Carly Vanden Heuvel
EAST Student Teaching Seminar
11 June 2015
Blog Post 4: Challenge and Surprises in Northern England
With little more than a week left teaching here at Hymers College in Kingston Upon Hull, I am constantly remarking about how quickly this time has gone. Packing my bags to come to England, eleven weeks seemed like such a long time to be away from family and friends and the state I have lived in my entire life. Now that it is coming to a close, I keep finding reasons to wish I could stay just a little bit longer. I have tons of ideas for lessons and units I would love to try with my students here, but I only have so much time with them. I supposed I will have this sentiment for my entire teaching career as I my time with particular student populations will always come to an end. I feel like I have become very attached to my students here because, upon arriving in a foreign country, I formed bonds very early on so that Hull could become a comfortable base for me. Additionally, the more I travel the more I yearn travel. I have taken advantage of my close proximity to many amazing sites and cities, but I feel like I have just begun to scratch the surface. The more places I have seen and people I have met, the longer my travel wish list has gotten. I have already begun dream plans for when I can someday return.
I have been very fortunate to have been placed in the same school as another EAST student from Wisconsin. After meeting in person only a couple times, we decided to live together here in Hull. I knew that I was taking a risk living and working with someone that I did not know well at all. However, it could not have worked out better. I have found a lifelong friend in Elise. We laugh now thinking of how we got on a plane knowing we were about to spend nearly three months together and knowing very little about one another. We teach the same year groups and have many students in common. This is a lot of fun as we have been able to collaborate our lesson planning. For instance, she is teaching her students a history lesson related to Shakespeare’s Henry V during the same week as I am focusing on the literary side of the play after which students will go see a Henry V production. Elise and I have noticed that we spend our school weeks planning our next weekend adventures when time permits. Then, we spend our entire weekend travels talking about our students and trying to remember sites and experiences that we want to tell them about. It is nice to have someone who has shared this entire experience with me and lives only a couple hours away back in the US. We have already made plans to meet up after we go home to start working on a book we are going to create that includes pictures, written stories, and the mementos we have gathered such as the many train tickets I have saved.
The biggest challenge in coming to England through the EAST program was that I had to act more independently than I ever have both professionally and personally. My EAST supervisor, Michael Cooper, is a kind man who is very knowledgeable about education, but his approach to my placement has been quite hands-off. It was up to me to inform my cooperating teachers and department head about the teaching experiences I have had prior to my arrival. Due to the very different ways in which teaching licensure is acquired here in the UK, I felt as though Hymers was unaware of my preparedness to teach. In my placement in the US, I allowed my cooperating teacher, who had had many student teachers, take the reigns. She told me when I would be taking over responsibilities and how. Here, however, I asked for my first opportunities to teach. Now that I have had full responsibility of my classes for a while, I have a whole new kind of independence as my cooperating teachers are often not in the room when I am teaching. This was new to me at first, as there must always be a teacher present with us in the US. However, I feel that my confidence as a teacher and my ability to establish a classroom environment has grown exponentially from having full responsibility for my classes. On a personal level, I have become self-assured in my ability to adapt to any situation. I have navigated my way through airports, train stations, cities, and countries and have grown more and more skillful in the way I travel. These are abilities that I didn’t even realize the importance of before coming here, and now I feel so grateful that I have these skills; I hope to put them to use as much as possible. Furthermore, I have re-educated myself on many aspects of my content area due to the fact that I had to score several important exams in accordance with the British spelling and grammar conventions.
In all of these different experiences and encounters, something that surprised me was how similar my students here at Hymers are to students of their same age in the US. I was not sure what to expect out of them. On my first day here, I was amazed at my students’ politeness. On command, they stood, sat, responded, “Yes, Miss,” and I thought to myself that they were borderline robotic. I have realized, however, that underneath the traditional mannerisms, which I have come to love and embrace, these students are still kids. They sing Taylor Swift music on the grounds during their lunch hour, they lose their school supplies all the time, and they can barely stay in their seats on sunny Fridays. Due to the fact that most of these student come from affluent families that are often very involved in their education, I do not deal with some of the serious classroom management issues that I was faced with in my first placement. However, mental health issues are prevalent here just as they are in the other schools I have worked with. Bullying exists here just as it does in other schools I have worked with. I guess this should not surprise me as much as it does. Before this experience, I had spent so much time discussing the issues in American schools and the American education system that did not acknowledge the fact that the issues we were discussing in class were universal issues affecting students and teachers around the globe.
Realizing that I identified with these students more than I had expected to, along with the freedom I was given over planning and instruction (with the exception of exam time) gave me the ability to establish classroom environments that I am extremely proud of. Yesterday, for instance, I facilitated a Socratic Debate in a Year 8 class. Two groups debated whether or not television is a negative influence while the other students took notes on the socratic questioning techniques being used. I interjected very minimally, and I was able to sit back and watch a lesson in which students were intrinsically motivated. In the lesson that followed, my Year 7 class begged for me to read a chapter from Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions. Their enthusiasm for the novel makes me smile every day. We first listened to music while reading the lyrics and identifying rhyme schemes that we also see in poetry. When the noise level got too high, I erased letters from the word “Noise” on the board, after which the room fell into silence. It was one of those days after which I practically skipped home from school loving the profession that I have chosen. Of course, not every day is like this. I have certainly groveled my way home too, feeling like I wasn’t getting through to my students or my lessons had failed, but I feel incredibly proud of the rapport and energy that can be felt in my classroom. I wish I could package that environment and bring it home with me.
I have accepted a job offer from a high school in the US, and I feel that this experience has prepared me in many ways for this next step. Having one other person in this entire continent that I know, I became involved with school and the staff at Hymers from the beginning. The relationships that I have built with the faculty at Hymers, especially with those in the English department, make me feel at ease that I will be able to adapt and work with new people effectively. I know that I have the ability to manage my own classroom and that creating the classroom environment that I have always strived for is within the realm of possibility. I think it’s normal, as a teacher-in-training, to have self-doubt. I am no exception to this, but having successfully found a place for myself in a school in a foreign country, in which I can see that my students are engaged and are learning, has alleviated much of my self-doubt.