Visiting Myself

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Earlier this week, I attended an orientation webinar through the IIE (Institute of International Education), the agency that administers the Fulbright awards. I’m beginning to develop a vision of what my coming year will look like in Leeds. I’ll take one or two university classes, have a secondary school placement that will serve as my home base, and visit at least one other school or training site each week. Through these visits, I’ll be gathering data for my capstone project, which is the cross-cultural research project that will be the main focus of my experience.

As I plan my research, I can’t help but wonder how much I can learn from short visits to schools and I think about times when people have observed me teaching in the Late Afternoon School. My classroom may seem like any other American classroom if you walk down the rather bland hallway of the large, comprehensive high school that leads to my room, but I serve such a range of students and provide such a variety of services within any given school day that you might not know what to make of the program from a short visit.

One day, toward the end of last school year, one of our assistant principals entered my room with a visitor from our state’s school accreditation board. There I stood with an 18-year-old mother at my desk, which was piled high with incomplete paperwork and ungraded student papers.  I was cradling a phone in my neck as she cradled her baby in her arms. I was talking with a social worker about finding child care so that this mom could return to school and finish her diploma. I had about a dozen students working on online coursework on my computers and a small group studying for an end of course Algebra II exam  at a nearby table. As soon as I hung up the phone, several hands shot up to ask for help with their schoolwork. I was only able to quickly introduce myself to the visitor before circulating through the room to offer help. The young mother stood patiently waiting for her turn to find what I had learned on the phone.  I wondered what that woman took away from her brief experience in my afternoon of chaos.

Teaching Coordinator means that I really have two jobs that I do simultaneously. First, I am a teacher. Most of my day is spent with students, teaching mainly high school Math and English subjects, which are my areas of secondary endorsement, but also helping out with a variety of other subjects if a student needs credit recovery, is working on online coursework, or just needs some help with a project. Since I am a special education teacher, I also write and implement Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) for each of my students and communicate with parents. My other job is that of Coordinator, which means that I do a range of tasks including, but not limited to:

  • admitting students into the program and helping them set goals
  • monitoring student transcripts, grades, and attendance – and taking action when problems arise that might interfere with a student’s graduation
  • administering the special education arm of our school’s online coursework program
  • coordinating my students’ therapy, social work, homebound instruction, and other related services
  • helping transition students into job training and other post-secondary programs

So I have been thinking that I should try to interview myself, to see the kinds of questions I might ask programs like mine in the UK. I need to come up with questions that produce real answers, the kind that would help me know what schools are doing every day to help students finish school with the qualifications they need to live successful lives. I also need to get to those answers quickly, so I don’t take too much time away from busy educators. If I can come up with the right questions that prompt me to give answers that describe Late Afternoon School in a meaningful way, then maybe these questions will do the same in the UK. In my next entry, I will try to interview myself.

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