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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

¿Hablas Español?

My first day at Colegio Highlands Los Fresnos in Madrid, Spain and all of my expectations were proven wrong. I am working with the 7th grade and the 5th grade during their English lessons. Colegio Highlands is a network of Catholic, private schools from preschool to secondary (middle school). Both Colegio and schools in the US separate the students by grade--here in lies the only similarity.

At Colegio students' attend school from 9am until 5pm with a 2 hour lunch break during which they have their "after-school"activities. The students are in separate single-sex classrooms--for example I am teaching in 5B boys but there is also a 5B girls. Additionally the school emphasizes a bilingual education which they achieve by hiring teachers who only speak English--except in reality all of the teachers speak Spanish but the English teachers have spent a long amount of time in an English speaking country and are "from that country". My 5th grade CT is from "England". It is interesting to me that all of the students buy into this when the teachers clearly know Spanish and speak English with a Spanish accent.

The students were told that I am from America and do not know any Spanish. I promptly messed this up when I answered a question that a student asked in Spanish. After which the students proceed to ask me over and over ¿Hablas Español?---do you speak Spanish? I was rather impressed with their dedication as they tried to trip me up and get me to say something in Spanish--one student said "Say hola in Spanish." After much convincing they finally decided that I do not know enough Spanish--little do they know, I know enough Spanish to understand everything they are saying!

My next challenge came shortly after--explaining the difference between "isn't" and "doesn't" as question tags. I discovered quickly that I do not know the proper grammar terms--i.e. modal verbs, auxilary verbs, collocations, question tags. Both of the my CTs quickly discovered this as well and stopped asking me to define what they meant (thankfully!).

During my time in the classroom I am a walking English dictionary, a pronunciation expert and a speed talker. I am constantly asked "what do mean" which is their way of asking "what does this word mean." I always hear the question with aprehension. Sometimes the word is simple to define like "hurricane" others not so much--words like "should", "ought to", "must" are much harder. As a native speaker, both the teachers and the students are constantly asking how to say things correctly. Although according to the students I have a Wisonsin accent, subsequently they were shocked when I explained I was from Connecticut. Additionally, as a native speaker I know I speak quickly--but according to the students I speak "without breathe". I am working on speaking much slower and enunciating as much as possible. By the end of the day everyone seemed to understand me!

I look forward to spending more time at Colegio and practicing my skills as an English teacher to a whole class room of ELLs! I am sure come next Tuesday the students will be ready with more "why americans do ____" questions. (They refuse to believe that 28 degrees F is cold...among other crazy American things).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

UK vs. US Schools

I just finished my first day of student teaching in Bath, England yesterday at St. Andrew's Primary School in the Year 5 classroom (comparable to 4th Grade in the states). My experience in the school was similar to American schools stylistically and conceptually; however, pretty different in a variety of ways. I found myself throughout the day debating in my head whether or not UK or US schools are better because the value system is pretty different, at least at my school.

One similarity that I found was that the set up of the classroom was very similar to what I am used to. All of the students were clustered into desks, and the school day was organized much like an Elementary school in America. They have periods throughout the day with different classes (including math, english, PE, etc.) and they start at 9am and end at 3:30pm every day. Although this is a pretty basic comparison, I was not sure going into it how similar the set up of the day would be, and I was very pleased when it was something that was familiar to me.

Another similarity that I have found between US and UK schools is the amount of care that the teacher has for the children. There was a tragic car accident that happened in Bath the other day where a bus spun out of control and killed four people. I was happy to see that the teacher sat all of the students down in a circle and gave them ten minutes to reflect, talk about their experiences, and pray for the families of those who had died. It is so important to give kids the opportunity to feel comfortable talking about their feelings and experiences because it not only builds your trust with them, but it creates a safe space within the classroom and allows for respect amongst the teacher and the students. I found this to be a similarity because the care for the students and the respect for their ideas and opinions was evident throughout the day and it was definitely nice to see.

I've found that one of the greatest differences between US and UK schools is the emphasis on discipline and the importance of its utilization in the classroom. I found British students to be more polite and eager to work than American students. They were the most well-behaved class that I have ever worked with and they, in general, were respectful of the classroom and of each other. However, even though they were extremely well-behaved, I was surprised by the amount of discipline that they were given throughout the school day. No one was allowed to talk at all throughout the school day, even when they had a bit more leisure time, and the misbehaving students were, in lack of a better term, "shamed" in front of the class for their behavior. One of the teachers who came in had a list of "good" and "bad" students and she would update it as the class worked. One student made a whistling noise at one point during the class and was added to the "bad" student section of the board. I found that to be kind of harsh, and the student got extremely upset and refused to do her work after that point. This experience has led me to believe that the disciplinary values in UK and US schools are vastly different. While discipline is extremely important in the classroom, and students and teachers need to be respected at all times, I think that there is a definite balance between being too lenient and overly exerting your authority on students. If I was the head teacher, I would have probably ignored the whistling or at least given her a small warning in private, because it was not a detrimental distraction to the rest of the class.

Another huge difference that I have found is the lack of separation or specialized focus on students who are intellectually, emotionally, or socially challenged. My school has one teacher per grade and about 25 kids in each class and no special education program is present, this results in full inclusion amongst every grade level. While inclusion is great, and necessary for some kids to feel completely normalized, I do think that going about inclusion in the wrong way can be detrimental socially and academically for the kids who require more specialized attention. About half of my class are ELLs, about a third have emotional and/or social problems, and a few of them have learning disabilities such as severe dyslexia and ADHD. The makeup of this class is similar to what I have experienced in Boston classrooms, so I expected there to be a similar amount of support for all of the children. However, this was not the case at all. There was outside support for the child with dyslexia, as he got to leave the classroom and go to a special reading teacher while the rest of the class worked on their guided and independent reading. However, I did not identify any differences in support when it came to the work that they did in class. All of the students had similar expectations and standards in terms of their behavior and their work, which I found to be kind of frustrating. For instance, one girl in my class (Student D) has severe emotional and social problems that my teacher made a point to tell me about on the first day. However,  she would get yelled at for behaving inappropriately during class and when she would cry I was forced to leave her alone and not console her or solve the problem. I am so used to the amount of support that students with disabilities receive back in the states that it made me very uncomfortable when I was not allowed to comfort her. While this does go hand-in-hand with the school's expectations of behavior, I do not believe that full inclusion in terms of how you treat the behavior of children is the best way to go about things.

Overall, this school was very similar in the way that the classroom was run and organized; however, the values and practices of the school were vastly different from what I am used to back in the states. I think that it is important to solve emotional problems with children as well as allow kids to be themselves in the classroom without giving them too much leeway. I am confident that a balance can be made in terms of how much you expect from a child as long as they are respectful of you, their classmates, and their academics.