The first half of my first of three terms at Waltham is over. Eight weeks of straight teaching and learning. If I were to give myself a letter grade as a teacher I would give myself a C. Average. Just OK. I additionally caught my second cold of the year, just in time for my break from school. I am catching up on a lot of sleep.
Before I began teaching here I had some real lofty goals. I was going to bring in this, a touch of that, a dash of Oregon here, and a ton of US ingenuity as a teacher working abroad. Immediately I found myself struggling right out of the gate and having to learn quickly that what I had initially planned was probably not going to work. So then what? I found myself searching for phase II, or phase III in my teaching skills. What was working? What was not? Fulbright reiterated to us that we would feel like first time teachers all over again, but that we were not and that we needed to dig deep to find what makes us so special as teachers.
I began to dig, reevaluate, and retry my skills. The first thing to get an overhaul was my management procedures. I was given the infamous Harry Wong book on the first days of school, so I began to pour over that for ideas. What worked great in Portland was not working at all in Waltham. My files of ideas are all in storage back home, so I worked hard in my head to develop new strategies to get things sorted in my room. And I did! But it did take much longer than expected.
As far as teaching the curriculum went I got maths sorted the first. Since the smartboard comes into play so much with maths I got the board under control and successes in maths were occurring. English over here (reading and writing) still need, eight weeks later, adjusting. I have a better idea on how to teach reading and writing as I am using more resources than I began with to get learning goals achieved. Again, teachers here are given a lot of freedom on how to teach which is fine, but in my case I have struggled since getting started, with a completely different set of resources, was my challenge. I am using large chunks of the PPS writing curriculum which is working quite well because it is linear and the students can see where there writing is going so it is easier for them to reflect on where they are at and where they need to be going.
The rest of what I am teaching is still being sorted. With my weekly PPA time and, to the chagrin of my family, half of my weekends I am churning out strategies to teach all the other subjects that I am totally unfamiliar teaching. I joined a UK teacher’s resource site, called TES, which gives free access to NQT’s. Though not new, I emailed them my situation and they gave me a free subscription. Through TES I get a much, much better idea of how to attack these new subjects! One thing I see a lot over here is teachers using PowerPoints in their curriculum. So many PowerPoints have been created for so many subjects. I can download the ones I like and use them to either introduce, reinforce, or guide my teaching. Additionally there are lesson plans, worksheets, reading resources, art activities, etc… already designed by teachers for teachers.
I cannot say how much the smartboard is truly a teachers best friend and it will be difficult to go back to Oregon without one. I may have to adjust my document projector back home to get more out of it. Technology in teaching in the UK is the wave of the present, not the future. In a 160 year old school the irony is not lost on me.
I did have parents’ nights before our break and was pleased to hear from every single parent that they and their children were very happy with me. It was so reassuring to get such positive feedback from so many as I was wondering if I was pleasing anyone. Teachers know that we seldom settle for what we are doing and constantly wonder if we are doing enough for our students.
One subject I do get to teach however I want is my culture from back home. Fulbright told us that we should teach about our city, our state, and our lives from back home. With the baseball playoffs in full swing, and my two Bay Area teams competing, I developed some mini lessons around baseball. I built a PowerPoint on all the teams in the playoffs, had the pupils fill in playoff brackets, and built a large bracket on the wall with the teams all represented. Each week we check in with what is happening, watch a little video (if we can), and talk about baseball. I even had the kids do a homework activity, involving some research on a team in the playoffs. One student told me, upon turning it in, that her father found the homework ‘the best thing my child has ever worked on.’
The next half of Term 1 will see some distinct teaching changes from me. I know what works. I know what does not work. And I have new ideas to bring out that I think will work. Fulbright alumni tell me that I have to teach in the UK, but I need to not forget who I am and what I do that got me here. I need to not forget that and bring it into the classroom.