(School) Culture Shock

Let me begin this post by clearly stating: I am thoroughly enjoying my current, temporary (until December) placement at a suburban private school for “highly capable” students. My CT is experienced, supportive, and demonstrates dedication to her job and students and is eager for my placement partner and I to get involved and build relationships with the second grade students. That being said–

I have been plunged into a school culture that is entirely alien to me. My singular experience with public schools definitely has a lot to do with it, but the ways in which students and teachers get along, how teachers have more freedom to diverge from curriculum plans, the school’s explicit focus on students’ socio-emotional growth caught me off guard in my first two days in the classroom. The last few days I have been mulling over my observations, comparing this private school to my childhood public schools and my main placement and I’m starting to take note of the benefits as well as drawbacks of each setting. But what I really want to dwell on and get out of this second placement (other than gaining more teaching experience with a primary grade and being a positive presence in the classroom) is what I can bring back from an alternative educational program and make work in a public school setting.

The things that have stuck with me this first week is the school’s commitment to building and maintaining a community through respectful, kind, and open-minded relationships and our teacher’s involvement of student voice and choice in her plans and remaining flexible with that plan. Our CT and the school take into large account their students’ feelings, emotions, and ideas throughout the day. While this, I think, has to be carried out carefully so that children are forced to develop grit and tenacity, I have been thinking about how imperative it is that we give our students in public schools similar kinds of voice and choice, if not to learn that they matter, but then to learn how to be responsible for the ways in which they participate in their classrooms, their school, then their community and larger democratic society. I also can’t help but wish that public school teachers got to feel the same kind of freedom in curriculum planning and designing that the teachers at my placement feel. That’s not to say my CT isn’t working towards standards; it just seems to me that she has more room to be creative and incorporate her students’ in her design of the journey towards those standards.

Despite my culture shock, I am excited to get back to the eager and intelligent second graders who have welcomed me and my partner into their small (did I mention there are only 16 students MAX in each classroom?!) group. I anticipate they are going to challenge my thinking on what it means to differentiate instruction for all students and the different kinds of strengths students bring to the classroom.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I am in a similar situation, in which my second placement is very different and seemingly has more freedom to provide support for the students than my main placement. While I’m also seeing positives and negatives of both sides, it’s very interesting to think about my placements with your questions in mind. “What I can bring back from an alternative educational program and make work in a public school setting?” This is such a crucial question to be asking at this time. At the same time, I’m also finding myself considering what aspects of my main placement would be beneficial to bring into the alternative school setting. I’m very interested to hear more about your experience with differentiated instruction in that small classroom. My situation is actually different in that respect; while the school we’re at is an alternative kind of school, there are very large class sizes, and it will be interesting to hear your thoughts on how class size can impact individual growth!

  2. Your question about student voice is crucial. How is the voice diminished or encouraged in different settings? Is there an assumption that certain populations cannot handle expression due to the way we’ve defined appropriate setting? The SugataMitra TED talk, for example, is all about the student voice. When does this voice get in the way and why? Can’t wait to hear or read more of your thoughts on this!

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