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A day at an American school: what's really going on there

Only good grades, changing teachers from year to year, and standing rules from which one cannot step back, are all distinctive features of an elementary school in the USA. Psychologist and teacher Irina Belyaeva for the third month lives in St. Louis (Missouri), where her children go to the first and third grade. During this time, she managed to learn a lot about how the American elementary school lives, and shares her observations, describing a typical day in the life of local students.

Фото: Depositphotos

Start of the day

At 8.40 in the morning, the yellow school buses one after another stop at the Harris Elementary School (Harris Elementary School), which pulls children from all around the area. Children enter and immediately go to the gym, because every day begins the same way - with a large school assembly. All 476 students of the school are seated on the floor of the school hall, divided into classes, and the teachers with morning coffee in their hands quietly talk with their colleagues, standing by their children. It turns out the director, Mr. Tyson Plumley. After welcoming everyone, he offers to chorus the first verse of the American anthem, then reports daily news: what will be today for lunch, who has a birthday, talks about school plans for the week, about honoring the winning classes and individual schoolchildren in various competitions. Then he calls the class in turn (the classes are named after the teachers, for example, “Miss Brown's class”, no 1А, 2Б, 3В) and the children leave.

At some point, the bell rings, but no one notices. In general, the call means little and rings only twice, marking the beginning and end of the day, but usually no one is guided by it. Everywhere there are hours and the teacher tells the children when and where to go.

Harris Elementary School Photo: Irina Belyaeva,

“I introduced these assemblies when I came to Harris Elementary a year ago. It seems to me right that in the morning the whole school should come together so that the children can see both teachers and each other. In addition, we can discuss our common affairs and problems, together congratulate each other happy birthday, it unites us, and helps me as a director to remain a leader, ”Mr. Plumley said. After many years of working as a teacher in elementary school, while working with children with special needs, Tyson Plumley decided to become a director. To this end, he received an additional education, completed a course of practice, and now he has been directing Harris for a year. “The principal task of the director, in addition to school security, is to create conditions so that children and teachers only care about personal achievements and work, and all other problems must be solved. This concerns not only material tasks, equipment, buildings, but also the creation of a climate, an atmosphere of friendship and trust. And children, and teachers, and parents should be pleased to come to school. It is important to understand that they will find support here. ”

О rules

In school, there are five parallels of the so-called kindergarten - we would call this the zero, preparatory class and the first through fourth classes. In the zero class, children come who are five years old by August 1.

After the assembly, everyone follows their teacher into the classroom. There are a lot of rules of behavior at school: it is recommended to move together, lined up, to skip going towards. There are rules of behavior in the dining room, on a walk, when getting on and off the bus, they are strictly followed. The rules provide security and the ability to allow children to sit on the floor, move and make desks, as they like (if you wish, you can leave with a desk in the corner to the door or on the couch at the end of the room, if you really want to be alone). No one ever shouts or scolds students, but the rules that tell you how to behave look at you from all the walls. This is part of education.

“Someone from the wise said:“ Children cannot read, and we teach them to read, children cannot write, and we teach them to write, children do not know how to behave, and we punish them. ” This is wrong, one of the main tasks of the school is to teach children to behave with each other and with adults. And to know the rules of behavior: how to live in society, how to communicate with other people, ”explains the director.

Run and shout is allowed only during a break on the street. There is one big change. The rest of the time, students remain in their class, but there is a break for snacks, the opportunity to play board games or just chat with friends.

The second week of May is already quite relaxed. This is a week of honoring teachers, our “Teacher's Day” is spread over a week. The entire previous parent committee turned the school into a “kingdom of sweets” (the theme of this year), and now teachers will receive gifts and letters of appreciation from parents and students. Children also have a holiday: tests that pass regularly, starting from the third grade, are over, and you can enjoy “themed days” - for example, to go to school in pajamas or in the costume of your favorite cartoon hero. In general, in the absence of school uniforms, sometimes in pajamas are and without any thematic days. The main thing is to be comfortable.

О tests

Tests should demonstrate both the student’s personal accomplishments and the work of the teacher and the school as a whole. Achievements in two subjects are checked: mathematics and the “art of communication” (Communication art) - English. The results depend on the financing and rating of the school, and therefore, how many additional specialists and services the school can afford next year.

The tests are the same for the entire state, as are the training programs. Of course, the teacher has a certain freedom in choosing methods and aids, but the minimum should be the same. “In our country, quite often people move from one area to another, and it should be easy for a child to get involved in the learning process in a new school, so the“ core of knowledge ”is the same for everyone,” explains Mr. Plumley.

Photo: Irina Belyaeva,

The question of a common unified test that appeared in the last 10-12 years is no less debatable than in Russia: how to combine the desire for good results in tests with an individual approach to a child, with a desire to give knowledge, and not to train for a test. The answer has not yet been found either here or in the USA. “This is our challenge, and here a lot depends on the teacher,” says Kite Schulter, a university teacher who supervises the director and his trainee. “And our director role is to support teachers and children and keep the focus on the needs of the child.”

О language and reading

At 70 school children who have recently arrived in the US, they speak 17 languages, so the school has a specialist in teaching English as a second language. The recently arrived children come to Miss Sheets’s study for half an hour every day, and she regularly works in classrooms to help new students integrate and familiarize themselves with the current program.

It happens that you need help and those for whom English is native. Support in reading and reading is especially important. “Reading is the basis of primary school education. If you cannot read and work with information, you cannot learn. In middle and high school, children will have to work a lot on their own, for this we need to grow good readers, ”says methodologist Kara Canning.

Its task is to teach teachers and parents to work with children as readers, and to provide general methodological support to teachers. “Previously, in the United States there were single anthologies with common tests and questions for them for everyone, but children are different, and they like different topics, different stories. In addition, there are no two students on the same level. My task is to pick up books for everyone together with the school librarian, such that may interest them, cause a response. And make sure that they increase their reader competence. Today we do not have a single collection of texts for all. Chooses a teacher, a librarian, a specialist like me if he is in school. Some may never read Shakespeare, ”says Miss Canning. - Of course, every day in the classrooms there is a joint reading and discussion with the teacher, but once a week, in the “library lesson”, they will try to help everyone to choose “his book”. Soon the summer, we will have a „reader's“ summer camp, organized jointly with the children's library. The teachers will work there on a volunteer basis. ”

Miss Canning is quite soberly looking at the results of her work: “I cannot say that we here in Missouri have learned to instill a love of reading for all children and compete with video games. This is too difficult task, but this is my goal. The following year, the main task I put myself to work with my parents. Studies have shown that the most crisis age for reading is the 2-3 classes. Children already know how to read, parents stop reading aloud, which means that discussions and conversations about the book disappear, and children first stay in place and then begin to lag behind in developing their reading skills, ”the methodologist is sure. Miss Canning shows me a special guide with recommendations: which books at what age are better for children to choose, depending on their interests, and what type of questions and game tasks are worth proposing.

Photo: Irina Belyaeva,

Looking into the fourth grade, you can see that while all students are doing their work (perhaps they found the tasks in the boxes in the morning where their teacher put them), one of the children just passes his “reader test” individually, and the teacher notes not so much reading speed, how many answers to questions on the text. Then the results of the survey will go to the office of Miss Canning for further work. Such tests occur once a month. If a child has difficulty in working with text, he goes on additional tasks to the Harris Reader Club, created to help such students, where a separate teacher works with them. In Harris Elementary, there are even two.

О interaction with parents

Every morning begins with a written, reading and speaking practice, after two hours of work the class will switch to mathematics. There are no textbooks, but in order for the parents to know what is happening at school and to help the child, a short description of what the children are going through is sent home weekly, with examples of tasks and tips on how to consolidate knowledge at home.

The school is trying to communicate with parents very closely. “You understand that motivation to study is not only a matter of school. We can create conditions here, we can support, direct, look for approaches to children. But parents are often the main factor that motivates children, especially in middle and high schools, when students can choose the level of complexity and the number of subjects, says the director. - Of course, sometimes children prefer to choose the minimum, especially in adolescence. But a parent can say: “You live in my house - and you have to learn,” and to assess the possibilities of a child in middle and high school there is an “adviser”.

“In Russia, sometimes people say,“ you will learn badly - you will become a janitor, ”I joke. “And you?” “My parents said to me,“ You will not study, you will become a garbage man, ”laughs Mr. Plumley. - I do not know, maybe the scavengers do not live so badly, there was no chance to check. Teachers cannot say this to children, they will be fired (laughs), and parents are often quite categorical. ”

“And this is true,” adds Chris Halam, who is an intern at the school after 10 years of teaching music. “Every year in the USA it is becoming more and more difficult to find a job if you do not have a decent education.” Therefore, parents often move to another area for a good school. Accommodation here, however, will cost more, which, in turn, affects the quality of schools, because the more taxes that residents of the area pay, the more money they will go to finance local education.

О Foods

The hands of the clock go by noon and the kindergarten with the first class goes to the cafeteria - lunch time. Someone eats at school, someone brings food from home. For me and my children living in the USA for only three months, the food is still slightly specific (often potato chips, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza, but definitely fruit or berries), and I give the children food with me. Such, according to my observations, about a third of all students. Lunch - 15 minutes, then the large cafeteria doors leading to the backyard of the school open, and the children pour out onto the playground, where you can jump on the ropes, play with the balls or demonstrate to your classmates the wonders of agility on the playground. Half an hour later the whistle sounds, the children pick up their lunch-bags and line up in classes. Teachers leave the school and take their students to continue the learning process. There is still “the surrounding world”, physical education or music (it changes every other day, if this week there are three physical education and two music, the next will be the opposite) and a special lesson.

End of the day and homework

In 15.30, the lessons end and everyone goes to the library building, from where they are leaving, to be distributed on buses and go home. Homework is usually given a week ahead - this is math and the so-called reading log.

It is assumed that the child must read at least 20 minutes every day (400 minutes per month), the name of the book and the time spent reading are recorded in a special diary, all with the signature of the parents. There are no grades for homework, but from time to time teachers write insistent letters asking them to fill out a reader’s diary or to pay attention to the performance of math tasks.

Photo: Irina Belyaeva,

About assessments

They are all positive. 1 - in the process of mastering the basic level, 2 - mastered the basic level, 3 - well mastered and understood the basic level, 4 - well mastered the basic level and is able to convey it in his own words. The “four”, according to the teachers, is not put to almost anyone and never, this is “over-achievement”. My children said that they have not seen anything like this in their classes. In addition to ratings, there are still marks “awesome” (great), “good job” (good work) and the like. Such marks can stand next to the 2 assessment if the child has demonstrated that he was able to do more than usual. There are final estimates for the quarter and for the year. In each subject several aspects will be assessed separately. So, in mathematics in the third grade there will be a grade for "multiplication", "division", "geometric shapes and forms", "understanding of the perimeter and area", the average score is not displayed. Behavior assessment also consists of 5-6 items.

If it seems to the teacher that the student demonstrates outstanding abilities, such a child is sent to the “gift and talented” test, with the successful completion of which the student is additionally trained in the program “Gift and talented”. Once a week, all the “gifted children” are brought to a certain school in the district (in our case, this is exactly Harris Elementary), where they study under a special program. You can also simply sing in the school choir if you wish, or attend classes at the math club once a week.

О mixing classes

The main intrigue of August (and the new school year will begin on August 4 and end on May 19) will be the question, will I find myself in the same class with my friends? It is known that the teacher will be different. In America, there is no “primary school teacher,” there is a “first grade teacher,” “a second grade teacher,” and so on. The case where one teacher leads the third and then fourth grade is a rare exception. “I had that experience,” Mr. Plumley says. - I led two years in a row, it was wonderful, but I had to completely immerse myself in a fourth-class program. Not everyone is ready for it. ”

Classes are always mixed, it is a tradition. Goals - socialization, prevention of bullying. “In addition, it is very important that you meet at least once a teacher who is really able to motivate you,” says Mr. Schulte. “I thought with horror what it would be like if I had to study for four years with a teacher who does not suit me.”

The formation of classes takes into account many different factors: performance, behavior, the number of gifted, the number of laggards, gender, age, ethnic composition, the number of recently arrived in the US and much more. The class should be average for all these parameters.

After three months, while we are here, I have the impression that the educational system in the United States was created in this way, when, with due desire and effort (primarily from the parent), you can get a lot, or you can sit for 16 years ( point of view of the law to 16, all children should go to school) and get some very basic minimum. What can I say, a country of opportunity.

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