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A while back, someone on Twitter wrote a post about What Is Wrong With Teaching, about how students shouldn't be stuffed with information. Well, der! We don't do this any more. Sometimes the attempt not to do it, mind you, can go over the top. One PD woman turned up in a costume to show us how to attract attention!(I can just see myself turning up at class in a yachting get-up like hers... The way the kids would react doesn't bear thinking about!) We keep being told we have to "engage" them, one of the latest buzz terms. And that word "pedagogy"! I have a vague memory that the pedagogue was the slave who walked children to school, not the actual teacher, though I could be wrong. :-)

Anyway, it brought back memories of teachers who "engaged" me. Odd how many of them were when I was in Year 11. There was my history teacher, Miss Russell, who, on the one hand, made us stand by our desks till she was satisfied no one was going to talk and then spent more of the period telling us we mustn't waste time! However, once the lesson got going, she had much to offer. She remembered pre-World War II Italy and told us about her desperate urge to draw moustache and glasses on huge portraits of Mussolini. She told us of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a "how it nearly didn't work" story and very entertaining it was. And what was best of all, she was the first teacher who encouraged us to question what was in the history books, on the lines of, " what's in it for him? Was he a friend of the dictator whose biography he wrote?" and so on. An improvement on the history teacher who left us to become a folk singer, though I wished him well.

The same year I had an art teacher, Mr Saunders, who encouraged me in my work, making small suggestions and somehow improving my standard till I was told it was good enough for me to do art in Year 12. My Year 11 English teacher, Miss Wellsford, got me interested in Richard III and brought her guitar in and sang us the little ditty about the bridge disaster and Henry Bolte, that went to the tune of "Michael row the boat ashore".

Of course, there were others. I rather fancied our Year 7 history teacher, Mr Watkins. :-) It helped he was young and good looking(He looked a lot like Dewey Martin, who was the hero of the film Land Of The Pharaohs) But one thing he taught us, about the handmaiden in the huge Mesopotamian burial, the one with the silver ribbon in her pocket, stuck in my mind and eventually made its way into my book Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology. It turned out to have been in Leonard Woolley's account of his excavation at Ur. There was our Year 10 French teacher, who showed us a nonsense word that proved the weirdness of the English language.You write "ghoti" which, using several strange English pronunciations, should read"fish". I still use this in my literacy classes to show ESL kids that, no, they're not going crazy. I want to thank all those teachers - and others - for enriching my life.
Dear "Head Of Library",

I read your article in a librarian journal. It was about improving schools' perceptions of teacher-librarians.

Which is absolutely fine, I'm all in favour of getting some respect from the administration. It's when you spent your entire article giving advice to "library teams" to remind everyone that they are teachers as well as librarians that I started to wonder what kind of schools you've been working in lately. I looked you up and found you'd been "head of library" at a couple of private schools and were now working part time at another private school and enjoying the break from being in charge. You did say you'd worked at some state schools, though not which ones, and I suspect they were nice middle-class ones in areas where the parents can afford private education but have chosen to send their kids to a state school. They're the kind of schools where you can put a laptop computer on the book list and know parents will buy it.

Well, I'm head of library too, as I'm the only teacher-librarian on my campus. My team consists of me and a two-day-a-week library technician and I'm lucky to have her. If she retired or left, I would be alone. It saves money. They don't cover her any more when she has to take time off. They used to.

And I don't have to remind anyone that I'm a teacher, because, despite being the sole TL, I also have to teach classes. For that matter, so does a friend of mine who is now working at a private girls' school, who is only a little better off than me in staffing, though I bet her budget is better.

What I really want is to have my job as a librarian recognised, stuff the teaching side of it! I'd like to have a support team like yours, Head Of Library, to be able to get together and do great things that cost money, then pat ourselves on the back for being terrific librarians and also teachers(don't forget!)

But you do what you can. I haven't had time to do things like Readers' Cup, though I probably should invite kids to do the Premier's Reading Challenge. It's better if you have support from the English staff, but it can be done informally.

I have been able to do book launches and get in the newspapers for those events. I'm running a student book club, which helps choose books for the library and goes on excursions when I can arrange something cheap for them. I write a book blog and occasionally invite students to interview authors, said interviews going on to my blog.

I've been lucky, as a writer, to have some fellow writers offer us a freebie(they get fed and gifted and newspapers are called, the best I can do, since I can't pay them). We're members of YABBA, which offers the occasional freebie too.

I've done virtual readouts with the kids for Banned Books Week. Hey, it's free and they love it!

My colleagues and the kids know what I do. I wish the admin did.

But please, Head Of Library, stop giving advice to people who have had greater challenges than you.

Thank you.

Voting in the cold and wet...

Ah, Melbourne! Whoever arranges the seasons seems to have forgotten that winter is over in Melbourne and left the cold water tap on. The sun is out, but it's still wet.

And I still had to go and vote. I left my umbrella at home, so stopped at a discount shop to buy one. It cost me $10 and wouldn't stay up. I had to hold it pushed open. Before voting I went to pick up a parcel from the post office and found it was my tax return form to be signed, not a book for reviewing(At least I'm getting a refund this year, though I had to pay more than that recently for my last year's writing income). I had to place it into a plastic bag to keep it dry, then spent time over a pot of tea deciding who got my Council vote this time. My main bag was soaked underneath and while I ordered I left it on the chair, which became wet...and I sat on it. :(

I bought a new umbrella after the vote. I had to.

Not a good day, so far, and still pouring outside.

Still, I'm inside! curled up with Gillian Polack's intriguing novel The Wizardry Of Jewish Women, which I want to finish before handing it to my mother, who has been demanding it.

At least I'm dry again.

Preparing for Council Elections

Next weekend there are the local council elections around Melbourne. Some, such as my mother's ward, were sent postal vote slips. Mine still has polling booths, which at least gives me a week to make up my mind. At least this time I know where to go; last time I went to a booth right near home, at the Town Hall, which was wrong for my ward. A lot of others did too. Afterwards, I got a letter telling me I hadn't voted. I told them I had, and didn't hear again.

It seems odd to have to think about who I want to arrange my rubbish collection and save the local landscape, but really, with so many candidates from political parties, and others claiming to have no party affiliations but having past connections with parties, I feel obliged to research them as I did before the Federal elections. Fortunately, there are a couple of parties that I looked up for the Senate elections, so remember. The names sound innocuous but the parties have policies I consider over-the-top at best. Unfortunately, I have to give all of them a place on the ladder and there are several I want to put on the bottom.

And there's the candidate who has been on another council, where he was best known for enjoying council banquets. Harmless? Maybe, but I want something better.

So, time to Google some names again. There may be things I've missed.

A Day At The Show

On Tuesday, my friend and colleague Jasna and I went to the Royal Melbourne Show. It's a silliness I've been able to indulge since I became an adult and could make that decision. I did go with my mother as a child, but when you're little you go where your family wants to go. I don't recall my first visit, but I was about three and somewhere my mother has a newspaper cutting in which I'm part of a group of children leaning over the pig enclosure.

And the showbags! Kids love them. They're so full of promise, though they're often just big bags of sweets and cheap toys. I've seen a scrunched-up showbag on the ground after the owner has eaten everything in it. They used to be free samples of the wares of various businesses, but that was well before my time, and they are very expensive now. I remember looking wistfully at other kids' heaps of bags, while I was allowed one, the Coles showbag, which was the cheapest, for good reason. It usually included some cheap plastic toys and an old issue of a comic book which was multi-volume, so in the middle of whatever story it was.

When I grew up and thought to get a showbag or two, just because I could, I ended up deciding against it. These days they have to list what's in each bag and none of it seemed worth buying, even to give to my younger family members.

Tuesday was the nicest day of this week so far. The sun was out as it should be on a day when you want to wander among animal enclosures and such. I packed a picnic lunch of sorts, including a thermos, because the food and drink at the Show are not the cheapest, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to spend anything. I always buy some honey from the apiarists' stand and usually olive oil from the growers. And, if I can, lavender products from Serendipity Farms, and order daffodil bulbs for my balcony garden. The lavender, oil and bulbs didn't happen this year as I couldn't find any of those stalls, but I bought a jar of Mountain Honey for a honey cake I hope to make for Rosh Hashanah, and I ended up buying three jars of jam! The first was marmalade from the Country Women's Association and the others from a fruit farm stall - apricot and yellow nectarine with raspberry. I also bought a pretty cup and saucer from a seller in the Chinese pavilion(the crockery was made in Japan!) Jasna bought four cups and saucers, but had to go and find somewhere to break her note as he didn't have a float for change. She bought some Chinese tea from Yunnan Province.

We took a look at a stall selling pots and pans, but gave it a miss. You could only buy their wares at the Show or by letting one of their sellers into your home. After my experience with a salesman from Reenaware, no way! I told them the story. "It will only take twenty minutes and you get a free gift for listening, " he promised. It took two hours and he only went when I finally made it clear that I wasn't buying. It was good stuff, and if he'd been willing to sell me a single pot or pan I would have bought, but he kept trying to sell me $3000 sets and I didn't HAVE that kind of money to spare! He wouldn't believe me. I did make him give my sister and me the "free gift", a small but sharp knife.

We watched the cattle show in the Livestock Pavilion. It was about the teenagers competing and their ability to control the steers they were leading, not about the cattle. There were quite a few girls among them, including one who was leading a very restive white steer, and controlling him very well. I think she won her round. There was a knowledgeable gentleman behind us, who kindly explained it all to us. We were really only there for a rest, but it was interesting.

I wanted to see some horses - and as we left the Livestock Pavilion, we saw that the arena was showing beautifully turned out horses and their riders trotting, cantering and walking around, like something out of a Pullein-Thompson novel. I'd have preferred the show jumping or, even better, a demonstration of working horses, but hey, they were horses!

We finished our wander at the Arts and Crafts pavilion. Jasna, an art teacher, has entered her students' work in the past. She hadn't been able to do it this year and sneered at some of the entries that her kids could have done better, but there was a lot of good stuff and the cake decorating was very impressive. I've considered entering some of my original needlepoints, but never got around to it.

We finished the day at the Country Women's Association cafeteria, having scones with cream and jam, and a cup of tea; by that time it was not as busy and we could sit down.

By yesterday the weather was wintry again. I'm glad I went on Tuesday!

9/11 - I Remember...s

I was working at our Senior Campus at the time. Heck, I'm currently teaching teenagers who weren't even born then!

My school is multicultural all right - we have kids from around the world, quite a few just learning English now. Religion-wise, we have Christians of various flavours, Buddhists, Muslims.... Every year we're reminded when it's Ramadan and some of the kids will be fasting - or taking the same day off to celebrate the end. We adjust for that. It's just the way of things. I remember one boy who used to get a suit for his end of Ramadan gift every year(Id?). He just liked suits. When the Year 12 formal came along(Senior Prom to Americans)he was the only boy who didn't have to rent one. I think he may have been there before the events of 9/11.

In general, with so many different nationalities - and the occasional Indigenous or even Anglo student - if you wanted friends, you had to make them among people who had totally different cultures from your own. Which was and is fine with them.

And then there was The Day. Well, the day after. One of our girls had a brother who worked at the World Trade Centre. She and her family had been waiting all night to find out what had happened to him. To their relief, they discovered he hadn't been at work that morning. He'd been to a party the night before and had a right royal hangover! But it must have been a horrible night for them.

Our students were assembled and asked not to harass their Muslim classmates - which they didn't.

There was only one student who misbehaved. And he was a Muslim, a boy of Lebanese background. I describe it that way because he probably hadn't ever seen Lebanon. If he had, it might have been in a brief family trip.

I remember that particular boy, because he liked me. And one day when he was having a harangue about Jews, I told him I was both Jewish and Israeli. "Oh, Miss, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he said and meant it. And after that, when he brought the matter up, I'd say, "If I can leave the Middle East War at home, so can you." And he did.

Well, when he heard that thousands of Evil Americans had died the day before, he was rejoicing and laughing his stupid head off. He was boasting and celebrating among his classmates who had never had a go at him, ever.

He had to be spoken to by the principal. Whether he learned anything or not, I don't know. I doubt it.

I remember hearing about Sikhs being attacked because the attackers thought the turban was Muslim. Even if it had been, what right did those idiots have to stage pogroms?

We have rednecks here too, including one who has turned up again like a bad penny after being thrown out twenty years ago, Pauline Hanson. Last time it was the Yellow Peril she was having a go at. And this time she's in the Senate, demanding a Royal Commission into Islam and a halt to Muslim immigration. Sound familiar?

Census Night is coming - not yet!

Well, after all the discussion about doing the census on-line, I find I can't. We were assured the up-to-date browser was only for officials. Not true. I went to the web site because apparently it will let you through, and it seemed simpler than waiting till everyone else in the country was doing it, and tried to log in.

The message I got was that my browser - and my operating system - were out ofdate and could I please try another device? If I can't do that, give them a call to order a paper form. I got an automated message asking for the login number, then it thanked me and hung up. I assume this means they will send me the paper form now, but I didn't speak to a human being. My sister did, when she rang to order one for our mother, and was assured that the census was due in September, whatever she had been told, and didn't have to be handed in immediately. The form will arrive within 7 working days. (Apart from the fact that the new Aussiepost is now slow and more expensive. So maybe 9 working days?)

For those of you who don't live in Australia and may not have heard, there has been a lot of anger over the government's decision to keep our names  for four years instead of the 18 months they need to process the data. Four years - in other words, till the next census. And as it's being done on-line, there is the danger of having our details stolen. Not to mention the danger of the government using them for things we won't be happy about.

"Oh, but it's so easy for them to find you anyway!" we hear. "You're on social media. They know about you!" Yes. But not neatly arranged for whenever they want to look up, say, all the Jews in Australia, or all the Muslims, etc. And with the recent election there are a number of truly dangerous Senators, including one who thinks we should be teaching climate denial in the schools(he used to work in the coal industry); if he doesn't believe the Earth is flat, he comes close to it. And he is one of those who want the Racial Discrimination Act altered in the name of "freedom of speech", ie we should be able to be horrible to anyone we want, but we'll sue the pants off them if the shoe is ever on the other foot."  By the way, he got in with just 77 votes - the rest he got because he was second on the list for that party. They may have the balance of power.

A lot of people are going to be Jedi Knights this year, and the information will not be accurate. And the web site will crash tomorrow night.

Hopefully, they will get the idea soon enough.
This year, our English co-ordinator retired and the new one decided that instead of gathering in groups according to year levels, each campus would be put in charge of working on the curriculum for a year level. Mine got Year 9. I contribute what I can, but I don't teach Year 9. The last time I did it was Year 9 ESL, about 2006-7. And that was different from now. Very different! However, not a lot of change was made here, just some work done on what is already being taught.

Another campus was put in charge of Year 8.

Now, we had planned out this year's program. In Term 3, we would spend part of the term doing Literature Circles. This is a program where students get into groups to read a book, depending on their reading levels, and the reading is followed by some writing, in our case a creative response to the text studied. It has worked very well - kids get to discuss and contribute and be marked on their contributions. We were also going to do plays - the last time I did that I ended up having to write a play, comparing it with the short story from which it was taken, followed by students doing podcasts of the play. The school hasn't got much in the way of class sets of plays and other campuses had borrowed the few we had. But it worked.

Then there is essay-writing or story-writing or both.

Not any more. The staff from the campus doing Year 8 completely rewrote the curriculum for this term. I mean, completely! And we first got to see it a few days before the end of last term. It involves "what it is to be Australian" and "how good are you at listening?" and preparing a presentation using something called Powtoon, to which the school has to subscribe(as far as I know, that hasn't happened yet). It involves the students preparing an animated presentation with their voices over, stating what being Australian means to them.

The problem is, apart from a two-week trial, there was no way to learn how to use it until the school subscribes, so I asked if I might, instead, use iMovie, which is easily available on the school's iPads, and which I know how to use and can teach the kids. It's not really much harder than PowerPoint and looks a lot more impressive. I was given permission, after making an iMovie and showing them.

But the people concerned have prepared an entire unit of work, complete with lesson plans and support material. You just have to teach it, it seems.

So I made a start on Monday. I fiddled a bit with the lesson plan, as I do with my Literacy classes, because not everything will work with every class and the unit's writers had forgotten that not everyone has access to an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, as they do at that campus. I had to book our interactive whiteboard room, which just doesn't have space, short of moving the tables and chairs around, to form a line from "Not at all Australian" to "Aussie, oy,oy,oy!" and then explain why you chose as you did. The thing is, I have a very small class and and, to be honest, while they would co-operate, most would cringe. I know the teacher who probably designed this bit and she could certainly get the kids going with her enthusiasm for it, but I don't think I could.

The kids did co-operate, did help me out with it, but I'm not sure how many of them enjoyed it.

I also found that not all the details fitted into one period. It involved showing them a Youtube video, doing some moving around, discussing, brainstorming and finishing with a written activity.

I managed to get most of it done, but not the written activity. There just wasn't time.

I was supposed to mark them on their speaking, but didn't have time for that either, and some of the rubric points were a bit puzzling. I mean - what do we mean when we are deciding if a student has spoken "sensitively"?

I really need to sit down with the whole unit and rewrite it so it will work for my students. That's going to take a lot of work!

First posted on my book blog, The Great Raven, where it had over 500 hits but not, so far, a single comment. And by the way, I am told that, in fact, we're reading a backlog of stories, only halfway through that, and not reading new subs till September, when hopefully the backlog will be finished. If anyone is interested in slushing, send your inquiry to a gentleman called Wayne Harris, whose email you'll find on the web site. The job doesn't pay and you don't even get a free copy, but it's good to see how this part of publishing works, especially if you're a writer yourself and want to see it from the other side. My sister does one story a week and enjoys it. I am doing five, can't bring myself to do more, given the number of long stories they send me!

This morning I've been tweeting a number of posts I've written over the years on the subject of slushing. Good posts, all of them, but they got very few hits, for some reason, apart from the ones labelled "ASIM needs YOU to Slush!" or some such.

I am going to write another one, anyway, and maybe this time there will even be a comment or two?

Having dropped off the ASIM team for personal reasons, I've decided to continue with the slush reading, for which you don't need to be a member, but they paused for some months in reading submissions. Now it's back to business and over the last four weeks I have read twenty stories and passed on one to the next round. And I'm not sure that I should have passed that one on. The fact that I can't remember what it was about should tell you something about it.

You see, I'm being more picky these days. Or maybe I've just been sent worse stories. The guy doing slush these days, with the retirement of Lucy Z, assures me I'm doing the right thing. Another friend still on the committee tells me they're being more picky too - perhaps too picky if, as she thought, a story now has to get a score of 3 to get into the slushpool - I told her that I couldn't remember ever seeing a story get a score better than 4! Three readers all giving it the top score of 1 is highly unlikely. I rarely gave even a wonderful story better than 2. It had to be something I thought would be an award-winner to get a 1 from me.

I do wish we had more people subscribing than submitting, instead of the other way around. That way, the magazine would be selling better and people would have a better idea of what's publishable and what isn't. Even if they just buy one ebook as a sample!

But no. I sometimes suspect that many American stories we receive, from that country of many SF publications, are trying us because they were rejected - rightly! - by all of the magazines back home. They get rejected here too. It would be nice to think they take the hint and retire those stories and try writing something else.

This isn't always the case. We've published early stories by the likes of Jim C Hines and Ann Leckie and others who went on to win Hugos and Nebulas. Early fiction, mind you. Once they can get paid lots more back home, they sell there - and I don't blame them for that. But still - good writers do send us stuff that could possibly have been published in their own country if they wanted. And our local international bestseller, Sean Williams, sent us a very short story set in his Twinmaker universe and was happy to do so. He mentioned it somewhere on line. And I published some wonderful stories by U.S. submitters in ASIM 60. They just aren't established writers; perhaps they will do well in future. I hope so.

Again, I'm reading in hopes of feeling the way I did when I opened, say, "The Wine Endures" by Anthony Panegyres(I published that in ASIM 50)or "What The Carp Saw(And Could Not Tell While Alive)" by Christine Lukas(I published that in ASIM 56, along with a terrific story by Lyn Battersby which I chose because we needed an extra story)or that beautiful story "Return Of The Queen" by an author whose name I've forgotten, as it was so long ago and he has never made any further sales, alas!

I keep hoping!

So, just a little advice for future submitters whose stories may end up in my inbox, if you want to get to Round 2.

1. Get your grammar right. It's not the editor's job to fix it for you, unless you're paying someone to do it, and sending a story that is full of grammatical errors, as opposed to the odd typo, just shows the lack of professionalism of the author.

2. If sending from outside Australia, don't make local jokes and references and assume readers overseas will understand them. If I don't know what they are, I'll reject the story out of hand.

3. Kill your darlings. If a story is long, every bit of it needs to move the story on. If it doesn't, get rid of it. I should add that when I have been sent several stories to read, guess which one has to wait longest to hear from me? Right! The longest one. It's a practical way for me to get through all of them as quickly as possible. And you know what? I have rarely read a story nine or ten thousand words long that didn't need a lot of pruning. While ASIM will occasionally take a longer story, it has to be brilliant. There is a limit to the wordage for each issue and if you're a subscriber who hated the longest story, you'd feel cheated, right?

4. Don't submit a story that is number 6 in a so-far unpublished series which makes reference to things that happened in previous stories. And absolutely don't offer the whole series! Each issue is edited by a different person who can't be expected to commit a section of their issue to the latest episode of your magnum opus. Put the damned things together and try selling them as a novel somewhere. Don't try selling them to a magazine unless it does series and says so on its web site. If it turns up in my inbox, I am likely to reject it. If it's good, perhaps I'll reject it regretfully - but if it can't stand alone, I'll reject it.

5. Ask someone to look at your story before submitting it anywhere and see if it makes sense. I've read a lot of stories in the last few weeks which made no sense to me. I said so, and why, in my comments.

6. Finally, check your market, even if it means shelling out a bit of money to read a magazine. If you sell, you can claim these things on tax. If not, at least you'll have had an enjoyable read or decided that this magazine is not for you.

Well, now, off to read this week's slush - four short pieces, one long one. Fingers crossed I will be weeping at the beauty of at least one of them!

On Baking Again

I've done it twice - once the test run with a packet cake, the second time a pizza. This time it's brown bread with caraway seed topping. It's baking now.

My new oven is fairly small, so I'm limited, but I can use a loaf tin, as long as it's not too big, and as there are two racks in the oven I will be able to do biscuits on small trays. I have bought four of them, which will let me bake two trays, then swap them for another two. It will take longer, but can be done.

I bought a loaf tin for bread at the London and American Supply store. It has tiny holes to allow the air to circulate, perfect in a convection oven, where the fan stirs the air around what you're baking.it's not long, but it's broader than the old loaf tin I used to use for banana cake.

Fingers crossed it works out!

Next will be macaroons, which were my specialty when I had my full sized oven.

I won't be sharing this loaf, though, even if it's good, due to having a cold. But it will be nice to have a slice or two with the veggie soup my sister brought me a while back.

Hmm, smells good!

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