There were certainly many differences between teaching abroad in Ireland and teaching in America that I picked up on during my time in Cork, Ireland. Due to the overall more relaxed lifestyle in Ireland, the school and classroom environments were also more relaxed compared to in the States. In classrooms I have worked in during past practicums in the US, there was always a class schedule for each day of the week, with the various subjects listed with different time intervals. However, I noticed in the first grade classroom I was with in Ireland did not have anything like this. As I previously mentioned in my response about Irish culture in the classroom, lesson plans were not always set in stone either. They were very flexible and could often take longer than planned. Additionally, in past primary school experiences, the classes would have specific “specials” such as art, music, and gym class once or twice a week. there were no specific art, music, or gym teachers at St. Vincent’s. I’m not sure if this was a monetary decision. They would often have specialists come into the school however a few times a month to work with the children. For instance, someone would come in and coach the students in basketball. One day that I was in the school, my CT took the class down to the multi-purpose room and held her own gym class by doing various activities with the students to get them active. The school day itself was also a bit different in general. There was a quick twenty or so minute break in the morning about an hour before lunchtime. I think this allowed the teachers to get a quick break and also allowed the students to run around outside and get their gitters out. I was surprised at first however this is beneficial because it generally helped the kids calm down.
Another major difference, at least in my own personal experiences, was working in a private Catholic school. I had never experienced this type of environment before. The primary school is part of St. Vincent’s Convent in Cork, and the students wore uniforms and participated in daily prayers. This was a large difference for me because I attended public school my whole life and all of my past pre-practicum experiences and volunteer work have also been in public schools. I was happy to have a new experience in a different type of school. It took me a few weeks to get used to the students saying their prayers after recess and also at the very end of the day. Sometimes they would say them in Irish as well, which was a whole other twist!
Though there were differences, there were also some similarities. For instance, the principal of the school seemed very aware as to what was going on at all times. She was always walking around the school and interacting with the students and the teachers. She knew all of the children’s names and many of their families. It was a small and close community. She was also very caring and constantly put the children’s best interests and safety first. Another similarity to American schools was that the teachers did have a curriculum of objectives they needed to meet for each grade level. I took a look at my CT’s curriculum plans for the first grade. It was a binder broken down by each subject and then from there broken down by each month. It wasn’t too overwhelming, but there still were specific topics she needed to have covered each month.
In general, this practicum experience was very different from practicums at BC. I feel a bit repetitive, but the best way to summarize it was relaxed. I did not have specific requirements to meet or lessons to plan. I was able to interact with the children and teach lessons or co-teach lessons as often as I pleased. It was very open-ended and relaxed, which made it not stressful and very fun. I thought that it was very funny how my CT told me to come in whenever I wanted—even without any warning at all! I would always email her asking which days were good for her, and she told me to just come and go as I pleased. I can’t see that occurring in the States, at least without a quick heads up first via email!