International teachers offer broad experience and insight

Teacher fellows from 18 countries attended University of Nevada, Reno College of Education for intensive, professional development

10/31/2013 - By: Nicole Shearer
International teaching fellows from 18 different countries spent six weeks at the University and exploring northern Nevada.

For the past six weeks, the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education, in partnership with the Northern Nevada International Center, hosted 22 teaching fellows from 18 different countries as part of the Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA Global) program.

The program is an international effort to learn and share different teaching approaches, showcase the use of technology in the classroom and offer a better understanding of the education system in the United States. For many teachers, it was their first time in the United States. The opportunity to gain new knowledge in a classroom setting, and in the Washoe County School District middle and high schools, was invaluable.

"All 22 of us have diverse teaching backgrounds, experiences and resources," Olena Umanets, an English teacher from the Ukraine, said. "This exchange has allowed us to share techniques and we can then bring back home and apply what we've learned."

During their stay, the teaching fellows attended workshops in the College of Education and shadowed mathematics, English and foreign language teachers in middle and high schools within the school district. All visiting fellows are highly experienced master teachers in their own countries who had to compete in a rigorous two-year application process for selection. Countries represented this year include Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ghana, Haiti, Nepal, Peru, Poland, South Africa, Thailand and the Ukraine.

"Right away we saw that there are so many differences in teaching styles," Zoila Rodriguez de Portillo, an English teacher from El Salvador, said. "We all have different abilities and supplies. The school I teach in does not have Internet in the classroom but I'm leaving with ideas for applying technology even without classroom access. Internet is in the school library at my school and many students have it at home. Children are very smart and I've seen here how much they love learning with technology."

Other teachers, like Dinesh Kumar Yaduv, a high school teacher from Nepal, were amazed with some of the teaching styles used.

"Teachers here use discussions for everything," he said. "It is not like that where I'm from. I like the idea and have seen its benefit. I will see how I can use it more."

While here, the group was given ample opportunities to immerse themselves in American culture. They were given weekly opportunities to visit with host families and participated in day trips and activities around the area including the Nevada Day Parade and a Wolf Pack football game.

"Everything was so well thought out and we really felt well taken care of," Umanets said. "We've been given the chance to experience the American lifestyle both inside the classroom and out."

When asked about their impressions of American culture, everyone was in agreement.

"It's all about people," they said. "The people are so friendly, even if you don't know them, they say hello. They assist you and help you get where you need to go."

There were some surprising moments for the teachers in the classroom settings as well.

"The classroom setting is so different," Umanets said. "Culturally, it's not just one thing that stands out but many."
 
"Kids don't sit quietly in schools here," de Portillo said. "Discussion is encouraged and fed by the teachers. The cultural difference in the behavior between the boys and girls was interesting as well. And the use of piercings and tattoos surprised most of us."

The TEA Global program is supported by a grant awarded for the third consecutive year to the College of Education by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and administered by IREX.

"This has been a remarkable partnership opportunity," Jennifer Mahon, project director and associate professor in the College of Education, said. "This is a group of highly experienced teachers , with an average of 15 years of experience each. Not only have the TEA fellows learned about the U.S. and our educational system, but they also have greatly broadened our understanding of a wider variety of successful approaches to teaching and learning. They have also contributed to broadening student knowledge of different countries and cultures."

"Part of being an educator today means preparing people to have the skills of a global citizen," Ken Coll, College of Education dean, said. "These are not just teachers, they are also parents, citizens, consumers, and community members who care about many of the same issues we do, and their perspectives have helped us bring real world experiences into our community and classrooms. With people from so many different nations here, we have had the opportunity to converse about global issues in a much deeper way that may benefit us all."


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