Here I am again at the end of another week reflecting on what has been happening here in Nijmegen and what I have gained from these experiences. In terms of professional development this week has been the highlight so far.
The school building
On Tuesday morning Kine (who is from Norway) and I embarked on the journey to our placement school in Oeffelt. Without the help of a very useful Dutch website which planned our journey and gave us all the options of travel I don’t know how we would have got there. Stranmillis students complain about having to get up early during school based work, we left at 7:10am to be in school for 8:30am and still arrived late.
On arrival we were greeted by our mentor Hella who is also the teacher of one of the Grade 8 classes (11/12 yr olds) we are with. Being an international student stepping into a Dutch school for the very first time with little to none of the Dutch language was a very daunting experience but she made us feel at ease right away. She explained all the details we needed to know for the forthcoming practise and told us about the school and the environment we would be working in as well as answering any questions we had.
Basisschool het Telaraam runs under the ideology of the ‘essential schools model’ which on my first impression is very evident within the school. The common principles of this model are students taking centre stage as workers with the teacher acting as a coach, strong sense of democracy and equity, less being more – depth over coverage and personalisation for each individual to name but a few characteristics. The Coalition of Essential Schools states “We envision an educational system that equips all students with the intellectual, emotional, and social habits and skills to become powerful and informed citizens who contribute actively toward a democratic and equitable society.”
The surrounding area
As I we took a tour of the school and observed various activities and lessons going on I was able to see many similarities with this model and that of what the Northern Ireland Curriculum aims to engage children in and achieve. This being the case I look forward to comparing teaching strategies and gaining insight into innovative and creative methods which I am not familiar with and using these as a future educator.
One unique difference I have noticed and been taken back by is the relaxed atmosphere upheld by everybody in the school which is reflected in the positive behaviour of all pupils in the school. There is a strong sense of partnership and trust between teachers and pupils. In many ways teachers are on a much closer level with pupils. Children call teachers by their first names. As Hella told us, teachers need to know children but children also need to know the teacher. I can agree strongly with this, children are able to sense a teacher’s enthusiasm and commitment to their learning. A strong relationship is built on trust and respect from both partners. Pondering on my own experiences of education I can say that this was not the case for the most. As a class we openly shared our experiences but we never heard of the teacher’s experiences.
I noticed that teachers and the principal talked to children in an informal manner most of the time, had fun with them and made sure the environment was very positive with lots of laughing and joking. I could sense that the children were happy to be there and enjoyed school. On Wednesday afternoon we had the opportunity to attend the student council meeting which was a very beneficial experience in many ways. One particular observation that I still can’t get my head around was one of the younger pupils sat on the principal’s knee because there weren’t enough seats. It seems to me that this is normal behaviour. As well as this the pupils were eager for us to participate in a Physical Education lesson with them. I am constantly reminded of child protection issues, safety issues and the notion of ‘keeping yourself right’ if something were to happen which is central to all practice at home.
Reflecting upon all of this I feel much more comfortable in the schooling environment here in the Netherlands. If I were to comment on the relationship between the teacher and pupil back home I would say that there is a barrier between them. In some ways there is still the traditional view that teachers are on a different level to pupils which is reflected in the way they treat pupils and the authoritarian figure upheld.
As a future educator this has made me ponder on how I will conduct my practice and develop relationships with pupils. According to Adler, “the purpose of learning is growth, and our minds unlike our bodies continue growing as long as we live.” In any case we wish to foster the notion of the teacher being the facilitator rather than the island of knowledge. We do not know everything nor have we got all the answers to questions, it is through experiences and interactions we too learn and develop knowledge therefore there needs to be an equal status in the relationship.
In all my first experience in my practise school has been a very positive one and I look forward to teaching my Group 8 class.