I’m back and finally into the swing of teaching again! I’m sorry if I didn’t help the audience pronounce my school’s name phonetically, so I will spell it out as phonetically as possible because it is in Irish: colo-shta crave on, which in Irish is spelt, Colaiste Craobh Abhann. Obviously my Irish is a wee bit rusty.
As I mentioned previously, I was on a two week holiday from school and I finally began lead teaching all of my classes this week Monday, April 15th. I would like to touch on some of the differences in curriculum here in Ireland vs the United States.
My supervisor through Educators Abroad Student Teaching walked me through his expectations for lesson planning on my first day at school. I do not have a set of “standards” or “common core goals” to pull lesson objectives from, but rather write out what topic we will be covering over the course of the lesson and what “all, most and some students” should know by the end of the lesson. (As well as covering all of the pedagogical and logical bits in between, such as the introduction, information, closure of the lesson, and inquiries I will ask the students to check comprehension.) Therefore, I have had to been adaptive to writing lesson plans in a different format and style than I was used to in America.
One huge obstacle, as well as learning curve, I’ve encountered in my time at school is that the structure of how content is assessed is completely different, which has made setting standards and creating a cohesive unit challenging. All of the students’ curriculum is centered around two very important examinations.
Students in Ireland are required to take a “Junior Certificate,” also known as “Junior Cert” examination after their third year (freshman year), which covers content in nine subjects areas requiring English, Irish and Mathematics, Civic, Social and Political Education, Social Personal and Health Education, Physical Education and Religious Education. According to the State Commission’s website the objective of the Junior Cycle is to “provide a well-balanced general education suitable for pupils who leave full-time education at the end of compulsory schooling, or alternatively, who wish to enter on more advanced courses of study.” It is not possible to “fail” the Junior Cert overall; all students continue to their next year of education no matter what their results, but, in order to take a “Leaving Certificate,” also known as “Leaving Cert” examination, which is given at the end of sixth year (Senior year), students must have gotten a “C” or higher in said subject.
The Leaving Cert is the final examination in Irish secondary schools. There is a two year prep period: fifth year and sixth year. Fourth year (our Sophomore year) is known as a “transition year” from secondary school. I will touch more on this later. Students prepare for their Leaving Cert in their “Senior Cycle.” A minimum of five subjects are examined in the Leaving Cert, but most students take six or seven. The Leaving Certificate is a high stakes exam, in that students wishing to study Medicine in college, or a more elite profession, must score at least a particular set of points on their examinations. Each subject is scored on a percentage range and the corresponding grade denotes particular points awarded for college. Naturally, more prestigious colleges require higher points on Leaving Certificates. See table below:
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Phew. Talk about confusing! I’m still sort of disoriented when it comes to talking about Junior and Leaving Certificates, which is why (if you’re putting the puzzle together with me) I am not teaching any third or sixth year classes. The preparations for exams is a very serious time and I am unfamiliar with the content and how each exam is scored, so I stick to teaching students who are not preparing for high stakes examinations, but rather have been instructed to polish their skills in persuasive writing and speaking.
When I entered school, I was asked what my passions in teaching are by my supervisor. Since I haven’t taught much of my Communications methods, I told my main CT that I would enjoy teaching public speaking, and just like that, my plan for the next seven weeks was set. Students need to learn the art of writing persuasion for their Leaving Cert, so in all of my classes I am teaching different variations of persuasion, besides the class I’m teaching Dickens in.
Although free reign over a classroom and curriculum sounds grand, it has been challenging for me, as I have no guidance when it comes to deciding what I will teach, since there is no set curriculum besides preparing students for content on the Junior and Leaving Cert. I basically bounce off an idea to my colleagues and they say it sounds brilliant, then I teach said lesson. I am grateful that I had an extremely responsible role in my placement stateside before coming to Ireland because if I hadn’t, I don’t think I would have the confidence or tools to be an independent student teacher here, as well as self advocate. In summation, I have found that reigning in on the curriculum here is very challenging, but I know that in the end, this experience will show that I can adapt to different challenges and work hard to overcome them.
I’d like to end by touching briefly on the transition year, also known as TY, also known as fourth year here. Fourth year in Ireland is known as a transition year in school and is optional for students; therefore, they can skip their fourth year and head straight to fifth year if they choose. According to the State Examination Commission, the mission statement of the transition year is “To promote the personal, social, educational and vocational development of pupils to prepare them for their role as autonomous, participative and responsible members of society.”
Most TY’s focus on many non-academic subjects, such as life skills perhaps including: first aid, cooking and typing. Students can explore different sports: rock-climbing, hill-walking, kayaking and orienteering. Voluntary work during fourth year is required, and students are often times out of school exploring different jobs in their desired fields or going abroad for field trips.
For example, a lot of my students were gone last week because they were in Germany for an exchange program. Shortly before I arrived at school a handful of German students were staying in Kilcoole for a week to experience school life in Ireland. Then, a month later, the Irish students were invited to travel to their school to experience German school life, etc. It is not possible to fail TY, unless students are absent for a large amount of school days.
In addition to volunteering and acquiring life skills, an appreciation for the arts is fostered during TY, and they are required to coordinate and participate in the school musical. I was lucky enough to experience the school musical, “All Shook Up,” which was a spin on a 50’s time period musical featuring all of Elvis Presley’s most famous songs. I was delighted to see some of my own students on stage performing the first week I arrived in Ireland!
I have found that the Irish lifestyle is all about adaptability. For example, today I went into my TY classroom, only to find out that half of my students would not be in attendance because they were participating in a Swedish workshop. In two weeks they will be traveling to Sweden so they are practicing some basic Swedish language. Another example of adaptability is that I was teaching a group of first years on Tuesday and about ten minutes into class, the principal came and took half of them for a study skills session.
I am truly grateful for my Irish experience because it has helped me hone in on the reason we teach: the students. As long as I’m engaging my students with enriching lessons, inquiring through thought provoking questions and meaningful assessments, and fostering relationships with them, I know I’m doing my job. I remember in my first methods class when I had to fill out an eight page lesson plan template and was frustrated having to think of what I would do if “time ran short” or if “more time was left over” after the lesson was completed, but am now extremely grateful that our lesson plan templates taught me to think like a teacher, because I often times have to adapt my lesson plans to suit unforeseen circumstances.
All of my colleagues and students are simply delightful people. Today I was overjoyed when multiple students said “Hello Miss Smit!” (the Irish often times don’t pronounce the ‘h’ at the end of a word) to me in the hallway. Even more touching is that several of my fourth year students thanked me for my lesson after class today. The Irish are wonderful people with genuine, lively, and kind souls. My time here is flying by so quickly. I’ve already been in Ireland for a little less than a month and a half! I wouldn’t change my decision to teach abroad for anything. Everyday I’m faced with a new educational, professional, and personal challenge; whether it be talking to a new member of the staff or flying to Paris alone, I grow more in different ways each day.
I look forward to my next blog post, in which I hope to cover my greatest triumphs thus far, more challenges and the progress I’ve made with my students in their lessons.
Until next time, as Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech to the graduating class at Stanford University in 2005, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Some pictures of my travels:
Me at the top of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
I do believe this picture requires no caption : ).