Sunday, October 28, 2012

1. St. Patrick's Day--At Least for Us: St. Patrick's College Drumcondra (the first post of a 4 part St. Patrick's series)

Dr. Santoli and South Paw in Dr. Waldron's office
at St. Patrick's College in Dublin, Ireland
Dr. V. and I have really been looking forward to today because we arranged to meet with colleagues at St. Patrick's College Drumcondra . We read about the wonderful reputation of St. Patrick's (or Pat's as we learned it is called) and were very eager to meet with Dr. Fionnuala Waldron, Dean of Education, and with others who might be available. We could not have dreamed of a more wonderful visit! We were warmly welcomed by Dr. Waldron who told us about  the history of Pat's. The college was established in 1875 and was all male until the early 1970s. The college was constructed around Belvedere House, which was once a beautiful home, with parts dating from about 1660. She was so gracious to share time with us talking about teacher education at "Pat's" and in Ireland. We also talked about our programs and left materials with her. We will be sharing some of our discussion a bit later because we know our students and colleagues will be very interested. Dr. Waldron is passionate about teacher education-this was evident in all she shared. Along with serving as Dean, Dr. Waldron also serves as the Chair of the Centre for Human Rights.  Her academic degree is in history, so I felt an immediate connection!

After speaking with Dr. Waldron, we were so honored to meet the President of the college, Dr. Daire Keogh. His office is in a beautiful part of the building which was built in the 1960s-a wonderful contrast to the older part. He showed us several of the lovely rooms in the original building and we were able to speak with him about The University of South Alabama. It is such a small world: He was familiar with Mobile because he has in-laws in Pensacola.

Dr. Fionnuala Waldron, Dr. Susan Santoli, Dr. Daire Keogh, Dr. Paige Vitulli
President Keogh sharing the beauty of St. Patrick's with us.

Perceived Similarities and Differences:

Like USA, Pat's has recently undergone revisions in its teacher programs. In both cases, the addition of more extensive field experience was part of the revision. At Pat's, the primary (elementary) degree changed from a 3 year to a 4 year degree and the secondary program, which is all graduate, will be increasing from 18 months to 2 years.

The Special Education Dept. at Pat's is celebrating its  50th anniversary and was the first SPE department in Ireland. They do not have a dual elementary degree as we do, but we all agreed that one of the biggest challenges facing our students is effectively reaching students with special needs.

Secondary social sciences consists of history, geography, and science. There is no economics, civics/government or behavioral sciences component. Citizenship is addressed in Social Person and Health Education. As in the US, elementary social studies is often sacrificed for math and literacy instruction.

In secondary education, students enter the program with undergraduate content degrees. They are admitted to the graduate program through interviews. As with our elementary program, it is difficult to balance what content courses should be taught along with the pedagogy in order to provide a sound foundation in both. When the program was extended to 4 years, the humanities courses were reduced. Dr. Waldron said that the goal for their primary program was a very holistic, child centered curriculum. We all agreed that the content/pedagogy balance is a difficult one.

As in the US, Dr. Waldron said there is a real concern that many subjects taught in the schools are taught as more fact based, exam oriented, textbook centered. The goal of Pat's as, is our goal, is to provide future teachers with the tools they need to practice more inquiry teaching and to focus on critical thinking skills which transfer to all subject areas.

We asked about online courses as part of teaching training and were told that the online courses were mostly postgraduate courses, but they were moving toward a blended program in the graduate program. Technology use is definitely a part of teacher training, although the availability of technology differs among the schools, just as it does for our students.

Teaching is a very popular occupation in Ireland. The entrance requirements into Pat's are high and they take students from the top 10% in the country into the elementary program. Teaching has a very high status and teachers in Ireland are the highest paid in the European Union. Because Ireland is part of the EU, it recognizes teacher certification from other EU countries. Teachers can be asked to make up content gaps, but the certification is recognized. As in the USA, teachers can get certified through online providers and these vary greatly in quality. Certification qualifications do differ among institutions, but are fairly consistent between Pat's and Limerick College.  There are different models in smaller institutions. We told them this was true in the U.S. as well, and that each institution in Alabama submitted its certification proposals to the Alabama Department of Education so that there could be a variance in requirements. Interestingly enough, Dr. Waldron said that there is sometimes the view among other academics that a degree is education is not as rigorous as in other areas. We told her that was true for us as well.

As in the US, insuring teacher quality is a national focus. On the morning news, before we went to Pat's, we heard a report from Charlie Taylor, Chief Executive of the recently created  Teaching Agency in the UK, that additional entry tests in English and math would be required of those applying to teacher ed programs. Dr. Waldron said that similar conversations were going on in Ireland.

At the end of our conversation, we were so impressed with what we had learned about Pat's and with the wonderful hospitality of Dr. Waldron and Dr. Keogh. We will definitely be pursing some collaboration possibilities, especially those which require us returning to Pat's!

Dr. Waldron then took us to the gate house of Belvedere House which is the home of  The National Induction Programme for Teachers. We were so inspired and impressed by Billy Redmond and Mary Burke who are the NIPT National Co-ordinators. MUCH more on this later.

(Daire, Fionnuala, Billy and Mary - please do not hesitate to clarify or correct any misconceptions or errors a comment or e-mail us at or

***Students, please feel free to comment on any aspects of our post you found interesting or pose  questions you may have.***


John Hadley Strange said...

"...focus on critical thinking skills which transfer to all subject areas." Wonderful. I agree!.

Anonymous said...

I was excited to read about the stature and respect for the profession in Ireland. I was interested in what kind of class sizes and other classroom charateristics students have in Ireland and found that the class sizes avg. at approx 19 with students > age 13. as in the U.S we have 24 approx. Just sparked some interesting thoughts for me, The pictures look amazing, thanks Dr. S
-Kenny C.

Anonymous said...

What an exciting opportunity you had to go to Ireland for the Ireland International Conference on Education. My favorite photo was the mother holding the child statue. I believe it represents the very first educators we know, our mothers. It was astonishing to read that Ireland holds teachers in such high regard. No wonder they take only the top “10%” of the country into the elementary program. It makes you think about where American educators stand in that regard. Do we take only the top ten percent? If not, why not, don’t our children deserve the best? But then, does having the smartest teachers automatically produce the best teachers? Your blog has given me a lot to think about in this matter. Because I want to blend my sign language abilities with my teaching career, I was especially interested in your comment on Ireland’s growing concerns for students with special needs. Looking at your photos I am even more excited about my trip to Ireland in Summer 2013.

Kenny Nelson said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to fill us in on the wonderful things happening in Ireland. It makes me want to get up and go there. Maybe we can integrate some of the things they do or vice versa. I find it amazing that only 10% get into the elementary program. Very difficult indeed! The campus photos look awesome and once again thanks for giving us a piece of Ireland and what we may never experience otherwise.

Jamie Ham said...

It is great to see how education is in another country. It is interesting to see how things are changing. I can relate to the education system in Ireland. They hold education to a high standard just as I do. School and my education mean a lot to me. Not just to get a degree and finish school, but to learn from everything I do and incorporate it in my career!

Byronn Brye said...

I can't believe Ireland only takes the top 10% of the country into it's elementary programs. I think it's kind of unfair to the rest of the country. I began to wonder do we as Americans take our education seriously. I mean someone really thought that through. This blog had really got me thinking about our country.

I really enjoyed all the pictures in the blog. I think Ireland is cool. I'm going to do some research about Ireland very soon.

Pamela Boykin said...

It sounds like your visit at St. Patrick's College Drumcondra was a wonderful visit. It sounds amazing and to be able to see all of the history of the college, is truly a honor. It was very nice of the President of the College and Dr. Waldron to meet with you and I know it meant so much to the both of you.

Paige Vitulli said...

@Molly - my thoughts exactly when taking the picture of the mother and child statue. I sat on the floor to get that one!

@Pamela - Dr. Santoli and I were very honored to have spent so much time with the Dean, President, and Teacher Induction Program leaders. We know how very busy their schedules are and they were quite gracious and generous with their time. Most of all, we learned so much from our conversations and hope to keep our collaboration going!

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