Canadian vs UK Schools

…is the comparison I would like to make. However, knowing that dependent on the province, city, district, specific school that you’re in, things can be quite different. So perhaps a more specific (and unfortunately less catchy (and therefore not being used)) title is: Tom Baines and Sir Winston Churchill vs. The Warren. Or what I remember because, as I am writing this now, I just realised I graduated junior high almost a decade ago. Wow.

Edited caveat: Tom Baines and Churchill were both academic schools in the more affluent part of Calgary whereas the Warren is in one of the poorer districts of the greater London area in one of the struggling schools. I think this difference kind of matters.

Class Sets

Students don’t actually do this.

Canada: The classes you get (especially in junior high) are randomised. You’ll get higher ability students mixed with lower ability students. This becomes slightly less so in high school when you consider there being differing levels of Math and English (e.g. Pure Math vs. Applied Math).

UK: Students are stratified by ability, with a few things that might shift where they are in their classes. Essentially this puts all the high ability students in the upper tier classes (called ‘sets’), and then dependent on your grades, you’re always put into classes with other students of similar ability.

Looking at the UK system of stratifying students by sets, it makes sense in some ways: it makes planning lessons a bit easier because all of your students are on the same level. You don’t have to worry about crafting lessons that can connect with students in a mixed ability level class. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well in reality. If you have bright students with poor behaviour (which affects their grades), they’ll eventually get shifted downwards. This either causes them to continue to behave poorly or to start thinking that they’re not that strong of a student because they’re in a bottom set. Another issue this creates is a bit of unnecessary pressure as students are always worrying about which set they’re in and trying to clamour their way to the top,

Student Motivation

I guess he really likes carrots.

Canada: Self-motivated. That, or because I was self-motivated in class, I would associate with those that were also self-motivated. But on a whole, the schools I studied in had students that either wanted to learn just for the sake of learning, or studied because they have higher aspirations

UK: Varied. In your lower set classes (which are the classes I have to teach), the students often don’t care about being in your class and are only motivated by certain punishments of sorts. Your higher set classes do see students that want to achieve and want to do well.

I know this isn’t exactly the case for either Canada nor UK as a whole, but the experiences in my classes do see that in general the students in Canada are more self-motivated compared to the ones that I teach in the UK. In some ways this serves as a good motivator to make really interesting lessons because the students don’t care otherwise. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work because some material does lend itself to being taught well in a dry manner. That or I just haven’t thought of a good way of teaching it yet.

Student Behaviour

It really wasn’t, unfortunately

Canada: Well-behaved. Again, very skewed based on my schools, also especially since I was taking the higher level academic courses (Pure Math, all the xx-1 level English / Social Studies, specific Sciences, etc), meaning I’d be surrounded with like-minded students that want to learn. But the students just… behaved. I mean, it’s not always going to be lessons that are enjoyed (e.g. I didn’t always find English or SS to be particularly interesting), but I’d still listen, take notes, not cause a disruption.

UK: Quite varied. Very student dependent, but unless students are constantly engaged in some manner or you’re on top of them to be doing their work or taking notes, you will have nigh constant disruptions from certain students in class. They don’t care about their learning, they don’t care about the learning of those around them, which is rather unfortunate because you can’t teach them and it disrupts your teaching of those around them. This leads to you having to use punishments to keep students in line, either detentions, yelling, referral to department head / year heads etc.

This one is rough to deal with in several ways. I’m not used to unmotivated students; I’m not used to having to deal with 2/3s of my class causing disruptions (2 or 3 students, sure, but 15-20 is a nightmare); I’m aversed to yelling / punishment (negative reinforcement). A short sum of this is: I am having a terrible time with behaviour in my classrooms.

What does all of this mean though? Unfortunately, it may not mean much. Again, depending on the school / country, etc., there’s going to be massive differences on how students behave or how classes are set. On a practical sense, it’s preparing both me and Andrea for different types of classrooms and giving us a new set of tools and skills to use. On a current and realistic sense, it does mean that teaching right now in the UK for us is quite rough. You cannot let up with your discipline on the students because they will take advantage of it. It’s a change that I’m personally having difficulties dealing with because I have a rather casual teaching style (and I’m terrible with conflicts). That combination makes it difficult in confront students and ensuring their poor behaviour doesn’t continue.

In any case, we’ve made it through one term (15/39 weeks!) and the opening of the second term is fast approaching. It’s a fresh start with students and teachers coming in from winter break, so it’ll be a good opportunity to establish boundaries and rules in the classroom.

But let’s make this useful with a handful of tips to takeaway to improve your classroom:

  • Well-planned lessons – Good flow / progression in the class will keep students on task and prevent issues arising
  • Set boundaries and rules – Students need to know what these are and what happens if they step out of line
  • Be consistent – Meshes with the first point, otherwise you’ll lose the boundaries set and things deteriorate
  • Be fair – Things happen, students are people too, take the context into account
  • Positivity – I’ve seen positivity work really well with troublesome students (e.g. praising even the bare minimal work, which is better than no work at all)
  • Shout only when you need to – To preserve your voice and to make it a more effective tool

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