This past fall semester I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland. There are so many wonderful things about Ireland, and some of these include the incredibly wholehearted people and the relaxed way of life. It was definitely an interesting transition going from a more stressful and fast-paced atmosphere in the States to a much more relaxed and slow-paced way of life over in Ireland. However, I grew to love and truly appreciate it. These aspects of Irish culture were directly reflected in the school systems in Ireland. My placement was at St. Vincent’s Primary School in Cork. While I was still initially setting up my placement, the school took a few weeks to respond to emails about my student teaching which was honestly a little frustrating at first. This delayed me from starting up quickly. I was not used to this slower pace of communication. However, once I was more acquainted with the way people in Ireland operated, I understood that they are simply just not in any rush! I was a little nervous on the first day at my placement, however once I arrived at the school I was no longer nervous. Everyone there was so welcoming and friendly. They were truly interested in getting to know me and wanted to discuss my experiences and life in America. Very quickly everyone knew my name. The principal of the primary school was very receptive to my ideas and feelings, and allowed me to choose the class level I would like to work with. I decided to work with first grade because I had never worked with this grade level before. My CT was also very welcoming and immediately made me feel right at home in her classroom.
I felt as though the relaxed lifestyle was also reflected in the classroom itself. Many of the days and lessons my CT had planned were not very rigid. She typically had a general idea of what she wanted to get accomplished on a particular day, however if something else came up or plans got switched around, she didn’t seem to stress much at all. My CT did not try to jam pack too many lessons or activities into each day. She definitely took her time and allowed her students to take their time to complete a specific task. For example, there would often be a math lesson or review and then an activity each time I was at the school. She would never rush the students while they were reviewing a past lesson. She gave the students time to absorb the information and was sure to recognize comprehension from every child. She did this by asking students to answer a question or explain their reasoning. I enjoyed how the various subjects were not rushed throughout the day. This felt much more natural to me. If the lesson diverged a bit from my CT’s original plan, it was often something valuable. If it wasn’t, she would try to redirect the class back to the lesson.
One particular way the Irish culture affected the school was some of the subjects that were instructed. For instance, the students learn Gaelic, or Irish, language throughout primary school. The teacher would speak to the students solely in Irish for these lessons. The students would learn new phrases and vocabulary words and then try to tie them together into sentences. There was a lot of repetition of the words and phrases verbally. Additionally, my CT would ask a question in Irish and have the students respond to her in Irish as well. There were also handouts with vocabulary words that the students would have to match or write in, and then color in corresponding pictures. This was very interesting for me to experience the instruction of another, and completely foreign to me, language. I liked how there was still Gaelic instruction in the school systems. The language appears to be dying out a bit, at least in the younger generations, so it I think it is nice to keep the tradition alive.
I definitely loved working in this type of environment in St. Vincent’s Primary School and feel as though I gained a lot of insight to a completely different culture, not only in general, but also in a classroom setting.