This Friday Kelly and I completed our first day of teaching at a school called Riverview in Sydney, Australia. Riverview is a private all boys Jesuit school located in a quiet suburb on a gorgeous campus. The institution is made up of two separate schools, one with students years five and six – where Kelly and I are placed – and the other with students years nine through twelve. While some of the students board on campus, others ride their boats to school or arrive by public or personal transportation. I was shocked not only by the beauty of the campus but also by how welcoming every member of the Riverview community was. All of the boys went out of their way to introduce themselves to us at recess, and share different knowledge they had about America or ask us questions about America or our time spent in Australia. The head of the school also had Kelly and I speak at the afternoon meeting to welcome us and all of the teachers were thrilled to have us in their classrooms observing and teaching. After only an hour of being there, I knew I was in for an incredible experience!
In the morning of our first day Kelly and I spoke with our practicum coordinator who told us all about the school and explained how, just like Boston College, Riverview strongly focuses on the Jesuit ideal of educating the whole person. After our introduction, Kelly and I spent time in a fifth grade classroom before lunch and a sixth grade classroom after recess. In the future, Kelly and I will be teaching in either fifth or sixth grade classes and will be working with a variety of different teachers. While the fifth grade class Kelly and I attended did library work, we had the opportunity to observe a religion lesson in the sixth grade class. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to speak with the teacher specifically about how he planned for the lesson, but I did notice that he put quite a bit of thought into the lesson because it ran incredibly smoothly and was timed very well. The topic of the lesson was lent, and the teacher began the lesson by asking students to read an excerpt about lent and find the definitions for different words relating to lent. After the students had time to get dictionaries and find definitions on their own, he then went over these definitions with the class. Next, he asked students to read different behaviors people can give up or alter for lent that will benefit others, and asked students to come up with some of these on their own which he recorded on the Smartboard. For example, one student said he could give up complaining by thinking of others who are less fortunate than he is. Finally, the teacher had the students choose one behavior they would like to give up for the remainder of lent and had them record and decorate their sacrifices on scrolls that he planned to hang up in the classroom. Based on these observations, I found the lesson very similarly structured to lessons I have observed and taught in America. Like my previous experiences in America, the teacher included a range of activities in one lesson to cater to various different learning styles allowing students to express their knowledge through writing, speaking and drawing. He also switched from class work to individual work to group work and used different teaching strategies to ensure that all students had the opportunity to reach the lesson’s objectives. During the lesson, the students sat at their desks arranged in pairs, which is also very much the same as the American classrooms I have worked in. The materials were also comparable to those in America, such as the Smartboard, worksheets, dictionaries and religion workbooks.
The only challenge my teacher faced during this lesson was classroom management, which is where I observed the central difference between his teaching style and the teaching styles I have observed in America. Whenever a student did not listen to instructions or failed to stop talking when he was told to, the teacher had him stand up until he was ready to focus again. I had never seen something like this in America, and was surprised at how well it worked and how little distraction it caused in the classroom. I think that this is an excellent strategy, especially when working in an all boys classroom, because it allows students to stretch their legs and take a break when they are feeling antsy instead of punishing them and forcing them to remain seated and still. The teacher also assigned more homework to a student who failed to listen at the end of class, which was always a threat that I had witnessed in America but that I had never before seen enforced. Despite this difference in classroom management strategies, I did not yet observe any striking differences between Australian and American teaching styles but am sure that in the future I will discover more.