This sh!t just got real folks.
So we started 'unofficially' with staff yesterday. After about 100 hours doing the timetable and dispairing at the fact that we can only fit half the kids in half the classes (an interesting timetabling constraint!!) i finally made peace with the bits I didn't like and presented it to my colleagues today. To say it was a relief is a massive understatement! And, much to my comfort, they were very understanding about the nature of timetables. Some were quite complimentary actually. Apparently having a timetable in place before the kids arrive is rather unusual in SA public education. Now ain't that an indictment...
We are 9. 10 with the HT. 11 with the admin lady. We're in 7 classrooms of welded-together crates, painted in some nice bright colours, with a separate hall which is a bit of a schlep up the hill: 8 classes running in total all the time, 4 per grade. At least we get a little bit of downtime... at any one point, one member of staff is not teaching. I've learned in the last week that that too is a luxury in SA education where there is no such thing as protected planning/preparation time. Me? I'm teaching 25 hours a week.
There are 2 'sites': a site within a site if you like. The first is the small area where we'll all be working, fenced off and alarmed (!). The level of security makes me feel uneasy and relaxed at the same time. On the one hand one does not want to feel like you're in a prison. On the other, you need to be realistic about where you're working. Being naive or blase will not help anyone.
The hall is outside this, but otherwise it is access controlled and we park inside. The larger 'site' is the bigger stretch of land on the mountainside, including an old swimming pool, old zozo huts from the previous institution that owned the place and a LOT of Port Jackson weed. The larger site is the area on which the Department of Education will be building the proper final school structures over the next 18 months (here's hoping--who knows when it comes to building time scales). This site is accessed from 2 sides: one from the township where most of our students stay, and the other from a suburb which was an ex-apartheid 'whites only area'. The school effectively sits in what was previously termed the 'buffer zone' in apartheid parlance (although the local estate agent still seems to think this is an ok term to use. We told her we weren't interested in dealing with racists when she described the arrival of the local GP as "a relief: we thought he was only going to treat black people". She was a charming character indeed. Not at all unusual for the area I suspect).
We're still waiting on desks and loos (!) which we're hoping are going to arrive next week before kids arrive on Wednesday. With the timetable in place, the next task is designing diagnostic tests to find out what the kids do and don't know. Chances are that they are at least a year behind, probably more, so the year's planning will need to go back to the basics and fill in as much as is feasible. I'm grateful for another experienced maths teacher on site, even though he will be split between maths and science. A fellow maths teacher brain is a godsend at this point.
Also warming to the heart is how well my ideas and suggestions for working in bilingual additive maths learning have been received by my colleagues. The dictionaries provided by my friends at PRAESA (you know who you are!) are sources of joy and delight to all the staff and we're super excited about leveraging students' home language to understand maths better AND improve their English. I'll also be trying out some techniques used in California (See Khisty in Barwell 2009) for Spanish-speaking students simultaneously learning maths and English (letter writing to your teacher explaining your maths thinking behind your answer! How awesome is that?) and will keep you posted on how these go.
On a last note, yesterday was a major wake up call as to how embroiled (and not a little self-indulgent) I have become in academic communities and thinking. We ain't in Kansas any more Toto. You can take your theories of Bourdieurian cultural capital and shove them where the sun don't shine. And yet, there is no point to all that if there is not some way of reconciling the theory with the real. So I'll also reflect on that occasionally as I traverse this quagmired labyrinth with my colleagues and my students.
As our HT quite rightly said: fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.