New School Fresh Mindset
If you have been following my blog posts this summer, you already know that I have started a new job at a school in Taipei. I've been dreaming of working for a school like this one for a while and now that I'm here I continue to be excited about the opportunity and my experiences so far. In the world of international school education, moving from one school and country to the next every few years is very common. I suppose it is a natural part of this community's culture and I have landed in my fourth school now over the span of six years. This is the school where I hope I can plant myself for a longer stretch.
Starting again in a new school is never an easy experience, but after having to do so several times, I believe that there are ways to make the transition as smooth as possible. Naturally, everyone is different, and my experiences could be very different from other's. However, if I were to give any advice to teachers thinking about going into international education for the first time or are shifting jobs, it would be this:
Observe, learn, ask questions, follow and then contribute (in that order)
Every school has its own culture, its own way of doing things, and you are the newbie. I have found it is easier to learn about the school and try to follow along for the first few months. This school has a lot to offer and even if I have been teaching for six years and have my own things to offer, I think it's best to understand the school fully first and then I'll be better able to see how and where my own personal touches fit in.
I spent my first few days not just in my classroom setting up, but I also spent a significant amount of time walking around and visiting the classrooms of my fellow kindergarten teachers (there are six classes in total). All of these teachers have more years of experience than I do, and they all have individual styles and strengths. Doing this walk every day, saying hello and having short discussions with them allow me to not only begin to build relationships with each of them, but I also learned an immense amount and got some great ideas.
I know that I have a lot to contribute, but I think that putting my ideas aside for now, in order to try out how this school does things first is beneficial because it keeps my eyes fresh as a teacher. I feel that if I say "no" to the ideas they give me, it would be like turning down wonderful learning opportunities. It can be easy to fall into patterns in our profession and I've been given the chance to shake things up a little. I may not fully understand everything I've been told yet, but if I don't give it a shot I never will understand it. So, I'll try everything that my team recommends that I do, and if it's not for me, I can adjust later. However, if it turns out well then I've just added a new tool to my teaching toolkit!
Here is one example of a wonderful idea that I got from my new colleagues. At the beginning of each year, many kindergarten teachers do a school tour so that the newest and youngest members of the school learn about where important places such as the library, cafeteria, the nurse's office are. I absolutely love the way that the kindergarten team here does this activity with the use of the story, The Gingerbread Man. What happens is that each class reads the story, then cooks together. As you pop them into the oven make sure to say "Don't run away gingerbread men!" At this point you go back to the classroom to do other activities and wait for them to bake. The teaching assistants then remove the gingerbread men before we bring the kids back to check on them and they are so shocked to see that their cookies are GONE! However, the gingerbread men don't go without leaving a clue behind hinting where they may have gone next. At each location a new clue is found leading to the next and it leads them around the school and back to their classroom where the gingerbread men are waiting (care of our teaching assistant). So there you have it, a little literacy, cooking, problem solving skills and school tour all rolled into one! The kids absolutely loved it.