I am so incredibly excited to share my experiences at Widcombe Infant School in Bath, England! I have been placed in a Reception (the British equivalent of Kindergarten) classroom with 30 amazing students and my CT Mrs W. Most of the students are age 4, although there are a few who have just turned 5. Although the class is large, the school as a whole is relatively small with only 6 classes of 30 students each. Because it is an ‘Infant’ school it includes students from Reception up to Year 2, after which they will move up to the neighboring Junior school.
Every Tuesday morning I walk about 25 minutes from my flat to school and arrive around 8:30. I spend most of the day just as I would in any classroom: doing activities with small groups of students, assisting during class lessons, working with individual students, helping out during lunchtime, and reading to the class during story time. Mrs. W usually teachers two whole-class lessons (one literacy and one math) each day. Students are also pulled out frequently by the teaching assistants or myself to work in small groups or individually on letter recognition, blending, or writing. Otherwise, they are given lots of free time to explore and choose their own activities in the classroom.
My first general impressions of the English education system were that it was relatively similar to the United States’ (and in many ways it is). However, I very quickly began to see and understand many of the differences as well. For example, all of my students wear uniforms, even though Widcombe is the equivalent of an American public school. Another aspect that I found drastically different from the American public school system is that in England, religious education is taught as part of the National Curriculum (England has had one since 1988), and is usually Christian-focused. The presence of religion however, can range drastically based on how it is addressed within each individual school. I also noticed that the ethnic makeup of the classroom and the wider school is different than I have encountered in America, especially among ELL students. While the most common language of American ELL students seems to be Spanish, the majority of ELL students in Mrs. W’s classroom are Middle-Eastern or Asian. It is very different for me to be in a classroom where students are speaking a much wider range of languages from Farsi to Vietnamese.
The daily routines throughout the school day also speak to some of the differences between American and English schools. Mrs. W begins each day taking attendance by individually saying ‘good morning’ to each student and expecting them to reply with ‘good morning Mrs. W’. The students also attend a weekly ‘celebration assembly’ in which a student from each class is awarded for doing a particularly good job in school that week. Students are also given certificates for behaving well during lunchtime (one week a year-two boy was recognized for ‘using his fork and knife well during lunch’). Lunchtime in general is more formal than in America. For example, students must raise their hand and ask permission to eat their pudding (dessert) only when they have finished the rest of their meal first. It is clear that learning good manners is very important in an English school!
Overall, I would have to say that my favorite part of my experience so far is getting to know all of students, their individual personalities, and listening to all the little things they have to say. I am excited to be teaching my own lessons and attending a field trip to the local children’s theater in the upcoming weeks! I am also looking forward to learning even more about the English education system and how it compares to the United States’.