Imagine standing alone in front of a group of 25 people with whom you had no common background, experiences, or knowledge. Now, imagine shouldering the responsibility of preparing those people for standardized tests, college, and participation in society. Would you be able to? And if you could, how would you?
More and more teachers are facing this challenge in their classrooms as students are identifying as multiracial, according to an article from The New York Times. One in seven marriages is between two people of a different race, which means there is an incoming generation of multiracial children and thus, students. And as Jenna Novaral, a Masters student in the CU Education School, argues, the cultural and social gap between students and teachers is rapidly expanding.
“The teaching force right now and for many, many years has been about 90 percent white, female, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and there is a huge cultural mismatch in terms of a lot of the classrooms these teachers are stepping into,” Novaral said. “That’s important, to be able to work with different students and people who have different experiences.”
Novaral’sestimate of white female majority in the teaching force is reflected in the 2010 demographics of the CU School of Education. According to the Office of Budget, Planning and Analysis, 155 of the 223 undergraduates studying for their teaching license, or 70 percent, are white females. The numbers become a little more even the Master’s program, but white females still make up over half: 165 of 313, or 53 percent.
This disparity in experience calls for modern teachers to have an uncanny ability to bridge the gap, and experience shows that international teaching experience can develop that ability. Griffin Colegrove, a 27-year-old studying for his Masters in Education at UCB, said his year of teaching in Colegio Ingles in Torreon, Mexico, allowed him to more easily relate to his students and their struggles.
“The more people you meet from other places, the more you realize we’re very alike,” Colegrove said. “Down there, nearly everyone is not a native speaker of English. It’s so transferable, because there are so many students in schools in the U.S. like that.”
For Nate Reaven, a 22-year-old also studying for his Masters in Education at UCB, a summer teaching English in Zhenzhou, China, led to a deeper understanding of his students which made him more flexible and aware of learning styles.
“You have to be as flexible as possible because things are going to get messed up more frequently than you can ever imagine,” he said. “I think it opened up my eyes to see the differences in education culturally. It really helped me try and develop strategies to reach kids more based on their learning styles than general strategies that work with the medium.”
But once one understands the why of teaching abroad, the how is left unanswered. Each of these three Master’s students accessed the opportunity in a different way: Novaral applied for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which funded her entire year in South Korea as well as providing her with a built-in support network. Reaven traveled to China through the Orbis Institute’s Walkabroad Program, which, on average, costs $3,500 plus airfare. Colegrove landed his job in Mexico through a coworker at Target and simply had to get himself to Torreon, where he was paid a small stipend as well as room and board for his teaching. And these experiences are, of course, in addition to the approximately $5,000 of tuition per semester paid by a full-time Master’s student (according to the Bursar Bill Estimator).
While international teaching experience may not be financially plausible for many, there is little disagreement that this kind of experience is invaluable to the new teaching force as well as anyone looking for personal development.
“When you do something like that, you’re challenging yourself and making yourself uncomfortable, which teaches you about who you are,” he said. “It’s the best school you can go to. The school of life. The school of hard knocks.”
Published to CUindependent.com on February 11, 2011 under headline “CU teaching around the world.”