‘Cheeky Postcards: Lessons learned from being a trainer on TEFL courses’ by Daniel Baines

TEFL Equity Advocates

daniel bainesA teacher trainer, Daniel Baines, sheds light on the alleged advantages of native English speakers as language teachers from his experience on intensive initial teaching training courses. Daniel’s bio can be found below the article.

Intensive teaching certificate courses, or TEFL courses, flourish throughout Europe and a cross-section of a TEFL school at any given time during an intensive course shows an interesting and unique habitat.

In the classrooms: The future teachers, usually a mix of US, British and Australian citizens garnished with a bunch of Canadians and / or New Zealanders and one or two non-native English speakers. The trainees vary in their backgrounds and motivations. Many of them in their twenties, some far from it. Some undergrads, some career changers, some on their Euro trip, some serious, some not so much.

In the tutors’ office: A handful of trainers, trying to grasp the new course, making nerdy schwa…

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It’s challenging to keep on making art in a world that views worth in terms of dollars. I make hardly any money as an illustrator and a writer – perhaps, if I were more ambitious, I would – but I feel like I am ambitious, just in all the wrong ways. I want what I do to have value but am constantly plagued with the thought that it doesn’t. Still, I keep on writing things and drawing things, hoping that they might bring someone pleasure, they might record something that others have missed, they might prompt somebody to think differently about the world. Or maybe art-making for me is some useless Pavlovian response. I see pen – I pick it up and draw. We will all soon be dead.

On Friday, it was reported that CNZ would have a cut in funding thanks to there being less Lotto money to go around this year…

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#aWaterStory: The Artist in Residence Project Begins

…but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.

For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel like I was on my own striving to make something happen. I’d become pretty down – probably lacking energy and faith, which periodically happens.

A group of teachers had met with me to be informed about the Artist in Residence and multi media/lingual project I will be spearheading at the school next week. We ran the meeting in Spanish which was fun because a number fo the teachers had never heard me speak their language (we usually ran our classes in English as that’s the langauge we’re working on). They were impressed with my level, which was nice, but more importantly, I became another person to them when I used their language. I stepped through the veil to be closer to them.

I found myself watching as the idea I had proposed was being taken on. I was looking for the first time at companions and co-makers. What made it easier was tht I was presenting a story and a project of investigation about themselves – a great flood that had covered most of the city and ruined part of it in 1961.

I watched as the group began to discuss their recollections and knowledge, one whatsapped her mother to see what she knew and was feeding us with information. We discovered that an elderly nun of the college was here at the time and the school itself was flooded with a metre of water. The history teacher was getting enthused at the prospect of oral history collecting and the cultural value of the exercise.

I insisted too that the project is about the process – I will be documenting as much as I can, so that teachers can reflect on how it goes, where learning happened, where it didn’t, how they teach, how langauge is dealt with, how learners are supported, or not. As an artist I’ll be reflecting on how we communicate, how we connect with community, the content itself adn our responses in video and in my own visual work.

Identity Series Part IV: I am a Disconnect

Identity Series Part IV: I am a Disconnect: The verbous and eloquent person that I might be at the dinner table in my own community has become a less talkative one, well practiced at nodding, ohhing and ahhing in agreement with conversations, so deftly covering up the fact that I haven’t actually understood 100% of it, I hardly notice. My habit of filling in the gaps with soft gauze is refined, as an illiterate person is at hiding their disability. Defaulting into the state of disconnect .

Image: “The Disconnect” mixed media on linen, by Emma Louise Pratt. Reuse by permission of the artist.

A few days ago I watched a short video on a news feed of women in the UK reacting to David Cameron’s insistance that immigrants should “learn English or leave”.

I particularly liked one reaction of an immigrant, which was to state that the English had never made much effort to learn the languages of the countries they had colonised. It was my default reaction to “like” this, given my New Zealand experience of what colonisation does.

In the late nineteenth century, Māori children were told to leave their language at the door of the classroom and only speak in English at school. It was reinforced with admonishments and corporal punishment in some schools. Parents wanted them to have the economic and social advantages of being educated in and through English. It came with a cultural price.

As a language teacher, we still insist that learners try only to use the language they are learning in the classroom and not fall back on their mother tongues – luckily for most, corporal punishment is a thing of the past!

Learning the language of the host country, the invaders or the economically dominant

Being forced or coerced into learning the language of the host country, the invaders or the economically dominant is nothing new. Two thousand years ago, Romans who could, were having their children educated in Greek. It gave their children access to superior education and the economic benefits that trading with the Greeks and any greek influenced area afforded.

My own Great Great Grandfather learnt his lessons in another language -French. He would have spoken his indigenous Jèrriais tongue in everyday life on the island of Jersey outside the classroom. Jèrriais*** is an ancient form of Norman language which falls under the umbrella of Romance Languages. He also studied German, and was at home in Hebrew and Ancient Greek. As his father was English, he could speak English fluently too which wasn’t so common. Lucky for him though, as he was going to need it. Native Gaelic speakers of the Hebrides even into the 1970s were instructed in English as the vehicular language. Children were expected to know English by the time they started school.

After eleven years spent in a country where the main language spoken is not my mother tongue, speaking from my personal experience, failing to try to learn that dominant language, politics aside, only leads to cultural and social isolation. And very importantly, it severely restricts your liberties.

I am an immigrant. Living on the edges of a society at times it seems. When local friends ask me about how I get on, I liken not being fluent, to living with a level of hearing loss. I am lucky to have reached a sufficient level to manage daily life without trouble now. It’s taken time, and I can see that the edges of this host community where I live, ebb and flow like a tide. Sometimes I feel fully integrated, other days like a complete outsider.

Not fully understanding a language limits how you can function in a new community. It makes dealing with a bank, the tax department, buying a home, a car, getting a licence, studying, all harder. Here, I’m more likely to be cheated. And imagine not knowing your rights? Your rights and those of your children to health care, to safety? Often, because you can’t engage, other people end up doing things for you. Your personal sovereignty is handed over.

You become so accustomed to the loss, you stop noticing it.

This daily helplessness with dealing with a world outside your own community grows and takes you over. Even after all these years, and with a good command of the language, I still cannot function at the level of my native tongue in terms of wit and quickness, nuance and shades of meaning. The verbous and eloquent person that I might be at the dinner table in my own native language has become a less talkative one, well practiced at nodding, ohhing and ahhing in agreement with conversations, so deftly covering up the fact that I haven’t actually understood 100% of it, I hardly notice. My habit of filling in the gaps with soft gauze is refined, as an illiterate person is at hiding their disability. Defaulting into the state of disconnect .

A much loved mentor of mine once said, and I often remind myself of it, that a body of water that is fed by no stream and goes nowhere, becomes stagnant.

How can I reach out and know another world or point of view if I haven’t got the language skills to engage? We may find the language to be the language of the occupiers, but if it is the only vehicle to freedom, what choice have we?

The problem, when I see people being forced into learning a language, is that they won’t learn it well, and certainly won’t love it. I’ve experienced it as a teacher first hand. It’s heart-breaking. Language is a taonga**. I side with immigrant woman against David Cameron in this. How many languages do you speak David?

In Spain, young children, my four year old daughter’s age, are attending English language classes after school. Much like their ancestors of the Roman Empire, parents hope to give their children an advantage in the competitive job market, and it’s obligatory to have an upper intermediate level of a foreign language to be able to graduate from university in the European Union. The wheels of history turn.

My Great Great Grandfather left his island at age fifteen to go to the Australian gold fields with his parents. He continued to study languages and became a teacher, moving to New Zealand. The final language he became fluent in and loved was Te  Reo Māori*. He died in 1913.


*A national census undertaken in 2013 suggests there were approximately 125,000 speakers of Māori (around 21 % of all Māori and around 3 % of all people living in NZ). However, the survery Te Kupenga undertaken by Statistics NZ in 2013 suggests there were approximately 50,000 (11 %) Māori adults who could speak Māori well or very well. Many of the very fluent speakers of Māori were likely to be over 65 years old.

Moriori, an earlier indigenous language is now extinct and has not had any native speakers since the 1930s (though the language has been recorded reasonably extensively in written form).


**taonga – treasure

***The latest figures come from the Jersey Annual Social Survey issued on 5 December 2012.- 18% of the population could speak some Jèrriais words and phrases with more than 7% of those over 65 being fluent or able to speak a lot of Jèrriais. Two-thirds of adults said that they could not understand spoken Jèrriais, but more than a quarter are able to understand some, and 5% more can usually or fully understand someone speaking Jèrriais. 4% of people said that they could write some Jèrriais, although under 1% could write fluently. Just under a third (32%) said that they could understand something written in Jèrriais.




Clara and the homework: A conversation among friends.

Clara and the Homework: I put the call out on Facebook, linked a couple of friends I could think of to get the ball rolling and this is the conversation we had in our international community about learning and homework. People I know based in various parts of the world replied. Most were New Zealanders, many with partners from different cultures, either the local culture where we lived, or, in the case of the Middle East folk, both were immigrant/ex-pats of different cultures.

“E nga tangata huri noa ki Aotearoa me te ao, whakarongo mai. Por favor. I know many of you are getting your PJs on and heading for the bed, but I have a question for anyone with a 6 year old in your life. What homework are they expected to do? What concepts in mathematics are they expected to know at this age? Is it too easy? Too hard? Just right? (I know one size doesn’t fit all) I’m seeing my daughter Clara’s teacher today about the quantities of homework she’s getting and I would like your perspective.”

I put the call out on Facebook, linked a couple of friends I could think of to get the ball rolling and this is the conversation we had in our international community about learning and homework. People I know based in various parts of the world replied. Most were New Zealanders, many with partners from different cultures, either the local culture where we lived, or, in the case of the Middle East folk, both were immigrant/ex-pats of different cultures.

First to answer, because she was probably already in her PJs with her cocoa was Leanne…

Leanne (Hutt Valley, New Zealand)  My thoughts are that a 5/6 year old shouldn’t have any homework except book reading. A day at school is enough for them to deal with. My parents teachers for over 25 years would agree. Next year a little maths as well but that’s all…
Hame (Palmerston North I, New Zealand) My kids get pushed to do a little more, but DJ(7) loved doing well and doing extra so that was easy, Bri (6) on the other hand… Also kids do extra maths, reading and writing on top of what school gives them. Not onerous, but have seen the positive results…
Fi (Wellington, New Zealand) E get’s a homework sheet per week which has reading, basic maths revision, and some literacy exercises. They also do Mathletics which is a fun computer programme to support learning. The kids enjoy it though. I’m with Leanne, that I don’t think homework very young is that helpful. It was always much more stress creating for J and A. I tried to have a chilled out hands off approach – basically they have to learn to be self motivated to do it. That has now paid off I think.
E’s also really conscientious – likes to get it done quickly and yip – she likes the challenge too.

ELP (New Zealander in Seville, Spain) Good point Fiona, kids here are spoon fed (I feel) – they have their parents on top of them from day one because parents feel this pressure to get good grades! The thing is it spirals – the kids all compare – if we don’t keep up, Clara will no do so well which won’t look good among her peers.

Ar (Palmerston North, New Zealand) Hi Em, T 6 and N 8 have reading every night, and every now and then a maths problem for the family to work on. T also has his poetry book- more reading and an activity sheet that comes home daily but is completed at school. Studies support that reading at home is beneficial, maths not so much in these early years. We extend our kids learning through play, drawing, activity books. Some kids love homework I guess..I imagine Clara will want to be and do the same as her peers though..perhaps check the curriculum. Best of luck discussing Clara’s needs with her teacher.

ELP Thanks A, I agree with the reading -story time is gold – and Clara has even started reading English out of her own desire to try – and reading well with amazing intuition – I’m so surprised, but the problem is I don’t think the curriculum is on my side. We’ll see how we can take the middle road somewhere.

(New Zealander based in Germany) In Germany they don’t even start school until they’re 6 or 7, and Kindergarten is reserved strictly for play-based learning (there are some relevant milestones they pay attention to there, like being able to count, quantify relative amounts of e.g. blocks etc. and so on, but this seems to be done in a relaxed way with the awareness that kids reach these milestones at different paces).

When they start school, however, it’s a completely different story – they are thrown straight into the deep end. A big shift in culture, from being encouraged to play independently to suddenly having to sit still and do what the teacher tells you, and a very tightly packed curriculum involving a steep learning curve in the areas of literacy and numeracy which require considerable amounts of homework and parental involvement (those who fall behind have to repeat the year – this applies from the 1st class).

The only alternative to keeping up with the system is to step sideways into something like Waldorf / Steiner / Montessori. The pressure on kids and teachers to get through the curriculum is increasingly regarded as problematic, especially since the system clearly privileges families where at least one parent is a native speaker of German and has considerable time, energy and patience to dedicate to getting through several hours of homework a week (on top of “Ganztag” (full) school days from 8:00am to 16:15pm).

My (limited) experience of Latin learning environments (in Brazil) is that they start the three Rs much earlier (with 4 years or so), meaning that they lose those years of play-based learning, and that they police the milestones quite rigidly from the beginning.

ELP You got it, they start earlier. I didn’t expect there to be so many parallels between Germany and Spain in terms of pressure cooking. And you’re right too that bi and multi lingual families have to fit that extra aspect in. We are one of three families in the entire school (infants through to secondary) where one of the parents isn’t a native Spanish speaker.

(New Zealander based in Germany) In T’s class at the beginning there were at least 6 families where one or both parents weren’t native speakers – and 3 of those kids had to repeat the first year…. It’s now a big topic too because of refugees – there are currently 6,750 refugees living in Dusseldorf (pop. 600,000), and all the kids have to be integrated somehow into this very competitive school system….

ELP That’s the big one for you guys, a long term issue. The refugees are now German residents. We need to remember that.

Some outside sources came in :

(Bay of Plenty, New Zealand)
John Buell (2004) puts it: ‘… for a practice as solidly entrenched as homework, the scholarly case on its behalf is surprisingly weak and even contradictory.’




(Australian based in Seville, Spain)
O has loads of homework too. She’s even doing long addition and subtraction. The worst part is the shitloads of colouring in on top of it. It isn’t even creative or free. I write a note if she doesn’t do it all saying she couldn’t finish it because she was busy playing with plasticine or kicking a football in the park.


Heather (based in Wellington, New Zealand)  T’s six now. She started at a Montessori in California and had a lot of homework, often taking 1-2 hours but she learnt reading, writing and maths in about 6 months. Now we’re back in NZ, it’s pretty chilled, just reading easy books/poems.
Hame There are other, intangible benefits to doing homework, like learning to sit down quietly and work at something independently, reading for reading sake.. Its like a sport or activity you enjoy… if you didn’t work at it (shooting hoops, playing hockey, doing forms in martial arts) then you can’t get any better. .. Overloading at a young age is an issue, I agree, but having no homework is a little too far the other way.

(Australian based in Seville, Spain) I think it’s up to us as parents to decide when too much is too much…when it becomes a battle to do it maybe it’s time to do some other activity. They are too little or tired sometimes to do it all on top of full school day.

(New Zealander based in Germany)…also in defence of homework (just to play devil’s advocate!): the general quality of education in Germany is high in a way that translates for instance into a critical and varied media environment (including prime-time debates on complex and highly politicised issues like legalising prostitution and investor-state dispute resolution where people who disagree actually go point-for-point through each other’s arguments instead of just insulting each other, unlike in other places I’ve lived!) I guess this doesn’t have nothing to do with kids having to tackle a demanding curriculum under a certain amount of pressure….

Re the talk with the teacher: they might also be under externally imposed pressure to cover a certain number of topics during the school year – could this be what’s behind the large amount of homework (as it seems to be in my son’s case)? If so, your best bet may be to get hold of the textbook(s) they’re following and figure out either how to make the homework that is given out more fun and interesting, or come up with your own alternatives so she gets the same learning outcomes under her belt in a way that better suits you both ...I mean I reckon you’ll be better off trying to work with her than by pointing out failures in the system that she’s probably only too aware of herself;)


(Teacher in a UK Curriculum School in Jerez, Spain) Does the school have homework policies? Good place to start! The problem we have is that parents push for homework.


(New Zealanders in Abu Dhabi) Maya & Sammy go to an IB school here, Sammy’s in grade 1 (6 years old) and it’s been fairly manageable so far, mainly just a book at his level to read each night, plus he’s had one biggish project to do which was a bit of research about a typical kid from his home country. Plus 5 minutes of Arabic homework every week, which is basically copy these words onto the page. Very mind-numbing. Maya, phew, grade 2, they really step it up, and as well as reading a book every night, there’s the 5 mins of Arabic like Sammy, plus three biggish tasks each week, one Maths, one related to their current unit of inquiry, and one related to language. It gets a bit stressful, to be honest. Maya’s super diligent and tries her hardest to get everything done, but she complains about feeling stressed out about it!! Aaargh. Sammy would be totally lost, so luckily for him, we’ll be in NZ next year and here’s hoping it’s a bit less intense.

Oh… and… as Yvonne mentions, it’s the parents that seem to push for it, and interestingly, often some of the Spanish-speaking parents. One who took her kids out of the IB school into a more traditional set-up, as she felt that they weren’t getting enough homework!! Whaaa??? I’ve heard other complaints along the lines of: why are our KG1s (4 years old) not getting books and maths homework to do? Tricky for the teachers to deal with.


(New Zealander in Australia) Alexander (6) just has his reading books each night, a Mathletics task to do for the week (10 mins worth), some spelling & a little bit of literacy either via Reading Eggs or an assignment. That sounds like lots but it’s not. We do one homework night a week, prob takes 30 mins max & leave the rest of the week free for just the reading book & play time. I repeat only the spelling words he doesn’t know through the week. Mathletics and Reading Eggs are online Educational tools for Maths, Reading and literacy. Reading Eggs is Australian, created by the Australian Broadcasting Company and Mathletics may be international.


(New Zealand teacher in Australia) I agree, any homework should be an exception not a rule!


(Northland, New Zealand) We just took the school up on the option to opt our 7 year old & 9 year old out of homework on the basis they had too many other activities (karate, gymnastics) after school.


(Wellington, New Zealand) And more generally homework at that age is really too much on top of a full school day. My two cents !


Pauline (Wellington, New Zealand) For our family and at that age we did the homework when it suited us (which was hardly ever). I wasn’t worried about the academics because they were practicing in everyday-life – stories at bedtime, going to the supermarket, baking a cake, posting a letter, talking about stuff, asking questions, going places and seeing & doing things…..

Finishing a worksheet in class time (or before the end of the week) is about speed and quantity and we found first-hand that that can cause problems down the track – perhaps Clara isn’t speedy because she’s being accurate or neat or double-triple checking (or daydreaming) and perhaps children are finishing quickly but with poor ‘quality’ – you just have to finish to get a green sticker, right?

If the homework habit is important to you then moderate it – you need to do some sums but only 5 more, not all of them – we will work on one spelling word each day, and then use the heck out of it, spell it front ways, back ways, use it in sentences, make a pun, think of all the words that sounds the same or mean the same – do it verbally.

The comparing between students is another issue and should be considered under peer pressure strategies. Another student’s work is no one else’s business. What are ways to build confidence for her to not engage with comparisons? Tell kids to mind their own business or to be up front about “in our family we do homework this way” – and for you to be confident in that too. You’re a multicultural family.


(CHCH, New Zealand) We are encouraged to do reading with our 6 year old. She brings school books home and we tick off when she reads 20 minutes as a guideline. She can read out loud with us or quietly by herself.

The kids also do a maths program on the iPad which makes it fun. And writing practice is something we do less frequently than we ought to. The limiting factor is parental time to supervise. There is no pressure from school. Sophie more often does at work on her own.


(Cambridge, New Zealand) Hi, H and P are 6 now and we just get a reading book each night which we make sure we read. We don’t get maths homework yet. There are work books which we can get from school if parents want their children to do extra homework. I got some but the girls didn’t want to do them so I didn’t push it.

I think at this age if children want to do it then that’s great but if they don’t that’s fine too. There have been a few documentaries on TV which suggest there is no evidence that doing homework has much effect at this age. Other people instead of homework think cooking a meal or baking or planting in the garden, activities like this are more beneficial.


A Side Step into Cultural Isolation Experiences of Ex-Pats

ELP A, I think as you might have said yourself, it’s possibly even more upsetting at a deeper level if the issue forms part of this “other” culture you live in, I think here also of immigrants anywhere, Aotearoa NZ, you and me navigating our particular circumstances, AC, your experience as a child going into our school. Speaking for myself, it’s upsetting because I can’t help but compare with what I know and it add to my sense of isolation.

(New Zealander based in Germany) Yes you are so right Emma, these kinds of issues (which seem to come up a lot around children!) can be the “make or break” of our love affairs with the places we live in. I could never have stayed in South America because, while there are many lovely and brilliant things about the people and cultures there, the ways of mothering I encountered were different to what I know and idealise to the point that I felt like an alien in the very places that would normally be main points of entry into local society (in front of the school gates, at kid’s birthday parties, etc.).

Whereas in Germany, while there are some quite big differences in terms of family life, schooling etc., I feel much more easily able to relate to the other school and kindergarten mums (despite my still-clumsy German and persistent inability to dress my kids appropriately for forecast weather!).

Attitude has something to do with it I guess: there are some basic values and habits that ya just gotta embrace or your frustration with them will eat you up!

ELP  Got to find ways to make it work positively or you’ll cut yourself off and make yourself miserable. I find that if I meet with other non-Andaluz/Spanish parents, we all sit around and complain, and that doesn’t get us anywhere -so I tend to avoid that.

But I have to be careful not to complain to local parents, because they’ll just think, bloody winging foreigner, if she doesn’t like it, she knows where the airport is!

I had a very productive talk with the teacher. The homework isn’t obligatory and the bi-weekly “exams” as the parents call them, are set because the parents have requested them in the past.


Why the Focus on Exams?

This is because the parents have been raised in an exam obsessed culture. An example of this deeply rooted exam culture is that the best, i.e. most secure (for life, no transparency, no questions asked) and coveted jobs in the country are gained by passing a state exam, not by proving you’re going to be any good in the job itself. Once you have that job, you have it for life. If you ask any teenager around here what they want to do, more that half will say they want to be a Funcionario – civil servant.

Clara’s teacher reassured me that these “tests” are taken very lightly as they don’t prove much to her about the effectiveness of her teaching and the children’s learning in the class. She knows that some parents are sitting there re-teaching at home to get the best marks. It all proves squat and she knows it. My confidence in her has risen. Feeling much better – for this year anyway.

(New Zealander based in Germany) A posted a news article that has been doing the rounds in the Euro village over the last week:
(Spain, this is embarrassing and why we need a BIG change.)

Well, you can see why these jobs are much-coveted! I guess the whole exam thing makes more sense in countries with populations the size of Germany and Spain, where you’ve got to have some shortcuts to sort out the chalk from the chaff. (Exams are probably also some sort of attempt to cut through nepotism, though no doubt not always successful).

Also the recent history – and present, in Spain – of mass unemployment of course makes people take finding jobs (and keeping them) very seriously. NZ’s comparatively laissez-faire education system and flexible employment market may reflect the fact that it is a tiny and currently very rich little economy that has been able to afford to rest on its laurels for a good few years…

ELP Having been outside of NZ for eleven years, I don’t know what kind of NZ I would be going back to. At the moment, I doubt we could even afford to go back. It seems to be a wealthy country for a few. As for employment, maybe a 24 year old could tell me about job prospects. But this is a whole other conversation.

But you are right, the competition is out there in a higher population – and in our region of Spain, with the highest unemployment rate, the pressure is on.

I need to gear my kids up to be ready for a bigger scenario than the local. I don’t know what our future is. We may all end up training to be farmers with my dad, and studying permaculture to be self-sustaining food growers in the deep south of New Zealand. Anyone with me?


Back to Homework

(New Zealander in Dubai) Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop with Monika doing her homework. She gets it assigned once a week on a Thursday (last day of school/work) to be done by next Wednesday. We do it on the weekend over coffee and a fluffy for some daddy daughter bonding. It’s a good system as she’s always excited to do it. Some schools here have every evening homework and some have decided to have no homework. But I like doing some together each week.

Interesting to see the variations across countries and schools. Since it’s private here the amount of homework featured in our decision on which school. We wanted balance not hard core academia.

ELP If the kids want to do it, that’s the point, making it positive, interesting, motivating. Not against homework, not even against tricky stuff, as long as the kids are positively motivated to do it. Just checking, is this an IB (International Baccalaureate) school in Dubai?

(New Zealander in Dubai) UK curriculum. Agreed, need the right balance to keep them interested and give a sense of achievement when completed.

(New Zealander in Japan) Hi . Our children (7 and 10) get homework everynight. A few maths drills which for our oldest ranges from about 5 to 15mins. They then have to read a set text out loud to us which can take anywhere from 1 to about 10mins. If they have a test, then there is prep for that. Our youngest gets a few drills for his addition, some reading out loud and sometimes some character writing practice.

Homework can be completed in about 10 to 30mins, leaving time for playing outside, doing things they want to do like crafts of reading or rip-sticking with the locals.

We also try to instill some English skills in there, but are not really pushing that so much. The result is their English isn’t strong compared to others, but they are fairly communicative and I know that considering the time we put in, their results are not bad at all.

I agree with Hame, homework can have it’s place in child development, so long as it is balanced and not over bearing. For me, I think 30mins a night for a 10year old and 10mins a night for 7 year old is fine. More than that and I’d be cautious.

(Auckland, New Zealand) Ah homework, such a relevant topic this week. Our 8 year old (year 5) has weekly homework issued on a Friday due the following Thursday. There are some math equations at 2-3 levels, and he is required to try at the level he knows he can do. He needs to read for 20mins each night, record and write a brief comment in his reading log about the book. He then needs to choose 2 “can do” options from the four choices given. This week that involved writing a minimum of two paragraphs describing himself to a visiting alien, then he had to research an experiment to do at home, conduct it, write it up including the results. It doesn’t sound a lot but we find it challenging in between before school sports practices and after school sport and activities. We try to do almost all of it (bar nightly reading) on a Sunday knowing if we don’t it’s going to end in tired cross tears of frustration by Wednesday night. I am starting to sense the expectation for him to get it done is causing him to worry about it and not sleep well. Which worries us and we are monitoring closely.

Thank you to everyone who put your valued two cents worth in.

I think it’s interesting to consider that we are influenced by the different cultures within our families and partnerships and these influences inform our approaches to learning, where our children are concerned. Our Japanese or Spanish  may partners have a different take on “achievement” that we have to work in with. Either that or totally convince them how utterly misguided their culture is 😉

The culture and/or bubbles where we find ourselves or choose to be also mix it up. I don’t mean bubble in a negative sense. Ex-pats/immigrants, and I now certainly know, form these bubbles as a survival mechanism or as a comfort zone to retreat back to, after time at the front.

Trust the Process

I saw this written today. Trying to make projects happen is hard. For every good thing or step forward, there seem to be 10 deadends or disappointments. You aren’t a good fit. You are told there is a “disconnect”. No one is interested. You constantly question why you bother to make art in a world full of noise.

As a friend said, it’s all about the kaupapa – the motivation behind what you do. I have to trust the kaupapa, and keep my faith in the process.







Beginning a storytelling collaboration

When I’ve given a brush and some paint to my children and told them to “Go for it” on a canvas I’ve been working on, there has always been a sense of dread, loss of control, grief at the image (that probably wasn’t working anyway) about to be lost. This is part of how I feel at the outset of this project. I’ve never done this before and neither has the school that has agreed to participate.

As an artist I’ve always explored narrative via many media, including in the last few years, Social platforms. This is sometimes known as the OSMU model (One-Source-Multi-Use) of storytelling.

For the most part, the narrative started and stayed with me as the sole author. I worked first with paint. This in itself has manifold narratives:

  • the story of researching, the travel and photography, talking to people, finding out things
  • the transformation of me as a person by the story, being moved to tell it
  • the research I was depicting in itself
  • the narrative of the application of paint in itself
  • the narrative of perspective, or light, or colour
  • the narrative of the painting process; the mistakes, the diversions, the changes
  • add to that the narrative of the work being made in one country and sent to another; the narrative of distance, time and space

I not only worked with paint. I found I was driven to use other media too. I also used spoken word performance, video, sound and written articles.

I’ve always and still have the need to tell stories my way. It’s the selfish end of my work one could say, but there you have it. Work needs to be made alone sometimes. Often.

Disruption and the co-authored narrative

“If you look carefully at a lot of my artwork over the last few years, you’ll see lots of evidence of the interventions and disruptions of small hands. Scribbles, odd colour combos, blobs and rough painting blending into the overall image I finally arrive at. Again, involving my children in art making became necessary to be able to continue to make work at all…I needed that reality to become part of my practice and make it a positive force in art making. Hours of uninterrupted conversation with a visual narrative was a luxury not open to me because I had chosen to be a mum.”

-from The Identity Series Part II: The Parent.  November 26, 2015

Sharing my space and creative life has led me unconsciously a participator in trans-media storytelling. By trans-media I mean a group, either unconsciously or consciously co-authoring a story across a plethora of media. This is done over time or simultaneously and especially in today’s digital terms, makes use of social networks.

A mash up

The combination of this realisation about storytelling, my passion for learning and education made me see how my worlds as an artist, teacher, parent and learner could converge to make something very interesting.


#aWaterStory:  The 1961 Flood of Seville

When I’ve given a brush and some paint to my children and told them to “Go for it” on a canvas I’ve been working on, there has always been a sense of dread, loss of control, grief at the image (that probably wasn’t working anyway) about to be lost. This is part of how I feel at the outset of this project. I’ve never done this before and neither has the school that has agreed to participate.

April 2016 : Bilingial Artist in Residency and Trans-media Storytelling Project with the College of Beaterio de la Santísima Trinidad,  Seville.

On the 25th November 1961, the Tamarguillo river broke its banks and flooded Seville with four million cubic metres of water in what was the worst flood the city had ever suffered. The magnitude of the tragedy was reflected in the numbers cited immediately after the flood: 552 hectares were invaded by flood waters; 125,000 people were affected – 30,176 of those found themselves homeless. The worst affected were the poor. 1,600 shacks and substandard housing in the poor neighbourhoods of the city were destroyed completely, 29,386 homes were damned.

Excerpt translated from:

People have inhabited this fluvial zone, that reaches between Seville and the Atlantic Ocean, for thousands and thousands of years. The famous Tarsus, quoted in the old testament, was the ancient city of the Tarshish or Tastessos, situated in the south-western part of Andalusia. It is even thought that the great Atlantis was one of their cities and there are theories about its location being in the present day wetlands of Doñana National Park just south-west of Seville.

In this project, Spanish students of 4º ESO (15 year olds/year eleven in NZ) will investigate the story of this flood in their city, collect oral histories from people who remember it, and share what they find with me.

Artist in Residence

I, in turn, will respond with visual work, one week of the process will take place at the school to be able to share my practice and process with them. The students will also respond to the story in their own visual work. We will be storytellers working alongside each other.

I will be showing the work I make, as well as other aspects of out project in a show in Auckland in November 2016.

This is the first time that an artist has come to the school. The arts are not valued strongly in the Spanish education system. Academic subjects and paper exams are the main hoop that everyone has to jump through from the age of six. I want to use the opportunity to demonstrate other learning styles to the teachers. Change is coming and the recognition that change is needed is forming, but it’s slow.

Trans-media, social and the wider community

We will explore how we can share and co-author a story together using social media to document and communicate our experiences and responses. We will use certain hashtags such as #aWaterStory to help pull together the trans media thread.

As an artist, I want to explore the trans-media aspect in my own practice, the sharing of my practice in the community, while also developing my painting.

 flooding satellite

Eco-systems and our place in them

We will talk about the rivers that surround us, considering their future, climate change, how we have changed and affected their health and that of the wildlife that live around and in them. The protected wetlands of Donaña, is a stopover in the flight of migrating birds between Africa and Europe, and the higher mountainous regions.

As a quiet activist, I want to activate conscience and awareness: about the history of the rivers of this area and the history of connection these students have to place. I want to raise awareness of the “natural” environment and the history of the landscape that surrounds the city and lies under their feet, pushed underground or diverted, shunted and moved beyond recognition. I want them to consider how we can continue to live sustainably within a fluvial zone, and care for it.

“Spain is one of the world’s countries with a large number of reservoirs per inhabitant. This intense regulation of the fluvial network during the 20th century has resulted in a decrease in flood events, a higher availability of water resources, and a high development of the irrigated crop area, even in the drier regions. For
decades, flood perception was reduced since the development of reservoirs protected the floodplains of river; this resulted in later occupation of soil by urban, agricultural and industrial uses…”

“…The implications of this development have been widely studied in different parts of the world. In this way, Maheshwari et al. (1995), Magilligan and Nislow (2005), Frazier and Page (2006), and Wang et al. (2006) described how dams alter
the natural regime by reducing peak flows and rising lows flows with seasonal redistribution, and how the magnitude of average annual floods are reduced. This has direct effects on ecosystems downstream from dams…”
-Flood risk trends in coastal watersheds in South Spain: direct and indirect impact of river regulation, published 2015
M. Egüen1, M. J. Polo2, Z. Gulliver2, E. Contreras3, C. Aguilar1, and M. A. Losada4

Bilingual: English and Spanish

All of this, or as much of this project as possible will be done in a second language. This will be a challenge. To communicate content when cognitive and communicative levels do not align is difficult, but this is the challenge facing many schools around the world, New Zealand included, where second/heritage/first nation/other languages are the vehicle of learning. This school plans to begin a bilingual programme from next year and so, apart from the many objectives of the project, using English as the vehicular language is a way to introduce the bilingual process to the school. Teachers will have a chance to see bilingual learning in action and reflect on the process and scaffolding required.

A Manawatū response/mirror/parallel/extension

We would like to share this, our Andalusian water story, with Palmerston North, New Zealand. We also want to hear their water story. It will connect places and people and extend the story to the very antipodes of Spain-ultimately creating a wider story to tell.

I’m from the Manawatu/Rangitikei area – my great-great-great grandparents lived on Rangitikei Line. Our fluvial zone farm, out in the Kairanga, has been flooded twice in the last ten years, and I am well aware of the issues surrounding our rivers – silting due to deforestation, contamination from dairy farming, draining of land, loss of wetlands and issues over the use of water to sustain agriculture.

I want what we do in Seville to connect to a place that is facing similar issues, has similarities and differences of geography and culture to explore, similar problems to face.

A Cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-curricular (a new one for Spain) and multi-lingual creative project.  This can’t help but make it even more meaningful.

On a personal Level: Fighting the “Disconnect”

I’ve lived away from New Zealand in Spain for ten years. Throughout this time, I’ve always shown work back in New Zealand through the dealer gallery that represents me in Auckland. I also show work here in Spain and in Edinburgh.

In recent feedback to an exhibition proposal in New Zealand, I was deemed a “possible disconnect with the audience”. It wasn’t hurtful to me, it just rang sadly hollow. I wondered what that meant. Was I no longer part of home? Did I have no voice there? Who decided that anyway?

Being away from New Zealand has given me insight that I would never have had otherwise. In our family, we have a taonga. Two feathers from the koekoeā, the long tailed cuckoo. The cuckoo would fly away from New Zealand and come back. It was associated with the outsider, the foreigner. I’ve often felt that I am manuhiri/visitor practically everywhere these days. Being told I am a “disconnect” confirms this. However, being an outsider has its benefits both for the outside and the community. Sometimes the koekoeā would bring stones or things from other lands in it’s beak. For that reason, apart form being an “outside” bird, it is also a bringer of knowledge from other lands.





Identity Series Part III: La Nuera

I am a daughter-in-law (nuera). I popped in to my in-laws to pick up some medicine on my way home. They live across the road in another block of apartments.

Only a few years before my newly-wed parents went to enjoy the highlights of the small farming town of Taihape, New Zealand, my newly-wed parents-in-law went to live in the village of Monesterio in the hill country of southern Extremadura.  My father-in-law was opening a pharmacy, while my mother-in-law was going to her first teaching position in the newly opened, and first ever secondary school of the village. For the first time, local children who couldn’t afford to go to other towns to study, were going to receive higher education. She had many adult students in her classes.

In the nineteenth century  it was estimated that illiteracy in Spain was between 80% and 63%. Some site higher numbers. The early part of the twentieth century saw a lot of work done to turn this around. By the 1950’s, it had improved by about 15%. Statistics of school numbers, teacher training and resources are too depressing to even mention. Suffice to say, the political elite of the nineteenth century did not consider education of the masses to be important. Spain was a country of cultural poverty.

I like to sit with Pilar and Antonio, my parents-in-law, and hear their stories of life in the village. The village she describes sounds like something from the nineteenth century or worse. There was almost no street lighting, or running water or electricity. There were open sewerage drains.

The years of living here in Spain, and especially in the South, have taught me to appreciate the legacy of an education system. As early as the 1930s, pre-school, créche and kindergarten were being introduced in New Zealand. New Zealanders were enjoying high literacy rates and free education.

‘Every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers’.

Acting Prime Minister Peter Fraser in 1939

My generation reaped the benefit of these policies, as did my parents and my grandparents.  When I huff and bristle about the antiquated Spanish education system that my children are currently learning in (it literally makes me cry), and wonder at the lack of resources and professional development of the teachers, I have to remind myself that when Peter Fraser was making this speech, Spain was in the depths of a civil war. Any advances that had been made in education were being undone.

Following the war, under the dictatorship, large parts of the population were plunged into poverty once again, if they had ever left it behind in the first place. I was talking about the state of villages and poverty during the dictatorship with my daughters’ teacher during the summer. We had coincided in the same small village to escape the heat of Seville. She is my age and her family, like the majority of Spanish families today, have their roots in a village somewhere. She told me that her mother, my mother’s age had she been alive, had died young as a result of the complications brought on by infant malnutrition.

Spain had also suffered another form of malnutrition: the mass-exodus of great minds and teachers, seeking political exile. Thousands of teachers were sanctioned, transferred and 6,000 were banned from teaching altogether. Into the vacuum stepped Franco.

While the majority of post-war New Zealanders were enjoying the cushion of wealth, trade and security, the efforts to improve ordinary folks’ opportunities and health in Spain, had been suspended or even reversed.

But not for everyone. Franco’s new state education, policies aside, did at least create opportunities for some and my father-in-law is a result of it. His brothers and he were among the first of his family to go to high school having earned scholarships and backed by a very canny and hard working dad. His grandmother had sold shoes and carried them in baskets on a donkey. Her grandchildren were to become surgeons, heart specialists and pharmacists.

That Spain has turned so much around in forty or more years has to be acknowledged. It currently has a literacy rate of 97% and New Zealand 99%. Yes, there is much work to be done to change people’s ideas of what learning is all about, but however flawed, I take my hat off to Spain and I challenge myself to be a contributor, a quiet activist for change in small ways that I can. I do this so that the legacy of learning that has been the springboard for everything that I have ever achieved is passed on.




Head image:

Identity Series Part II: The Parent

Today has been a day partly worked from home and partly worked at the office with a small child in tow. She’s loving it. A whole day with mummy all to herself. She is currently drawing staff portraits on the whiteboard in the office …

Today I am a mother. Not that I’m not a mother every day, but today is one of those days where parenting is at the very forefront of my priorities. We’ve spent a night with a small child in between us fretting and tired. Today has been a day partly worked from home and partly worked at the office with a small child in tow. She’s loving it. A whole day with mummy all to herself. She is currently drawing staff portraits on the whiteboard in the office and very soon, Peppa Pig will be pulled out on the tablet. I am working as best I can, juggling the tiredness and the distraction.

Distraction, Intervention and Disruption

When I teach my teacher’s class on a Tuesday afternoon after school, my children go with me. The smaller of the two crawls inside the tent we set up in the adjacent room to play, while the bigger one hangs out with me. She likes to be “teacher’s help”, switching off the lights and switching on the projector, cleaning the board and handing out class materials. Sometimes she even gets to lead a warmer activity with the class. I try as much as I can to involve her.

If you look carefully at a lot of my artwork over the last few years, you’ll see lots of evidence of the interventions and disruptions of small hands. Scribbles, odd colour combos, blobs and rough painting blending into the overall image I finally arrive at. Again, involving my children in art making became necessary to be able to continue to make work at all.

Not making work makes me grumpy and anxious and low. I needed to be able to engage with my artmaking more than just a few stolen hours on a Sunday at my small studio now and then. So, I  rethought the studio space and how I worked. I moved artmaking into the domestic context. That meant less space, and concentration, thought and time became broken and disrupted. I needed that reality to become part of my practice and make it a postive force in art making. Hours of uninterrupted conversation with a visual narrative was a luxury not open to me because I had chosen to be a mum.

I now work on the floor, in a tiny space at home, with water-based products. I have various things on the go that I  pick up and put down throughout the week, in stolen moments, or in late night scribblings, or with the girls in active all-hands-on time. Having the girls attack my work was at first scary, and still is, but they’ve helped me arrive at new departures, see spaces in a new way and their disruptions contribute postively to the development of an image. We enjoy doing it together.

And now, I can’t write more. My eyes are on stalks and I’m daydreaming of a decent night’s sleep.

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