Area teachers head overseas for learning

Area teachers head overseas for learning

CHAMPAIGN – Three foreign language teachers at Centennial High School will be practicing their Spanish and getting a look at how teachers run their classes in Grenada, Spain, during the next 10 days.

Stacy McAndrew and Amy Westfield, who teach Spanish, and Linda Smith Tabb, who teaches French at Centennial and also teaches at Parkland College, leave Sunday. The Study Abroad trip is part of a University of Illinois online master's program, Global Studies in Education, in which they are all enrolled.

They'll meet with faculty members from the University of Grenada and visit schools, the ministry of education and municipal sites.

"I'm really excited to see what we can bring back and develop in our classes," McAndrew said.

She wants to develop a partnership with a school in Grenada, and Westfield hopes to maintain the connections she makes with Spanish professors and teachers.

The first class of the two-year master's program started in January 2005. Most students are in the U.S., but some are in South Korea, Bahrain, Taiwan and England. A University Laboratory High School teacher in the program is studying in India this summer.

The students are primarily foreign language and social studies teachers, but there are also English, math and bilingual teachers. Their courses explore the ways in which the world is interconnected and how this affects education.

Among the topics the students study are access to technology and how the Internet can be used to create a "global community"; the challenges of teaching students of mixed national and cultural backgrounds; and a look at migrant experiences in the U.S. and the implications for education.

Fazal Rizvi, a UI professor of educational policy studies who developed the master's program, said his goal was to provide professional development for teachers who want to include more international content in their classes. But his focus has expanded.

"To me, it now has become much more of a program with public diplomacy possibilities," he said. "A major benefit of the program, which was not a goal per se, is establishing communication across national boundaries among teachers. With the exchanges taking place, students are ... living in the world differently and teaching differently as a result. I'm more excited about it now than when I was developing the program."

He said the teachers learn as much from each other's lifestyles and teaching experiences as from the course materials. He believes the course has great potential for public diplomacy, which he defines as "people-to-people contact, rather than government-to-people or corporation-to-corporation. It's ordinary people talking to ordinary people, in depth."

Rizvi said a Muslim teacher in Bahrain exemplifies what he thinks the program can accomplish.

He said she has been quick to point out any misconceptions of the Middle East or Muslims by the other teachers.

"She has been, to my mind, the reason I have been so proud of the program," he said. "Our students are having to justify their preconceptions largely because of her presence. If I asked the same questions, they would say, 'This is one of those questions professors ask.' But when she asks, it's very personal."

Rizvi hoped to have half the teachers in the program from overseas, but they make up only about 10 percent of each of the first two classes. He would like to seek money from the State Department or a foundation for scholarships for teachers and for recruiting in different parts of the world.

The Centennial teachers agree the diversity of the class is a benefit.

"It's interesting to get a perspective from teachers in different states and different countries. It's really fascinating to hear what's going on in other countries, and how people view us in the U.S.," McAndrew said. "Even students in California have a different perspective than here, with all the education issues of immigration."

Tabb said that even though she already has a master's degree, as do her colleagues at Centennial and many others in the program, the program was appealing enough to go back and earn a second master's degree.

"I've always been really interested in global studies. I've done a lot of traveling, and I was always interested in language and cultures," Tabb said.

She noted that French is spoken all over the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, but traditionally French courses have focused on Western Europe. She'd like to use what she learns from the Global Studies course to remind her African-American students the language is part of their heritage.

The teachers say they appreciate how they can apply what they are learning to their classes.

"Every single one of our discussions is practical," Westfield said. "We're posting provocative questions about how to lesson-plan for one type of student versus another. There's a lot of soul-searching about how we as teachers run our classes. That's something I really appreciate. We're looking at how we teach, how we prepare our students."

Peter Schmitt, also a Spanish teacher at Centennial enrolled in the master's course, added: "We read a lot of theory but talk a lot about how the theory is applied. It's very user-friendly, hands-on. We discuss real classroom situations. We're not just sitting in an ivory tower; we're talking about what our day-to-day life is like in the classroom."

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