It’s common knowledge that teacher around the world find writing reports stressful and challenging. I was not expecting it to be any different here. I was also not expecting that every child in our school gets a report that is two pages long and includes individual comments about the progress of the student in every subject also including the highlights of the academic year. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the Word document and realised just how much work it would be. Far behind were my days in Finland teaching in Year 1 where I would just choose the suitable option from three step assessment, evaluating each subject as a whole. There were no individual comments, actually not even a possibility to comment because it was all done through a system where you would juts input the numbers.
I hear sounds in my head. Letters float around in the air in front of my eyes and anytime the bump into each other, they make a sound. Ay, oy, ar, ow, ey.
I wake up and I immediately feel restless. Another dream about sounds. I sit up although it’s way too early to wake up and think about what is happening. Words in English that once seemed so simple now haunt me. I search for the correct sounds day and night. I draw buttons and boxes to try to make sense of the words in a way I had never before. “Welcome to the world of Phonics!” I say to myself before laying back down hoping to get some more rest.
I search for the ID badge from the bottom of my purse while I press the code to open the gate. In the foyer the screen beeps and signs me in at 7.31. I walk through the quiet corridors and say good morning to a colleague passing by. I open the door to my classroom. It’s dark and it feels big and quiet, like it’s not in its’ natural state.
I switch on the computer and write down the few things that popped into my head on the way to school. The to-do list is getting longer and longer. I get up and stare at the white board. I move the names on the sunshine level back to the green level in the positive behaviour chart and look for today’s subjects to stick on the visual timetable. While placing the label for PE on the wall I already dread the afternoon.
I sit back down and open the registration programme, the teaching slides for today and my school email. While waiting for things to open I search for the worksheets we need for today. I’m lucky to find the worksheets trimmed but not so lucky when I realise that the worksheet planned for Maths needs to be adjusted because of the lesson yesterday. So I open Word and start typing the date and objective at the top of the worksheet.
On my way to the printer I stop by to talk through the day with my colleague and to ask if she wants a copy of the new worksheet. I spot her phonics worksheets on the desk and realise that I still have to check my phonics slides and I’m once again running out of time. I stop by at the printer and leave the pile of the new worksheets on the table. No matter how early you get in, there never is enough time, I think to myself.
Do you know how some things just hang in the air? You can feel them coming, building up that suspense. You have the feeling that it’s going to influence your life quite a lot, but you’re not quite sure if it’s for better or for worse. That’s how I think many teachers feel about Ofsted. Ofsted, that government entity of inspectors that set the standards for teaching, inspect the schools in England and rate them on a scale from inadequate (1) to outstanding (4). In Finland, inspections have not existed since 1990. Here they still haunt teachers’ lives. And maybe they should, because who wouldn’t want to be outstanding?
You are going to find this hard to believe, just like I did when I first heard it during my job interview, but that’s exactly why I’m going to tell you this. Here it goes: 92% of the children at Central Primary school speak another language than English at home. Yes, you read correctly. Let me say it again in a different way. Only 8 % of children that go to our school speak English at home as one of their mother tongues . We have children arrive into our classrooms, who know only one or two words English. One might be “hello”, one might be “toilet”. It takes a while to get your head around that fact and then to imagine what other things relate to language: religions, customs, festivities and traditions. Central Primary really is diverse.
“They are so young!” I kept thinking to myself when I finally started teaching my own Year 1 class. Children in England start school after they turn five. By law children need to be in education by the September after their fifth birthday although many children enter the reception class already at the age of four. The current school starting age was introduced in the 1870 Elementary Education Act and made compulsory in 1880. So starting school at five is the norm and has a long tradition for a Brit, but not so much for a Finn. We tend to take pride in the fact that in Finland children go to school only at the age of 7 and until then “children are let to be children”. At the same time Finland relies on a compulsory and professional pre-education system to lead the children to primary education at a later age. I still see a lot of value in the later school starting age, but in the past year I have started to see that just because children go to school at the age of five, it does not mean that they are not let to be children.
Rainbow awards, house points, superheroes, ladders, reading records, guided reading groups, casting off and peeling off, phonics, SEN and ten other acronyms, new behaviour policy not to forget the national curriculum with fourteen subjects to be internalised. My head was spinning.
I thought I had some idea what to expect when I walked into the school on my first day in July, but in the weeks that followed I was reminded that a school in a different country with a different language and a different culture could still give a significant culture shock.