Hello from Dublin! I ended up getting a late start at my school but I have been student teaching at St. Andrew’s College for several weeks now and have been loving it! St. Andrew’s is a well-funded, private, Presbyterian school with a highly international student body comprising children from Ireland and a variety of other countries. I am working in Ms. Cowman’s fourth grade classroom. This is Ms. Cowman’s first year teaching at St. Andrew’s, so working with her during her transition to a new school setting has been a valuable learning experience for me. There are 20 students in the classroom, and while a majority of the students are from Ireland, a handful is from England and the United States.
The main difference I have noticed between the Irish and American school systems is the style of teaching. My CT mainly teaches whole class lessons, whereas at my previous placements at the Jackson Mann in Allston and Countryside in Newton there was an emphasis on group work and students often rotated through stations. Ms. Cowman sometimes puts the students into small groups to work on history, geography, or drama projects together, pairs students for math work, and prompts students to converse with partners during Irish, but overall this structure made me wonder how much differentiation was taking place and what supports were in place to assist lower-level students. I asked Ms. Cowman about this, and she informed me that students are initially leveled based on their performance on formal reading and math tests at the beginning of the school year. During math and reading, she sits down with a specific group, provides additional work to more advanced students, and creates different worksheets to adapt to differing ability levels. Although it depends on the subject, when she does group her students, she prefers to do so heterogeneously. She also arranges the desks in groups and strategically seats her students so that each group is of mixed ability to promote scaffolding. I am interested in observing this differentiation in upcoming weeks.
Another difference between St. Andrew’s and Boston schools is the schedule. They overlap in that the core subjects are Math, English, Science, and Social Studies, and Physical Education, Music, Art, and Library are offered as specials in both school systems. Contrastingly, Irish Language is a part of the everyday curriculum at St. Andrew’s. While the Irish students learn Irish, the American students go to another classroom for American Studies, where they learn about American monuments, holidays, and important figures in history. S.E.S.E. (Social, Environmental, and Scientific Education) is a course similar to Social Studies, encompassing History, Geography, Science, and SPHE (Social, Personal, and Health Education). Additional subjects that are offered at St. Andrew’s that I have not seen in BPS are Computers, Religious Education, Drama, and European Languages. Students have the option to learn French, German, Greek, or Spanish before and after school as well as during blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. St. Andrew’s offers instruction in a wide range of subjects and students seem to really enjoy these additional courses. However, Ms. Cowman pointed out that having general education teachers also teach specials makes the daily schedule very inflexible.
I have found the collaboration between teachers to be very similar to that of schools in the Boston area. Ms. Cowman and the other fourth grade teacher, Ms. Lacey, work together to develop a plan for each subject for the year as well as each semester, month, and week. In these plans, they include lesson and unit objectives and methods of differentiating instruction. Ms. Cowman and Ms. Lacey often share ideas for activities and constantly communicate in order to maintain a similar pace. Especially at Countryside in Newton, I observed my CT meet with other teachers in the morning to plan activities and assess student work. This collaboration and sharing of ideas is essential to being a successful teacher.
Another similarity I found was the strong sense of community that these schools have developed. Since being at St. Andrew’s, the students have put on a musical, prepared skits about morality for school-wide assemblies, and participated in several themed days and weeks such as Literacy Week, Dr. Seuss Week, and Wacky Wednesday. Similar to my Boston placements, St. Andrew’s has paired reading once a week where older students read with younger students. St. Andrew’s really fosters its students’ creativity and encourages students to collaborate and get to know each other, which I have seen at my previous placements as well.
I look forward to continuing to work with these students and answering more hilarious questions about American things, i.e. what Twinkies taste like and why we call “car parks” “parking lots.”