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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????


  1. This post was really funny and it has some very interesting points that made me think. In BC, we are taught to plan things way in advance and in extreme detail. However, as your post illustrates, planning and stressing over lessons does not guaranty that we are going to be better teachers. In Ireland, with their laidback way mentality, there education is just as adequate as the one in the United States. I think bringing some of this ideology to our ubberorganized mentality would be good. We stress too much and try too hard to follow “the lesson” but it might be good to learn how to go with the flow. Miss T had certain objectives for the day but she got so much more done. Not only did she teach them about nature, Miss T got to teach them how to differentiate different types of trees, look in the dictionary, synonyms, and parts of speech. Like you said, in incorporating the dictionary lesson with the science one, she made the real life connection much more palpable for the students. If Miss T had had an extremely concrete lesson plan made, she would have tried to stick to it more and would not have done so many things in one lesson. What does it matter that she didn’t get to finish the entire lesson when the students have learned so much already? This story has made me understand the type of teacher I want to be. Yea, we have to come to class with objects thought out but we should also try to merge lesson so that students can understand the real life connections they have. Not just teach science and then grammar but try to combine them and if some unexpected problem surges, go with it, because the lesson´s objective can always be taught the next day.

  2. What a great post!! I visited Ireland for one weekend this past semester, and I found the country and its people to be so unique. I had never encountered such a laid back and welcoming country in all my time in Europe. Everyone I met was so incredibly nice, generous, and amicable. It was shocking especially coming from Spain! I'm not too surprised that the laid back attitude carried over into the school system, and I'm sure that it made for an incredible and unmatched practicum experience.
    In many ways I LOVE that lessons seem to be so flexible because it tends to allow for more application and different kinds of assessment. Though I don't mind working off of lesson plans as we do at BC, I envy this way of teaching because it must be so much more exciting for the students. Lessons are less tedious, more practical, and probably feel more liberating in a sense (probably for the teachers as well). When I make a lesson plan, I find it almost distracting because I am so focused on my plan that I struggle to work with teachable moments that present themselves unexpectedly amidst the lesson. I think this carefree attitude in Ireland definitely has its benefits, but I can see where it is difficult to track progress when the lessons are so flexible and there isn’t a plan to adhere to.
    I’m also curious as to how a lesson plan-driven teacher educated by Lynch School professors and supervisors would fare if they were to teach in an atmosphere such as the one you experienced in Ireland.

  3. I can absolutely relate to your experiences teaching in Ireland. I was in Cork, Ireland this past fall and had a very similar culture shock. I agree that it was a difficult transition going from such a fast-paced and stressful atmosphere in the States to a much more relaxed and slow-paced way of life over in Ireland. However, I thought it was extremely refreshing. On my first day at my placement, everyone in the school was also extremely friendly and welcoming. I was also given the choice of what grade level I wanted to work with, which was a surprising but also very nice change. Of course, in typical Irish manner, I was also given multiple cups of tea my first day.
    I also felt that many of the days and lessons were very flexible. My CT seemed to have a general idea of what she wanted to get accomplished on a particular day, however she didn't seem to stress if lessons changed or if she did not get to a specific lesson that day. I thought this was very different from the more strictly scheduled school days in the US, however I also feel like it was much more realistic. I agree with everyone's comments on how this allowed a more natural flow of other lessons that may have been unexpected, but were also worthwhile.

  4. I also definitely relate to the laid back feeling your teacher presents in the classroom. Especially when you said she was a little thrown off by the forms to document and keep track of what you did while you were there! My teacher did not really understand when I would ask her ahead of time what the lesson the following week would be about. It was frustrating when I was just trying to prepare myself to talk about it, or for questions the students may ask first. It took a little while to make myself feel more relaxed in the classroom with them just as she did.
    As for your CT not having totally set plans for her lessons and taking as much time as she needs until students understand a topic, my CT does the same. While I think it is great that she is making sure the students are clear and understand, I wonder if she had better lesson plans and set ideas, would the students understand the concept the first time around?


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