First weeks as a new staff member

Sudbury schools don’t divide their students by age, they don’t test or grade their students, and the teachers don’t teach unless asked to do so by the students. That’s why my job title is “staff member”, not “teacher”. In this post I want to share how my first weeks went.

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Students decide what they do with their time.

First of all, starting to work at a Sudbury school was very different from starting to work at any other place I have worked at. Nobody told me what to do, and there was no formal event at the beginning of the school year ‒ everybody just started doing what they always do in school: talking to friends, playing computer games, running outside, serving on Judicial Committee (the conflict-resolution body of the school), playing piano, cooking… See also this blog entry. In a way, this was similar to my visit this past spring, but this time, I was a paid staff member. I started walking around, trying to start conversations here and there. I felt disoriented and insecure, wondering if what I was doing was “right”.

“What do Sudbury staff do?” “They build relationships of trust with the students, and they ensure smooth operations of the school.”

Since my visit to Diablo Valley School this March, I traveled across the USA and Canada, visited five other Sudbury schools, worked on organic farms, and went to the AERO education conference. Along the way, hundreds of people have asked me “What do Sudbury staff do all day?” My usual answer was: “They build relationships of trust with the students, and they ensure smooth operations of the school.” Now was the time to practise what I preached. I started with learning names, trying to remember which students are siblings, who are best friends. When students asked me to go off-campus with them, my answer was

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Playing Rockband and other console games.

“Yes!” (at DVS, students under 13 can leave the school with a staff member, students 13 and older can go alone.. most go to shops across the road). If someone needed help getting on top of the fridge, or asked me if I want to join a game, my answer was “Yes!” But how could I serve the school beyond that? In the clerkship elections, I ran for and got voted Attendance Clerk ‒ this means that now I have to check daily if all students are at the school, or if they called in sick, and keep track of their attendance in a spreadsheet. Basically, every important job in the school is a clerkship, like overseeing finances, maintaining the buildings etc., some are held by students, and some by staff members. Also, I participated in meetings of the Fun Corporation (organizing field trips), the Tech Corporation (managing the computers for the students), the Admissions Committee (where we do interviews with interested students and their parents, and decide if we want them at our school) and the PR committee (we just sent a letter of support to Sudbury Schule Ammersee which was closed by the government). Now I feel that I am contributing, that I am doing something useful for the community. I am beginning to find my place in the school.

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Also, I carved my first pumpkin for Halloween. Oh, and I have red hair now.

I liked what another staff member said to me about beginning to work at a Sudbury school: She finds it very important that new staff go through this period of disorientation because then we can better imagine what it feels like to be a new student here. Also, I am very happy that I share this experience with Chelsea, who is another new staff this year ‒ we exchange thoughts a lot. I am very thankful to staff members Anne-Martine, Vicente and Sam for their patience and readiness to answer thousands of questions, to all the students that made my first days less weird by inviting me to play, and to all parents for their trust in new staff members!

My next post will explain what the educational idea behind a Sudbury school is and why we do things the way we do. If you can’t wait, your questions are possibly answered in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the Diablo Valley School Website.

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