First Week at School

Just like in Harry Potter, school starts here on September 1. The students, however, don’t attend on this day as it is an Inset Day (staff only). We started the day with a lovely breakfast prepared by the kitchen staff, which gave everyone a chance to catch up with those they hadn’t yet seen during the last week of holidays, when everyone came into school voluntarily to prepare for the new year. For us new starters, it was a chance to sit and observe the staff dynamics, and introduce ourselves to people at random.

Once everyone was fed, we had a very serious discussion about safeguarding. It was quite sobering to hear what we should be on the look out for during the year – self-harm, abuse from home and/or others, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and extremism/radicalisation. Back in Aus I had encountered self-harm, but the others are new to me. We were told what to look out for that could indicate any of the above, and how to refer it on to the right people. We were also shown the logos that paedophiles use online and in real life to signify their preferences. The fact that they are so organised as to have logos just sickens me, but I am happy I now know what they are so I can keep a lookout. Safeguarding here seems to be much more involved than in Aus – schools have multiple personnel who work on it full-time, as well as police liaison officers available for whatever may be needed.

After this sobering session, we had various meetings with various departments. I don’t have a form class this year, so I was given a bit of extra time to organise myself while the year forms were meeting. This gave me a chance to settle into my room a bit more, realise that rows is actually the only way I can arrange the desks due to the room layout, work out how many students are in each class (17 to 32, but most have 30-ish) and therefore how many exercise books I would need (they are provided by the school for the students), and other general beginning-of-year tasks.

The following day some of the school returned, but by chance I had none of them on my timetable for that day. That gave me the opportunity to put together an introductory powerpoint about myself, which of course included kangaroos and koalas. I was surprised to realise almost none of the students could recognise an echidna (‘yea but that’s just a hedgehog miss’), or a wombat (‘so it’s basically a pig-rabbit?’). I was not prepared for almost every class asking about the spiders, but I have really enjoyed describing huntsmans for them, especially because I don’t even have to exaggerate. The intro also includes class expectations, how to set out their books (which is a big one, as they and I are both assessed on their bookwork), and safety within the lab.

For a solid week now I have done nothing but that introductory lesson, and one content lesson for the year 10s. This is what comes from having 15 different classes. To be honest, I’m bored of talking about myself – bring on the content! Thankfully by the end of this week I will have seen every class at least once, so we can just get on with things.

Planning for lessons is quite different to back in Aus. There we had a very specific unit plan to follow, which I now miss terribly. Here we have a more vague unit plan, most of the time without suggested resources or lesson goals, so I’m finding it quite hard to work out what exactly I’m meant to be teaching them. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it quite quickly though. Planning lessons is also difficult when you will only see the class once per fortnight (except my year 10s and 11s, I see them four times a fortnight) – I really need to make sure the lesson is a stand-alone one, able to be fully completed during the lesson. By the time the next lesson rolls around, both the students and I will probably have forgotten what we did last time. This is something I’ve never experienced before, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

We only do one play ground duty a week here, and it’s always during the shorter break time. I was pleased when students came up to say hi to me today, even if I couldn’t remember their names (learning almost 400 of them is probably not going to happen, realistically).

Professional development is done in half hour to hour blocks after school – I’ve been to two so far, one about their behaviour logging system and one about safeguarding. I’m really looking forward to one I have tomorrow afternoon (I know! Actually looking forward to PD!). It’s being run by the head of the outdoor learning – yup, we have a farm. We have pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, tortoises, turtles, rabbits, snakes, lizards, gerbils, hamsters, and a chinchilla. We also have a bit of a forestry area, and this is where the PD will be. We will be learning about outdoor learning while sitting around a camp fire with hot chocolate and marshmallows. I’m so keen. These sessions will be running every fortnight for the next couple of months, each session focusing on a different thing such as behaviour management outdoors, curriculum specific ways to use the farm etc. This is the type of PD I could get used to.

On a slight tangent, I mentioned in a previous post that I’ll be running a Friday afternoon skills session. I have chosen to make it STEM based, with a different topic each week. This week we will be looking at sci-art, so a bit of a history lesson followed by more modern interpretations and then we spend a couple of hours making scientific art pieces. I chose this topic because it’s one I love, and because I really feel they will benefit from recognising the interconnectedness of usually distinct high school subjects. My hope is that they will view the world around them with the thought in mind that art and science are everywhere and mixed together so strongly that often you can’t differentiate between the two. We’ll see how we go – it is probably more likely that they will just have fun drawing science-y stuff.

Overall, this first week has been hectic, boring, crazy, confusing, and interesting. Some days I’ve worked well into the evening, some days I’ve not had a lot to do. Some classes I’m really going to enjoy, others not so much. Such is the life of a teacher!

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