Sunday, 21 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 2 - In School

Today was our first experience in an American school. Our first drive to school in Rhett's half electric car, whose interior looks like some of spaceship's flight deck rather than a small car!
School's School, everywhere in the world school consist of pupils and teachers and there are so many similarities, but for me, it isn't the similarities that are of much interest but actually the differences. We arrived in school nice and early and was immediately greeted by staff members, teachers, students and members of their leadership team.

The school is through Elementary, Middle, and High school all joined together, with a total student population of about 1800 students. This is from Kindergarten through to year 12. The school day here is very different from our own as they have 7, 55 minute lessons a day, an advisory, which is equivalent to our form time for 25 minutes, and a split lunch system where different sections of the school go at different times and the high school is a 3 way split too. We were lucky to be in on a Friday as the normal morning notices given to the middle school include the singing of the school song. The notices are read out by students and the song is lead by the students with the teachers singing along with the students.
The other really big difference for the school day is this particular's school timetable where students and teachers have the same classes each and everyday all year. So Rhett's period 1 class is the same group of kids each day all year. Rhett also gets one lesson off every day! Could you imagine that in the UK? I spent some of the time in Rhett's unusual classroom. I can't say I had ever been into a room that has the following in it. 4 normal desks with power sockets on them, a high round table that you'd normally find in a bar, a fridge door, 4 reclining lazy boy chairs, a rocking chair, a wing-backed chair, and an Amazon Echo! This eclectic mix of furniture and the decorations all around on the room keep the kids engaged and interested in coming to his lessons.

From World History I was taken up to middle school Maths where the lovely teacher welcomed me in despite me being something of a distraction to the kids especially with my British accents. I loved winding the kids up telling them that I wasn't the one with an accent but they were! It is really funny to see that particular penny drop and for them to realise that we both have accents. The thing about this is they enjoy the change from the norm. Oh, I really like your accent, oh but I really like yours. It is this challenge to what we hold as normal that makes the situation more exciting and interesting. After all, what is an accent really and how would someone's life change just but the sound of their voice? The Maths room was a more traditional room with more normal size desks but the tables were white topped allowing the kids to write on them. Something I have seen before and really want in my own classroom. There were also desks for students that prefer to stand up and work in so students got a choice of what suits them.

Again there were also a couple of different styles of chair and stools for students to sit on so they had some choice and the kids were really engaged in the lesson.
The students in the school all have school-issued Chromebooks which they use in some but not all lessons and the most abstract way I saw them being used was standing on edge as a divider during a test.

Lunch in the canteen was funny with the segregated trays that students and staff used to put their food on. Breakfast and Lunch are provided by the school for the teachers as a nice little benefit for the teachers.
So down the corridors from the middle school and you are seamlessly transported to the high school. I had a chance to visit a Maths class and also a Biology classes and again I am made to feel like a bit of a celebrity and asked to say words that don't really have a difference in either language.
The feel in the classrooms is more relaxed our students really like the feeling in the classroom. The expectations in the school are high for the kids and the parents evening next week is a big deal as it is the only evening throughout the year when the parents and their teachers get a chance to formally sit down and chat. Rhett gets all of his kids to record a video to share with their parents giving them the basic information that they all need to know in their own words. He doesn't script it for them or get them to redo it before the evening he simple gets them to record for 30 - 60 seconds and then shows it straight to the parents. I wonder if I could even attempt to do this with my students? What would the parents think? What would my colleagues think too? Could I pick a class to try and do this with this year as an experiment?
The one thing that I took from the school today was their sense of pride about the things that they do outside of the actual learning that goes on. The school song is sung on a Friday morning, they say the pledge of allegiance in the mornings, their trophy cabinet is stuffed full of trophies out on display, when they play sports at home the whole community comes out and watches. These things are very different in our school when I am teaching and our teams are playing at home the rest of the school are still in lessons. Our teams may get a few supporters from the sixth form but it really isn't the community vibe that emanates from the school here in Missouri. Has our community, country become too reserved and insula that our schools success in sports. I know that we have our specific evening concerts and gym and dance displays but when our teams play home games or host other schools in tournaments we should try and support our teams and celebrate our success beyond that of the lightning mention in assembly. Do we do enough to celebrate our students' success in general?
I guess that there are a number of ways that we do but it just feels far more reserved then it does here in the USA.

The final part of my day was at the middle school principal's house where he had arranged for a gathering in his house so we had a chance to chat some more with the teachers and get to know them better. The difficult part of having a bunch of teachers in the room is trying to break away from work based conversations but we had a really enjoyable evening and have been introduced to a new game which is a similar to some of the rounds in mock the week so we will have to see if we can pick it before we travel home.

I have been really impressed with this school and I know that not all the things are common in all schools in the USA but I really like what I have seen here and I know our students have really enjoyed their day. The next two days are designated as time with families so I am looking forward to spending a couple of days with Rhett and Shelley and I know the kids will have an amazing weekend too.

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