School House Rock!

School House Rock!

Shanghai Singapore International School. Oh, where do I begin? My friends working in education really want a post about my school. I really want to tell you about it. There is so much to say, but it just isn’t the most interesting narrative. This post is for the Cassadies, the Sallys, and the Peters of my world that will totally sink their teeth into this international teaching business we have gotten ourselves into. The rest of you will all have to sit back and enjoy the pictures if this just isn’t your bag.

A co-worker said the sign says “Welcome Home” because we will spend our lives here. Good sign?

Since it is all about the students, I will start with them. I teach a mix of grade 7 and grade 8. I mostly teach G8, and oh how I have missed teaching the older middle school kids. After having taught 4 years of 6th grade it is a welcome change.
These kids are lovely. They are looking so dapper in their uniforms. The same thing everyday. Boys have a white button-up shirt, black pinstripe pants and a black tie. Girls have a pleated red plaid skirt, white button down shirt and a navy blue tie with a couple of options for socks (tights or knee highs). All kids must wear black shoes. Boys’ ankles can not show.
They come in quietly. They sit down, they take out their supplies, (7th graders are a bit more clumsy and ill-prepared, an international norm) whip open their mac books if I ask them to (one to one people!) and log on to my iLearn page. There they find the week’s plans, the day’s lesson, uploaded materials, homework and due dates.
We settle in to the day’s lesson and they eagerly await my instruction. I start day 6 on Monday and I have not yet had to redirect a student more than once and the redirection has been either use of proximity or a quiet, “ladies, a little focus, please,” and we are back on track. If I ask them to take notes, they say, “which format?” If I ask them to write a definition they say, “word for word or paraphrasing?” If I ask them to draw the world, they quietly stress, politely complain that the task is assessing artistic ability rather than knowledge, and sweat over every detail…until I tell them it is not graded, merely a chance for me to see what they know. Then they settle down and complete the task. Maybe even enjoy it.

But, they are quiet. Almost too quiet. Like hearing crickets quiet. But, I use the name cards, everyone must speak at some point, and it is a school wide goal to get them to be more social and more interactive. So it is something we will work on. Imagine having the school wide goal of more social interaction!
But academic success is of supreme importance here. There is a level of stress these G7 and G8 students feel regarding their school work, and particularly their assessments that is palpable. And they are only in middle school.
We have entered a system. It is a very different system. I am beginning to understand how to teach in this system. Parenting in this system, even a first grader, well, that will have to be a different post.
Speaking of G1 kids. Look who I saw at lunch today!

The English curriculum I am teaching is pre-IGCSE, a Cambridge based program that will carry them in to the ninth and tenth year with big exams at the end of these years, at which point they enter into the IB program. The assessments are heavily weighted and taken very seriously. Having looked at the assessments for ninth and tenth, though, I like the reading comprehension and writing assessment styles for the most part. It is interesting. I will need to step up my game to get my G8 kids accustomed to the type of assessment they will be doing for English in G9, but there are some experienced teachers helping me understand what that will look like.

The students’ names though!?! I can’t imagine when I will know their names and I think both they (and I ) are convinced I will never say them correctly. The Chinese letter combinations and the actual sounds that go with them require using areas in my mouth I don’t use in English..they laugh at my attempts. In a very quiet, barely audible giggle. Or they roll their eyes, not a big, neck breaking eye roll, but a subtle won’t-catch-it-if-you-don’t-know-what-to-look-for sort of roll.
Wouldn’t want to be too far removed from the middle school life I am used to though, right? Maybe these eye rolls are a healthy dose of defiance. I’m beginning to think so.

My schedule is ridiculous. I am fairly certain, just like the Chinese names, I will never have it mastered. I will post a picture of it when I am at work next for my friends working in education that get a kick out of the master schedules. We call them timetables here, though. Very British. Along with periods being full stops. The spelling is very British as well! Enrollment with one L!?! That will never look right. Counselor with two Ls? I just can’t.
Anyway. One strand of G8 English, 4 strands of G7 History, 3 strands of G8 geography and 1 homeroom.
I see over 170 kids in this rotation. I see the English class 5 days a week, the 4 different G7 history classes 2 times a week and 3 different geography classes 2 times a week as well. This is going to be a hell of a lot of grading (or marking as they call it here) and no TAs or instructional assistance!?! Patti…where are you? Somebody tell Patti I need her in China!! Pretty sure she isn’t reading the blog. So for real, someone tell her.

The facilities are very clean but my room is not like my second home like my room was at FRMS. My desk has no drawers, my room has no cabinets or file drawers and I don’t have or need a key to anything. I have a name tag that gets me in in the morning and tracks my photocopies. But, I have the most fabulous windows! The whole wall is windows!
Getting school supplies is a hassle! Just like everything in China, it requires a form, approval by my Head of Department, delivery of that form to a supply center in the massive building and then someone orders it for me and I wait for it to arrive. (I was shocked when they didn’t ask me for a copy of my passport, proof of temporary residence and take my picture (just kidding…kind of). That procedure isn’t too bad, but I wasn’t able to figure out this system until just before school started so I had no supplies on the first day of school. I only had what I brought with me and whatever the last teacher was kind enough to leave me in a box in my room. Luckily, she covered the basics with some scissors, tape, a mini-stapler, etc…
My photocopies are regulated and the copy machine’s buttons are in Chinese and all of this makes for a brilliant system to prevent teachers from spending/wasting money, and I hate that copy machine. I have wasted a lot of damn time at that copy machine in the past two weeks. The bright side is I feel guilty about each and every paper product I use and it encourages me to use less paper and use iLearn more. The owners of this private school are seriously interested in being “green” which is actually wonderful and bucking the trend here in China it seems. The uniforms are made of recycled materials, I can’t use paper products with out thinking long and hard about it and the kitchen focuses on providing organic food (!!) From my understanding the owners of the school actually own an organic farm on an island near Shanghai and that is were it sources its vegetables. So that is very cool.

Here was Friday’s lunch offerings…some pasta with cream sauce, some peppered ribs, scrambled eggs, rice, there is usually an Asian soup of some sort and the fruit and bread at the end of the line. One can easily over eat at lunch, so dinners need to be smaller. Students and teachers eat all in the same area. There is a nice little cafe off of the cafeteria where students and staff can get a drink or a snack. I can get a semi-decent cup of coffee at this cafe (Brent, you wouldn’t like it) and it is just nice to have the option when I need a pick me up.

I will get to eat lunch with Aaron one day a week, and that feels special so I will look forward to Fridays for that.
Here is the courtyard off of the cafeteria.

The building is quite large with nursery all the way up to twelfth grade. I am on the third floor and Aaron is on the 4th. Here is my hallway.

The school is filled with wonderful student art.

Nora is on the other side of the building also on the third floor. Here is her hallway.

Magnus is on the first floor. The preschool space is quite colorful and friendly. He is very happy with school so far.

More on their experiences another time, once I understand their situations better.

For the most part school is off to a good start. I have wasted a lot of time learning the new systems. Did I mention I hate the copy machine? And I felt a little ill prepared for the start of classes Monday. However, the kids are patient and easy to work with, and assisted me on a number of occasions with the technology in my classroom. I like them, and once I learn their names, I hope they will learn to like me, too. I am looking forward to getting all of the new systems under my belt, because I think once that happens I will enjoy the two years in the job.


7 thoughts on “School House Rock!

  1. Kate, I so appreciate hearing more about your teaching experience and your students. That is quite a request to make of them—socialize more? Then once that goal is reached, teach them boundaries. Fun, fun, fun! It would be heaven to have that student cooperation but strange, too. Keep greening up the teaching materials. That’s where it’s at, right? There are so many materials available online so that’s a rich resource if you’re able to access it. I perceive that excitement of a new teaching position in what you’ve written. I felt it in each of my five school districts. You’ll find your feet quickly from what I can tell.

  2. Loved reading news of your school. It takes me back to the years of the “full stop” and A to Z (pronounced “zed”) in Australia. Sounds like you’re getting it all figured out there, Kate. Enjoy every day because someday it will just be a memory that makes you smile.

  3. Oh my goodness Kate! So much what?! and wonderful!! A truly fascinating and life changing experience. You are a brave soul. I can’t wait to hear more! Thanks for taking the time to share. I am positive that all will come together and you will kick ass!

  4. Wow. Looks incredible. Sounds intense. Love hearing your take. And Nora looks adorable in that uniform. Aaron looked happy. Miss you tons.

  5. Wow! That is a crazy schedule!! We are on 78 minutes and I see kids every other day. So different in Asia! Do all students have tutors after school? Is your school very international or is it mostly Chinese?

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