Teacher Preparation

Colleges Sending Teacher-Candidates To See the World

By Julie Blair — December 11, 2002 6 min read
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Become a student of the world, and you’ll be a better teacher when you return to America.

International Page

That’s Craig Kissock’s pitch to prospective educators at the University of Minnesota-Morris as he shows them the floor-to-ceiling world map that adorns one wall of the school of education. Choose to teach in Belize, he suggests, or Lithuania. How about the United Arab Emirates? Working in a predominantly Muslim nation will surely make you a more successful practitioner when you take a job back in Minnesota, the education professor tells his college students.

“Over 90 languages are spoken in the Minneapolis schools,” said Mr. Kissock, who has dispatched more than 800 teaching prospects to 30 nations as director of the institution’s Global Student Teaching program. “The world’s going to come to you whether you like it or not.”

In the past few years, a handful of cutting-edge education schools have begun expanding or crafting international-training programs for future educators.

The goal, administrators say, is to provide a generation of teachers with an expansive view of the world in a day and age that make one imperative. They say teachers increasingly are expected to understand the world community and the United States’ place in it, make such information meaningful to their students, and educate classes that include immigrants from countries most Americans can’t identify on a map.

“Increasing teacher knowledge and capacity is central if we are going to prepare [K-12] students adequately,” said Vivien Stewart, the vice president of the Asia Society, a New York City-based organization that advocates international education for precollegiate educators and students. “The goal should be that every prospective teacher have some way of developing international knowledge.”

It may remain just that—a goal.

While many institutions require teacher-candidates to take courses on diversity or otherwise weave facets of multiculturalism into the curriculum, few require teachers to have a background in comparative education, international studies, or foreign relations, Ms. Stewart said. Many schools don’t acknowledge the importance of such learning, or they argue there’s not enough money or time to invest in it.

Some administrators say they want their students to acquire such knowledge, but the interest isn’t returned.

“This is still in its infancy,” added Kenneth Cushner, an associate dean at Kent State University in Ohio and an expert on multicultural teacher education. “But it is increasingly essential.”

‘A Frame of Reference’

Colleges and universities have long offered study-abroad programs for all majors. But until recently, few had programs with prospective teachers in mind. Suddenly, experts say, the pragmatism of such studies is being recognized.

“After [Sept. 11], a lot of people are looking inward to emphasize what we have in common and ways we can build cross-cultural conversations,” said James G. Cibulka, the dean of the college of education at the University of Kentucky, which sends prospective teachers to Poland to learn about the Holocaust.

“It is so important for future teachers,” he argued. “It provides them with a frame of reference that’s different from their own, by which they can judge their own culture and their own set of skills and dispositions.”

Aspiring teachers must learn pedagogical approaches meaningful to students from other countries, Mr. Cibulka continued, and become empathetic to children who come from backgrounds significantly different from their own.

Colleges are providing exposure to international education in different ways. They offer opportunities for prospective educators to do their student-teaching abroad or to “shadow” teachers in foreign lands. Many also try to weave discussions of international cultures and issues into social studies and other classes.

The University of North Carolina plans to launch a venture for preservice teachers next summer, said Millie Ravenel, the director of UNC’s Center for International Understanding in Raleigh. Future educators will trek to Mexico, where they will observe math and science teachers, in an attempt to pick up teaching strategies that will be meaningful to students.

“We have 160 different languages spoken in the homes of North Carolina students, and the Latino and Mexican populations are the largest,” Ms. Ravenel said. “Teachers need to be able to understand the perspective of their students. There is no better way to do that than immersing yourself in the culture.”

Northeastern University in Boston started a teacher- training program three years ago in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and intends to expand to other nations, said Micky Cokely, the director of academic advising and experiential education. Belfast is distinctly urban, she said, and affords future teachers opportunities to learn about cross-cultural communication in a city setting similar to those found on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, communities where many Northeastern graduates take jobs.

The students earn college credit for teaching in two schools—one private and one parochial—over the course of a semester, Ms. Cokely said. They are paired with mentor teachers whom they shadow before flying solo in the classroom.

Meanwhile, Michigan State University in East Lansing is offering comparative education programs for aspiring teachers overseas in Australia, Ecuador, and South Africa. The courses require students to draw parallels between other nations’ educational systems and that of the United States, said Anne Schneller, an academic specialist who focuses on international studies.

Depending on the placement, MSU students observe local teachers or tutor pupils. Many live with local families during their stays.

High school students and practicing teachers in China welcomed prospective educators from the University of Vermont to their classrooms for the first time last year, said Lynda Reid, the graduate teaching fellow who led the trip. They taught basic English skills to more than 500 people, but ended up learning several important lessons themselves, she said.

The Americans had to adapt when carefully crafted lessons stalled because of the lack of available technology, she said. They had to ditch their plans and ended up teaching sing-a-longs for two weeks, which showed they could bridge communication lines.

So Far and Yet So Near

Teachers who have gone through one of the handful of programs say they are better prepared for the classroom.

“My global teaching experiences have been the most effective part of my training,” said Shannon Tanghe Yu, who taught in Egypt and Guyana in South America while a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris. “I have been exposed to a variety of different teaching methods and classroom-control techniques that most American teachers never had the opportunity to see.”

Ms. Yu, an American, graduated and is now teaching in Seoul, South Korea.

You can’t find that kind of passion from reading a book, said Kent State’s Mr. Cushner. “It just doesn’t translate. To change behavior or affect perception, you have to have a real immersion experience. You have to develop firsthand relationships, both personal and professional, with people of different backgrounds, and that can’t be done in a nice video.”

Many colleges, however, just don’t find it feasible to set up such programs.

“This has tended to be squeezed out as an emphasis,” said Mr. Cibulka of the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, who acknowledges his own program is lacking. Colleges instead are consumed with focusing on state and professional standards.

“Most [U.S.] teachers are monolingual and have relatively few international experiences,” Mr. Cushner added. “They want to go back and teach in schools that are very similar to those they’ve graduated from.” The challenge, then, is to show the critical role international study and training play, he said.

“The difference globally is really comparable to teaching in an inner city, suburban area, or rural community,” Mr. Kissock said, “all of which may be 30 miles from here.”

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

A version of this article appeared in the December 11, 2002 edition of Education Week as Colleges Sending Teacher-Candidates To See the World


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