Today I got to meet the Headteacher of Chesham Park and got a tour of the school. First I must say, the hill up to the school is quite steep and I was huffing by the time I got to the top- will have to figure that one out in my dress clothes. My next door neighbor, Este, told me that she knows someone who works there who might be able to swing by to grab me on the way to school. That would be delightful!
The county where I live is called Buckinghamshire and is one of the few counties in England that still give their kids a big exam at the end of Year 6 (6th grade) that will determine their placement in their secondary education. If they score well, they go to Chesham Grammar School. If they don’t score well, they go to Chesham Park Community College, where I will be teaching. As I’ve spoken to people around town and tell them that I will be teaching there, they knowingly smile and say, “good luck.” However, I am sure that the same has been said to people going to work at my former school. In fact, my practicum match-up teacher said just that when I got my student teaching placement there, and here we are seven years later.
So, keeping that idea in mind, I am not putting a lot of stock in the warnings. Many of the students (about 20% of the 700 students from grades 7-12) are from immigrant families from rural, farming areas of Pakistan and are English Language Learners. Is it any wonder they didn’t score well on content exams that make no accommodation for their ELL status? They will take another set of exams at the end of Year 11 that will determine their next steps in life as well. This is very similar to the system in India, which was based on the British system. My headteacher said that the British system really doesn’t do any accommodating for any diversity of learners and basically treats people as if they are all exactly the same-incredibly standardized, I guess you could say. More standardized even than the American system of state tests that basically test skill proficiency- also, the British exams are content driven instead of skill driven. There is no opportunity for taking advanced classes or remediation in the way things are currently set up, apparently, you just go to a different school.
I got to see my classroom and once it all set up, I will take pictures. Today was a quick tour. I will meet with the Head of Science on Monday where I will actually get to learn more about what I will be teaching specifically. The rest of the school is in about 5 buildings that are connected by outdoor, covered walkways. There are performing arts facilities for dance and theatre and an extensive visual arts program as well. There is a science prep room with two assistants who are apparently good at chemistry! PHEW! I am an idiot with chemicals and might burn down the school without some assistance!
The grade levels are sorted into five different groups based on ability for math, science, and English. I will teach all grade levels from 7-11 but not necessarily all levels of students. In addition to this, I will also be an advisor to a group of Year 12 students who have already taken their first set of exams (after Year 11) and have chosen to continue on with their education. They are preparing for ANOTHER set of exams (A-levels) which will determine if or which university they can attend.
My schedule is quite complicated. As I said before, Year 7-9 students have science four times a week. But, as I found out today, that does not necessarily mean that they have it every day. For example, my Year 8 students have my class three times on Monday and then once on Thursday. So, I will see them 150 minutes on Mondays and then 50 minutes on Thursdays. This will add another piece to the planning that I have been so nervous about. I also have a planning period everyday for 50 minutes except for Mondays.
But, the Headteacher, Kevin, is super nice and is reading DRIVE!!!! He also finds it to be incredibly interesting and we chatted about that while he took me to lunch at my first REAL English pub. It was absolutely adorable and I am kicking myself for not bringing my camera. I am sure I will go there again, or somewhere even cuter, really.
So that’s it for now. After I meet with the Head of Science on Monday, I will have much more to do in terms of planning. For now, I am just trying to recover from my jetlag. I am ready to fall asleep at 7 pm and then wake up at like 10 pm and lay there awake until 4 am. So, I am knackered (my first English slang word meaning tired!) all day long. I bought some sleeping pills for tonight.
On a non-educational note, last night Anna and I ordered Indian food delivered to the door. I KNOW I am going to love that aspect of England- so good! And, they did have salsa at the grocery store. I’m psyched! I got a library card and have already reserved all of the books I wanted to read in the US. It is a nice little library and they have been very helpful. In case anyone is wondering, Bill Bryson has a new book out called “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” which is apparently the history of people at home, the parts of history we never learn about in school. Sounds interesting and besides, I love him and will read any words he writes down. If you’ve never read his work, you should. He is lovely (as the English would say!).
And, I don’t have a cell phone yet because I just got a bank account today and have to wait for my cards to arrive before I can get a phone. But, please join skype if you want to talk to me. So much easier! I’m looking forward to school so I can meet some people- I mean at the moment, why do I even need a phone- I have nobody to call here!