Published on 6/27/2012 1:00:00 AM
Shalya Campara moved to Pittsburgh from London last year with her husband, Tom. As a teacher with many years experience in the British education system, Campara wanted to take the opportunity to work in American schools to continue her professional experience and to see how it compared. Having contacted a number of schools in Pittsburgh, Wendell McConnaha, director of the Falk School—a K-8 tuition-based campus laboratory school affiliated with the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh—welcomed her to help at the school. Campara began volunteering at Falk School in February and assisted with teaching until the end of the 2011/2012 school year.
McConnaha suggested speaking with Campara about her background as a way to show how the School of Education welcomes an international element, and to highlight a few differences between the British and American school systems.
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School of Education: How is working with the students so far?
Shayla Campara: I’m really enjoying being here at Falk School. There is a wonderful atmosphere to the school. Both staff and pupils are extremely welcoming, and there is a great balance between academic achievement and a creative, fun environment in which the pupils are encouraged to develop as individuals.
Which grades are you helping with?
At the moment, I’m helping at Falk three days a week, and I support kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. It’s great to have the opportunity to work with different year groups, so that I get a better sense of the stages of progress as the children move through the school.
One of the aspects that has been striking to me so far is the freedom that the teachers at Falk have in delivering their lessons. The teachers are empowered to decide how to teach the subjects in a way that makes most sense for their class—which I think is great. The UK system is more centralized, with a national curriculum that all teachers follow and which is prescriptive about not only what is taught, but how it is taught.
Is there a particular subject of interest that you focused on back at home?
I worked for many years within the private school system in London, England. Our system splits junior school into Key Stage One (equivalent to kindergarten to years two), and Key Stage Two (equivalent to years three to five). I taught both stages, and taught all subjects, including religious studies and science.
In addition to general classroom teaching, I have a particular interest in supporting children with various special educational needs. I find this type of work to be extremely interesting and also very rewarding and in the future I hope to specialize more in this area.
What is the process like in regard to becoming a teacher in Britain?
There are a number of different routes into teaching in Britain. Most people enter the profession after completing their undergraduate degree (which can be in any subject—not necessarily education), through completing an additional one year postgraduate course in teaching, which combines academic study, and a significant amount of practical experience in the classroom. After completing the postgraduate year, you then are required to complete an additional year of teaching full time prior to qualification. During this year as a newly qualified teacher, you are regularly monitored and assessed to ensure that you meet a wide variety of standards.
There is a big emphasis throughout this process on teachers demonstrating that they are familiar with the subject matter, they can prepare detailed lesson plans, which cater for students at different levels through differentiation, and are able to successfully manage a classroom. Each lesson has to be planned out in detail—so you’ll have a detailed daily lesson plan, a weekly plan, and a plan overview covering each semester and the year as a whole.
It’s certainly a challenging two years, but at the end of it, you really feel that you are properly prepared to teach a class on your own and that you can hit the ground running.
In addition, the government runs regular inspections of all schools every two or three years. These are pretty in-depth reviews that take place over the course of a week or so, with inspectors observing lessons throughout the school and also conducting in-depth interviews with all staff. At the end of the inspection, the school will be given a rating—from “failing” through to “outstanding”. These results are published and are an indicator of where certain schools need to improve to ensure that the standard of education is properly maintained, and equally, to celebrate those schools who are performing extremely well.
What’s the education system like in Britain?
I’ve worked in both the private and state sector in Britain and in my experience, the level of education is generally excellent. However, like any other place in the world, you can have really good schools, and others that are not so good. It’s never a simple picture, of course – there are many factors as to why some schools perform better than others.
As I’ve already mentioned, our system is probably more prescriptive in terms of the curriculum and how it is taught. I like the fact that at Falk School the teachers have more flexibility with planning their lessons to achieve their teaching objectives. I’ve also noticed that at Falk, there tends to be at least two teachers per class—which I think allows more attention to be given to individual children, which is great.
How do you like living here?
My husband and I are delighted to be here and are really enjoying the experience. Neither of us had really been to the United States much in the past, other than short visits to New York, and we are loving having the opportunity to learn more about the country and people. Pittsburgh is a lovely city—people are really friendly and welcoming. We love the beautiful bridges, although it does make driving a bit confusing for newcomers! There are some great parks, lots of art, theaters, museums etc. and lovely little neighborhoods. We love hanging out in Shadyside and the Strip District on the weekends, and we’ve been lucky enough to get to go and see the Steelers and Pirates play.
So whenever you came over here, you didn’t necessarily need to volunteer or teach?
Our move to Pittsburgh was primarily for my husband’s work, but it was really important for me to continue my work as a teacher. I really enjoy working with children and it gives me great fulfillment and it is something that I would look to continue to do wherever we lived.
Like you said, it’s a good experience working in two different education systems. So I’m sure that will help you once you go back, maybe you’ll have learned a few things, and vice versa.
Yes, absolutely. I’m definitely absorbing as much as I can. The whole experience of living in a new culture and working within a different educational system is enriching and hopefully will be a great addition to my professional experience as a teacher.