Studying abroad has been a rewarding, challenging, and fantastic experience thus far. We are going into our 7th week here and time has flown by. It seems like just yesterday we were packing our bags nervous and excited for what was to come. Now it is time to tie together my thoughts and make one final reflection on my time spent here.
I am now in full control of the classroom, leading them throughout the day, taking care of behaviors, and putting together the work program. This class has truly challenged my managing abilities and tested my limits at some points. I come home rather exhausted after a day of teaching. Every day seems to bring about a new challenge, and there is ALWAYS something that does not goes as planned. It has really helped me to think on my feet and be ready to teach at the touch of a button. Sometimes we find out the morning of or the hour before that our students have an extra program or are going to be missing a special. This means we have to quickly rework our day to try to fit all of our work in. Sometimes we have to leave work unfinished which just means that it will be completed another day.
One really interesting school policy that is still shocking to me is what they do if teachers are gone. Since it is the end of the year and funding is running low they do not always have enough money to cover a CRT, which is their name for a substitute. Instead of bringing someone into the classroom they will take the class and split them up into the other grades. They are then given a handful of work and are sent off to the back of other classrooms to complete it. From what I gathered, the students seem to enjoy when they get split up into other classrooms, but I find it to be challenging for the teachers that are taking on students. Each classroom takes on about 3-4 students. This means that each teacher has an added responsibility of watching out for these students and assisting them if need be. For the most part, the students are well behaved and do most of their work. One thing I have noticed is that they complete their work rather early many times and then just sit in the back and talk and play games which are distracting to the class that is in session. I asked my teacher if it was a common practice to do this in schools and she said that it is very common for schools to split their grade instead of having a CRT come in. She said that this was because of the lack of funding at some points as well as the issue of not having enough CRT’s to cover in the area.
I have recently learned about a new writing program that my school is implementing and that program is called VCOP. From what I have gathered it is similar to writer’s workshop. The teachers that have started the program said that it has been really effective thus far because it helps the students to be in charge of their writing. The program works like this. The students will write about a topic whether it is assigned or a free write and then they will go back and edit. It sounds simple, but it is the editing that makes it so fantastic. When the students edit they go back with different highlighters. Each highlighter means a different thing, such as if they are going back with their yellow highlighter they would be looking for interesting words throughout their writing piece. Other colors mean they are looking at different aspects of writing. My favorite part of this program is that the students realize for themselves what they need to work on. One student stated, “I don’t have any yellow, I didn’t realize that I don’t write with any interesting words.” It gets them to think on a deeper level about what they are writing instead of just writing and handing their work in. This writing program is also very keen to connect with literacy and other subjects. I love that it works to combine subjects instead of leaving them as separate parts. I would love to see this program in full swing, but unfortunately that will not be happing before the end of my placement. One way that my classroom works to combine literacy and math is that we use learning logs. These are small booklets that each student uses after our lessons. They are to write one thing that they learned in the lesson. At first I had a lot of students coming up to me and saying “I don’t know what to write.” It took a little bit to get students thinking and reflecting about their learning. This is a great tool to use that helps the students with recall as well as tying in literacy to other subject areas.
I have noticed that my teacher likes to use a lot of practical application in her classroom when it comes to teaching math lessons. She has told me that these students need the opportunity to see how things work in the real world, especially since some of their parents are not able to do things such as reading a clock or counting money. One very common activity that we do is called money maths. The students are given an activity such as shopping in a catalogue for food and are given a budget. They then have to total up their items and find out how much change they would receive. I like the fact that it is a hands-on experience and something that they will do in their everyday lives. The students respond well to the activity and I have seen growth over the weeks as they use different tools such as rounding, addition, subtraction, and budgeting.
Looking back I feel that I have grown as a professional during my time in Australia. I have realized how important it is to have support throughout the school. Unfortunately here, I have seen the breaks in support at the school. Some of the staff do not get along with one another, including the principal and vice principal. This means that there is a lack of communication between the two of them and they both seem to work in different directions. It puts more work on the principal and does not allow the other staff to have the support that they should. It made me realize how important communication and actions are when it comes to everyone in the school. I find my teacher communicating to the principal about issues she sees and many times there is no action taken on these issues. One of these situations is the lack of support in our classroom. We have a student that is funded and is not getting any support from aides, which is very unfair and unjust for him. It has made it hard and stressful for my teacher and myself as she is just looking to get some support in her room and from the principal. This whole situation has made me appreciate all the more the support of the staff at my school in Oshkosh. Without this support, teaching gets harder. I have also grown to appreciate the services that are offered in American schools for students that have needs. In Australia I have worked in a fully inclusive classroom which has helped me to find new tools for working with students with Asperger’s, ADD, ADHD, and students with intellectual disabilities. These tools will be extremely valuable as I continue on with my career as an educator. Another thing that this experience has helped me with is it has helped me to better appreciate my culture and teach those around me about similarities and differences in culture. I pay more attention to the little things and appreciate small differences even more. When I come back to America in the next couple of weeks, I will be coming back with new ideas and insights that will help me as get my teaching license. Study abroad has been awesome to say the least. I only wish that I had more time with the students here and that more people can have an opportunity such as this one.