The Setting

Being in a new school is always exciting and challenging, and this year has been no different. I’m in a completely new terrain though, so I feel the need to update you on my new setting, so-to-speak.

My school is a special school for children with learning disabilities (severe ones, so that children usually “fail” in the regular system). The disability range is rather broad and fluid though.

I have taken over a year 5/6 class with another teacher and we currently have 14 students. We are only in the class together for 4 lessons a week, but it is good to know we are working together even if we are not. The way we have arranged this so far is that while we both cover all subjects in a manner of speaking, my focus is English, Math and Art and her focus is German and Social Studies/Science. I have taken over the idea of working on a “big idea” (quite like a central idea in the PYP) based around concepts for a certain amount of time. So far, it is rather “interdisciplinary” approach, but it is, in my opinion, already quite well established in the class.

On top of teaching my class, I also teach grades 8 and 10, in a number of combinations.  I have the grade 8 girls for sex ed, a mixed grade 8 class (there is grade 8a and 8b, and they are mixed up) for English and once I have grade 8a for English as well. Can you imagine how that is for planning? Yeah…

In grade 10 I have a boys and a girls group and I teach English in those groups.

So far, those classes have been my main challenge, as they are way out of my comfort zone. But, I have to admit that I love working with them as well. One of the perks of a special school is that I get to work across the age range. I am still unsure what I think of excluding some children from the state school system (but a post on this will inevitably follow), but the educational approach is SO MUCH BETTER. There is time for development, time for creativity and generally a lot less “have-to-do”s. The curriculum is barely a framework and the knowledge component is hard to define, as students are all capable of different things. I currently have students in my class that are working with numbers up to 20, some work up to 100 and others beyond 1000. It’s hard work, but seemingly I have sussed this out with Math.

 

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Reflection on my state school experience, and the start of something new

My previous post was full of hope for many posts about my new school. But I was overwhelmed with the events at my school. Not necessarily in a bad way, but there was not a lot of freedom for me or my beliefs.

The primary school I was at was very traditional, and as I took over responsibility for English in grade 2, I was busy setting up a non-existent curriculum and trying to live with the fact that we were unrelated to anything else going on in the school. I guess it wasn’t a PYP school, and I was so used to having my own class and using a trans-disciplinary approach, that teaching in this way was rather unfulfilling and clashing with my own ideals.

During the time I was supporting class teachers, I was shocked by the amount of textbook and workbook work… the fact that first graders who were naturally so curious and excited, were quickly turned into “page-turners”, kids who wanted to be done with the phonics workbook first, or who didn’t want to be bothered at all.

I am not trying to blame anyone. I guess I could have stuck around to try and change things. But when the end of the school year approached, I was still not sure if my contract was to be extended. And so I looked for a place better suited for my educational philosophy.

In German state systems, there are primary and secondary schools, but also special (needs) education schools. The special ed schools are divided into the following categories:

  • social and emotional development
  • learning disabilities
  • hearing
  • seeing
  • language/linguistic development
  • physical disabilities
The core difference is, that class sizes are much smaller and that students are not taught to a strict curriculum, but an individual approach. Just as special ed is everywhere in this world, I assume.
When I started applying for openings, I decided to give it a go. And now I am finding myself a few hours away from my first proper school conference at a special ed school for learning disabilities.
I will be mainly placed in grade 5/6 (mixed grade) with another teacher, and taking on the main responsibility in that class for Maths and English. I will also be teaching English in grades 7, 8 and 10.
Needless to say, I’m nervous and excited. But I hope to settle in soon, to be able to stick to my belief that inquiry-based learning is the way forward and to find out how this will work in this particular school.