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Monday, October 1, 2012

Culture in the Irish Classroom

Let me first begin by saying that the cultural differences in the classroom on which I am about to reflect are not only visible in the elementary classroom, but at the university, the airport, and, quite honestly, the country at large.
So let it be said: things in Ireland are very relaxed.  To my BC-bred self, this might have been the hardest thing to adapt to (I still don't think I have!).  I did not need to apply for a student visa, but instead "check-in" with the Garda when I arrived.  Registration was not at the end of last semester, nor the beginning of this one; it was about three weeks after class started (Irish students told us that during this period, class is "optional." Does not compute!), and it is completed by paper.  Half of my classes didn't provide a syllabus.  Between us BC students, this place often seems like an organizational nightmare to those of us who tend to get nervous when Melita is two days late with our prac placements, or when our registration times are not at 8:00am on the first day.
That being said, Scoil Bhride (St. Bridget's School) is no exception!  When I went to Scoil Bhride on my first day, the principal gave me a quick tour, then simply asked me what age I'd like to teach, then walked right up to a classroom, and asked the teacher--mid-lesson!--If she'd like a student teacher.  She said sure, and that was that! I was officially a member of the Scoil Bhride community.  But don't jump to any conclusions; while I have referred to Ireland as my organizational nightmare, this very same relaxed attitude is part of the Irish mentality made Scoil Bhride welcome me with such open arms.  Each and every person I have met has remembered my name and asked me about how I am finding things here every time they see me.  The school cook is always bringing me a mug of her wonderful tea, and the administrators always hug me goodbye.  The teachers wear jeans, leggings, even sweatpants, but as a result they are perfectly willing to get on the floor, in the dirt, and stomp around in puddles with the kids.  When Galway made it to the all-Ireland hurling finals (for the first time in over 20 years!), the entire school took time out of class to hang banners, draw pictures, etc, and teachers used this time to help the kids study their Gaeilge (Irish).
My CT doesn't seem to have a totally set plan for the day (not the way I am used to in Boston, at least), and sometimes that results in long lessons that take away time from other subjects.  But the advantage to this approach is undoubtedly that she teaches until every student understands the material.  Another effect of this timetable strategy (or lack thereof! hahah) is that it often results in lessons that take a detour, but promote inter-curricular connections.  For example, we have begun studying trees in Miss T's second class (roughly equivalent to first grade) room.  It was actually quite fun, we decided (last second, of course) to take a nature walk to collect leaves, and Miss T used these leaves to discuss the difference between Deciduous trees and Evergreen trees.  When she went to graph the student's observations on the board, however, she was not confident in her spelling of "Deciduous."  So, she went off-plan and asked one of the students to pass out the dictionaries, and the class spent about 10-15 minutes building on their dictionary skills, including finding the word at hand, discussing parts of speech, and considering synonyms.  On the one hand, this was a great way to incorporate the dictionary lesson in a way that helped children make the connection to real life! But on the other hand, They lost about that much time in their tree lesson and didn't quite get through everything that Miss T wanted to.
What's more, Miss T seemed quite taken aback at the amount of paperwork I showed her (attendence sheet, ACTions sheet, Form 1).  In a country that pretty much does not do paperwork, I feel very sheepish trying to acquaint Miss T with what I need from her in an official sense without feeling like I am imposing upon her or the culture of the school.  
I'm very interested to see where my thoughts will end up at the end of the semester, and how this experience will influence my teaching.  Right now, I'm a little too culture-shocked by this laid-back atmosphere to see exactly how it works and the advantages it presents.  The thought that keeps nagging me in the back of my mind is that there is next-to-no classroom management strategy or lesson templates to work with!  What would our supervisors say????