Saturday, March 5, 2011

where have my ideas gone?

 They're little monsters, I tell you. {via}

So yes, I've missed a couple of days of posting this week, and I don't really have an excuse apart from the one I already used post-school-visit, and also that Nic was home 'sick' yesterday as he had errands to run that couldn't be run on weekends.
I was meaning to write about my first actual proper volunteer day at the school. I think they're pretty happy to have me there, after all, I'm not some random parent who just wants to spy on the teacher to make sure they're doing their job properly, I'm a trained/training University student who has done her own study on democratic education, which they tout themselves to be all about. Here was my first introduction to the school.
As a bit more of a background than I provided there, the school is tiny- there are 40 students, from age 4 or 5 to I guess 12, would be the max. There are 2 class buildings, with 2 rooms each- 4 classrooms. The classes aren't known as "Year 4" or "Grade 3", but by the first name of the teacher looking after that class. If I had one, it'd be "Emily's group". The year 5/6 class have given themselves a name: The outback dingoes. This is because they're studying animals, but gets confusing with the year 3/4 class, which are the Desert Dingoes. Go figure.
There is a tiny library, where they do Auslan (Australian sign language) lessons once or twice a week for about 30 minutes.
There is no bell, instead the teacher wandering the grounds on duty usually checks her watch, finds a student nearby, and asks them to help her tell everybody it's time to come in. They then start walking around together yelling and singing:
"Time to come in, everyone." And, as the call goes up, more and more kids run around singing this at the top of their lungs.
Slowly, they trickle toward their classrooms, but there's no penalty for being late, no overseer to yell at them to hurry up. Not surprisingly, they all make it back to class, and they all do it within about 10 minutes of each other. Meanwhile, those arriving first have already started working, or if they're younger, they're playing with each other or petting the class animals.
So, in all this, it's an 'alternative school'.

 Yes, I am just putting up random pretty pictures of kids. {via}

I like the curiosity of primary/elementary school kids. (For US readers, our school system goes Primary- Preparatory - Year 6, and Secondary - Year 7 to year 12.) I found high-school students, anything above a year 7 kid, to be so disinterested in everything. We were strangers in their school when we were on practicum/rounds, and we were regarded with suspicion and distrust. It took weeks before anybody asked me for help of their own accord, and only then, it was one of the most outgoing students I met. At a primary level, they want to know about you. They'd ask my name, why I was there with them, whether I'd be spending all day with them, whether they could sit next to me, whether I was a highschool student (I had to be careful not to laugh), why I didn't know the classroom rules ("It's only my first day! You'll have to teach me the rules!"). They were instantly, regardless of year level, open to asking me for help, for me to check their answers, to show me what they'd made, or just to involve me.
I spent the first half of my day with the older kids, and then, just to shake things up, went to the 'prep' kids, who are those in their first year at the school. Keep in mind that up to this point I'd done a term of round with year 9 students, and here I was with 5 year olds who were learning their alphabet, and when they went on the classroom computers, it wasn't to do Mathletics, it was just to learn how to use a mouse through playing games. This kind of environment blew my mind a little.
We started off with story time, and I loved watching their faces- engrossed, smiling, making comments on the pictures in the book ("LOOK AT THAT PUPPY IN THE CLOWN COSTUME!!!" And the rest would shift and cluster closer so they could get a better look). Everything seemed to be done at 150%. There are no half measures with prep kids. Everything is yelled, teachers are pulled here and there to see this or that ("LOOK AT THIS!!! A PILE OF STICKS!!!" I'm not kidding about this, one boy did pull me over to the base of a tree to see a pile of sticks). Glue is slathered on paper with reckless abandon, pictures are cut and stuck one on top of the other, and the girls look at me and ask: "Is this pretty!?", because I'm someone who can be Trusted With A Knowledge Of Things. After story time they had free time, where they could either do crafts, or blocks, or play on the computer, or whatever they felt like really, because they're young, and it's their first week of staying until 3.30 instead of going home at lunch time.
Then we did some art, which was tying sticks together with wool and making different colours weave up the sticks. And I loved this, because there was no right way to do it. Even I didn't do it right (ugh, way to feel like a failure, as I watch some 5 year old figure it out), but it didn't matter- I asked them if it looked ok and they said yes, and ran off to make it into a spaceship or a spider crawling up my back. Then we tied a different coloured string on, and that was pretty, too. Everything is pretty.
And I love this, and it was fun. But it was exhausting in a way that highschool never was. And that came mostly from the uninhibited enthusiasm you had to show for everything. Of the acting you had to do all the time (that spider game? Funny at first. After the fourth game, how do you think I'm sounding when I ask: "... what's on my back...? Oh, could it be a spider...? Oh no. I hope there's not a spider on my back... well, look at that, it's just Josh, ah ha ha, how funny, you did trick me. )
One thing that surprised me was how tactile the younger kids are. They are all about random hugs, hand-holding, grabbing your shirt sleeves. One girl asked me to sit next to her, then proceeded, very slowly, to lean across until her head rested on my arm. I found this so bizarre, coming from a highschool world of touching-is-not-allowed-or-you're-perverted sort of mantra. But these kids saw no boundary to that - you're a friend, in their classroom, therefore it's ok to hold hands and have hugs, cos, hey, sometimes you just need a hug.

All that being said, there are rules, and there is punishments - maybe more for the older ones when they have 'work due' and the world isn't just playing and singing the alphabet, but I wonder whether you can really have a 'democratic environment' with punishments? With rules set (I bet) by a teacher? I know I haven't explained on here what I mean by this, but that would take another post in itself. For now, the prep room was super fun, but super tiring. I think next week I'll try out the next level up- where they still have enthusiasm and life and curiosity, but maybe they're a bit less full on.
I also still don't know whether I'm cut out for all this, or whether it'll just drive me crazy and I'll have wasted 2 year and a bucketload of money for a job I'm not sure I like, but we'll see how that works out when I finally get a job, and a class of my own, where I can set it up the way I want and finally put my ideas into practice- hurrah!

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