Normally, my second class teacher is very hurried, so Emmy and I do not get a lot of down time to talk with her. However, since I went on a different day this week, I was able to observe an atypical day. Every week (not on the days we usually go to Scoil Bhride), the students have swimming at a local gym for about 45 minutes. This was very helpful, because not only did I get to watch the children learning in a different setting, but it also gave me a casual, relaxed atmosphere to talk with my CT. We talked a lot about the similarities and differences of American and Irish schools.
One of the main differences that I noticed right off the bat is that Ireland, or at least this area of Ireland, does not have the typical private or public schools that we would normally think of. Basically, all schools are public, and they are all Catholic, though a fair amount of students are not actually Catholic. My CT made it seem like religion was not too pervasive in the school system, since it is a public school. However, it is hard to tell, since in the class Emmy and I are in, the students are working towards their First Communion in a few short months, so much of their time is devoted to learning the prayers. While the children are not forced to take part in the Catholic aspects, it is so interesting to me that this school is essentially like an American public school. It seems to reflect the laid-back Irish culture in that parents do not seem to complain that their children are exposed to Catholicism when they did not sign up for that type of school.
One similarity that I noticed was that this school, which is considered disadvantaged (though I never would have guessed), like many of the American disadvantaged schools, has a lot of recently immigrated students. Many of them come from northern Africa or eastern Europe, and some of them are currently in the process of learning English. Also, at this disadvantaged school, along with many in America, a large number of students come from single-parent homes, or have parents that are currently in jail. I was shocked about hearing about some of the home lives that many of my students came from. One difference I noticed is that unlike in America, where underachieving schools usually receive less funding, my CT told me how they actually get more funding here, which actually makes sense. Twice a week, they have math specialists that come into the school and work with students to help increase their achievement levels. In America, it was only the wealthier schools I taught at that had the extra support from specialists that came in multiple times a week. The Irish system of doling out school funds definitely seems to make more sense to me. However, another similarity to American schools that I noticed was that it is typically the same four or five kids that are pulled out during certain subjects. In nearly every school I have taught at, it tends to be the same group of kids, in each subject, each day, that get pulled out. Although it is understandable that certain children who need help likely struggle in all subjects, it does seem that being pulled out so consistently can give the children a complex when they are put back into the classroom for those subjects.
It has been really interesting observing the classrooms, and seeing just how similar and different they really are!