Tuesday, July 19, 2016

First thoughts on Russian and American schools

Janet Murphy, Union Springs School District

Since teaching is my passion, visiting schools has been the experience that I have really wanted to sink my teeth into.  Thankfully, we’ve visited many and after each school visit I am up at night with my head full of reflections and questions I wish I’d asked. I’d like to share a piece of that here.  

Igor Kolesov, AltGPU; Tatiana Grigorievna, Principal,
School No. 55

First, and likely foremost is the fact that both American teachers (the ones I know) and Russian teachers (the ones I’ve met) love their students.  This was abundantly clear.  Our schools are very different.  Yet at each school there were teachers who interrupted their summer vacation to meet with us and somehow coax some students to come in too.  The teacher and administrators all put on very formal presentations at each school (with snacks!) and their faces shined with pride as they described the school program, curriculum and the student’s achievements.  They proudly referenced the students' accomplishments at national and regional competitions frequently.  

The students I met seemed equally proud of the school they attended.  Student work samples that I was shown were beautifully done with perfect cursive.  The formal presentations seem appropriate because schooling seems more serious in Russia.  Kids’ futures are closely linked with their performance at school and Russian students seem to understand this at a young age.  I got the feeling that kids seem to come to school with more of a sense of purpose than in the US.  And frankly, the facilities aren’t always as good.  Most American students have bright well-lit classrooms brimming with stuff.  They have large safe playgrounds, big gyms, technology, libraries and the whole building is handicapped accessible.  This isn’t always the case in Russia. 

The museum in School No. 55, with the museum's director (a history teacher).
Throughout the year, classes visit the museum for hands-on learning with artifacts.
As I am a teacher who co-teaches works with a special educator, at each school I wondered about kids with special needs.  It took me until about the third school visit to finally dare ask.  I had noticed that there were often narrow doorways, no ramps, and no elevators. The answer to this is that many kids with physical disabilities are home schooled or taught via correspondence.   However, this seems to be slowly changing.  And Russia is just starting to catch up with American schools.  I did see newer schools with some accommodations for the handicapped. I am also unclear on how Russian schools handle kids with learning disabilities.  This is a priority in American schools- to show how we can provide appropriate accommodations for all learning needs and styles but this doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Russian teachers.  The large class size (usually 25 to 30 kids) probably is a factor as well.  I would say that at this time, American teachers are far better equipped and willing to handle kids with special needs than Russian teachers. 

              A final note that really resonated with me is the level of patriotism that exists in every Russian school I visited.  Each school has a proud display of national, regional, and local school symbols and leaders.  Civics is taught.  While American schools teach history, Russian schools very seriously raise patriotic Russian citizens. I look forward to learning more about Russian schools and talking with more Russian teachers as my stay in Barnaul continues.   

"Fatherland, Valor, Honor"
Bulletin board featuring the accomplishments of this year's graduates
from the military/sport track, or "profile," Pedagogical Lyceum

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