This past Friday I had my first day of student teaching at Manorcroft Primary School in Egham, Surrey. I was in a state of constant amazement all day just observing and soaking in everything that was going on. Although there is no big language difference between British and American schools, there is a huge cultural difference. I am positive I will adjust to the “new culture,” but right now everything about the British classroom is very new and exciting. A typical American school day is very different than a day at Manorcroft, which is why doing this international pre-practicum is going to be such an interesting experience.
The classroom I’m placed in is a Year 2 class, which is the American equivalent of first grade. There are 31 students in the class, which is taught by Ms. Cornick, and a teaching assistant. However, the teaching assistants do not work on Fridays, which is the day that I am at Manorcroft. The school day began with Ms. Cornick, taking the register. She says, “good morning” to each individual student, and s/he is expected to respond with, “good morning.” At that moment, and throughout the day, I noticed that school in general is much more proper and formal than it is in America. After the register, there was a great deal of time spent on reading and literacy. From the decorations around the room and from seeing the timetable, it was clear to me that Manorcroft gives a great deal of instruction on literacy and considers it to be the most important subject. One of the most surprising parts of the day occurred when students returned from playtime outside and had 15 minutes of “cutting skills.” During this time, students had to practice properly cutting out squares of various sizes after Ms. Demonstrated that students rotate the paper when cutting as opposed to turning and twisting their arms. Having instruction on such a task goes to show that British educators want students to learn the “proper” way of doing things.
From observing the entire day in Ms. Cornick’s classroom, a couple things stuck out to me as being very different from the American culture. Unlike in America, where students will whine, “I wasn’t using that” when asked to tidy up, students in 2C had a much better attitude about it. Even if it was not their mess, students simply picked up or threw out anything around them. And when their table was clean, they went to other tables or got on their hands and knees to clean up there too.
Additionally, I noticed that the students, at least in Ms. Cornick’s class, had really good relationships with each other. All day long I noticed students helping and assisting each other whenever possible in small and big ways. For example, a student asked me how to spell a word, and before I could answer, the student sitting next to her showed her that I had already written out that word on the white board. Students were constantly offering to put others’ books and notebooks away for them. This is something that I seldom see while in American classrooms. I did not see a single student conflict all day long. While there are many reasons for why the students get along so well, one reason could be the fact that students are forced to build relationships during their playtime. Unlike most American schools, there is no play structure or swings at Manorcroft. Instead, there are just three big cement areas. With no other option, students have to play with each other, engaging in sports or imaginative play. I spent about 30 minutes simply watching students run around with each other having tons of fun. They did not need to be entertained by tire swings or slides; they entertained themselves. I believe that it is all this bonding time that contributes to such a positive classroom experience.
Some of the most interesting and entertaining parts of the day were my interactions with students. At one point, some of the boys were talking about football clubs and when I asked them, “Which club should I support?” they all erupted with different team names, “Manchester United,” “Chelsea,” “Spurs,” and “Belgium.” There was some banter between the boys and some of the kids were saying things like, “No no, Chelsea’s rubbish.” Football (soccer) is something that people in England have really strong opinions about, and so it was really funny seeing these young boys get so heated about the teams they supported. Another funny instance came when I was telling a boy how a trash bin is called the “trash” in America instead of “the bin.” A couple minutes later when Ms. Cornick told everyone to tidy up, he says to me, “I’m going to throw this in the trash.” I asked him why he said trash instead of bin, and he said, “I’m saying it the American way.” I always believed the stereotype that British people don’t like the American accent because it sounds uneducated and harsh. But, from my time in England so far, I’ve learned that the stereotype is not quite true, and that the British are almost as fascinated with the American way of saying things as we are with British accents.
Overall, I had an amazing first day at Manorcroft; I LOVE it there! I am so excited to go back next Friday and to continue building relationships with all the students in Ms. Cornick’s class.