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Monday, September 8, 2014

Final Reflection of Scoil Bride

It is hard to believe that I am here back at Boston College for my senior year! My spring semester spent in Galway, Ireland was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had thus far in my life and student teaching only enhanced that experience. It was very interesting to see the differences in the American classrooms and the Irish classrooms based on the way the students acted in the classroom, the number of students and even the style of teaching. At the beginning of my teaching experience, I was eager to stick to what I already knew as far as classroom management, but I saw that the students were completely different. I had mentioned that in a past blog posts, but I am curious to again be in an American classroom again. During my P3, my goal is to work on my classroom management and I think that an Irish approach to classroom management could potentially work well. I am also interested to see how I go back into the requirements that BC practicums require like the weekly journals and the strict requirements for lessons.
This summer I was a full time nanny and tutor for a family of two and the kids were aged 7 and 10. Though I had spent the past two years babysitting for the family, I had never been a tutor for the family. It was a very different way to interact with the kids and I found myself noticing the academic differences to my Irish students. They were much more likely to find blame other factors instead of themselves for not completing work I had asked them to do or for not understanding a concept. In general, they were more likely to give up instead of just asking for help from me when I was right there. I hope that I can spur my new students to be like my Irish students and take responsibility for their actions in the classroom so that they can further their own education as I scaffold on the side.

As I go into my third practicum and then my full practicum, I am eager to merge my two new ideals of teaching into one new brand! I am definitely going to miss my lunch breaks with Ms. O’Donnell where we would eat biscuits and tea… I might have to bring that into my full practicum classroom.

Final Thoughts on Parma, Italy--San Benedetto

Hello everyone! After a few months since my departure from the wonderful city of Parma, Italy, I think I have successfully integrated back into American life, as well as back into the Boston College scene. Looking back, I had such a wonderful experience in Parma and I wish so badly the chance to go back and just spend one more day in the Piazza and enjoy a coffee. Those were the days…

But I have been busy since my last post! During the summer I worked full time at the BC Campus School working as the school TA “float,” meaning that I work in every single classroom of students. This was such a pleasure for me and so much fun because I got to know every student in the school, and not just my usual group of 4-6 students. It was much more than knowing a student’s name—it was knowing their needs, their quirks, and their best learning styles. The BC Campus School is such a special place and I was so glad to spend yet another summer working there.

With the Campus School in mind, this brings me to my discussion about my Parma practicum experience, where I did not work in special education setting. If you are unfamiliar with the Campus School, it is a school for students with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. While I did not come in contact with any students from this population in Italy, there are for certain there. Furthermore, I did not work with any students—to my knowledge (an important distinction)—that have autism, learning disability or ADHD. It would have been interesting to have had a conversation with my teacher about IEPs and special education in Italy with my teacher, but it was a conversation that never came up. This is something looking back I regret not having done. I am sure that teachers and administrators have to develop some sort of plan for students with unique needs, but I am unsure of the process that it entails.

In a couple of weeks from now, I will begin my third pre-practicum (at a location TBD), which I am very excited to start. It will be my first experience back in a traditional school setting since working at the San Benedetto School in Parma. I am excited to begin a inquiry process about the similarities and differences between my new and old students. An ocean may separate them geographically, a difference in language and culture, but I truly believe that there is a unifying quality amongst all children, regardless of where they are from. All children are programed to be curious individuals, with the potential to learn. It was amazing to watch children I had never met, speaking a language I barely understood become so excited about seeing my PowerPoints about this magical land called America. I remember being amazed at watching Fourth of July firework shows when I was younger, and when I showed my class of 11 year olds this in Italy, there was the same face of wonder. A moment I hope to not forget in my teaching career.

And with that, I think that is a good place to wrap up! The largest thing I took away from Italy was that there are more similarities than connect us as people than things that make us different from one another. And even those differences are something to be celebrated, and I am ever conscious of that now than ever, and I have my practicum to thank for that.  


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Final Reflections on Scoil Mhuire

I have found it challenging to decide upon a topic to discuss in this final journal. My previous blog posts did not well conform to a single reflection question, and therefore, I believe I have already touched upon most of the themes reflected in the prompts. Rather than restate ideas I have already mentioned in previous posts, I hope it is okay that I approach this final post as an overall reflection upon my international practicum experience and describe why it was an enriching and rewarding aspect to studying abroad.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching abroad was the relationships and sense of community I gained from the experience. I thought that student teaching would provide opportunities to remove myself from the Irish college experience and better see what community and family life was like in Cork. Teaching abroad did offer a window into the Cork community. Through interactions with the teachers, I gained insight into their values, heard anecdotes of their professional and family lives, and discovered the challenges and rewards they faced as teachers.

The Irish Language teacher and I had our breaks at the same time and I would often talk with her about Cork culture. She discussed her passion for programs initiated to reclaim the heritage language: Irish. She believed it was important for the students learn to converse in Irish as it offered a strong connection to their ancestry, heritage, and national identity, especially sense that element of their identity had been stolen from them during English rule. Another adult woman in her seventies mentioned that her family adopted a way of preserving the heritage language by exclusively using Irish when talking to direct family members on the phone.

It was interesting to observe a generational gap in attitudes toward the reclamation of the Irish language. While the adults I talked to expressed admiration and passion for Irish, many of my students told me they hated their 45-minutes of daily Irish instruction. While there were several students who were naturally gifted in Irish and excelled in the class, most students struggled with the very difficult language. It would have been interesting to see if the instruction of Irish had been approached differently, such as infused throughout the day rather than solidified in a 45-minute block, if the students would have a different attitude toward the language. 

Besides gaining insight into the Cork community through conversations and observations of faculty members and students, I also greatly appreciated the opportunity to continue to learn and grow in my teaching practice. Teaching in a classroom of just ten students without the pressure of being graded was a very low risk environment. My comfort level within this classroom, and also the general feeling of exploring new opportunities that comes with study abroad, pushed me further in my teaching practice than I had anticipated being pushed. As previously stated in prior blog posts, during my international practicum I substitute taught the class independently and taught a three-day mini unit on Native Americans. Having been pushed to tackle new goals and take on new challenges helped to make the most of my international practicum and made student teaching a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Grahamstown, South Africa

Greetings from Grahamstown, South Africa! This semester I am so fortunate to have two International Pre-Practicum placements! Both schools are just down the street from Rhodes University, where I am studying. Balancing the two placements, some volunteer work, a full course load, and travel will be a challenge, but I am excited to be able to experience so much in my 5 months here!

The first school, which I will be visiting on Thursday mornings, is Victoria Primary School. VP is an all-girls, fee-paying, public school. This means that the government does give funding to the school, but that the students are also required to pay fees. These fees are lower than private schools’, however they are still usually too high for many South African people to pay. Girls can apply for scholarships to cover some of the fees. Some students that go to VP live far away. Out of the nearly 400 students, 45 girls from Grade 1 to Grade 7 board overnight in the school’s Hostel.

At VP, I am in Miss Dixie’s Grade R class. There are 19 students, aged 5 to 6-years-old. Many of the girls speak Xhosa or Afrikaans at home, but all of VP’s instruction is in English. In Miss Dixie’s class there is also a classroom aid and an assistant teacher.

On a typical day, the girls arrive between 7:00 and 8:00. Miss Dixie has different activities spread out on the tables that the students rotate between. These activities help the girls’ fine motor skills. After they are finished, they go outside to play. The playground has many different activities: swings, hopscotch, chalk, a jungle gym, a makeup salon, jump ropes, and hula-hoops. Miss Dixie has focused many of this term’s outdoor activities on improving the girls’ gross motor skills. For example, they see how long they can hold themselves up on the monkey bars. The school day ends at 12:30 for the Grade R girls.

The other school that I visit is the Good Shepherd School. I will be there every Friday from 10:00 until the end of the school day, at 13:45. Good Shepherd is a co-educational, no-fee, public school. All of these students come from Grahamstown’s township. From what I have learned, during Apartheid, this part of town was where the Black and Coloured South Africans were required to live. In South Africa, “coloured” is the appropriate term for someone of mixed race. The township is the still the poor area in Grahamstown. The South African government gives many people in the township their homes for free. The newer township homes have running water and electricity, but many of the older Apartheid-era homes do not have these basic necessities. Instead they rely on outhouses and community faucets.

Most township schools in South Africa are located in the townships themselves. The Good Shepherd School is different in that it is located in the middle of Grahamstown. It’s great location has allowed it to build good relationships with surrounding private schools. For certain needs, the private schools are able to provide them with assistance, often for things like extra-curricular activities. The Good Shepherd School also has a lot more resources than the average township school because they have support and resources from the Good Shepherd Trust. The trust owns the private property where the school is located. The South African Department of Education rents the property from the Trust. Because the Department of Education only hires 7 teachers for 7 grades, the trust also pays for additional staff. They even have a brand new computer lab with 40 desktops for the students to use. It’s an amazing space for the students and a great resource for the teachers!

Good Shepherd has about 300 students in Grades R through Grade 7. Nearly all of the students speak Xhosa or Afrikaans at home. Good Shepherd teaches them in English from the beginning, though. This school has a government-sponsored meal program. They provide all of the students with breakfast, snack, and lunch daily.

At Good Shepherd, I will be in Ms. Herring’s English classroom. She is responsible for teaching Grades 4 through Grade 7 on a rotating class schedule. Each grade has only one class, with about 35-38 students per level. Thankfully, because of the computer lab, the teachers are sometimes able to split classes in half. They teach half of the students, while the other half can work independently in the computer lab. The students arrive at school around 7:00. Most classes involve book work and class discussion. The students have workbooks that they do activities in for homework too. Ms. Herring tries to keep all of the grade levels on the same topics to make it easier to plan all of the different lessons. For example, all of the students are learning about novels now. Each grade’s lesson is executed somewhat differently.

I am so excited to learn more about these schools and all of the students this semester! I really enjoyed introducing myself to the students. Most of the kids thought my accent was funny, but I know I will need to repeat myself often so they can understand me. I also really enjoyed getting to know all of the students. The Grade 5 Good Shepherd students had made travel brochures for South Africa that I was able to read. This was so much fun for me to learn more about their country, while also gauging their English abilities.

My biggest challenge right now will be to learn all of their names. I am usually pretty good, but I have nearly 180 students to get to know between the two schools! Also, many of the names are beautiful Xhosa and Afrikaans names that I have never heard before. The Xhosa language is particularly difficult for me because it has three different “click” sounds that I have to learn. I feel terrible asking the children to repeat their names over, and over again. I think it is extremely important for me to learn their names in order to interact with them. With class lists, name tags, and plenty of practice, hopefully I will learn them all!

Both Miss Dixie and Ms. Herring have been really welcoming, supportive, and flexible. This week I will start teaching lessons. It’s much quicker than I expected, but I think jumping into this experience will be so worthwhile!

- Allison Irwin