One year ago, I was living in Nashville, TN. Today, I live in São Paulo, Brazil.
One year ago, I was teaching all girls. Mostly Southern US born-and-raised girls. Today, I am teaching both genders, from a variety of countries and backgrounds.
One year ago, I was an AP Stats and geometry teacher. Today, I teach 9th and 10th grade “integrated” (which mostly means algebra.)
It has been a fascinating, eventful, draining year. But now its May. And May, for me, is a time for reflection. And procrastination (grades and comments due in one week!) Here is what I’m thinking about this year.
Culture – School and Classroom
I came from a school so steeped in tradition and American over-achievement that I rarely had to worry about discipline; tardies were not a problem, phones were not a (major) problem, outright refusal to do what I asked was not a problem. Here, things are not quite so smooth. I’m not a bad disciplinarian and my classroom certainly doesn’t run badly, but I was out of practice.
This year, I started the year too “soft” and then spent several months of the year too “hard” to overcompensate. Overall, things are fine; my students mostly like me, they mostly learned (at least some) math, nobody seems to think I’m the meanest or worst teacher alive, but I felt a little off-kilter all year. Next year, I will be making some cultural changes. I haven’t locked them down, but it will certainly include randomized seating and a new technology policy of some kind, balanced by transparency about my reasons and as much generosity as I can reasonably provide.
Assessment and Retention
Our school has an assessment policy that I mostly really like, based heavily on Ken O’Connor’s “15 Fixes” for grading. Reassessment opportunities are mandated for every assessment / learning target. Only summative assessments can be counted in the grade. Recent grades are prioritized.
However, I have found that the policy as written makes it hard for me to implement some of the assessment procedures I had done before, rooted in Make It Stick. Short daily quizzes can exist as formative assessments, but with no “teeth,” many students don’t take them seriously, so the retrieval practice is minimal. Homework is often ignored. Cumulative / spiraled summative assessments SEEM to be verboten under the current policy language (though I think that may be negotiable and I intend to try).
I am thinking a lot about the pros and cons of our assessment policy, and how to do a better job with it so that it doesn’t end up undermining the long-term retention of my students; as me and my department are interpreting it now, it very much favors a cram-and-forget process that I don’t think is beneficial for most students, but I think I can find ways around that.
Next year, I will only be teaching two sections of mathematics (both 10th grade), because I will also be teaching 2 sections of IB Computer Science and one elective section that will be Web Design in the first semester and Computer Programming Principles in the second.
I have WAY too many people signed up for the IB classes. It is a new offering next year, and in the IB, the computer science class can be taken as the only science course. Therefore, I have a spate of students who are taking it because they don’t want to take Bio / Chem / Phys. The other “other science”, Environmental Systems and Societies, was new last year, but word of mouth is that it’s “actually pretty hard!” so I have a bunch trying out the new guy.
Despite that, I’m SUPER excited. It’s a pretty dang cool course. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty small-market course and there aren’t any commercial curricula available, so I’m having to roll my own, which as we all know is exhausting. But after several false starts and useless pathways, I think I’m starting to get a handle on it.
The Future, sporadically
The international teaching world tends to be filled with people who, like me, only stay in a school for 3-6 years at a time. Honestly, I love it; it means the school culture is pretty inconsistent and hard to pin down, which kind of sucks, but it means there are always new ideas, new conversations, new passions.
It also means that sometime in the next 3-5 years, we will probably be moving again. Hopefully by then my kids (and I) will all speak Portuguese.
I wonder where we will go next?