KOKOMO, Ind. —Kristine Eikenberg returned from Ireland a better teacher – and a better person.
Eikenberg, together with her classmates Amanda Chesshir and Kayla Lamb, shared the adventure of a lifetime, spending 10 weeks student teaching in Dublin, Ireland.
“I have always had an adventurous attitude, but this has given me courage to try new things,” said Eikenberg, from West Lafayette. “My experience in Ireland taught me to be more flexible in my teaching style. It also showed me that I enjoy working with older children. I came home with more cultural sensitivity, so I can better understand a student who comes from another country, and has different expectations of school.”
The three student teachers returned home just in time to graduate from Indiana University Kokomo in May, with degrees in education and special education.
They anticipate their overseas experience will make them stand out among applicants as they look for their first teaching jobs. In fact, Eikenberg already accepted a position teaching fifth graders at Woodland Elementary School, in the Tippecanoe County Schools, while Lamb will teach children with special needs at Swayzee Elementary, in Grant County.
“They asked a lot of questions in the interview about my experience in Ireland,” Eikenberg said. “I was told that kind of experience sets you apart on an application, and can make principals interested in interviewing you. It can at least get you a foot in the door.”
They are IU Kokomo’s second group of overseas student teachers. Dean Paul Paese founded the program in 2014, sending three students to Auckland, New Zealand in collaboration with IU’s Global Gateway for Teachers.
He agreed that teachers with overseas experience are more marketable, especially in the competitive environment for elementary teachers.
“Administrators love to hire teachers who are risk-takers,” he said. “These teachers will bring an invaluable global experience to their schools, which benefits the students.”
Chesshir, from Kokomo, said they chose Ireland from a list of possible student teaching sites, basing their decision on the fact that teaching is done in English.
“We considered Italy, but we would have been English as a second language teachers there,” she said. “Because the students learn in English in Ireland, we can teach the actual curriculum, which gives us a more beneficial teaching experience.”
The found, though, that their students spoke a more British English, more precise and with different slang, which led to some funny moments.
Chesshir added the adjective “lovely” to her vocabulary, which made her fit right in while in Ireland, but draws strange looks now that she’s home. Eikenberg was surprised to learn that “crack,” rather than being an illegal drug, meant “fun” to her students.
Lamb said differences in pronunciation made teaching phonics challenging, but she soon became “the dictionary queen,” skilled at quickly looking up words.
Each was placed in a public school, and with a host family, in Dublin. During the weekends, the trio traveled throughout Ireland. During the two-week spring break, they visited Germany, Italy, and France. Without cars, they walked or used public transportation everywhere they went.
Lamb lived closest to the city center of Dublin, and rode the Dublin Area Rapid Transit train, or DART, each day — a new experience for someone raised in the small town of Greentown.
“I learned that I can do things on my own, for myself,” she said. “It was a growing experience.”
She was surprised to learn that her Irish students pictured her life as similar to Little House on the Prairie, expecting that she wore sundresses and bonnets, and grew a garden. They were astonished to meet her brother and see her home via Skype, and learn that she lived in a small town, not out in the country, in a home not much different from theirs.
School was different from in the United States, with a shorter day, and special education students taught in the general education classrooms, with services brought to them.
“It made the kids more accepting of children with special needs,” said Lamb. “They realized some of the students were different, but it didn’t bother them. Those children were never treated as different, or at outsiders.”
Eikenberg noted there wasn’t high stakes testing — students were tested, but in a low-key way, without the pressure American students faced. She also noticed that students were held responsible for their learning.
“If they forgot to bring a pencil to class, it was their responsibility to find one, not the teacher’s to supply one,” she said. “There seemed to be a lot of parental support for the teachers and the school as well.”
She enjoyed going on many of the school field trips, which allowed her to see many of the country’s educational and historic sites.
Chesshir said a difference she noticed was that there were no special class teachers for subjects like art and music — the regular classroom teachers provide that instruction. In fact, she ended up teaching Irish dancing, learning it herself before teaching it.
While she definitely grew as a teacher from her experience, she says she grew as a person as well.
“I had so many new experiences in Ireland, such as hiking on cliffs, flying, traveling all over Europe on a train, and other things,” she said. “I now know I can travel the world by myself.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.