Saturday, October 21, 2006

Reflections on teaching

What I notice here is…

  • I almost never see the proviseur (principal) and only occasionally see the proviseur adjoint (vice principal).

  • There is a single photocopy machine here…it doesn’t collate or do double sides or staple. People use the machine but not the way we do in America. Everything that is given to students here is tailored to some degree by the need on the student’s part to crop it and glue it into his notebook. I haven’t seen long lines at the machine…I have seen a little frustration occur when the machine breaks down. We each have codes but I don’t know yet what sort of accountability is in place here…

  • Teachers come and go during the day. They have offices in their homes where they create curriculum and plan lessons. They are professionals who spend part of their time on site and part of their time in their own offices (at home). It all seems very efficient, and very sensible to me. There is an expectation here that teachers use their time at home to accomplish important work…but that expectation is facilitated by policies and work hours which free them up to do this work.

  • I don’t have my own classroom. I am a gypsy. I carry in my briefcase everything I need to conduct my daily lessons. I arrive at the designated room to find my students waiting in the hallway to be let in. I unlock the door or sometimes we wait together as another class, just dismissed, files out. At the end of class, I write a summary of the lesson in the class notebook which along with the attendance notebook goes back to the office, I erase the board, I gather my things, and I lock the door behind me. Some days I am fortunate in that I have consecutive classes in the same room. On the other hand, since nobody has their own room, the staff members bump into each other in the salle de profs quite often, especially during the fifteen minute morning break at 10 am and at lunch where we have our own private dining room.

  • When I arrive in the salle de prof (teachers’ room) I go to my casier (mailbox) just to make sure I don’t have a message. The first day or two of the school year there some class lists, but since then most days it is empty. One day I found a notice for parent night, another time there was a memo about how to download the electronic gradebook, last week a colleague with whom I’m participating in a theater club left me a photocopy version of Woody Allen’s play Dieu (God), that’s about it…not much communications traffic for six weeks of school. There is a bulletin board with the school calendar, notices about union meetings, staff absences and requests for subs (here staff can volunteer to get paid – at the sub rate - for covering classes of absent colleagues…the law actually permits the principal to mandate teachers to do sub for pay but there enough volunteers that it doesn’t happen that way.)

  • No faculty meetings. No emails. No emails from principals exhorting staff to greater and nobler heights, from vice principals announcing fire drills, from athletic directors soliciting ticket takers, from guidance counselors reminding staff of schedule changes and IEP meetings, from attendance officers reporting compliance issues, from librarians seeking overdue books, from lab supervisors posting testing dates, from technical personnel alerting staff to network closures, from secretaries trying to locate missing equipment or reminding staff to prepare progress reports, from custodians warning staff about locking doors, from coaches and advisors excusing absences, from parents seeking progress reports and/or someone’s head on a platter, from community members/faculty conducting fundraisors, from department heads seeking budget recommendations, from site council members conducting polls, from student government asking for time to conduct elections, from leadership class looking for spirit week proposals, from the superintendent announcing program and/or legislative changes, from textbook salesmen, from colleagues with the latest link to YouTube, from union reps calling meetings… none of this... - Repeat after me…No emails…no memos. In a country famous for its bureaucracy I am amazed by how free I am here to plan for and reflect upon the lessons I need to present to my students. It has taken me awhile to put my finger on just what exactly has been so conspicuously absent from my work life this year…but I believe it is the institutional white noise that envelopes the American teacher and conspires at every turn to distract him from anything resembling a sustained and coherent approach to his job. This is not to say that American teachers do not produce coherent and sustained efforts; those that do so, however, must plant themselves firmly against the prevailing cultural currents.
  • Speaking of mounting a coherent and sustained approach...I wish I could claim to be doing as much here, but the reality for me is that I'm teaching six classes, five different preps (for the first and probably last time). My own learning curve is by necessity very steep.



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