Friday, October 30, 2009

Life in the Desert

Hi everyone -- a couple weeks of updates are in store -- brace yourselves!!

Things continue to roll along at a steady rapid pace. I decided to attend the "Jewelery and Watch Show" one evening and that was an interesting event. I got bored soon enough when I realized everything was pretty much out of my spending league. Jewels that were 30K -- millions of dollars. Many Emirate women trying on massive diamonds while their husbands sat in a lounge area drinking coffee, smoking and talking business. Once you have seen these lavish pieces of jewelery you've seen them all.

The New York Philharmonic was in Abu Dhabi last week for performances in a "Classics Series" at the Emirates Palace Hotel. A small group of them made an appearance at our school and we had an assembly to expose students to music.

JEWELERY ALERT -- made my first jewelery purchases a couple weeks ago. 2 rings, 2 earrings and 4 charms -- all 18 kt. gold -- they don't even have 14 kt. -- the price of gold is high so future purchases are on hold until gold comes down a bit. I am eyeballing a few bracelets.

I had a business idea to start tutoring Emirate adult women who already speak some english but want to improve their conversation skills. I would form 2 groups of 3 women in each group 2 times per week. I have spoken to many people about this and they think it's a great idea, but my time is so limited I have not yet had the opportunity to explore possibilities further. The main problem is how to network this concept. I will have to keep the idea dormant until I can manage enough time to investigate further.

I found a tailor named Mohammed (imagine that). He has sewn me a couple tops with fabric I bought locally. Many women get things made here as there are many fabric stores, which they call textiles, and there are several tailors everywhere. They do not follow a pattern, just copy a piece that you bring into them.

We recently held an awards assembly at school for grades 1-5. Students were presented with awards for being a "thinker" and being "principled" in each grade level. These characteristics are part of our International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program that instills these ideals in our children. I selected 2 girls and 2 boys in my class and they were thrilled. At the end of the assembly they usually play some type of game and this month it was "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader". The 5th grade students decided to take on the grade 4 teachers so we had to get up in front in the gym and answer questions competing against the grade 5 students. I had a ball and was hooting and waving at my class and my students loved it. The other grade 4 teachers were rather subdued in comparison to my enthusiasm and excitement. The teachers won and our price was dress down day for all the elementary teachers.

My class of students love to see me act crazy from time to time. It allows them to see another side of their teacher who is usually strict and following a tight learning schedule. I love my kids!!!!

We recently had a bake sale and popcorn day. The kids go crazy and buy as much as they can. The proceeds go to "Red Crescent" which is like the "Red Cross". Parents bring in donuts and baked items for sale and I believe they raised $6000 dirhams which is like $1700 dollars.

Its funny how similar everything is here to our way of life back home. Kids are kids -- they like candies and sweets and popcorn day and bake sales. Their parents contribute and participate. They love holidays and Disney Paris and visiting their cousins. They like to goof-off in school and be mischievous whenever I am not looking. Their parents adore them and these youngsters just want to have friends and have fun and play football (soccer) and go to movies. Life in the Emirates is more like life in Canada or America than any of the Middle East countries we see on TV (Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan). I believe the majority of people just want to live and it is the crazy leaders and religious extremists who ruin everything for the average person living in the Middle East. (Sadam, Akmidenijad, Taliban, Bin Laden) They give the muslim world a bad image and instill fear where fear is not necessary -- it is normal in most every way here. No fear, no extremism, no anti-western world attitudes.

I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with a lovely gathering sponsored the "The Canadian Business Association" at a top hotel. I attended with fellow Canadian, Doug Bowsher, and my invited guest and American, Emma Mercado. The food was tasty, but they ran out of turkey and stuffing by the time we made it to the buffet after standing in a long line. The hotel felt so bad, they offered another evening meal to all those who did not get turkey and stuffing. Although I dined on beef tenderloin (because of no turkey), mashed potatoes and a great selection of desserts, I was approached to attend the 2nd Canadian Thanksgiving with Doug and Emma in tow. It will be held next Tuesday night at the same venue, but without the crowd of over 300 people. A 2nd meal for the price of FREE sounds good to me!!!!

I had a Professional Development day this past Sunday because a guest speaker from the U.S. was visiting our school for a week. Her name is Cheryl Sigmon and she is an expert on our "4 blocks" literacy program -- guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and working with words. The day long seminar was very informative and I hope to implement some of her ideas into my classroom. Our daytime schedule is so jam-packed that it seems rushed everyday to fit in what is needed to be covered. It feels like a whirlwind most days for me and I think for the students as well.

Halloween is Saturday night and we celebrated at school on Thursday (yesterday). I dressed up as a cat/mouse and the kids loved it. I had 15 students dress in some type of costume. There were not witches allowed so as not to offend the muslim population. I did, however, see witches at the high school level student population. I had treats for all my kids and they also brought in cupcakes and mini bars. I showed Michael Jackson's "Thriller" from the internet onto my smartboard. The students loved it. We also watched videos from my favourite scientist "Bill Nye the Science Guy" and of course, I taught them to sing the opening song in all the crazy voices. It was a fun day with only a little work done -- that's OK sometimes.

It is Formula One weekend in Abu Dhabi. Many teachers have tickets to the weekend event which has been celebrated for the past week. It is a huge event for the Emirates -- many people come from Dubai to hang with all the beautiful people. Beyonce was performing last night and many scored tickets to that concert. Aerosmith, Jamiraquai and The Kings of Leon are also performing. It is a big international deal here!! 3 of my students left school early on Thursday to kick-off the Formula One events. 1 boy is missing school on Sunday because of the last day of Formula One. I was offered a pair of Jamiraquai tickets for tonight (Friday night), but I will be attending a teacher Halloween party in my building. I am going as a "Glamour Bat". It should be fun.

That's about it for the past couple weeks. I am trying to book a trip to Egypt for Christmas with my brother Scott. I am also looking into Morocco or Hong Kong for a week at the end of November. Those plans are still up in the air.

I'll keep you posted on the next couple of weeks. Stay well and enjoy the fall season back in Canada.

Loretta (Rhetta)

Friday, October 16, 2009

News and Updates


Hi everyone -- my journey continues in the Emirates with overall enjoyment and positive adjustment. The school days fly by with non-stop business from 7:00 until 4:00 followed by marking at home at night. I am usually in bed by 9:00 to 9:30 and sleep soundly. 5:30 in the morning nearly kills me, but that too is an adjustment I am getting accustomed to. I really sleep in on the weekends to catch up a bit.

I just completed my first Parent-Teacher Conferences and they were a huge success. I was quite organized and confidant with the parents and always tried to praise their child in some capacity or another (although difficult for some). The parents were quite receptive to my observations and evidence, as presented in the form of their child's work and test scores. I have some very bright children in my class and some very weak children -- about 5 children are at kindergarten or grade 1 level and they are in grade 4. Can you imagine the range??? It is crazy and since they have no Special Education department for children with identified needs this complicates things.

As I type this, I hear the call to prayer and reading of the Koran over the city wide loud speakers. You really get used to this and the call to prayer is generally a very soothing melody -- don't get me wrong, it's not Sinatra or Streisand, but it has its own Arabic beauty.

The Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) is currently taking place in Abu Dhabi. Some of my fellow teachers have gotten passes to allow them to see several movies -- they are viewing constantly. I did not partake because I am a first time teacher and too busy with school work to attend that volume of movies. I hope to catch a couple of movies this weekend, but will play it by ear. Some of the movie viewings are at the Emirates Palace and that would be an excellent experience to view a movie in such grandeur.

I am in my own little groove with my grocery store, my laundry, my corner store, etc. I continue to understand the layout of the city and can manage to give directions to where I want to go to most taxi drivers.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Back to School!!

Did you read the last September post -- be sure not to miss it!!

Started back to school after the glorious break on Sunday September 27. What did this mean exactly? Wake up at 5:30 a.m. -- yes this is not a typo. 5:30 a.m. every morning nearly kills me. This means I am in bed by 9:30 most nights just simply exhausted. After I awake at 5:30 I must be ready and in the lobby for my 6:35 a.m. bus pick-up for all the teachers from various buildings. We arrive to school around 6:55 a.m. and I have a little time to organize things and get a few tasks completed. Children start trickling into the classroom around 7:30 ish to drop off their backpacks and lunches. The bell rings at 7:45 a.m. and the kids are in school until 2:45 p.m. -- this is an extremely long day!! Since we are back on regular post-Ramadan scheduling, we are finally into the groove of what a normal day looks like. This first week was so tiring. Keeping the kids on task is the hardest part followed by trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing!!

For those teachers out there who are reading this blog you may relate. We follow a new math program called "Investigations" which no one has had any training with so everyone is winging it. We follow a language arts program called "4 Blocks" which includes: SSR (self-selected reading), GR (guided reading), www (working with words) and writing. I have had no training with this method so, you guessed it, winging it. Because we are an IB school (International Baccalaureatte) we follow the PYP program (Primary Years Program) and there are transdisciplinary themes which we must cover, e.g. -- How We Organize Ourselves" -- this is my current unit and it deals with "How authority and rules effect people and the environment". These units are to create young thinkers who have a global perspective on the world and their place in it. Some training has been provided here, but I am definitely in the learning curve. Every classroom has its own Smartboard and there has been no training as of yet, but I a told it is coming. When do I make the time to teach myself the smartboard? I have 4 children who have learning difficulties or language deficiencies who have tutors right in my classroom. I have 2 girls who daydream and do no work and I have one very bright boy who is a total behavioural handful. Other than the 7 children I just mentioned, the rest of the class are quite good behaviourally and within the average to highly-skilled range academically. You can see why I am whipped at the end of the day.

There are two school buses that take teachers back to their apartments at the end of the day. One leaves at 3:15 and the other at 4:15 -- I am always on the late bus because I try to get extra work done at the end of the day. So my day begins with be waking up at 5:30 a.m. and I get home from school about 4:40p.m. I often have marking in the evenings and hope my energy increases so I can do more work at home at night to stay on top of things. It is currently Friday, October 4 (my Saturday) and I will have the day free to shop, maybe get a massage, try to buy some new black sandals and get some facial hair threading done. Tomorrow I will go to school to try to spend 4-5 hours setting up my weekly plan and trying to get some level of sanity in my head. My desk is piled high with tons of stuff that I need to go through and sort. I have so much reading material my head could explode. That is in essence the training -- "here's a link, read it".

I will survive, but as mentioned to many of you in conversations of past, I HATE being in the learning curve -- it sucks the life out of you!! Anyway, all is not lost, last night I went to a beautiful hotel that has an open grassy/garden area which people called the "beer garden". It was a colleagues birthday and there was a huge turnout. There was live music -- kind of BeeGees Barry Gibb mixed with Jewel. It was rather mellow music and everyone was hoping for dance music -- needless to say, the dance floor was empty all night long. There were large tables and comfortable chairs set all over this huge grassy area with a large air-conditioned tent and a buffet or modest pizza/burger menu to order food. I enjoyed myself and even broke down and had 1 shot of sambuca and 2 cigs!! Usually I stick to my "Coke Light".