April 17, 2018

Student teachers embrace distinct Belfast experience

Student teacher Gabrielle Randall ’19 works with students in a guided reading circle at the Dundonald Primary School in Belfast.
Student teacher Gabrielle Randall ’19 works with students in a guided reading circle at the Dundonald Primary School in Belfast. (Photo: Aaron McCracken)

The College’s Department of Elementary/Special Education marked the fourth year of a unique international study and teaching program for education majors in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in fall 2017. Belfast is the second international location of an initiative that began for PC student teachers in Florence, Italy, in 2012. The study and teaching abroad program allows students to earn 15 credits for academic coursework, fulfill a semester’s teaching practicum requirement, and immerse themselves in the life and culture of another country.

Approximately 110 students have participated in the Belfast and Florence programs in the first six years. They are among a distinct national cohort of undergraduates who study and teach abroad for a semester in their junior year. PC is one of the few U.S. higher-education institutions that offers such a program. While international student-teaching figures are scarce, the 2017 Open Doors Report produced by International Educational Exchange noted that just 3.4% of all study abroad students were education majors during academic year 2015-16.

Last fall, five students participated in the Belfast program. Student teachers took courses at Stranmillis University College and taught and observed fourth- and fifth-graders at Dundonald Primary School. The students lived in residence facilities at Stranmillis. Their semester was highlighted by a visit and school assembly with the Friars’ men’s hockey team, which played in a Belfast tournament in November. Also taking part in the visit were College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 and Adrian G. Beaulieu, dean of the Center for International Studies.

Dr. Laura Boynton Hauerwas, associate professor of education and supervisor of the international student-teaching program, said the Belfast experience is balanced and packed with value. PC teachers have an intense, student-centered practicum, take academically rigorous courses, and have a “cosmopolitan” living experience being in a city
with a large population of international students.

“The international experience translates to their teaching. It helps in the job search and sets them apart,” said Hauerwas, who started the international study and teaching
program with Dr. Lynne B. Ryan, professor of education, with assistance from Beaulieu.

Teaching in a foreign country brings a wealth of experiences and benefits, emphasized Hauerwas. Students are frequently exposed to different languages, teaching practices, and classroom environments. They become more independent, adaptive, and confident, and develop their critical-thinking skills.

“The students seemed to really enjoy my presence every day, and it made me realize that this is what I was meant to do,” said one of the Belfast teachers, Samantha Guildford ’19 (West Palm Beach, Fla.). “Studying in Northern Ireland was an amazing experience, and I will take everything I have learned and incorporate that into my classroom in America.”

Student teacher Mairéad Roche ’19 admires the Friars’ hockey T-shirt one of her Dundonald students tries on during a visit by the team in November 2017.
Student teacher Mairéad Roche ’19 admires the Friars’ hockey T-shirt one of her Dundonald students tries on during a visit by the team in November 2017. (Photo: Aaron McCracken)