Saturday, October 2, 2010

School Reflection

Time again to reflect on school. First, let me say that I am thoroughly enjoying my year so far. What a blessing to have such little job-related stress. I give my students the credit for that. They are terrific.

First, a little demographics. The school I teach at in Korea is a K-12 international school with about 1200 total students. We are celebrating a decade of educating. Families are primarily Korean by ethnicity. Students often have lived abroad in an English speaking country or school for several years prior to attending our high school. Families are professional and expect a world-class education. The campus has a 1 to 1 laptop program fro students between 6th and 12th grade, so technology is a central component in learning.

Back to my students. I am still enjoying my students tremendously. They continue to be upbeat, prepared, polite, and engaged in learning. I find we do a lot of laughing, which is nice. Disciplining naughty children in my class is practically a non-issue. The biggest distraction for them is their computer. It is quite easy to simply ask them to close their computers in order to regain their attention. I continue to be amazed at their respect for each other and for me. This makes for stressless class periods.

Small class sizes play a role. Previously when I would have 28 - 32 students in a class as an English teacher, I would dream of small class sizes. I, and everyone else in my position, did the best we could to offer a tremendous education to our students. And we did. And they continue to do so. However, there really is something to be said for smaller class sizes. I now have between 9 and 19 students in my classes and have just 4 classes. Smaller class sizes means that I can expect all students to contribute to class discussion; individual project presentations takes fewer class periods to complete, students are able to get more individual attention from me, the general feeling in the classroom is less congested and rushed. And I have more time for planning because I'm taking less time for correcting.

Collaboration plays a role. As I have found in the past, life is easier as a teacher when you have colleagues with which to collaborate. I am so thankful that my new department members are willing to give their time to my questions and needs to make my courses successful. For instance, another teacher and I have the same preparation (course) and a common planning time. As needed, we can and DO meet for course planning and reflection. I'm doubly blessed because she and I seem to have similar teaching styles and views on what is important for the curriculum. Having TIME to collaborate can be and usually is an issue. What a difference it makes.

A supportive administration plays a role. I so appreciate that the culture in our building is healthy and supportive of staff. You see it in the class sizes. You see it in the encouragement of the social committee to keep the feeling of "family" through outside activities for staff. You see it in the way they address the teachers and present new ideas or tasks. There is a respect for who we are as professionals and people. One of the things I most worried about coming to a new school would be if the building would be a healthy and happy one. It is. Another blessing that keeps me balanced.

Technology usage in a 1-1 program keeps things fresh. I am absolutely loving the computers in the classroom. Students are responsible for buying and having their computer with them all the time. And they do. It is available for personal and school use and generally maintained by our IT department, which consists of 5 people for the entire district (3 buildings). Having computers at their fingertips has changed my teaching in some liberating ways. I post my lesson plans on my wiki now, along with links to documents, assignments, or websites used for instruction. Rather than print off all of these things, I tell students to "go to the wiki." Having access to the internet means they can easily navigate through parts of a website on their own and explore more than before. They can research topics right as we are discussing them. They also have access to a variety of resources for presentations like i-movie, keynote, youtube, etc. It is easier for students to communicate with one another through school email, chats, blogs, and postings on the wiki. Students have been able to post or download their assignments for me to correct. At first I didn't think I would like this feature, but it turns out that I do. I can usually use the editing feature to still write my "teacher comments" and I don't have a pile of papers to take home. Additionally, students can comment on one another's work this way for peer critiques outside of class. In the near future I hope to do a collaborative project with a former colleague and her students. We're hoping to have our students from half-way around the world read and critique each other's papers. To keep students on task in class with computers in use, we use a program called Apple Remote Desktop. This allows me to see what students are doing and know if they are off task. I can speak to them directly or shoot a message electronically reminding them of the class expectations.

So, for the most part I would say the transition to my new school in my new country is going quite well. There isn't too much to stress over. The things that do cause stress are those to be expected, preparing for two new courses, creating curriculum, learning the routines, getting to know colleagues personally, and forming deep, lasting friendships. These things will come with time, effort, and patience. In the meantime, I shall continue enjoying each day as it unfolds with all its ups and downs.

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