School Days

I am really loving my job, now that I know where everything is, have learned all of the 6th-graders’ names (still working on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), and have gotten to know my co-workers better. They are a fantastic group of educators. I have enjoyed getting to know them — at lunch, on our garbage pick-up adventure, at meetings, and in the hallways. The foreign teachers are from all over the U.S.,  except for a woman from Hong Kong and a guy from British Columbia. Their time in Thailand ranges from two months to 15 years. They’ve warned me that I won’t want to teach back in the States after working at our school, and I can see why. I know I’ve mentioned the copious amounts of prep time we all have, but I wanted to go into more detail about how the school is set up. (Julianne, the answers to your questions are below!)

OK, so. The International Program (IP) is made up of 13 classes of 32 students. The kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms are on the first floor of our building, along with the office, the supply room, an awkwardly placed fitness room, an open-air multi-purpose room, and the astro-turfed playground. On the second floor of the building are the classrooms for grades four through six (I spend most of my time there). Our floor has the library and restrooms, too. There is a tiny, stuffy bathroom for female teachers adjacent to the girls’ bathroom. There is absolutely no ventilation, and the maids (that’s what they call the female janitors, of whom there seem to be at least 1,000) keep it clean with hazardous amounts of various cleaning products throughout the day. I often go downstairs to a different restroom (with windows) to avoid suffocation. The third floor houses the 7th-9th grade students, and the top floor has the 10th-12th graders, the two music rooms, and the art room. Each floor also has a computer lab or two. And I found out today about the biology lab is on the third floor.

The art room is super awesome. It’s got everything, and the teacher is an artist himself. He teaches K-12 with a very clearly spiral curriculum. Every year, he goes through the same techniques with the students, but each grade level is given a more challenging assignment or taught a more intricate way of doing the same thing. For instance, all the grade levels I work with (2, 3, and 6) were working on lines and shapes this week. The grade 2 kids worked on adding detail to outlines of faces, fish, and trucks, and then drew a picture with those shapes and water-color painted them. The grade 3 kids did a similar project, but they had to draw in their sketchbooks first, then draw on the water-color paper and paint. The grade 6 kids transposed a photo of a puppy onto a bigger surface, using shapes in grids to guide them. The students are required to do their best work, and the teacher is quite demanding. They know that any white space on a page indicates that the piece is incomplete and will not be accepted. The results of such strenuous instruction and expectations are incredible pieces of art by all students.

Each homeroom has three to four teachers – one Thai national who teaches the students Thai language, history, and culture, as well as hygiene and other life skills (e.g. this week, the 6th-graders learned how to brush their teeth thoroughly).  On our floor, we have two science teachers (myself and another woman), two math teachers per class and two English/social studies teachers per class. Each pair of team teachers decides on how they wish to divide up the workload. It is nice that it is up to the teachers because everyone has different preferences. The other science teacher and I have decided that since we both teach science to grades 4 and 6 that we will divide it up like this: First semester, I’ll lead the instruction in 4th grade and support her in teaching 6th; second semester, I’ll lead 6th and support her in 4th. That way, we’re each only in charge of the planning, prep, and grading for one grade level each semester. The other 6th grade math teacher and I, on the other hand, have decided to switch off chapters (planning, prep, and grading). He taught Chapter 1, I’m teaching Chapter 2, he’ll teach 3, and so on.

It’s so nice to be teaching with supportive and friendly people. No one is competing with anyone. Many are new to the school (and the country for that matter); and the ones who are old hat at this already are happy to lend insight, give advice, provide support, and generally make life a whole lot easier. Naturally, I’ve been comparing my new job to my old one at Dahl, and needless to say, there are more differences than similarities. At Dahl there are too many oppressive rules; at IP, it would be nice if everyone agreed that running down the slippery tile hallways should be outlawed. At Dahl, a teacher is expected to provide pretty much everything for his/her classroom; at IP, there are science supply room employees whose job is to collect materials for science experiments as needed, there’s an art room that is actually conducive to doing real art, and any other supplies can be found or ordered by the supply room employees. At Dahl, teachers are given mixed messages about how much freedom they actually have to do their jobs well; at IP, it is frowned upon to use only the curriculum’s tests, and creativity is encouraged and valued. Of course there are similarities too, a glaring example being that administrations just seem universally plagued by bureaucracy and detachment from the realities of teaching. What is most striking among the differences, though, is that IP teachers appear to have lives and senses of humor and energy and a love of what they’re doing. The teachers at Dahl are friendly, talented, intelligent, creative, and full of care for the students they serve, but it always felt to me that they were never actuallyallowed to be those things. I’m feeling very fortunate to be allowed to be myself and to get better at teaching in ways that I want to get better (not in regards to CST prep or love from the district office).

I posted a couple photos to show you pieces of my commute, the school, and my homeroom classroom.

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