Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Look Back at My Year in Australia

In 2009 I spent the year teaching in Melbourne, Australia.  For me, spending the year working and living in Australia was a way to mix up things in my life.  It was an interesting year for me because while I had seventeen years of teaching experience, I felt like a first year teacher all over again. The systems were different, the rules were different, and the structures were different.  But the kids, the kids were the same.  One thing that I know, no matter where in the world you are, six and seven year olds are six and seven year olds.  Some of the biggest differences I noticed included how the day was scheduled, the number of meetings I attended in a week, the amount of administration/leadership roles, the amount of technology available to me, and how I was expected to teach.

The day was structured around five one hour sessions per day.  There were two sessions before recess, a thirty minute recess, two after recess, a one hour lunch break (15 min for eating followed by 45 min for playing), and one session after lunch.  It was expected that my first two sessions per day were reading, followed by writing.  Maths was typically session three. The remaining sessions of the day were left for "topics", school wide buddies, school wide assembly, and my specialists - library, art, and p.e.

I must admit I loved the two hours of structured literacy time in the morning.  I could actually get a lot of reading and writing done in that time.   Here in Canada I *typically have  approx. 97 min before recess (15 min) and I find the time flies so quickly that as much as I have a great structure to cover a lot of reading and writing, it's really tough to fit it all in.  I *typically have 90 min between recess and lunch, and 114 minutes after lunch.  At lunch time my students go out to play first for 25 min, then come in and eat for 15 min, before we start the afternoon lessons.

While in Australia I also loved the 180 min a week I had for planning/prepping lessons.  My students had p.e. for one hour a week, art for one hour a week, and library for one hour a week.   Here in Canada I have 100 min a week for planning/prepping lessons.  My students have two 30 min music sessions per week, and one 40 min library block per week.

What I didn't like was all the after school meetings we had.  Most weeks we had a meeting Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday after school.  Tuesday was typically a staff meeting, Wednesday I attended either professional development type meeting with the entire staff or a Welfare meeting with a quarter of the staff, and Thursday the year 1/2 team met. During the 1/2 meeting I had to share what I learned at the welfare meeting while others on my team shared what they learned at their Wednesday meetings.  To me it was completely crazy how many  meetings we had.  At times I felt like I was meeting to talk about why I was meeting, so that we could plan a meeting, to meet.  In Canada I typically have one staff meeting a month, and one primary meeting every six or so weeks.  Most of our communication is done via on line weekly messages from the principal, or through our on line conference. Of course we meet when there is a need but we don't meet for the sake of meeting.  There is always a purpose to our meetings.  In Australia, I did like that the 1/2 team met regularly and if we had used the time to actually discuss what we were doing in our classes and plan together the meetings would have been great. But they didn't really work that way, and they became more about keeping us in a meeting for the required amount of time than actually using the time wisely.  In Canada, while we meet as a primary staff far less often, when we meet we have an agenda, and we get a lot accomplished.  Maybe it's a difference between Canadians and Australians, or maybe it was just the school that I was in, but those Aussie meetings sure did suck a lot of my time.

Another big difference that I saw between my school here in Canada, and my school in Australia was the amount of people involved at the leadership level.  Here in Canada I teach at a school of 500+ students.  We have a full time principal, and a part time vice principal.  That's it, that's the leadership team.  In Australia I taught in a school of around 300 students.  We had a full time principal, a full time assistant principal, and the equivalent of 2.5 teachers removed from the classroom each week to fill a leadership role in the school.  The leadership team met on Mondays, so they had meetings four of five afternoons a week.  I'm not really sure what they met about though because I have to say with that many people trying to lead a school there seemed to be a lot of confusion of who was doing what.

The level of technology was also quite different for me in Australia.  My Australian school had an interactive white board (IWB) in every classroom.  Yes, every single classroom had an interactive white board.  When I left for Australia my school had NO interactive white boards. That's right, none.  When I returned we had one in our school lab, and we got it because we donated space to a program and in turn they purchased the IWB for us.  Last year the school purchased a second portable IWB.  So now we have two IWBs in our school (and the portable one just happens to be stored in my classroom).  My Australian school also had a bank of 15 computers in the library which could be booked out, and we (the 1/2 team) shared eight computers between our four classrooms. Here in Canada I have two so so computers in my classroom.  I have a 37 min time each week in our school lab (30 computers), and I can book out the class set of laptops when ever I like (assuming they are free).  I'm also housing four really old ibooks (the board wanted to take them away when they were being upgraded but I wanted to keep them for my students and so far I've been able to keep them).

Finally the biggest difference I noticed between my Australian school and my Canadian school was what I was expected to do. In my Canadian school we are given a lot of freedom to cover our required curriculum.  In my Australian school  I was expected to do a lot of things, whether I believed they were educationally sound or not.  Thankfully a lot of what was imposed on the teachers the year I was there were things I had already introduced myself because they were things I was already doing in Canada.  For example in my Melbourne school I was mandated to have a class library (which was so strange to me that there weren't any books when I arrived in my 1/2 classroom).  I was mandated to have a class word wall word (again, some thing I had already set up upon my arrival to Australia since mine is an integral part of my classroom in Canada).  I was also mandated to have just right book packages for each of my students (again something I implemented when I arrived because I felt they were so valuable in my classroom in Canada).  It was expected that I had reading, writing, and math guided sessions each and every day.  As it turned out I had five reading, five writing, and five maths groups running all year long. It was crazy insane for me as I had way less resources than I was used to in my classroom in Canada (I left my personal and professional resources for my exchange teacher but I was left very little), and the other teachers at my grade level were so busy with their own students needs that little was shared between us.  That part of the exchange really sucked because I actually worked with a couple of really fantastic teachers, and we could have accomplished so much more if we had utilized our team meetings to our advantage.  There were many other things that I was expected to do to cover the required Australian curriculm.  And I was expected to do what the others were doing.  Here in Canada, while I work with two other grade one teachers, we all do our own thing.  We all let our strengths shine through in our teaching so while each grade one class is doing something different, we are all doing great things with our students.  In Australia, I couldn't do many of the things I wanted to do because we all had to do the same things.

For those of you that have only taught in one school system I'm hoping as you read this post you are starting to compare the system you know, with the ones that I've gotten to know.  I'm really curious to hear how your day is set up.  What is your leadership team like? How many minutes a week are you given to plan/prep your lessons while your students are being taught by someone else?  What type of technology do you have access to? Are you expected to teach a specific way or with a specific program? I'm curious to know.

*This year our recess had to be changed to allow member of the school board to arrive at our school to cover recess supervision as we, the teachers, are in job action.

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