Journal: 12 March

Originally posted to Ask The Fire, 15 March 2018

I'm posting this a day late, but I couldn't work up the mojo to write yesterday. So here we are!

Maria walked me partway down the road towards the school in the morning since I was anxious about getting lost. We passed a bunch of folks heading towards the beach and the shops past her house, but I was too busy looking at all the flowers that spill over the walls. She turned back halfway down the block and left me alone.

The walk's not far to the school. Crossing the streets is a little bit of a hassle here, since drivers want to get really close to you (I'm still getting used to that), but it's early enough that there's almost no traffic on my route. Just dogs who hate me and some retirement homes where I have to say hello to everyone who happens to be outside on that particular morning.

I showed up at the school just in time for the staff meeting, which starts at 7:50. We have a big breakroom with rows of chairs and a kitchenette where everyone constantly makes tea and coffee. The meeting was pretty standard--half of it was in Afrikaans, so I tuned it out wholesale, and the other half was stuff that didn't pertain to me at all, so I listened only a little.

After the meeting, Mr. Rademeyer (deputy principal) came by to greet me. He assured me that the English department head would come find me to assign me some observations, but he asked me to wait out the first class period, so I hung around reading The Herald instead of heading to a first class.

The English department head, Mrs. Gibbons, is very sweet. She gave me a nice range of classes to sit in on for the first day and promised an even better range for the coming days (she'd have more time to assign me observations during a break later on). Though she did have to explain the schedule to me.

And here's what everyone's been waiting for: the day schedule. I've talked to at least 2 people at home who asked how the school day works here, and it's a little complicated, so I just said I'd write it in this blog.

First of all: the school is year-round, with short-ish breaks between each of the four terms. No one break is longer than a month or so, which is nice to minimize learning loss. Each term is separated into two-week groupings, where students have different schedules for each of the ten attended days. At the end of a two-week period, the cycle starts again at day 1.

Each day, after that, is separated into six class periods with two breaks between. Students meet in “lines” during the morning--they show up to an outdoor location with their classmates and organize themselves for attendance (here called registration), and then their teachers dismiss them to go to classrooms. It's a little easier to have attendance outdoors since the school's at capacity, so having students move as units makes the hall easier to navigate.

Sometimes registration turns into assembly, which does what it says on the box: students file into the auditorium, teachers sit on the stage and announcements etc. are read aloud to them. Choir practices during this time, so some students aren't around for assembly. Other times, there are sport meetings (each student is required to participate in at least one sport), and sometimes there are enrichment activities, so this first portion of the day always takes a different amount of time.

Then, students leave for their first class, which lasts a different amount of time depending on the day. Some days we have 50-minute class periods. Others are closer to 37-40.

After first period is second, which (again) differs in time depending on the day. Then we have a 20-minute break. Sometimes there are small meetings during break, but if you have nothing to do, you can head down to the staffroom and have a little more tea or some coffee. A lot of teachers eat part of their lunch during this time, saving the rest for the next break or one of their free periods.

After the break is another two classes, then a second 20-minute break, then two more classes. The last class always ends at 2:10. After that, it's time for sports practice (depending on which day your sport meets) and dismissal!

It's pretty nice going home so early in the day, but it's definitely a hot walk since it's early afternoon. I don't think I'll help with any sports while I'm here (I have very little talent for athletics), but there are some other activities that meet after school that I'm interested in.

It seems that most teachers--the intern teachers, for certain--see four classes per day. Each class meets at different times during the 2-week cycle. For instance, class 9A3 (Grade 9, speaking English as a non-native language, group 3) might see their English teacher on Monday during period 3, then on Wednesday at period 1, Thursday period 6, Friday period 4, then at other times during the week cycle. It's a little confusing! I just write everything in my planner because I don't trust myself to know where I'm going from day to day.

Alright. So day 1, I only observed. The first class I went to was a Grade 9 English class which (I think?) was populated by students who speak English natively. They did a short review of their homework and then started reading from their grade's novel, The Other Side of Truth by Beverly Naidoo. It's a South African YA lit piece (well, kind of South African--it's about Nigerian children living in England, but the author is from SA) that I've not read before this week.

While the day schedule and school culture here is quite different, the actual content of a class tends to be fairly similar. Students read aloud. The teacher asked select questions during the reading to break up the time and to help their comprehension. Homework was assigned at the end of the period. Rinse repeat.

After the break I saw a Grade 11 class that was working through Macbeth, a Grade 9 (mostly Afrikaaner) class working on contextual grammar, and a Grade 8 class that worked through a service-produced ELA worksheet. That was with Mrs. Gibbons, the department head. She explained the worksheet to me at the end of class: it comes from ONCE, which Pearson subscribes to. Every week, the school receives a set of reading texts and comprehension questions that are relevant to South African current events, all aligned with their curriculum guide, CAPS. (At some point I need to make a post about CAPS vs. Common Core, because CAPS is pretty different). ONCE worksheets tend to be very socially aware and well-produced, so it's a good supplement and is always timely.

After that, home for the day! I speed-read The Other Side of Truth and did not a whole lot else.

More later, and photos sometime soon.

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