While reflecting back upon my time in Ireland, I can’t help but feel extremely fortunate and appreciative of my time abroad. Not only have I learned more about the Irish education system, as well as Irish history and culture, I have also learned more about myself as an individual and educator. As this was the second Irish study abroad experience I was able to attend, I spent most of my time focusing on details and aspects of the numerous planned experiences that I missed the first time, and made a point to truly immerse myself in Irish culture, while living in the moment. Over the course of the last two weeks, my life was again changed by my time spent with dedicated professional educators, teaching and working with a number of Irish students and teachers, visiting exciting, beautiful new places, and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
Although I had already experienced teaching in Irish schools, and also visited a number of the planned historical locations four years ago, I created an entirely new appreciation for these experiences. I prioritized focusing on certain aspects Irish history and culture that I missed during my first Irish experience in 2014, and now have a far greater understanding and admiration for the fact that the Irish are extremely proud of their history, honor their heritage, and celebrate their past. With this, I found myself even more interested in my own Irish heritage, as my great, great, great grandparents fled Ireland during the potato famine. As I later learned from our time at the Cobh Heritage Center, the “Great Famine” wrecked havoc on the Irish population, as nearly one million individuals lost their life due to starvation, and another one million fled the country in hopes of a new, and better life. In regards to Irish pride, I immediately think back to our tour guide at Holycross Abbey in County Tipperary. This man was so passionate and knowledgeable about the history and significance of the monastery, and I found myself so intrigued by every piece of information he shared about the 800-year-old architectural wonder that was built with rather limited resources by the monks that inhabited the religious structure; the ingenuity is astounding. I was so impressed by every medieval, man-made structure that we visited, and felt as though I was stepping back in time while touring through the beautiful fortresses. Even when visiting the numerous cities scattered throughout the country, the history and significance of each was equally fascinating and intriguing. For someone that loves history, I was in my glory. In terms of Irish culture, I am so appreciative of the Irish hospitality, I respect their desire to go above and beyond to take care of their loved ones and friends, and truly appreciate and admire the relaxed, laid back attitudes found throughout the country.
I sincerely hope that Frostburg State University and Mary Immaculate College continue their partnership for years to come, as the connections and friendships that have been created truly demonstrate a family-style bond, and I am so fortunate to have experienced this while in Ireland. I am still in awe by how gracious and hospitable each and every Irish individual was towards our group. We all felt so welcome, and at home throughout the entire two-week stay on the Emerald Isle, and I really enjoyed catching up with those that I met during my first trip four years ago. Prior to our departure date, each one played a significant role in the planning process of the trip, and welcomed us with open arms to Mary Immaculate campus, their homes, and/or schools when we finally arrived. For those that welcomed ten American students into their home, I am so thankful and appreciative of the wonderful food and hospitality. I will cherish every memory made for the rest of my life, and I hope that one day I will be able to host my Irish friends at my home to return the kind gesture.
When reflecting upon a favorite memory, I cannot simply think of just one, as the entire trip was wonderful, and I loved every minute abroad. Being more specific, however, I would say that the time spent in three Irish schools would be a chosen favorite, as education is my passion, and the Irish education system is certainly admirable. In regards to the schools, Peter, Aisling, and Sinead welcomed us with open arms, and went above and beyond to plan a school experience that was memorable for both FSU and Irish students. I commend Peter, as well as the other principals we worked with, for valuing the importance of allowing their students to be exposed to globalized education, and interacting with foreign individuals; this broadens the students’ perspectives, and is so beneficial to their learning. I enjoyed planning lessons and activities to complete in the classroom, and based on the reactions, engagement, as well as mature and impressive discussions, the students enjoyed the lesson as much as I enjoyed teaching. I was so impressed by two particular questions posed by the students involving Martin Luther King Jr. The questions were: “Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would be happy with America if he were still alive today?” and, “Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would change his speech if he were to give it today?” I was amazed, and so impressed by these questions, and I believe this demonstrates how insightful, thoughtful, and mature the sixth class students are in Ireland. Another favorite school memory would be at St. Conaire’s when several students presented myself, and two other FSU students with a card that read “We’ll miss you,” asked to take a picture with us, and also gave us a hug on our last day spent together; this meant the world to me, and confirmed the impact that our FSU group had on the Irish students. As I have been out of the classroom for almost two years in order to complete my Master’s degree, I realized just how much I miss teaching and being in the classroom, and my love and passion for education has only continued to grow with each passing day. I cannot wait to finally have my own classroom. In addition, while using children’s picture books as a primary component of the lessons taught, I have found a new passion for children’s literature, and I plan to incorporate the use of advanced children’s books into my secondary classroom, as based upon the curriculum; I am bursting with ideas.
As our group spent three days at St. Conaire’s, I learned a great deal about the Irish education system, and had an overall terrific teaching and school day experience that significantly differs from the norm in American schools. In regards to several differences between the Irish and America education system, Peter explained to us that the Catholic Church employs Irish teachers and administrators; however, all staff members are paid by the state of Ireland. With the separation of church and state in the United States, this would never occur. Also, the majority of the schools in Ireland are Catholic, although, children of diverse religious backgrounds are welcome. In addition, all students are required to wear uniforms, and must learn Gaelic, the traditional Irish language. The language and literacy curriculum in Ireland is far more advanced and efficient, as compared to the United States, and I wish that American students were required to learn a second language throughout the duration of their public schooling, rather than requiring a foreign language class only for several semesters during middle school, and for only two years at the high school level. In addition to language, one percent of all public spaces are to be used to recognize the arts, and I would love for American society to celebrate and recognize the talents and abilities of students and citizens. With this, I was so impressed by the student artwork displayed throughout the schools, particularly the artwork completed by sixth class students at St. Conaire’s that explained the founding of the school, as well as recognized the various countries represented by the students enrolled.
Specifically at St. Conaire’s, the overall morale and work-based relationships amongst the teachers is far better than what is found within a number of American schools. For example, teachers have tea in the staff lounge together in the morning, prior to the start of the school day, and have another ten to twenty minute tea break every morning around 11:00AM. During these breaks, as well as during lunch, teachers talk to one another, and seem to enjoy one another’s company; not a single student, or other faculty member is discussed. From only working in the school for a few days, strong staff relationships and respect, dedication, and work ethic are evident, as is the overall positive work environment. I commend Peter’s mentality of providing teachers with flexibility, as he expects flexibility in return, and I highly commend the Irish education system for allowing teachers to have significant amounts of autonomy, as teachers are well trusted and respected, experience limited accountability measures, and are not hindered by strict teaching guidelines and procedures. Also in regards to the staff, every other Friday, rotating groups of teachers sell baked goods within the staff lounge to raise money for the school, as well as other school-supported fundraisers. The school social committee actually planned a staff party with our group, and we all had a wonderful time playing numerous fun games, listening to the many stories told by the Irish storyteller, and enjoyed mingling with the staff. During our last day at the school, I was honored to be one of the selected FSU students to present Peter, the principal, with a Frostburg State University football jersey, as well as a school pennant as a “thank you” gift for allowing us work with the staff, and teach to the students. Our group wanted to leave a little piece of Frostburg in Ireland.
Although my favorite memories are from the schools, my favorite tourist memory would be a tie between experiencing true Irish culture by visiting a number of traditional Irish pubs, listening to traditional Irish music, and watching traditional Irish dancing, and visiting Cobh. As mentioned in a number of my blog posts, I enjoyed having a good meal with good company, while listening to traditional Irish music at every pub we visited, and even watching traditional Irish dancing at The Locke Bar. I admire how the Irish celebrate, recognize, and pride themselves in their traditional music and dance, which have been passed down through generations. The overall “pub atmosphere” was a great way to experience, and immerse myself into traditional Irish culture. As for visiting Cobh, I found myself in awe at the beauty of the location, as well as experienced chills when visiting the original pier, as well as Cobh Heritage Center, which are two possible locations that my ancestors could have been prior to departing Ireland for America during the potato famine. While standing at both locations, I could not help but think that Cobh would have been the last image of Ireland that my ancestors would have seen for the rest of their lives. Following this two-week experience, I feel a new sense of love and pride for my Irish heritage, and I hope to one day learn even more about my Irish ancestors.
In addition to favorite memories, our study abroad course provided us with several opportunities to attend a number of lectures from Mary Immaculate staff, as well as one Irish primary school teacher, and all are Frostburg State alumni. We also had the opportunity to meet with the president of the college, as well as the interim dean of the College of Education. Each presenter provided our group with a wealth of knowledge, and created a far better understanding of both Irish education and society. I truly appreciated the fact that the president, and interim dean, took time out of their day to welcome us, answer several questions, and further explain various aspects of Mary Immaculate College as a renowned teacher education college, as well as discuss more information about the Irish education system. The president even presented a number of similarities and differences between the American and Irish education systems.
Patrick Burke gave the first informative lecture, and based on his presentation, I now finally understand the impact of Brexit, as well as the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In terms of further information regarding the Irish education system, approximately 90 percent of Irish primary schools are owned and operated by the Catholic Church, and religious education occurs in every school, although, newer schools now teach certain aspects of all religions, which is a great example of recognizing, and appreciating diversity. Ireland is very accepting and celebratory of diversity, and I applaud the country for this. Patrick also mentioned that the schools are built upon trust among teachers and students, teachers and administrators, as well as the school and larger community, and I feel strongly that this should act as a model for the United States. Also along the lines of trust, changes made to the system as a whole, or to the curriculum, are very slow, and the consultation with teacher unions is required. Pay scales are also the same throughout the entire country, which provides a fair and equitable system nationwide, as based upon seniority.
The second lecture focused primarily on interactive literacy, and the importance of online safety in terms of searching for, and locating, relevant information. This was such a useful presentation given the current technological climate within the United States, and the amount of Internet use among contemporary students. In addition, Sinead reinforced the importance of understanding differing perspectives, experiences, and frame of mind among students, as well as the benefits of helping students make connections between their prior knowledge and new information using children’s books. This presentation certainly reinforced my desire to use children’s books in my secondary classroom, as compared to dense, informational text. The way in which the lecture was given was also so helpful for me as a future educator. I loved the interactions, how we were seated in a semi-circle during the lecture, and how the class discussion was conducted without any interjections from the “teacher.” With this concept, the students are required to think for themselves, and engage in critical thinking, rather than simply be given the answer, and I will use this model with my future students.
The third lecture discussed Irish-Medium Immersion Education. Aisling Beecher teaches junior infants at a primary school where the language spoken is Gaelic, yet most of the students come from an English speaking background; the number of these students attending Irish-medium schools has increased every year since 1993. As reiterated by research, and discussed by Aisling, there are a number of both cognitive and curricular benefits to Irish-Medium Immersion, including improved memory, creativity, comprehension, and communication skills, as well as increased academic success, bilingualism, and transferrable language skills. Just being in several Irish classrooms where students have been learning the native Gaelic language, the benefits are evident. Perhaps the only downfall to requiring all primary students to learn Irish is that all teachers must fluently speak the language, and the availability of resources that present the language is rather limited; currently, there is a shortage of primary school teachers in Ireland. Although there is a shortage, I commend the country for continuing to teach the native language, as well as recognize the importance and advantages of bilingualism, and maintaining an appreciation for Irish culture. Also in regards to language, Aisling explained the way in which she uses songs, as well as singing, to help her students with language acquisition. This is truly an ingenious way to teach a rather difficult language to young children, and indeed increases the likelihood of learning, as our group learned several Irish words and phrases from a song that Aisling created that used the familiar melody that we all knew. Our group was even able to sing this song with Aisling’s students when we visited her school.
I could possibly write an entire book reflecting on my time in Ireland, as I had such a great experience, and learned a significant amount of information about the Irish education system. I even feel as though the confidence I have in myself as a teacher has only continued to grow as a result of my time working in the Irish schools. I will cherish the memories made for the rest of my life, and I hope to continue the friendships and connections made with each and every Irish individual that I either met, or worked with for a second time. Now that I have strengthened my own connections to past Irish graduate assistants, I plan to use these connections to provide my future students with the opportunity to experience globalized education, and interactions with those abroad. I am forever grateful to have been given the opportunity to travel to Ireland for a two-week study abroad experience for the second time with Frostburg State University. I plan to return to the Emerald Isle as soon as I can, and I hope to remain a part of the wonderful connection between Mary Immaculate College and Frostburg State University. Until next time!🇮🇪☘️
Several more images of cherished memories.