Friday, March 13, 2009

Fourth letter home (extract)

31st January, 2009
I can’t believe that I have been in England for over a month. At the same time, it seems like much longer than that, because so much has happened. I am looking forward to everything being a lot more settled now that I have the job front sorted, but I’m also lamenting an earlier return to regular marking and lesson planning than I was hoping for! Oh well.

My first three days at 'new school' went well, although it was certainly a case of ‘information overload’. Starting four weeks into a term, following a supply teacher who had only stayed for three weeks, is going to mean a lot of careful planning to ensure that I can cover the learning outcomes within the time remaining- before I have really come to grips with the individual skill levels of the students under my care. From what I can gather, the students have been left to mostly faff about or watch the dvds during the last three weeks, so we have a lot of catching up to do. The fact that I am still teaching at 'tiny town' two days a week until half term (because I’m more interested in doing the right thing than my agency was) also means that I am having to leave extras for the teaching assistant who will be filling in for me at 'new school' while I’m not there- hardly ideal. Anyway, we’ll get there.

The English faculty has ten members, and from what I have seen so far they are all intelligent and engaged, and mostly young. They have been really helpful and I have no doubt they will continue to be, but at the same time 'new school' has no staff induction system to speak of. I rocked up on Monday morning and was teaching my own lessons from period one onwards... and that was it! At least the curriculum is well planned out so I’m not going in there completely blind, but the assessment and reporting practices are still a mystery, so I’m hoping to come to grips with that asap so that I don’t end up with a big mess on my hands.

Getting to know my students will be more difficult than I am used to- I have three year 7 classes, two year 8s, a year 9, a year 10 and a year 8 drama class. That’s double the number of classes that I have been teaching in Oz over the last couple of years, and I’m actually under allotted by four whole periods. The 7-9 classes have over one hour less class time than they get at my old school, and the senior classes are about the same. I am missing 70 minute classes in which you can actually get quite a bit done. I am also missing laptops and access to technology in general. The change is going to make quite a difference to my teaching style, but that’s not the only change, of course.

Working in exercise books has become quite an art-form over here! The students use different codes for course work and homework, and get quite agitated if you forget to write the date on the board or give them a heading, or don’t specify whether or not you want something written in the margin (margins? Try getting a kid at my old school to even rule one). Even the senior students, who wouldn’t give a stuff about headings and whatnot at my old school ask for bloody headings. I have to work pretty hard to bite my tongue and not say, ‘who cares? This isn’t learning- you’re never going to write in a bloomin’ exercise book again once you leave school and it’s just wasting our learning time’... but that wouldn’t go over very well. Suffice to say, I don’t think that developing independent learners is a focus of the English education system.

The students are quite cute (a lot of them anyway- not the year 10’s so much) but I am so out of practice at teaching the middle years. I am missing my year 12s. One of the year 7 classes in particular are endearingly keen and so desperate for my undivided attention that I tend to feel like I have 30 toddlers attached to my ankles when I am teaching them. They seem younger than Australian year 7s, especially considering that they are already more than halfway through their school year, but I guess the timing of the school year makes a difference as well. Anyway, I think that teaching the younger years will be fun- I just need to train them up a bit!

It’s a very traditional school in lots of ways- I nearly fell over when I walked into my first class and began to take the ‘register’ (call it the roll and you get either laughter or confusion) and every student responded to their name with ‘Yes Madam’. Seriously. I’m not joking. It is taking some getting used to, and it is hard not to feel a certain sensation of identity loss when you realise that not one of your students is actually going to address you by name, ever. Even when kids are trying to get my attention during independent work I don’t get the singsong ‘mi-ss, mi-ss’ anymore- I get ‘madam, madam’. I can still hear it in my head today. Ugh.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. I think that I will learn a lot, but I’m not really thinking beyond keeping my head above water by following the workplan and getting to know the kids at the moment. Hopefully that will change in time. It has only been three days, after all!

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