Monday, 31 July 2006

Cars (2006)

This latest offering from Pixar was accompanied by trailers for at least 5 other animated films. No-one does it like Pixar though. Shrek is the only non-PIxar animation that competes with the likes of Toy Story. That said though, Cars is not their best. Of course it is visually stunning, and their ability to make cars look like cars and still seem like characters is fantastic. I just don't think the story carried itself as well as I have come to expect - there were a couple of slow points - and there wasn't as much double appeal as their other films. By double appeal, I mean that ability they have to make the kids in the audience love it, while the adults enjoy it on a whole other level.

Don't get me wrong though, I was laughing hard and embarrassingly loud at times - like when they go "tractor tipping" - and I was so doubled up with laughter during the credits that there was actually no sound coming out. [If you haven't seen it (because I know the UK is like one of the last places on earth to get this film) you MUST stay until the film is completely over. DO NOT leave your seat until the theatre lights come on, or you will miss the best jokes.] The story was sweet and the characters were adorable - I loved Mater, who is so innocent and unassuming, and Luigi the mad ferrari fan. And, like I already said, it is visually awe-inspiring. But why didn't he ever get proper headlights?

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Thursday, 27 July 2006

I'm not feeling inspired for a good title

I haven't updated in awhile. And I was getting myself into such good habits about actually posting on this thing. I guess the main problem is our other website (which, I admit hasn't been updated much lately either). Often, I think, 'I should write about that' and then can't decide which site to write it on and end up putting it nowhere.

Since I wrote last, we have spent 5 days in Romania - which you can read about on our website (its not all there yet though). As our first excursion into Eastern Europe, it was a very different experience.

I have also finished up the school year and am now on Summer Holidays. Yeah, I worked for 3 weeks before a 6 week break. But thats how they like to do it here, especially for new and overseas trained teachers - its their way of ensuring they have a full teaching staff at the start of the new school year. Of course, it means I have a heap of things to do before September too. I have to go through and rewrite most of the units of work, since the way classes are scheduled has been changed (and, obviously, I want to make them my own). I have to get as clued in as I can about the GCSE courses I am teaching. I will be spending some time in the last week of break at school, getting my classroom sorted.

And now, the first of many explanations of aspects of the English school system - so that those of you who read this (especially the teachers) can get some idea of the similarities/differences to New South Wales (or wherever you're reading from - but NSW is the only other school system I know).

The School Years

If you know about it, think Harry Potter. Students start year 7, their first year of high school, in the September following their 11th birthday. Like NSW, they work on Key Stages - Year 7, 8 & 9 are Key Stage 3. This is when they continue their education in all areas of the curriculum. Key Stage 4 is years 10 & 11. Students take electives for both years and at the end take their GCSEs (HP equivalent = OWLs, also kind of equivalent to NSW's School Certificate, but with more external assessment). Students can choose to leave school at this point, or continue onto Sixth Form. I don't really know why its still referred to as Sixth Form, since its also years 12 & 13. This is Key Stage 5 and known as A levels (or NEWTS for the HP fans). At this point, the focus of study becomes much more specific - they take only a few subjects and what they can take generally relates to how well they did in their GCSE (very similar to what happens at Hogwarts). Its much more specialised than the HSC (NSW's final high school exams), I think, as in there aren't any compulsory courses and the courses they do take are more specific in their content.
At least I think that's all accurate - someone who knows more than I do can feel free to correct me - I've only really been exposed to this system for 3 weeks after all and am still learning myself, but the HP comparison really helped me get my head around it :)

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Monday, 10 July 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

OK, so they made the first Pirates based on the ride at Disneyland and didn't even expect it to do that well, but we all know it was great. Obviously, someone decided to cash in and make a couple of sequels and no-one is complaining about that. Big bummer though that they're doing this whole trilogy thing properly, so Pirates 2 (this one) is actually a second film of three, filling in story, progressing the plot, revealing more characters and more about the existing ones... and resolving basically nothing. You get so into it and excited about whats happening and it ends. And we have to wait til next year to see the third. I guess this is what it was like when the original Star Wars trilogy came out and Empire Strikes Back left you wondering what was going on. In fact, Graeme tells me that they actually based this trilogy on that and he'd know, since he devours information like that.

I was going to do a plot summary, but couldn't work out how without ruining any of the surprises, so I won't - you can go find that somewhere else if you want it.

We watched the first one last night, since we hadn't seen it in ages and on comparison, the second film isn't as good. But maybe thats just because they're building up to the third, like I said. Don't get me wrong though, its still great, just not as effective as a stand-alone film. If you have to see it in the cinema, like we did, then go for it. If its one of those "I'm not too fussed" movies for you, wait til the third one is due out, watch the first two on dvd and then see the third at the cinema. But really, you can't go past Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in a film together, can you?

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Wednesday, 5 July 2006

All's Well That Ends Well

I went in this morning, told them they needed to sort it by the end of the week or I was out of there. By lunch time, the other new teacher and I had swapped classloads. So now I'm teaching graphics and I have the job I thought I had taken. I thought about deleting the previous post, and I might decide to in a bit, but I am still annoyed with what happened and the stress I was put through. I am just so thankful that the other new teacher is an amazing Christian woman who was willing to do the swap when she found out the whole story. I actually think things will be better this way for her as well though, because there is a great technician/assistant up in the food room who has already alleviated most of her concerns and reasons for not wanting to take on food. So I've met a couple of my new classes and am so relieved that I feel so much at home in the new room already. So everyone who was praying and stressing for/with me - Thanks. Things are on the up and I am excited about the job again.

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Tuesday, 4 July 2006

What do I do?

OK, so that job I was so excited about has turned to poop. This is going to be long and not very uplifting, but I need to vent (and hopefully get some advice, if there's any out there in internet land)

Basically, two people are leaving the DT department - one is the food teacher and current head of department, the other teaches graphics. When I interviewed and spent the day with the new head of department, we talked about Graphics and Resistant Materials (like NSW's Industrial Technology), checking out the workshop that I would be taking over, talking about units of work that I had worked with, new ideas, etc. I took the job with the understanding that I would be teaching mainly Graphics with some Resistant Materials and they would be continuing to seek out a Food specialist.

I talked to the new Head of Department a couple of times over the 2 weeks between the interview and the induction day last week. He told me they had hired someone who was great and experienced and all that, but that as a result, I might have to teach some Food. I reluctantly said that was OK (what else could I say?). The next time we spoke, he said that it looked like my timetable would be mostly food. I wasn't excited or positive about this, but said I could handle it as long as I got to teach something else as well. He assured me that I would still get to spend some time with the A level Product Design group at least. I wasn't very excited about the job anymore.

By the time I got to the induction day last Tuesday, the timetables were done and I had nothing but food. OK, I exaggerate - I have a form group (like roll call/home room) and one class a week of what I would've called Health when I was in high school (you know, the theory stuff you do in your PE class, like living skills, sex ed, citizenship, etc - yeah, random whoevers teach it here, with VERY little help or guidance [read that as 'I had no idea what we were doing or why']).

OK, I thought, this kind of sucks, but I'm here now, I can handle it. I spent Tuesday afternoon, after the official inductiony bit (which was not very helpful in getting us prepared for starting less than a week later) helping them to transfer a bunch of stuff from another school that is closing down - heaps of materials and things that I would never get to use working in the Food room.

I met with the current food teacher on Thursday to discuss the schemes of work and all that. None of it was super appealing to me, but it seems to work and I was fairly sure I'd be able to run with it, making changes where I thought I could or whatever. I didn't look at it and think, this is a great starting point and then I will add my own flair, like I usually do though. It was more like, I have to run with this, otherwise I will be spending every waking hour between now and September trying to work out how on earth I am supposed to teach Food Tech every day of the year.

On the weekend, the whole gravity of the situation hit me and I ended up in tears, several times.
I had accepted the job because I thought I'd be teaching the areas I know best. If they had said to me "We'd like to offer you a job but you have to be the Food teacher" I wouldn't have taken it. I have nothing against food or the people that teach it, but I am a trained DESIGNER and Food Tech is not design, even if you set creative projects.
Tying into that, I feel as though I was misled and/or cheated out of a job. Not just the job I thought I had accepted (at this school, teaching what I know), but also any other job I could've got between then and now (at another school). I actually had an interview lined up for the following day with a trial class teaching a GCSE Graphics class - I doubt they would've hired me and then made me teach food...
I'm so disappointed that I focussed on applying for jobs at Christian schools because that's the environment I want to work in, where I know I have the opportunity to help young people see Christ, and then I get treated worse than anyone has ever treated me in a professional capacity.
I have two GCSE classes, one in each year, and I don't feel as though I can provide the education they need or deserve, especially after seeing the current food teacher in action today (she's an awesome teacher and food is her speciality, so she really knows what she's talking about) - I just don't have the knowledge or skills myself, so how on earth am I supposed to pass everything onto the students?

To make my misery complete, we got a phone call this morning to say that Graeme's Great-grandfather had passed away. In itself, this isn't life-shattering - its sad, yes, but he was very old and ill. It was more the hitting home of the realisation that we are so far from home and the people we love. This was literally as I should've been walking out the door.

So I get to school later than I wanted to and feeling pretty bad, but somehow, I can't bring myself to say anything to anyone, almost hiding behind the death as the reason for my being a bit off. That was, until lunch time, when the new Head asked me how I was going and I simply said "I'm not very happy about having to teach food". It spiralled from there - pretty much everything I've said above came out. The current Head of department (remember, she's also the food teacher) had no idea any of this was going on because she had basically been kept out of the whole process. She has been great - sympathetic, understanding, supportive - I wish I was going to be working with her.

So after talking to them and going through everything, I basically feel like I need to get another job. The other person who has been hired in was appointed by the Head (Principal) and is basically getting whatever she wants, simply because of the other skills she brings (she'll be a head of year and has extra qualifications) and she doesn't WANT to teach food, even though she has experience doing so. They've said they can shuffle some classes around but I won't lose the GCSE, which is the classes I'm most concerned about (I can teach junior DT in any area, no issue). I feel like I'm being pushed out of a job that I was genuinely excited about and am angry, hurt, annoyed, but mostly just sad.

So what do I do?
Its going to be even harder to get a job now, because there are like 3 weeks left until summer and most positions for next year are filled. I need a job, but not badly enough to risk my sanity for it - we can survive on Graeme's income, but there's not a lot left spare. I don't want to do day-to-day teaching because it sucks and I'm not enough of a nasty teacher to make it work for me.
Do I stick it out until I can find something better?
Do I just call them and tell them to shove it?
Help, please.

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Movie Update

I started to write the X-Men review as soon as I got home from seeing it, but was way too tired (it was after midnight). Then I tried to finish it over the weekend and couldn't think straight. And now, I've seen a bunch of movies lately, so I thought I'd do a quick thing about all of them. I think the sort of movies people enjoy can say a lot about them.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

It kind of feels as though every movie has to be part of a series these days, doesn't it? Unfortunately, like so many before it, the final(?) installment of this series does not live up to the hype and expectations you have going into it. I put the ? after final because they say it is the third and last X-Men movie, but you don't really come out feeling as though anything is actually resolved, just that they killed and de-mutant-ed enough people that somehow the natural order is restored...

Apparently Halle Berry refused to do this movie unless Storm had a bigger role, and she does, but it just lowers my already low opinion of her acting abilities. Most of the other big names are fabulous, as usual, but that is not due to the script or directing, but simply because they are skilled actors who had already established and then portrayed their characters' internal and external battles. Because I don't think the X-Men movies are really about the big battle between 'good and evil' but more about the battle within each person as to how they should react - something this movie does portray well, I think. This one didn't manage the balance of the two though - there almost wasn't enough action for an action film, if you get my drift - they tried to go all deep and meaningful, but didn't manage to get too deep.

Beauty Shop (2005)

I've always thought pretty highly of Queen Latifah, even though I don't know a lot about her. I love that she's a plus-size (I HATE that term, but can't think of a better one right now) woman who plays leading roles in films and is considered a beauty in her own right. Anyway, this movie was on and we didn't have anything else to do, so I watched it. It was pretty good. True, it was very formulaic and predictable, but it was a nice entertainment for a couple of hours.

Sin City (2005)

This film is confusing and crazy, but its really great too. Its based on a graphic novel (or comic book for grown-ups) and is filmed like one. Filmed primarily in black and white, with the splash of relevant colour to emphasise certain aspects, its very arty-looking. But it also has a cool, twisted plot - one of those ones where everything doesn't really seem to fit together til right near the end. They can be frustrating, but I really like them too, because it makes you think and question what you are watching, as opposed to your average rom-com when you know what will happen before the opening scene is finished.

Domino (2005)

One of our new DVDs, Kiera Knightley stars in this based-on-a-true-story film about Domino Harvey, a privileged English girl who moves too America and becomes a bounty hunter. The story centres around them (Domino and her bounty hunting pals) getting caught up in a plot involving gangsters, casino money and two former cast members of Beverly Hills 90210. It was pretty good, and interesting enough that it inspired us to go looking for more info about the real Domino.

Holes (2003)

When I was doing my second Teaching Prac, we were given desk space to use in the same room as the English Book Store. So, of course, in our spare periods when we had nothing better to do, we read. I would never have read Holes if there hadn't been a class set of copies with attractive covers right behind where I sat. But I thought it was great when I read it and immediately thought it would make an awesome film. Turns out, someone else who read it thought the same thing. I've been wanting to see it for ages, especially since I heard that the novel's author also wrote the screenplay, but haven't been able to get my hands on it - until yesterday when I found it cheap in Woolworths (different to the Woolworths back home, but thats a different post altogether).

The film-makers who work on Harry Potter could learn SO many lessons from the people who made Holes. It is as true to the book as you want it to be and really captures everything that makes the book so great. True, I'm not as attached to this story as I am to HP (and I've only read it once - 2 years ago), so I guess I'm not going to be as critical if they change things, but the fact is, they just didn't change enough to affect the telling of the story. One big reason for this is the use of the author as screenwriter, I guess, but also that the film-makers' vision just seemed more about telling the story and less about lining the pockets of WB.

The story is about a kid who gets accused of stealing some shoes and is sent to a detention camp where they have to dig a 5ft hole every day. I guess its aimed at like young teenagers, but is enjoyable by all ages. Its not going to make your brain hurt with its superior intelligence, or anything, but it is a well-told story with the right mix of humour, action and historical background stories intertwining. So yeah, read Holes, or watch the film, or both - they're all good.

I wonder what that collection of films says about me?

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