American Teaching in Scotland

So, as I have been preparing to go back to work this week, planning and racking my brain on how I’m going to start off this next school year, I’ve also been reflecting on the school year I just completed – pros, cons, and all the things I’ve learned thus far about teaching in Scotland.

The last you heard from me, I had just been offered my first teaching job in Scotland – I hadn’t even started yet! Well, now it is safe to say that I survived until the end of the school term and have learned loads! So, as a part of my reflection process, I thought I’d write some things down (because that’s how my brain processes information) and share with you some of the similarities and differences between the Scottish and American ways of teaching; and some valuable things I’ve learned in becoming a teacher in Scotland.

As to be expected there were many things that were different from my past teaching experiences in the States, but surprisingly there were also many things that were the same.

SIMILARITIES

School Organization

For the most part, primary schools are organized in a very similar way to the elementary schools in the states with the exception of vocabulary.

For example:

Scottish:                                                  American:

Head Teacher                                           Principle

Deputy Head Teacher                              Vice Principle

Principle Teacher                                     Similar to a High School Dean – part admin, part teaching.

Curriculum Leader (High School)            Department Chair (High School)

Additional Support for Learning (ASL)     Special Education

Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs)               Instructional Assistants or Classroom Aids

Stage Level                                               Grade Level*

*There are a variety of stages in primary and secondary schools that I will detail out in a later blog.

…and lastly…

Pupils                                                        Students**

**kids are usually not referred to as ‘students’ in the UK until they reach university (or what we American’s call college).  ‘College’ in the UK is similar to Junior College.  In the UK there is a big difference between college and university (or ‘uni’) where as in American we just call it all college.

(There are also loads of other terms and acronyms that I’ve had to learn, but I don’t want to bore you with the details)

Staff

Another similarity that I experienced was the pleasure of working with a very dedicated staff, committed to their teaching practice, professional development, and their pupils!  I have a very supportive and encouraging Head Teacher and Deputy Head, colleagues who are always willing to help me out and appease my American questions with no judgement, a Support for Learning teacher that knows her pupils’ needs inside and out, PSAs who are willing to help in any way possible, and overall a great atmosphere to thrive professionally.

Kids & Parents

I have learned that kids are very similar to the kids in the states as well – they all deal with similar struggles of academia, insecurities, social media and peer pressure, family dynamics, extra-curricular activities, and more. I teach to a diverse pupil population, with an array of backgrounds and needs. There are many English language learners, as there are in my native California, however, the pupils here speak a variety of languages and come from a variety of cultures! At my school (and my kids’ school), we have many Romanian, Polish, Italian, Spanish, and French pupils (to name a few!).  Parents, as well, are very similar to parents anywhere – they all want the best for the children, some are involved in school life more than others, some work and some stay at home, and all come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

DIFFERENCES

I could go on and on about all the differences with culture, British language and spelling, Scottish slang, and, as I previously mentioned, the variety in terminology, but I thought I’d try to stick to some of the ‘big picture’ differences for this section:

As a teacher trained in American, and more specifically California, there are certain aspects of teaching that are ingrained in you from the start of your first teaching course and from your own experiences as a student in school. Things like grades, grading, GPA, and report cards, homework, text books, class test and standardized test, state standards, and bench mark exams. To my surprise, there is very little of this in Scotland.  Let me attempt to break it down:

Grades: I was very surprised that grades are not given for assignments, nor are report cards issued in the same format that American kids are used to. Teachers do ‘mark’ assignments by giving direct marks or feedback, but pupils also often mark their own assignments followed by a peer or self-assessment.  There are two main peer/self-assessment tools that teachers used: (1) traffic light signals, and (2) Two Stars and a Wish.

Image result for traffic light assessmentTraffic light colors allow pupils to color code their work to let their teacher know how they feel about the assignment – I often use the happy, flat, or sad face method if I don’t want to mess with the kids pulling out their colored pencils.

Two Stars and a Wish is a method of assessment where pupils write down two things they did well or positive parts of the assignment and then follow it up with a ‘wish’ of something they could do better for the next time.  This is a great tool for peer assessment as well.

Although report cards with grades are not distributed, pupils do receive an end of the year formal report outlining what they have covered throughout the year and the individual pupils progress.  The format of these reports vary from school to school.  These reports require a ton of time to type up!  Luckily, my school’s report is a two page format with some boxes to be ticked, which makes the process a little bit less daunting.  However, both my children received 4-page typed up reports from their school!

Teaching Content

Much like the states have ‘state standards’ in all subjects to be taught and met by pupils each academic year, Scotland calls these standards ‘Benchmarks’ (which has a bit different use in California).  Unlike the States, these benchmarks are not public domain in the way that the California state standards can be accessed online by anyone.  Teachers use these benchmarks as a guideline for teaching and assessing each pupil’s accomplishments. Though, how teachers accomplish and teach these benchmarks can vary from teacher to teacher and school to school.

Unlike most schools in the states where every teacher teaches through a variety of textbooks (which usually map out the standards within the texts and teacher’s editions), the only subject that usually uses a textbook here is math, but you are not limited to the use of the single texts.  Instead, teachers use resources – loads and loads of resources – some that the school provides (there are tons of resource closets around the school as well as a resource room packed full!), online resources the school and teachers pay for, and, of course, good ol’ Google.  This aspect was one of the hardest for me to get used to by far.  I have always taught from a text.  This resource-driven way of teaching certainly allows for more individual creativity for teachers in forming lessons, but as a new teacher, it was difficult to navigate myself through all the resources that were available to help teach the benchmarks.  Another benefit to this type of teaching is the flexibility to teach all subjects across the curriculum – interdisciplinary learning is a key element in the curriculum, which I have found really enjoyable! (see below for links to various resources)

Trips

Another thing that I have found quite enjoyable is the focus on experiences for pupils – trips and hands on learning is very encouraged, and living in a city like Edinburgh there are loads of opportunities for

Image result for international festival edinburgh hub
‘The Hub’ – Headquarters for the Edinburgh International Festival

free activities (all museums are free to the public)! For most trips, classes will use the public bus system, which also helps keep costs down.  There are also a lot of opportunities to take walking trips as well.  In my short 5 months of teaching Primary 7 (aka 6th grade), my class got to travel to Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory during our WW2 study, we walked to the local park twice for outdoor learning activities and a picnic lunch, had 6 weeks of Tennis lessons for PE at Abercorn Sports Club (a short 15 min walk from school), a trip to ‘The Hub’ to participate in an activity put on by the Edinburgh International Festival, and a trip to the Risk Factory during our topic of health and safety.

 

Bilingual Education – French

Scotland, as previously mentioned, has a very diverse population of learning from all over since it is still part of the EU; so it makes perfect sense for there to be English language support and also an element of bilingual education – which I absolutely LOVE! Most schools have a French specialist (in the same way they have a PE and Music specialist) that come in once a week to teach French (and some primary schools even do a bit of German). Finally, I’ve been able to put my petite amount of French that I had learned in High School to good use (although I still regret not knowing Spanish a little bit). I can only imagine what my language skills and opportunities would be today had I started learning another language from Kindergarten.

Other Aspects of the Curriculum

A few other things that I thought I’d mention that are incorporated into the Curriculum for Excellence here in Scotland are the subjects of Health and Wellbeing (HWB) and Religious and Moral Education (RME).  HWB not only covers your typical topics of health (diet, exercise, drugs & alcohol, sex ed, etc) but also covers topics such as peer relationships, problem solving, and life skills.  RME is similar in that teachers can discuss basic moral principles.  RME also allows teachers to discuss religious holidays and practices– which covers not just Christian education but also other world religions.

Other Aspects of School Culture worth mentioning

Assemblies – Schools have assemblies every week.  At my school, assemblies occur every Friday – usually split into lower school (P1-3) and upper school (p4-7) with the occasional all school assembly.  Assemblies serve as a way for classes to present what they are learning to the whole school, a way for the Head teacher/Deputy Head to have face time with pupils, discuss new school focuses, policies and events, and, of course, to celebrate anything great happening at the school or with individual pupils.  In most high schools, assemblies are held every day with a different year group attending each day.

Political Awareness – I’ve never met so many young people interested and knowledgeable as toImage result for bbc newsround what is going on around the world and in their own country!  The conversations I have had with pupils (especially all their questions about President Trump!) is mind blowing, in a great way!  One way that many schools promote these conversations is by watching BBC’s Newsround, every day. Newsround is a short (c. 6 min) update for kids that airs twice a day covering world and UK news. Our kids often bring up Newsround topics and want to discuss them at the dinner table (lucky for me, I know what they are talking about because I watched the same episode with my class as well.)

Golden Time – Golden time is an all school reward system that most schools use here.  For my school, it occurs every Friday for 30 min. All pupils are rewarded Golden time at the beginning of the week; however, depending on their behavior, they can lose Golden Time as the week progresses. I have to admit that as an American teacher, I felt that Golden Time was a big ‘waste of time’ when I first started, but I’ve seen the effect that having Golden Time has had on my own kids (something for them to work towards each week) and am slowly changing my feelings towards the reward system.

Half day Fridays – yup, every Friday is a half day! This is a bit inconvenient for working parents, but it makes for a great start to your weekend!

 

Like I said, there is so much to compare and discuss when it comes to the differences between the American and Scottish ways of teaching, but I thought these were great starting points.  Please feel free to comment below if you have any further questions or thoughts about this new way of teaching I’m working through.

-Leah

 

Teaching In Scotland

After months of waiting to become a registered teacher in Scotland, I am not only proud to announce that I received my clearance for registration, but last week I landed myself a teaching job as well! I am beyond thrilled and so excited to start this new adventures!  I was offered an 18 month temporary contract (which is a very common offer here in Scotland) while the current teacher is doing an 18 month Secondment.

I will be starting my post on 30 January teaching Primary 7 (US equivalent to 6th grade) at Royal High Primary School.  One common teaching practice for primary teachers here in Scotland is for teachers to change stage levels (aka grade levels) every year. So, next year I will be assigned a different stage, but I am so happy to be starting off in Primary 7 (P7) as I love working with older students.

Royal High Primary School

I also feel so fortunate because I have been able to be in contact with the Head Teacher (aka Principle), current P7 teacher that I’m replacing, and the other P7 teacher (called my stage partner) while awaiting my first day.  The head teacher has been so encouraging towards me and has eased many of my insecurities regarding coming into the Scottish school system.  This week I am tying up loose ends at my current job as I prepare to transition out, all while communicating and planning meetings with those from my new job to ensure a smooth transition.

Royal High Primary School

An added bonus to this job is that Royal High Primary is located only a short 1.7miles from home (approx. 35min walk), as opposed to my current job which is 2.3 miles (50min walk) away.  I will also be getting off of work the same time as my kids get off school, so I will be getting home much earlier than I am now.  And lastly, but certainly not least, I will be making more money!

Royal High Primary School

I feel so fortunate to have been offered this post! I also feel so grateful for the time that I’ve been able to work and serve on staff at Broughton High School as a school support assistant (SSA).  My time as an SSA has afforded me so many great conversations and insights into the Scottish school system, and I have received loads of support from the staff regarding my pursuit to teach and interview for teaching jobs.

Cheers to a new year!

Leah

Trying to Teach

As Mark previous mentioned in our Summer Is Here blog, I thought I’d write a little update about my process of looking for a job.

gtc247_380When Mark and I were preparing for this journey across the Atlantic, we had decided that I would take a year off of working to help situate our kids into our new life in Scotland, all while applying for registration with the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS), with the hope of being registered and ready to teach/supply teach (substitute teach) by fall of 2016. Well, the registration process with GTCS has been anything but speedy!

To sum up this process, let me just say that hindsight is 20/20, and if I could go back and start things sooner, I would! But, for now, I live in the present and have to wait.

So let me now explain my process (with the hope that this post might help some other California teacher pursue teaching in Scotland!)

Substitute/Supply Teaching

Unlike in California, in order to substitute teach (or supply teach, as they call it in the UK), you have to be fully certified and registered with GTCS. In CA, all you need to substitute teach is 90 semester units at university under your belt and to pass a test (called the CBEST). However, due to the amazing maternity benefits this country offers, many supply positions are long-term jobs, sometimes upwards of a year; so, it makes sense that they want supply teachers to be highly qualified. Unfortunately for me, this means that substitute teaching is not an option until I complete registration.

Registration Process

I started filling out my registration paperwork in December 2015. All was going well until I hit the part of the paperwork that required a police certificate from my country. Although I am cleared to work full time in the UK through my visa, GTCS needed this certificate, which required me to get finger printed and all my info sent into the United States FBI. My first issue with this step was that there is literally only ONE person in all of Edinburgh (the capital of the country mind you) that does official fingerprints, and he lives about a 45 min bus ride away. So after setting up my appointment, getting finger printed, and mailing in my prints, the wait time with the FBI was estimated to be 13-15 weeks! Needless to say, I got my police certificate back in April 2016! Hindsight: If only I would have done this before we left the states; (1) it would’ve been a lot cheaper (it cost me £70 – roughly $100) to get my prints done, and (2) I could’ve submitted my completed application much sooner.

So, with my fingerprints in hand, I officially submitted my application to GTCS in April! However, a week later part of my application was returned because they needed more information…

In Scotland the grade levels are labeled a bit different from CA. For example, when Penelope started school this past year in October 2015 she was 5 years old and she started P1 (primary 1), which is equivalent to Kindergarten in the states.   This school year she is in P2 (primary 2), which would be labeled as 1st grade in the states. There is also no “middle school” or “junior high” here. There is only two school levels – primary and secondary/high school. Things get a lot more confusing when it comes to labeling levels in secondary school, and I’m still trying to figure it out, so we will just leave that conversation for another day.

In California I have a K-12 Multiple Subject Credential, but that label does not necessarily translate in terms that are relevant to the Scots system, so GTCS asked me to get a formal letter from my university explaining in detail what ages, not grades levels, I am certified to teach and the details on the subject matters in which I am qualified. The letter took a few weeks to get completed after a few timed out conversations with my university and GTCS (which I am incredibly grateful to the time and effort made by National University’s credential office!), and I have to say, that after reading the details of the letter from NU, I was pleasantly surprised to see all that I was qualified to teach!

So where am I at in the process now, you may be asking?

After submitting all of the new information from NU, I was finally contacted that my application was under review on 19 Aug! However, although I was ecstatic to receive this email, with the email came more requests for information. The council informed me that although I have a teaching “credential” from the state of California, they are more concerned with the course work that I studied and not the certificates that I have earned…which I completely understand. So they requested detailed course descriptions and syllabi of some of my specific courses. Again, National University pulled through for me! After multiple phone calls, conference calls, and working with various departments and professors, I sent off the official letters to GTCS this morning (5 Sept)!

So the waiting resumes…

But in the mean time what are we going to do to generate income?

Because our timeline has been prolonged, I have not been able to jump into the teaching game as soon as we had hoped. We budgeted for my year off of work, but our first year abroad has come to a close (12 Sept). So, while I have been waiting and working with GTCS, I have also been tirelessly pursing a job that does not require registration (this effort deserves a blog of it’s own!); however, I am happy to announce that I was offered a position as a School Support Assistant at Broughton High School. This job entails working 34 hours a week in a variety of areas within the school: reception, attendance, administration, welfare (first aid), helping students and parents, and anything the staff needs. Although this is not a teaching post, I am very excited to be in a school, working around staff and students, and getting to know the school system a bit better. I have also been afforded a tutoring opportunity with Kip McGrath, a private tutoring company that focuses on math and English. As of right now I am tutoring a class of my own on Wednesdays and covering other classes as needed.

Because Mark has a some-what flexible study schedule, he will be able to walk the kids to and from school and take care of Markie during the day after he is finished with nursery. We are still trying to work out all the logistics, but we are feeling hopeful. Our needs are being provided for, and I am on my way to being able to teach in Scotland.

Image result for broughton high school edinburgh