Professional Development

Teachers Travel the Globe For Professional Development

By Bess Keller — December 03, 2003 6 min read
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Jana Sackman Eaton’s résumé might inspire any educator who wants to know how to beef up a school’s international content or perspective.

Starting in 1997, when her younger child was in college, the veteran teacher began globe-trotting for the sake of her classes at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pa. In six years, she has squeezed in eight intensive professional-development activities, half of them overseas, not to mention playing host to a school group from abroad.

That burst of activity has led both to a doctorate in comparative education and the 2003 Becker Award for Global Education, which was bestowed last month at the National Council for the Social Studies’ annual meeting.

Teacher Jana Sackman Eaton displays a student's artwork in Togliatti, Russia.

Jana Sackman Eaton displays a student’s artwork in Togliatti, Russia, during a fellowship in 1999. The Pennsylvania teacher has been abroad four times in recent years. She’s also taken part in other professional- development opportunities to expand her knowledge of other countries and cultures.
—Courtesy of Jana Sackman Eaton

Ms. Eaton and other experts in global education say that plenty of opportunities are available for teachers to expand their knowledge of the world, whether the instructors are beginners or veterans, or whether they teach at the elementary or secondary level. But, they acknowledge, it might take some looking to find the programs and resources and then match them to individual situations.

A good place to start, according to Merry M. Merryfield, an education professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, is to subscribe to a series of global education updates, such as those provided online by Global TeachNet, which was started by former Peace Corps volunteers.

“The only problem is getting that first connection,” said the educator, who is a prominent name in international and multicultural education. “There was a time when you had to look far and wide, but now there’s so much, anybody can do it anywhere.”

For instance, Ms. Merryfield is offering an online graduate course on teaching world cultures and global issues this semester. Students do not have to be previously enrolled at Ohio State, and, in fact, they live in a number of states and in Europe. The medium allows Ms. Merryfield to call on teachers from Japan, Ghana, and Russia to comment on how their areas of the world should be taught.

Personal Experience

She and others feel strongly that there is no substitute for person-to-person contact across national and cultural borders, whether that is the product of living abroad, travel in a study group, hosting those from other countries, or communication by letter or, better yet, e-mail.

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“It’s critical for American teachers, who typically do not travel, to develop interpersonal relationships [beyond the United States] to bring something of the insider’s perspective back to their classrooms,” said Kenneth Cushner, the education school’s dean for student service and intercultural affairs at Kent State University in Ohio.

There’s nothing to top the experience of cultural immersion, argues Mr. Cushner, an American who has lived in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Sierra Leone.

Educators who win positions in the Fulbright Teacher and Administrator Exchange, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, for example, get almost unparalleled access to another society. They trade places with foreign teachers and administrators for six weeks, a semester, or a full academic year, living abroad and working in a school in the host country.

But even teachers unable to leave the United States can cultivate their own cross-cultural knowledge by working as counselors at international camps, for instance, or helping immigrant children.

For those who are able to travel but have only the summer or a week or two during a break, opportunities abound. Jana Eaton’s first professional trip abroad took her to Japan on a study-travel fellowship sponsored by the Keizai Koho Center of the Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs. The monthlong trips cover transportation, accommodations, and food.

In subsequent summers and the fall of 1999, thanks to other fellowships, Ms. Eaton visited and did research in China, Russia, and South Korea. “Not only does it broaden your horizons,” she said, “there are so many hands-on opportunities, such as interviewing leaders in China and education moms in Japan.”

Many Kinds of Courses

For teachers who are willing to pay their own way or who work in districts that will underwrite at least part of the cost, additional possibilities are open.

Next summer, for instance, Kent State’s Reed Center for International and Intercultural Education plans to take science and social studies teachers to Kenya for three weeks. There, the teachers will look at the “intersection of culture and conservation” in certain communities. Asia- Pacific Education, a program of the East-West Center in Hawaii, sponsors four- week travel seminars to countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam.

The summer also offers a spread of short courses, some in the form of residential seminars, others around the corner for some teachers.

A year and a half ago, for instance, New York City English teacher Kathryn Munnell saw a flier for a course in early-Japanese literature for teachers sponsored by the Japan Society, which has its headquarters in New York. A former development worker in Vietnam, Ms. Munnell was eager to teach a course in Asian literature, but she didn’t yet know enough.

“Taking a course there is such a treat,” she said of the Japan Society, adding that three graduate credits were available to teachers who signed up. “They gave us traditional Japanese lunches and all kinds of materials.” Later, she interviewed officials of the China Society and the Indian consulate, who also were glad to help.

Even teachers who don’t have the time for a course or local travel can expand their knowledge of the world in their own classroom along with their students.

“Teachers can now connect their classrooms to classrooms all over the world, and they can also find a partner classroom,” said R. Michael Paige, an education professor at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, who is spending his sabbatical as a visiting professor at Noguye University in Japan. Even a foreign-exchange student can be an important resource in building knowledge of the world, Mr. Paige said.

“I think it’s going to take time and a commitment,” he said. “But I also think teachers can get hooked and want to do more and more [global education]. It’s enormously rewarding.”

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

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