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Monday, December 22, 2014

Final thoughts on American Overseas School of Rome

Teaching abroad will definitely impact my feeling of responsibility to promote equity and social justice. I saw so many differences in my students, regarding home language or other needs. There were Italian students who did not do as well as they could because of the language, as well as Italians on the other hand who were in the top of the class regardless of their first language. There was one girl, born in America who only knew and spoke English, who was barely able to read at a kindergarten reading level in fourth grade. Also, one Israeli student was still on his very first x2 fact times tables while the rest of the class was at x7 all the way past x12. The one thing that every student had in common was their good behavior in school. Honestly, there were so few incidences of students acting up, and none very serious, it was very refreshing! There was such a varying degree of ability and required accommodations in my classroom and it was a great experience to learn about equity in the classroom.

Every math period a specialist would come in and either take certain students to her room if the lesson was difficult, or take them to a back table to provide extra support. During some science and writing periods another specialist would come in to aid a specific student who had a serious learning disability (but was also one of the sweetest kids in the class). Overall though, the students were expected to perform to the same standards regardless of home language or years in an American school. 

It was hard to see some students struggle because they did not speak English as well as they knew Italian, especially in writing and grammar. There is a line between proper equity and unfair equity. All students shouldn't receive the same services and be held to the same standards in everything if they are very different learners. My CT definitely promoted proper equity. With certain students who had a much harder time in math (regardless of language or official diagnosis), she would modify their homework and tests to give them a chance to demonstrate the knowledge they had. Though all students had the same writing assignments, they too were modified for certain students and graded on slightly different scales. 

It was hardest when dealing with Italian students who had clear signs of some learning problem. Unfortunately, the culture in Italy is to ignore any signs that your child might have a problem and never let it become official that your child has a "learning disability" or "special needs". I would hear all the teachers comparing issues with this in their classrooms- trying to convince a parent to let the school test their child, trying to give as many accommodations as possible without having an official IEP or other document, and more. It definitely made me think about social justice in the classroom and the misunderstandings about learning disabilities. It was so sad to be at a school with so many services and the ability to really help so many students, but unable to do as much as they could for students who weren't tested and diagnosed because of the law. I will always remember this class and the variety of students I encountered here. Being in such a diverse and multi-lingual classroom I thought a lot about equity and social justice, and I am so glad that I had this class and opportunity to study abroad to think about these issues. 

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