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Friday, 4 December 2009

Caesar would have enjoyed St. Agnes

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous

Caesar would have enjoyed St Agnes, or at least been reassured. Management, embodied in the person of Sister Kathleen Waters, was both efficient and professional, much of it expressed through the medium of food. In one week I enjoyed more Danish pastries than I’d normally have in a year. I didn’t complain, but fought hard to maintain my lean and hungry look. The school was all about encouragement – to staff and students alike. The smallest act was rewarded with a written thank you on brightly coloured paper and, most puzzling to me, extended to exams.

My first social studies test resulted in outrage when students were awarded marks ranging from 28 – 81%. It was then I was told that students were not allowed to gain anything less than 48% in any test or exam. As a result there was, by British standards, a degree of grade inflation. Students with, say a mark of 85% (which would have more than satisfied a student back home) would see that as little more than half-marks and question why they hadn’t got more. It sharpened marking in that the teacher had to defend every missing mark, and it also developed confidence in the student, though sometimes misplaced.

I was also fascinated by Social Studies where the sophomore progressed from the Stone Age to the Cold War in the space of a year. A dental appointment meant you missed the Renaissance. But that’s the flip side of the coin. What the students learnt in the Medieval component, for example, was conceptual rather than narrative. So, instead of cause and effect, events and key dates, the student had two weeks to appreciate the ‘concept’ of Feudalism, which involved a comparison between European and Japanese feudalism.

And so the weeks rolled by. The classes were large – forty girls to a class - initially intimidating or exhilarating depending on mood; the text books were heavy and lavishly produced. Those books were brilliant. There was nothing like them in the British classroom – as Ron would testify.

But all this was in the future.

I was broken in gently with coffee – an endless supply – and Danish, more introductions and work related meetings. Thursday, September 10th brought in the first students - Seniors showing Freshers the ropes and the school, and culminating in a wonderful picnic in Cunningham Park and endless tugs of war which no doubt embodied something or other.

That night, a fellow exchange teacher phoned: Peter Stassi. His school was Henry St. Junior High. It sounded quite fierce. Because of muggings corridors were patrolled, and inhis first week cops had come in to arrest two kids. One class Peter taught hadn’t heard of England, which, I imagine, was the least of his problems.

I listened, chewing on a Danish,and agreed with Caesar. There’s nothing much wrong with sleek headed men that ‘sleep a night.’

Thank God for St. Agnes.

Some of my students. I wonder where they are now?


(Would you believe I couldn't find a picture of the school other than this link?)

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