This week saw the end of the ‘TET’ course and the final goodbyes for many of our class and of course with our tutors. For some of our classes we were split into smaller groups and as a final goodbye our group had the privilege of being invited to Will, our tutors for dinner. We all accepted his invitation gratefully and I think we were all taken back by his kindness in welcoming 10 of us into his home for dinner.
With his directions in hand telling us what bus to get and the stop to get off at we set off on Wednesday evening to Wijchen, a small town outside Nijmegen where he lives. We arrived at his house to be greeted by his wife and family who were ever so welcoming and intrigued to know where we all came from.I was pleasantly surprised as it was evident these people had gone to great lengths to prepare for us coming and enable us to embrace the real Dutch experience. I wondered whether this would be the case if I were to come into contact with people from other countries back home.
In many ways I think we are closed people only welcoming people we are familiar with into our homes. Personally I would say this is also reflected in our style of housing with small windows and separate rooms each with a different function. In contrast to this after seeing the interior of Will’s house and having seen many exteriors of Dutch houses on my travels, they have large windows which are hardly ever blacked out with curtains and inside there are large open spaces. It has also been remarkable to see that most Dutch houses are around the same size. People do not show their wealth by the houses they build which is certainly the case in Ireland with one house outdoing the next. As it has been said, a house is where you hang your hat; home is where you hang your heart. I feel that the Dutch people are more concerned in cultivating this ‘home’ attitude.
In all it was a really great evening being welcomed into Will’s home, getting to know his family and tasting typically Dutch foods. Personally I feel it has been the ‘icing on the cake’ of my Dutch cultural experience. I have realised how much can be gained from opening the door of your home. Will and his family were proud to exhibit many aspects of their culture and so this should be the case for us all. I feel there is no better place to showcase one’s own culture than in their home as this is the place where much can be learned about foods, ways of life, values and much more. With this attitude I hope I will be able to welcome people from other countries into my home and enable them to have a rich cultural learning experience just as I have had here in The Netherlands. I feel Marcel Proust sums up very well what my experiences have been so far. He says, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.” I most certainly have a new outlook.
When I first read the course schedule the one thing that jumped out at me was the four weeks of both Drama and Art classes that I was going to have to do. What was even more terrifying for me was there was a final performance at the end of these classes as a means of assessing our work. Being honest this made me really uneasy, hand me a basketball or a football any day but please do not put me on stage!
Our teachers chose the groups we would be in and from there we had to choose a fairytale to replicate and perform to a Group 7 class who had very little English. After much deliberation and thought about the logistics of many well known fairytales we came to the conclusion that The Three Little Pigs would be an interesting story to perform.
As well as performing the play it was our job to create all the costumes and set for the performance as well. From experiences like this in the past I have relied on others who seem more creative and artistic to come up with the ideas but this experience was very different. We all had to come up with ideas together for making our costumes and because we had so little time to prepare them everybody had to take one thing that needed made and get to work on it. Personally I felt I surprised myself with my artistic skills in selecting materials that would look effective for the roof of each pig’s house and in turn constructing each of them. Reflecting upon this part of the experience I feel it has been invaluable to me as future educator in the Primary school.Having gained confidence in this area I feel I am more ably equipped to use any resources and materials at hand to create a rich and stimulating environment for the children to work in as well as providing valuable learning experiences in this area of the curriculum.
Alongside these classes we also worked on the actual play itself. I was very impressed with how the teacher managed these sessions. She created a very safe and secure environment where everybody felt at ease acting out of character. She helped us to understand what makes a good play and how to create this. We worked on using actions, body language and facial expressions to create various characters personalities as a whole group in order to gain some confidence before being left to work on our individual plays. Looking back I feel I have been somewhat inspired by this teacher. She was enthusiastic and had no inhibitions about acting in front of us. This was useful for me to gain ideas as to how I should portray my character in the play. Although we were in charge of the storyline she was willing to help and give advice on how we could improve our portrayal of characters and the overall play itself. She acted as a guide and support rather than telling how it should be done. This is what I would like to replicate as a teacher.
Our final performance was a great success and the children enjoyed all of the fairytales. Although I never thought I’d say it but I really enjoyed it when it all came together. Reflecting upon it I can say that there are many invaluable skills that this area can enhance and foster. I have had to collaborate and work as a team, I am more confident at performing, I have had to extend my imagination as well as being creative and I can wholeheartedly say that drama is a lot of fun. With the opportunity of partaking in this experience I feel I have a new outlook of Drama and Arts as being a central part of the curriculum contributing to a child’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. As the Northern Ireland Curriculum (2007:34) states, “It helps children to learn about themselves and the world around them and also contributes to their social and emotional development as they experience and act out different situations”. Essentially this experience has been invaluable personally in enabling me to step well out of my comfort zone and also as a future educator in providing worthwhile and beneficial experiences for children to learn and develop important skills through this area of the curriculum.
If someone were to have asked me before I left for The Netherlands what the two things I was most anxious about, I think I would have possibly answered with language and culture. Well after three months here I can say that the language can still be a bit of a problem. Most of the time communication is not a problem as I have picked up many phrases and the majority of Dutch people have some English, but there are always the few tricky situations that have caused problems. On the way home from placement one day we missed the bus because the bus driver couldn’t understand where we wished to go, down to a misunderstanding in the pronunciation.
As for the culture I feel like I have become a part of it, it has been an exciting adventure learning what is common here in The Netherlands and participating in that way. It has also been an added bonus being able to experience many other cultures from living with our Erasmus class. We were able to share our cultural tradition of cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday with the some of the students on our floor. Tiina who is from Finland also made typical Finnish buns filled with jam and cream on the same day which is tradition in her country. I must say they were really delicious!
As well as this we had the opportunity to attend the carnival celebrations during Spring break. For weeks before we were due to get off we had heard about these celebrations, our lecturers had told us about the costumes they were making and the plans that were being made. I had really no idea what was entailed but eager to embrace all opportunities of particpating in Dutch culture we headed off for the day to Den Bosch to see what all the hype was about. I can definitely say I was not disappointed, the streets were packed to capacity with people all dressed in outrageous costumes and in a very jolly mood. Apparently there is a ‘Carnival Committee’ set up every year whose sole aim is to stop anybody from being serious during carnival time. Looking back it was a great day, there was a brilliant atmosphere, parades on the streets to keep us entertained, brass bands playing music and to add to it it was the first proper day of sunshine.
After such a good day I was curious to know where carnival originated. I found out that it is a day that the Dutch adopted as the last chance to eat, drink and be merry prior to the forty days fasting before Easter, when no meat was to pass the lips. It was surprising too read that it is mainly celebrated in the south of the country which is predominantly Catholic. In many ways these celebrations reminded me of St. Patricks Day traditions in Ireland which are mainly celebrated by Catholics. As a Protestant and living in Southern Ireland I was part of the Girl Guides who always took part in the parades on St. Patricks Day. Just like Carnival in The Netherlands I would say these were always days of light heartedness, fun and enjoyment. From my experiences here I would say that we all need to lose the religious ties and integrate as people for even just a day to have fun, enjoyment and laughter just as I seen during carnival.
As well as this there have been many smaller yet prominent aspects of Dutch culture that have both surprised me and made me reflect on our culture back at home. The Dutch greet people they know well with three kisses alternating on both cheeks. At first I must say I was quite taken back seeing this! I realised how reserved we are back home with a hug being the closest contact and that only being with a person you know very well. Having become more accustomed to this greeting and having the opportunity to experience it when saying my last goodbye to my teacher on teaching practice I must admit it is very personal and nice. In saying this I don’t think it is something I will take home with me, I can’t imagine my friends taking kindly to it at all!
On the first day we arrived here, Tom our ‘chauffeur’ made sure to tell us to go shopping as all the shops would be shut on Sunday. This was something I found very surprising as it is always amusing to see people at home filling their trolleys when there is a bank holiday and the shops are shut. Personally I like that shops are shut on a Sunday here. People plan ahead and make sure they have enough food in, it means everybody has a day off on a Sunday to spend with their families.
In saying this there are certain aspects of Dutch culture I have been quite shocked with. I have come to realise that the Irish are generally very polite and mannerly people when it comes to interacting with others. In supermarkets when a new till opens, people don’t allow those in the front of the queue who have waited the longest to go to it. Instead it’s a case of whoever gets there first, I’d say my face was priceless the first time I seen this happening. As well as this I have noticed people don’t hold the door open for you or stand back and let someone else through the door. Personally I think these are simple gestures that add to a culture of people. Even though I have come to participate fully in the Dutch culture, I haven’t let the Irish side down; we are still as polite and mannerly as ever!
Personally I am really enjoying participating in another culture; it is definitely a learning curve. There are things which I will take back with me when I leave The Netherlands but there are other aspects I won’t be adopting. What John Abbott says is true of me having experienced many cultures on this Erasmus experience. He states “Every man’s ability may be strengthened or increased by culture.” My knowledge has been broadened and I am open to new ways of participating in society. As I have said I feel like I have become a part of the culture, one could compare this with the words of Marcel Proust, seeing with new eyes. I feel with this broader outlook it will benefit me as a teacher in including and providing for children of different cultures in my classes in the future.
Amongst of all of the experiences I have had so far here in The Netherlands, school practice is something which I have thoroughly enjoyed and taken a lot from . As I near the end of this practice it is an appropriate time to reflect on some of the interesting things that I have witnessed in the Dutch classroom and in school life in general.
As part of the ‘Tomorrow’s Education Today’ course I have been attending schools for 2 days a week for the past 7 weeks. I seemed to have drawn the short straw based on school location as mine is probably the furthest school from Nijmegen. The journey takes me around one and half hours and the further from the city you get it seems the less reliable the bus service is. Nevertheless I can definitely say I have developed patience which will be essential as a teacher. As Arnold H. Glasgow once said, patience is the key to everything. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it. I must remember that not all children progress at the same level of development, therefore I must work with them and encourage them at their level and pace rather than trying to ‘smash the egg open’ and align them with expected attainment levels.
One of the most prominent features that I have noticed over the course of the last 7 weeks is the active role of parents within the school. From what I have seen of the relationships between parents and teachers in the school it is evident to me that parents are valued as a key figure in the child’s education. Parents help decorate the school for upcoming celebrations, such as carnival or Easter, they attend school trips to help the teachers, train the school soccer team as well as supervising the playground at lunchtime to allow the teacher a break.
One particular thing that surprised me most was parents and grandparents helping out in all the classrooms during a ‘techniek’ morning that the whole school were doing. All the children in the school were involved in using their hands to create something, some children were weaving, others were hand knitting, some were using lego, some were building using bricks etc. There were adults in each classroom to assist guide and support children in their work as well as to socialise and talk with the children. It was interesting to see that some parents also stayed for coffee during break afterwards and they were warmly welcomed and invited into the staffroom. From my experiences in Northern Ireland I cannot imagine parents being invited into the staffroom as this is the ‘teachers’ space’. Although many schools are trying to better their partnerships with parents, personally I still feel teachers do not see themselves as on the same levels as parents. Even though this may be the case, it has to be realised that parents are experts about their children and they can also bring much expertise and skills from their own lives that will aid the teacher and add to the education of the children. Effective partnerships with parents can have many benefits, Caplan et al. (1997) also highlights that parents who are more involved in school life are more likely to devote time to assisting their children at home which is highly beneficial in terms of development and learning.
It has become very evident to me that family life is much more valued in The Netherlands than at home. Most of the teachers in the school work part time to accommodate for family life, children go home at lunchtime for lunch and parents are on hand at any time to help out. Personally I am very much in favour of this idea, as a child my mother was there when I came home from school to listen to all my stories I had to tell about the things I was doing in school and to assist me with my homework and reading. In my opinion I benefited greatly from this and his is something that all children need. Parents in Northern Ireland need to reconsider where their values lie in terms of their child’s development, as much of the time they are more focused on their jobs and earning money than devoting time to their children.
As a future educator and member of a school 'team' this is the kind of active role of parents I would like to encourage and see replicated in school's at home. What I have seen here represents to me an equilateral triangle, all sides are the same with the child, teacher and parent working together.
As well as this I have also learned a lot from the teacher’s teaching and how children learn which I will speak about in a further blog.
It is the end of my tenth week here in Nijmegen which means we are nearing the end of the ‘TET’ course and as one can imagine there are plenty of assignments to be done in the next few weeks.
For someone who is a ‘home bird’ and delights in getting home from Belfast at the weekends the thought of leaving home for four months was incredibly daunting. I must admit there were times I thought, would I ever last but I got on the plane and over 2 months on I can say it has been a great experience so far and I’m looking forward to making the most of the time that I have left here. Already I can say I have benefited immensely both personally and professionally through this experience. After completing five semesters at Stranmillis I feel like this has been the break I have needed. One could say that often the things that become familiar to us result in dullness and staleness after a period of time. Already I can say that I feel refreshed and am energised for returning to Stranmillis in September. With me I will be able to bring a new confidence to challenge ideas and contribute to discussions in seminar groups as well as new ideas and strategies for teaching. Reflecting on this I feel this mirrors what I have seen on school practice in the past. At times there are older teachers who have been in the profession for many years and year in year out they teach the same topics using the same methods and resources. In my opinion this indicates the importance of being refreshed as a teacher also whether it be taking new courses on offer, searching for new ideas and strategies for teaching, updating resources or speaking with other teachers. In any case as educators we want to endeavour to provide the best possible learning environment so that each individual is able to develop to their full potential.
Many of the classes we have completed here have overlapped with things I have done in Stranmillis but I have been able to see a new perspective on things and diverging methods of teaching which I will be able to draw upon in my future practice. We have been split into smaller groups for some classes, one of these being Problem Orientated Education. Personally this has been a very enriching class where each week we assess a new case study. These are centred around issues such as behaviour, bullying, special needs etc. There is a lecturer who oversees the class but it has been interesting to see that they give us the responsibility and they only contribute if they have something that adds to the discussion. These sessions have gone very well and with each individual contributing to the group we have been able to come up with solutions as to how to deal with these issues that can arise in any school. I feel I am more equipped and knowledgeable if I was to have to deal with some of these issues, which is inevitable at some point in my teaching career. As well as this I have come to see how effective it is when the teacher acts as a guide and support but the discussion is lead by the students. After having this personal experience this is something I would like to replicate and foster as a practitioner.
In all both the characteristics that I have developed as a person here in The Netherlands through my interactions with the Dutch people and our Erasmus class as well as the learning experiences I have had in university and on my school practice will benefit me greatly in my future career as a teacher. Through what I have learned, the strategies and methods I have acquired and my personal reflections on what I have seen, I feel I am more confident and able to provide an interactive and challenging learning environment using a range of strategies and resources that promotes effective learning. This is a key requirement and standard of professional competency according to the General Teaching Council of Northern Ireland.