Last week was my final visit at St. Andrew’s College in Dublin, and it was definitely hard saying goodbye to Ms. Cowman and the students. I really felt immersed in the ways of the classroom, and I gained valuable experience teaching whole-class lessons that I had not done in my previous pre-practicums. On my last day, I taught a lesson about the Ancient Greek Olympics, and planning and conducting that lesson pushed me to consider the diverse needs and learning styles of the students on a deeper level and to practice classroom management techniques I have observed and acquired to keep the students engaged and on task.
I initially visited St. Andrew’s on Wednesday mornings, but I was also able to visit on a few Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. A typical day at St. Andrew’s lasts from 8:45am until 3:00pm and is essentially divided into three blocks—three subjects in the morning followed by a break, two subjects between the break and lunch, and two or three subjects after lunch. As I have mentioned before, Ms. Cowman pointed out that many teachers teach multiple subjects, and therefore the schedule is rather inflexible, which adds more pressure for them to get everything accomplished that they intended to that day within the allotted time. The main subjects are Irish, English, Maths, Science, SESE, and SPHE. SESE stands for Social, Environmental, and Scientific Education, and is similar to Social Studies, whereas SPHE stands for Social, Personal, and Health Education and is intended to give children a social-emotional education as well. A wide variety of specials are offered at St. Andrews. Ms. Cowman’s students have Physical Education and Art on Mondays, Library and Games on Tuesdays, Music and Choir on Wednesdays, Computers on Thursdays, and Drama and Bible on Fridays. The students also have the opportunity to take a language course before or after school as well as during two blocks of the week, choosing from Spanish, French, German, and Greek.
On Wednesdays, I got to school at 8:30am to help Ms. Cowman prepare for the day. The students who play string instruments have Orchestra practice before school, and all of the students arrive in the classroom at 8:45am. The students immediately sit in their seats and copy down the homework and announcements displayed on the Smart Board into their diaries. They then complete the assigned page in their Mental Maths workbooks independently. This is a routine that Ms. Cowman established early in the year. The students then line up and go to the library for paired reading, where they read with their partner from a K1 classroom. When they return, the Irish students stay in the classroom for Irish and the American students go to another classroom for American Studies. I usually went to American Studies but I found it interesting to observe a few Irish lessons too. Next is English, which is the block when Ms. Cowman teaches Drama to second graders, so another teacher comes in to teach English and I often worked with the lower-level reading group in the library on comprehension. After English, the students have a 20-minute break and return for Maths. Maths often begins with the class reviewing the answers to the Mental Maths assignment from the beginning of the day, and Ms. Cowman calls on students to provide the answers. Then they do “Table Toppers,” which is when they partner up and take turns verbally solving mental math problems for multiplication, division, or a combination of math operations. Each student is timed and sets goals at the beginning of the week for how many problems they hope to answer correctly, keeping track of their goals and number of correct answers in their notebooks. Table Toppers is often followed by a math mini-lesson, and then the students line up for Music. The day at St. Andrew’s on Wednesdays ends at 1:00pm, which worked out perfectly because I had a 1:00 class at UCD. As I have said, St. Andrew’s is a very well funded school and therefore has many after-school programs available to the students. From Music, the students move on to whatever clubs they are involved in, whether it be a sport, debate club, languages, private lessons in a musical instrument, and so on.
The past few visits were very enjoyable for me because I was able to witness and get involved in the variety of activities that were happening school-wide. On Friday mornings, each class prepares a skit to perform in front of the entire school. My class put together a hilarious play about telling lies, and it was so fun to be a part of helping them prepare for it. St. Andrew’s also had an Art Week, and I was able to help the students recreate Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture, replacing “love” with an endearing word of their choice. It was during these weeks that I really bonded with the students and took on an active role in the classroom. I am so fortunate to have worked with these students in such an encouraging school environment, and I will definitely incorporate my experiences at St. Andrew’s into my future practicums and eventually my own classroom!