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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Final Reflection on Teaching in Ireland

Thinking back on the last few weeks of my teaching, I am able to recognize just how incredible my experience teaching abroad has been.  I loved my time in Cork, especially in the halls of Presentation Brothers College.  Through teaching abroad, I was able to critically examine conventional American educational systems against a worthy and similarly effective, but very different system.  While the United States has grown towards a liberal arts approach, allowing more expression and diversity in coursework, the Irish education system provides a more structured approach, encouraging students to focus on a particular direction of study directly related to their career paths.  It was also very interesting to be in an environment where all national schools are religiously affiliated, because they exist in a country that holds a national religion - Catholicism.  Being exposed in such a unique environment allowed me to compare and contrast it to my own, illustrating strengths of the school system in the United States, as well as areas in which it could improve.
Leaving Cork was a very difficult thing to do, and I am very grateful to have had my time at Pres as part of my abroad experience.  The boys were very open to learning about American culture, and made my ability to understand life in Ireland much more fully.  I know that in the future I will be able to use teaching abroad to more fully enrich my own classrooms.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Final Lesson and Reflection

    One of my favourite lessons that I’ve observed was in Mr. O’Flatharta’s Modern Irish history class for the 6th years.  They were discussing the turmoil in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Per usual, Mr. O’Flahtharta took attendance and checked the class’s homework. In reviewing their homework they compared and contrasted the Loyalists and Unionists and my CT wrote the notes on the board. After discussing the differences mainly, Mr. O’Flatharta then showed clips from a documentary about the IRA during this time period. The class then heavily discussed the various interviews and clips from the documentary. Then they went through the section of their textbook and like many of the other lessons my CT would point out key people and phrases for the students to highlight or underline. Before assigning the class’s homework, Mr. O’Flatharta also wrote a couple of references for the students’ general use and the name of the documentary on the board for them to write down. Although this was a fairly simple and ordinary lesson, I liked it first because I actually learned a lot of information considering I had never really studied this time period before. Mainly however, I found it interesting to see the students debate this issue so calmly and academically. The Northern Ireland conflict is a rather touchy subject for many, but it is merely part of their history in Ireland. Many of the most controversial parts of American history seem like ages ago but the major controversies of Irish history are actually relatively recent. This time frame often affects how the lessons are taught and constructed. I felt that there was more of a neutral and matter of fact feel to some of the discussions so as not to stir controversy while still critically analyzing the past events.  
      I felt like this lesson reflected the general attitude of the Irish education system and its culture. The lesson was not about attributing blame or criticizing the past but rather discussing and learning about what happened because what happened cannot be changed now. The school itself was also very relaxed in general and seemed like a less high stress environment than many American schools appear. I think this often created a much more open classroom. The classes ran a lot smoother and felt less chaotic as sometimes happens in some of my past classes during pre-pracs. I really enjoyed learning a lot academically and in terms of my teaching experience I enjoyed this slightly different type of environment. Comparing and contrasting my pre-prac in Ireland and in the US was one of the most eye opening experiences and really helped think about what works in specific classrooms and schools overall.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Relax We Are In Ireland...

           The Irish culture is the complete opposite of America.  The best way to summarize the differences is Americans live to work and the Irish work to live.  People in Ireland are much more relaxed and have an approach to life that resembles a “take it as it comes.”  At times, this can be frustrating because process take longer, efficiency isn’t valued, one can down a whole coffee in the time it takes to make a coffee for “take away” (never say “to go,” they look at you like you have four eyes).  Irish people are those that like and WILL sniff the roses when they walk.  As an American this whole mentality to life took some adjusting and reconsidering my own thinking.  Personally, I like this approach better – life is ten times less stressful.
            Since this philosophy is the average Irish person’s mindset, it impacts the classroom.  My CT was the most flexible teacher I have ever worked with.  No schedule in her classroom was set in stone.  The classroom environment was very relaxed and never felt stressful.  There was no pressure to reach a certain point in the curriculum.  My CT never had to rush or push content to meet “checkpoints” that are common in American classrooms.  My Irish CT appeared much more free and liberated than my American CTs.  There are standards and frameworks required by the Irish education system, but she was able to make the executive decisions.  Unlike American teachers, Irish teachers are thought to know teaching best.  My CT still ran the show and not some state mandated curriculum.  While this is my personal opinion of American education, I think many educators can relate to these issues in our system.  In some American schools there is even scripted curriculum, which is so incredibly demeaning to a teacher’s credibility.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, the view of teachers in Ireland is much more positive than in the US and I think this also contributes to their freedom from higher power mandates.  While I think the US is far from changing its education system this drastically, teachers could do their best to try and bring their most relaxed state into the classroom.  Unstressed teachers are ten times better than stressed teachers.  I believe that all American teachers, students, and future generations would benefit from a more relaxed Irish approach and taking a few more deep breaths before they walked in the classroom is a good starting point.