Monday, August 15, 2016

Small School vs. Large School [#MTBoSBlaugust]

It's #MTBoSBlaugust 2016!  I'm challenging myself to blog daily throughout August, and you can too.  Join the fun!
I went to a large high school.  At least it's larger than the school I work in now.  My high school has approximately 500 students in each class (grades 9-12).  The high school where I work is actually a junior/senior high school (grades 7-12), and has approximately 600 students total (an average of 100 students in each class).  I actually experienced a culture shock when I began working there.  I kind of noticed the differences, but never mediated on them, and now that I have, I thought the differences deserved a blog post.  (Especially if other teachers begin working in a school with such a difference from the one they experienced.)  I am only focusing on two key differences that have impacted my teaching in a small school.  I know that there are many other differences as well.  Feel free to share your experiences and insights in the comments section below!

This whole thought started today when I considered the groups I want to use this school year.  I've had students that refused to work in groups in the past.  These students had a history with their peers, and refused to engage in any kind of work with them.  This is sad, but not surprising when you consider that their class size is so small, and most of them have been together since Kindergarten.  We have two schools in our district.  The elementary runs from K through 6.  I imagine this student felt trapped.  Can you imagine being stuck with the same people that you don't like and that don't like you for so many years?  I really don't know how to remedy this situation.  The one thing I can hope for is, since my classes are so diverse grade-wise, that student can meet someone new that they feel comfortable with.

In the district I grew up in, we had schools that were for Kindergarten and first grade, schools for second through fifth grade (sometimes they included sixth), schools for sixth through eighth grade, and then the high school.  How the schools were split up changed a few times throughout my education.  We originally had six small neighborhood elementary schools, and it was realized that because the schools were based on the neighborhoods, the schools were unintentionally segregating students (racially - we're in a diverse little city, but at the time the different neighborhoods had predominant races).  Anyway, the point is that every few years we were given a fresh start, with new peers.  As someone that was bullied, I can attest that changing schools made all the difference.  Students in a small school don't get that chance, and it's difficult for them because their peers don't forget the thing that happened in elementary school that started the bullying.

The other big difference that I notice is the student interactions.  In my small school, students all know each other because they have been together for so long.  It's a strange dynamic at times.  Students won't exchange words with one another, but they will know all about each other.  It's like students have their inner circle of closest friends, a slightly larger concentric circle of  close friends, a larger concentric circle of friends, another larger concentric circle of acquaintances, and then there's a few outliers of people that they student knows, but does not often engage.  The weirdest thing is the way rumors and information spreads.  For example, a student threw up outside of my classroom.  Everyone knew about it within a period.  Can you imagine?  Your minor, yet embarrassing moment becomes fodder for almost the whole school?  (The 7th and 8th grade are kind of on another planet.  The high school students couldn't be bothered with them, unless they have a younger sibling.)  News about fights and verbal altercations travel even faster, and students are eager to tell us teachers about it.  As a student, I would hate for my teachers to know about my personal business without being the one to tell them myself. 

In the high school I attended, we sort of had cliques.  Not the well-defined "we don't talk to those people" cliques that other schools at that time had, but groups with a common interest.  And it was normal to be part of multiple cliques.  If something happened that was noteworthy, the people that you hung out with would know about it, and anyone that witnessed it.  Your witnesses would tell other people, but most likely it would end there.  The whole school would know about your fight or the time you tripped in the cafeteria and spilled your lunch.  I felt like I had a sort of anonymity, and as a generally private person, I enjoyed that.  (She wrote on her blog for the whole world to potentially read.)

The weirdest thing about working in a small school, as a teacher, is that students that I haven't had yet know about me.  Case in point:  I walked into the gym to help the 11th grade set up their bleachers for the battle of classes tradition we have.  I overhear from across the gym where the 7th and 8th graders are setting up:  *gasp* "It's Ms. Beebe!"  It perplexes me because from one year to the next I had no idea who my teachers would be, and I rarely knew who any of the other teachers in my school were.

I don't know why this topic and the difference interest me so much, but they do.  I would love to hear about your experiences and observations.

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