Teachers of the World Unite
For six weeks this fall, 22 secondary-school teachers from around the world were hosted by Claremont Graduate University’s Teacher Education program. These teachers came to the United States to learn about the American classroom experience and American culture—everything from PowerPoint presentations to tandem bicycles.
This visit was also an opportunity for CGU’s faculty and students, as well as the surrounding school districts, to learn more about these teachers and their countries. And through this information and culture exchange, strengthen relationships and international understanding between the United States and the world.
Improved international relations and understanding is the goal set forth by IREX, an international nonprofit that promotes positive, lasting change globally. With funding from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs they created their Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) Program.
The TEA Program has provided grants to universities to host international teachers, known as TEA fellows, every year since 2006. Though this was the first year CGU applied to be a host institution, it seemed like a natural fit for Teacher Education.
“We didn’t have to stretch who we are,” said Anita Quintanar, director of operations for CGU’s TEA Program. “The TEA Program is aligned with our vision of imbuing our teachers with a global perspective. Then they can take that perspective into the classroom with their students, who may very well come from diverse backgrounds, especially in Southern California.”
“When we were planning our application, it just got better and better,” added DeLacy Ganley, director of CGU’s TEA Program and assistant professor in the School of Educational Studies. “IREX wanted the host university to integrate technology with the teaching. We’re good at that. And they wanted us to do lesson planning. We’re good at that, too! This was exactly what we do.”
IREX agreed, and awarded CGU $184,000 to host 22 TEA fellows from September 22 to November 7. The teachers came from 12 countries spread out over five continents: Colombia, El Salvador, Ghana, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Thailand, and Ukraine. Looking over the fellows’ bios, Ganley was impressed at the length of their experience. While each had a minimum of five years of teaching in their home country—in English, social studies, history, or economics—some had spent over two decades in the classroom.
“Looking at the backgrounds, we realized we couldn’t think of them as our students, but colleagues we just hadn’t met yet,” she said. “Kindred spirits and collaborators across the globe.”
On September 19, all of IREX’s TEA fellows met in Washington, DC, for a three-day orientation. On September 23, CGU’s TEA fellows arrived in Claremont. Over the next six weeks, their weekday working hours were split between the CGU campus and neighboring school-district classrooms.
At CGU, the fellows completed an academic program that encompassed training in teaching methodologies, curriculum development, and the use of technology in education. The program also included subject-specific strategies for the teachers’ native disciplines.
For many teachers, regardless of discipline, the most important part of these lessons was learning about the technological tools American classrooms are often equipped with: computers with Internet, projectors, LED screens.
“My goal when I came here was to be excellent at technology. I never before have had the time or opportunity to learn,” said Khadija Nour El Attar, who has been teaching English in Meknes, Morocco, since 1984, with an average class size of 45–54 students. “Most of the teachers in my school still use blackboard and chalk. We’re always complaining about the chalk dust.”
Nour El Attar singled out the classes on Power- Point and Prezi as being particularly helpful. These are presentation programs that will allow her to digitize her lessons and incorporate other media, such as music and videos. “When I have my lessons on the computer, it will allow me to spend more time with my students, monitoring them. And no more breathing in chalk.”
One important stipulation of the TEA Program is that fellows are expected to not just learn and incorporate technology into their own classrooms, but also share it with their peers and students back home. To facilitate this, fellows spent three additional days in Washington, DC, before retuning home to attend a conference where they learned how to apply for grants to disseminate what they had learned abroad.
Jose Douglas Martinez Herrera, a history and English teacher from San Salvador, El Salvador, had already developed plans before leaving Claremont: “When I get back home I am going to make a deal with my colleagues who want to learn. I will work with them, one-on-one. But they have to promise me that they will then go on to teach two more people themselves,” he said. “That way, the knowledge multiplies.”
Herrera thinks sharing what he has learned about technology will have a particularly profound effect on his students. In San Salvador he has seen too many of his pupils lured away from the classroom to join gangs. To combat that, Herrera needs to improve his students’ job prospects, which means better proficiency in English and technology.
“In El Salvador, one of the best jobs my students can get is in a call center. But you have to know how to operate a computer, use the Internet, and speak fair English to work there,” he said. “With what I’m learning in Claremont, I can have my students study English with the assistance of a computer. This will help them get a job and keep them from becoming gang members, which is one of the biggest problems we have in my country.”
Another important component of CGU’s TEA Program was its clinical experience, where fellows visited and observed classrooms throughout the school district.
“By taking fellows into the classroom we’re not trying to say, ‘This is the way,’” said Ganley. “We just want to show them what we do, and how we do it. They will hopefully see some benefits, maybe some drawbacks, and draw their own conclusions from that.”
Witnessing the culture of American classrooms was the most notable part of the trip for Yulia Nikul, who has been teaching English for 10 years and has been an assistant principal for three years in Lubny, Ukraine. But what surprised her wasn’t how teachers taught, but who they taught. “It was so unexpected for me to discover that Americans with certain disabilities go to the same school as the rest of the students. In Ukraine, these students cannot go to regular schools. They can go to specialist schools for people with disabilities, or they get educated at home,” she said.
After observing classrooms in the surrounding school districts, Nikul, who had never been out of Ukraine before becoming a TEA fellow, realized this was a policy she would like to see emulated in her own country. “When I saw these students in wheelchairs in the classroom, I realized this was a good decision. Americans are very caring of these people. They have equal opportunities in education and social life.”
But TEA fellows did more than just observe during these classroom visits; many gave presentations introducing their home countries to young students. Pratima Menon, who has been teaching high school social science in New Dehli, India, for almost 20 years, visited a local elementary school. Despite so many years in front of the classroom, she was nervous about speaking in front of children so much younger than those she teaches at home. “I was anxious and scared. I didn’t think I would know how to engage them,” she said.
Fellow TEA members coached Menon, urging her to be herself and to try to engage the children with group activities. To her surprise, after her presentation, students kept asking her questions, eager to learn more about India. And Menon discovered she had learned something from them.
“I realized how successful the group activities methods I learned in class at CGU were,” she said. “And that led me to realize there is a child in all of us. I should never forget that my 11th- and 12th-graders have children inside of them. So when I go home I will try to make my lessons more interesting. Let them play games, have a little fun as well.”
The importance of having fun wasn’t lost on Ganley and Quintanar when they put together their TEA Program. While TEA fellows spent most of their weekdays in classrooms, most of their weekends were filled with planned visits to Southern California cultural sites, such as Chinatown, Old Town Pasadena, Venice Beach, and, of course, Disneyland. In addition, much of the TEA fellows’ leftover free time was spent with volunteer Friendship Families from Claremont and the surrounding area.
Friendship Families were recruited to include fellows in activities that would allow them to better understand the pulse of the community. These activities could include everything from grocery shopping to family dinners to campouts. There were no forced regimens or requirements put on the families or the fellows; they were simply matched up and free to independently schedule as many activities and meetings as they liked.
For many fellows, the time spent with their Friendship Family provided the most evocative experiences of their time in Claremont. When Nikul was asked about her favorite memory from her trip she didn’t hesitate to answer: “The tandem bicycle with four seats. I had never seen such a bicycle before. It was so exciting and so much fun to ride around Claremont with my host family. We rode the bike to the Claremont Fair and everyone greeted us along the way.”
In the midst of such an important trip, it is easy to lose sight of the international goodwill created through simply introducing one person to another. This is why the Teacher Education program works to build partnerships with schools and universities in countries around the world, including Germany, Norway, South Africa, and Vietnam. Through these partnerships, Teacher Education students not only get to visit schools, but sometimes even receive their teaching credential by working abroad.
“In the last 30 years, the world has gotten so small. We have gotten so much more interconnected than we ever have before. You can’t just think of yourself as a product of where you live. You need to be a global citizen,” said Ganley. “And to be a global citizen you have to understand your neighbors, which isn’t the next town over. It’s countries and regions throughout the globe.”
With the successful completion of their first year hosting TEA fellows, Teacher Education now has colleagues and collaborators in 12 more countries. But this goodwill benefits everyone, not just the program. “A lot of people in Morocco have the idea that American people are distant, not so friendly,” said Nour El Attar. “But we have experienced the human, warm side of American people. When we go home everyone will ask us about the schools and families in the United States. And after this program we will have so many positive things to say.”