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Program offers teaching experience abroad

November 20, 2008

The International Traveling Teacher program at UW-River Falls enables teachers to gain experience with education and culture in foreign countries, while earning graduate credit from the University.

The International Traveling Teacher program is affiliated with the outreach and graduate studies department. Those participating in the program are not paid for the work they do, but can receive graduate credits from the University when they travel to participate in the overseas travel experience.

Teachers participating in the program have the ability to choose the country they would like to visit. The actual travel for the program is planned for and takes place during the summer. Participants spend three weeks to a month teaching, learning and working with students and teachers in foreign classrooms, according to the program’s Web site.

Judy Freund, program coordinator for International Traveling Teacher, said that teachers get involved in the program first by contacting the program organizer. The teacher then completes an application form and identifies the specific grade and subject they are interested in working with. The program uses its network of contacts to provide the interested teacher with information needed to make travel plans.

Freund said that the teacher pays for the travel costs of the trips and that each teacher makes their own travel plans. The program is geared toward travel for one or two people per trip and is not intended for large groups.

“A teacher doesn’t travel with a dozen people, so that they travel individually or one or two people,” she said. “But it is not a group travel program.”

Ellie Richards is a retired fourth grade teacher from Greenwood Elementary School who participated in the program in 1998 when she traveled to Hue, Vietnam. She said that her trip was three weeks long and that she was able to spend two additional weeks in the country when the program ended.

During the trip, Richards said that she worked at an English language summer school with middle elementary students ranging from ages eight to eleven. Richards said that the teachers at the host school observed lessons presented by the visiting teachers and the lessons were later discussed and analyzed after the class ended.

“The teachers were marvelous,” she said. “They were well trained to do what they do.”

Richards said she had trained in teaching English as a second language prior to the trip and she spent time gathering teaching materials and textbooks to use in addition to the textbooks and the notebooks the students brought with them. Some of the materials were used effectively while others were not.

The physical facility of the classroom Richards taught in was quite different than the classroom she taught in the United States. The main elements of the classrooms were a blackboard along with tables and chairs. The teachers carried the daily supplies and materials with them and could not leave them behind at the end of the day.

She said that the schools “simply do not have the stuff that we do here in the U.S.”

Freund said that participation in programs like International Traveling Teacher is important because it gives teachers the ability to gain experience within international education and culture and deepens commitment and understanding of international topics and issues.