My teaching journey: St Joseph's College in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Kate Jones

Originally from North Wales, Kate Jones is a lead practitioner and head of History at Brighton College in Al Ain, UAE. She is a writer, governor and educational speaker. Kate’s first book, Love To Teach: Sharing teaching and learning ideas for every classroom, will be published in 2018 by John Catt Publishing.

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Everyone who knows me know that I love to teach (hence the Twitter name) and I love to travel. When the opportunity came up for me to take part in the British Council Connecting Classrooms programme, I did not hesitate!

Elfed High School has been taking part in this project for many years, with different teachers taking it in turn to visit and host the partners. The British Council fund the Connecting Classrooms project, in partnership with the Department for International Development. The aim is to 'improve classroom practice and develop ideas with like-minded teachers internationally’. There are thousands of teachers and schools involved in this all around the world. Every school who participate will have a partner school, and our partner school is the wonderful St Joseph's College in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

St Joseph's College is an all-boys school with almost two thousand students who attend from pre-school to A-Level. Lessons are taught through the Sinhala language, with all students also learning Tamil and English.

In October 2015 I went to St Joseph's College to represent Elfed High School, find out all about the College and culture, and share teaching practice and ideas with teachers at the school. This was an amazing experience. I was warmly welcomed by the students who were prefects, and all students showed the most upmost respect as well as a lot of interest and curiosity. At St Joseph's College there were many similarities - and, of course, many stark differences.

Firstly, the scale of the College was much bigger than any school I had been to or taught at. However, there were systems and policies in place which meant the school day ran smoothly. The day began at"I was taken on cultural visits, and observed different lessons with different teachers, subjects and year groups." 7.30 am finishing at 2.30 pm. The week began with a whole-school assembly on the Monday morning - weather depending as this took place outside. During the assembly, students and staff sang the national anthem and the college anthem with great pride. There were several messages delivered by the principal, and behaviour was superb.

In the mornings students would be cleaning and tidying up the college, a duty they took very seriously. The professional cleaners mainly cleaned the principal and vice principal’s office. I told this to students on my return, and some were horrified!
Then lessons would begin. The classrooms were very basic and bare, with chairs stacked up high and then crammed around tables, as the average class size was 45 students. There would possibly be one computer in the classroom, but not all rooms were equipped with this. Internet was very limited with no wifi - and certainly no iPads! Paper registers were filled in and teachers were writing on a blackboard using chalk. It was very interesting when I planned and delivered a lesson, because I had to adapt my teaching methods and strategies.

During one of the lessons I observed, an inspector walked into the lesson. The teacher wasn't shocked or phased, as this was common practice! At the end of the lesson students weren't allowed to leave until they had been blessed by the teachers. This involved the student bowing down to the teacher’s feet for the teacher to stroke or pat the student on their head as a blessing. I did find this very unusual. Also unusual was students often calling me and the other female teachers beautiful, again highlighting differences in the culture of communicating. I was often asked if I was married, and when I replied “no”, the students looked confused!

Another key difference is that teachers are allowed to use moderate physical pain as a punishment, although I was assured this very rarely happened. Thankfully, I never saw this during my visit, linked to the fact that I never witnessed any poor behaviour.

In regards to similarities, the most obvious was that despite the language barriers, the students were still an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. They wore a very smart white uniform, and placed great importance on both English and developing their literacy and numeracy skills. They all took part in extracurricular activities, which varied from poetry to cricket.

When I was at the College I completely relished the opportunity to learn as much as possible from the experience. I was taken on cultural visits, and observed different lessons with different teachers, subjects and year groups. I even took part in a Kandy dance lesson, learning traditional Sri Lankan dance moves. I had my own Saree fitted and hand-made to wear at school like all the other female teachers.

On my return to Elfed High School I delivered school assemblies sharing pictures and stories about my experiences with students. As the Connecting Classrooms coordinator, I also had to plan PSHE lessons based on this project and after my visit I was completely inspired. I shared letters written by students at St Joseph's College with Elfed students for them to read and reply. I clearly benefitted from the experience but I also feel students at my school learnt a lot too.

If you would like to find out more about the British Council Connecting Classrooms you can click this link for further information. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. If you've been inspired by this project or have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. You can leave comments below, and why not just drop me a message on Twitter? To see more of photos from Sri Lanka, click on my Flipagram link!

Have you undertaken a similar journey? Let us know in the comments below.


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