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Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Challenges of Teaching a "Typical Lesson" in Rome

On Sunday night I received a call from my SP here in Rome. She had been in a skiing accident over the weekend and asked if I could teach class all day on Monday. I was a little nervous for class to start, especially because I had such little time to prepare and wouldn't have my SP in the room with me in case I ran into any problems. Fortunately, the lesson ended up great and I think the students got a lot out of it. Additionally, since my SP wasn't there it felt like the classroom was really my own!

The students were all very excited to see that I was teaching when they entered the room. I tried to stick with two of their major class routines: twenty minutes of silent reading at the beginning of class and cold calling throughout class. The latter was a little challenging because I didn't know all the student's names before teaching the class. To combat this I had them write down their names on flashcards at the beginning of class and used those. The only problem with this that I encountered was when I would unknowingly call on a student whose English wasn't very good for a question that was pretty challenging. This made me think about the challenges of teaching bilingual students and the ways that teachers can make ESL students feel more comfortable. While it's important to hold these students to high expectations, it's also important to pose questions in ways they would most easily understand. Therefore, identifying the bilingual students early and noting their language proficiency is key to effective teaching. 

The biggest struggle I faced during my day of teaching was with students calling out in class. Being in 6th grade, these students have a lot of energy. Their outspoken attitude during discussion certainly contrasts that of students in high school who are typically "too cool for school" and don't want to participate. While my SP has great classroom management skills, I know that these students in other classrooms have difficulty with behavior. A few weeks ago I sat in on a meeting between my SP and the 6th grade science teacher, who was having trouble keeping the class in order. My SP made two major suggestions to her: physical proximity, so standing next to students who are acting out and/or unfocused, and routine, so setting a regular schedule so students know what to expect. This conversation was great for me to hear as someone who is very interested in classroom management techniques. 

After talking to another student teacher who is pracing at the AOSR elementary school from The College of New Jersey I have a hypothesis as to where this classroom behavior may be coming from. My fellow student teacher explained to me that in her second grade classroom there is a huge lack of academic instruction. She complained that her students are scheduled every day to have multiple blocks of recess and art and music but very little science, reading, or math. While this may be fun for the students she says it makes it hard for her to get academic teaching time in and makes it difficult to really solidify any of the student's early academic skills. I think that this approach to education has some long term effects on the students in 6th grade that I am working with. They have trouble staying in their seat or going the whole class period without running to their lockers to get something that they forgot. These connections have certainly made me think about the affects of early education on long term routine building and academic standards. 

All in all I was very happy to have had the opportunity to teach three hour and a half lessons during my international prac. My SP was very grateful and I hope to be able to teach again soon.


  1. Hey Natalie and major kudos to you for stepping up like that with such little notice from your teacher. That has to be a very scary, but also incredibly validating experience, to take on a class on your own without any supervision. The notecards with student names is a great idea and I think I might use that for my next classes until I get a hang of the students names. It's also helpful because in Ireland, it is a cultural thing for students to be very quiet in class. I have noticed in my high school as well as at UCD that Irish students talk non-stop before and after class, but once the session starts, it is almost impossible to get a word out of them. It's definitely a big adjustment from the amount of participation at Boston College to say the least.

    I actually started my first day of teaching last friday. In Ireland, people refer to this thing called "Ireland Time." Everything is "maybe," "we'll see," or "probably tomorrow" around here. These are my kinds of people. I really do like the laid back atmosphere although it does lead to getting your placement at the brink of March. For my first day, I was paired with the history teacher who was also the supervisor of the sixth years, which would be the equivalent of our seniors. Similar to your circumstance (although much less dramatic), he decided to introduce me to teaching in Ireland with a more "trial by fire" approach. I arrived at his classroom thirty minutes early, upon which he gave me a geography lesson to teach to the students. Much like yourself, I was pretty thrown off and didn't feel like I had enough time to prepare whatsoever, but the lesson went really well and it turned out to be very interactive. I love Boston College's practicum program, but that has always been my one complaint. It is much too structured. Sometimes, when we are teaching in the future, we are not going to have enough time to write down what the "learning objective" is going to be or what "academic language" we want to convey to the students. Sometimes, it isn't necessary to type a formalized lesson plan.

    I am proud of us for taking our opportunities as they came and not shying away from a daunting but character building opportunity. Throughout the day, my teacher maintained this kind of strategy with me and I ended up teaching 4 separate geography, history, and popular cultural lessons with about 30 minutes to an hour of preparation time. When I left, I must say, I felt this kind of "teaching rush" kind of like a runner after a marathon. You probably felt the same way. I think thats what shows that we were meant to teach.

  2. First off, I want to say congratulations on running the entire class! That takes a lot of skill- especially with such short notice to prepare. I cannot believe you were able to teach independently for three and a half hours. I am sure it is helping you grow tremendously in terms of your professional career. I am especially impressed, as I had a similar experience during my first day at Laura Sanvitale, and, as I shared in my most recent blog post, did not have as successful of an experience. For me personally, it was very overwhelming to not only manage the classroom climate in general terms and attempt to carry out the lesson I had planned, but also attend to each student and ensure they comprehended the material I presented on an individual level and remain actively engaged in the lesson. I was also not aware I would have, for the most part, complete control of the classroom, and therefore did not prepare enough material to fill an entire period. I encountered this problem for simply an hour of class time, and I feel like I would have been very lost attempting to plan for three times that, especially after being in the placement for such a short amount of time as well as having little knowledge of and familiarity with the students' and their individual personalities and learning styles.

    After reading your blog post, I was also immediately reminded of my most recently completed pre-practicum in the United States. I was placed at an urban public school in Dorchester in a fifth grade classroom; one that was characterized by their energy and difficulty to control. Although, a majority of the time, the students were actively engaged in the lessons my Supervising Practitioner presented and were eager to learn, they were also extremely talkative and rambunctious, and were easily distracted. As you also experienced, they frequently called out and could appear, at times, disrespectful to my head teacher. At first, I was extremely intimidated by this dynamic. I was fearful of teaching my first group lesson, and was thereby especially attentive to my Supervising Practitioner's classroom management techniques, as she was quickly able to refocus the students' attention and was well respected and liked by the students. Moreover, classroom management has often been a struggle for me, as I have problems asserting myself and generating an authoritative presence. What I found extremely helpful was making a list of every classroom management strategy my Supervising Practitioner utilized in the classroom, whether it was fist to five, or taking away recess time, or even simply remaining quiet until the students simmered down and mirrored her. I compiled this list in a word document, which I often refer to for ideas.

    More specifically, at the end of my experience, I had to act as a substitute teacher for an entire day, as my Supervising Practitioner had to deal with a crisis and was not able to carry out her lessons. I drew upon all of the techniques I had recorded, and found the experience to be a lot less stressful and very impactful on my ability to manage the classroom. By consistently integrating strategies and disciplinary techniques my Supervising Practitioner regularly used, automatic cooperation from the students was typically achieved, as they were familiar with them. In this sense, I am very impressed with your natural inclinations towards maintaining classroom routine, and you could potentially extend this practice to include classroom management skills as well. I also found this gives you the opportunity to experiment with the techniques you are observing in class, and decide which strategies you would personally like to employ and create a unique, as I call it, "teacher toolbox." I will be facing a similar problem with classroom management throughout the remainder of my international practicum, and look forward to reading your blog to discover new paths of growth in this regard.


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