I realized I’ve spoken very little about my teaching experiences here in Cork, and I apologize for that. To be perfectly honest, the weekends of traveling oftentimes overshadow the daily school routine.
Student teaching (or “practice teaching”, as they call it here) has been an entirely different experience from my time spent in Warsaw with a wonderful 4th grade class! I am with Senior Infants (kindergarten equivalent) here at an all-boys school, and there are 31 little rascals in my class. Unfortunately, I am unable to take over the class entirely as I did in Indiana since the Irish language is a huge part of the curriculum, especially at this young age. So I’ve mainly been assisting the primary teacher (who is a young male, surprisingly, for this age!) and pulling individual students aside for extra help. This has included retesting students according to reading levels for the books that go home each night to read with their parents, and it has been a learning experience to try and assess the children myself and see the wide range of abilities. It is quite typical, though still astonishes me, that we can have students who cannot read “The cat and girl went home.” and students who can read small chapter books within the same class. How in the world are we to meet each child’s individual needs?? It’s a constant battle to stay on top of classroom management AND teach engaging lessons with differentiated instruction, amongst other things. But of course, it all comes with the joys and trials of the job. 🙂
Handwriting is also a major part of the curriculum here in Ireland…as in actual formation of letters. The students have “copies”, instead of notebooks. For example, they have a phonics copy (for working on sounds throughout the year…we’re onto “ai” and they use the Jolly Phonics program all across Ireland which has these songs to go with each sound…they’re silly and the children love them!), numbers copy (used to be for formation practice of numbers and now they’re onto simple addition problems), news copy (practice writing current news sentences together as a class…the teacher handwrites each sentence in the copies each week, then they copy it), letters copy (where they practice the letters), and more. Of course, the different copies they might have differs from class to class (or in American terms, grade level to grade level. Remember they call them 1st class, 2nd class, 3rd class, and so on.) I actually have been working with a couple of the little guys on their handwriting skills from time to time because it is so important here for them to form their letters the correct way and sizing is proper and whatnot. It’s definitely made me be more careful with my own writing, too, because I have a tendency to get chicken scratch-like in my own notes!
The Republic of Ireland as a whole uses the same curriculum, similar to how a state might adopt the same. One of their books which I really like teaches Social, Environmental, and Science Education (SESE)…so it kind of combines citizenship education into science learning and information about the environment. This is especially visible in these younger ages because we also talk about the spring or summertime and what generally occurs during these seasons.
Over the course of the last 6 weeks, I have been thrown into random classrooms many a times because teachers were out or had to go to a meeting or simply needed supervision. As I hadn’t subbed before in the states, this was a new experience. I will admit it’s actually been a lot harder than it would be for me in the states, too, because I don’t know their curriculum, the Irish that is posted everywhere and used so much, the typical behavior boundaries (it tends to be different here…for example, the cursing that is allowed and freedom to move about the classroom), and I have run into many struggles with the language and cultural barriers. Simple things that I might say in the states, such as “I need your eyes and ears” or just turning off the lights as an attention-getter does not work here. I have a couple boys in my senior infants class that ALWAYS giggle when I ask them to “scootch” in their chair because apparently that’s a funny word to them. And every time I say “beautiful work”, they laugh. Other things, like “your shoe is open”, rather than your laces are untied, or “close up your jacket” instead of “zip up your coat”, etc.
It’s also difficult because the times I have covered for teachers, it was often a last minute deal and no sub plans were left. As a matter of fact, that happened today and I was thrown into the 1st class, which was fine because I had taught them at least 5 full days before. But that teacher did not have anything around to let me know what they were doing or what I should do. Her laptop for the smartboard was also locked up in the cabinet, so I had no way of accessing that. Literally I found out I should collect the students from the yard in the morning (they line up outside until the bell and the teachers come to collect the students) right before it happened. So I took them inside and was like, Uhhhhh, what to do?? Luckily, several students were missing so the class was smaller and they already knew me, so it went well. But of course, you have a few wrinkles in the day. First, they had rugby at 10am, which was outside. One child fell and hurt himself on the cement, while I already had another with me by my side because he had broken his arm over the weekend. Then it started pouring rain out of nowhere (the sun was still shining), so we had to dash inside and were all completely soaked. (Nowhere near as bad as last week, though, when it literally poured and I had to walk the 40 minutes to school in my flats and dress pants. When I reached the school, I was so drenched I could wring my pants out. The staff insisted I wear the student’s tracksuit uniform pants (like sweats), so they gave me an extra and I taught the majority of the day in those with my sweater and barefoot. It was quite interesting looking.) But anyways, later in the day, the student with the broken arm got sick and we had to have him sit with a clear bucket in his lap and his head over it while we waited for his mum to come get him. Annnd of course, within a half hour, two other children claimed to be “sick.” haha. I made them stick it out and of course, they were fine when it was yard time later! Kids.haha. Another boy was upset with me because he had gotten into trouble, so he goes around blabbing that I talk funny so we had a class discussion about people being from other countries and growing up with different accents, etc.
I guess I do enjoy bouncing around from class to class sometimes though, if only for the experience it gives me! I feel better prepared to teach, although I guess I am slightly concerned about readjusting to the American system since discipline here and teacher freedom is quite different. It’s nice when I walk around the school, though, and a bunch of the boys are always like “Hi, Miss Woodward!” in the hallway, even the older boys who constantly tried to test me when I was teaching them. I never gave in though….I think they think they can take advantage because I’m: a) An American b) Young (and look younger than I am…literally had people think I was 16 or 17 on Saturday. What?! Guess I’ll appreciate it in 10 years though…haha) and c) Short. I’m firm though…no one is taking advantage of me in a classroom! haha. I guess it doesn’t matter how I’ll adjust yet…since I have a year to be in the Spanish school system and learn their ways, too!
I’ll try to talk more about my teaching experiences in the next couple weeks. (Though our internet rarely works at the house anymore 😦 ) If you have any questions or interested to learn more about a specific thing, post it in a comment and I’ll let you know the best I can! 🙂