Brownstown native student teaches in Ireland

Even though she did her research about education in Ireland before she arrived, Kasandra Rieckers came across some surprises while student teaching there.

At Catholic University School in Dublin, she learned students may be assigned homework, but it’s not for points. It was their incentive to want to do it, and if they didn’t, the teacher said it was their problem because they aren’t learning. Then they would be given 15-minute detention after school or the teacher would email their parents.

“Our school system (in America) really relies on motivating students through points and rewards, whereas there, it was all on them to be internally motivated,” said Rieckers, 22, a 2015 Brownstown Central High School graduate.

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Also at the all-boys school, the teachers move to different classrooms throughout the day. There were nine classes each day — three before taking a break, then another three before a break and finishing out the day with three more classes.

“I was so frustrated at first because I like routine and knowing my schedule, and it took me forever to get used to that,” Rieckers said. “I feel like they could do a better system of keeping teachers somewhat in the same area, but it’s just to get the most classes for the kids since they are taking nine classes and try to fit them all in.”

Teachers pack the materials they need in a bag and carry it from classroom to classroom, and the rooms aren’t very big, she said.

“That was interesting because I normally like to walk around my classes and just pace as I talk, and I couldn’t do that,” she said. “It was more like front of the room back and forth. You couldn’t really get back to students, and it made it hard to help them if they wanted help.”

During breaks, students go outside for recess, but since the school is in the city, there is no grass, and it’s just pavement.

“They don’t really get the full exercise just because they don’t have the room to run around, so they are in the classroom just bursting with energy in a class of 22 boys,” Rieckers said, smiling.

The school also doesn’t have bells to signal the start and end of classes. That’s at the teacher’s discretion, so it’s common for students to come in late to class.

“It was a lot of just being very flexible,” Rieckers said. “I feel like the American system is very standardized. The teachers don’t move classrooms, you have the passing periods, you have the bells that tell you when to go, whereas (in Ireland), you didn’t.”

Despite all of these challenges, Rieckers said the experience will help as she will soon have her own classroom.

Going global

She student taught in Dublin through Indiana University’s Global Gateway for Teachers.

Students are given three options: Navajo Nation Program (Navajo reservation in Arizona, Utah or New Mexico), Urban Program (Chicago Public Schools) or Overseas Program for Experienced Teachers (one of nine countries).

“Being a direct admit, I was at the School of Education a lot, and that was one of the programs that they pushed, so I just knew that’s something I was interested in,” Rieckers said.

“I’ve always been just really intrigued with the differences in education across different countries,” she said of choosing the overseas option. “In all of our classes, we talked about, ‘Well, in this country, they kind of do this differently, and here’s what they do here,’ so I really just wanted that experience of having the different education system.”

Starting her junior year, Rieckers attended three-hour meetings once a month to learn what to expect while overseas. At the end of each meeting, the students were given a writing assignment about school differences they find in research and what’s going on politically and culturally in the country where they will student teach.

She also was required to do 10 weeks of student teaching in a local school before heading overseas for eight weeks. She did that at Bloomington High School North with English teacher Elizabeth Sweeney. Rieckers had been in Sweeney’s classroom for the last semester of 2017-18 and first semester of 2018-19.

From January to March this year, Rieckers taught Sweeney’s honors English and English as a new language classes.

“She was great about just giving me the freedom to try things and just let me work it out and figure it out on my own,” Rieckers said. “I know that I will have my own classroom and I won’t always have someone to rely on, so it was nice that she gave me that time in the classroom. Then at the end of the day, she would come back in and we would talk about whatever if I had questions.”

During her time at IU, Rieckers also did field experiences at Batchelor Middle School, Edgewood Junior High School and University Elementary School.

Bound for Dublin

A week after she completed her student teaching with Sweeney, she left for Dublin.

She lived with a host family in Malahide. Even though the school was only 14 miles away, it took her more than an hour to get there — 15-minute walk to the train station, 45-minute train ride and 15-minute walk to the school.

The school has around 500 boys in the primary school (through sixth grade) and secondary school (seventh through 12th grades).

Rieckers spent the first two weeks observing teachers and supervising field trips, and then she was either teaching classes on her own or co-teaching in the secondary school.

The weekly field trips are during the transition year, which in American schools is equivalent to the sophomore year. Those included trips to an aviation museum and an outdoor Irish history museum and climbing the Croagh Patrick mountain.

“In that year, it’s less test-based, it’s less homework-based and it’s more about them going to different places and talking to people about jobs,” Rieckers said.

The boys also have to do community service during the transition year.

The school year ended June 9, but the third- and sixth-year students at the secondary school had a week off before spending three weeks taking summer tests, which are similar to standardized tests in America. All of them will return to school in September.

Exploring Europe

Rieckers’ family and friends also got to join her during her time overseas.

During a two-week break in April, she spent one week visiting Germany with her parents, Pat and Karla. Other times, longtime friends Abby and Ally Lorenzo visited Dublin, and she and two girls in the Global Gateway program teaching in Dublin traveled to Northern Ireland.

The overseas program also requires students to complete eight hours of community service, so Rieckers knocked some of those hours out. Through Tidy Towns in Malahide, she helped pick up trash, plant flowers and paint buildings.

Through it all, Rieckers also earned 12 graduate school credits. She participated in a graduation ceremony in December and received her bachelor’s degree in education.

Going her own way

Now, she’s preparing for her first year on her own teaching freshman honors and Core 40 English classes at Bloomington North.

“Just knowing that I know all of the teachers there already, they were so supportive in my student teaching experience that I know they will be there if I have a problem,” she said. “I’m also excited just to see my students that I had for student teaching and see them in the hallways again.”

She also is an assistant coach with the girls basketball team, which is coached by 2009 Brownstown graduate Jeff Turmail, a social studies teacher at the school. Rieckers and Turmail both played basketball when they were students in Brownstown.

Rieckers got to stay around the game she loves while at IU, as she served as a manager for the women’s basketball team for three and a half years and worked in the ticket office for a year and a half.

Also at IU, Rieckers was a mentor for students directly admitted into the School of Education.

Rieckers said after a year or two of teaching, she wants to start working toward her master’s degree. She also wants to obtain her English as a new language license.

With all that she experienced, Rieckers encourages others to make the most of their time in college.

“Look at the opportunities that your college provides because I know so many of my classmates didn’t even know that this (Global Gateway) program existed, so just on your own, look at what clubs you want to get involved in,” she said.

She found out that helps when applying for jobs. During one of her job interviews, she talked about her 10 years in 4-H, and she and the assistant principal both had shown pigs.

“You never know what these activities and groups are going to lead to because you just need that one connection with someone that you can say, ‘Oh, we have this in common,’” she said. “Any time you can do something new, do it because you never know when that’s going to matter and just connect with someone else.”

She also said people shouldn’t be afraid to travel to new places.

“I feel like you can’t really grow unless you’re in an uncomfortable situation,” Rieckers said. “Yes, there were highs and lows in my program. Sometimes, I was like, ‘I want to go home. I just want to be with my family,’ but I wouldn’t have grown as a person or as a teacher if I didn’t have those uncomfortable experiences. I feel like if you’re too comfortable, then you’re not actually growing.”

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Name: Kasandra Rieckers

Age: 22

Hometown: Brownstown

Residence: Bloomington

Education: Brownstown Central High School (2015); Indiana University (bachelor’s degree in education, 2019)

Occupation: English teacher and girls basketball assistant coach at Bloomington North High School

Family: Parents, Pat and Karla Rieckers; brother, Derek Rieckers