This is most likely going to be a super long post. It's already 10pm here and I have to pack but there's so much I want to write about the education system in Ireland. Me, Jessie, and three other students in our program (who are from Indiana), are off to Galway for the weekend tomorrow afternoon. One great thing about Ireland being so small is that it is very easy to travel around the whole country. In just 2 and a half hours we will go from one coast to the other. Pretty cool! We're staying in a hostel. I'll update on that later.
Anyways, this blog is just going to recap my first week at St. Aidan's. So, I'm sorry for all the teacher terms and discussion about the education system in Ireland. This is a warning for those reading this - it is all about schooling in Ireland so if you are not a teacher you will most likely be bored :)!
I am teaching at St. Aidan's Community School. It is a Catholic public school that houses approximately 500 students from ages 13-17. It is a lower-economic school but has a very good reputation. Students wear a uniform everyday that consists of black or gray pants, a gray button up, and green sweater (or "jumper") with the school's crest on it. The school day goes from 8:50am to 3:30pm, with an hour break for lunch.
Monday was my first day at St. Aidan's. I arranged with my teacher to have her pick me up on her way to school. I meet her at a hotel which is takes just under 10 minutes to walk to. This is much better than the 25 minute walk I'd have if I had to get to school on my own! She also gives me a lift home as well which is nice.
As soon as I arrived to school, I was greeted by the principal and what they call a principal deputy, which I have learned is just another name for Vice Principal. St. Aidan's doesn't start until 9am which I found to be much later than I expected when compared to high schools in the United States that start around 7:30am. Also, from 8:50am - 9am, while students have their version of homeroom, teachers gather in the teacher lounge and have tea. In this past week of being here, I have had enough tea to satisfy me for the rest of my life. But, I don't mind that ha ha. I really think the United States should adopt this whole drinking tea thing. It really is a nice way to socialize with other teachers and begin your day. Although school starts at 8:50am, teachers do not have to arrive early. This was something that completely surprised me. Every school I've worked at, teachers are required to usually arrive 30 minutes early. But, this is not the case at St. Aidan's. Also, when the students leave for the day, so do the teachers.
After the short tea time, I observed throughout the day, different teachers in the maths department. Class periods are 40 minutes, which is similar to the U.S. Something I found interesting was that although there are bells, students are not giving any transition time in between classes. One ends, and the next one begins when students enter the class.
But, students are not in grades. They are in years. This is very important because third year students have to pass a Junior Certificate Exam to attend what they call the senior levels. Basically, students in Ireland start secondary school in 7th grade (which is considered 1st year), 2nd year (8th grade), and 3rd year (9th grade). After 3rd year, to get to the senior level, students must pass an exam (junior certification). After passing, students have an option to take a transition year, where students focus on one subject (i.e., language) for a year, before entering the senior level. This 4th year is not offered at St. Aidan's because most students skip it. So, the senior level consists of 5th year (10th grade) and 6th year (11th grade). This means most students graduate from secondary school at the age of 17 in Ireland.
Throughout the week, I observed all of the maths classes offered at the school. Students are placed in one of three options: foundations, ordinary, or higher level. Because St. Aidan's is a low-economic school, unfortunately, many students are in the foundation level. These classes I observed were extremely small, and made up of about 5 to 10 students. This was actually pretty cool because the teacher has time to individually help the students during class. Also, the lowest of these classes, students just work through different level work books. Although this seems tedious and doesn't give students much of an in-depth education, it seems to keep them on track and allows for students of different learning levels a chance to learn in one classroom (i.e., a differentiated learning technique (teacher term!)).
Something else that's interesting to note, is that at 11am students have a 10 minute snack break where they get to visit the canteen (lunch hall). They get a snack and a quick break. These 10 minutes are also utilized by the teachers. They get tea time. I told the teachers that in the U.S. this break is non-existent and no one really drinks tea. They were shocked!! They didn't understand how we didn't get breaks or socialize over tea. At 12:30pm all students have lunch. Since there are only 500 students in the school, St. Aidan's is able to accommodate all students at one lunch period. But, the unique thing about this is that most students go home for lunch. They all live locally and lunch is an hour long so they can afford to do so. The canteen is a new concept to the school, and offers lunch to students who don't leave for a small price. Another thing I've noticed is that the teachers bring amazing lunches to school. Anything from gourmet salads to pasta dishes are brought in. I definitely stood out with my PB & J on the first day.
In general, I've noticed that most of the teachers wear the same outfits a few days in a row or every other day. Not because of a money issue, but simply because this is normal to them. I feel almost out of place with my "new" outfits everyday lol. Something else I've noticed is that female teachers are called "Miss" and male teachers, "Sir" by students. Students do not use their names when calling them. Sometimes a student will address me, but then I am not sure if it's me that he or she is asking for.
Being from America, I have become quite the talk of the school. Students who I do not know in the hallway always say hello to me. It is very welcoming. In general, students think that I know all of the American celebrities. I don't think students grasp how big America is and how small Ireland is compared to our country. Also, I am shocked by how much America influences Europe, let alone Ireland. In one of the classes a poster of Obama is on the wall. Students are also constantly listening to American music, too. Just yesterday I heard one of my student's singing my favorite song, "Call me Maybe". This was something I was not expecting in Ireland.
Overall, I have had a good week at St. Aidan's. I can't wait to start teaching classes!!
Thanks for reading!