This semester, I have been completing my international practicum at St. Joseph’s Marist College in Cape Town, South Africa. This private Catholic school, which consists of the pre-primary school (ages 3-6), junior school (grades 1-7), and senior school (grades -12), is located in one of the southern suburbs of the city, so it is very different from many of the government (public) schools in Cape Town. I have been spending time in one of the second grade classes with 24 students and am very lucky to have a CT who not only is a great teacher to observe, but also goes out of her way to support me and contribute to my learning experience at St. Joseph’s.
Student teaching at St. Joseph’s has been unique both because of the fact that it is outside of the U.S. and because it is a private Catholic school – two entirely new experiences for me. The school only became private three years ago and according to my CT, this change is fairly noticeable in the students’ attitudes. She said that many of the students who have only been at St. Joseph’s since it became private have very nice manners and seem more thoughtful and caring to others compared to most of the older students who had been at St. Joseph many years before it became private. She believes that these students have not fully adopted the values that the school now consistently observes. The school day begins with all of the students greeting the teachers in unison followed by a morning prayer. Students then transition to their classrooms and in my class they begin morning meeting, which includes a reading from the teacher’s “What Would Jesus Do?” book that triggers a discussion on that day’s religious lesson. These lessons include topics on sharing, being grateful, trusting God, respecting elders, among others. I have found this part of morning meeting particularly helpful for the students, as they tend to focus on that day’s lesson throughout the school day. Morning meeting is followed by a series of activities accompanied by an interactive video. This online program called GoNoodle contains instructional dance, yoga, and “thinking” videos (thinking about being confident, peaceful, gracious, etc.). My CT usually plays one dance video, one yoga video, and ends with one “thinking” video. This activity is a really great opportunity for the students to let out some energy and calm their minds and bodies down before jumping into the first lesson of the day with focus and thoughtfulness.
Because the school is private, it does not receive any government funding and thus it solely relies on student fees, school fundraisers, and donations. At first, I was very surprised by the abundance in resources in my CT’s classroom, which contains a full bookshelf, many posters, a cabinet full of learning manipulatives and school supplies, and many other additional school supplies around the classroom. However, my CT explained that each teacher at St. Joseph’s is responsible for purchasing and bringing in their own supplies for their respective classrooms. From the start, I also was curious about the diversity of the students in my class. The fees for attending St. Joseph’s are significant, which led me to assume that most students came from families of higher SES. After discussing this with my CT, I realized that while many students come from wealthier families (relative to the overall population in Cape Town), this is not the case for all students. St. Joseph’s offers some scholarships for families to help them afford their child’s education. Another interesting point that my CT raised was that even though most families are financially stable, she has noticed a pattern of uneducated financial decisions across some of the families. For example, she said that she has seen families pull into the parking lot to drop their children off for school in fancy, expensive cars but then she will see their children get out of the car with the same torn shoes they have had for many years. She said that many parents are willing to pay for an education that they believe to be greater than that which their child would receive at a government school, but that they are often not willing to pay for other things such as extracurricular fees, new school uniforms, healthy school lunches, and more. She also has observed that often, these are the same parents who choose not to attend their parent-teacher meetings at the beginning of the school year. I found this pattern very interesting and problematic as there is more than just what a student learns in the classroom that contributes to the child’s growth and development. In many of my Lynch classes, we have talked about the importance of connecting with the child’s parents or guardians and how this parent-teacher relationship can support and increase student learning, so it is interesting being at a school where the parent-teacher relationships are very inconsistent across families and seeing how this affects specific students.
Overall, I am really enjoying my time at St. Joseph’s and have learned so much from the students and my CT. I have been working on getting to know each student, their background, and their strengths and weaknesses in order to understand the class better and to strive to meet the needs of each student while teaching. I am looking forward to discovering more parallels and differences between St. Joseph’s and my previous experiences in elementary schools and I am excited to continue considering how I can take what I learn here in Cape Town and bring it back to BC and the Boston area.