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Spring 2009

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Kiwis, Koalas, and Castles

Every year, under the supervision of Dr. Bill Hall, education students from Montana State University can experience a unique opportunity to student teach overseas in English speaking countries.  This spring semester, 24 education students are teaching, traveling, and learning about the culture in New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland. Students, who come from Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Minne­sota, Utah, and Australia, reported they chose to student teach  overseas to gather  new ideas, experience different school systems and cultures, or “just for fun.”

The following excerpts are shared by some of our overseas travelers: Gina Williams, an elementary education major from Havre, Mont.; Kristin Fitzsimmons, an English education major from Bend, Ore.; and Cale VanVelkinburgh, an English education major from Colorado Springs, Colo.


Gina Williams, who is student teaching in Ennis, Ireland, took her students on a recent field trip to Knock, County Mayo, Ireland.  The following relates her experiences.

Photo of Knock Chruch in Ireland
Knock Church in Ireland where holy apparitions
appeared in 1879.

January 2009
“I went on a field trip up there with 2 religion classes.  The students were great and we had a really fun time-Those kids have so much energy! 

Knock is a place where in 1879 an apparition of Mary, Joseph, John, angels, and the Lamb appeared on the gable wall of the town's parish church.  The apparition was silent and almost unmoving (except for the fluttering of the angels wings).  The apparition was there for two hours and since then Knock has become a destination for pilgrimage. After the apparition appeared, the church is said to have healing powers.  Whether you believe it or not, it's a pretty cool story.
I was lucky enough to see it all on a very clear and sunny day.  The weather was perfect!

School is going very well for me!   I'm teaching more and more and am looking forward to working with 4th year English honors students on some creative writing for a week unit plan.” 

Photo of students in Ireland
Gina Williams' students on a field trip to Knock, Ireland.

March 4, 2009
“The students have, for the most part, been wonderful!  I especially love teaching the 14 year-olds and my 12 year-olds.  The 14 year-olds are really creative and very energetic.  I can be guaranteed that if I give them a task I will get much more back than I ever expect.  I taught a lesson on short story writing and they ran with it!  There is never a dull moment! 

My 12 year-old class is very hardworking.  They are always asking questions and trying their very hardest! We are currently starting a unit on Drama...I just don't know HOW I will handle that ;-)

It's a huge change going from correcting and proofreading senior thesis' and grad. papers to marking a review of a novella for a 6th grader.  But they have taught me an unbelievable amount!  First and foremost I have learned patience.  I have discovered I can withstand a lot more chaos and stupidity (aka teenage hormones) than I ever thought possible!  I have also expanded my own ideas of how to teach and have been introduced to a whole different aspect of teaching.”


Cale VanVelkinburgh, majoring in English education from Colorado Springs, Colo., shares his thoughts on student teaching in New Zealand.

Photo of Cale VanVelkinburgh holding a beutiful fish during a fishing trip in New Zealand
When not in the classroom, Cale VanVelkinburgh enjoys fishing the rivers of New Zealand.

March 12, 2009
“The weather has been wet and cool, which is in contrast to the lovely extended summer days I had when I first arrived two months ago. Two months! It might as well have been two days with the speed at which student teaching life is moving right now. Teaching is truly a learning experience. It’s like a good piece of writing, it is never perfect, there is always room to make it stronger, and it is the revisions that you look forward to most.

People in New Zealand, as I have always known, are amongst the friendliest and fondest in the English speaking world. Dunedin is by far one of the most beautiful cities in the English speaking world. Thus, these two absolutes have made for a nice combination of experiences for this "Yank." Right now, I cannot imagine being anywhere else and doing anything other than going to class, teaching lessons, and letting the students have a good chuckle at my accent.”

Photo of Mt. Cook in New Zealand
Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest peak.

Kristin Fitzsimmons is student teaching in Toowoomba, Australia.  After spending a few days in Fiji and in Brisbane, Australia, she arrived at Toowoomba to begin her overseas adventures. Here, Kristin shares some of her school related experiences.

Photo of Kristin Fitzsimmons holding a koala bear.
Kristin Fitzsimmons holds a koala at the Lone
Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia.

January 29, 2009
The First Day(s) of School
Well, I've completed my first day of real school and five days of faux school now, so I feel the need to comment on a few differences I've noticed. There are, of course, many similarities (probably the biggest is that although I'm on the other side of the world, they still speak English, which is MUCH to my advantage).

The first thing I notice is the use of school uniforms. From a teacher's perspective, I really enjoy school uniforms. For one thing, they help to distinguish me as a non-student, since I don't have to wear one. I do still wear nice slacks and a nice button-down, collared shirt, but it's easy to stand out.  As a student, we occasionally had discussions about school uniforms, and I always viewed them as an infringement on a persons' individuality. As a teacher, I notice that students manage to find ways to express their individuality in other ways. Uniforms are not always worn in the "correct" manner -- ties aren't tied properly, sleeves are rolled up, shorts are rolled up, they wear the wrong shoes, socks are folded down, shirts aren't tucked in, etc, etc, etc. Also, students express themselves through their hair/headbands/backpacks/notebooks/etc.

School started three days ago, but I've only had ONE day of actual classes, and that was today. Yesterday and the day before were completely consumed by assemblies save 35 minutes. I've been to so many assemblies in the previous 2 days that I now know all of the school rules but I've heard them presented so many times that I can't remember them all…So today was the first day of real classes, and I spent it watching Ms. Jones introduce me to her classes and fielding questions about Obama as best I could.
… the school here is all outdoors so there are no hallways for students to linger in. Instead, they all crowd outside the classroom until the teacher arrives to unlock it. Ms. Jones has the younger classes line up outside the room before they're let in, but the older ones just seem to take up as much space as possible and crowd about you when you're trying to unlock the door. Of course, the classrooms have been closed and locked all summer so the room feels like a musty old attic, so the first order of business is to open all the windows and doors and turn the fans on to compound the effects of the light breeze…

The classes have been, so far, wonderful. Of course, the year 9's were a bit restless during the last class of the day, but that's to be expected and they were wonderful earlier in the day.

Here, they have a 10 minute period at the beginning of the day called "form class" where the teacher takes roll for the day and reads the announcements. This is the only time roll is officially taken all day. Ms. Jones takes roll in each of her classes, but only for her personal records, so this makes it very easy to be truant in the classes you don't like. So long as you show up for the first 10 minutes of school, nobody's the wiser. Since it usually doesn’t take 10 minutes to take roll and read announcements, I hope to read a book to the class with the rest of the time.”

February 7, 2009
“Friday was a "Swimming Carnival," which I've never heard of but is apparently very common around here. The school is divided into four "houses" and I'm in Balkuin (Bal-kwin).

Photo of the 'swimming carnival' in all their green color!

Each house is assigned a color (green for Balkuin) and a theme (this time ours was "Lost" or "Survivor" television shows) and on the day of the carnival, everyone forgoes their school uniform for the theme and color and dresses up to the best of their ability. A few of the more conservatively-dressed students shared their green paint with me and I drew a few war-paint stripes on my face. As you can imagine, teenage boys here are much like teenage boys in America and in my house there was a group of them who dressed in speedos covered by burlap sacks, who tied burlap sacks on their feet for "shoes" and then spray painted a huge wig and equally huge beard green. Anything that remained showing was painted a vibrant green. They carried around impaled coconuts and walked like gorillas all day. One of the gentlemen in my form class wore a hula skirt and coconut bra. Some of the students took a photo of me with the rest of my form class, and I will have to ask them to email it to me so I can post the photo. So, the day is arranged like this: The students come to school for form class (first 10 minutes of school every day), then we break into separate gyms for a short "assembly (keep the kids corralled and try to build house-spirit until we can slowly load into the busses)." During this time, Donna, Jeny and I manage to slip out and drive down to the pool in Jeny's car so we don't have to sit with the students. We drive to the local public pool and the students are transferred from the busses to the bleachers outside, where they will sit all day cheering for the few students who are swimming. They sit in house groups, and spend all day screaming themselves hoarse-- ‘Boomalaka, boomalaka, ra ho hi.’

Supposedly, it is an aboriginal language but everyone has forgotten the meaning of the words, so it sounds like a load of gibberish. They spiced it up with a variety of other chants, but of course when you pack that many students into one set of bleachers, most of the teachers acquire headaches very, very quickly. I severely underestimated the amount of noise teenagers could make.

There were races throughout the day, and Donna(a teacher) was the announcer for them so she got to sit in a tent at the end of the pool, a fair distance from the bleachers and in the shade (the bleachers were in the shade as well, but with so many bodies jammed in under a metal roof, the heat was not slackened by the shade). Close to noon, they had a break in the races and held a house competition to see how many students they could get from one end of the pool to the other. House by house, the students took turns lining up (crowding around) one end of the pool and they had 3 minutes to jump in, swim to the other end, walk back, and do it all over again. Teachers stood at the end of the lap lanes to prevent students from jumping on top of one another…




For more information for overseas student teaching, contact Dr. Bill Hall

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