Saturday, January 29, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Well, for those who I do not speak to regularly, I should probably explain what the heck is going on. This past weekend I attended the Council of International Schools Recruiting Fair in London in order to find a job in an international school. Really, going into it, I was thinking that I would only accept a job in London and this was my only way to get in with a London international school as I think they match me as a teacher a bit more than the British system. Not to diss the British system, but the extreme focus on exams, especially in science, is just not on par with my beliefs.
So, on Thursday, I took the train in from Dol with a four-hour layover in Paris. I decided to take a boat tour of the Seine and almost missed my train. I was sprinting through the Gare du Nord and made my train with only 1 minute to spare. Phew! I’m a moron but the boat tour was cool!
The conference began on Friday with the initial check-in and a panel discussion with three school directors from around the world. The recruiters had already had access to our CVs and other information because we had to apply in advance to get into the fair at all. So, everyone had a mailbox set up for them and apparently, when you checked in, there were supposed to be notes from recruiters saying that they wanted to meet you. I arrived, checked in, and checked my mailbox….nothing. Nada. Zip. I cried. Literally, I cried. I went to a big department store down the street and called home and felt like an idiot being emotional in public because that is SO NOT English-appropriate behavioUr. After a little pump up from my mom and dad, I went back in and left notes in the mailboxes for all of the schools that I wanted to meet.
At the panel discussion with the school heads, they just said to be open-minded and think beyond what your initial expectations were and so I decided, what the hell? I will.
The next morning, they opened the doors and all the recruiters were sitting at tables alphabetically by country and all of the candidates were supposed to walk around and hand out their resumes. I gave my resume to every school that had a middle school science opening and I ended up scheduling interviews with Düsseldorf, two London schools (who only ended up having tentative openings), Swiss Alps boarding school, Azerbaijan, Beijing, Kuwait, Cairo, Bahamas, and Milan. Most of those were places I’d never really thought about, but I was remaining open-minded and figured that you just never know what can happen so it is important to try everything. Plus, I figured I could use the practice if I had a lot of interviews… after last March where my primitive, lizard brain overtook my frontal lobe and I was unable to formulate a coherent sentence in the middle of an interview. I was so nervous that I went into full fight or flight mode!! (And yes, I do realize the dorkiness of that statement!)
My first interview of the fair was Düsseldorf, and I was his first interviewee as well. We had 15-minute interviews scheduled but we ended up chatting for about 45 minutes. And, the whole time, it didn’t feel like an interview at all, just like a conversation where we talked about what I believed about good teaching and about good schools. I was able to be totally honest with him that at that stage I was just trying to figure out what schools were all about and wasn’t thinking that I wanted to go anywhere specifically. I really liked the sound of the school and he was impressed that I had done a bunch of work showing that I understand what the IB program is all about because I’ve never taught in an IB school. For those who are not in education…IB stands for International Baccalaureate and is the curriculum that is used in all of these international schools. It is also used all over the US too and really fits in with the way I have been trained as a teacher. I think my school in Colorado could have easily had the designation based on the way teaching happens there.
Basically, I got a really good vibe right away about the school, the Deputy Director who was interviewing me, and the whole situation. He told me to come back that evening to their 30-minute general info session on the school and we left it at that.
I spent all day Saturday in interviews and oddly enough, they were FUN! I had a really fun day because all of these people spoke my “teacher language.” After being in a school last semester that was so deflating that I was ready to quit teaching, it was great to meet all of these people (and really, an ENTIRE COMMUNITY of international educators who move around the world) who think like me and were “pickin’ up what I was puttin’ down!” Every interview felt really positive and they were informal where hardly anyone even asked any really “interview-y” kind of questions. It was a chat and a conversation and that was extra great. I was able to maintain full frontal-lobe, higher cognitive function in every interview so I’d call that progress!
At the American School of Kuwait interview, I knew after about the first 5 minutes that they would offer me a job because we really fit philosophically. For any teachers reading this, they were really excited that I was into Understanding by Design and that I love middle schoolers. They offered me a seventh grade life science position on an interdisciplinary team with block scheduling- my exact job at CBMS. They were doing the hard sell on Kuwait. And, I’m not going to lie, it sounded pretty great…EXCEPT…there is NO ALCOHOL there and NO PORK! So, obviously, the Handley side of my family could not exist there because we like bacon and red wine WAY too much! But, hilariously, they make their own alcohol and so end up partying a lot with the giant ex-pat community and their bathtub gin. The benefit of a place like that is that they pay for your housing and all utilities (like air conditioning since it is about 100 degrees there every day of the year!) and so any money you make at all is tax-free and pocketable. Apparently, people teach in the Middle East and save up HUGE amounts of money that would be impossible for a teacher to normally save…like, they said I could save about $50,000 in two years. But, that means I’d have to live in Kuwait as a woman, alone. Just felt uneasy about it, but would have TOTALLY accepted if I hadn’t had another offer because at the same time, it sounded really exciting and who doesn’t like $50,000 in their bank account? As expected, they gave me a contract to sign right then. But, the sell was so hard that it kind of felt like they were creepy Mormons or something trying to convince you that there were tablets buried on a hillside in New Hampshire. J
I went to the information session for Düsseldorf and I was sold. The school is AMAZING. Let me explain a bit more about the school itself:
-1000 students representing 51 nationalities K-12
-28% German, 18% American, 15% Japanese, 10% UK, 7 % Korean, 7% Dutch, and the rest from the rest of the world.
-120 teachers representing 25 different nationalities
-average class size in secondary classrooms: 14 (WHAT??????? CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?)
Their core values are: critical thinking, analyzing, teaching kids to be smart information consumers, independent work, group work, using technology as a tool for learning, metacognition, differentiation, authentic assessment, investigation, context driven literacy and numeracy in every class, hands-on learning, safe risk-taking, relevance, and FUN!!!
I am pretty sure that I could not find a school more fitting to my beliefs- other than good ‘ole CBMS. But, not everyone at Con Ball thinks like this and at this school, if you don’t think like this, you don’t get to work there. I love it! Basically, the school is populated with “teacher geek” teachers like a bunch of us were at CBMS and that is just SO exciting to think about!
The one “interview-y” kind of question they asked me (when I went back the next day for the second interview with Director, Deputy Director, and Secondary School Principal) was about how kids have fun in my class. I talked a lot about “sneaky teaching” and about the Tiger team and a lot of the cool things we’ve done over the years! It is nice to have such an amazing team to draw from and the Tigers came up A LOT in my interviews. I sure have been lucky to have such kick-ass colleagues who have pushed me to become a better teacher and who are also hilariously fun to work with every day. I 100% love the Tigers. (And, I promise I won’t do DURGS…as we Tigers like to say!) J
So, to sum up. I’m over the moon excited. Now I just have to start figuring out how to get my shit from England to Germany because it is way too much manage on public transportation! I might have to rent a car, drive to the coast, take a ferry, rent a different car with the steering wheel on the other side, and drive to Germany. Sounds kinda fun.
I am going to start studying German as soon as I am not trying to relearn French because I literally think my brain would leak out my ears! I go back to France tomorrow and will re-commence my “French Housewife” duties. On this week’s agenda….learn to make a soufflé!
Last few things to say about the job fair:
1. I had an interview IN FRENCH for a school in Cairo. It is an IB school but the language of instruction is French. The lady was trying to convince me that my French was good enough to teach science while I was trying to convince her (by speaking English) that it wasn’t! I had nightmares all last week that the interviews were going to have to be in French and this one was…hilarious!
2. Everyone at the conference was incredibly interesting and had lived all over the world. I made a new friend, Jodie, who is Australian but will be living in Munich for two years starting in August. We partied it up in London last night after finding out that we both got jobs. She’s coming to visit me next week in France! I LOVE new friends!
3. I’m really glad I did a bunch of advanced preparation work. It surely came across as somewhat nerdy but I don’t care about that. It set me apart and is a huge reason I got the job I did.
So, start planning your trips to Germany. Oktoberfest anyone???? I’ve got a week off in the fall!
Sunday, January 16, 2011
I am trying to do other things here in France than be a tourist and a French housewife! This week, I met the principal of the school where Steven goes and when I return from England, I will be spending some time observing some science classes and possibly trying to do a lesson. But, the most interesting thing was that I spent time in what is called the BDI (Bureau d’Information= Information Office) with Steff while she helped students in the school try to figure out their school/career paths. I am trying to understand the French educational system and as a teacher, I am always curious to see how other countries do things.
I’ll be really interested to see what the pedagogy is like in the science classroom. I do know that Steven hates science, which always is sad to hear from a kid who is not even 12 and should still be getting to make cool discoveries and find wonder in the world. So, because, really, I started this blog for my India trip where my main purpose was to learn about the educational system in India, I will again try to get my thoughts clear on a “système scolaire” through blogging- this time for France.
The main levels are divided into primary school which goes until about age 10-11ish, then collège which starts at about age 11 to 15/16ish and then lycée which is is the last 2-3 years of school depending on which route you take. Up until the end of collège, there is a common curriculum. I am not totally clear if it is a full-on national curriculum like in England- or more regional- and Steff didn’t know because Steven’s school is private/Catholic. I will be asking the teachers/principal when I get an opportunity to speak with them about how they go about planning. (Aren’t I so professionally nosy and annoying???)
What I found really interesting is that there are several different types of lycées and this is what Steff was doing in the BDI- helping kids determine which path works best for them. I imagine in American high schools, there is a similar thing going on with course selection but France seems to have many more vocational options that have been phased out of American schools. But, given the pendulum swing of education, they will probably swing right back in…
So, from what I can see and understand, there are three main “college (as in university) prep” tracks. All the tracks (college prep and otherwise) are called a “Baccalaureate” and there are three main types of ‘Bac-General’ for those who are more academically inclined. In fact, the poster for these three explains that these are for students who:
-enjoy abstract theory
-like to reflect, analyze, and synthesize
-like to argue & discuss
-find personal work important
The three tracks of Bac-General are: Bac ES- economics/social; Bac L- Languages & Literature; Bac S- Sciences. Interestingly, all of these tracks usually require students to follow at least two foreign languages as well as their main courses of study. I do think the American system really falls short on foreign language instruction. Some kids don’t even start a foreign language until high school, which, in my opinion, is way too late.
If kids are interested in careers that require a university degree and have the scholastic aptitude to survive in one of the three tracks, they are encouraged to complete this type of Bac. Really, with the Bac-General, they have the most options after they finish and so kids who are really undecided are encouraged to go this way if they are academically inclined at all.
The next type of Bac is called the Bac-Techno (Technical Baccalaureate) and can also be a university track but is more focused on hands-on learning than theory. It is advertised for kids who like:
-observation & experimentation
-group & solo work
-practicals, labs, computer simulations
The more science related choices within this Bac are very focused on the integration of technology into the courses but still require kids to follow at least one foreign language. I was reading about one of the science tracks and they still have to take a lot of theoretical chemistry, biology, and physics, but they also take cool classes like biotechnology and study renewable energy in theory and practice. There are also more vocational options within the Bac-Techno if someone is interested in that too.
The Bac-Pro (Professional Baccalaureate) is a vocational track that is housed in schools called Lycées Professionals and are for those students who are less academically inclined but who are trying to get a qualification and/or learn a specific trade. There is a Lycée Professional right down the street from my house here and the dad of my family knows some people there (because he builds houses and so he knows some of the teachers because he’s worked with them) and I am going to spend a few days observing there too!
But, again, the kids at the vocational school still have to take English, French, and Math with their vocational courses. I know that there used to be more schools like this in the US and also more vocational programs within high schools (I remember the art room in my high school used to be the auto shop) but why have these gone away? Could we retain more students in school if these types of programs were available to them? Just a thought.
This is the final option for kids and honestly, I am unsure of the acronym…I barely have learned the English system acronyms, let alone the ones in a foreign language. But this option is not a Bac and it is a way for kids to enter directly into a job. I would assume that this option would be for the least academically inclined group of kids.
So, I hope I haven’t bored you to death. To me, this stuff is really interesting. I am still unsure of where and when they take big exams but I know they have them. Also, they don’t have school on Wednesdays, and because my French isn’t that great, I am unclear from my discussions with Steff whether this is the whole country, just in Bretagne, or just at their private school. But, they do have longer days- start at 8:30 until about 4:30ish. They have a much longer lunch though than in American schools too because French people do not like to eat quickly. They’d never abide our 30 minute snarf.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
Then, we decided to hang all the prepositions on the fireplace. We are referring to it as "La Cheminée des Prepositions" and we have been practicing them at mealtimes since this fireplace is in the dining room. We are naming the food at the table and learning to say please and thank you in English as well. I feel that after two months, they should have learned some English!