Marketing & Communications

Finding Common Ground

By: Kathleen Lawry

Although the languages they speak and the classrooms they use may be vastly different, when you put teachers from around the globe together they all want to focus on one thing-how to become better teachers.

For the past six weeks, 20 teachers from 17 countries have immersed themselves in professional development workshops and American culture. The holistic program has enabled them to learn more about themselves as teachers and the way of life in the United States, but has also presented the BGSU community and several local schools the opportunity to learn about their cultures.

The State Department Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) Program brings outstanding secondary science and English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers from abroad to the United States to further develop expertise in their subject areas, enhance their teaching skills, and increase their knowledge about the U.S. IREX, who administers the State Department TEA program, is an international nonprofit organization providing thought leadership and innovative programs to promote positive lasting change globally.

The core of the BGSU program titled, "Empowering Teacher Leaders for 21st Century Teaching and Learning," focused on the academics and field experience. Because the 20 TEA fellows are experienced educators and viewed as leaders in their communities, social studies education faculty member Dr. Sharon Subreenduth, principal investigator (PI) of the grant, pulled from the strengths of BGSU's master's degree programs in curriculum and teaching as well as classroom technology when conceptualizing the grant proposal.

First NameLast NameCountry of Legal Residence
ParthoAcharjeeBangladesh
SarminJahanBangladesh
CharoJose DoradoBolivia
SergePreCote D'Ivoire
MohammedMoustafaEgypt
BirgyLorenzEstonia
ClaudiaAvila ZeronHonduras
ManjulaSivakumarIndia
LakshmiVenkataramanIndia
SalamSalehJordan
GulnarAbilevaKazakhstan
Gregorio Gutierrez MontutoPanama
MaríaMeneses TicllaPeru
ElenaMishatkinaRussia
EricaVan LingenSouth Africa
SvitlanaTrofymchukUkraine
YeferCorro RodriguezVenezuela
Mirian Hurtado BeltranVenezuela
Mery Murillo HerreraCosta Rica
LaxmanSharmaNepal

Cross-curricular interdisciplinary general pedagogy sessions served as the base of the program. Technology classes started midway through before the group dived into content-specific pedagogy, which were accompanied by content-specific technology workshops.

"Our technology sessions move beyond the basics to a more indepth and intensive focus on effective classroom technologies that actively engage students in content development. We actually have content-specific technology workshops that IREX has not seen included before and were pleased with," said Subreenduth.

One of the main goals for TEA fellow Manjula Sivakumar of India was to implement technology in the classroom to handle large groups of students while giving them individual attention. After completing the program, Sivakumar said, "The technology classes helped me learn multiple technology tools to make my teaching-learning environment interesting and provided methods to assess large classes effectively and quickly."

Even though for some it may be difficult to integrate technology in their classrooms when they return home, for Subreenduth, it's important that the teachers now have another avenue of professional development and can incorporate technology into their own planning and preparing in order to be productive in the classroom.

In addition to the pedagogy and technology workshops, the teachers actively participated in inquiry-based discussions and curriculum. They also engaged in multi-disciplinary methods of teaching EFL and science, including hands-on exercises, roundtable discussions and small-work technology seminars.

"We wanted them to examine and develop authentic curriculum materials, because they have to develop and submit at least two lessons before they leave," said Subreenduth. "We also wanted to deepen their beliefs and reflections on teaching through inquiry-based activities."

With these goals in mind, the academics and the field experience are closely connected. "We were hoping that they would make better sense of what they learned while they were here with what they're seeing in the classrooms or even the gaps they're seeing in the U.S. classrooms," Subreenduth said. IREX provided a reflection guide for the TEA fellows to use with their partner teacher, which allows them to reflect on differentiations such as classroom management, assessment or planning.

"The only difference is that we may believe a few different things or might dress differently or speak a little differently, but basically the principles are the same"The field experience was positive for both the TEA fellows as well as local schoolchildren. "I think it was good for my students to see someone of a different culture in the teaching perspective to understand that a lot of our strategies are the same," said Cynthia Blubaugh '03, seventh grade English language arts teacher at Perrysburg Junior High School and partner teacher for Salam Saleh of Jordan.

"A lot of the ways we approach the class are the same even though we are from two very different backgrounds, especially visually when you first see her, dressing differently with the head dress and everything, it was very good for them to understand that we're all human beings. The only difference is that we may believe a few different things or might dress differently or speak a little differently, but basically the principles are the same," added Blubaugh.

Saleh taught two sessions in Blubaugh's classroom - one on Jordan and another on stereotyping. "It was a really cool, hands-on lesson where she talked about how we're alike, how we're different and how people are more alike than different throughout the world," said Blubaugh. "That was a great opportunity for the students."

"Although people are of different races, ethnicities or cultures, they can get along successfully if they focus on their similarities rather than their differences," Saleh said when asked what she will take away from this program.

Birgy Lorenz of Estonia shared a similar reaction to the field experience. "Now I see that children are children and teachers are teachers as mothers are mothers all over the world," she reflected. Despite differences in some methodical approaches, schedules, lesson planning and management, as well as compulsory curricula subjects and how they are implemented in schools, she recognized a lot of similarities.

Experiencing firsthand the "real" student and teacher life in the U.S. was a highlight for

Manjula Sivakumar of India. "I could share lot of things like our culture, school community and parent community, as well as the education system and society with the U.S students, and also had an opportunity to learn theirs," Sivakumar said.

"In addition to the academics and field experiences, the program included significant cultural activities. It's quite holistic," Subreenduth said. When conceptualizing the grant proposal, she thought it was important to have a cross-cultural component that engaged faculty and graduate students from the School of Teaching and Learning as well as the Master of Arts in Cross-cultural and International Education (MACIE) Program.

The teachers were immersed in a variety of activities to get a more authentic sense of American culture. In fact, the TEA fellows became so familiar with current trends in the U.S. that they joined the Harlem Shake phenomenon and created their own video.

"Thanks to all these wonderful families who didn't only open the doors of their houses, but also the doors of their hearts." Dance seemed to be a favorite interest among the group, given that they also had an impromptu two-hour dance party following a dinner hosted by Dr. Savilla Banister, a classroom technology faculty member. Organized trips and activities were planned by Dr. Christopher Frey, co-PI and MACIE graduate coordinator, and his team of six graduate students. The TEA fellows visited Toledo, Detroit, Columbus and Chicago or New York City, exploring Toledo's Cherry Street Mission and landmarks and attend sporting events.

Local families also hosted the teachers for two weekends. During the homestays, the teachers experienced a wide range of activities from a hockey game to a radio talk show to visiting places of worship and joining in family dinners. "I think for some people who come from cultures where staying or visiting in someone's home is not very common, that might have been a new experience for them … It's good for them to see beyond the public buildings and museums to see how people really live," said Frey.

The teachers seemed to agree with Frey. "The homestays were unique opportunities to experience the American way of living," said Serge Pacome Yao Pre of Cote d'Ivoire. "I noticed that beyond their busy days, Americans have time to care. Thanks to all these wonderful families who didn't only open the doors of their houses, but also the doors of their hearts."

Frey believes that over time, it's the personal relationships that people build across national borders that help to sustain peaceful, friendly relationships between countries.

"So that might seem like a bit of a stretch, but I really do believe it's these kinds of interactions where people can see each other in their everyday lives … they can see that there are a wide range of people in societies around the world," he said.

He explains that the way that the grant is conceptualized some of these teachers may have another 20 years in their career impacting tens or hundreds of thousands of students in the future. "So hopefully if we are able to give them a good experience here and show them some of that complexity of the United States, it doesn't allow for easy 'America is like this' or 'America is not like that.' It will help young people abroad to better understand what the United States is like, and I think the same thing can be said at a smaller level here with the TEA fellows working in the local public schools."

The State Department TEA Program was sponsored by the Bowling Green State University International Democratic Education Institute.

 (Posted March 25, 2013 )