Thursday, October 22, 2009

Impressions & Concerns -- 2nd Day, Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Impressions & Concerns
Really, the school here is not worse than my previous experience. I get frustrated at times, but I have to remind myself that it's only my 2nd day. My biggest concern is Sophia. Her class is currently learning the letter G and the sound it makes. She is not only bored to tears but is not learning on par with 1st graders in America. First grade is such an important year!

We talked with the other assistant principal today. Basically, it appears that there is a place where our school would like to be, and the place that it is at, and those two places are very far apart. The school would like to be an IB (International Baccalaureate) school. It would like to be an international school. It would like to be an English language school, teaching using the British National Curriculum and the inquiry-based learning processes of the IB Primary Years Program. It is NOT there. It cannot be there--it does not have the native English speaking teachers it needs. It does not have students who speak English fluently. It does not have staff who speak English.

BUT I am frustrated on two levels: One is, of course, Sophia, and her progress, as I had been told that this was an English language school. Two is, I was hired as a Key Stage 1 teacher (basically, first grade). I was not hired as an ESOL teacher. I came prepared to teach English following the British curriculum, using the best of what I learned from my previous school, and using an inquiry-based learning approach. The students have less than 8 hours a week of English, and do not get any English outside of the time I spend with them (which also includes 5 hours in math and 5 hours in science). I do not have a carpet, I cannot do any of the literacy things that research in the States has proven to enhance literacy. I cannot surround the children with language. I am supposed to use this boring, basic ESOL textbook. Today I made and hung up signs showing the numbers 1 - 20, spelling them, and showing how many in stars. The students LOVED these signs and read them over and over. The Russian vice principal was very displeased with how they looked. The secretary, who I think the vice principal pulled in to translate her dislike to me, was confused as to why I would put them up. There does not seem to be a sense of literacy here, of surrounding children with language--immersing them in language. Despite us being a language-immersion program, supposedly. Even in America, where children are native English speakers, we are supposed to immerse them in language. There is also not a child-centered focus here, despite the school wanting to become IB, which is a child-centered philosophy. Things must look nice.

I did learn, later, that they are expecting Turkish guests. So maybe she just wanted the room to look extra nice for the guests. Maybe--most likely--language is a barrier, as I could not explain my theories on literacy, I could only explain the purpose of the signs (read the numbers).

In the end, guess what? It is like I am in an American public school. There are people in charge who have a vision of where they want to go, and I believe in that vision. And there are people in charge who have a rigid sense of what is right and what is wrong, and I must do my best to look like I'm following them, or at least not piss them off too much. We learned that the Kazakh government requires every teacher to keep a detailed record book of EVERY SINGLE lesson her children learn; and all teachers--the activity teachers, language teachers, etc--must fill out for every lesson too. They must mark who is absent for each lesson, and assess at least 3 children per lesson (starting in January, at least in 1st grade) to mark in the book. They must write in the SAME pen for the entire book, and if they make a mistake, they MUST get a blank book and write it all over again. The Kazakh teacher in my room was on her 3rd copy today.


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