I am so excited to be working with The American Overseas School of Rome this semester. The warm, familiar nature of the school culture provides an extremely welcoming environment that has made my experience of coming to a new school alone very easy. My SP is absolutely amazing and her style of teaching perfectly aligns with the style and techniques that I strive to model when in the classroom myself. I am also especially excited because this is my first experience in a middle school classroom! Since I chose teaching as my career, I have always wanted to teach at a middle school level but have not had the opportunity yet through the pre prac program. Therefore, I am excited about experiencing a new age group and comparing it to my experiences with high school.
However, since arriving at AOSR I have had a hard time deciphering whether or not the differences that I am observing should be attributed to the Italian education system and culture, the middle school grade level, or the fact that AOSR is a private school. There are several independent variables and therefore it is difficult to make definitive statements about teaching in America versus teaching in Italy, but I hope to provide some examples of differences that I have noticed.
The most obvious of these difference lies in language. AOSR is composed of a mix between Italian students that speak proficient English (usually because of their parents) and American students who have moved to Italy because of their parent's work. Because of this, students are occasionally joining or leaving the school. I notice that as the students enter the classroom at the beginning of the day they all speak Italian to each other. However, once the lesson begins everything is conducted in English. The students are good about maintaining their English in class, however, whenever they get overstimulated by something that has been said they will speak to their peers in Italian. Although my SP must then calm them down and restore order in the lesson she does not seem to mind the occasional dual language in her classroom.
Despite some language barriers, I love that the AOSR students are very eager to learn and seem to love going here. While most students speak English fluently, some students are definitely more hesitant to participate because it takes them a little bit longer than usual to articulate what they want to say. Since there is such a mix in participation from these students, my SP employs cold calling throughout her class. In the past I have discussed the pros and cons of this technique with my various supervisors and SPs. My reservations towards using it have always involved the anxiety or embarrassment that it causes certain students. However, in this classroom the students seem very comfortable with the style and are always prepared to answer when called upon. It also prevents these eager students from completely overshadowing the less participatory students. Because these students are only in 6th grade, they definitely struggle with not calling out in class. Whenever a student calls out the answer, my SP always gently reminds him or her that calling out is not polite and then calls on another student to answer. This helps students learn that even if their answer is right, they must first and foremost adhere to the rules of the classroom and respect their peers and their teacher. This positive experience with this teaching technique certainly makes me more confident and comfortable with the idea of cold calling in my own lessons.
Another one of the many reasons that I feel so at home at this school is because my SP has sufficient time to show me around the school, introduce me the the other faculty, sit down to talk with me. As compared to my past pre prac experiences, my SP here seems much more available to me as a student teacher and much less stressed and crunched for time. Unlike the American schools, this school has no standardized tests and no state or common core standards that they must meet. While the American teachers at my past schools would always comment on the lack of time and low pay, the teachers here in general seem so much happier with their jobs. This has furthered my opinion that the American education system needs to cut back on its standardized testing.
Since arriving in Rome I have also noticed the importance that Italians put on work in addition to life as opposed to focusing solely on the importance of having family, health, and other non work related obligations, taking a back seat as it does in America. During the day this is shown in the Italian siesta culture where businesses close and people return home to rest between about 2:00 and 4:00. While talking to my SP I found out that the life before work lifestyle even carries over to AOSR. For example, at this school the students and the teachers take shuttles to get to and from school. The shuttle for teachers arrives at 8:30am leaves at 5:00pm and the school expects teachers to only work between those two times. Therefore, the school does not expect teachers to be staying in for lots of extra hours or taking home lots of work with them. My SP said that once she gets on the shuttle her work for the day is essentially done and she is able to go home and relax the rest of the night. AOSR definitely has a great community of teachers who all seem happy and excited to work there and it has definitely made me rethink the expectations we set for teachers in the US.