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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Classroom Management as a Solo Teacher

The placement that I am working with is called the "American Overseas School of Rome" and therefore the school very much resembles the structure of an American school, as opposed to an Italian school. Nevertheless, I have noticed some differences in the way that the classroom and school day are structured.

For starters, the classroom size is very small. My classroom can only accommodate eighteen students total and the maximum amount of students at any given time is fifteen. Every day students have either "English" or "writing" class, both of which I teach. In American schools, usually both literature and writing fall under the category of English. However, here there are designated periods for each. I think that the school may be structured this way in order to ensure that students get both kinds of instruction from their English teacher. Some teachers in the States may focus more on the writing aspect or the reading aspect depending on what they feel most comfortable with. The AOSR schedule combats that problem and guarantees that all students, especially ESL students, are getting equal writing and literature time.

Another difference that I have noticed is the amount of freedom I have been allotted as a student teacher. I have full range of the campus and may come and go as I please. The other teachers here really treat me as an equal despite the fact that I am a college student and only come in once or twice a week. Additionally, I am able to teach pretty much whatever I want in my lessons. The teacher I have been working with has been out since late February due to a skiing accident so I have been taking over the lesson every day that I am able to come in. While the classroom is supposed to have a certified substitute teacher while students are in the room, the sub will often leave to make copies or talk to another teacher so that classroom is pretty much mine for the period. In my experience this independence would rarely happen in America.

Unfortunately because I only had a few classes with my SP before she had to leave, I do not always know what the expectations or rules for the classroom are. For example, today one of the students wanted to draw on his writing assignment even though the assignment did not ask for a drawing. When I told him that he should be moving on to the next activity, he told me that my SP lets them include drawings for extra credit. I felt bad for reprimanding him but knew that there was really no way for me to know that prior. My best way to work with problems like this is by asking the class. The students are usually very honest with me so if I ask "Does Ms. Schor let you do this?" they will let me know. While this may not work in every school, it works out well here.

One rules and expectations problem that I run into daily is an issue with leaving class. Sixth graders are ridiculously prone to leaving their belongings in their lockers or in their previous classroom. I assume that is because they are just now receiving increased responsibility in their lives and are slowly adjusting. Because I am now the main teacher in the classroom, when a student needs to leave for any reason they ask me. During a 90 minute class period, on average ten students will ask me to go to their lockers to get books, pens, or assignments. If they are not asking to go to their locker they are asking to go to the bathroom or to get a glass of water.  On one hand, I don't want students to lack the correct materials to learn but on the other hand I don't want them to miss out on valuable class time. The problem then is that if I say yes to one student, I feel obligated to say yes to them all. I'm usually pretty lenient with letting students leave the classroom here because our class periods are long and they are still pretty young. However, I wonder how I will combat this in the future in my own classroom.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Initial Reactions

March 2nd, 2016

Initial Reactions

Hello everyone! I apologize for not posting this sooner. I began writing this post a few weeks ago, but never got around to posting it due to travels and other assignments I had going on…. but here it is! I hope your pre-practicums are all going well and I look forward to reading about them!
As of today, I have been in Greece a full month, and just completed my first week at my international pre-practicum placement. I am working at a private school called Anatolia Elementary School. Here, I am working specifically with fourth and fifth graders during their English instruction time. The school educates about 600 students, from kindergarten to sixth grade. Due to my tricky class schedule, I am student teaching two mornings a week, instead of one, full day. I am also working with two different English teachers in order to maximize my time spent in the classroom and to maximize the number of opportunities I have to get involved in as well.
My first and immediate reactions after being in these classrooms were how well the students spoke English. On my first day, one of the fourth grade students read a long and detailed paragraph from their textbook with virtually no mistakes. The paragraph was about Mexican celebration traditions so it also included a few Spanish words like “piƱata,” which the student pronounced with no problem. The student’s English proficiency is due to the immense amount of English instruction these students receive. For grades four through six, there are five English teachers. The students receive about an hour of English instruction a day, except on one specific day when they have a “double period” and study English for 2 hours that day. In total, they receive about 6 hours of English instruction a week. This is an immense amount of English instruction compared to the amount of foreign language instruction students at the elementary school level in the United States receive. If a public elementary school offers a foreign language at all, the students may see this teacher, once, maybe twice a week. I know when I was in elementary school I was taught Spanish once a week, beginning in forth grade. The students here begin their English instruction as early as pre-school. However, it is important to keep in mind the students here are attending an extremely reputable private school. My supervising practitioners have told me English instruction is not as advanced in the Greek public schools. Another interesting aspect about the English instruction at Anatolia is that the students are broken up into smaller class sizes when they are taught English. For example, a fourth grade class of 30 students all have English class at the same time, yet are split into two different classes. As a result, the English class sizes do not exceed 15 students. Though I am not entirely sure why this is, I believe it is strongly related to the importance that is held upon learning how to speak, read, and write in English fluently.
Although I have only been working with my classroom teachers for a week now, I have already noticed differences between their teaching styles. The first difference I noted was how they set up their classrooms. Ms. Sophia has set up her classroom tables in three rows, having two students sit at each table. On the other hand, Ms. Georgia sets her tables up in four groups of four. I prefer this set up of tables, versus the rows because I feel like it gives the classroom a greater sense of collaboration. Ms. Sophia also tends to be a bit sterner with the students, while Ms. Georgia is often very playful with the students. She will call them pet names, playfully tease them, and laugh at their jokes. Though the two teaching styles are very different, I have noticed the students behave very differently as well, compared to the students in American classrooms. The Greek children are very rambunctious. They are constantly calling out and talking over their teacher. I feel that in American classrooms this may happen with one or two students in the classroom and when it does, the teacher quickly takes action to discipline those students so it does not happen again. Here, students are not disciplined for calling out unless they are extremely disruptive. Otherwise, this behavior is overlooked. I feel like this creates a very boisterous classroom environment and makes it harder for the students to pay attention and learn. However, I do believe this type of classroom environment contributes to a stress free environment. 
In the upcoming weeks I will be planning a grammar lesson for the fifth grade students. I will be using their curriculum books from National Geographic to base my lesson on. I look forward to telling you all about how it goes!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Uncertainties in a New School

            Today I began the final of my two different placements at a Catholic, private school named Laura Sanvitale. I quickly learned that this school is radically different than Maria Luigia. I came to class prepared with a short presentation on different kinds of American foods, as the students are closing a unit on food vocabulary and the use of phrases such as “I like to eat” and “I do not like to eat.” Although I was aware the students are in elementary school, and therefore are significantly younger than the students I had instructed at Maria Luigia, I was not given any further information regarding the types of lesson I should be giving, or the students’ English speaking levels and capabilities. Therefore, I believed a fun presentation elaborating on unique aspects of American culture would be an interesting way to begin my time at Laura Santivale, as well as allow me to gain a sense of the students’ varying needs and personalities. My presentation not only presented different types of “staple” American foods, such as hamburgers, potato chips, and bagels, but also introduced the various locations where these foods are eaten, such as at state fairs, boardwalks, and barbecues. I included a plethora of images and simple definitions to go along with each new place and food, thus attempting to integrate a number of strategies I had learned in my teaching bilingual students course at Boston College in order to attain comprehension among the students. I further included questions throughout the presentation to pose to students including “What foods have you seen that you like?” and “What do you like to eat in Parma?” This way, I could ensure students did not simply listen to me speak English, but also had the opportunity to engage in discussion and practice what they were hearing, giving me the chance to address any confusion and correct mistakes. I was confident in my brief presentation, as well as excited to compare Maria Luigia and Laura Sanvitale.

            Upon entering the classroom, however, I became acutely aware of how unprepared I was, as well as how starkly different the expectations are for this teaching placement compared to my previous. Essentially, I was given free reign over a class of about eighteen eight to nine year old students, for an hour, a situation I was not anticipating. Additionally, the students’ English levels were drastically below the students I had become used to instructing, and they hence had an extremely difficult time following my instruction. I was often lost as to what to discuss with the students and how to properly engage them in the lesson material, attempting to turn to my head teacher for assistance who would reply simply with “just do what you want” and “yes just do what you think is good.” To make matters more problematic, this lead instructor I work with surprisingly does not speak a great deal of English herself. She was often giving me lengthy instructions in Italian, as well as asked me to dictate and edit the goals she set for me for my pre-practicum requirements, as she was unsure of how to articulate the majority of her ideas. My limited knowledge of Italian further complicated the situation, and I was left feeling dazed, lost, and overwhelmed. Although I am sure this will be an incredibly helpful experience in terms of strengthening my Italian communication skills, I am extremely doubtful and fearful of my abilities to deliver the same kind of worthwhile experience to my pupils. I was again given a very unclear, limited description of what I should prepare for next week’s lesson, although I believe the teacher I am working with empathized with my insecurities and worries by dividing the class into smaller groups for me to work with. In this sense, I believe Laura Sanvitale is a school that will either be beyond my capabilities to reach, or be a school that successfully pushes me to improve not only my Italian skills, but also additionally my ESL instruction.