Today was the first day with students at my new job! (At some point I’m going to figure out how to change the title of my blog, but for now, just be aware that we have returned to the good old US of A and I have a job teaching 4th grade at a public school in the Boston area.) It was, overall, a fine first day, but boy was it different from the other schools I’ve worked in.
Despite being located only about 30 miles or so from the Boston suburb where I grew up, this school is very different from the schools I attended and from the schools I’ve worked in. I think a big part of that is that I’ve never taught in a truly “urban” context before. This is a small school, under 300 students K-5. There are only two classes in each grade level. The size of the school alone makes a big difference in how the staff interacts with one another and with the students. It’s only my 2nd official day on the job and I have already met everyone on the staff–not to say that I know all of their names, but we’ve been introduced and I would recognize them if I saw them on the street. Many of the teachers know almost every student by name, especially the younger grade teachers. Compare this to Abu Dhabi (where each grade level had around 100 students and the teachers generally only stayed 2 or 3 years–not to mention being a K-12 school there were many, many more kids around) and to Georgia (where the school had about 1200 students K-5, ten classes per grade level, and two children could attend the same school at the same grade level for 6 years and never meet each other). This smaller school feels a lot more personal and less institutional. I like that.
Another big difference is the location of the school. My new school is on a main drag in a very busy, urban neighborhood not too far from Boston. The building has been there since the early 1900’s and was apparently built at a time when having space for the children to play was not a concern. The only area for recess is a fenced-in piece of pavement behind the school, maybe 50 by 100 feet (that’s just a guess, I’m not good at estimating distances, but it’s small). No monkey bars, no swings, not even balls or jump ropes. It seems awfully boring to me but the kids appear to be used to it and find ways to run around and have fun regardless.
Going along with being in an urban setting is the fact that the majority of my students walk to and from school, many of them alone or with younger siblings. In Abu Dhabi it was usually much too hot to walk anywhere, and the city wasn’t really set up for walking, not to mention many of our kids lived very far away. In Georgia many of the kids lived within a mile or so of the school but in a suburban, subdivision-heavy setting with few sidewalks, most of them took the bus or were driven to school. I felt very strange about sending my kids out to the sidewalk at the end of the day and seeing them just walk off without an adult, but I guess they’re used to it.
As I mentioned earlier, the building I’m working in is quite old. The exterior is a very traditional-looking red brick, two-story schoolhouse. Most of the classrooms have the original wood floors, and on some of them you can see where the old-style desks were bolted into the floors. There’s only one set of student restrooms, in the basement (who knows if they even had indoor plumbing in the school when it was first built? Weird to think about!) and a small teacher restroom on each floor. There is no gym. The cafeteria, such as it is, is also in the basement. There are no cooking facilities; the food is brought over from a kitchen at another school, I guess. There also is no computer lab–and really, I’m not sure where they’d put one or if the electrical wiring could handle that many computers!
The biggest, and most fun, difference to me is being surrounded by teachers and students who have almost all been born and raised in the Boston area. It’s hard to explain why that makes me so happy, but hearing their accents (have you ever heard a Boston accent on a nine-year-old? ADORABLE) and seeing the kids in Red Sox gear, telling me about going to Water Country and Canobie Lake Park over the summer…it’s somehow comforting. The school I’m at may be very different from what I’m used to, but oddly, it feels like home.