So, the whole purpose of our move abroad is to see what international education looks like. We walked in with the idea that these schools had enough resources, school fees would ensure motivation, and an administration that has worked in education systems around the world would surely be a step-up from the politics we faced at home. In all honesty, almost anything would have been better than the complacent behavior on the part of adults and true enabling nature of the discipline procedures that existed, or didn’t for that matter. Moving abroad to teach is my last try at “is this the right profession for me?” I’ve wanted to be a teacher my entire life, and my last three years of teaching had me feeling like no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I would never be valued or respected by most of the administration, people in the community, and parents alike; not to mention our illustrious governor of NJ who recently was quoted comparing teachers to the mafia. Being a teacher is really, really hard and if you knew me personally, you know how much I’ve struggled with this.
Anyway, that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is to give you some insight on what my school day is like, the people I’ve encountered, and how it makes me feel.
So, lets start with the schedule. We work from 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM everyday except Wednesday when we go until 4. Actual teaching time is 15 hours per week, and I have 1 hour of duty per week. I have what is considered a “medium to high” case load. Steve teaches 17 hours per week so he has a “high” case load. So what happens in all of that free time? From 3-4 on Wednesdays we have school-wide professional development. Each day we have 2-3 hours of planning time. We can use that time to common plan, print, make copies, meet with supervisors, work independently, or even take a break with colleagues and eat. We have two department meetings a week that are scheduled for the same time each week. They take place during the school day for 30 -40 minutes. Our department is very small so it makes it much easier to collaborate, talk, and plan. I have between 16 and 22 kids in each class. So in hours alone, per week:
- 12 hours of planning time
- 15 hours of teaching time
- 1 hour of professional development
- 2 hours of department meetings
The other five hours that are missing from this equation are made up of an advisory period (like a homeroom), 1.5 hours of enrichment/tutoring that takes place from 2:30-3:00 most days (this is strictly by appointment and request of students/parents (I have not had any kids for these “office hours” yet) and flag ceremony/morning prayer.
Every morning we meet as a school at the flag poles to raise the Dominican flag, the school flag and depending on what is going on in the world, the American flag. There is the playing of the Dominican national anthem and then the morning prayer, it is a Catholic school, after all. All of this is done by the students of the school. Students get their uniforms checked by their advisory teachers (I have one section of Grade 10) and once inspection is passed, there are school-wide announcements made. They also announce birthdays of students, teachers, and staff members! Everyone claps, it’s really sweet. It’s really a family feel and it psychs the kids up for the day, every morning. I find it really encouraging and it reminds me of a 60 minutes episode my friend (name withheld because he may as well be Ron Swanson) showed me at the end of last year.
Kids and Classroom
Personally, I teach two grades (tenth and eighth). They are fantastic kids with interesting world views. They’ve been all over the world and are well-versed in global affairs. They struggle in the same way American kids do, but they have the financial means to catch up to their classmates. Students graduate fluently speaking 2-3 languages. Classes are done in English, but the majority of the teachers are Spanish-speaking and Dominican so we are definitely the minority here. All emails are in English and Spanish, and most meetings are done in both languages. Lucky for us people speak both English and Spanish very quickly here so we don’t usually run over. Students are motivated to do well by grades and incentives. See “downside” below for more information on that. My classroom is huge and freezing cold but I have full control over the temperature in the room. Two walls of my room are covered in windows, one of which is floor to ceiling, I love it!
I have two sections of 10th grade and three sections of 8th grade. I see each class three times per week for an hour each time. The way the sections are divided, students stay in the same “section” for every class from the time they are in Kindergarten until the time they graduate. Again, see below.
Building and Recess
The hallways are all outside, however covered by a ceiling so that in the event of those 20 minute thunder storms we are protected. The school is four stories tall (no elevator) and shaped like a rectangle. In the middle of the rectangle are palm trees reaching up through the 4th floor and a courtyard where students have recess. It is so sunny and bright each and every day! All students of all ages have recess here. They eat and then can run around, play sports, games, etc. Its a great way for them to relax their minds, I love it. I think it is so important that students have the capacity to rest. They don’t grow complacent and sit around on their phones and listen to music while pretending to socialize in the cafeteria. There is such a strict cell policy here that students don’t dare even take it out of their pockets during their free time. It forces them to REALLY have conversations. It’s awesome. Recess and lunch combined is only 30 minutes. Students don’t waste time; they eat and play!
Well, with all of the perks there have to be downsides right?
There is no such thing as a teacher’s union. If I have classes in the middle of the day and then I have lunch duty and then more class, I don’t eat. If there is a presentation scheduled for my prep, I don’t get to have one of my preps. If I have to meet with the school psychologist to discuss the needs of students during my planning time, even if I don’t get any more planning time that day, then I meet with the psychologist. Yea, it isn’t great that we don’t get to have that guarantee but that is definitely the purpose behind giving us so much time in a day. Planning time is to be used for planning, and if it works in your schedule then you can eat too. Thursdays, I teach two classes, have a homeroom period, enrichment, and lunch duty. It still leaves me with four full hours to plan, and I do. You eat when you can, and if you can’t then you wait. It’s really not the worst system but it definitely takes some getting used to. People don’t sue the same way here that they do in the states. There is so much less to fear everyday. Labor laws are very straight forward in this country and contracts are solid. Labor laws in this field tend to be in support of the teacher. So again, while a union is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for the protection of teachers in the United States, they are sort of obsolete here.
The grading system is entirely different. Each students gets two grades per class on their final report cards. The first grade is their work, tests, etc, just like the US. The second grade is their “conduct grade”. This grade is based entirely on behavior using a rubric created by the school. The conduct grade is fantastic and if a student falls below an 80%, they are excluded from extracurriculars and sports. All grades must be documented by rubrics. So that really isn’t the downside. It truly helps the school environment that the students are held accountable for their behavior (as opposed to teachers being held accountable for student behavior). Of course there are a hundred more variables that come into play here. The downside is the actual grading percentages. It is 10% formative assessments, 20% work habits (think participation, homework, are they doing what they are supposed to be doing, focus, etc) and 70% summative assessments. Isn’t that wild? So in theory a student can do NOTHING every day all day, pass a test, and still pass the class. For some beautiful reason it doesn’t happen here but we have had a really hard time adjusting to this grading system. It doesn’t make sense to us but it works here and that’s okay.
The internet is totally unreliable. It is truly a disaster waiting to happen. Some days it’s like who would even know there was a problem? On other days you better hope you have a back up lesson because you may not be able to show that video or have the students work on their projects or research, etc. Not a huge problem depending on how someone sets up their lesson planning but the school pushes for Project-based learning, which has been a lot of fun, btw, but not so fun when you have no working internet.
Each classroom has a video camera with audio recording. Scary right? It’s another reason why the union may not exist here. Cameras are there to protect the truth in situations. Nothing can hide whether you hit a kid or made a comment you shouldn’t have. Also, nothing to support a kid making a false statement about teachers. Also, the cameras are not watched unless there is some kind of situation that arises warranting an investigation. It has to do with privacy laws for the students here. Anyway, it’s an interesting concept that is supposed to provide protection to students, teachers, and school alike. I haven’t made up my mind about it but I can’t help but feel like big brother is watching.
Blah, Blah, Blah
There is an unprecedented culture of talking here, especially among the students. Dominicans are beautifully social people who want to know about YOU as a person. They are warm and welcoming but with that comes a lot of talking which is fine in real life, but not when you are trying to teach a class. I had a hard time teaching about 9/11 today because the students all wanted to share personal stories, thoughts, and ideas with me and one another. It is absolutely the biggest difficulty we deal with here. They don’t necessarily understand that what they are doing is wrong and really they are very nice kids so it’s not right to make them feel as though their cultural norm is wrong. Anyway, hoping this part gets better with time using procedures, warnings, and incentives. My students are so sweet though it is hard to be mad at them for long.
I don’t know how to title this section..
Kids are in the same class from the time they are in kindergarten until they graduate high school. Based on normal falling outs, or disruptive behavior among friends, the kids could possibly be changed into another “section” but it does not generally happen. I find that it makes the social aspect of the classes a little more challenging because they are all like brother and sister. Further, they don’t have the opportunity to really explore other ideas, people, or experiences because they are with the same kids from 7:30 in the morning until school is out at 2:35. However, in a lot of ways it really works. It makes crosscurricular projects extremely manageable. Further, students are responsible for one another. They work together really well and they have each other’s backs. That’s pretty cool.
Here’s me in my classroom:
In summary, I love it here so far. We will see how it unfolds as the year goes on, but I truly look forward to discovering myself as a teacher without the same restrictions, deadlines, and suffocating pressure that I have felt in the past. I don’t have dark circles under my eyes anymore and I don’t spend 30 minutes in bed dreading getting up and going to work. They have hot coffee brewing for teachers in 2-3 locations around the school and water jugs for kids and teachers. It is clear that there is a climate for caring. The owners (note; owners) of the school say it all the time, we are a family here. We don’t hurt our families, we nurture them. There is so much more to say about the school procedures, everyday life, and the colleagues I have found; but it’s enough for now.
I have to say I miss those Franklin kids more than anything. They really made my world go ’round. Nothing beat the way those kids made me feel, even on their worst days. They’ll never ever understand how much I loved each and every one of them.
Until next time,