On days that I’m not conducting observations and assisting teachers at my first host school, I attend post-graduate classes at Durham University’s School of Education.  I’m currently developing a research framework in a Research Method’s class that has been helpful in better understanding current issues in British Education.  Ironically there are only a handful of British students in these modules with most coming from China, a handful from the US, and the rest being from the UK or other countries from abroad.

In my opinion, the similarities are much greater than the differences thus far.  There’s something comforting about seeing 15 year olds from the UK behaving like 15 year olds from the US.  Kids are still kids wherever you go even if cultural idiosyncrasies do occasionally pop up.

Due to a teacher emergency, I was able to fill in and teach part of a lesson on basic Chemistry to a group of students yesterday.  Their level of engagement was nearly 100% for the first several minutes as students stared in disbelief. The words spoken with an American accent were the first that most students had ever heard from something other than a TV.  Most worked well after some guided practice examples but some were completely distracted in wanting to ask questions about life in the US.  Others just wanted to hear me repeat words and phrases from my own “language.”  One student asked if I was able to read English writing like the kind he had in his Chemistry workbook.  Another asked if I was from London.  Hopefully the novelty factor of a foreign accent wears off fairly soon!

Back at North High, most students refer to me as either Mr. K or just Mr.  Here, it’s “Sir,” sounding more like “Suh”.  If a student asks the teacher for help and they are unable to get to them, the teacher will often tell them that “Sir” (referring to me) will help you.

Here’s a few other differences/similarities.

Dress Code:  ALL students at my host school are required to wear uniforms consisting of a white dress shirt, tie, blazer/suit, black dress slacks, and black shoes that can be polished (imagine Harry Potter like school uniforms).  Teachers by default dress in a similar fashion.  I dress pretty much as I always have with the addition of a tie.  Most female teachers wear skirts/dresses rather than dress slacks.  However, nearly every female student at our school wears dress slacks.  It would appear that the vast majority of female students wear skirts with tights as part of their uniform requirements at most other secondary schools.  I’ve yet to see a student sag here but I have seen a teacher tell a student that they were going to need to remove there makeup.  Definitely not a rule I’ve ever seen on the books back at North High!  Apparently some schools here feel that too much makeup can serve as a distraction in the classroom.

Terminology:  I’m not having to learn a completely new language, but there are a few terms and acronyms used in this school that I wasn’t previously familiar with.

Inclusion = In School Suspension

Exclusion = Out of School Suspension

Dole = Welfare

Maths = Mathematics

Rubber = Eraser

Practical = Lab


PGCE student = student teacher

Deprived = Disadvantaged/Low Income

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) =   PD/PL

BAM/Black and Minority = Ethnic Minorities

Council Housing = Public Housing

The Council = Local government

Board of Governors = School Board


Teacher challenges:  Teacher mentalities regarding the challenges of their profession seem similar in many ways to what I’m familiar with back home.  Here are some phrases that I’ve heard in my own school that I’ve heard echoed here as well.

“Student behaviors are more difficult than they used to be.”

“Teachers are not as respected by society as a whole like they once were.”

“Teachers are underpaid and over worked.”

“Teachers are blamed for low student achievement.”

One thing that still surprises me is how often I am asked by both teachers and students why I would want to come to Middlebrough and the UK at large when things are “better in America.”  I typically begin by asking them why they believe that things are better in America.  The premise for their questions are often built on faulty logic and media fed impressions of life in the US.  I sometimes find myself try to serve as a greater advocate for the UK and its unique beauties than I do for America and its mythical grandeur.