Life at Thomas Mills High School, Framlingham

The 8th week of my work experience at Thomas Mills High School, Framlingham has just ended. How time flies! In this blog entry I will give a few insights into everyday life at  school.

Thomas Mills High School is a secondary school which teaches pupils from year 7 to year 12. This means all students have the possibility to do their GSCE which is comparable with the German Realschulabschluss. After that they have the choice whether they would like to start an apprenticeship or do their A-levels.

For the pupils the school day starts at 9 o’clock, which I think is a quite pleasant time. However, in contrast to Germany, the first period doesn’t start with the first ring of the bell. First of all the students either have registration in the classroom with their form teacher or they start their school day in the main hall with an assembly, in which it is highlighted, how important it is to be a part of the community. This means, the first period starts at around half 9. For me, who had always been used to starting the first period at 8, it is rather comfortable, however, at the beginning I must admit it felt a bit like wasted time. Now I enjoy having  time in the morning to prepare lessons and getting myself ready for the school day.

One period lasts 50 minutes with a 15-minute break at 11:05 and a lunch break at 1, that lasts an hour. So altogether a school day has 6 periods and ends at 3:45.

Coming now to my school day, I should first point out that I really like being a language assistant at Thomas Mills. My day comprises of  a range of different tasks and duties. First and foremost I support the German lessons, which means on the one hand being a personal assistant of the German teachers but on the other hand to help certain pupils during the lesson and to familiarize them with authentic German language. Occasionally at the beginning of a period a particular group of students will follow me into my language tuition room, where they get the chance to improve their communication skills. In my opinion it’s a great opportunity, since they rarely get the chance to speak in German for a whole period. In addition, it slowly but surely stills the fear of saying something in German in the classroom.

I also have face-to-face sessions with the seven A-level students in German. As far as I can see, the students undoubtedly benefit from these sessions, since, with respect to their usual lessons, the objective is now to foster their fluency rather than their accuracy. For them it’s very often their first real chance to just communicate and start to feel themselves confident in speaking in a foreign language.

I must admit, that it’s really interesting to see how English students learn German. My whole life I have  been used to being the pupil learning English as a foreign language, now it’s the other way around. It’s funny how they occasionally have just the same problems that I had at school, mainly when it comes to ‘false friends’. Hence, English students, for instance, tend to use the German word ‘bekommen’ when they actually mean ‘to become’. I remember how years ago I used ‘to become’ when I actually meant ‘to get’. I think my sessions with English students are absolutely a win-win situation, since the students as well as myself benefit. Especially, because it’s not just them being faced with authentic German language, but also me being confronted with colloquial English language and expressions that I’ve probably never learned in any English lessons at school.

A place where I also get the opportunity to improve my communication skills is the canteen. It opens its door at 1 and offers tasty food, regularly including traditional English food like Yorkshire pudding or flapjack. There I can learn typical idioms used in everyday life. As an example, if someone now asks me for example whether I want to have a piece of chocolate I will answer: ‘Is the pope catholic?’ which suggests  that I unquestionably want to have chocolate.

In my opinion, the staff rooms in German schools differ from those in their English counterparts. This doesn’t mean the locality itself, but the way it is organised. In Germany, staff rooms just serve the purpose of having  a place where teachers can spend their break and have a chat with colleagues. English staff rooms in contrast resemble open-plan offices because every teacher has their own desk with shelves on top of it. I’ve noticed that lots of teachers prefer to come earlier and leave school later so that they don’t need to do any work at home. On the one hand I think it’s a really good idea to offer each teacher their own personal space in the staff room but on the other hand I feel it may affect the atmosphere during the break in a negative way, because some teacher will sit there concentrating on work, whereas others just want to get a coffee and talk to colleagues. However, this may differ from school to school.

An aspect which is quite common at British schools is the importance of departments. German schools also have departments for every subject, but I have the impression that here the particular departments work much closer together and upcoming issues or topics are first of all addressed to the head of department instead of the head teacher. This definitely has its advantages but it also prevents teachers from having contact to other staff.

After my first few days at Thomas Mills I recognised something, completely different to German schools: bicycle stands. They barely exist because no one cycles to school. Pupils either walk or come by bus, possibly because  there are nearly no cycle ways, this should be improved in my view.

Another difference which I haven’t mentioned yet is school uniforms.

All in all I must say, that I’m glad to be spending  my work experience abroad at Thomas Mills High School, Framlingham. From the first day onwards, I felt welcome and it is a great opportunity for me to see how a school works in a different country. I also think that my time in England makes me more aware of the different burdens one has to overcome when it comes to learning a foreign language, which serves as a good experience considering that at one point I will be responsible for several English classes myself.



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