Having competed my Master’s in Teaching last May I feel well-prepared to begin my teaching career. I remember one assignment in particular which we did which was designed to get us ready for that momentous time when you have the first day of your first year of teaching. The professor asked us to think about what we would say, how we would say it, what rules and routines we would establish and to consider how our personal philosophy of teaching impacted even our plans for the first day. There was one eventuality, though, that this assignment didn’t prepare me for: what do you do when most students, several teachers and even the headmaster don’t show up for the first day of school?
This was just what happened on the first day of school here. I arrived to a deserted campus and, not sure what to do, called the Vice-Principal. “I’m at home,” she said,” I’ll see you there later.” Now even more at a less, I set down in an empty classroom and tried to lesson plan. After an hour or so, I saw some students milling around and so I came out to the quad and found a couple of teachers standing and chatting. I went up to say hello and they greeted me courteously before returning to their conversation. Then I stood alone for a couple of awkward minutes until another colleague came to make conversation with me. Forty-five minutes later the vice-principal put in an appearance and then retired to her office to work on enrollment lists and budget issues.
Finally, half-an-hour later we had a staff meeting — all of twenty minutes long — at which it was agreed that nothing could be done without a timetable and the timetable wouldn’t be made until the next day. So, most of the teachers stood around and chatted. Others herded the primary students who had wandered in to pull weeds and clean the classrooms. The next day, a schedule was made and the next day some students showed up but went home after only a couple of hours. At long last, on Thursday, the schedule had been set, the students came and we actually taught. School had begun.
This all sounds disorganized and dysfunctional, I know, but I was thinking about it later and I can easily see how things could deteriorate to that point in the US. We have so many safeguards and regulations in place to achieve even the level of the smooth functioning that we have — if some of these procedures were neglected and penalties or punishments not imposed, I can imagine some similar things happening in the US.
It’s easier to be disorganized than organized, after all, and herding thousands of students and teachers to one place on one day at a specific time (a specific minute, no less!) takes feats of organization, cultural norms of respecting date and time and societal pressure which discourages absenteeism, truancy, tardiness and unprofessional behaviors generally.
So, I was surprised and dismayed by the state of the administration of the school in the first week but, reflecting on it, it’s almost more notable to me that things in America run as smoothly as they do!
There are a lot of differences between school here and school in the US. Some of the way they do things here could even be good for us to import in America! I hope to outline some of them in another post. In the meantime, I have quizzes to grade!