Sunday, August 17, 2008

When in Rome... has to *learn* what the Romans do!

After this first week at school, I've figured out a few things about myself. Surprising, because I didn't spend the past year actively asking myself questions about teaching, debating how I'd like to spend my free time, or building face-to-face collegial ties. I also didn't anticipate how my unique traveling circumstances (I'm now working with my fifth principal in my fourth school district in my third state since 2003) would affect my mood, my tone, and my attitude when I was once again hired to teach with a school staff that for the most part (other than the new hires that joined me this year) has remained the same for a while now.

My first ten years of teaching were spent in the same school, at the same grade, with roughly the same colleagues. The nurse, lead custodian and music teacher's positions changed (along with a new principal) but the rest of us were a long term team, quirks, beliefs about education and all. Teaching in a small community, any teachers who transferred in were already known to everyone, and those who left visited often. A comfort zone was created by this long term teaching commitment that I have not felt again since leaving Alaska. Comfort zones are more common for those who stay in one place longer than a year.

Easy to understand since I spent one year teaching in New Mexico, one year in Kansas, and took last year off while we were stationed in Texas. I haven't been anywhere long enough to settle into a school's routine, a staff's easy banter in the lounge, a community's familiar scenery. On this latest educational stage, many roles are the same (librarian, kindergarten team, cafeteria staff, administration, special education teachers, custodians etc.) along with some new characters (21st Century Classroom teacher, Educational Dome Theater instructor, Compass Lab facilitator), and the goals we all work toward achieving are student focused and are seemingly educationally sound. Contemplating my new environment, I'm reflecting on my own perceptions, not knowing anyone well enough yet to be able to guess with any certainty what, if anything, is running through their minds as they interact with me.

For someone with over a decade's worth of teaching experience, a person who has taught in very ethnically, religiously, geographically and socio-economically diverse locations, I've been asking what must seem like silly questions this past week, to include "What do the alarms sound like at this school?" My principal was kind enough to let us listen to short bursts of the tornado alarms, but several colleagues have looked at me like I've lost my mind when I've asked for a description of the sounds since, as hearing those alarms and dealing with them is second nature for teachers who have been here longer than a year. Alaskan schools have fire alarms. No tornado alarms. No earthquake alarms, nada. Just fire bells. In the newer schools, there are probably some computerized alarms with flashing strobes, but that's it. In the New Mexico school I worked at, there were no tornado alarms. No door alarms. No intruder-on-campus drills (I'm sure that has changed since). In my previous Kansas school, the fire bell and tornado alarm did not sound the same as they do here. Some of you have sirens, some of you have bells, some of you have "tornado watch" beeps that are different from the "tornado imminent" howls- and at least in this school, you have a new teacher who has not heard them before. Thank you for your patience, new colleagues. Hopefully you feel you have a new partner that wants to be as prepared as possible, so she's asking.

One school had designated door holders during alarms, another stressed that no kindergarten student should hold the doors because they might get trampled, or get scared and be left inside, and another school insisted that all students file through the doors pushing the bar and not looking back, trusting that the next student in line would also be facing forward, arms at the ready to push the door open as s/he walked through in a quick but orderly fashion. Cafeteria routine? In Alaska, my students ate in the classroom. In New Mexico, they ate in the cafeteria which was in an annex building right next to ours. In Kansas School Number One, the gym and cafeteria were the same place. In Alaska, children had two choices, "home lunch" or "school lunch." Same in New Mexico and Kansas School Number One. Here, my students have the following choices: entree one, entree two, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bagel and yogurt, OR home lunch. Wow. And if you've taught kindergarten before, you know exactly how that routine goes during the first week of school: "I changed my mind, I want something else," or "I thought I had lunch but this whole lunch sack is really filled with SNACK," or "I don't have to do the lunch chart because I'm not hungry." Throw in a few "I brought home lunch but I want pizza now," or "but I drank the three juices Mom gave me and now I want milk" and you can imagine that every so often, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing.

Routines for duties, who walks whom back, who escorts students to buses, who picks up kids from the day care, who walks, who takes attendance and lunch count (I have an aide this year), who does copies, what hours can we be in the building over the weekend, and is it the class list on yellow, the red or green paddle flags or the class list on a clipboard we use for emergencies at this school? Does the principal want composite data sheets on students' beginning-of-the-year screening assessments, copies of e-mail communication that *might* get tricky depending on how parents interpret them, and lesson plans on a weekly spread page or in daily list format? Do the staff members at this school view kindergarten teachers as teachers or glorified babysitters? Do we sit wherever we want to during staff meetings or do we sit at tables by grade level? How clique-ish are the teachers? I can't tell you how I *wish* I could do a selective brain dump on the routines and need-to-know info I've had to memorize and learn from my previous teaching locations so I can keep this new set straight! Who uses the hallway potties and when since my classroom shares a single seat girls' toilet and a single seat boys' toilet with another entire classroom (talk about bad planning that someone should have caught when looking over the blueprints!), and though handrails are available down ramps we use to get to other parts of the school, why are most teachers encouraging their students NOT to use them while walking? I know, I know. I'll "get it" this year. Time will give me the info.

Unless Uncle Sam decides to move us AGAIN.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! And I thought I was analytical! :) I know it can be frustrating at a new place and I'm sure you'll learn the ropes soon enough. Don't you just wish someone could stop in and give you a trustworthy cheat-sheet: 'these are the people that gossip', 'these ones will not follow through with committee planning', and 'these are the ones that will not invite you out to lunch unless you're in their clique'. Yeah, sometimes I'd like to make one for the new teachers, but it just depends on opinions.


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