Sunday, April 27, 2008

Still getting olderer

I forgot to wear my glasses to church today. As a consequence, I had a bit of trouble reading the choir music. Thankfully, I knew the tune pretty well, but occassionaly had to guess at the words ... and wasn't entirely successful. Let's hope the congregation didn't notice.

It was even harder to read the order of service which was in a smaller font, bordering on microscopic. My arms simply weren't long enough. The most pathetic part was that I didn't get the Lord's Prayer right. Let it be known that I do know it by heart, but I know the American version and without being able to see the words, I can't remember which bits are different in the New Zealand version we do here.

I also forgot to wear shoes to choir practice a few weeks ago, and walked out the door wearing slippers. More alarmingly, this was not the first time I'd gone to choir wearing slippers. And don't forget the time I embarked on a 10-day road trip to the South Island wearing slippers.

Do you think there's a pattern here?

Friday, April 25, 2008

ANZAC Day, 2008

The choir from Mt. Albert Methodist Church (that's us) sang at the ANZAC service held at Mt. Albert Memorial Hall. We sing there every year. Prime Minister Helen Clark was the main speaker. She gives the speech there every year. It still amazes me how little fanfare there is when the leader of the nation is present at this dinky little community centre: anyone can attend, there's no metal detectors or bag checks or anything, no advance team of bomb-sniffing dogs, no motorcade. She simply arrived in a car with no entourage except 2 secret-service-type guys (who later sang along during the service) and sat in a folding chair, just like everyone else. It's all refreshingly low-key. As it is every year.

At last year's ANZAC service, we wrangled an introduction to Helen, and got to shake her hand and chat with her for a bit. This year, I elected not to impose myself on her, but if I had, I would have asked her about the recent Hillary Clinton gaffe concerning Helen. In an interview with a US magazine, Senator Clinton was telling a joke about the "Former Prime Minister, Helen Clark" ... but in fact Helen Clark is still the CURRENT Prime Minister. There have been plenty of laughs over here in New Zealand about Hillary's mistake, but I doubt if the American press has even realised that she misspoke.

After the service, we went back to the church for more choir practice, but not without a feed. Someone brought homemade ANZAC biscuits (cookies) which were softer and - naturally - better than the storebought ones. ANZAC biscuits, an oatmeal coconut recipe, became the biscuit of choice to mail to the troops during WWI because of their apparent unperishability, hence their name. They are really quite tasty, and an appropriate snack after the service.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"The dog ate my homework" and other excuses

"Mandy, Where's your myth?" I demanded as class began on Friday.
"Well, it's done but you see..."
"Do you have it? Yes or no?" I interrupted.
"Um. I was ..."
"So your answer is no. You'll be joining me for lunch detention. Today." And with that, I turned back to the rest of the class and proceeded giving the instructions for today's lesson.

On Monday, a big myth-writing assignment had been due in Year 7 Social Studies. Most girls turned in their work.
On Tuesday, I got a few more myths from those who'd been absent, and I nagged the last few slowpokes.
On Thursday, I announced lunch detentions for anyone whose myth wasn't turned in by Friday.
Unbelievably, on Friday there were still two girls, Mandy and Carrie, who didn't turn in their myth. It looked like I would be having 2 guests for lunch ... until Carrie announced that she couldn't come because she already had a detention with her PE teacher scheduled for that day. Mmm Hmm. Call me a cynic, but I needed to confirm Carrie's story with the PE teacher.

Then Carrie told me an even more suspicious story: Mandy's myth got stolen. Another Mmm Hmm. I'm having a bit of a hard time believing there is a black market for schoolwork. Furthermore, Carrie informed me, Mandy was too scared to tell me this herself so she sent Carrie with the news. Admittedly, that's not entirely accurate - Mandy tried to tell me herself but I kept cutting her off. I'd better go hear the whole incredulous elaborate story from Mandy. Do I sound like I have an open mind?

Mandy said her myth was at her Dad's house, and her Dad's house got robbed.
"Why would robbers want your myth?" I inquired, attempting to sound sincere, but not being entirely successful in masking my scepticism. What kind of stories will kids come up with next?
"Well, they didn't actually want the myth, they just used my school bag to load up their loot and the myth was in my school bag."
"Really. So all your other school books got stolen, too?" I am trying to sound sympathetic.
"Um, no. They dumped out all the other books but the myth was at the very bottom."
How convenient. Does she think I am that gullible? "Well, I'll be contacting your dad to let him know how important it is that you re-write it by Monday." I watched her eyes for a glimmer of panic. I expected her to start backpedalling at this moment, but she didn't. Could her story possibly be true?

I have a hard time knowing when to believe students. During 10 years of teaching, I couldn't help noticing that kids at this age (11-14) tended to blame every problem on something or someone other than themselves. When their document doesn't print, it's the computer's fault. When they get caught fighting, it was always The Other Guy who started it. When they get poor grades, it's because the teacher hates them. Then there was the time when a boy impersonated his mother over the phone. So. I get a little suspicious. Call it healthy scepticism.

First I contacted the PE teacher with the alleged lunch detention for Carrie. That part was true. OK. Maybe I'm a just little wary when it comes to students' excuses for avoiding detention.

Then I called Mandy's mum. Yes, Dad had been robbed.
Really? I'm gobsmacked. And a little embarrassed.
Sheepishly, I acted like the purpose of my call was to let her know that Mandy would be working on the myth over the weekend. Yes, thank you for your time.

And yet ...
I'm still the slightest bit distrustful. Could Mandy have asked her mum to lie for her?
Honestly, I really must stop thinking this way. I am far too suspicious.
Or am I?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Continental knowledge

One of the things I like about being a teacher is all the things I learn while I'm teaching. For instance, in one of the Social Studies assignments, there was a question asking what continent New Zealand is a part of.

My first reaction is to say New Zealand is an island and therefore not part of any continent. But when you think about it, Great Britain is an island, yet still considered part of Europe, isn't it? Japan is considered part of Asia. Um, wouldn't that mean that New Zealand is considered part of the Australian continent?

"ABSOLUTELY NOT!" say my colleagues. They're noticeably adamant that NZ is not a part of Australia. "First of all, Australia is not a continent."

"What? When I went to school in America, we learned that of the 7 continents, Australia was the only one that is both a country and a continent."

"No. It's called Australasia and it includes New Zealand and the South Pacific islands. Sometimes it's called Oceania. The correct answer is Australasia or Oceania"

So I went home and looked it up. Australia is indeed a continent according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, which seems like a pretty reputable source. (I mean, at least I'm not quoting Wikipedia or anything, although it too said Australia was a continent.) Australasia or Oceania may be regions of the world, but they are not names of a continent if you ask me. Not that I'm going to challenge my fellow teachers.

Ultimately I've decided that determining whether or not to include neighbouring islands in the definition of continent may well depend on the distance between the continent and the island. So I researched a few distances: England is 30 miles away from Europe, Japan is 120 miles away from Asia, but New Zealand is 1300 miles - yes 1300 miles - away from Australia. Therefore I would call New Zealand an island and not part of any continent. Who knows. Just don't ever accuse New Zealanders of being part of Australia. They get really touchy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Teen magazines

In my Y9 Social Studies class, the girls are studying women's rights throughout history. I am in heaven because it's a topic I love to rant about (ask my husband and four sons). And I work at an all-girls school which means I don't have to be worried about presenting a "balanced" view. Just kidding. But it's hard to explain female infanticide or dowries without sounding a bit biased. You should have heard me explain what a chastity belt was.

One of the assignments involved analysing a teen magazine. Good grief. Those things are wretched. In New Zealand, the teen magazines are called Dolly and Creme and Girlfriend, but I have a feeling they're similar all over the world. Since I didn't have any daughters, I haven't seen a teen magazine since I was a teen back in the dark ages. What a shocker. First of all, they're 90% advertising. And the rest is clothes and make-up tips, advice on how to get a boyfriend and celebrity pictures. Lots of celebrity pictures. The latest covers all seem to be plastered with images of the stars of High School Musical. (A Y7 student told me on the first day of school that the most important thing I should know about her is that she is going to marry Zac Efron. She's 12.)

My Y9 students all purported to be appalled at the content of the magazines, but couldn't help reading the horoscopes aloud and asking me if they could please tear out the centerfold picture of some cute guy, usually the aforementioned Zac Efron.

In spite of their infatuation with teen magazines, I was reassured when I saw their mis-analysis of a political cartoon from the New Zealand suffrage era. (Did you know that New Zealand was the first country IN THE WORLD to give women the right to vote?) My students were sure that the oversized, powerful woman towering over men was an indication that the cartoonist believed women should be able to vote. (In fact, it was anti-suffrage) But in their world, women have always been powerful. They live in a country with a woman Prime Minister. They have no personal understanding yet that a caricature of a powerful woman would be used as something threatening. Although their answers were incorrect, I found their naivete comforting.

I was also heartened by their response when assigned to write about a woman they admire. I was expecting them to pick someone like Angelina Jolie or - heaven forbid - Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham, but I was wrong. A few chose Mother Teresa or a sports figure such as New Zealand bicycle gold medalist (and Diocesan Old Girl) Sarah Ulmer. But most of them chose their mums or other female family members. There's hope yet.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bowling, New Zealand style

I went bowling today for the first time. Not the American kind of bowling where you go to a smoky building, wear ghastly shoes, and use your brute strength to wallop the living daylight out of 10 white pins. No, this is a more civilised kind of bowling with less walloping. More finesse. This is English bowls. Think old people in white suits drinking tea between turns. Well, that's what English bowls was supposed to be like. That's what the pros do. (Yes, there are pros!) We didn't actually wear white. Or drink tea.

But we did attempt to stand on a little mat and to hit the jack (the little white target ball) with our balls. And we tried not to bowl our balls into the ditch (the gutter at the far end where it'll go if you overshoot it). Basically, I think English bowls is the same as Italian bocci or French boules, although I'm not an expert on any of those versions either.

There might have been a more skilled but less humorous game if someone in our group had bowled before, but we were 2 newbies playing against 2 newbies. At least we were all equally clueless. The first thing one discovers is that the ball itself is weighted on one side so it's not meant to roll straight, which caused endless frustration for me. I suppose with practice, you'd master the behavior of the ball, but since this was our virgin bowling experience, it was just plain maddening. Still, I managed to hit the jack once and I think that scored us a point although I'm not entirely sure of the scoring system. In the end, my pathetic team lost to the still-pathetic-but-not-as-bad-as-us team. But now I know all about jacks and skips and rinks and touchers, and I can chalk up another Kiwi cultural experience.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jury Duty, New Zealand style

I was tickled when I got the letter asking me to serve as a juror in New Zealand. I'd lived in the US for 48 years and never got called to jury duty there, and now I got called after only living here for 2 years! Although many of my friends and colleagues recommended that I get excused, I wanted to serve. As a Social Studies teacher, I wanted to learn more about the justice system here. Think of it as Professional Development. And another step in my cultural experience education.

I dutifully showed up at the courthouse on Monday morning at 9:00, armed with a book to keep me entertained during the long waits. There were about 150 of us in the large holding room. My name was called to report for a rape case in Courtroom 3. Hurray!

They took about 25 of us potential jurors in and starting choosing names from a spinner, just like on Lotto. When my name was called, I gathered up my book and bag and started walking toward the jury box as instructed. But before I reached the juror seats, the defense lawyer called out "Challenge!" What? This meant he wanted to use one of his challenges to keep me off the jury.

I turned around and went back to my seat while grumbling to myself. What's wrong with me? I can be an impartial juror! While they finished choosing 12 perfect jurors, I tried to determine what made them more perfect than me. Did the lawyers want men on the jury? (yes) Young people or old people? Guys in suits or students in torn jeans? I decided it was the book that lost me a selection. I vowed not to look so literate next time.

Back in the holding room with the other rejects, I waited for my name to be chosen for another case. I couldn't help reading my book, but rationalised that the defense lawyers wouldn't see me in here.

Then my name was called again, this time to Courtroom 8 for a double rape case. I stashed my book and followed the line of potential jurors, assessing my chances of being chosen this time. The two defendants were standing in the dock, trying to look tough and intimidating. I hated them already. The first name called by the Lotto announcer was an older woman. They challenged her. They must not want old women. The second name was another old woman. No challenge. What? Why is she OK and the first one wasn't? I'll never understand this. My name was called by Mr. Lotto. With my book safely hidden in by backpack, I headed to the jury box but was challenged again anyway. Grrr.

Back to the holding room. Since there were no more trials beginning today, we were excused until tomorrow and I headed back to school for a few hours. When I told my colleagues about being rejected twice, they recommended that I wear holey jeans and a dirty T shirt saying something sux or maybe a beer ad ... then I might get chosen. Sorry, but I don't have any beer T shirts. I guess I don't have a very good chance of getting chosen either.

The next day, I repeated the process one more time, getting rejected yet again. I was sad. My big introduction to the NZ justice system turned out to be a big flop. I should have known things wouldn't go well when I took the bus to the courthouse on the first day and as I got on, a teenage girl gave up her seat for me. She was sitting in the front seats that are reserved for elderly or disabled. And she gave up her seat. For me.