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Monday, October 21, 2013

Dream Job

My dream job just opened up today: A High School Instrumental Director (Band) job at the Singapore American School.

I have always fantasized about moving to Singapore. I don't actually know that much about the city, but my uncle and aunt used to live there. I grew up hearing about this fabulous city across the world, and I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Singapore.

I was intrigued by the Singapore American School at the University of Northern Iowa Overseas Placement Fair I attended in February, so I attended their information session when I had the time, even though they didn’t have any music positions open (and I was at the UNI Fair for a music job, period). I already had an inkling that I would be offered and accept the position I currently have, but I was still interested in learning more about the various international schools at the fair.

The Singapore American School (SAS) presentation greatly impressed me. I realize it's easy to positively portray your school when the audience is watching a PowerPoint about a school halfway across the world, but SAS is one of the top international schools in the world. Over 3,800 students attend SAS, 70% of whom are American. The faculty tend to stay for an average of SIX years. That's an impressive statistic. I handed my resume into the recruiter, and signed up for the job mailing list just for fun.

Cut to a few months later. While perusing the internet for band pieces for a university assignment, my friend Kelsey and I discovered this YouTube link:

This video shows the Singapore American School Middle School and the International School of Bangkok bands meeting and performing Dinosaurs by Daniel Bukvich in 2009. A few things stood out to me in this video: there are LOTS of students in band, the band sounds GOOD, and the conductor is fairly young! This video continued to give me a good impression of SAS (and the hope that maybe, someday, I would be able to work there!).

In July, I received an email alert saying that a band position was open at SAS (I don't remember if it is was middle or high school). I looked back at my notes from the fair, and saw that SAS brings its new faculty over to Singapore in June. Something had therefore obviously gone awry, as they were quickly looking for a new replacement. I was disappointed. Yes, I was thrilled to be moving to Dubai in a month, but I knew I wouldn't be taking over an established band job. I am currently teaching grade 7 band, but I'm not sure how far band will go in the future at this school, and teaching large, established bands and choirs is what I crave.

Now, today, a new position was posted for a High School Instrumental Director (Band) job at the Singapore American School for the 2014/2015 school year. I would LOVE to apply for this job, but I have signed a 2-year contact here in Dubai. I am perfectly fine with staying in Dubai for the next two years - I am enjoying my job, I am having fun with my friends and colleagues, and I like the lifestyle I am able to create here. However, I can't help wondering if I'm supposed to be going to the Singapore American School to teach band! I want to move back and work in Manitoba eventually, but I think that if this job opens up for the 2015/2016 school year, I would apply and seriously consider leaving Dubai and Manitoba behind.

International teachers: do you have a dream job? What’s the rationale behind your dream job?  

Sunday, October 06, 2013

ESOL PD Conference

Over the past three days, I attended the first ESOL Professional Development Conference. ESOL, Educational Services Overseas Limited is a family of 8 schools throughout the Middle East located in the UAE, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Egypt. This conference brought together over 600 educators from our ESOL family into Dubai. The school at which I work was one of the two host schools for the conference this weekend.

I'll be completely honest: before this weekend, I wasn't overly excited about this conference. I received the initial information about the conference last May or June when I was still busy in Canada, and I was unable to successfully register. Once I arrived in Dubai, I realized that several of my colleagues had also been unsuccessful in their attempts to register for the conference. A seemingly endless supply of emails and technological issues followed suit, but eventually, we were all able to register for the conference. Several of the workshops were already full before we finally could register. I really love professional development, but I wasn't sure there was going to be anything super relevant to me as a brand-new music educator.

The first two days of the conference went fine. I attended all of the keynote speakers and sessions. I attended 4 helpful sessions throughout the conference:  one was on general teaching tips, the second was on embedding dance into the curriculum, the third was on creating podcasts on Garage Band, and the fourth was about the flipped classroom. I was actually really happy with all four of these sessions, and felt like I got at least one main idea out of each session.

The Twitter Aspect 

I have been very active on Twitter lately since I unlocked my personal account a few months ago. I'm following hundreds of educators, mainly based in the US and Canada. I'm reading, following, and commenting on several blogs. I like being connected. However, I haven't experienced anything with Twitter like I did at the ESOL PD conference!

During the very first session, we were passed a page that explained the basics of Twitter and which hashtags we would be using for the weekend. The main hashtag, #ESOLPDC, was projected onto a big screen at the front of the auditorium, and showed real-time tweets throughout the keynote addresses. I was one of the first to bravely send out a tweet! Imagine the feeling when you tweet something and 600 people immediately see it!

My first Tweet to the big screen!!!! "@ESOLschools hello from the UAS staff! #ESOLPDC" 

A better view of one of my tweets on the big screen. 

Several of my colleagues poked fun at me all weekend for tweeting, but I didn't mind. The guy who was in charge of the ESOL Twitter account (@ESOLSchools) was on fire all weekend, constantly retweeting and quoting tweets from ESOL educators in addition to quoting the keynote speakers. I'm extremely impressed that our hashtag did not receive any spam or any ridiculous tweets all weekend!

I only sent out one slightly controversial tweet:

One of our keynote speakers, Dr. Lisa Walsh, is a superintendent from Toronto, ON. She was speaking on engaging 21st century learners. I didn't mean for this tweet to sound accusatory, but I was honestly just curious if she would mention anything about the arts and their place in schools today while she was discussing the students of today. She didn't include the arts in her keynote, and I didn't have the chance to find her and talk to her. I don't know the most recent facts, but I was told that Toronto was cutting 100% of all its creative arts funding in schools - music, dance, drama, visual arts, etc. I did feel that this tweet was justified, although a lot of my colleagues questioned me about it!

The best part of the conference was a "job-alike" session today where all of teachers with alike jobs met up to just talk and hang out. We all wished this had happened earlier during the conference so we could have had more time to talk over the weekend. I met several other music educators from our sister school in Dubai, as well as educators from Abu Dhabi and Cairo. Everyone was extremely friendly and willing to help everyone out - I think we'll definitely stay in touch!

Overall, I enjoyed this conference more than I thought I would. I enjoyed the sessions I attended, our final keynote speaker was fantastic, I had fun tearing up the dance floor at dinner last night, I loved networking with the other music teachers, and I had fun using Twitter throughout the conference. I am now following several ESOL teachers, and several are following me! I am also super impressed with how well our sister school uses Twitter in their school, and I'm interested in starting a Twitter initiative at my school. More on that in a future post!

It was an incredibly exhausting weekend (no time to sleep in!) but definitely a worthwhile professional development conference.    

Last note: I saw camels on the road for the first time this weekend! We got up close and personal :)

Oh hey there! :)

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Extra Time

And so it begins...

One of the curses of being a teacher: you give up your spare time to help students.

I know countless teachers who willingly give up spares, lunches, and time before and after school to help students, and I'm no different. I'm allowing my grade 11 IB music students to re-write their theory test, so several of them having been coming to be for extra help and to re-write when we both have free time.

I do feel as though I have sufficient prep time at work, so I'm not actually upset about giving up time. However, I am being sneaky, and I'm managing to combine duties to make the best use of time. For example, I have one new grade 8 boy who is behind the rest of the class with reading and writing rhythms. I met with him while I was on lunch duty yesterday. I was sitting at a picnic table anyway, so he came and met with me. It was great!

We also have classes called "tutorials" here; aka, a supervised spare for grade 11 and 12 students. Three of my IB girls were supposed to write their re-test during this time, but we ended up going over music theory for half an hour instead. These tutorials are really glorified babysitting, and most teachers do marking, prep work, cruise the internet, etc. I gave up half of my "tutorial" time to help them, but it was worth it for two reasons: they all seem to get the concepts better now, and it hilarious to see the non-music students' faces as they watched what we were doing.

On a similar thread, I have convinced my grade 7 band students to give up THEIR lunch and come help me clean and organize our band supplies next week. I just haven't got around to unpacking and organizing these boxes of reeds, swabs, clothes, oils, drumsticks, etc. I told them that they should come in here for a lunch party sometime: we can clean, eat, listen to music, hang out, and I'd give them chocolate. THEY WERE ALL SO EXCITED! The grade 7s seriously put me in a better mood every single day :) they are so young and excited about music.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

BSP vs. LoA

At the staff meeting on Sunday, my IB Coordinator threw out an invitiation for one-on-one meetings to discuss IB assessment, which is different than our system of assessing grade 7 - 10s. I realized that I didn't really how on earth I was supposed to be assessing the IB students so I set up a meeting which happened this morning. On one hand, I understand the process of assessment much better. On the other hand, I'm more confused than ever! I'm not exactly sure how the work I have done so far will fit into the IB assessments.

I will attempt to summarize the two types of assessment I am required to do. I honestly feel as though writing an explanation down will help me to see where I need clarification.

I'm feeling a little stressed!
Image from:

System 1: BSP - Best Sustained Performance (Grade 7 - 10)

This is how I am supposed to assess grade 7 - 10 courses (four out of my 5 courses). From grade 7 -  12, students are graded on a 7 point scale (from the IB). A failure is considered a 0 or a 1, and we must notify the parents if a student ever receives a 2 or lower on a piece of assessment.

This system makes sense to me. I use my professional judgement to give a student a mark based on their best, sustained performance. For example, if a student received a "4" on a formative assessment, a "4" on a formative assessment, and a "5" on a summative assessment, I would give that student a 5. The 5 is their best mark, even though they sustained a 4 longer than the 5. The student also received a 5 on the summative, which was the most recent mark.

To me, this system is encouraging students to do well, but allows them to "tank" one assignment or test without completely destroying their grade.

Side note: all of the students know what formative and summative assessments are. They will seriously ask me, "is this a formative assessment? Are we doing a summative test?" etc. I had never heard of these terms until university, yet they are used so frequently here that students starting in grade 7 begin to use them in their everyday vocabulary. I find this super funny!

System 2: LoA - Level of Achievement (IB Students)

The International Baccalaureate program has a fairly structured grade sytem (for example, all assessment is marked on a 7 point scale). My school has chosen to incorporate a system called LoA, Level of Achievement, to help implement this process. This is how I am supposed to assess my grade 11 IB Music students.

LoA is basically the opposite of BSP.

With Level of Achievement, you take the mark that is the most recent and most relevant to the IB exam or assessment the student will be taking.

For example, if an IB student gets a "5" on a formative asssesment, another "5" on a formative assessment, and a "3" on the summative asssesment, I would be likely to give them a 3 or a 4. The summative assessment is more like the actual IB assessment, and therefore, the LoA they achieved on that assessment is the most important. LoA is still flexible, but it's definitely more merciless than BSP. I will have to give my IB students a grade at the end of each quarter. The LoA is cummulative and continues for the entirety of the course (2 years).

Next comes the weighting. For International Baccalaureate Music Students (Higher Level), the weighting of their IB assessments is as follows:

External Assessment - Paper 1 - 30%
External Assessment - Musical Links Investigation - 20%
Internal Assessment - Creating - 25%
Internal Assessment - Solo Performing - 25%

For right now, I'm not really teaching or assessing multiple areas. But later, I will have to keep track of their marks in four distinctive categories, and then use the weighting system to give them their total mark.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: every single piece of assessment I do in the IB class must relate to one of these four components of the IB Music program.

Herein lies the problem: My IB students just finished up a unit on music theory. I passionately believe that music theory is imperative to their success in this course, however, it doesn't fit neatly into one of those four categories. It could fit into a couple of them if I adjusted the assessments, but they have already written the tests and are in the process of re-writing the tests.

I can do things in the class that are assessed but not given a grade, which is what I might have to do for the theory unit (unless I adjust it). I don't think anyone will demand to see a breakdown of my marks for my IB students and how they fit in these categories, but I still want to do this correctly. My IB Coordinator told me that at one recent conference, a gentleman from Switzerland told him that his IB teachers never give out grades in the two years of an IB course - only feedback. Wouldn't that be interesting? I don't think that could work here though, as the parents, students, administration, and teachers are very concerned with grades.

I hope you found this somewhat interesting - or perhaps you are just as confused as I am! I'm kidding. It is really starting to make sense to me, and I'm yet again extremely grateful to have such a supportive staff in my school. My IB Coordinator is great, and I'm very glad I had the chance to sit down and talk with him.

Any thoughts? I would love to hear thoughts from other IB teachers!

International Teaching - A Temporary Situation

During my international teaching journey thus far I have had the opportunity to meet fantastic colleagues, students, and parents. However, one main point always lingers with me: this is a temporary situation. Schools back home also have a temporary quality about them, but this is exaggerated to the extreme in the international teaching lifestyle.

For example, I already know that two of my good friends are planning to leave here after this year. I don't like this! I know I'm going to be here at least two years and then I will see (I signed a two-year contract). We have to decide by December the year before to give them enough warning, so I can't imagine how many rumours will be spreading about who is leaving come December!

I bring this up because I had a student today in my grade 7 C.A.R.T. class (beginning band) who asked me if we could possibly move our Holiday Band concert earlier in December, since she was moving back the US. I said we could probably arrange a lunchtime concert, and we definitely will. A couple of the other students overheard her saying she was leaving, and then chaos ensued. She hadn't told her best friend yet who happens to sit next to her in band. Several of these kids have been together for 8 years. There was so much crying throughout the rest of the period, and I don't blame them. International schools may be a temporary situation, but several of these students have been here together since Kindergarten. When someone moves away in an international setting, it's unlikely you'll see them again, as they tend to move countries and continents, rather than simply moving cities or schools. .

Several of my colleagues were raised in International Schools since their parents were international teachers. They are now teaching in International Schools, and several of them have children who are students are our school. It's a lifestyle, and I can see how it can get addicting. Part of me hopes that one day I will be able to teach at an international school with my future husband, and have our kids attend international schools. For now, though, I still view the situation as temporary. I don't know what's going to happen next year - who will I teach? Who will I teach with? Who will I hang out with? - but that's okay, because that's the international teaching life.