Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
“Among School Children” by W.B. Yeats
A thumping of dress shoes and heels echoed within the barn, keeping time to the fiddle and drums. Dancers moved in patterns as intricate as a Celtic knot, unending, unbeginning as the partners collapsed inward and expanded out again. In Vaughn’s Barn, the feet never stopped moving on the worn wooden floors as the couples swirled through the music-filled room. Bodies instinctually kept time to the dances learned from youth as the now gray-headed dancers shared gossip with their partners.
Earlier that evening it had not been so.
A different group of dancers stood uneasily, shifting from foot to foot on the floor. Haltingly, their feet moved on the boards, unsure of the rhythm and moves. “Just watch carefully what we do,” the teacher said as he moved his partner confidently around the floor. “One, two, one, two, three…” Faces turned downward to watch their feet as a teacher called out the moves telling them to go to the middle or circle around. Missteps occurred. Stopping and starting, the beginners learned the dance.
Toward the end of the evening, the two groups joined together on the floor – the Irish living in and around Kilfenora and the Indiana State University students visiting the west coast of Ireland. Halting steps smoothed out under direction by knowing partners. All of the dancers simply danced, shuffling to the center, shuffling out, ducking under raised arms. The dancers became the dance. They finished breathless when the last violin note died away.
“It was a lot more fun to watch them than watching us,” said Kristen Marina, a sophomore elementary and special education major from Terre Haute. “When we [danced] with all the other Irish that know the dance, they were so inviting and welcoming. They were very enthusiastic and that was nice. It was really fun watching them because they were so good and they moved so fast.”
Dancing for education
Kathy Bauserman, associate professor of elementary education, has brought elementary education students to Ireland for three years. Each time, they have passed days exploring western Ireland where the country falls dramatically away into the Atlantic Ocean that stretches away to the lands to which many Irish immigrated in past years. But it’s that time in County Clare in Vaughn’s Barn dancing the night away that Bauserman favors on the trips.
“We get to learn the dance, attend the ceili and get to interact with the locals,” she said. “I think that is so authentic and real and lots of fun.”
The dance becomes part of Indiana State’s students’ education as they experience new things. On the trip to Ireland during spring break in March, one student had never flown, most had not traveled outside the United States, several had never watched the ocean disappear into the horizon even as it splashed their feet. During a stop in the beach town of La Hinch, students dashed away from waves rolling ashore with the incoming gray tide while others stood on rocks as the water lapped at their feet before receding. Life became infused with learning as the bus driver gave impromptu history lessons. “Oliver Cromwell’s handiwork again,” he said pointing to castle ruins. “He didn’t waste time or money. He had a lot of castles to get through.” Days later in Dublin, students’ learning took a modern turn as they waved down buses and remembered their stops as they found their routes to low-income schools where they observed Irish classrooms for three days.
“It’s just not purely a vacation trip,” Bauserman said. “We do want students to explore educational aspects. We also want them to explore discovering themselves as people, how to survive in an environment that is new and novel. We’re also interested in having them see themselves as part of a global community.”
Students found the world opening to them as they ventured through Ireland.
“When I got to ISU I really wanted to study abroad and get that different experience,” said Brittany Parrett, a junior from Michigan City. “It’s important because there’s such a big world out there… There’s so much more out there besides ISU or Terre Haute or the state of Indiana. It’s really important to see those different views and get those different experiences that you can’t get where you are.”
“I always wanted to travel the world, but I didn’t think I’d really have the chance,” said Jenny Schindler, a sophomore from Nabb. “I am gaining a broader insight into the world and education by observing other schools in other countries and how they teach.”
Learning the steps
Observing Irish classrooms merges into visiting jagged rock ruins of monasteries or where Irish soil ends 700 feet above the ocean at the Cliffs of Moher or where nature stripped earth away leaving the karst rock face of the Burren. The two components that involve seeing life anew mixed together in a dance of educating the soon-to-be educators.
“It’s important to expose our students to a lot of different educational systems in this global diverse world,” Bauserman said. “They get to experience supports that Ireland feels are important for children that come from low income. Probably their first job will be in a low-income school. So I think for them to be able to understand what those children need is important.”
The students obtain what senior Maggie Goss of Speedway describes as “experience” from assisting in classrooms at the schools and seeing the Irish educational system at work.
“As an education major that is one of the things that gives me experience and maybe a little edge over the competitors when we graduate,” she said.
By observing and participating in Irish school life, Goss said the students obtain ideas and knowledge that they can use in their future classrooms and schools. Ashton Ruppe, a junior from Chrisman, Ill., noticed how teachers handle their classrooms.
“They have a lot of positive reinforcement as opposed to the negative that I see at home a lot of times,” she said. “They do so much hands on here. I’ve barely seen them do any seat work at all.”
Lucy Winter, a junior from Indianapolis, took pictures of bulletin boards and wrote notes about methods used in the classroom.
“I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas that I haven’t seen in the States yet,” she said.
Sophomore Coriann Arts from Waveland understands other benefits from traveling for when she is a teacher.
“I think it will help because if you have different multicultural students in your classroom you’ll be able to relate more to them,” she said.
Through travel, Arts said, a teacher could incorporate international components into lessons. Winter’s thoughts echoed those of Arts’.
“I think it’s important to gain a multicultural experience so that you’re more accepting of students in your classroom and you’re able to adapt, just to be really flexible with other cultures and types of people,” Winter said.
Marina said she wanted to use some of the games learned in the Irish classroom in future lessons. She also has given thought to how the Irish students’ sit in groups during class.
“They can be rewarded as a group instead of on an individual basis so they’re working with their peers,” she said. “I think that’s definitely a good thing to instill in students when they’re younger.”
Dancers become the dance
Bauserman sees such a trip as one meeting the Bayh College of Education’s framework of educator as person, educator as mediator of learning and educator as a member of, in this case, a global community. “In the short 10 days that we’re here our students get to experience all three aspects of that framework,” she said.
And in that framework, the students step into the dance of a changed life.
“From my little town people just don’t do this. For me to have this experience to take back, I’ll be like ‘I did this’,” Ruppe said. “It’s just like an accomplishment to yourself that you did it and it was a great experience.”
Jennifer Sicking, GR ’11, is the editor of Indiana State University Magazine and associate director of ISU media relations.