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Easter Around the World: From Bonfires to Crime Novels

Easter Around the World: From Bonfires to Crime Novels

Easter is just around the corner, and you know what that means: it’s time to get your egg-hunting gear ready and prepare for a feast fit for a king! But did you know that Easter traditions vary greatly around the world? It’s not all eggs in the basket! From really wacky to wonderful, here are some of the most interesting Easter traditions from around the globe.

Norway observes a tradition called “Påskekrim” where people read crime novels during the Easter holiday. Apparently, the crime genre is so popular during this time that even milk cartons and chocolate eggs come with a crime story printed on them. Talk about a murder mystery-themed Easter! (All hail Agatha Christie!)

In Brazil, they have a tradition called “Queima do Judas” where life-sized dolls representing Judas Iscariot are built, the disciple who betrayed Jesus and then burnt it in a public square. It’s a way of symbolically punishing Judas for his betrayal. 

People in Finland light bonfires on Easter Day to ward off witches who are believed to fly around on broomsticks and cause mischief. Harry Potter is not amused, but muggles sure are! 

Bulgarians engage in a tradition called “kravajnane” which involves cracking hard-boiled eggs with each other. The person with the last uncracked egg is believed to have good luck for the entire year. 

And of course, there are the more mainstream traditions like dyeing and decorating Easter eggs, having a big Easter feast with family and friends, and attending religious services. Whatever your Easter traditions may be, we wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Easter! 

Holi: The Festival of Colors

Holi: The Festival of Colors

Spain has La Tomatina, Brazil has Carnival, and India, well, India has HOLI! 

A festival like no other, Holi is all about people coming together and immersing themselves in vibrant colors, eating lip-smacking delicacies, and dancing in the streets dripping with enthusiasm. 

The festival of Holi is usually celebrated in March and the date changes according to the Lunar calendar every year, like most Hindu festivals. Holi marks the beginning of spring in India. The origins of this festival can be traced back to Hindu mythology, where it’s believed that the festival commemorates the victory of good over evil. The story goes that the demon king Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahlad, who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. But Hiranyakashipu was against his son’s faith and tried to kill him. However, Prahlad was saved by Lord Vishnu and his evil father was ultimately defeated.

But let’s talk about the fun part of Holi – THE COLORS! On the day of Holi, people gather in the streets and on the terrace of their homes armed with packets of colored powder and water guns. It’s a free-for-all, with people throwing colors at each other, smearing each other’s faces with bright pigments, and drenching each other with water. The famed water balloon fights are an integral, albeit slightly painful, part of this festival as well. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the blaze of color and madness on this day. People of all ages participate in the revelry. Even strangers become friends, as they share the joy of the festival together. And the best part is that no one is spared from the colorful onslaught – from children to grandparents, everyone is fair game! 

The vibrant colors of Holi.

Got you wanting to witness this firsthand, right? You might just be able to. Take a look at some community groups on Facebook and you might just find a Holi party being organized somewhere in your city!

But before you dive headfirst into the festivities, a few words of caution. Make sure you wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting stained, as the colors can be pretty stubborn. If you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to use a protective lotion or oil to prevent any allergic reactions. Lastly, wear comfortable shoes that allow you to break into a run, just in case you want to dodge some water guns! 

We are all set at MyCoolClass with our weaponry of choice, ready to come out of battle looking like a rainbow exploded! And you? 

International Women’s Day is Vital to Education

International Women’s Day is Vital to Education

International Women’s Day is a very important day in the education system. As of 2019, 54% of the world’s secondary teachers and 67% of its primary teachers were women.

Before I entered high school, I had been taught by only five male teachers. Part of me knew this wasn’t right; obviously, there should be more men willing to teach younger grades. Yet, part of me was proud. Women were teaching everything, including every math and science class. Even at a young age, I knew that was unusual. Most of the time, men taught STEM, and women taught the stereotypical “easy” classes like English and history.

During high school, the gender split was roughly equal–but every math teacher was male. I cannot express how much I appreciated the woman who taught me biology, environmental science, and honors chemistry. I thrived in those classes, and that was largely thanks to her.

The Great Teacher Resignation in the United States, MyCoolClass, and International Women’s Day are all connected.

So, in honor of all the women making the choice to change lives through teaching, I would like to take a moment to discuss the importance of women in education.

Elementary School Teachers are Women… Right?

In 2020, 89% of public elementary school teachers in the United States were women. By high school, that number had decreased to 60%–still more than half of the workforce. In the UK, only 14% of primary school teachers were males, and thousands of men left primary and secondary education in the 2010s.

The reason for these numbers is highly debated. In the States, early childhood education and elementary school teachers are paid significantly less than their high school counterparts. The job isn’t taken as seriously, or the job is considered easier. The (ridiculous) logic is that everyone knows the alphabet, numbers, and geography, so teaching those grades requires less training.

Speaking as someone who has worked in those environments, I can attest that there is nothing easy about being an ECE or elementary school teacher. In addition to being able to teach core concepts, the job requires significant patience, compassion, classroom management, and energy that is truly difficult to maintain. Furthermore, you better know everything there is to know about the Earth, solar system, human body, weather, and anything else observable because the “Why?” questions never stop.

Nevertheless, the US and UK do not represent all societies, and we must admit that global education is more complicated.

For example, in Ukraine in 2020, 98.5% of primary teachers and 82% of secondary teachers were female–one of the highest countries in both categories. Most of its neighbors, including Russia, Moldova, Belarus, and Hungary, have significantly higher percentages of female teachers than the global average, too.

Conversely, only 15% of South Sudan’s primary school teachers were female in 2015, and there is no available data from Somalia since 2007. In 2016, merely 4% of Guinea’s primary teachers were women, and the last data from Guinea-Bissau is from 2000.

Economists, sociologists, political scientists, and world leaders all have opinions and reasons for why these numbers vary so widely. Regardless, there is always one clear connection: Women can teach where girls can learn.

When online companies and teachers provide education access to girls, it furthers the entire global society–and the chance that those girls will become teachers, too.

“A Day Without a Woman” Led to Severe Teacher Shortages

In 2017, “A Day Without a Woman” events occurred in more than 50 countries. This general strike happened on International Women’s Day, and it focused on women’s rights and their contributions to their families, communities, and global society. Initial planning began in Poland, where it was later reported that tens of thousands of women marched. Activists in the US gave additional exposure, as it followed The Women’s March in January 2017, and other countries quickly gave additional support.

The strike’s relatively long planning allowed teachers to request leave in advance, resulting in teacher shortages throughout the country. At least four schools closed, but some suspect that number was higher. (One school announced closing after approximately 1,700 teachers requested leave.) Schools that did stay open required substitutes to takeover–and in 2017, 71% of substitute teachers were women, too.

The strike exposed the skewed gender ratio in education, and it did spark conversations on that topic for a few days. Unfortunately, other issues soon took priority, and the discussion quieted–until now.

The Great Teacher Resignation

The Great Resignation is a movement in the United States, in which a significant number of workers are leaving their jobs to become self-employed. The idea is that these resignations, along with other steps, will ultimately lead to greater employee rights, pay, and benefits.

The logic, intent, practice, and consequences are all complicated. There are arguments about race, class, and gender wrapped into it, with strong opinions on every side. However, the point is this: teachers are one of the groups jumping ship.

Despite articles from a few optimistic sites, many teacher- and education-focused organizations are reporting alarming rates of teachers intending to resign, as well as recent resignations. The reasons for this flight are not petty. To give readers a clearer picture (especially for those outside the US), here are common complaints:

–Teachers (and students) are being exposed to COVID. Only 65% of Americans are fully-vaccinated, and many schools do not take the necessary precautions to lower the risk of teachers and students contracting the virus. Despite having a vaccine approved for younger students, only 26.2% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated–leaving elementary school teachers especially vulnerable.
–A survey published by the National Education Association in December 2021 found that 90% of teachers rated “feeling burned out” “serious” or “very serious”, and 91% gave the same ratings for “general stress” due to COVID. These issues are compounded by feeling disrespected by parents and the general public and not having enough time to plan lessons. Additionally, teachers cited concerns about students’ behavioral issues and a lack of mental health support for the students.
–There is a severe shortage of substitute teachers, making it difficult for educators to take time off if they or their family members become ill. This shortage is causing some states to change their laws, making it easier to become a substitute teacher. Although this could help more people become passionate, enthusiastic educators, the concern is that there will be a greater number of untrained, underqualified individuals suddenly thrown into a chaotic situation.
–COVID created a learning gap, and teachers are pressured to teach a large quantity of information quickly. At times, teachers have reported that when they try to prioritize students’ mental health, parents chastise them for not focusing enough on academia.

In the study cited above, 55% of educators reported expecting to leave or retire earlier than originally planned–up from 28% in July 2020. Teachers identifying as people of color were more likely to have these thoughts, potentially resulting in less diversity in the American education system. Interestingly, data on gender appears to be unavailable regarding the planned (and previous) resignations, but considering the ratio in early grades, we can assume that women are leaving, too.

It should be noted that teachers are not the only individuals affected; aides, counselors, and support staff are struggling, too. The entire education industry is being damaged by these difficulties.

Most schools in the US finish their academic year between the end of May and middle of June, so we will have a greater understanding of The Great Teacher Resignation in a few months. However, no one should be surprised if schools are scrambling to fill tremendous vacancies over the summer break.

How MyCoolClass Provides an Alternative

MyCoolClass was founded by teachers experiencing many of the problems discussed above. They felt underappreciated by their administrators or platforms, and they believed they could have a greater impact in a different environment. Upon speaking with colleagues, it became clear that these feelings were not unique.

Like many teachers, they knew that there was a better way to teach.

Although some educators may permanently leave the industry, many teachers are finding a new career path through online education. Furthermore, experts and industry leaders who are resigning are experimenting with teaching their craft, either as a side hobby or full time.

MyCoolClass allows anyone to teach, as long as they have expertise in their field. For example, a math teacher may have been a lifelong math teacher in a live classroom or an electrical engineer who simply loves teaching trigonometry. These individuals are passionate teachers who want to share their knowledge.

As mentioned earlier, the majority of Ukrainian primary and secondary teachers are women. MyCoolClass is aware of the enormous challenges facing this population and has taken several steps to help Ukrainian educators teach their students. These steps include a simplified application process in Ukrainian, waiving the onboarding fee for teachers affected by the conflict, and creating a volunteer program to provide free supplemental education to displaced students.

One of the fundamental principles of cooperatives is open membership. There is no bias based on gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, race, ethnicity, or any other demographic. Anyone willing to participate in a democratic, autonomous, member-led organization that has concern for their communities is welcome.

A Final Thank You

When I think of the strongest women in my life, I think of librarians, doctors, nurses, and social workers, but “teachers” always comes first. My life is better because of the preschool teacher who taught me how to empathize, the high school science teacher who believed I could be a leader, and all the teachers between them.

To all the women choosing to teach in these turbulent times…
To all those who teach despite gender discrimination…
To all those who earn significantly less than their male counterparts…
And to all those who are providing education to future female leaders…

Winter Festivals to Inspire TEFL Lesson Plans

Winter Festivals to Inspire TEFL Lesson Plans

For teachers with long term students, festivals can be a great time to change our usual TEFL lesson plans and introduce fun activities in the classroom. Here are 5 winter festivals I celebrate with my students, and some of of my favourite activities.

Christmas – 25th of December

Being a global festival, Christmas is celebrated by many students and known by many others. There are so many free Christmas worksheets, songs, activities, and stories available that you can create your ideal TEFL lesson plans or customise your classes so they’re perfect for your student. Here are just three of many ideas for your Christmas themed class:

Read a book. As simple as this idea is, there are many beautifully written Christmas stories and poems, from The Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol.

Listen to a Christmas song. Christmas songs are ideal for listening activities because they’re fun and exciting, especially for children.

You can find some Christmas songs here:

https://www.songsforteaching.com/christmas/

Write a letter to Santa – A fun activity for children is writing a letter to Santa. This activity can be adjusted to your student’s level, with beginners listing their favourite toys and more advanced students learning about letter writing.

Chinese New Year – 1st of February

For those of us who teach Chinese children (or live in big cities) will be familiar with Chinese New Year. Celebratory activities include the dragon dance, fireworks, and the famous red packets. Red is the main colour of this vibrant winter festival, which for younger children could be a lesson in itself. Try finding red versions of your class topics – clothes, fruit, or animals. Other fun activities include:

Reading about the Chinese zodiac. 2022 will be the year of the tiger but you could also learn about your student’s zodiac animal.

Discussing tidying the house. Cleaning is a big part of Chinese New Year, a lesson on tidying things away is a timely way to practice nouns, prepositions of place, verbs, and sentence structure. Use a picture of a messy house and ask the student to help tidy it up by telling you where the items should go.

Creating a family tree for your student or a character in a book you’ve been reading.

You can find some more fun ideas here:

https://teambuilding.com/blog/virtual-chinese-new-year

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/Chinese%20New%20Year%20Lesson%20plan.pdf

The Rio Carnival – 25th of February through 5th of March

Rio’s famous carnival comes from the Portuguese tradition of dressing up in costumes before the start of Lent. It has since come to reflect more of Brazil’s many cultural influences, with the Brazilian dance called Samba taking centre stage.

Being an energetic, multi-cultural event, The Rio Carnival is perfect inspiration for EFL teachers. Here are a few ideas for carnival themed lessons.

Play Samba music. Although this isn’t overtly English practice, rhythm is an important part of language and awareness of rhythm has been shown to be beneficial for English students. There are some interesting Youtube videos about Samba rhythms which you could watch with your student. Alternatively, you could try speaking sentences or reading poems in a Samba rhythm to see how different it sounds.

Design carnival masks or costumes. The Rio Carnival is known for its vibrant masks and costumes, so students can have a lot of fun designing their own. You can find some masks to colour, and other Carnival themed colouring pages here.

Plan a street party. Street parties are an important part of Rio’s Carnival. A lesson on planning a street party can include adjusting recipes for more people, describing the student’s ideal party, or colouring some decorations for the event.

You can find more interesting activities here:

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/storytelling-carnival-crime

https://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-rio-carnival-activities-6553349.html

Winter Solstice – 21st of December

The winter solstice has been celebrated for many centuries by people all over the world. There are many different ways of celebrating the solstice, making it ideal inspiration for teachers with lots of international students. Ways of celebrating the winter solstice include:

Reading ancient myths. Many cultures celebrate the winter solstice by telling traditional stories and poems. You could tell your student a traditional story from your culture or ask them to tell one of theirs. You could also read some ancient myths about the sun. Alternatively, you could read a story or poem that you just know your student will love.

Reading some recipes. Another common way of celebrating the winter solstice is by making a special meal, so reading recipes is a good solstice themed activity to do in a TEFL lesson. Creative students can write their own recipes, while those who love maths can have fun adjusting the recipes for more people. 

Studying astronomy – The winter solstice is a celebration of a natural event, so it is an ideal chance for those teaching science enthusiasts to bring their interests into our lesson. You can read a text explaining the solstice or even learn about the solar system in general. Many of the activities found here can be used in or adapted for online classes.

The Sapporo Snow Festival – 5th of February

This Japanese festival is very new and started in 1950 when some children made snow sculptures in Odori Park in Sapporo, Japan. This continued for several years and in 1974 it became an international competition.

The beauty of this festival is that it started with children playing in the snow. Although it has since become an international event, spontaneity and playfulness are useful in children’s TEFL lesson, and this festival is a reminder of what children can do when they’re given the tools and freedom to play. Here are three activity ideas inspired by The Sapporo Snow Festival:

Make some word art. Write out the words you’ve been working on and shape it, so it looks like an ice sculpture. You can make examples to show your students here.

Play snow sculpture dictation. The students draw their own snow sculpture but don’t show it to you. Instead, they give you instructions on how to draw it. Compare the pictures afterwards.

Play ice statue. This game is similar to musical statues. The student becomes an ice statue and needs to stay still while the teacher reads out words, or sentences, they’ve been working on. The student needs to move when they hear an incorrect word or sentence.

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