The last 2 weeks have had me making an hour long commute to a secondary school in the town of Middlesbrough (South east of Durham). It would take 2 hours by bus to get there so I’ve thankfully found a couple of student teachers to carpool with from Durham.
This particular school receives students who are typically between the ages of 11 and 16. Located in one of the more economically deprived regions of the town, most of the students face much larger challenges outside school than they do within. Faculty and staff have been quite candid about the life challenges that students face and how that in turn impacts the level of engagement and learning within their classrooms.
Each public school in England/UK is accountable to a government body known as Ofsted. Ofsted monitors school performance while enforcing “accountability measures” for struggling schools. Underperforming schools are in turn expected to implement measures intended to increase overall performance. If performance does not improve, then the school can be shut down with faculty and staff losing their jobs and students forced to look for a new school. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence and sadly, the school that I’m currently at is danger of such actions being taken against them. Teachers become quite somber when discussing that possibility. However, at the same time their resolve to improve things seems immensely strong as they invest hours of additional efforts into overcoming this challenge.
I have to be honest in confessing that I had idealistic expectations for what I would find in my first host school. I’d heard rumors that they were a struggling school, but stereotypical images from British movies had me convinced that I was not likely to encounter negative behaviors to the same extent that I occasionally witness in my own classroom or school. Was I ever mistaken! I’ve now seen nearly every type of behavioral disruption in a classroom here that I’ve had to address within my own classes back in Wichita. One thing that is definitely different is the response policies that this school has in addressing student misbehavior. Depending on the kind of behavior, it appears that teachers are required to issue at least 3 warnings to a student before a consequence is given. I’m definitely not used to being that gracious! As is often expected, lower level classes seem to demonstrate high incidence of misbehavior while higher level classes maintain greater engagement.
School leadership tells me that nearly 70% of the students come from multi-generational British families while at least 25% have immigrated from a variety of Eastern European countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. I have yet to observe students with refugee backgrounds within this school.
I’ve been able to enjoy some very humorous interactions with students in the school. Most of my contact with students has been limited to classroom observations and small group tutorials. For most of these students, I have been the first American that they have ever met. The working class Middlesbrough accent has definitely been harder for me to process at times. If I get 90% of what a student says to me, I’m doing quite well. Unique pronunciations include a lack of emphasizing the letter “h” in words. So words such as “hate” and “ate” sound nearly identical. Words such as “book” and “cook” are pronounced in a way that makes the “o’s” sound like a long “u”. The word “come” is pronounced in a way that causes to sound identical to a typical American pronunciation of the word “comb”. At times, I have thought that students were speaking a second language other than English only to eventually realize that they were in fact speaking English!
Fun questions that I have been asked this week…
Do you know Kim Kardashian?
Are you going to learn English while you’re here?
Do you have shawarma in America?
The most common question though by far has been whether or not I’ve ever eaten a “parmo”. Apparently a parmo is local delicacy consisting of deep fried chicken with cheese that can be obtained at nearly every “chippy” or carryout restaurant. It sounds like a cardiac arrest in your mouth but I don’t know if the locals are going to let me out of the Northeast until I try one! Battered (deep fried) Mars Bars are another local delicacy whose prevalence appears to increase as one moves further north in the region of the country. One local delicacy that are thoroughly enjoying is fresh local seafood. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!!!