When I arrive on Monday morning, Ms. Falagiani’s third grade class is buzzing. I try to get to school earlier than 8:20 AM to say hello to the students, and do my best to interact with them about their weekends. When Ms. Falagiani gets to class, the students sit in their seats, and attendance is taken. She takes time to ask the students how they are doing, as well as how their weekends were before beginning the morning prayer, which is repeated in English. The homework is checked one by one, and Ms. Falagiani allows me to also check over homework, simply to give extra encouragement to the students with a thumb up or a “good job.” Monday mornings are dominated by language arts and grammar in English, most likely because this is the time when I am in the classroom to help. Lessons are taught using the workbook from the assigned curriculum, which involves writing exercises, drawing and coloring activities, and listening comprehension. Aside from myself, there is an aid in the room that acts as an extra hand for when I cannot translate Italian or there is an outside issue that I am not equipped to handle. Despite all language barriers, interactions with the students and other teachers are welcoming and warm-hearted.
In the last two weeks I spent at San Gaspare, there was a substitute teacher in the classroom. At this point in my time at the school, the students know who I am and feel comfortable around me enough to listen to my instructions as well as joke around with me. This came in handy especially in the past two weeks as the substitute teacher adjusted to the classroom. Because I had spent time with the students as well as following Ms. Falagiani’s teaching style, she gave me much more responsibility and freedom in the classroom, making me feel as an equal rather than a subordinate. However, this came at a cost because I felt more in charge of the classroom than I had in previous visits, and without Ms. Falagiani’s help, it became increasingly difficult to contain the classroom antics. In addition to the chaos in the classroom, the Christmas show was being assembled; therefore, the students were in high spirits. Around noon, the whole school was brought into the hallway to practice the readings for the show, and it was evident how close-knit the faculty and students were. San Gaspare is a relatively small school, so there is a strong sense of camaraderie and closeness.
My last day at San Gaspare was bittersweet. Despite the challenges I faced with language barriers and cultural differences, I felt connected to the students in a way I had not experienced before in American classrooms. The curriculum is more focused on creative expression, and the atmosphere in the classroom is carefree. Although I found that I would address certain things differently, such as discipline and management, my classroom at San Gaspare felt more comfortable and stress-free in comparison to some American classrooms. Also, the preparation for the Christmas show reminded me of my own experience in my elementary school where we prepared a show full of readings, songs and prayers for the holidays. As I attended a Catholic school, San Gaspare was the perfect fit for my international practicum experience, challenges and all.