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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Language and Lifestyle in Rome

I am so excited to be working with The American Overseas School of Rome this semester. The warm, familiar nature of the school culture provides an extremely welcoming environment that has made my experience of coming to a new school alone very easy. My SP is absolutely amazing and her style of teaching perfectly aligns with the style and techniques that I strive to model when in the classroom myself. I am also especially excited because this is my first experience in a middle school classroom! Since I chose teaching as my career, I have always wanted to teach at a middle school level but have not had the opportunity yet through the pre prac program. Therefore, I am excited about experiencing a new age group and comparing it to my experiences with high school. 

However, since arriving at AOSR I have had a hard time deciphering whether or not the differences that I am observing should be attributed to the Italian education system and culture, the middle school grade level, or the fact that AOSR is a private school. There are several independent variables and therefore it is difficult to make definitive statements about teaching in America versus teaching in Italy, but I hope to provide some examples of differences that I have noticed. 

The most obvious of these difference lies in language. AOSR is composed of a mix between Italian students that speak proficient English (usually because of their parents) and American students who have moved to Italy because of their parent's work. Because of this, students are occasionally joining or leaving the school. I notice that as the students enter the classroom at the beginning of the day they all speak Italian to each other. However, once the lesson begins everything is conducted in English. The students are good about maintaining their English in class, however, whenever they get overstimulated by something that has been said they will speak to their peers in Italian. Although my SP must then calm them down and restore order in the lesson she does not seem to mind the occasional dual language in her classroom. 

Despite some language barriers, I love that the AOSR students are very eager to learn and seem to love going here. While most students speak English fluently, some students are definitely more hesitant to participate because it takes them a little bit longer than usual to articulate what they want to say. Since there is such a mix in participation from these students, my SP employs cold calling throughout her class. In the past I have discussed the pros and cons of this technique with my various supervisors and SPs. My reservations towards using it have always involved the anxiety or embarrassment that it causes certain students. However, in this classroom the students seem very comfortable with the style and are always prepared to answer when called upon. It also prevents these eager students from completely overshadowing the less participatory students. Because these students are only in 6th grade, they definitely struggle with not calling out in class. Whenever a student calls out the answer, my SP always gently reminds him or her that calling out is not polite and then calls on another student to answer. This helps students learn that even if their answer is right, they must first and foremost adhere to the rules of the classroom and respect their peers and their teacher. This positive experience with this teaching technique certainly makes me more confident and comfortable with the idea of cold calling in my own lessons. 

Another one of the many reasons that I feel so at home at this school is because my SP has sufficient time to show me around the school, introduce me the the other faculty, sit down to talk with me. As compared to my past pre prac experiences, my SP here seems much more available to me as a student teacher and much less stressed and crunched for time. Unlike the American schools, this school has no standardized tests and no state or common core standards that they must meet. While the American teachers at my past schools would always comment on the lack of time and low pay, the teachers here in general seem so much happier with their jobs. This has furthered my opinion that the American education system needs to cut back on its standardized testing. 

Since arriving in Rome I have also noticed the importance that Italians put on work in addition to life as opposed to focusing solely on the importance of having family, health, and other non work related obligations, taking a back seat as it does in America. During the day this is shown in the Italian siesta culture where businesses close and people return home to rest between about 2:00 and 4:00. While talking to my SP I found out that the life before work lifestyle even carries over to AOSR. For example, at this school the students and the teachers take shuttles to get to and from school. The shuttle for teachers arrives at 8:30am leaves at 5:00pm and the school expects teachers to only work between those two times. Therefore, the school does not expect teachers to be staying in for lots of extra hours or taking home lots of work with them. My SP said that once she gets on the shuttle her work for the day is essentially done and she is able to go home and relax the rest of the night. AOSR definitely has a great community of teachers who all seem happy and excited to work there and it has definitely made me rethink the expectations we set for teachers in the US. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Typical Lesson in Carlos Aguilar

            Teaching lessons at Carlos Aguilar has in one way been easy and in another very challenging.  My teacher has been teaching for a really long time and definitely has a routine with how lessons go, and so it has been hard for me to feel comfortable doing things any differently.  The way she teaches does not require me to prepare much.  However, coming up with ways to add in something new that might help engage the students better that does not completely alter her style is challenging.
One of the last lessons that I taught this semester was on the different flora and fauna of the four different regions of Ecuador.  If I had all of the resources I wanted and felt very comfortable doing things completely differently, it would have been easy to come up with a fun way to get the students moving around and really learning the material.  While coming up with it might be easy, putting it together in a way that works logistically and also getting materials together would be challenging.  In a classroom of 39 students, 39 desks, 39 chairs, and hardly any space, I can see how the teacher is deterred from putting the students into groups.
I have found it challenging to feel like I am putting my knowledge and experience from BC into planning lessons for these reasons.  However, I know that some of these challenges are ones I would face in the United States as well.  As a result, I have tried to change the way I ask students questions.  This does not make a huge change in the way the lesson is run, regarding structure, so I feel very comfortable with this, but it definitely takes me thought and skill knowing how to change the questions I ask to make them more thought provoking.  I have found, however, that this small change in the lessons has truly altered the outcome.  Students have realized the need to pay attention and have learned to take their time raising their hand.
While this change has made my lessons more effective, I still sometimes walk away from lessons thinking about how it did not fully demonstrate my ability to teach.  I have realized though how important it is for me to recognize that there is no one right way to teach and that I will always have to take the culture of my school and students into consideration when teaching, no matter the country.

Inequity and Social Justice in Education in Ecuador

            Working with the students of Carlos Aguilar this semester has taught me a lot about equity, social justice, and my personal responsibilities as a member of society in general, but especially with regards to my future as an educator.  There are so many problems in the classroom and school, never mind the individual situations of each student. 
When I am in the classroom at Carlos Aguilar, I often become frustrated and think to myself, “This would never happen in a classroom in the United States.”  While to an extent that is true, after I leave and think more about the day, and specifically the moments that were hard to watch, I usually end up realizing that the problems here are not too far from the problems in education in the United States.  I could never say they are the same and I know that what might be a solution to one country’s education problem might not be the same for the others.  However, the most basic backbones of the problems are very similar. 
The social injustices in Ecuador – socially and economically – have caused a lot of inequities in the education system in Ecuador.  The first month here, I was at Colegio Menor, a bilingual private school just a few doors down from Carlos Aguilar.  That is where education students in the past have completed their international practicum and I was excited when I found out I would be in an eighth grade math class there.  As much as I wanted this excitement to finally be in a middle school math class to carry me through the semester, I was not getting a cultural experience.  Besides the fact the majority of the students were from Ecuador and that I was learning a lot about how the wealthiest kids in Ecuador are sheltered from their country’s reality, it was hardly anything different from what I could get back at BC in the United States for Student teaching.  After going back and forth about pros and cons, I decided to switch to the public school, Carlos Aguilar.
The two schools are just a block apart in distance, but the inequity between the two is astronomical.  Although I was only at Colegio Menor for a few visits, my experience there gave me a completely different perspective in Carlos Aguilar.  As I talked about in my last blog post, the students at Carlos Aguilar are unable to connect to a lot of the topics about Ecuador in science and social studies due to their lack of access to the rest of the country.  On the other hand, the majority of the students in Colegio Menor have traveled to the United States, never mind Ecuador.  These opportunities allow them to move forward academically, and on a route that limits their access to the reality of inequity in Ecuador.
Moving forward, this semester has taught me a lot about the role I want to play as a teacher in the development of communities.  In areas like Boston, there is a wide range of schools, even within the public school system.  I have realized that wherever I go, there is inequity, and I will constantly be faced with options to decide between two things, like Colegio Menor and Carlos Aguilar.  And while all schools need great teachers, it is important that I recognize the responsibility I have to consider schools that are underserved and the home to students who have very limited access.  Because for them, the classroom might be the only place where they have a chance to grow.

Culture in Carlos Aguilar

Although many of the lessons at Carlos Aguilar do not seem to be taught in the best manner, the values instilled in the social studies and science unites have really impressed me.  Ecuador is a relatively small country, but it holds one of the highest ecological biodiversity in the world.  It is on the equator (hence the country’s name) which gives the tropical weather on the coast (west side) and Amazon rainforest (east side), but also includes the Andes mountain range down the center of the country.  The fourth region is the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast.  As a result, if you were to drive through Ecuador in a day you would be passing through several difference climates, landscapes, species of plants and animals, and cultures. 

            In my fifth grade class, the majority of the science units we have covered this semester really take advantage of Ecuador’s biodiversity.  In one unit, the students learned about the different plants, birds, and animals in each region.  With this, they learned the basic terms of classifying plants, birds, and animals in general.  I also taught a lesson on meridians, and their position on the equator really helped the students understand.  While so much that was taught was based off the science of their country, it was interesting to see how many of the students were not familiar with anything outside where they lived – like the Amazon, coast, and Galapagos – because of their lack of access to travel.  Even when learning about the equator, very few students in the class of 39 had ever been to the actual equator, where there is a museum and monument.  As an exchange student in Ecuador, I obviously had more reason to travel so much more regularly than they did, but at times it felt strange knowing I had been to more regions of Ecuador than all of the students combined. 

            Besides in the social studies and science curricula, the culture of Ecuador can be seen in the relationships between the teacher and students.  In Ecuador, especially Quito, it is very common to add diminutive endings to words and names.  Also, it is common to use the words hijo and hija (daughter and son) when talking to children who are not your own.  My teacher uses these two ways of referring to people when talking to the students.  They all hug and kiss on the cheek when they say goodbye at the end of the day, and when an adult walks in the room, even if it was just because he or she was gone for a few minutes, they all stand up out of their seats and greet the person.  It is interesting how this habit is so formal, yet the relationships are so informal in other ways. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lack of Privacy With Grades in the British Classroom

Something that took me completely surprise at the Rokeby School was the complete lack of privacy with students’ grades. The first class I observed had a teacher place a breakdown of every student’s grade and where they stand in the class directly on the board. My first thought would be that some students may be embarrassed by seeing their low grades next to other students who were excelling, but actually these struggling students were turning to their classmates asking for help. A grading curve does not exist in English classrooms so the only incentive the students had to perform well on their exams was purely personal and by helping a struggling student, students who are excelling did not have to worry about where they stood on the curve. Without a curve, the atmosphere of the English classroom is not as cutthroat as some American classrooms can be. Grades are so public that the grade the student is expected to get, which is assigned by the teachers, are displayed on each student’s notebooks.

            This expected grade also splits the class into different levels. During classwork, students have the choice to tackle different tasks but are strongly recommended to work on the task that is on their level or one level higher. The levels used in instruction at the Rokeby School are incredibly similar to the idea of scaffolding. Having observed two teachers’ meetings in the humanities department, incorporating levelling in each teacher’s instruction was of utmost importance, as it works hand in hand with each student’s assigned grade.