Friday, January 21, 2011

New School

I read back over my posts about school, and realized that I have sanitized them pretty heavily. They all sound so upbeat! It's not that teaching here is horrible- not at all. It's just that I'm living in a place where freedom of expression is not protected, and I have been very circumspect about posting any negative remarks in a public forum. So, the news that I changed schools doesn't really have the context it should. And here, at least, it won't. I will miss the boys in my old class, but I will just have to accept that this is not my country, and things are not done here the way I might think is right. I am very grateful that my request for a different assignment was honored.

My new school is a kindergarten with both boys and girls in the classes. It has a lovely physical setting, with a central assembly room/gym and classrooms radiating off around it. There are glassed-in courtyards, a kitchen for cooking projects, and two trampolines in the gym. It's located in a small suburb of Abu Dhabi, a place that has a community feel. Like my district in Texas, it is populated mostly by people who have moved to the area, rather than by a long-settled group. I think that makes it much more open, since everyone has had to create their own new social networks.

The model here for kindergarten is for there to be both an English-speaking teacher and an Arabic-speaking teacher assigned to each class. I am currently replacing a teacher who has gone back to the west for surgery. She may return, and if so, I will stay at the school, but work with pre-k instead of kinder. My co-teacher is Fatema, a young Emirati woman who attended a teacher college and is certified. (Many teachers here are not certified.) Our schedule begins with Fatema's circle time, including Arabic literacy and Islamic Studies. Then I do a short English literacy activity and some centers and small groups. The students go to sports, music, art, or the library for rotation classes. They have snack and playtime (recess). We have a numeracy lesson, then  a longer center time, then closing circle. The day ends by 12:15 for the students, and teachers have professional development meetings or planning time until 1:45. That's the whole day! All of it, except for Fatema's Arabic and Islamic lesson, is supposed to be bilingual. It seems like a great model for introducing the kindergarteners to English in a very gentle way. They will be well-prepared for English literacy when they reach first grade.

I am greatly enjoying working with an Emirati teacher. I think my Arabic will improve a great deal just from being exposed to the language all day. My co-teacher is excited about teaching and has great ideas. It's not much different than working with a western colleague. In the second grade, at my old school, I had the students by myself, with no local teacher. That's the ADEC model, to have English-only instruction for English, math, and science in all the grades above kinder. I think in the future, when the kinder students have reached first and second grade after having been exposed to English and foreign teachers, it will be okay to have the foreign teacher take the class by herself. These first years of the program, however, it's very difficult for the teachers teaching students who have not had much English at all, without the support of an Arabic speaker. It's even worse when it's a female teacher in an all-boys school that has issues with lack of consequences for serious behaviors.

This coming week, we will be focusing on the letter K. Our theme is community helpers, and we have a field trip on Sunday to the local police station. In math, we'll be ordering numbers to ten and telling what numbers come before or after a given number. Sounds like any kindergarten anywhere in the world!

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