Sunday, March 6, 2011

Teaching and Learning (or lack thereof) in Christchurch

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw my students, and it will be another one before I see them again. Some schools, which were largely unaffected by the quake, started back today but mine won’t start until next Monday. This is because my school is being used as a Civil Defence emergency centre and Civil Defence won’t be out of the premises until mid this week.

And that’s fine…except to make matters even more interesting, when we begin classes again next Monday we will be sharing our premises with a school that was hit really badly by the quake. So, I am now a ‘morning school’ teacher, teaching from 8am-1pm, and then the other school runs from 1pm until sometime in the late afternoon. This means that periods will be shortened, as will breaks, and consequently, more learning time will be lost. For both schools.

I’ve been having flashbacks to the year I spent in Cordoba, Argentina as an exchange student, where I attended high school in the morning, from 7:30am-12:30pm. This is common practice in South America and various developing countries around the world as there are simply not enough school buildings to go around. So, for my school (which went from Year 1 to Year 13) it was seniors in the morning and juniors in the afternoon. While I was in Argentina I spent about two weeks in a small town called Hernando, staying with a family and their daughter who was my age. She had evening school – the format at her school was seniors in the evening, intermediate in the afternoon, juniors in the morning. I thought that sounded super exciting! Imagine messing around all afternoon and then staying up late just because you had to go to school and then being able to sleep in! Awesome!! However, I am fairly unenthused now about my allocation of morning school. I like teaching at a well-resourced school and starting at 8:30 and finishing at 3.  And at least in Argentina my home had running water…

It is interesting how losing a significant chunk of the school year puts things in perspective. The most important time at school is not the meetings about how to utilise teacher aides, or the extra-curricular sports, or the NCEA moderation meetings…the most important part of school is the contact time; the teaching and learning time in the classroom – you know, that time when teachers facilitate and students learn and where students get practice at using and developing their literacy and critical thinking skills (amongst other useful skills – though these are my preferred two). That’s not to say they don’t get that outside of the classroom, but, well, school is there for a purpose, and the most structured learning will usually take place inside the classroom (unless the teacher is crap, of course).

Anyway, what has to be done has to be done. I am certainly not advocating not sending the students from the badly affected schools to school at all (bad sentence, sorry, EB). I don’t know what the alternatives would be – maybe shipping in a bunch of pre-fab classrooms? That would be undoubtedly more expensive than the current plan. And at least my school wasn't badly affected...how stressful would it be to have to teach or learn in a completely different environment right now?! So it’s cool. Well, cool-ish.

And now, to add my anxiety about the whole situation, the silly Prime Minister has decided to give us Cantabrians a National Memorial Day, where we all get the day off to mourn and remember. On a school day. Um…I think some of us have been mourning and remembering for the last two weeks, and I’d like to stop now and just get on with life, thanks. School students surely don’t need even more time off school, do they? I’d never ever had students email me and ask me for work…until about a week ago. Students are bored. They want to learn. Let’s get on with the learning, I say.
And, as Homer said, “Is there anything useful we can do?”

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