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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Reflection on Personal Philosophy

Scoil Bhride is one of the warmest and most genuinely joyful schools that I have ever seen, and I am feeling very blessed to be part of it in fourth class for a short period of time. Both days, I have come out to the yard at lunchtime to watch the students. They tend to cluster around me, because I am new and fascinating with my strange accent, and love to ask me questions, tell me about themselves and show me all their games. I was surprised to learn that these Irish students play many of the same clapping games that my Mom taught me, my peers taught me at their age, and the girls I babysat this summer also play. I was even able to join a few of their games, and show them variations.
            The day after this discovery, my conversation with my BC supervisor brought the clapping games back to mind. We spoke about the Great Famine and the incredible stories of fifteen year old girls who made the journey to Ellis Island alone, while caring for younger siblings. We also discussed how even though that feels like such a far away time, there are stories of girls travelling with younger siblings, in arguably more treacherous conditions, to reach the southwest of the United States from Mexico, Central and South America. Although clapping games and emigration are not inherently related, for me they both represent the notion that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
            For me, that is both a comforting, even beautiful idea, and a terribly sad one. It shows how universal it is to be human- children will sing silly rhymes and play clapping games, and people will always be willing to go on a quest to find something better, no matter who they are or where they are in time or place. At the same time, when one social condition is corrected (e.g. the Great Famine), another of the same nature springs up (e.g. the extreme destitution in Latin America). This makes me question whether progress and improvement of the human experience can ever truly be made, or if the problem will only be shifted, transformed and recycled in another form, time or place.
            I feel that if I am to accept this concept that “the more things change, the more they remain the same,” I will have to rewrite my entire philosophy of life. I have always held the belief that with patience, passion, intelligence and collaboration, people can change the world. I do not mean to seem like a pessimist, nor do I want to develop a pessimistic philosophy, but I feel as though I have to recreate my wishful, world-changing philosophy. It definitely requires more reflection on my part, but I want to find a way to unite these currently contradicting ideas of mine so that I can find a way to be optimistic and hopeful about the ability of people to effect change, and yet acknowledge the universality of humanity that surpasses time and place. As a teacher, I think that it is important to consider this idea in regard to social justice as well. Can a teacher truly contribute to change of a negative social condition or change the trajectory of a student’s life? How can a teacher do so, if it’s at all possible? I’m realizing that I cannot save the entire world, but I haven’t yet ruled out being able to change an individual’s world.


Before I traveled to Ireland, I was under the impression that it was more or less just like the U.S. Needless to say, once I arrived I realized how untrue that notion was in thousands of big and little ways. One thing that stuck out to me was the differentiation my BC supervisor made between what she called “American rich” and “Irish rich.” She was alluding to the fact that Ireland, as a country, has an overall lower economy than the U.S. I saw that through my travels, but also in the classroom. Scoil Bhride helped me to understand this disparity more deeply, especially because it was located on Shantella Road, which is an area of Galway where many working class, immigrant and traveler families live. As a result, Scoil Bhride’s students come from a variety of countries, sometimes as refugees, and some face prejudices as children of traveler families, and most of them came from much more modest backgrounds than I do.
            The teachers and administration of this school recognized this, and addressed their students’ home lives in a variety of ways. For one thing, students paid the school a few euros for each schoolbook, and for things such as an arts and crafts fee, and photocopying fee. Administrators and teachers would allow students to bring in one or two euro at a time, lend money to students and just ask that they bring in a small portion of what they owed each week. Teachers also provided a variety of supports for students who had newly entered the school system, struggled or were learning the English language. Interactions like the one I described in my previous post with my Nigerian student were common occurrences, regarding how supportive teachers are of their international students.  A bulletin board in the hallway celebrated the diversity of places from which Scoil Bhride’s students hailed, with pictures of each student holding signs announcing their home country.
            In talking with my students, I learned a lot about the values and responsibilities they held. Sometimes a student would show off a new pair of sneakers, and explain to me how much of their allowance they had to save, where they bought the shoes and what a good sale they found. Not only were those stories precious, but they showed me how proud these young fourth graders were of their ability to buy their shoes, or whatever new thing they were showing me, and it showed me how much they appreciated that new item. I saw this most memorably from my students on my last day in the classroom. When my Mom visited me, she brought little puzzle erasers and I (heart) NY pens for my class. I had saved them until December, and allowed the students to pick their erasers and colored pen. I have never seen students so grateful and impressed by such little gifts. Many of them were upset that they didn’t remember it was my last day, and started giving me packs of chips or little erasers as gifts. It was one of the cutest exchanges with students that I ever experienced, and made me appreciate the little things so much more because they did.
            Overall, I think the school showed me a lot of how they addressed the needs of their students, in all aspects of their lives. Always, the students were treated with respect and understanding and offered the supports they needed. I saw how the school community encouraged gratitude and pride in accomplishments, which of course are excellent qualities for all walks of life. My students taught me to be more grateful and the school showed me how to support all students, no matter where they come from. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Classroom Management, Galway Style

            Mr. O’Connell’s (my CT) style of classroom management took me a while to adjust to, because it was so drastically different from that with which I am familiar.  I had come from a preprac during my sophomore year in a fifth grade class in Newton Centre. In that class, my CT made sure that every student knew precisely what was expected of him or her at each moment of the day. She would remind students to put materials away quietly, and what books were needed for each subject change. She managed her class very well, and they were usually efficient and respectful, but she always needed to be on her students’ cases about how to behave and what to do next. Mr. O’Connell’s 4th class (fourth graders), on the other hand, were never told things like, “We’re switching subjects now, close your math books, return them to your cubbies quietly and get your Irish text and copybook.” Instead, Mr. O’Connell would wrap up his math lesson and then start speaking in Irish, or reviewing what the class had discussed previously and expect students to quietly switch books as necessary, open to the page from the previous lesson and pay attention. The amazing part of all this to me was that (for the most part) they did exactly what was expected of them. Toward the beginning of the semester, Mr. O’Connell would often praise students who did all this properly, or scold those who disturbed the rest of the class. By the end of my semester, though, he hardly ever had to do either of those things.  Although the classroom was a less organized than my first CT’s because students would be shuffling and organizing themselves as the lesson started, this system worked, placed more responsibility on the students and allowed the teacher to focus on the lesson instead of coordinating his students’ movements in the class.
            Another aspect of Mr. O’Connell’s classroom management that left an impression on me was the way he handled both discipline and praise of his students. What I mean is that whenever a student had earned scolding or praise, my CT did so very publicly in front of the entire class. For example, one girl in particular (let’s call her B.) was very bright and vivacious but could not keep herself in her seat, from calling out or from getting into fights with other children. Many teachers that I have observed would handle B. by correcting her behavior, and then pulling her aside for “a talk” in private later. Mr. O’Connell, instead, would correct B. but continue before the whole class about how her behavior was unacceptable and how a bright girl of her age should not behave that way, etc. I do not mean to say he shamed her in any way, but his displeasure was clear, and his lecture was for everyone. Or if a younger student was sent to work quietly in the back of my CT’s classroom for bad behavior or incomplete work, Mr. O’Connell would have the student explain to his class what he or she had done to be sent to the room, acknowledge why that behavior was unacceptable and apologize to the class. This public way of discipline seemed to serve as a reminder to other students and also showed the offender that his or her actions would be seen by everyone and would affect everyone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr. O’Connell never held back specific, earned praise for a student’s actions or hard work. For example, A. was a Nigerian immigrant in my class who seemed to suffer a speech impediment as well as being an ELL student. When a specialized teacher brought A. back to the classroom, she informed Mr. O’Connell, before the whole class, how pleased she was with the progress that A. was making. Mr. O’Connell joined her in praising A. and including A. and his peers in the conversation. A. was praised for his own progress and hard work and simultaneously held up as a positive example for his classmates. I don’t think I saw that kid smile so much as during that conversation. Although I am speaking of my CT, I actually noticed that most, if not all of the school’s teachers used these same techniques. Whether this is part of the school culture, or Irish culture in general, I’m not certain, but at first this style was shocking to me. As I became better acquainted with the school, I realized that there are benefits to this style of discipline and praise, and that it worked in this school environment quite effectively. I do think however that if this were not a style that students were used to, they might react very negatively, but for these students who had learned to expect these public consequences and praises for their actions, it worked beautifully.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Influences of an Art-Loving Culture

            I was unaware of how rich the French culture was until I met my host family. My host family loved art, literature, music, and films. They were interested not only in French culture but also cultures all over the world. The French love exploring and learning about new cultures, which made it very easy for me to share my Korean-American culture with the people I met aboard. French culture is immersed in art. I have learned so much about how art has shaped and is influencing France, especially Paris, through my art history class. The artwork in the world-renowned museums like the Louve, Orsay, and Orangerie reflect the importance of art in the French culture.
            Since I was already exposed to the art loving culture, I was not surprised when Mr. B told me that the students were learning about Cubism, Futurism, and Impressionism in their classrooms. This was not a separate “Art Class” but it was a part of the curriculum in the International School of Paris. At the end of their curriculum, Mr. B asked me to join the class on a field trip to a museum. It was a museum with a lot of Claude Monet’s famous artworks. I did not want to miss this opportunity. I agreed without hesitation. I assumed that the museum trip was going to be pretty boring for the students. I remembered going to museums when I was younger with my classes and I dreaded the entire trip because all we did was listen to a tour guide talk about the history of the artist. None of that interested me. However, the moment the tour started, I knew my assumption was completely wrong. The students were all taking notes and nodding to the things the tour guide was saying. What could have been so different between these kids and me?! After much thought, I realized that it was the culture we grew up in. At least in my school, they did not really emphasize the importance of art, so I was not taught any art history. My high school did not offer any art history classes, which made appreciating art a lot harder. However, these kids were exposed to the art loving French culture for years now. They learned about the artists throughout the year. Even as 5th graders, these students were already beginning to appreciate art in a way I never did when I was their age.
            At the end of the tour the class was asked to participate in a very interesting and different activity. Mr. B passed out paper and markers. Students clipped a sheet of paper on their clipboards and sat in front of paintings they admired. Mr. B asked each student to draw the painting. During this activity I felt like I was surrounded by 20 little “Claude Monets”. They were all diligently working on their artworks using their interpretations and perception of each painting. It was truly an eye opening experience because I think it is very rare to experience something like this in the States. After the field trip, the students had discussions with other students about their artwork and Monet’s techniques and influences.

            By simply living in a different country, the curriculum is heavily influenced by the culture. The curriculum then goes on to influencing the students’ interests and appreciations.

"Typical" day of teaching at the International School of Paris

            I could not help but smile as I read this prompt. The prompt asks me to describe a “typical” day at my placement. I think it’s so funny to describe my days in the classroom in Paris as typical because it seemed like each day I went in, I was asked to do different things. Some days I would be teaching math within groups, like I was asked to in the beginning. However, there were days when I would be going around the classroom helping students with their photo gallery and asking questions about the angle in which they placed their cameras to get their picture. I was privileged enough to work in two different classrooms in the same grade. I was able to observe two teachers with very different teaching styles and the various interactions among students.
            I mostly worked with students in the lower level math groups to help them improve their math skills in geometry, subtraction, and addition with 3 digit numbers. Every Wednesday morning I went into Mr. Barker’s class. I worked with 2 groups at a time, running back and forth. This was one of my many challenges. I loved the students and the students seemed to really enjoy the time they spend with me while I was in their classroom. Mr. B, after about 2 weeks, asked if I could work with 2 larger groups so he pay more attention to the remaining groups. There were days when I would be running from one student in one group to another in the second group. The groups worked on the same material but with different levels. For example, one group would work on subtracting 3 digit numbers while the other worked on the same materials but with partitioning. There were times when I would confuse myself with the materials I was teaching because I was running around checking students’ work. Another challenge was the interaction I had with one student. Because I was an “adult”, a “teacher” who came into the classroom once a week, some students regarded me as their friend rather than a teacher in the classroom. Mr. B at the beginning of the semester clearly explained to the students that I was a teacher in the classroom. However, one girl in particular, always seemed to give me an attitude. She was one of the smarter ones in the group so she always wanted to quickly get through the work to show that she was faster than everyone else. Mr. B informed me on this before the semester started. It was difficult to tell the student that she had to take her time to understand the work rather than just the process of finishing her work. I may have experienced a lot of challenges but the greater things that I have gained from this experience overshadow them all.
            Some of the highlights I have experienced were when I worked with this one particular group in October. I had 5 girls in my group and we were reviewing the concept of angles and degrees of angles. When we first started the lesson, three of the girls were lost. I think they were either absent or out of the classroom the day before. Mr. B asked me to help the students use their protractors to draw 45, 90, 135, and 180 degrees in their math notebooks. The more I seemed to use words to describe the concept of degrees and the process of drawing angles, the students seemed lost. That’s when I knew I had to scaffold the activity in order for the students to understand what I was talking about. I stood up and got myself a piece of paper and pencil to model the activity. The moment I placed the protractor on the paper, the students said, “OH!” in synchrony. I held the protractor to explain the increments that were marked on the protractor. After a mini lesson the students were able to go beyond what Mr. B had asked of them. We had about 15 minutes after the lesson and so I decided to give them random degrees to draw into their notebooks. It made me so happy to know that all 5 of them understood the lesson and the materials. Another highlight of my experience was being able to participate in the 5th grade photo gallery. Both classes, Miss A and Mr. B, had a photo gallery the last week I was aboard. I was able to see all the students’ hard work as they used trifold posters to display their works. I was also able to meet the students’ parents and have conversations about their child. I was also able to communicate with one of the Korean students’ mother in Korean about her child. It was also to hear multiple languages being spoken in the classroom. Since every single student was from a different country, I was able to hear languages from all over the world.

            My “typical” day in my placement may have been a little hectic but each day was truly a rewarding one. I did experience some challenges but the number of highlights I could write and talk about, far exceeds the difficulties.