International Opinion

A Decade of Preparing Globally Competent Teachers

By Caitlin Haugen — November 12, 2014 7 min read
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This week we continue our “state of global competence” series with a look at teacher preparation programs—an often overlooked, yet essential piece of the puzzle. A globally competent teacher educator who has the ability to train globally competent teachers will impact hundreds of teachers and tens of thousands students in classrooms across the United States.

Today, Caitlin Haugen, Executive Director of Global Teacher Education, looks at the state of the field in the U.S. and, later this week, will share what is happening to globalize teacher preparation around the world.

I reached out to veteran teacher educators who have committed their careers to supporting the internationalization of colleges of education in the service of developing the next generation of globally competent teachers. I discovered we have come a long way in ensuring our future teachers are provided opportunities to learn key skills and gain global experience while fulfilling their degree and certification requirements. We also have some room for growth.


1. Percentage of Education Majors Who Study Abroad
International experience is a strong strategy to develop global competence. “It is essential for both pre-service as well as in-service teachers to have extended immersion experience in cultures other than their own,” agrees Kenneth Cushner, a professor at Kent State University who has extensive experience researching and facilitating international experiences for educators. According to the most recent Open Doors data, however, only 4.1% of education majors studied abroad. Ten years earlier it was exactly the same. The number of education majors who have studied abroad has risen from more than 7,200 students in 2002/2003 to over 17,000 in 2012/2013, but education majors have consistently been among the least represented in study abroad.

However, there is hope. Recent efforts such as Generation Study Abroad—a combined effort to double undergraduate study abroad—have called attention to the importance of engaging stakeholders across the K-16 spectrum, and are committed to engaging students from all majors to pursue international opportunities.

2. Teacher Demographics
For the last decade, teachers have remained relatively homogeneous—Caucasian, female, and middle class. This is particularly problematic when you consider how rapidly and dramatically student demographics are changing. Similarly, teacher educators are culturally and racially homogeneous. Pre-service teachers are not exposed to diverse peers or perspectives (until they reach their classrooms), and recent research indicates they feel poorly prepared. Teacher education as a field is well aware of this lack of diversity, and there are efforts around the country to help attract diverse candidates to the profession. In this regard, internationalization efforts are immediately important: future teachers must be exposed to different perspectives in order to meet the needs of a student body that is considerably different than their fellow pre- and in-service peers.

3. Attitudes
My interviewees noted that the core support for internationalizing teacher education is relatively small, with a rather isolated group of key leaders and faculty devoted to these efforts. Craig Kissock is the Director of EducatorsAbroad, an organization that provides overseas internships and student teaching opportunities. He notes, “The biggest change is the lack of change within the teacher education profession over the past 50 years. There is a disregard for scholarly evidence and reporting that demonstrates the need and value of internationalizing teacher education, and failure to recognize and act on the fact that teaching is a global profession.” As a result, there remains, “only a miniscule portion of prospective teachers introduced to education outside their local area either through coursework or school experience.”

While this last point appears pessimistic, I argue that the core of support is steadily growing, and that there is a growing awareness of this issue (see below). I see the membership directory at Global Teacher Education growing every day with interested faculty and deans, and I consistently meet young faculty who are devoting their time, energy, and research to ensuring that future teachers gain a global perspective.


1. Opportunities to Study and Student Teach Abroad
Sharon Brennan is Director of Clinical Field Experiences at the University of Kentucky, and is considered a pioneer in the field of internationalization. As early as the 1960s, she and several other faculty in the southeast started creating partnerships with institutions overseas to facilitate exchange and study abroad specifically for future teachers. These efforts grew out of a need to broaden the perspectives of a student population that primarily came from small, rural towns and lacked exposure to other cultures. She went on to help found the Consortium of Overseas Student Teaching (COST), now made up of 13 universities in the U.S. “When we formalized our consortium in the early 1970s,” Brennan notes, “there were very, very few opportunities.” Now, there are many different organizations and models for teacher education programs to choose from, which helps to ensure that more and more pre-service teachers can take advantage of these opportunities.

Donna Wiseman, Dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland-College Park, offers a word of caution on this. “Teacher education programs respond to campus international initiatives where [students are] encouraged to study abroad. Study abroad efforts have increased in importance on many campuses; however, true internationalization of teacher preparation requires a broader vision. During the past 10 years a small number of colleges and schools of education have also attempted to change their curriculum and learning experiences so that future teachers have an opportunity to develop a global perspective.”

2. Policy
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education, under the leadership of Arne Duncan, published the first national international education policy strategy. According to Brennan, this brought about “more awareness and more public conversations about global understanding.” The federal government recognition “planted a seed and that created a national push"—and universities responded. Over half of institutions have internationalization goals in their strategic plans, and colleges of education are responding to campus-wide efforts. Since the policy is a relatively new development, it will be interesting to see how it influences the next ten years of teacher education.

3. Awareness
While attitudes are taking time to adjust, awareness has changed. “I have devoted most of my teaching career to considering ways of developing an international or global perspective in both young people and teachers,” Cushner states. "[In] the beginning, much of this activity was perceived to be on the margins, thought to be unimportant. The events of September 11, I believe, were our wake-up call, pointing out the relative lack of understanding that many Americans had of events unfolding in other parts of the world, and how unprepared most teachers are to address these issues. In the past five years, this has come of age in teacher education.” Part of this can be attributed to increased research and scholarly activity. In 2008, the Longview Foundation published a seminal report, Teacher Preparation for a Global Age, which highlighted this very specific issue. NAFSA has brought together thought leaders during its Colloquium on Internationalizing Teacher Preparation as a part of its annual conference every year since 2009.

“The biggest change in internationalization of teacher education is the recognition, by some (not all), that teacher education benefits from a global perspective,” adds Wiseman. “Campuses embrace the importance of global awareness as an important contribution to a well-rounded and educated graduate, no matter what their major field of study. The broader campus internationalization movement was translated to teacher education programs by a committed group of education faculty who believed in the power of international experiences and knowledge.”

So where do we go from here? Kissock argues that institutional barriers and self-interests of teacher educators must change in order to ensure all teachers are exposed to global perspectives. Brennan notes that institutions collect a great deal of information on how pre-service teachers develop a world view, but little is done to investigate whether they take those perspectives into their classrooms, so assessment is key.

Wiseman offers a final word on what we need: “A wider acceptance of the importance of internationalization of teacher education must be a high priority. Currently, individual programs and campuses make decisions regarding what is required to produce a teacher more ready to be a part of a global community. There are no widely accepted standards or program evaluations conducted to measure outcomes.”

Follow Caitlin and Asia Society on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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