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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teaching in Dublin

Colleen Hughes
October 15, 2014

Hello from Dublin!

Although we've been here since Sept. 1, our placement in Dublin just got sorted out. In the past two weeks, I've been able to be at St. Andrew's College primary school for two mornings! I am teaching in P5, which is a fifth grade classroom, which is a much different placement from any experience I've had. I have taught preschool through a volunteer program as well as sophomores and juniors during my pre-prac at Brighton High, but this is my first elementary school level prac. So far I've enjoyed it immensely!

St. Andrew's is a private school in a suburb from Dublin, about a 20 minute walk from UCD's campus. It's a relatively small school, with 1300 students from preschool through grade 12. The classroom I'm in has 21 students, which they consider to be a smaller classroom. There are many international students there, as well as Irish students, because the school has ties to the embassies in and around Dublin. A lot of the parents working in the embassies send their children to St. Andrew's. If they are American, there is a separate class for American Studies, which the kids go to a few times per week while the Irish students have instruction in the Irish language.

As soon as I walked in to St. Andrew's, you could tell you were not in a typical American private elementary school. There is an emphasis on learning for the sake of learning, rather than teaching to an inflexible curriculum or standardized tests. My CT has her students write down the things that they want to learn whenever they begin a new unit. She explained that she does this because everyone is interested in different things and has different ideas about how to learn the material. Often in the US, especially in public schools, there is little opportunity for this kind of individualized instruction.

The school has many resources, and all of the children in the primary school take PE, art, choir, Irish (or American Studies), and the standard core subjects. Additionally, they receive instruction in a musical instrument (violin, cello, bass) and take either French or Spanish. Clearly, there are myriad opportunities and activities to promote learning in various ways. The students in my classroom are bright and inquisitive, and are always eager to show off their most recent project or piece of writing! They have a blog, a class twitter account, and penpals all around the world. It is exciting to observe how much they love learning and communicating their abilities to me, their teacher, and to other students.

Today we got to speak to the headmaster of the whole school. He was incredibly welcoming and we spent half an hour speaking to him in his office. He told us about teaching and directing other schools in multiple countries, and gave us some chocolate when we left! One thing that I enjoyed hearing about was that he got his degree in engineering, went right into teaching, and never looked back. He said that he loves working with young people and appreciates how his job allows him to make a direct impact on someone' s life. It further reinforced my desire to become a teacher, because he articulated exactly the reasons why I first thought about majoring in education. 

I'm looking forward to going back to St. Andrew's on Friday, it has become my favorite part of the week!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spanish Culture in the Classroom

October 13, 2014 

Amy Haskell

So far, I have spent three days in Colegio Highlands Los Fresnos and each of the three days I have been there I have noticed many differences between the Spanish and American school systems. Some of the differences between the methodologies of the schools are positive and others are negative, but I think observing and experiencing these differences while completing my international pre-practicum in Madrid will vastly shape who I am as a teacher. 

For a bit of background knowledge, I am placed in a primary school in the suburbs of Madrid. The school is Catholic, and not having taught in a school with a religious affiliation before, this was one of the biggest differences that I have experienced so far. Throughout the day I move from class to class, starting with fourth grade boys to second grade girls, to fifth grade boys, and ending with sixth grade girls. The school is bilingual, meaning that 50% of the student's education is in English and the other 50% in Spanish, but I am placed only in the classes taught in English.

From my first day in Madrid, I have noticed many cultural differences, and now having spent several days working in a Spanish school I have seen how these cultural differences have carried into schools. Some big differences are that the students all wear uniforms (different uniforms depending on their age), the students all call the teachers by their name prefix and their first name (for example: Miss Amy or Mr. Richard) instead of by last name, and the students all stand up when a teacher or faculty member enters a room. 

One of the most notable, surface level differences I have noticed includes the schedule of the day. The school day starts at nine am and ends at five pm, which is about two hours longer than the typical American school day, depending the school, of course. The start time of the school is much later, but this reflects the Spanish schedule-- most Spanish people do not eat until at least nine pm and do not go to bed until much later, even children-- so their days start and end later than ours do. Also, the day starts at nine and the teachers then have a half-hour long coffee break at eleven, where we are given coffee, juice, bread, cold cuts, cookies and pastries. This is a very typical part of the Spanish day, which is very unfamiliar to me because I am used to working in a school where a ten minute break to eat a piece of fruit we packed for ourselves is a luxury. We then have another two hours of class and then have a two-hour lunch break where we are served a three-course meal. This is also a very notable cultural difference, the fact that teachers and students are given all of their meals for free. This may partially be the result of the fact that the school is private, but also the result of the fact that food is a huge part of Spanish culture. Many students who live close enough to the school go home during the two-hour break to eat with their families. It is important that everyone has a long time to eat, talk, digest, and relaxed. Twenty-minute working lunches are not a part of the Spanish routine. 

This schedule change is one of the most positive differences that I have noticed. The students have plenty of time to go outside and play throughout the day and to spend time with their friends. You can always feel how much lower the restless energy is when you come back to class after the students have had a nice long break; meanwhile a lot of the day is packed tighter in the American school system. I think that valuing relaxation and physical education is very important, and I really like how it is done at the Colegio Highlands.

Another notable difference is the fact that boys and girls are separated in class. Each grade has two classes, one for boys and one for girls and they never mix throughout primary school. This is a system that I have noticed has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, the girls’ classrooms are much calmer than in other schools I have worked in where they have boys to distract them. Boys and girls are often at different developmental stages so it can be difficult to have them all in the same classroom. However, the fourth and fifth grade boys' classrooms that I work in are very hectic and the teachers have very little control over their classroom. I do not think that this is the result of the teachers' lack of training or capabilities, as both the teachers are well seasoned and experienced, I jus think that having a class of twenty-five ten and eleven year old boys is unrealistic. I think that this could work if the classes were divided into higher and lower levels so the groups were smaller, but most of the time the boys all are very distracted by one another and they get embarrassed about speaking English in front of one another. I think that this could work, but it is not necessarily functioning properly in this particular case. 

One other interesting difference that I have noticed is the bilingual education system at Colegio Highlands. Most of the English teachers are Spanish people that did their studies at English-speaking immersion schools, mostly in the British education system. But, although these teachers are Spanish, the students are all told that the teachers are native English speakers from Great Britain. So, as far as the students know these teachers do not speak a word of Spanish. Although I am American and speak English, I am also near fluent in Spanish, but I was told on my first day at Colegio Highlands that I am not supposed to tell the students that I speak any Spanish at all. The director, the person who told me this, said that if I tell the students that I speak Spanish then they will only want to speak Spanish to me and in their English classes the students are supposed to be using English only. Having now spent some time in the school, I think that I do not necessarily love this rule. Sometimes I feel as though it is good because the students are forced to use their English. However, there have been times when the students are really struggling and I feel as though it would be better to have them tell me the word or phrase in Spanish and then have me explain it to them in English so that we can work through it together. Of course, I am not trained in bilingual education so I do not know what the proper technique is, but I just feel like sometimes the students give up because they are unable to express themselves, or they might benefit from comparing the words and phrases in both English and Spanish.

To wrap up this post, I feel as though I am taking away a lot from being able to see this school system and the way that things are taught in Spain and at this particular school. There have been a lot of methods and practices that I want to use and combine with those of the American school system, and others that I don't want to use at all, but I think this is really helping to shape my teaching style. I look forward to going back again and learning more!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

First Day at Manorcroft, a Traditional British School

This past Friday I had my first day of student teaching at Manorcroft Primary School in Egham, Surrey.  I was in a state of constant amazement all day just observing and soaking in everything that was going on.  Although there is no big language difference between British and American schools, there is a huge cultural difference.  I am positive I will adjust to the “new culture,” but right now everything about the British classroom is very new and exciting.  A typical American school day is very different than a day at Manorcroft, which is why doing this international pre-practicum is going to be such an interesting experience.
            The classroom I’m placed in is a Year 2 class, which is the American equivalent of first grade. There are 31 students in the class, which is taught by Ms. Cornick, and a teaching assistant. However, the teaching assistants do not work on Fridays, which is the day that I am at Manorcroft.  The school day began with Ms. Cornick, taking the register.  She says, “good morning” to each individual student, and s/he is expected to respond with, “good morning.” At that moment, and throughout the day, I noticed that school in general is much more proper and formal than it is in America.  After the register, there was a great deal of time spent on reading and literacy.  From the decorations around the room and from seeing the timetable, it was clear to me that Manorcroft gives a great deal of instruction on literacy and considers it to be the most important subject.  One of the most surprising parts of the day occurred when students returned from playtime outside and had 15 minutes of “cutting skills.”  During this time, students had to practice properly cutting out squares of various sizes after Ms. Demonstrated that students rotate the paper when cutting as opposed to turning and twisting their arms.  Having instruction on such a task goes to show that British educators want students to learn the “proper” way of doing things.   
            From observing the entire day in Ms. Cornick’s classroom, a couple things stuck out to me as being very different from the American culture.  Unlike in America, where students will whine, “I wasn’t using that” when asked to tidy up, students in 2C had a much better attitude about it.  Even if it was not their mess, students simply picked up or threw out anything around them.  And when their table was clean, they went to other tables or got on their hands and knees to clean up there too.
Additionally, I noticed that the students, at least in Ms. Cornick’s class, had really good relationships with each other.  All day long I noticed students helping and assisting each other whenever possible in small and big ways.  For example, a student asked me how to spell a word, and before I could answer, the student sitting next to her showed her that I had already written out that word on the white board.  Students were constantly offering to put others’ books and notebooks away for them.  This is something that I seldom see while in American classrooms. I did not see a single student conflict all day long.  While there are many reasons for why the students get along so well, one reason could be the fact that students are forced to build relationships during their playtime.  Unlike most American schools, there is no play structure or swings at Manorcroft.  Instead, there are just three big cement areas.  With no other option, students have to play with each other, engaging in sports or imaginative play.  I spent about 30 minutes simply watching students run around with each other having tons of fun.  They did not need to be entertained by tire swings or slides; they entertained themselves.  I believe that it is all this bonding time that contributes to such a positive classroom experience.
            Some of the most interesting and entertaining parts of the day were my interactions with students.  At one point, some of the boys were talking about football clubs and when I asked them, “Which club should I support?” they all erupted with different team names, “Manchester United,” “Chelsea,” “Spurs,” and “Belgium.”  There was some banter between the boys and some of the kids were saying things like, “No no, Chelsea’s rubbish.”  Football (soccer) is something that people in England have really strong opinions about, and so it was really funny seeing these young boys get so heated about the teams they supported.  Another funny instance came when I was telling a boy how a trash bin is called the “trash” in America instead of “the bin.”  A couple minutes later when Ms. Cornick told everyone to tidy up, he says to me, “I’m going to throw this in the trash.” I asked him why he said trash instead of bin, and he said, “I’m saying it the American way.”  I always believed the stereotype that British people don’t like the American accent because it sounds uneducated and harsh. But, from my time in England so far, I’ve learned that the stereotype is not quite true, and that the British are almost as fascinated with the American way of saying things as we are with British accents.
            Overall, I had an amazing first day at Manorcroft; I LOVE it there!  I am so excited to go back next Friday and to continue building relationships with all the students in Ms. Cornick’s class.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

South African Culture & The Classroom

(In case you missed my first post from August - http://bcteachabroad.blogspot.com/2014/08/grahamstown-south-africa.html

I cannot believe I am already over half way through my time in South Africa! I have visited each school eight times so far, and while it can be time-consuming, I thoroughly enjoy both placements! Victoria Primary and The Good Shepherd School teach me so much about South African culture.

My visits to VP and Good Shepherd have taught me that religion is very important to most South Africans. While both schools are not religiously affiliated, VP and Good Shepherd have a strong Christian ethos. Even in public schools like VP and Good Shepherd, prayer is incorporated into the daily routine. Staff members are expected to lead students in prayers before meals. This is one of my favorite parts of visiting Victoria Primary! Every day before snack the Grade R girls are told, “Line up, hands together, eyes closed”. Then in unison they sing a little prayer…

Thank you Father, thank you Father,
For our food, for our food,
And our many blessing, and our many blessing.
Amen. Amen.

Then they repeat the prayer in Afrikaans and isiXhosa. It is the sweetest thing to see the little girls singing together! Instead of having everyone sing separately in their first languages, they sing all three versions together.

Language is another major way that South African culture is reflected in these schools. Most of the students are bilingual here. Nearly all of the students from Good Shepherd do not speak English at home. I am in the English classroom at Good Shepherd, so the teacher must constantly remind the students to speak in English. All of the teachers at Good Shepherd speak Afrikaans. In the staff room it can be hard for me to keep up with the conversation switching between English and Afrikaans. My CT, Mrs. Herring, is nice and will usually translate if I look confused. At Victoria Primary, the teachers incorporate the other languages into the curriculum through Afrikaans and isiXhosa lessons.

In both schools, it is clear that the children are taught to respect their elders. Whenever a teacher enters a classroom, the students rise and greet the adult. In the hallways, students from other classes refer to me as “mam”. At my first pre-practicum in Newton, the students realized that I was only a student teacher. They knew that they could get away with things when I was in charge. While they did treat me with respect, I do notice a difference in South Africa. Here, the students listen and follow all of my instructions as if I am their real teacher.

Tea time is another cultural difference I would love to bring back home! In the U.S. teachers typically have free time during the day for two reasons: planning and lunch. Here, the teachers’ tea time is just a short 10 to 15 minute break in mid-morning. It really helps everyone start the day right. Both schools’ staff rooms are stocked with tea, coffee, and rooibos (a decaffeinated herbal tea, native to South Africa) for the teachers to enjoy. I use this time to talk to my CTs about what has happened in the class during the week. Other times they help me finalize lesson plans.

When I arrived in South Africa, I had to adjust to “African time”. South Africans are much more relaxed about time. It is not uncommon for events to start late, or for things to go overtime. At Victoria Primary, my Grade R girls stay in the same classroom all day so it is easier to stay on schedule. At Good Shepherd though, there is a very complicated 10 day schedule in which grades 4 through 7 rotate classrooms and subjects. I use this schedule when I plan my lessons. For example, I usually go on Day 5 & Day 10 of this cycle (Fridays). On Day 10s, I am supposed to see half of Grade 5, then the other half of Grade 5, all of Grade 7, and half of Grade 6. This means I need to plan three 45 minute lessons. However, I need to bring enough materials to account for the different class sizes and repeating the Grade 5 lesson. After planning these very specific lessons, my plans typically go out the window when I arrive at Good Shepherd! Even though there are bells signalling the end of a class, the schedule is rarely followed. Lessons are always shorter than expected because students take a while to switch classes. With the complicated schedule, students often don’t understand where they are supposed to go. Sometimes other teachers will hold whole classes behind to finish an assignment, cutting into my time with the students. One time, another teacher took all of Grade 7 on a field trip to a museum down the street without warning. This was something I was not used to! In the U.S. teachers are forced to stick to much tighter schedules, and field trips take months of preparation. When I first started going to Good Shepherd, I would get annoyed over schedule changes and loss of instruction time. I spent valuable time planning lessons, and did not want them to go to waste! Now, I have definitely gotten used to African time. I have learned to plan more flexible lessons with multiple stopping points. I think to myself: If we have 20 minutes, I will end the lesson here. If we have 30 minutes, I can stop here. I also see each week as an opportunity to gain experience lesson planning, even if I do not have the opportunity to actually teach the lesson. The fluctuating schedule used to make me stressed. Now, I am much more easy-going. I know that the important things will get done when they need to get done.  

The biggest way that I see South African culture at my placements, is by how welcomed I have been at both schools! Both of my CTs have been so kind and welcoming. My students always seem so happy to see me. I cannot express how excited I am to go the schools every Thursday and Friday! This week, both schools are off for midterm break, and I miss them already! I dread the goodbyes that are only six weeks away! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Austrian School System and Culture

Hello from Vienna, Austria! I have spent the last two Mondays as an English teacher in a second grade classroom at the Offene Volksschule Märzstraße. This is a public elementary school in the 14th district of Vienna. My class consists of 22 Austrian students, most of whom speak very little English. Conveniently I know very little German, so it has been an adventure learning to find a middle ground in which to teach and communicate with my students.

I am lucky enough to be participating in a course alongside my practicum. This course is taught by a woman named Heidi, who taught in the Austrian school system for 30 years and who has become an Austrian mom to all of us participating in the practicum experience. Before we started at our placements, we learned about the Austrian school system and cultural differences in the schools. One of the major differences is that the Austrians are very open. Students (particularly secondary students) will ask you very personal questions that would seem highly inappropriate in an American classroom, and teachers are allowed to answer them honestly and openly. Additionally, grades are announced to the class so that all students know what grades other students received. One other difference we talked about is the open frame curriculum. Teachers have a broad frame of topics the students need to have mastered by the end of the year, but they can go about accomplishing those goals however they please. This means that is a lesson does not go the way it was planned Austrian teachers go with the flow and let the course change paths as long as in the end the students are learning the material. In someways I see similarities in this in the American school system. But overall, I feel like at home teachers feel pressured to stick to a schedule and that they are always falling behind what they are supposed to be doing or teaching if a day of class does not go as planned. Lastly, a cultural difference that I found very interesting was the idea that cheating is not entirely frowned upon. If a teacher catches you, you will be penalized. But, teachers accept that students will inevitably cheat and see it as teamwork and helping out someone who you know is not as strong in one subject as you are. This mentality is far different then the attitude towards cheating in the United States.

The first thing that stood out to me when I observed the Austrian classroom was the effect of Austrian culture on the culture of the classroom.The Austrians are very neat and clean people (as reflected in Vienna's always clean and well organized streets and public transportation). This came through first thing when I saw the organization of the classroom. Students come in and first thing change into different shoes for the school day (mostly crocs and birkenstocks). Then they each have a place to hang their jacket in a cubby. The two person desks are organized in rows. Each student has a hook next to their desk to hang their backpack. I think this is an awesome idea and makes access to backpacks much easier then if they were in a cubby. At each desk the student has a big place mat they brought in from home. This is great for when they have art and then each student is responsible for cleaning off their own mat using a sponge from the sink and little brushes they have to sweep away dust. This brings me to the difference I noticed the most in the classroom. In Austria there is a lot of trust and responsibility given to the people. For example, the public transportation system is very convenient and well run. But it is run on the  honor system. So you do not need to scan a ticket every time you go in the underground. They just expect you to be truthful and buy a ticket and not just ride for free. While they do make checks for tickets every once and a while when you get off the train, there is a huge amount of trust and responsibility given to the people. This attitude is reflected in the classroom. Students are very independent. Teachers do not do as much disciplining as they do in the United States, so students can get a little more rowdy or physical with each other. But, because the students are given the freedom to act as they want, they respect when it is time to stop and they respond very well when teachers do discipline students. Boundaries are set and are left to be respected rather then constantly reinforced, and students react well to this culture. Lastly, Vienna is and has always been centered around the arts. This value for the arts shines through in the school system. Each student has an art box with their individual supplies in the classroom. They frequently have art lessons and sing everyday in the classroom. This emphasis on the arts is an area in which I can see that American schools would like to have the same enthusiasm, but frequently lack the funding and support.
So far I have been loving my experience in the classroom and seeing the affect on culture on the schools and the differences between American and Austrian school culture. I am excited to continue to get to know my students, my CT, and my school! Auf Wiedersehen!