Category Archives: Education

Homework – a sometimes subject of conflict

In NZ, schools at primary level are under a largely forgotten regulation that declares homework is not compulsory for pupils, and schools may not punish pupols for failing or choosing not to complete or even try it.

Sadly, many parents expect homework (and, also sadly, many parents do not care about it). Homework at primary school was, at ages five through c. seven, not given to us by teachers. Children were allowed – expected, even – to spend after school hours playing outdoors on sunny clear days, and inside on rainy or blasting cold days  read, coloured in, did jigsaw puzzles, play board games, or play with toys.

When I was in the class level at which I was first given homework, it was more like study: read a small book and list the difficult words,  practise writing letter shapes, prepare a ‘morning talk’, or find an interesting news clipping for the class to hear read…

At senior primary/intermediate levels, our homework would include a task requiring us to use a dictionary to find the meanings of a vocabulary list ready for a topical lesson the next day, or to practise story, letter or poem writing.

Fast forward to secondary school and, honestly, I cannot recall what homework was set. Oh, we were given homework to do. But my school was not anything like a public school. The lessons were utterly forgettable: I know for French we had to copy from the textbook word lists with their English translation. (Very little oral French in the classroom.) Latin, ditto – but the Catholic girls had a distinct advantage, having grown up hearing Latin in their church and in school prayers.)

I do remember in one class not a single pupil had done the set homework, and we were all ordered to the detention room that same afternoon to do it. Every girl who went to detention said to herself something like, “Well, no one else is here, and I’m not going to be a mug and stay”. So, nobody went to detention at all. The next lesson, that nun was abso-fuming-lutely furious. She strapped every one of the thirty plus girls in the class, on the palm of the hand with a non-regulation leather strap.

(Yes, strapping boys was allowed back then. Regulations defined the length, width and thickness of the strap, and ordered the strap was not permitted to have a handle. It was to be folded in half, and the teacher was to hold the two ends and strap with the looped end.)

By the time I’d built up some years of teaching, I had my own view of homework. No set word puzzles, no colouring-in pictures, no “busy work” sheets or “make work” sheets.

  • A reader known to the young child to read at home without needing help (re-reading easy books helps build fluency).
  • A handwriting exercise of the child’s choice (with an occasional suggestion of what to copy from – usually a well understood piece from a topic book, allowing the child to select the passage which interested them most).
  • Later, a school-day journal, in which to write about the day’s events at school. I allowed bullet-points, quotations, memories, confessions, questions…anything related to the lessons or social interactions.
  • Later again, the school day journal was for recording three things of importance from each of the day’s lessons or classes. Thursday’s added any questions about any problems they had with staff or other pupils.
  • At the eldest primary level, the class notes then included paraphrasing a paragraph each felt was the most important from the textbook.

See, what I was doing?
Gradually introducing responsibility for their own learning, and practicing real study skills.

Did it work?
Well, at my last school – students from ages eleven & twelve (Intermediate level, Years 7 & 8) would line up at the door of their Year Nine classes on the first day of the school year all prepared for learning. Students enrolled new from public schools would wander around, have no note paper, be short on pens and pencils, and took weeks to settle to study.
(I admit it… It felt great when their Year Nine teachers would come to me and say “I can tell who you taught last year. All your girls are good students!”)

As a parent of three, I don’t recall homework being given to my elder two.
The first was an advanced reader, five years ahead of the other five-year olds. We chose to home school him for years two and three, then he chose to return to school just after the year four began.
The second son brought home no homework. Then we learned he had been forging my signature in his homework list notebook (which he’d never shown us) for the year!
Our third, our daughter, brought home a reader every afternoon of her first year.

In her second year, she was in the school at which I was the sole charge teacher, with her young brother in his seventh year. They had the homework following the practices I described above. When they moved up to secondary school, they knew how to learn in class, and how to study at home. (Though there was a distinct gap between the knowing and the doing – and I never hassled them about it. It was their responsibilty, I felt.)

Over the years of teaching, I did have parents who expected worksheets and word lists, and I would supply them to their children – and see the gap widening between their study skills, and those of the ones who worked with my system; so, no regrets. None at all.

Kids glyph

I would love to read your opinion of the place for homework, the type of homework today’s parents expect or see being most useful, so please feel free to “talk” to me in the Comments below. I will respond to any feedback, I promise.

No Classroom “Rules”…

Here in NZ, our current Curriculum encourages allowing children to find their own way to explore their interest, to allow them the opportunity to use teacher feedback to plan their next goal (in all areas of the curriculum).

We’re encouraging “inquiring minds”, “thinking like a scientist”, “ownership of learning”…

So how great to read this teacher’s post at on
“Why I Don’t Have Classroom Rules”

No Classroom rules
Click th’ Pic for the article


Teaching the 3 states of H2O

via Photo Challenge: H2O

Immediately, a memory of a lesson on the ‘three states of matter’ arose. It was a science topic for the (NZ Intermediate School) Year 7 class. As we’d done, by the end of the school year (approaching Christmas and the eight week summer break), every other topic in science, I had left it to the end-of-year, for no particular reason.

We discussed the solid state, the liquid, and the gaseous. I demonstrated the difference between water as a gas and a vapour, not wanting them to think steam is the gaseous state.

I held the last science lesson over until the afternoon of the very last dismissal, letting them know they had to pass a practical test in that lesson.

At five minutes to three, I sent a runner to the school office for Mrs. X’s science test kit. He returned with a chilly bin (‘Eskie’, in Aussie), in which were thirty-two ice-blocks.

The practical test was to turn them from their frozen state to a liquid as rapidly as they could. They would pass the test and be dismissed for the holidays as soon as they’d completed the test.


Excited cries of delight as they saw the brightly coloured packages of lemonade flavored ice locks, ripping off wrapper, slurping and sucking. They all passed the test and were dismissed one by  one, although one early finisher stayed back until the others had all passed through the door.

He blew me away (and made me laugh uproariously) when he commented…

“I know how we turn that liquid into gas, Miss.”

I waited for the expected punchline…his cheeky grin showed something was coming.

“We’ll fart it out as gas!” he called as he turned and ran from the room.

~ ~ ~

Only in the last moment of the school year could he get away with that…but I would’ve laughed at any stage in the year – in the staffroom!


B is for Book, Bored and Below Compulsory School Age

Wonderful outlook on progress of early reading.


IMG_1859I’m not an early years teaching expert, but I have witnessed firsthand how ingrained a hatred of reading can develop in some children, and was acutely reminded of this when I watched the BBC 4 documentary ‘B is for Book‘.

As a former secondary school teacher who has tutored numerous children in English (boys in particular) for more than 15 years, I could plainly see how easily a love of books can be jeopardised very early on in a child’s life.

Shockingly, the BBC film showed children who were not yet naturally interested in reading and writing independently (much less the daily monotony of phonics and lacklustre books) being deprived of precious playtime as punishment for academic failure at just 4 and 5 years-old.

Why are we doing this to children???” I wanted to know.

View original post 1,065 more words

Calling NZ Primary Teachers

How deep in your memory can you dredge? Back to when you, yourself, were a pupil in a New Zealand classroom?

As far back as your junior years? Your middle school years? Your intermediate years? Your secondary school years?

Great – here’s what that means to me…

  • You are your own expert on your classroom experiences as a pupil/student!
  • You the best person to contribuute a piece of your memory to my nonfiction book in progress.
  • You will be given credit (and shared copyright) for your contribution.

Please write your memory in the first person, preferably in the “voice” of yourself at that age:

  • give me your name, the class you were in (Year 3, e.g.) your age at the time, and the year
  • change your name within the story
  • mention the school’s name, by all means.
  • change classmate’s names to something not recognisable to that person
  • show what happened to you, to the teacher, to the classmate
  • share the interactions between the people in your memory
  • include conversation where possible
  • write between five-hundred and eight-hundred words
  • (optional) write as if at that age–including spelling you know now was wrong, punctuation as you used it at the time

Send me the piece, attached to an email at this address:

  • McAennyl [at] outlook [dot] com
  • Set a Read Receipt so you are notified when I’ve read it; I will respond

In the email, tell me what you want done with your contribution if it is not included in the manuscript:

  • May I post it as a Guest Post on this blog?
  • Would you prefer it returned to you, unpublished?

Think about it…anything you blush now remembering, any ocassion in which you were the bully/perpetrator, any incident in which the class got out of hand (and what part did you take – heheh), the most engaging/exciting/fun lesson you took part in. the one thing you’ve always remembered about the classroom, the teacher, the building/s…whatever.

More than one contribution is welcome, especiallly if each covers a different class level or school.

2015-05-16 10.59.33

(Look at the lass with the class sign. She’s “zero”. Now count to your right 1 – 2 – 3. That’s me, back in the day, at Harley Street School, Masterton, Wairarapa; teacher was Mrs McBean)

Thanks for your interest, colleagues…






Make Mine a Time Machine!

 Oh, yessss…at last, knowing what I do now, I can get back to my   secondary school where two too many of the teaching nuns were — as we would have put it back then — totally bloody useless!
I’d not only take back with me knowledge enough to give the then younger me the confidence to take a complaint to Mother Superior, or to the parish council about the deficiencies of M’r C. and the younger M’r. C., but the basis for the charges — incompetency, memory deficiency, inability to present lessons to any plan, failing to cover the Biology curriculum, and mental instability.
If New Zealand’s Education Review Office would let a school review team travel back with me, they’d be able to find how sub-optimal was that college (Years 6 to 12, known as Secondary level in NZ) and give them one of the proverbial kicks up the back-side!

(You’ll learn more about the disastrous “education” {coughing fit} I experienced when my teaching & education book is released…)

Time And Relative Dimension In Space


 [Apologies–WordPress Post editor misbehaving for me today. Hence pic down here instead of at top of post.]

Response to Daily Prompt: Pick Your Gadget

Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?

5 Parenting Tips for Dummies

– or, How Not to Parent: a complicated subject I know about, and will explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.

Okay, fellow parent-dummy. Here are a few tips… picked up from my own muck-ups, and observations on what Not to do.
Unless you want to be a parent-dummy, of course.

First Tip (i.e. My worst muck-up)

If you’re a teacher and contemplating an impending childbirth – Keep right on Teaching!
I did for my first trimester, then quit. BUT (second child at school, and me teaching as a reliever a class of ages eleven to twelve) I took my third baby to visit my class, all of whom fell over themselves in the rush to see what Mrs S. had produced. And, believe it or not, those rushing most were the boys. They were so sweet with my baby daughter, (and confided so accurately (as I was advised quietly by the Principal, later) the inadequacies of their replacement teacher) I softened up, and baby was in day care full time from three months to when she was of school age. And I kept teaching. For years.

Now we have all joked how the last person to fix a dripping tap at home is the parent who is a plumber. Similarly, if married to an electrician, one does not expect the fuse to be replaced, nor the hair drier to be repaired. The gardener is the last person on whom to call for landscaping his own garden.
Sad to say, a tired teacher at end of day finds it hard to interact as a mother to the children at home.

Second Tip (i.e. A Dummy move some parents do make)
Buy for your crawler rug-rat those books with tags, tabs, flip-ups etc.
Supposed to involve the young ‘un in the story, it doesn’t do it. It teaches them that books are tactile things, not something with a story to which baby listens, until years later s/he reads it on his/her own for pleasure in both the story and the achievement.

The worst of these “action” books I’ve ever seen, after five weeks only, had been chewed on, slobbered on, and ripped, torn, shredded… Nngaargh!

Third Tip (i.e. Another dummy move some make)

Take on all the parenting. After all, your partner has worked so hard all day to earn the family income … you cannot expect him/her to bath children, serve the evening meal, feed the baby, clear the table, do the dishes, fold the nappies (diapers) and other laundry … relaxation is a right, at the end of a working day!

This will result in the child/ren feeling they can totally ignore their working parent in matters of discipline, advice, school support, etc. and may also result in the children feeling Mum’s too tough, doesn’t understand.
Worse, it can lead to the children learning to play one parent off against the other.
If the working partner resents being asked to parent – sorry, you picked a wrong ’un; should have discussed this ‘way back before conceiving.

Fourth Tip (i.e. Another of my muck-ups)
Choose a day-care facility at which the staff greet your child first thing with
“Good morning {name}, don’t you look good today!”

Instead, demand they compliment your child with a remark on how they have managed preparing themselves for the day. For example:
“Good morning, {name}—haven’t you combed your hair well /chosen sensible clothes for the sandpit, today!” (Or similar)
See Fifth Tip for further explanation….

Fifth Tip (i.e. Another of my muck-ups)
Buy your young daughter a Barbie, a Barbie-clone, a Bratz…doll. Continue buying the doll new outfits, accessories, play houses…all the shite the brand can push.

From this she will learn appearance is everything, not accomplishment. She will throw hissy fits in the mornings because she’s already worn that outfit to kindy, and while her histrionics may give a sense of parental pride in her drama abilities, her self esteem will become reliant on other people’s real or imagined opinions.
Girls with low self-esteem are fair game in their teens for all sleaze bags.
Boys with low self-esteem may defy it with bullying, manipulation, or maybe by finding a sympathetic male figure.


I could go on and give more tips for Parenting for Dummies, but this is titled 5 Tips, so that’s it for now.  I Hope you enjoyed this bit of fun, and I didn’t upset or offend you.