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Sharpened Pencils

The end of this week finds us with Open House out of the way and the opportunity to have met our wonderful parents, and being delighted with sharpened pencils. More on sharpened pencils soon. Now to share about my classroom, as promised this week. I have a very big room with two big white boards and a lot of floor space considering I only need 14 student desks. The class is evenly divided with 7 girls and 7 boys. No one is identified with a learning challenge. They all came in at minimum first grade level reading and math, four are near 2nd grade level in both reading and math. The writing is not at the usual California standard but they have not been taught with a consistent broken line format. Also you need to remember, these students go to Arabic lessons where they are learning to write in Arabic and from right to left starting in what we consider the back of the journal. I will interject what a shame it is that we do not have everyone of our students in the States taking a second language beginning in Kindergarten. Also we do not require students in the States to have actual lessons in proper grammar in writing and speech. Although the native language is Egyptian Arabic, the students have to learn the proper and formal ways of communication beyond the normal everyday communication. In fact, let me just go through what a typical week is for me.

We teach Sunday through Thursday. I have to be in my room at 8:00, instruction beginning at 8:15. There is one recess during the day and it is 9:50-10:05. I have a specialist 10:50-11:35 each day. Two days music, two days art, and one day of PE in this time slot. The specialist’s facilities are fully equipped for their areas of expertise. The PE is concentrating on swimming and the children actually are receiving swimming lessons in our campus pool. Lunch is 11:50-12:35. On Wednesdays, they have the other day of PE, 12:35-1:25. Sunday-Wednesday, 1:25-2:10, are the Arabic lessons. (They also receive homework from this class.) On Sunday – 2:20-3:00 is Library with the head librarian giving them a lesson on library skills. On Wednesday – 2:25-3:00 is Information Technology, again in the elementary IT lab. My teaching assistant brings our children in each morning, takes them to recess, brings them in again, takes them to and from all specialists and lunch, then walks them to the private van line and then to the guard gate for dismissal. Children must come and go through security guards upon arrival and dismissal.

Even though my students have private drivers, nannies, and may pay for private van service, they are considered from middle class to wealthy. Servants are a way of life in Egypt. Not only do people have cooks, servants, etc. we as teachers have quickly become accustomed to big and little luxuries of teaching here at Schutz American School. When we got a box of pencils in the US, we knew we needed to sharpen them for the students or find someone to help get them sharpened. Not here, they come from the factories sharpened. They are made in Pakistan and Germany, with the German pencils having little raised bumps for automatic grip. The beauty of sharpened pencils! The graphite is a higher quality, too. They do not break easily, stay very sharp, and no pencils without the center being in the center. True quality!

If I have a need, I simply email and within an hour, sometimes minutes, I have someone finding out what is needed. I wanted better chairs for the kidney-shaped table. Old chairs removed and nice little newly varnished chairs brought in within 24 hours. The students wash their hands in our classroom using real soap (no hand sanitizers allowed in this classroom). I needed hooks for their personal little hand towels. Within an hour of the request, they were installed. It is unbelievable. I need a date stamp, simply send an email to purchasing and voila, date stamp ordered! Copies – made by the copy center, just an email away.

On top of all of this is my awesome teaching assistant, Ingy. She is actually like a co-teacher. We partner in this classroom all day. Because she sees the students in the Specialists’ classrooms, and at recesses, she has been extremely insightful about behavior or patterns. When I have parent conferences, she helps if translation is needed. We actually conference together as she is my second pair of eyes and she can clarify any concern. We actually share one desk and computer! She is here from 8-4 every single day. I am very spoiled by her and the expertise she brings to the classroom. I can trust her to instruct in reading and math! English is mandatory on campus and she helps enforce this at all times. She always uses proper English, as well. No slang, ever!

You need to know all is not a bed of roses as outside my classroom there are the usual cliques and groups, such as is with any community. There are those who think they have certain expertise, or know everything or think an idea is new when it is very, very old and actually out-of-date, but that is in any educational setting. The good far outweighs the not-do-good. Guess with age and experience I have learned to just go on knowing what really works for kids and using those methods.

All of the above are joys and blessings about teaching in Alexandria at Schutz. You just have no idea how excited I was to find the boxes of sharpened pencils. As a side note, Jim had a test in PE and went early to get his boxes of pencils. You guessed it, he had to let me know right away he found them all nice and sharp ready to use. The little experiences of life…

Living the crazy life,


One comment on “Sharpened Pencils

  1. Hi Sherry! Loved reading your posts…..I can identify about good quality pencils..one of the insurance vendors gave me some pencils once and I made such a big “to-do” about them that I get boxes every year….not only is the lead good, the erasers are great, rubbery, clean, minimal junk from erasing AND I love to do directed drawings (like Ed Emerberly) with them, so we use alot of erasers up, but the kids have some great drawings…yes, you are right, the small things in life! Take it easy, my friend!

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