Beechen Cliff is a comprehensive, all-boys school in Bath, England. One look at the school’s OFSTED report and anyone can see that this is an exceptional school. Boasting happy students and teachers, high exam scores, and excellent attendance rates, it is no surprise that Beechen Cliff is an “oversubscribed” school with many students waiting to attend. In the school’s mission statement, it states that the staff at Beechen Cliff wants to “provide the best education for each pupil, to prepare each pupil for adulthood, and to achieve the highest standards in all areas of School life.” Based on the rigor of teaching I observed today, I can already see that these teachers are working their hardest to provide the best education possible to their students. Hung all over the school are flyers illustrating Beechen Cliff “core values” and “codes of conduct.” The overall behavior throughout the school indicates that these messages are heard and received by the majority of the student population.
After my first visit to Beechen Cliff, I can easily see that there are numerous similarities and differences between high schools at home and secondary schools here in England. The first difference I noticed was the school climate; at Beechen Cliff, the line between student and teacher is thick and clearly drawn. In schools at home, I often saw the student-teacher relationship blurred when students would become close with teachers and let them into their personal lives as more of a friend than as an authority figure. Just walking through the hallways quickly showed that there is no fraternizing among students and teachers, and it is expected to remain that way up until students complete their formal schooling. In addition to the expected behavior of the students, I believe the dress code also helps to demarcate the line between student and adolescent and student and teacher. For example, the boys are expected to enter the school grounds with a tie and blazer, their top button buttoned, and shirts tucked in. The boys are repeatedly checked throughout the day for uniform and are even checked right before the final bell of the day rings. The only exception I saw to this rigid rule was during drama class and “games” period. When the teacher for drama told the boys that they could remove their ties and undo their buttons, they almost didn’t know how to respond; they quickly did and almost lost themselves in the chaos, but one could easily tell that they enjoyed the freedom to be “kids” that this teacher was allowing them.
As I entered the school as a young, female, American “teacher,” I could definitely feel the interest of the students. Many tried to figure out who I was as I passed by in the hallway, and the boys I got to interact with in class were very intrigued by my background. In the first class of the day, I went over to a group of boys to nudge them back to the task at hand. I walked over and said, “Boys, did you get that last note down?” and was immediately faced by four shocked faces until one excitedly asked me, “Are you American?!” When I laughed and responded telling them that I was from New York, the next questions were even better. One boy was quite disappointed to find out that I had not in fact met Barack Obama or even seen him in person and another was fascinated when he asked about 9/11, and I told him my experience with that awful day seeing as my father was a police officer working that tragedy. (On a side note, my father is and was fine but of course, right after the crash, we had not known that!) Other questions such as, “Do you have a boyfriend?” were not as much related to me being American as they were about me being a young female teacher in an all boys environment, but hopefully that novelty will fade over time.
While the younger boys from Years 7-9 were fascinated and excited to ask me all about “cool” New York, the older boys definitely exhibited some interesting behaviors. In one Year 10 class, a group of boys took it upon themselves to ask me to say certain words that I knew had different meanings here in England. I was able to avoid any faux pas during that but was shocked when one of the young boys made a “that’s what she said” joke to something that I had said about another boy’s work. I wasn’t sure if the boys thought that because I was American or because I was young that that would be acceptable but I made it my business to quickly let them know that that was not the case. That was the only moment during my visit in which I was taken aback by the boys’ boldness; however, in the big scheme of things, I will see it more as a 15 year old showing off to his friends and not take it personally.
Overall, I had a great first day at Beechen Cliff. I was able to be really involved with the students, which was something I had been missing at my last placement back at home. The younger students were eager to ask me for help and to have me read over their work to make sure it wasn’t “stupid and wrong.” It was so rewarding to see the confidence boost in a boy when I told him his writing was great. The teachers at the school truly value my presence, and it makes me feel like this is such a worthwhile experience when I feel so appreciated. I am excited to go back and participate in the Prospective Parents Night after my next visit!