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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Straying from Structure

After much deliberation and finagling, I received my teaching placement in Dublin, Ireland at Belvedere College this past friday. I must say, I was incredibly excited when I heard this name because I recognized it from the book, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. When I looked it up online, I realized that Joyce actually attended the school. Maybe I am just an English nerd, but I thought that that was pretty cool.

My first day at Belvedere College was a whirlwind from the start. I was introduced to my main supervisor, whose Irish name I butchered beyond belief. He was a charming little Irish man with fire in his eyes and more energy than a Tour de France cyclist. He gave me the fastest tour I have ever experienced. The man was jumping three stairs at a time and power walking like an olympian through each hall to show me the basic facets of the school. I was already breaking a sweat by the time I was to meet the teacher that I would be teaching under for the next three weeks. I was surprised to learn that he was a history professor (my major is english).

My SP's method of mentoring was very much to simply throw the student teacher to the wolves. I arrived thirty minutes early to his classroom, upon which he greeted me with a handshake and a geography book. He informed me that he would like me to teach the next 45 minute lesson on the following chapter in 30 minutes if I felt comfortable doing so. I took him up on his offer and started my first class with half an hour of preparation. Surprisingly, I found that it was one of the most engaging and interactive lessons that I had taught, despite the short amount of planning and the rather dry subject matter (The Properties of Land Settlement). I absolutely love Boston College and the education program that I have had the privilege of undertaking, however, this is one complaint that I have always voiced to my supervisors. Things are much too rigidly structured when it comes to lesson planning. Sometimes, it is not necessary to spell out exactly what the "learning objective" or exactly what the "academic language" you wish to convey is. Sometimes it is not always necessary to right up a formal 13 page lesson template. These things help to prepare people and some people swear by it, however, as different learners and teachers, it can also be a hinderance and a route to over thinking and overanalyzing when planning a lesson.

With 30 minutes of preparation and a brand new class of rambunctious 14 year olds, I felt much more comfortable transferring the necessary material. I was able to be more flexible with what the students wanted to discuss, which aided classroom involvement. I used some of the tools that Lynch has given me, such as do nows, pair and share, and setting strict time limits; however, I found my teaching to be much less rigid and to be tailored to the students rather than the lesson plan.

I went on to teach 3 more classes with 3 separate lesson plans, all with less than an hour of prep time. Each time, I was filled with butterflies, but I was pleasantly surprised with what the lessons were able to accomplish. The biggest difference between Irish students and American students (though this is a large generalization), is the willingness to talk in class. Irish students, both in my university as well as at Belvedere College are not as active when it comes to speaking in the classroom. Participation is not counted as much of the grade, it is not stressed early on like in the States, and students are often more shy about voicing an academic opinion, even at older ages. This was a challenge at first, however, I found that connecting with the students personally and relating history to contemporary issues lit a fire in their belly that made them want to speak. I think that telling jokes and small personal anecdotes is also invaluable when it comes to setting a class culture that is inviting and furthermore, enticing, for students to contribute.

At the end of the day, I felt what I call a "teaching rush" much like a marathon runner experiences an "endorphin rush." I was drained and rung out from five hours of teaching, however, I felt energized and lifted in my spirits. It was another experience that solidified my wanting to be a teacher.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, your experience very much mirrors my first day at Laura Sanvitale, one that I described in one of my earlier blog posts. You described my feelings almost exactly with the phrase "being fed to the wolves." After undergoing my second day at Laura Sanvitale, I found that, although I had prepared a number of reviews of previously learned material and activities, I was still extremely overcome by having complete control over the class for a full hour, especially since the majority of them do not speak a lot of English, meaning I must attempt to communicate via my limited Italian skills. In this sense, I am extremely impressed by your enthusiasm and capability to teach an entire school day!

    As I stated before, I completely relate to any feelings of anxiety, as I believe student teaching in America is a lot more structured, whereas this alien experience of having complete authority over the classroom from the outset is very foreign and can be overwhelming. Although you and I were teaching very different age groups and subjects, I identify with your struggles of having to create impromptu lesson plans, establish a teacher presence, gain the students respect, and keep them entertained and involved all within the first day. I was completely exhausted, and scared, after my first day at Laura Sanvitale, despite the fact I only had an hour of time, compared to your entire school day packed with intellectually difficult lessons. Although we were both thrown into completely diverse environments and pushed way beyond our comfort zones, I am so happy to hear you felt a rush at the end of the day, and a strengthening of your desire and ability to teach. I feel, after completing a second day at Laura Sanvitale and truly reflecting on my experience, that this is the beauty of teaching abroad. Having to adjust, at the outset, to a strikingly different teaching environment with students from unfamiliar backgrounds and with school systems that are unlike your own truly push you past your typical teaching formulas to create an entirely new, and more culturally competent, teacher persona, adding a wide variety of experiences and valuable lessons to your toolbox. I am happy to see this experience is affecting and changing you like it is I, and I am excited to hear more about your days at Belvedere College and learn from your reflections!


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