My first week of teaching in England is officially complete. As I sit here typing I have so many different ideas about what to say. So much occurred this first week. Some days were overwhelming, while others were smooth and everything was clicking. I will try and make as many relevant comments to my week teaching and will do my best to avoid personal feelings or critiques. Obviously things are different here and for me, learning how to work with these changes is my professional goal.
One of the first things I can say about my classroom is that there is no teacher’s desk. I have a shelf unit that contains trays that hold my supplies, and on top is my computer and the mechanics for the smartboard. Students work at tables, not desks. There is a supplies trolley in the room, where they can find coloured pencils, pens, glue sticks, etc…The pencils students use do not have erasers on them, as they are expected to cross out any and all mistakes. Students are expected to do a lot of writing in pen as well, and they must always write in cursive. Printing is not allowed, even for me (which is a challenge when working on the smartboard).
Students do all their work in a variety of exercise books. They come in many shapes and sizes. Some have lined paper in them, some plain white paper. I decide which ones to use and how to use them. There are no binders. I keep all their exercise books in my part of the room, and I do my best to mark them, meaning I read through the work they do each day and make comments. I am expected to do this daily, or at least as often as possible. All student work is expected to be read over and commented on. Worksheets or handouts are few and far between.
I have not started a homework plan yet, though I have some large exercise books ordered to use for homework. Homework here is expected but not nearly at the level that I am used to assigning. Working with the curriculum is a challenge. All the goals and expectations are clearly laid out for me, but how to actually teach the information is really up to the teacher. For example, if you have been teaching in England for a while a good teacher would create a portfolio of activities that they enjoyed teaching, and that the kids enjoyed, and you make sure they all meet the necessary goals and objectives. For me, I have to kind of start from scratch. There are resources in the building to assist me, plus the help from my peers, but I have freedom to develop what I want…as long as students meet the goals and objectives. For subjects such as PE, French, and Maths there are guides for me to use, but they are quite thin compared to what I am familiar with back in Oregon. The idea of freedom sounds great, but it is very difficult doing this in an unfamiliar situation. It is making me think a lot more, so I expect that my creative ingenuity will bubble to the surface.
There are no tests. There are no pre or post assessments. If I wanted to I could develop and give some out, but it is not expected. Students will take a formal test in the Spring. Testing is not done during the year as it is seen as ‘teaching to a test.’
My Headteacher required me to take some classes already. I am now cpr certified, and I am certified in ‘positive handling’ of children, which is a course in handling disruptive children and how to safely remove them from a classroom. Safety is a very important issue in England. I seem to think that safety is important in Oregon too, but it is more evident here. Teaching at a small school, in a village, means that all the teachers must be fully prepared for any and every thing that could jeopardize children’s safety.
The staff here is amazingly supportive. Everyday I am given assistance in whatever I need, and without that support I would be having a really hard time. Everyone is very polite and encouraging. Manners in England are much more up front that what I am used to by both adults and children. Students, whether or not they are in my room, say “Good morning Mr. Sturges” daily, and everyone says “Please Sir” or “Thank You Sir” whenever you help. I find this very humbling. If only I could get my own two kids to say “Thanks” every once in a while when I do things for them!
Students wear uniforms. The colours at Waltham are red and white and black. During assembly time, when the whole school is together (all 80 or so kids), everyone looks so prim and proper in their uniforms. Both my kids and myself are in Church of England schools. We have an assembly daily, which is based on Christian values. We sing, or hear a story, light candles, and think about God. Students also say grace before they sit to eat. Each classroom also has a class prayer (we are the Oak class), which we say right before I send them home each day. There are no bells telling us when to come or go, we just have to look at the clock. School is out at 3:15, but I have found myself letting them out a bit late if I am not watching the clock.
This weekend I am working on developing lessons for my upcoming Henry VIII unit, gathering materials about various solar eclipses, and researching some math games that we can play in the room. For any Oregon teachers reading this, I introduced Close to 100 (a math game) to the students last week. The goals of this game matched the goals for the daily lesson so I was comfortable introducing and playing it. Students loved the game. I had to find numeral cards and even make some of my own, but the lesson went down brilliantly.
I will post some more school photos soon and will tell more tales about teaching at Waltham, but some Pac-12 football is live on tv and needs my attention!