that was regulated and being watched by the FDA, Vioxx and Vitamins, which under the laws, the FDA is not allowed to really watch, or test. 

(back to quoting the book) "So which is more dangerous: Vioxx or vitamins? Indeed, both have dangers. The better question is, why does everybody know that Vioxx can cause heart disease and nobody knows that megavitamins can cause cancer? The answer is that we have chosen not to know." - pp. 88-89 

(back to my own final words) I feel like I've been gullible with the whole vitamin thing. It's easy after all to be fooled. Places like health food stores that sell these things seem so grass roots and innocent. And in a lot of ways the people running them probably are. I think we all have maybe been taken in a bit. All I know, is from now on, my strategy will be to simply eat lots of healthy food. Lots of veggies, lots of fruits, and other good foods. Although I can be a pig, there is a limit to how much I can eat, plus food, unlike vitamins and supplements, it would seem, do have to be regulated and tested for safety. I'm sure that doesn't mean that there is never something that doesn't get tested enough, or that a few palms might not get greased in some occasions to look the other way, but at least there is some attempt to regulate and make sure food isn't stored in places where rats can poop on it and things like that. Plus I can't eat 8 canteloupes in one sitting. I do know I can eat more Pizza in a sitting that is really healthy for me. That's down to self control, and I am making inroads in trying to be more conscious of what I eat. Not perfect, but trying to go in a better direction. And possible hypocrite alert. I have been eating Protein shakes after I exercise. I think I will perhaps delve further into that product to see if I can find any scientific (trying to avoid the pseudoscience that can sometimes be hard to spot for a non professional like myself) studies on that particular product. Who knows maybe that will be covered later on in Offit's book as I'm not done yet. Cheers, to anyone who actually made it through this entire post and didn't just skip it, as I often do if I think something smells of conspiracy theory. I'll just leave it by saying that the book is a very interesting read. The experience kind of reminds me a bit of the feeling I got when I first read Carl Sagan's book about credulity and lack of skepticism in the modern world "The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark". I'll might as well post links to both books for any of you interested in reading either of them.

Hell this post is so long, I may copy it and post it in my blog, which has lain dormant for at least a year probably. (That was from the Facebook post. The blog is dormant no more!)

I don't think it's the first time I've plugged this Sagan book, probably won't be the last!