My introduction to Scoil Mhuire was unique in that I began just as the school was making its final preparations for a musical to celebrate its 60th anniversary. With all the commotion surrounding the show, the teachers were very enthusiastic about me helping as much as possible. I eagerly accepted and, in addition to taking on some backstage responsibilities during the musical, I have been teaching lessons each week and supervising lunch/recess. I have even started a pen pal system with my practicum class from last semester!
I will discuss the musical and lessons later on, but first, a proper introduction to my school is in order! Scoil Mhuire (pronounced Skol Vera) is a small all-girls school in Cork city. The students come from all over the county as Scoil Mhuire is the only private all-girls school in the city. I am working with 5th class (the Irish equivalent to 5th grade), which is made up of 13 motivated, creative and incredibly chatty students.
Scoil Mhuire’s small size combined with the fact that it is Catholic and all-girls means that my experience teaching at Scoil Mhuire has been very different than my experiences in Boston Public Schools. One of the most pronounced differences I have observed is the style of teaching. Students have textbooks for each subject and I have found that most lessons here are taught directly from these books. The lessons tend to involve a short introduction to a new topic, which my CT reads aloud from the book, followed by some short exercises. I have found this approach to differ greatly from my experiences in Boston.
The learning in my classroom is also very focused on homework. A typical maths lesson, for example, begins with a review of the previous night’s homework, followed by a brief introduction of the next topic in relation to the next homework assignment, and ends with my CT going over the first problem of the homework to ensure that everyone understands. This reliance on homework is something I have not experienced in an elementary classroom before. Students in my classroom at Scoil Mhuire always complete their homework and almost every one of them brings the books back to school the next day, making this style of teaching possible. However, I believe placing so much emphasis on homework could have negative results, particularly as it prevents teachers from addressing student misunderstandings. Additionally, Scoil Mhuire’s students are privileged in that they have the time and resources to complete their homework each night. This is certainly not true of all schools and makes me think about my experience in Edison K-8 in Brighton last semester, in which only a handful of students completed their homework each day. I look forward to talking to my teacher about homework to find out her reasoning behind it as well as what happens when students do not complete it.
In addition to being centered on books and homework, most of the work students do in my CT’s class is silent and independent. This can be quite a challenge as the girls in my class LOVE to talk and are constantly sharing anecdotes, asking questions, and naming celebrities I somehow resemble. I am interested to see what happens when, in some of my upcoming lessons, I ask the students to work in groups to complete their assignment. I have not seen them work in this way before so I expect I will have to give a thorough introduction to the dynamics of group work.
Another quality that differentiates Scoil Mhuire from the schools I have worked at in Boston is its strong sense of community, which became clear to me during the school musical. As I mentioned previously, Scoil Mhuire was in the midst of a production of Practically Perfect Mary (a remake of Mary Poppins) when I arrived. On February 6th the entire school came together to perform in front of a full audience of family and graduates. It was quite the production; students had been rehearsing for months and staff had been planning and developing the play since the summer. I felt very lucky to be involved in the show because it allowed me to see how Scoil Mhuire worked. There was a real sense of camaraderie throughout the show and students were all supportive of each other. I saw older students playing with and helping younger students, revealing the family-like environment the school creates. Additionally, it became clear that all of the staff and students not only know each other’s names, but also know personal information about one another and talk as friends. There is a real sense of unity at Scoil Mhuire that I have not always felt as strongly in my BPS placements.
Although Scoil Mhuire is very different to my other practicum placements, it is not unlike other schools I have experienced. For the past year I have occasionally substituted in St. Paul School, a small Catholic school in Wellesley, MA. St Paul School and Scoil Mhuire are very similar in terms of their sense of community and the emphasis they place on books. For this reason, I think some of Scoil Mhuire’s traits come from its religious nature and its size. Interestingly, Scoil Mhuire is most similar to the school I attended when I lived in England. The sense of community fostered by assemblies and whole school activities was a defining quality of my school in England and is also true of Scoil Mhuire. Additionally, both schools encourage personal relationships between students and teachers and have a laid back approach to management. These similarities are likely due to the influence of the several English teachers working at Scoil Mhuire, particularly the Headmistress. In light of this, my experience teaching at Scoil Mhuire might not be a quintessentially Irish experience. That said, it is certainly a wonderful experience and I look forward to going each day to learn, teach, and hear which American movie star I look like that day!