Many of you may have attended the Colloquium on Internationalizing Teacher Education last year in Vancouver, and you may be planning on attending again this year in Houston at the NAFSA Annual Conference. This topic has been at the center of discussion at many schools of education, and promises to continue to be an important issue to address.
There are many aspects to consider when trying to internationalize a teacher preparation program, one of which is to incorporate several short-term field experiences in varied contexts. This could be a domestic experience allowing for exposure to inner-city vs. rural contexts, specialty charter school contexts, certain ethnic contexts, etc. However, many schools are incorporating international field experiences into their programs, to allow for exposure to different types of educational systems, teaching styles, languages and cultures. Ideally, a teacher preparation program would allow for a combination of both, starting as early as freshman or sophomore year.
Obstacles? What Obstacles? Top 3 Myths Debunked!
MYTH #1 – Students don’t have time to go abroad.
Not true! Although education majors tend to have very full schedules with little room for electives, they do have the summer term that can be used to participate in an international field experience. Some may even have time during the January term.
MYTH #2 – Going abroad is too expensive.
It can be. However, there are many short-term education abroad programs that are much more affordable than the traditional semester abroad experience. There are also scholarships available specifically for study abroad programs, including the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.
MYTH #3 – Students need to know a foreign language to go abroad.
Wrong! Many programs abroad are conducted in English, making them accessible to students who do not know a foreign language. However, it is always beneficial to learn a little bit of the language of the host country, which helps students to connect with the local people and culture. After all, isn’t the whole idea of going abroad to experience a new culture and gain new perspectives?
Students who are majoring in education or faculty who are looking to incorporate more international opportunities for their students should consider participating in an international field experience. The best programs would combine instruction in teaching methodology, a practicum, and a language & culture component.
A great way to tackle the former two items is to take a TEFL certification course abroad. It is the ideal way to get practical, hands-on training in best practice in English Language Teaching (ELT). It is also the easiest way to have the opportunity to teach foreign students. The skills that can be gained from this experience are invaluable, from specific classroom management skills to more broad general leadership skills. The result is that pre-service teachers become more confident in the classroom, and more prepared to take on the challenges they will face when starting their first jobs.
The language and culture component is extremely important as well, particularly for two reasons. Firstly, the student will gain the indispensable skill of proficiency in a foreign language, a skill that can no longer be overlooked in today’s global world. Secondly, by learning a foreign language, the pre-service teacher has to step into the shoes of a limited proficiency student. This experience is generally transformative and results in a teacher who is empathetic to the challenges of Limited English Proficiency students (LEPs) that they will no doubt have in their classrooms upon their return home.
An experience abroad such as the one described above will also help to broaden the minds of teachers and help them to become more culturally aware. They will be able to experience the awkwardness of being out of their comfort zone, and will ultimately be able to better support the culturally diverse students they are bound to serve.
Probably the best part of completing an international field experience that includes a teaching focus and an accredited TEFL certification is that students become eligible for thousands of teaching jobs abroad upon graduation. It is an incredible benefit that gives students many job possibilities instead of just a few. Students who participate in a short-term education abroad program often end up wanting more international experience and decide to work abroad for one, two, or several years. They live in various countries in various regions of the world to really broaden their horizons and to become more well-rounded in terms of cultural competency. Many also end up fluent in one or several foreign languages. Considering all of these benefits, why wouldn’t you take this first step?