**It seems that I am unable to stay on top of this blog as much as I would like. Once a week is about all the time I have to really get a chance to think, reflect, and share what my experiences are all about.
Lately I have received a lot of emails from friends who ask me “what is it like over there, am I having fun, what am I getting out and doing,” etc…My reality is that living here is not any sort of vacation. I live a very working class lifestyle in a working class town. When I am on vacation I think of chaise lounges, pools, sand between my toes. I live a life similar to what it was in Portland, just without the comforts of my old home. It is very business like for me over here. Rebecca runs most of the household duties and really keeps our ship afloat and sailing. I never come home to a chaotic mess. She does an excellent job. I go to work, work incredibly hard, and come home. Our home here has a small back garden with a small lawn and some plants in a bed, and our front garden has an even smaller lawn ringed with plants. A very easy place to upkeep. My exchange partner has a much larger responsibility taking care of our front and back yards. He will need to get up on a ladder and clean out gutters soon as well as prepare the home for winter. Here, I don’t have to do much and there are no gutters to clean out. There actually are not a lot of trees on the streets of Melton, or at least our part of town. I am looking to see if I could change that…
I do come home tired and worn out, unfortunately, and sometimes wish I could be a better dad or husband after work. We have acquired a few board games on loan from associates, so trying to get the family together in the evening is a new priority. So often I want to share my day with everyone, but the kids know that I talk business and it does not interest them as much as it used to. Rebecca will listen but I don’t want to wear her down every day with my ramblings. Our lives are really quite simple, living in a simple home, in a simple town. Nothing is simply easy, and that is the caveat.
So what do I do at work? I thought that I might rundown an example of how my life moves from day to day at school. I especially think that my teaching colleagues will find my school responsibilities quite interesting (and different).
The first three hours of my day, each day of the week, looks the same. A grand old iron bell is rung around 8:50, signalling students that it is OK to come into the building. Many students are dropped off around 8:40 and play outside on the school grounds. As they come into my room I have some morning maths problems on the Smartboard ready for them to work on. At 9:00 I take the register (manually), as well as take roll for those having a hot dinner (lunch).
Maths runs for about an hour. The math program I use runs on a five day schedule. For five days we explore some facet of maths. The next week, we explore something completely different. Two weeks ago we looked at 2D shapes, last week was metric measurement, and this week will be tally and frequency charts. I give no tests or assessments. I evaluate each student as they are working, and push forward those who grasp the concepts. I try not to pull back on students, though some have academic challenges so I modify their workload appropriately. I mark their math work daily so that they get instant feedback on how they are learning.
At 10:00 we all leave the room silently and in register order to the classroom next door for our school Assembly. This is part of the religious side of Waltham C of E Primary. At 10:15 the whole school goes outside for 15 minutes of morning play (recess). I have duty outside monitoring the kids every Monday. Around 10:30 the whole school splits up for phonics practice, which is school wide. Phonics lasts for about 20-25 minutes, and is a spelling program broken up into various levels depending on students needs. Since the school has no bell schedule it is up to the teachers to use their watches or clocks on the wall to know when and where pupils are to go next. All of us teachers have been guilty of being late or early when moving kids around.
After phonics I have a one hour period for my English or Literacy block. This can involve looking at reading strategies, writing strategies, guided reading groups, or all of the above. Obviously I cannot cover all three in an hour, so I move them around during the week as needed. I sometimes move guided reading into afternoons when available. I have used the PPS writing program for third graders to help me over here as I find it quite good.
School has its dinner from 12-12:30. Students eating hot meals eat in the adjacent classroom, while the cold dinners are consumed in mine. A prayer is said before we eat. The younger kids who do not eat a hot meal eat their cold dinners in their rooms. I leave my room at this point since it is full of at least 30 pupils eating. Prepping for the afternoon takes place here, as well as eating my dinner. I do not have any duty responsibilities during meal times, so technically I have a one hour break. Trust me, I need it. From 12:30-1:00 it is afternoon playtime for the school.
The afternoons are when everything changes. These are where our rotating non-core classes are taught across the building (for the most part). On Monday I teach French for about 30 minutes, then guided reading for 30, then PE for an hour. We have a PE program and I do not think I do a good job of teaching it. This subject requires so much practice to get right, and I do not have the skills yet to really pull it off. We use the playground as our PE room. There is a large football pitch on the school grounds, but it is grass and if it is wet out the kids get really wet when they fall down. Plus foxes leave their presence behind and we don’t want the kids falling into that mess.
On Tuesday I teach beginning Recorder for 25 minutes. Again, something I am learning how to do. So far my group knows two notes and I think they know what a stave is. After Recorders I am currently teaching ICT (computer technology) in my classroom for 1.5 hours. The school has 20 laptops which I bring into my room and the kids turn on, login, and we get to work straight away on projects. Sounds easy, huh? It is, again, a challenging part of my day since I am working with 7-9 year old kids, and their skills are all over the place. Sometimes the computers don’t quite do what we want, so tears and frustration levels from the kids can vary. I really try and teach patiently during ICT. Before ICT I was teaching Science during this time of day.
Wednesday afternoons are my PPA time, which is a sanctioned planning period for teachers. Lately my PPA time has been spent working on my Henry VIII knowledge, since I will be teaching Tudor history starting in November. I also plan out my maths and writing lessons, search through the school’s storage area for supplies needed, and generally try and sort out my teaching life. Additionally I mark student work so that they are getting the feedback they need. I do this work in the library, during which guitar lessons are taught to various students (the library is about the size of the copy room at my school in Portland, maybe a bit smaller). I look forward to hearing ‘Smoke on the Water’ each Wednesday whilst reading about poor Henry and his six wives. In my room a school TA, Mrs. Nott, teaches what I have left for her, which is usually Religion and Health. She does a wonderful job teaching these two subjects.
Thursdays currently see me teaching Design and Technology. To put it simply, I am devoting 7-9 hours teaching kids on how to design and build their own torches. We have a big box of electrical stuff and we are learning how to successfully use the equipment so that we all can build a torch, with a switch, that works. D & T is all about hands-on building. There is no teacher’s guide to this, rather a handout on what pupils should get out of the lessons and a handful of ideas on what I could do. Luckily there is the internet, so I am fairly prepared. Additionally, the kids are loving the work so it is easier to teach because of their attitude. Again, this is where my PPA time comes in handy so that I am not spending every night at home developing my lessons.
Fridays I return to another hour of PE in the afternoon, and we have our school sharing assembly in the afternoon. This is a longer assembly, where students can share work they have been doing in the classroom. Since we don’t have morning assembly I have added a What’s in the News segment to our day, where I teach the kids something in the current news, but my focus is on the USA. This week I talked about the Major League Baseball Playoffs. I put together a brill PowerPoint on all the teams in the playoffs and we all filled out brackets on the road to the World Series. A couple kids have heard of the Yankees, but did not know much more than that. I brought both mine and Zachary’s baseball gloves, a baseball, and another TA in the building, Mrs. Allen, brought in her son’s baseball bat. These were passed around and drew a lot of interest.
***Baseball side-note: our home tv gets ESPN America, and all the baseball playoffs are scheduled to be shown, including the World Series. As I type this I am watching the A’s-Tigers game, which I recorded last night. The games are live, so unless I want to be up until 4am I have to record them.
All my days at Waltham end with me reading aloud a novel to the class. I am currently reading Beverly Cleary’s ‘Ramona and her Father.’ The students are enjoying the book. All the Ramona stories take place in Portland. She is a second grader, a Year 3, so my class easily identifies with her. Then we end our day with our classroom prayer and I send them off. I will soon have gate duty on Fridays, where I monitor parents picking up their kids from school.
So that is my day at work. Some days are as smooth as whipped butter, whilst others are as jagged as a moon rock. That which I can control I am getting better at, and that which I cannot control (and I have to work with), I am no longer losing sleep over. I also want to mention that over the weekends I spend time marking student work as well as continuing to develop upcoming lessons. I was given a school laptop to use at home which has been very helpful since I don’t have to battle for our laptop from America.
We have an upcoming mid-term break the last full week of October. After the break I will be teaching Henry VIII, a new science unit, a different D & T, and a new ICT unit.
So that is what my school days look like. I feel so fortunate to come home to a loving and supportive family. Without them I would have to rely more on myself for support and I don’t know how strong I could be doing so. I do wish for the occasional alone time, but I feel more fortunate having my family here. I hate to use the word “hard” to describe living here, but challenging sometimes does not do justice. I imagine that my exchange partner is feeling much the same as I am, and I am glad I have a support system put in place so that he should not have to feel too alone living in Portland.