Sunday, February 2, 2014
I have been in Galway, Ireland for the past four weeks and I have been fortunate enough to have spent 2 of those days in a 1st grade classroom at Scoil Bride. The school is nothing like I expected and I think this has made the experience even more rewarding because everything is so new to me. This is now my third time student teaching in a classroom so I have a little bit of experience to compare. I have been in a second grade classroom in Brookline and a fourth grade classroom in Brighton, but neither of these experiences are very similar to my new classroom in Galway. The first grade classroom that I have been placed in is comprised of 12 students and the majority of them are boys. My CT informed me that this class is diverse in the sense that there are multiple students with different learning disabilities or just need more attention when completing tasks. Fortunately, the school has the resources for them to be taken out for individualized work and the small class size is very beneficial for this student body. The youngest grade I have been in was 2nd grade, but in this 1st grade class they move around for the two main subjects of Math and Reading. I have not seen this used in younger classrooms in the US, which I think is interesting because it seems to work out nicely in this classroom. It allows students with similar abilities to work together and it allows the teacher to get more accomplished due to the same level across the group of students. Another interesting aspect about student teaching is that they are in a bilingual classroom where the teachers speak English and Gaelic. These 6 and 7 year olds are speaking another language in their classroom and they find it very amusing that I can't understand what they are saying to me! Another interesting aspect about this classroom is that the students refer to my CT as "Teacher" instead of saying her surname. Also, I was introduced to her as Sharon, so that is what I am expected to call her. The school itself is very welcoming and I have enjoyed observing the classroom these last two weeks. The children are very friendly and have enjoyed having me in the classroom, which has helped me feel comfortable when helping out. They have been very open and have told me all about themselves, which is something I love about younger children! I now know when their birthdays are and how one student wants to travel to North America and go see Los Angeles! I have been helping my CT with explaining math and reading concepts to the children, but I am hoping to possibly teach a lesson in the near future. I think teaching a lesson would be a great learning experience and would continue to help the students see that I am also a teacher in the classroom. I can't wait to see what the rest of my student teaching experience holds for me, but I have really enjoyed my experience thus far!
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Scoil Bhride is one of the warmest and most genuinely joyful schools that I have ever seen, and I am feeling very blessed to be part of it in fourth class for a short period of time. Both days, I have come out to the yard at lunchtime to watch the students. They tend to cluster around me, because I am new and fascinating with my strange accent, and love to ask me questions, tell me about themselves and show me all their games. I was surprised to learn that these Irish students play many of the same clapping games that my Mom taught me, my peers taught me at their age, and the girls I babysat this summer also play. I was even able to join a few of their games, and show them variations.
The day after this discovery, my conversation with my BC supervisor brought the clapping games back to mind. We spoke about the Great Famine and the incredible stories of fifteen year old girls who made the journey to Ellis Island alone, while caring for younger siblings. We also discussed how even though that feels like such a far away time, there are stories of girls travelling with younger siblings, in arguably more treacherous conditions, to reach the southwest of the United States from Mexico, Central and South America. Although clapping games and emigration are not inherently related, for me they both represent the notion that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
For me, that is both a comforting, even beautiful idea, and a terribly sad one. It shows how universal it is to be human- children will sing silly rhymes and play clapping games, and people will always be willing to go on a quest to find something better, no matter who they are or where they are in time or place. At the same time, when one social condition is corrected (e.g. the Great Famine), another of the same nature springs up (e.g. the extreme destitution in Latin America). This makes me question whether progress and improvement of the human experience can ever truly be made, or if the problem will only be shifted, transformed and recycled in another form, time or place.
I feel that if I am to accept this concept that “the more things change, the more they remain the same,” I will have to rewrite my entire philosophy of life. I have always held the belief that with patience, passion, intelligence and collaboration, people can change the world. I do not mean to seem like a pessimist, nor do I want to develop a pessimistic philosophy, but I feel as though I have to recreate my wishful, world-changing philosophy. It definitely requires more reflection on my part, but I want to find a way to unite these currently contradicting ideas of mine so that I can find a way to be optimistic and hopeful about the ability of people to effect change, and yet acknowledge the universality of humanity that surpasses time and place. As a teacher, I think that it is important to consider this idea in regard to social justice as well. Can a teacher truly contribute to change of a negative social condition or change the trajectory of a student’s life? How can a teacher do so, if it’s at all possible? I’m realizing that I cannot save the entire world, but I haven’t yet ruled out being able to change an individual’s world.
Before I traveled to Ireland, I was under the impression that it was more or less just like the U.S. Needless to say, once I arrived I realized how untrue that notion was in thousands of big and little ways. One thing that stuck out to me was the differentiation my BC supervisor made between what she called “American rich” and “Irish rich.” She was alluding to the fact that Ireland, as a country, has an overall lower economy than the U.S. I saw that through my travels, but also in the classroom. Scoil Bhride helped me to understand this disparity more deeply, especially because it was located on Shantella Road, which is an area of Galway where many working class, immigrant and traveler families live. As a result, Scoil Bhride’s students come from a variety of countries, sometimes as refugees, and some face prejudices as children of traveler families, and most of them came from much more modest backgrounds than I do.
The teachers and administration of this school recognized this, and addressed their students’ home lives in a variety of ways. For one thing, students paid the school a few euros for each schoolbook, and for things such as an arts and crafts fee, and photocopying fee. Administrators and teachers would allow students to bring in one or two euro at a time, lend money to students and just ask that they bring in a small portion of what they owed each week. Teachers also provided a variety of supports for students who had newly entered the school system, struggled or were learning the English language. Interactions like the one I described in my previous post with my Nigerian student were common occurrences, regarding how supportive teachers are of their international students. A bulletin board in the hallway celebrated the diversity of places from which Scoil Bhride’s students hailed, with pictures of each student holding signs announcing their home country.
In talking with my students, I learned a lot about the values and responsibilities they held. Sometimes a student would show off a new pair of sneakers, and explain to me how much of their allowance they had to save, where they bought the shoes and what a good sale they found. Not only were those stories precious, but they showed me how proud these young fourth graders were of their ability to buy their shoes, or whatever new thing they were showing me, and it showed me how much they appreciated that new item. I saw this most memorably from my students on my last day in the classroom. When my Mom visited me, she brought little puzzle erasers and I (heart) NY pens for my class. I had saved them until December, and allowed the students to pick their erasers and colored pen. I have never seen students so grateful and impressed by such little gifts. Many of them were upset that they didn’t remember it was my last day, and started giving me packs of chips or little erasers as gifts. It was one of the cutest exchanges with students that I ever experienced, and made me appreciate the little things so much more because they did.
Overall, I think the school showed me a lot of how they addressed the needs of their students, in all aspects of their lives. Always, the students were treated with respect and understanding and offered the supports they needed. I saw how the school community encouraged gratitude and pride in accomplishments, which of course are excellent qualities for all walks of life. My students taught me to be more grateful and the school showed me how to support all students, no matter where they come from.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Mr. O’Connell’s (my CT) style of classroom management took me a while to adjust to, because it was so drastically different from that with which I am familiar. I had come from a preprac during my sophomore year in a fifth grade class in Newton Centre. In that class, my CT made sure that every student knew precisely what was expected of him or her at each moment of the day. She would remind students to put materials away quietly, and what books were needed for each subject change. She managed her class very well, and they were usually efficient and respectful, but she always needed to be on her students’ cases about how to behave and what to do next. Mr. O’Connell’s 4th class (fourth graders), on the other hand, were never told things like, “We’re switching subjects now, close your math books, return them to your cubbies quietly and get your Irish text and copybook.” Instead, Mr. O’Connell would wrap up his math lesson and then start speaking in Irish, or reviewing what the class had discussed previously and expect students to quietly switch books as necessary, open to the page from the previous lesson and pay attention. The amazing part of all this to me was that (for the most part) they did exactly what was expected of them. Toward the beginning of the semester, Mr. O’Connell would often praise students who did all this properly, or scold those who disturbed the rest of the class. By the end of my semester, though, he hardly ever had to do either of those things. Although the classroom was a less organized than my first CT’s because students would be shuffling and organizing themselves as the lesson started, this system worked, placed more responsibility on the students and allowed the teacher to focus on the lesson instead of coordinating his students’ movements in the class.
Another aspect of Mr. O’Connell’s classroom management that left an impression on me was the way he handled both discipline and praise of his students. What I mean is that whenever a student had earned scolding or praise, my CT did so very publicly in front of the entire class. For example, one girl in particular (let’s call her B.) was very bright and vivacious but could not keep herself in her seat, from calling out or from getting into fights with other children. Many teachers that I have observed would handle B. by correcting her behavior, and then pulling her aside for “a talk” in private later. Mr. O’Connell, instead, would correct B. but continue before the whole class about how her behavior was unacceptable and how a bright girl of her age should not behave that way, etc. I do not mean to say he shamed her in any way, but his displeasure was clear, and his lecture was for everyone. Or if a younger student was sent to work quietly in the back of my CT’s classroom for bad behavior or incomplete work, Mr. O’Connell would have the student explain to his class what he or she had done to be sent to the room, acknowledge why that behavior was unacceptable and apologize to the class. This public way of discipline seemed to serve as a reminder to other students and also showed the offender that his or her actions would be seen by everyone and would affect everyone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr. O’Connell never held back specific, earned praise for a student’s actions or hard work. For example, A. was a Nigerian immigrant in my class who seemed to suffer a speech impediment as well as being an ELL student. When a specialized teacher brought A. back to the classroom, she informed Mr. O’Connell, before the whole class, how pleased she was with the progress that A. was making. Mr. O’Connell joined her in praising A. and including A. and his peers in the conversation. A. was praised for his own progress and hard work and simultaneously held up as a positive example for his classmates. I don’t think I saw that kid smile so much as during that conversation. Although I am speaking of my CT, I actually noticed that most, if not all of the school’s teachers used these same techniques. Whether this is part of the school culture, or Irish culture in general, I’m not certain, but at first this style was shocking to me. As I became better acquainted with the school, I realized that there are benefits to this style of discipline and praise, and that it worked in this school environment quite effectively. I do think however that if this were not a style that students were used to, they might react very negatively, but for these students who had learned to expect these public consequences and praises for their actions, it worked beautifully.