I was inspired to follow the students for a day by a blog post I read about in the Washington Post. Alexis Wiggins taught in international schools in Malaysia and Qatar and is the daughter of a well known educational consultant, Grant Wiggins. She shadowed a grade 10 class one day and a grade 12 class the next, completing all the same work and participating in all activities and she blogged about it on her father’s website. It was picked up by the Washington Post and read around the world. After her experience, she concluded the following:
- students sit all day long which is exhausting;
- teachers did most of the talking and were more active than the students, who were passive listeners;
- she felt the students were treated as a nuisance, and were told to be quiet and pay attention often;
- Alexis also noticed some sarcasm used teachers and she felt guilty of this too at times and wanted it eliminated from schools.
I reached different conclusions than she did, perhaps it was the particular day or time of the year. Maybe it was our IB curriculum. I am not judging her schools, because her points are valid and there is some of that at every school, including our school. However, my day went by fast! As the head of school, I am removed from the classroom, working on projects and issues not directly involved in the daily life of the students and teachers. It was so good for me to get back in touch with the students and teachers and get an appreciation of what their days are like. I think it would be good for them to follow me around for a day to see it from my perspective as well!
The grade 10 schedule yesterday was Japanese, humanities, chemistry, lunch, mathematics, visual arts and music or physical education. Here are my takeaways from the day:
- Students were mostly working independently on projects or assignments. Teachers briefly introduced topics at the start of class and spent a lot of time going around the classroom, meeting with individual students. They would occasionally call the class’s attention to explain an idea or solve a problem. Most of the time, students could get on with their work like in an office environment. This allows for much differentiation, and as in any class, students have a wide range of ability and interests. Example – In humanities they were preparing for the upcoming Model United Nations and each student was working on a 30-second opening speech to the general assembly and a thorough, detailed report on a country they chose and were representing at the conference. Students could choose from topics like universal education, the death penalty, doping in sports, poaching/ivory trade, etc. One student was looking up the verb “to hinge” while simultaneously another was reading a Fiji government report on education funding. That was much better than the entire class listening to a lecture each of the topics.
- Students are not only learners, but teachers as well! There were so many instances of students helping each other. I overhead a discussion between students on the role of Boko Haran in Nigeria, or listening to another student explaining how to calculate the molar mass of a complex compound to her neighbor in chemistry. You really learn something well when you have to explain it to someone else. All of us at OIS, students, teachers and parents are both learners and teachers.
- Classroom management is easier at OIS than other parts of the world. Teachers rarely had to deal with disruptive or off-task behavior. The students largely were trying their best and engaged in the material. I thought in mathematics class, with a worksheet of a large number problems of increasing difficulty, that students’ attention would wander. I didn’t notice this and they were asking lots of questions to Mr. Bertman and each other and moving through the set at a good pace. We do have mischievous, restless students, especially in elementary and the challenging time of early adolescence, middle school, but I didn’t see a single instance of annoyance or anger from a faculty member. Of course, my presence may have influenced the students, but not for an entire day. I sense that students in Japan, our school included, are not as rebellious and have a deeper respect for teachers and education. The challenge with many of our classes is to solicit strong opinions and innovative ideas, especially during class discussions. I worked in Latin America, Australia, Eastern Europe and the United States, so have experience of students from a variety of backgrounds.
- The fine arts are more important than traditional academic classes. Well, maybe not more important, but as important. Finishing the day sketching a still life object with charcoal and singing in the choir were so pleasurable to me. The arts make us more human and it is so nice because of our shared program, music and visual arts are central to our identity and all students enroll in these classes. I regret not taking an art class after grade 9 and not playing a musical instrument in secondary school. My commitment to supporting music, visual arts, theatre, dance, physical education was reinforced through this experience. Mathematics, writing, reading, understanding history, speaking other languages, etc. are all important, but often in schools the fine arts are subordinated to these core subjects. They should be on equal footing.
I would like to thank the grade 10 students and teachers for putting up with me for the day.