Student Teaching in London

By Rick Kephart

Before the trip

I first found out about the possibility of doing Student Teaching Overseas by chance. I just happened to notice a notice about it in the Department of Childhood Education and Reading office at West Chester University one day. I had been to Italy, Germany, and France, and thought it would be nice to make another trip to Europe.

I first mentioned it to my advisor, and he suggested that I go and talk to the one in charge of the program for West Chester University. This was a couple years early, though. It would be at least two years before I would be doing my student teaching, and he advised that I wait until the time for my student teaching was closer.

A year and a half later, I went back to him about it. Now the deadline for applying was rapidly approaching.

I decided to go to London for student teaching. This was not a difficult decision. Besides never having been to England, there was one outstanding advantage to England student teaching: in all the other countries, one teaches in an American school. In England, it is done in a British school and not in an American school. That I saw as a wonderful opportunity: to see first-hand an entirely different system of education.

There was a long delay in getting the materials from Lock Haven University. The things came quite late. This put me in a position of having to go rapidly around for the necessary letters of reference, records, medical form, etc. That was not at all pleasant.

Once all the proper forms were ready and sent, the time when an interview at Lock Haven University is required. I rode to Lock Haven on Good Friday (when WCU has a holiday, and Lock Haven does not), with another person from WCU who was also going to London. It took five hours to get there. The interview took forty-five minutes, then we spent another five hours to get back.

Later, we got got a letter (dated September 17, 1987) from Lock Haven, about our London placement (at least how they were expected to be at that time). There were four names at the top (two boys, two girls), all expected to share the same apartment! (Fortunately, this offensive situation was changed before we went.) There was a description of the apartment, costs, and dates. At the end, it stated that there will be a "REQUIRED PREDEPARTURE MEETING ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 3" at Lock Haven University, at 1:00 p.m. That came as a big surprise to all of us; we were not told there was a second trip to Lock Haven required. It turned out that the student teachers going to other countries, such as Germany, had to attend a meeting scheduled early in the morning! Dealing with Lock Haven was the single biggest problem in the whole adventure.

Also with this letter was a list of names and addresses of other student teachers, and the previous semester's student teachers' evaluations.

Just before we left, we got another letter (dated October 7, 1987) with a "List of Information", with information scattered across the paper, very difficult to figure out, and which fortunately was not necessary to know.

At the meeting at Lock Haven, we were all given a pack of information.

There was a copy of the St. John's Highbury Vale handbook. At that point, it wasn't much help.

We were given a paper from THE URBAN STUDIES CENTRE in London, from Myra Tingle, a letter with "a little practical advice so that you can plan your stay in the UK."

There were some notes About London Schools. Here is some of what it said:

We do not have 'grade levels' and there is no formal assessment of a child at the end of a school year. The class teacher has total control over what she teaches and when she teaches it. The Headteacher who may also teach for part of the time, takes overall responsibility for what goes on within the school but allows the classteachers much freedom to develop their own ideas and to extend the ideas of the children. There are few text books, ditto sheets, etc. The children in your class will most likely be working on a project/topic which will cover all the basic skill areas as well as creative writing, art and craft, music and movement.
You will be expected to help individual children with this type of work to start with and then when you are settled in it would be appreciated if you could offer your 'unit' in this same style. I think that if you liken this approach to setting up what you call a 'Learning Centre' you will understand what I mean. We used to suggest to students that they share the 'differences' between the USA and UK with the children but over the years this topic has been so overdone that you will have to come up with some new ideas!
Then there were some teaching ideas suggested, such as Easter hats, baking, Thanksgiving "if not done before", etc.

Then it goes on to say,

Inner city children are not easy at any age! They are possibly from very poor homes, they may be from Asia, the West Indies, Africa, Greece or Italy. There are at least 150 mother tongues spoken in ILEA (Inner London Education Authority). ILEA can be likened to the largest 'school district' in the world. For many, English will be a second language. You will have to work to gain their respect and affection, you will need a sense of humour...but once you do make the relationship, you won't want to go home!

Then under the heading of General Procedure, she gave some very general comments about times and schedules. Then she goes on to discuss dress:

What do you wear!..Number 1 rule...don't dress better than the Headteacher.....Teachers, even Heads, dress very informally... The best thing is to dress reasonably formally on the first day and then relax once you have 'sussed' things out... Dress as you would at College, buy an umbrella, have good walking shoes and a few warm sweaters since March can be VERY COLD. In the autumn semester our winter begins in October.

Then it went on to discuss "Your commitment to Lock Haven University", which was mainly stressing the importance of a diary, pointing out that "You will be surprised at how your perceptions change over the weeks. You will experience anger and frustration at first and then possibly sadness that you cannot take some of the ideas - and the children - home with you!" (How true that was!)

Then there were some tips on Living in London, regarding the Immigration letter, passes, money, and also suggesting that the accommodations be paid "in full upon arrival. This way you do not overspend your budget and there is less risk of losing all your money."

Then there were some warnings:

Students in the past have lost their wallets/purses. It is all to easy when you are a tourist to let your mind wander and many a sad hour has been spent trying to persuade AMEX : you are who you say you are and that you don't know your mother's maiden name!.. or at the American Embassy, trying to get another passport.

We drive on the opposite side of the road to you. ALWAYS LOOK 'Right, Left, and Right again' when crossing roads.

Then she goes on to describe what a problem accommodations are to them, and she briefly describes KENT HOUSE STUDENT RESIDENCE (telephone numbers, weekly rate (£55), linen and towel arrangements, tube stations), and then dates for arrival, meetings, school ("On MONDAY Nov 2 you will visit your school for the afternoon. On TUESDAY Nov 3 you will attend school full time.")

Then a few final comments:

We have been placing students through the Lock Haven Programme since 1979. All the students have come to us with different expectations, some adjust quickly to a different culture (and a different language).. others have found it very hard-going. On the whole each and everyone has had a great time both professionally and socially and we do hope that this will be the same for you.
Bring strong walking shoes, your sense of humour and an open mind and all will be fine!
During your stay in London we usually meet as a group once every two weeks. This allows me to catch up on your progress, offer support of various kinds and show you a little of London which you may miss. We try to arrange a pub evening with an inexpensive meal together.
FINALLY travel light! For your own sake do not bring too much luggage. By the time that you have travelled 5000 miles and have negotiated London Transport you will be in a foul mood, very tired and wish you had taken this advice. Buy an extra case over here to take all your purchases home with you!

On the back was a map showing how to get to Kent House from the airport.

We were also given a letter from The British Council Education Information Service, dated August 1984. It describes compulsory ages, divisions of schools in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The information was not very useful.

Then there were NOTES FOR EDUCATION STUDENTS ON EXCHANGE PROGRAMMES BETWEEN USA AND ENGLAND. Some of this was very interesting, especially where it contrasts their impression of American schools with the way they do things:

So, for the British student in America, familiarity with the programmes adopted by the school as policy, and with tests, texts, and teaching materials already in the classroom, is a high priority. In planning, objectives are important and the instruments to be used to evaluate your teaching must be clearly identified and seen to be related to your objectives. Watch your teacher carefully when you first go in to the class and see the ground rules which she has established for behavior, in particular, whether the children may talk, ask questions, move about, without asking permission. Be prepared for longer periods of duty without a break or for duties you may not have encountered before. Where children are 'bussed' from over a wide area, a teacher, or teachers, will be on duty supervising the children as they arrive (and as they wait for their busses to go home) and this could be for as much as 40 min. to an hour each time. Many schools don't have morning and afternoon coffee breaks and, because the numbers staying for lunch can be large, teachers are involved in lunch supervision.

For the American student in Britain the guide lines for preparation may be much less clear and you will be expected to show enterprise and initiative in working out what you will be doing with the children. You will have the freedom to respond to opportunities and take advantage of unexpected stimuli, and you will be able to build your teaching around themes and topics which you (or your teacher) choose. You will also need to discern the ground rules established by the teacher and this may be more difficult because they will not be as obvious; children will seem to be moving around more freely, making choices for themselves, talking to each other more and taking books and materials as they need them. Display of childrens' work is usually given high priority and the provision of a stimulating and colorful environment is expected of teachers. You will find that you are able to enjoy a coffee break in the staffroom half way through the morning and afternoon and the lunch break is longer and the children are supervised by aides; you may be invited to have your lunch with the children but unless you are actually taking the responsibility of supervising them you will have to pay for the meal yourself.

We were given a Lock Haven Student Teaching Handbook. Most of it did not apply, since it concerned normal student teaching. I did not like it; I found its "code of ethics" statements objectionable.

We were also given a Lock Haven Handbook for Student Teaching Overseas. It had more useful information, but it was quite intimidating in the amount it demanded. One thing in the book she eliminated: that we would have had to immediately mail our first lesson plan to Lock Haven.

We were given the UNIT FORMAT; very complex and involved, more complicated than anything we had to do for West Chester.

The biggest advantage of the meeting was that it gave us a chance to meet each other, briefly, before we went to England.

There was also some mention that she was supposed to come out to where we were in England some time during our assignment to see us. She never came!

I was doing the first part of my student teaching in a fourth grade classroom in a typical public school, Bridgeport Elementary School (in Bridgeport, PA). That assignment lasted until Friday, October 30. My assignment in London, at St. John's Highbury Vale, was scheduled for Monday, November 2. I was told that I should not finish my last week at Bridgeport, but rather get ready for my trip to London. But I liked being in that class at Bridgeport so much that I was there right up to the very last day. I was also told that, if I did decide to go past Wednesday, that I should not do any student teaching. I said that to Mrs. Bean, my cooperating teacher at Bridgeport, and she said, "If you're here, I'm going to put you to work!" And so I was teaching all that last day. It would have been rather boring just to sit there all day, anyway! There was a Halloween parade and party that day, and a little party for me, and I was given a shirt and tie, and all the kids had made cards for me.

The First Week

Back up to the beginning