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Friday, April 29, 2016

Rule 1: Don't Faint

Today, I taught Biology again and I was given the opportunity of leading a sheep heart dissection. I had never done this when I actually was in biology, so needless to say, everything was new to me. The fact that seeing a heart out of an animals body makes me want to keel over in a pale faced stupor made it additionally difficult to say the least. The majority of the fifteen year old boys did not share my hesitation toward the dissection.

In preparation for the dissection, I was told to go to the butcher and buy 20 sheep hearts, which I had to barter for. I never thought my practicum would consist of bartering for sheep hearts, but yes, that is what it came to. After getting the sheep hearts for 20 Euro, I studied the diagram that I was to explain to the students. I was to explain the major features of the heart like the aorta, ventricles, and vessels.

After explaining all of the saftey instructions and proper ways to dispose of materials, I led the dissection and explained the different parts of the heart. To be honest, I had to look at my paper with a perplexed look for a lot of the teaching. It was a great way to learn. Not just biology, but the practice of teaching. It seems that much of teaching is staying two steps ahead of your students. It is not always how much you know it seems, but more about how you can communicate ideas and essentially seem to be an expert. I will admit that at one point I messed up in naming one of the parts.

Mr. E: And this is the ... Aorta.
Kieran: Sir, isn't that the ventricle?
Mr. E: (Studies sheet) Yes! Excellent job Kieran. I was testing you and you passed!

After a successful dissection, it was time to clean up the dissection boards and scissors. I'm sure that this is the case with other teachers, but I surprised myself with how stern I would get. It is not in my nature out of the classroom, and it made me ask myself at times, "Did that really just come out of my mouth?" Especially with a group of 20 15 year old young men, it is important to be firm and remind them that you are there to teach them, not to be there friend. I would find my voice settling at this low timbre with that classic "I am not kidding" teacher stare that I remember oh so well from my own times in high school. In the end, it may sound cliche, but the students appreciated that I was stern and hard on them to clean up everything correctly and respectfully. The classroom atmosphere and teaching material each go much more smoothly and at ease when it is clear who is respectfully in charge.

Above all, I followed my primary rule going into the experiment: don't faint.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Do Grasshoppers Eat Grass?

This past week at Belvedere, I was thrown in as a biology teacher for 5 classes. Being someone who is not a huge fan of science and has not taken any form of biology since freshman year of high school, I was a bit out of my element when it came to knowing what I was talking about. This proved to be a very effective way of honing my teaching skills and not getting distracted by the subject matter. Many times, when I teach English, it can be more second nature because it is something that I am more able to extrapolate upon. Although this is a valuable trait and something that I hope to further in the future, not knowing a subject matter forces you, as a teacher, to create more structure and scaffolding to lesson plans ahead of time.

Teaching biology, as well as history before, has really aided in the way that I organize and present my material. Much of this preparation is done with very little time to get ready, but nonetheless, I find myself anticipating problems, finding possible needed explanations, and creating more flow within my lesson plans when I know just as much as the students.

For my one of my classes, we did a discussion of Ecosystems and I taught the students how to draw food webs, in addition to explaining the meaning of the food webs. I feel very good about the lesson and I think that the students learned a lot about the structure and background material of the lesson. At one point, a students was trying to create a food chain and was asking me what grasshoppers ate. I had no idea to be honest. I just looked at him for a brief second and gave a very uncertain, "Grass?" It allowed me to connect with the students in a way that was still professional and show that I am also a human who does not have all the answers.

This led the student to also have to find the material for themselves. Rather than being a walking encyclopedia, I worked more as a scaffold for the young man to find the material on his own, which will be an invaluable life lesson more holistically.

Most of all, these minor details are not what is important in the classroom. People can get hung up on looking up these facts but not knowing the answer led to more discussion about the main topics and complex concepts of ecosystems and food webs, rather than what eats what.

Most importantly, do grasshoppers eat grass? Maybe the answer is that it doesn't matter.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sorry, We aren't Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society

The third time is the charm rang true for my visits to Belvedere. On my last visit, I felt much more familiar and at home with the campus and students. Whereas I had been running around a lot of the time in my first two times at Belvedere, I felt that I had a good handle on where my classrooms were located as well as the other resources. This past week was actually the first time that I had a chance to photocopy a huge amount of packets for my students that I had prepared myself. It felt like something out of the movies. It is absolutely amazing what those machines can do!

What's more, I have learned the names of most of my students and find that I am better able to connect and encourage interpersonal interaction - both between myself and the other students. As a cultural phenomenon, Irish students are simply less apt to speak in class, even if they have the correct answer or they have a burning question. when asking my supervisors about this, they told me that it is more a matter of confidence and self-assurance that is trying to be stressed, especially at Belvedere. At Boston College, most classes value participation at as much as thirty percent of the grade, however, in my college classes, as well as in many of the secondary schools, apparently there is rarely even a grade given for participation. I have found this to be one of the most interesting things that I have learned about the school culture in Ireland. As a result, knowing names allows me to cold call students who I know have the answer and encourage unsolicited responses. It can be like pulling teeth when you need to pause for a minute to get each question answered.

I even had the serendipitous experience of visiting one of my classmates houses at UCD and finding that his younger brother was in my History class at Belvedere. He was quite embarrassed and walked away. It made me realize how students view teachers. The fact that I could be eating a piece of pizza not in a suit and tie was so foreign to him. We have the tendency to separate teachers from being human and view them as a job rather than the person that they are. In addition to finding it hilarious, it also made me feel much too old for my age.

In addition to getting to know the students, I have made friends with a large part of the faculty, which has been relatively easy due to the chummy atmosphere of the teacher lounge at Belvedere. During lunch period or during a break block, I have the lucky chance to pick the brains of teachers and members of higher faculty and I have learned many interesting things about Belvedere, school in Ireland, and being a teacher in general. The biggest lesson that I have taken from these interactions is to not to over-romanticize teaching. It is important to love your job and know why your there, but we cannot expect to be Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society all the time. These teachers gave me the very real advice that being a teacher is a profession and a job that brings in money. Of course it is rewarding, but there are struggles and times when you just don't want to wake up at 6 o'clock and do it. Fortunately, I have not faced this yet, but I found it invaluably helpful that they were so honest to a person who is so new to teaching. This is not something that had not been stressed in lynch classes, but once again, it means a lot more in a hands-on experience from people who you are working alongside.

This following week, I will have a different teaching supervisor and I will be teaching Biology. Even though I am an English major, teaching history gave me a larger perspective on teaching and I expect to further broaden that when teaching the sciences.