Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back to school, ring the bell...

Today was the first day of school, and I would just like to announce that I have died and gone to teaching heaven.

*sigh of relief*
I met with all five of my classes today, which only happens twice throughout the seven-day cycle. 
Before school, though, I met my advisory students.  I share ten 10th grade advisory students with another staff member, and we follow those students through graduation (or until we leave, whichever comes first).  Our most basic goal is to form close relationships with those students so that they have at least one or two adults they feel comfortable talking to about school-related or personal matters, similar to the purpose of advisory at Ripley.  However, because of the unique nature of a boarding school, we can create outside-of-school bonding opportunities with our students.  There’s a scheduled “advisory night” sometime in August, when each student is given a certain amount of rupees to eat dinner outside of the dorms with their advisors, either in the bazaar or in the staff member’s own home.  I wish having students over for dinner, movies, games, etc wasn’t so, well, creepy in the U.S. 
After advisory, the actual academic schedule began.  Brace yourself for an onslaught of envy:
9-9:45… grade 7
9:50-10:35… grade 7
10:35-10:50… tea break
10:55-11:40… grade 7
11:45-12:30… grade 9
12:30-2:10… lunch
I’m going to repeat that just to be clear.
12:30-2:10… lunch
No, your eyes are just fine.
12:30-2:10… lunch
Moving on.
2:15-3:00… planning
3:05-3:50… grade 9
3:50… end of school and tea!
That's right, I had no classes from 12:30 to 3:00.  Also, you may be intrigued by the idea of a midmorning “tea break.”  It’s the most brilliant idea ever.  Just head over to the senior school teacher’s lounge and enjoy a cup of tea and a treat (the staff supplies these on a rotating schedule) before continuing on with third period.  I like just plain tea with a little bit of milk, but what they provide is often presweetened.  I have to say, the ratio of tea to milk to sugar is utter perfection.   I’ve tried to recreate the elusively amazing mixture when we get unsweetened tea, but I haven’t gotten it quite right.  They must add a hellacious amount of sugar.  There are coffee machines in the staff lounges, too, which is nothing to scoff at—anything other than instant coffee is hard to come by here.
But back to the start of the day…
When the 7th graders started filing in, I was a little taken aback.  I have never taught (or even observed) students younger than 9th grade, and they looked so little.  And so cute.  And some of them looked so nervous… even more nervous than me, if that was possible J  There used to be a separate middle school a few years ago, but Woodstock recently switched to the two-school system in which 7-12 grade is considered “senior school.”  Grade 6 and below is “junior school.” 
Even though these students looked small, how they acted and what they said was so indescribably mature.  I’m saving the syllabus/procedures lecture for the beginning of next week and jumped straight into a poem today.  Their analytical abilities are phenomenal.  I studied the same poem with my 9th graders last year and pretty much got blank stares the entire time, but these kids were all so engaged and so willing to participate.  That is not to say that they are smarter than my past students were, but I can definitely tell that they have been more trained to view literature in the abstract.  They can pick out a metaphor like it’s nobody’s business.
Another difference that struck me was their manners.  Holy please and thank you.  I asked them to write down their names and a few basic facts on a notecard.  When I went around picking up the notecards, the students thanked me… basically, for giving them an in-class task.  Weird, yes, but I am definitely okay with that. 
Because of their obvious respect for authority, I made the decision to be called “Ms. Julia” or “Ms. Julie” instead of “Ms. Schroeder.”  Whether we go by our first or last name is totally up to us, as long as there’s a form of respectful address put before it.  Because this is definitely not an option in the U.S., I decided to try it out to see how it affects teacher-student relationships.  The kids I student taught in Ecuador called me just plain Julia, and I remember liking it.
So, without being overly descriptive, my first day of teaching at Woodstock was a success.  The only downside is that I don’t have my own classroom.  I share my 7th grade classroom with one other teacher and my 9th grade classroom with two other teachers.  That makes decorations, seating arrangements, etc. difficult, and I have to erase everything from the board between each class.  It’s also difficult to have supplies spread between two rooms, and to have to gather together all of my materials and switch buildings between classes.  But, like I said in my last post, there is no pleasing me.  Such problems are small peanuts in the whole scheme of things.
Plus, sharing rooms helps alleviate the danger of becoming holed up in your own little space.  That is one thing I absolutely love about Woodstock so far—there are many opportunities for interactions and collaborations with staff members.  You would have to really try to alienate yourself from the community.  Everyone goes to tea; everyone eats the school lunch in the staff dining room.  It’s a nice change.
I will try to post pictures of the school and my classrooms soon.  My 7th grade classroom is pretty decked out, but the 9th grade one is pretty barren.  Dark wood.  Mildew.  Lots of windows  and natural light in both, though, which is really cool.  For now, I leave you with a view of the school that I took while walking into the bazaar last week.

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