I don’t even know what I don’t know

School seemed pretty simple and obvious to me when I was a kid.  I attended the same small (and I realize now, very progressive) district for my entire K-12 career.  I “knew” that in elementary school, you sat at desks that were arranged in table groups and sometimes the teacher made you do stuff together.  I was sure that every elementary school classroom in America had a rug and a classroom library, where the teacher would read aloud to them from chapter books each day. You would have a morning recess and an after-lunch recess.  Everyone knew that.

Well, I’ve been in quite a few more elementary schools since then, and I have a much broader concept now of what a “normal” elementary school and classroom looks like.  From communicating with other teachers online, I have been introduced to still more ideas of how schools differ across the country and around the world.  I now understand what a variety of philosophies and curricula exist and try not to assume anything, especially when considering schools in other countries.

While I have seen photos, read reviews, and know a fair bit about my new school’s curriculum, I still feel uneasy because I don’t know if any of the assumptions I *have* made are correct.  You kind of have to take certain things for granted, just as a human being: that the sun is in the sky, that most people walk on their feet and not their hands, that babies are smaller than adults.  We all assume a lot more than we realize. That’s what worries me though, even though it’s human nature.

I find myself questioning everything I expect about my school and my class: the language level of the kids, the supplies available, what my responsibilities will be, whether there will even be a photocopier available. That’s a given at almost any American public school, but I’m not going to an American public school.  When I moved to Georgia it took me a week or so to realize that the reason I hadn’t been told how to join the teacher’s union is that there IS no teacher’s union here.  I had taken for granted that all public schools have unions because it was all I’d ever seen before. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know whether there would be one; I didn’t even consider that there might not be one.  Same thing when I discovered that I was expected to take my kids out for recess every single day (effectively I have recess duty five days a week)–here that’s expected, in Massachusetts I can see that causing some sort of strike!

When I get over there, what things like that are going to take me by surprise?  I don’t know. I have no idea what preconceptions–good or bad, major or minor–I have that are going to turn out to be false.  What questions have I neglected to ask because I didn’t know enough to even wonder about them?  I’m trying to keep a really open mind, because I don’t know what else I can do.

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4 responses to “I don’t even know what I don’t know

  1. Whenever we start a new class we have to open our mind to the possibilities of new children and how they can challenge our assumptions about them. In many ways teaching is all about challenging our assumptions and opening ourselves up to the idea that nothing will be as we hope or suspect it will be.

    I’ve gotten to know you some through twitter and I know how eager you are for this new experience. It is not at all unusual to have some apprehensions as well. Just remember that though you will be half-way around the world your twitter PLN will be right where you left us and we’ll be available with encouragement, support, resources and friendship.

    Have a great trip and a great experience!

  2. Best mindset to go in is to have no expectations, than you won’t be disappointed and will be pleasantly surprised with the things they do have.

    Saying that, most international schools are VERY well resourced and middle eastern schools generally have lots of $$. Enjoy and welcome to the international scene!

  3. In my experience, the questions that you are asking are spot-on. There’s an easy solution: ask your school. If your new school is anything like my current one, they can give you access to the school portal. Or, ask them to send you the relevant curriculum documents. Get in contact with who you are replacing and see if s/he can shed any insight into your new position.

    I’ve always found (I’m at my 3rd Int’l School now) that the first couple of weeks make you feel like a blind man walking into a dark room searching for a black cat that doesn’t exist. The more you can do to prepare ahead of time, the better!

    That said, international school teaching is the best kept secret in the world!

    • That is definitely the obvious solution. I’ve asked around a little bit; there doesn’t seem to be a school portal or anything and quite frankly the more I learn about their facilities and tech resources the more disappointed I am. It could be I’m asking the wrong people though (since the response is often “Well I’m not really sure have/do that,” or “I don’t know what _____is.” I’m going to do some more research once I’m out of school here in the States next week and get in touch with the tech person (if there is one, which I’m not sure there is). I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself, but I can’t help wondering.

      On the other hand, I’m also sort of defensively convincing myself that everything is going to totally suck, so that I won’t be let down when I find out what the drawbacks are. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised, than expect certain things and be disappointed, you know?

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