In Here’s My Future I’m talking about my transfer from a traditional school after seven years to an integrated, more alternative school and all the changes that this change brings for my profession.
I’m sitting at my new school now, at my desk, in my room. It’s the end of my third week and I feel both exhilarated and exhausted. It has been quite a ride, so much has happened, I’ve learned and saw a lot and even if I sometimes feel frustrated, my overall feelings definitely lean more to the positive side. Here’s why.
First of all, everything is different. Everything. I joked that the only similarities are that there are desks, chairs and students. But the teaching is different, more inclusive and individual, much more student-oriented and open. Because of the way they learn (which I’ll go into more detail in the future, when I’ll have more experience with it), they work much more independently than I’ve ever experienced in the traditional school system. And because this is an educational system and not just a method, all the students are used to it and don’t need constant motivation or explanation how to do what.
But it goes beyond the classroom. Teachers have to work in teams, which creates an entirely different feeling of belonging to the school that I had never experienced before. You don’t have to fight single-handlely for what you want to do but you also can’t just retreat and do everything by the book. You have to work together. This creates some difficulties too, of course, because people don’t tend to agree all the time but I think the overall benefit is huge.
Still, the big difference here is that there is a structure, an overarching structure for the school from the ground up, all the way from 5 to 10. Upholding that structure requires a large amount of organization and communication and this is where most conflicts arise. But to me these are very solvable issues that can be tackled, not systemic problems that fundamentally avoid a healthy learning atmosphere. Growing pains, if you will, no birth defects. There is a lot of chaos that sometimes drives you crazy but this is a side effect of being more open and flexible and not simply following a strict plan. Again, I don’t think the chaos is inherent, it’s just something that can be worked on.
I don’t want to judge too much yet, least of all because I only had a few real lessons up to now. Why? Because the flexibility also includes so many special days and occasions that actual lessons are not always on the top of the agenda. Which would be unthinkable in regular schools but here is part of the plan. So there is a project week in the middle of the school year (one of two each year that are thematically linked to the lessons) or so-called “challenges” where students can do something that goes way beyond normal school life. All of it feels so different that what I was used to and sometimes I wonder how I could work under those circumstances for such a long time and it feels so far away. I feel like being reborn, like finding new roots on the soil of my past experiences and growing something much more beautiful and worthwhile.
There is so much going on. I still don’t really know what a “normal” lesson looks like but I’m getting there. I’m still not sure how grades are treated here but there is clearly less importance and more focus on individual development. I have to figure out my position among my colleagues, though I’m getting along quite well with most of them and feel welcome. There is a feeling of family even. I don’t like everyone but that would be strange anyway (and they’re still teachers, for what it’s worth). Not everyone is idealistic but I’d say the majority really tries to do things differently and believes in it, despite some complaining. Most people care. Up to now I was in agreement with the ones who “lead” the school and this is something I still have to get used to, not fighting the ones “up there” but actually having opportunities and exchanging ideas. The start for classes 11 and beyond will happen next year and I’m excited and hopeful I can be a part of that.
My principal asked me yesterday if I have a feeling for the vision of the school and if I agree that a school needs a vision and not just rules and programs. As like many times before, I was stunned to hear someone in his position say something so important to me. I told him that I totally agree and furthermore think every teacher needs a vision for their profession, their lessons, their ideas. He agreed with me and we nodded. I haven’t felt so much agreement in the past seven years and while I still feel confused and sometimes insecure and sometimes annoyed at the lack of a plan, all of this doesn’t matter because beneath it all I’m really really happy to be there. I didn’t know that school could feel so much like home.
You’re where you want to be
I’m where I want to be
Come on, we’re chasing everything we ever wanted
Franz Ferdinand, Come On Home