On Saturday, February 11, 2017, Fiona Tumulty and Lauren Montagna departed for Athens, Greece for their semester of student teaching at the American Community School! Throughout their time in Athens, they will be providing updates of their experiences in a new school and a new culture.
February 11, 2017
My day started with me having a panic attack over potentially missing my flight connection and ended with me aboard a double decker (!!) airplane drinking free rum&coke. Spoiler alert: we didn’t make our flight connection. But thanks to some awesome employees at the British airways desk in JFK, we were put on to the next flight from London to Athens and I am now sitting in our apartment with myself and all my luggage safe and sound. When we landed, the guy checking passports at immigration looked super confused that I was traveling with an Irish passport while my friend was traveling with a U.S. passport. On the taxi ride from the airport to our apartment, our driver was really nice and told us that we should call America and let them know that we won’t be coming home in 3 months because we won’t want to leave…I have a feeling he’s right. Our apartment is incredible and we each have access to a balcony from our bedroom (what?!) plus a ton of amenities.
February 12, 2017
First day of student teaching at ACS Athens—YAY! We left the apartment around 8:15am, leaving us plenty of time to get to the metro station and make it one subway ride over to the school. But of course, we got lost. We had to break out the gps apps on our phones and reorient ourselves only once before we were back on track headed in the direction of the metro station, and from there everything was a lot simpler. When we got to the school, I was really interested to see that the layout was this very open campus, with the elementary, middle, and high school all near each other and doors to classrooms were accessed from directly outside rather than within particular buildings—kind of like Kirkbride lecture hall. Walking around and passing some high school students, I realized there was a pretty good chance that at some point this semester I’m going to be mistaken for a high schooler and it’s going to be pretty awkward. While I can’t speak for Lauren’s specific experiences, we both had awesome first days. I started my day in the junior kindergarten class with Ms. Mentes and her aide Ms. Georgia, and their 15 incredible students. Most of the students speak a surprisingly good amount of English, considering nearly all of them are from various countries other than the USA. I spent my day kind of observing and getting to know the classroom, but everyone was so welcoming and it didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable with the kids and start getting to know them. I spent the second half of my day in the optimal learning program with Ms. Sarah, which is basically the school’s special education program. There were only 4 students receiving services throughout the time I was there today, but each day there are different students at different times, so it was a nice introduction to what the rest of the week will be like for me. Luckily for us, there’s a supermarket right across the street from the metro station closest to our apartment, so on the way home we picked up some necessities and walked home, exhausted but excited for the next 12 weeks.
Day 1 (of student teaching): February 13, 2017
I do not know what I thought my first day of student teaching would look like in an international school, but it certainly did not come to mind as it did to fruition. On my first day of school, I was greeted with smiles, hugs and welcomes from students and staff alike. I was surprised how they all welcomed me so quickly and calmly, almost as if I had been there since the beginning. They were also intrigued by their new teacher, my accent and my role in the classroom. While I had to answer several questions about the far-off place of America and teach them about the significance about the “Fightin’ Blue Hens,” it showed off the genuine curiosity and hospitable nature Greeks are known for.
To top off my day of firsts, the first day was brought with a 100th Day of School party. As such, the students dressed up as 100 year old men and women. The afternoon was filled with giggles and celebration as they were just 80 days away from summer.
Day 2: February 14, 2017
Day 2 was another fun-filled day at ACS Athens. The classroom was in a positive mood with Valentine’s Day and yet another party. The students loved to exchange valentines and well wishes to one another. One student even hand-cut all of his valentines (stars for the boys, hearts for the girls, of course) with individual notes. The students prided themselves on their hard work and the amount of chocolate they received. Despite even being there for only a day, one student made me a valentine because, “I thought you would be sad without one.”
I also met some of the mothers (and one ya-ya) during the Valentine’s Day party. They set up the room exquisitely and would not stop feeding me (not that I am complaining). Everything was delicious and the students certainly enjoyed the sweet treats.
Day 3: February 15, 2017
Today was one crazy day! I feel that I hardly saw the students! There were multiple transitions for the students. From computers to foreign language to P.E. on top of having a half day, we met with the students for about one hour. This day certainly put into perspective how much the school focuses on the whole child through specials, such as gym, art, foreign language, or science laboratory. The school appears to genuinely care about ensuring the students grows to their maximum potential linguistically, athletically, musically, etc. I also appreciate on how they see a variety of professionals during the course of their day, each one an expert in their subject area. I can only imagine how stressful my lead weeks would be with teaching them gym in-house.
This emphasis on specials and the wide variety of them is one that I have not seen yet in the United States. At my other placement in Delaware, the students went to one special a day and would switch, depending on the day of the week. This is certainly not the case at ACS Athens. While this new schedule and change of pace may seem chaotic at times, I ultimately believe the students are getting the most out of their education. Hearing their stories of what they learned in another class is very enriching and an excellent change of pace.
First weekend plans:
This weekend, Fiona and I hope to venture outside of our little bubble of Agia Paraskevi and our metro stop of Nomismatokopio (say that five times fast) (side note to the side note: I mastered the pronunciation today!!). I am hoping that we will be visiting the famous Acropolis or at least stop by Monosthraki to dine and shop around. Regardless, I am sure that we will find an adventure.
Week 2: February 20-24, 2017
Picking up where Lauren left off on quite the cliffhanger, we had an amazing weekend! With absolutely gorgeous weather on Saturday, we ventured down to central Athens and walked around the flea market and shopping areas. Being the super American tourists that we are, we obviously had to get at least one major attraction checked off our list, so we went to the ancient agora of Athens, which was so amazing. On Sunday we went to the Acropolis and yes, it is just as breathtaking in person as it is in pictures. Being a low-key Ancient Greece nerd this was an incredible experience for me, and I’ll probably be going multiple times over the next few months!
I think all of the children officially know my name by now (at least in my morning classroom), and they all seem comfortable with me and we’re starting to form some trusting relationships. Most of them still turn to their regular teacher first, which is to be expected, but hopefully with time they’ll see me as an equal authority in the classroom, especially approaching my lead weeks. I’m teaching my first lesson tomorrow in the junior kindergarten (JK) classroom! I’ll be leading their morning group time, and hopefully by leading a routine that everyone is used to it will be a good way to introduce me as more of a lead teacher role in the class. On Friday I’m implementing a lesson plan in the OLP (special education) classroom, which is a much different atmosphere. This will be one-on-one with a second grader whom I’ve only met twice before. Planning is much more challenging with this placement because for most of the students we don’t know what they need to be working on until their homeroom teachers tell us that morning. It is especially challenging for me because I’ve never been in this type of setting before, working on-on-one with older students (as old as fifth grade), and not really knowing quite how much support I should be offering each individual student. I suppose it comes with a lot of practice and experience, and I’m hopeful that I’ll feel more confident as the weeks go on.
By the way, Lauren and I have been in survival mode for the last 5 or so days, because the wifi in our apartment doesn’t work! We lost power for a short while on Thursday evening, and a few hours later our wifi was a mess. By Sunday evening (when all of our assignments were due) we were able to get in contact with customer support and they fixed it for us, but then an hour later we had to call back and get them to do it again…not a good sign. It is now Tuesday and neither our landline nor our wifi works, so this time we can’t even call to have them fix it (this would happen to us). Luckily we have wifi at the school so any communication we need to make with the outside world or any assignments we need to submit can be done there for the time being. Fingers crossed that everything works out soon!
This week has really flown by! It does not seem like we are closing in on our second week here. The relationships that I have with my clinical educator and the rest of the teaching team have really helped me feel comfortable in the classroom! I am happily surprised on how well we have all connected so quickly. I know it will certainly be used to my advantage during my lead weeks!
Aside from the teachers, the students have really captured my heart. They are very diverse in their backgrounds and languages, but share the same love for learning. It makes me excited to be their teacher (if only for a brief amount of time) because of their love and curiosity for learning. They love to hear about each other’s’ experiences, including my own, about living in a different country and their background. For example, they love hearing about YoUDee. They think that he is the greatest mascot that will probably ever live. Our classroom has a tiny stuffed one for the students to read and write to and they would always ask questions about what YoUDee did on campus. I tried to explain, but then decided a video might be a great way to sum it up. I showed them a video of YoUDee in action and they want to know when he will be visiting ACS Athens.
Everything else in the classroom is going well! The students seem to acknowledge my presence as a teacher more so this week. School work and edTPA is starting to pile up, so I cannot wait until that gets very crazy. Other than that, Fiona and I are ready for a fun-filled weekend in Vienna! We plan on seeing some of the sights while were are there and drinking some excellent coffee!
Update to the update on our wi-fi: a technician is coming on Wednesday to hopefully see what is wrong! Fingers crossed this does the job!!
Greek words learned this week:
- “Yasas” – Hello
- “Yasis” -’ Hi
- “Parakalo” – Please
- “Sygnomi” – Sorry
Week 3: February 27-March 3, 2017
Lauren and I had an amazing time in Vienna! Although I lost my jacket at the airport during our layover in Munich so I had to buy a University of Vienna sweatshirt in a souvenir shop (sorry UD, nothing personal). We saw some beautiful palaces, churches, and museums, and I’ve decided that Vienna is like a German-speaking Paris.
Now that we’re back in action at ACS, lots has been going on. Last Friday, the third graders put on a “living wax museum” where they researched and dressed up like a famous person or historical figure, and you could walk around the room and press their button and they would suddenly come to life and tell you all about themselves! It was the cutest thing. Some of my students from the special education program were there and they did a fabulous job!
I’m finally getting the hang of working in the special ed classroom, and learning to kind of just go with the flow when students come in with lessons from other teachers and we just have to figure it out nearly on the spot. The fifth graders use the social studies textbook “Building a Nation,” which I’m pretty sure I used in elementary school. Crazy how that thing can still follow me all the way to Athens so many years later! I’ve also gotten really good at fractions again, which is not something I thought I’d have to do because I wouldn’t normally be working with upper elementary students, yet here we are.
In my JK classroom, things are going well. I’m trying to be as involved as I can given how independent these kids are during free choice time! There’s one student who is only 3 but every day makes these incredible constructions out of magnatiles…I swear he’s going to be an architect one day. They all love to draw as well, and I’m slowly but surely starting my own collection of drawings that the children have given me! So far I have 4 and they are proudly hanging up behind my desk so that everyone can see what great writers and artists my students are.
Is it just me or are these days flying by?? It really makes me scratch my head on how we are in week three. Anyway, this past week has been amazing! We absolutely loved Vienna and its old charm, but were excited to get back to school. We had the day off on Monday for Clean Monday (the official start of Lent). That Monday was a day to fly kites in Greece, as it is the unofficial start to spring. In the classroom, we had a few activities relating to the kite flying activity. One of them was constructing a poem using prepositions to describe where the students flew their kites. We got very creative with our prepositions (I’ll include a few pictures of the finished product!).
This week we also got into doubles for our math lessons. It is an interesting dynamic in math class because the students are so diverse. We have a few students that are ESL and can only communicate in their native language or very limited English. On the other hand, when discussing doubles, one student pointed out that we were multiplying single digit numbers by two. This dynamic certainly makes for an unique classroom experience and one that is rewarding to be a part of. I am glad I have my co-teacher to not only help instruct in Greek if needed, but to also arrange small groups.
Fiona and I did some traveling around on Thursday evening! Some of the other first grade teachers suggested a good place for dinner around the metro stop. It was a mission with a goal in mind: getting our student monthly passes for the metro. Long story and one angry Greek woman later, Fiona got her full-price metro ticket and I got to stand in line and take in the scenery for an hour! Good news though, I have found a soulmate and it is the fries at The Stick Bar.
Friday is Crazy Hair Day, so we shall see how crazy it gets! I do not know what we are doing this weekend, but an electrician is coming on Saturday to check the place out. Hopefully this will (finally) solve our wifi issue!!