Irish teacher takes over at Sandy Ridge Elementary
Nothing surprises Ciara McNally after working in Kenya.
The 29-year-old Ireland native taught classes of students from age 2 to 10, all in the same group, all expected to learn at the same pace.
“It was crazy, but it prepares you for any eventuality,” McNally said.
That was her first experience with international teaching, after working for several years in her home country. Seeing a chance to travel, McNally took the position in Kiberia, volunteer teaching for a month in one of the largest neighborhoods in the city of Nairobi.
Afterwards, she went back home to Ireland and applied to the VIF International Education program, which helps connect international teachers with schools in the United States. That’s how McNally found herself at Sandy Ridge Elementary as a part of the fourth-grade team.
“It’s very different, teaching here,” McNally said. “I taught 11 subjects back home and there’s more paperwork here for just one subject.”
In addition to more paperwork, McNally also had to get used to earlier mornings. In Ireland, classes start at 9 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. Here she finds herself getting up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for the day.
“I can’t imagine how difficult it is,” Sandy Ridge Principal Cynthia Croffut said. “She’s an experienced teacher and she’s done a fantastic job. I’d like to keep her as long as I can.”
One thing McNally tries to incorporate into her classes is her love of drama. Students act out part of the lesson, pretending to be historical characters. While studying the Trail of Tears, McNally divided her class into two groups, one of Native Americans and the other of settlers. She gave the Native Americans a large piece of the classroom as their home, then little by little, they experienced what it was like to lose that land as settlers kept taking more and more away.
“We talked about it afterward,” McNally said. “I asked each group how they felt, so that it becomes more than words in a book.”
While this marks McNally’s sixth year as a teacher, it’s her first in the United States and as such, she’s learning some subjects along with the students.
“Social studies is a big transition,” McNally said. “I told the kids social studies was their chance to teach me, because I’m still learning myself.”
McNally also teaches her students about her home country every day, helping them learn Irish words and phrases, along with watching an Irish kids news program available through the internet. They learned about the Irish elections and discussed what it means to vote.
“We also have Irish pen pals in the school where I taught in Ireland,” McNally said. “Right now we’re doing it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, to work on our writing. Then hopefully later on this year we can do a Skype session and show off our classroom.”
McNally said she’s not sure what she wants to do in the future. After teaching in multiple countries, she said she hasn’t sat down and decided what she wants to do when her five year term is up. In any case, she’s learned new things through the experience.
“This has taught me more about what I can handle,” McNally said.