Education students spend 8 weeks student teaching abroad


Photo by Aislin Shannon

Senior Aislin Shannon visited the Cliffs of Moher while student teaching abroad in Ireland.

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

Seniors Emily Palma and Aislin Shannon have spent the last eight weeks exploring castles, seaside cliff trails and small villages.

However, the main attraction for the two education majors was the students at Greystones Community National School in Greystones, Ireland, where they completed the first half of their student teaching requirements ahead of their December 2019 graduation.

“Our goal is that they really return to the United States and, as future classroom teachers, with more of a global mindedness…that perhaps they didn’t have before this experience,” Dr. Virginia Chambers said.

Chambers, an assistant professor at the university, coordinated the study abroad program for education students with Kamryn York, part-time faculty member and graduate assistant, and Dr. Darlene Marnich, the Chair of the School of Education.

“We are finding more and more that teachers in Western Pennsylvania and across our country are teaching students with diverse backgrounds and having our student teachers have the opportunity to teach in a different culture with students from a different country than our own enables our teachers to have a unique perspective on what it means to connect and meet individual needs of students based on cultural backgrounds,” Chambers said.

Beginning in the spring of this year, the School of Education has sent students to Ireland to student teach abroad. Seven students traveled abroad in the spring, and Palma and Shannon are the only two Point Park students participating this semester at a different school.

“It’s a pretty cool opportunity that we’ve been able to solidify for our students,” York said. “The fact that we’ve found schools willing to take them and to mentor them and work with them is unbelievable because education doesn’t fall under typical study abroad because we’re a certification program. Our students get an actual teaching license or teaching certification, so it’s a little bit more limited as far as what opportunities we can offer.”

Both students were in Greystones since Aug. 24 and returned home this past weekend to finish the remainder of their student teaching experience.

Students must complete at least six weeks of student teaching in the state of Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Palma will be placed in a learning support classroom in Mt. Lebanon Elementary School.

Palma, an early childhood education pre-kindergarten through 4th grade major with a dual certification in special education, taught in a first class classroom at Greystones Community National School, which equates to a first grade class in the states.

“In my first class classroom here in Ireland, every morning my students come running up to me yelling ‘Miss Palma! Miss Palma,” and they all want to tell me a story about their play date or what they had for dinner, and especially if they have a loose tooth,” Palma said.

Due to this interaction with the students, Palma wants to incorporate five to 10 minutes of conversation with her future students about their night or weekend, their feelings or any news they may have to share.

Palma says teaching abroad was the most “rewarding, challenging and unbelievable experience.” The future teacher plans to incorporate Irish culture, or any culture of interest to her future students, into her classroom

“Appreciating and understanding different cultures shows our children to respect others, be kind, and to think from someone else’s perspective,” Palma said.

Shannon, also an early childhood education pre-kindergarten through 4th grade major, was placed in a Junior Infants classroom, the equivalent to very early kindergarten in America.

Shannon explained student teachers begin by observing the cooperating teacher’s lessons, classroom management, skills and techniques. The student teachers then slowly begin to teach the classroom on their own.

“For example, in Ireland, I was given a Junior Infants classroom. This classroom is about the equivalent of early kindergarten classrooms in America. The students in the classroom are four to five years old. I began by observing my cooperating teacher and how she conducted her classroom. Then, each following week I would pick up a lesson…adding another topic onto the previous each week. By the last weeks of my experience, I [was] teaching my classroom the entire day with as little help from the cooperating teacher as possible.”

Shannon had the additional opportunity to assist in a summer program with SEK International School Dublin this past summer. She was one of six students gaining field experience by teaching Spanish children for two weeks of the program.

We had three [students] go for two weeks and then another three go for the final two weeks to make the full one month,” York said. “That’s just for field experience. That was just to get experience working with children, so they were not student teaching…that summer experience was just an opportunity to have an international teaching experience with students.”

While abroad this fall, the Point Park students had different living arrangements.

Palma lived in a town home occupied by one woman named Catherine.

“She lives on her own and loves to have students come stay with her while they are studying,” Palma said. “ I am currently staying on the top floor of her house in a loft-style room.  It’s an amazing space to plan my lessons for school and to relax as well.”

Shannon stayed with different host families during the two abroad experiences through connections with SEK and Point Park.

“Students will pay their host family monthly payments and in return will be given a room, all meals, and all amenities,” Shannon said. “It’s really just like being a part of their family. I am so lucky to be able to stay with a host family. It has allowed me to experience Irish culture much more than I have ever imagined. I wouldn’t have experienced or learned nearly as much if I was in an apartment or student housing.”

Although the top priority of this study abroad experience was the classroom experience, Palma and Shannon found time to explore the new culture.

Palma described Dublin as a “hub for artists, book lovers and travelers who want to experience the hustle and bustle of a popular city,” and has enjoyed other travels during her time abroad.

“One weekend, Aislin and I went to the small village of Enniskerry, which has a population of just over 2,000,” Palma said. “There is a beautiful garden with waterfalls, a tower that could be from Rapunzel, and a Japanese-styled garden too.”

Palma said seeing the Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland, may have been one of the most memorable moments from her European experience.

“The castle was right in the middle of the city on a big hill, and at night, it lights up, so you can see the old windows, the flag, and where they would fire off their cannons,” Palma said. “I wish we would have had the opportunity to spend more time in Scotland to explore more, but I’m so thankful for the two days I had been immersed in the Scottish culture.”

Between her summer and fall overseas experiences, Shannon can check off Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Norway and Spain from her bucket list, and she doesn’t believe she would have had the opportunity otherwise if it weren’t for Point Park.

“I have seen so many castles and old buildings on excursions throughout Ireland,” Shannon said. “Old architecture is one of my favorite things. I love old buildings, castles, sculptures, gravestones and anything else that has a lot of character.”

Shannon also enjoyed a Game of Thrones tour of different filming locations and the official Game of Thrones Exhibition in Belfast.

In May, Shannon completed her first half marathon in PIttsburgh and decided to participate in Dublin’s annual half marathon on Sept. 21.

“When I figured out that Dublin was having its annual half marathon during my time abroad, I jumped at the opportunity,” Shannon said. “I met other runners during this and had a blast. To prepare for this, I ran the cliff walk between Greystones and Bray, the neighboring town. It is a beautiful seaside trail that takes you through mountain cliffs and has incredible views. I have never hiked or ran anything more beautiful.”

Between the educational, social and cultural experiences, the students learned more than what can be taught within the four walls of a classroom.

Palma explained some of her biggest takeaways from the experience: have patience, appreciate other cultures, leave your comfort zone and appreciate every moment of an experience.

“I’m not always going to be perfect when I first teach a lesson,” Palma said, in reference to learning patience before explaining her other takeaways. “It is going to take time and effort to get where I want to be, and that takes a lot of patience…It feels like no more than a blink of an eye since I’ve been here…I regret wasting my thoughts on yearning to be home because I could have spent that time engrossing myself in the Irish culture or working harder on my lesson plans.”

Through these lessons learned, Palma shared an emotional bond with her students while student teaching.

“Although I was their teacher for 8 weeks, my students were the real teachers in this student teaching experience,” Palma said. “They taught me to listen, laugh, and have fun…my class of 26 first class students are the reason I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, and they are going to be the reason I shed a tear when I have to leave Ireland.”

Dr. Chambers and Dr. Marnich visited the students prior to their return to the United States. They observed Palma and Shannon in the classroom and met with coordinator teachers and supervisors.

“We were just extremely impressed with their level of professionalism, how well they were representing Point Park University and the United States of America,” Chambers said. “Everyone had nothing but positive feedback to give us about the two girls and their experience over there, so we’re really proud of what they’ve been able to do because transitioning to student teaching is a difficult task even if you’re doing it in PIttsburgh, but they took on the challenge of doing it abroad, and they just did a tremendous job,”

“Just like the other student teachers that completed in the spring, we’re just very proud of our students that are willing to take on this opportunity,” Chambers said. “It is a challenge, and they’ve done it in a wonderful fashion and represented Point Park on an international scale where we couldn’t be more proud of them.”