I’d Like to Teach the World. . .

Southeast’s education majors get global student teaching and career opportunities

Southeast alumna Erica Robbins is one of many educators opting to teach abroad. She has made her career teaching in Spain.

Nearly 140 years after Southeast Missouri State University began as a teacher’s college, it still prepares the men and women who will teach our future generations. But, much has changed since 1873, and today’s teachers must be prepared for multi-subject, multilanguage and multi-cultural classroom experiences.

A growing career trend for educators is teaching abroad. New graduates are taking advantage of global opportunities, especially in a rebounding economy and a slow job market. One international teacher recruitment organization reported a 100 percent increase in applicants as graduates opt for an international experience.

Southeast’s College of Education gives students the chance to test out international teaching experiences before they land that first job by offering the opportunity to student teach in 35 countries.

“In order to be effective teachers in schools today, educational professionals need to be able to serve in diverse settings. Southeast offers teacher candidates multiple placement opportunities for clinical experiences,” says Dr. Margaret Noe, dean of the College of Education. “Students who choose to do so may spend one of their eight-week student teaching sessions in one of several sites in foreign countries or on a Native American reservation.”

Noe says student teaching is a key component in the curriculum and with business and education both taking place on a global stage, international student teaching is truly an asset.

“Teacher candidates who take advantage of the opportunity to teach abroad are better equipped to adjust their teaching to meet individual student learning styles and community needs. Clinical experiences in diverse settings provide our graduates with a unique set of skills that give them an edge in the competitive workplace,” says Noe.

Noe says graduates echo that sentiment.

“I feel I have a perspective that stands out to educators because I was challenged by my students who came from a variety of backgrounds,” says Sarah Hahn a December 2010 graduate who student taught in Australia. “I had to teach and compose innovative ways to present concepts and ideas to students who had experienced starkly different cultures and schools. I needed to tailor my American ideas and literary elements to build bridges between differences for the sake of comprehension. The results were astounding, and I loved how much I learned about not just myself but myself as a teacher as well.”

Erica Robbins, a 2008 graduate with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education, combined her passion for teaching and traveling and is now living her dream teaching English as a foreign language in Barcelona, Spain.

Robbins traveled to Greece and Italy for 12 days through a Southeast short-term study abroad program. As she explored the Coliseum and passed through the Roman ruins, a spark ignited inside her that she couldn’t shake. Twelve days in a land so rich with history and so different from the modern, fast-paced culture of America was not enough. Robbins knew she would have to return—but not as a tourist.

“I wanted to live in a foreign country, get to know the people on a more intimate level and learn the language being spoken around me,” Robbins says.

She applied to the Europe Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) program, which operates in various cities throughout Spain, Italy, Greece and other European countries. A few weeks and two interviews later, Robbins was accepted into the program.

In August 2009, she packed her bags, took the 13-hour flight across the Atlantic and began her life in Barcelona. She completed a month-long intensive training and theory course through TEFL that mixes pedagogical lectures with practical classroom experience, and by September 2009, she was ready to enter the classroom filled with eagerto- learn Spanish students. She began teaching at an English academy on the southeastern coast of Spain, an hour south of Barcelona by train.

“The main benefits of teaching abroad include opportunities to be immersed in different cultures, exposure to different languages, exchanging cross-cultural ideas and having varied professional and personal experiences,” says Pamela Barnes, director of certification and assessment for Southeast’s College of Education.

Robbins agrees and has found teaching in Spain much like teaching in the United States with a few minor differences.

“In Spain, the school term starts at the end of September or beginning of October and extends until the middle or end of June. The school day usually starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. The students study the same subjects with the addition of many more foreign languages. Many students study French as well, and almost all schools offer English classes, many making them obligatory,” says Robbins.

In addition to schedules, overseas teachers can often receive salary and benefits that can save them big expenses depending on their location and cost of living. According to The International Educator, some overseas teaching jobs also offer tax-free salaries and housing benefits. Beyond their contracts, more and more teachers are opting to renew and stay abroad.

After teaching at the academy for a school year, Robbins decided to continue to teach early childhood English in the school’s pre-school summer program but having built a strong teaching base at the academy, she was ready to begin focusing on private, individual instruction. She continues to teach at the academy on Saturday mornings, but the rest of her instruction is private one-on-one sessions.

“Because I changed from classroom to private classes, my schedule is different and changes from day to day. I have more freedom with the class content,” Robbins says. “It’s challenging though, too, because each student is on a different level and needs his or her own resource library, so I have to develop an individualized curriculum for each student.”

Because English is becoming such a universal language, Robbins’ students range from children wanting an edge on their English lessons in school to teenagers hoping to pass the Certificate in Advanced English exam (provided by the University of Cambridge) to business men or women trying to improve their fluency.

“My students and I speak only in English, which is an incredible way to learn because it forces them to build their vocabulary and comfort speaking a foreign language. We concentrate on topics they need for work or school as well as what they want to use in their personal lives. We can focus on one subject or theme for however long or short the student is interested,” Robbins says.

Robbins attributes her preparedness for a career in a foreign country to the University experience at Southeast which helped her gain independence and courage to make the kind of life choices she has made.

“It is very important to set goals for yourself and work as hard as possible to achieve these goals, and I know that at Southeast, my classes were aimed in this same direction and this prepared me for life after school. When making decisions about my future, I am thankful I attended a school that instilled discipline and a firm work ethic,” she says.

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