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International educators come to Teachers College to build skills, knowledge

April 17, 2013

Engage globally: it’s not just a catchy phrase. It’s one of the eight design aspirations put forth by ASU President Michael M. Crow under ASU’s New American University model. Engaging globally is something ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has taken to heart.

In early 2012 Mari E. Koerner, dean of the college, had just returned from a trip overseas that left her with the realization that many of the issues faced by international teachers also were issues here in Arizona. Koerner felt compelled to share her insight with her colleagues and encouraged them to be more globally conscious of educational opportunities. So when Ara Barsam first learned about the International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP) in an e-mail, he jumped at the prospect of hosting 15 educators from around the world with the goal of further enhancing their teaching skills.

A proponent – as well as a product – of international education, Barsam serves as senior director of grants and associate research professor at the Teachers College. And since January of this year, he has taken on another title: project director of ASU’s ILEP chapter. Barsam sees it as “an opportunity to bring a more international perspective to the work that we’re doing here. It’s important to the Teachers College to be conscious of what’s happening in the education landscape globally and to be able to impact teaching and student achievement, not just amongst teachers in Arizona or the United States, but internationally.”

And, Barsam adds, just as ASU helps the ILEP fellows, “they help us in the Teachers College to think more broadly about education.”

The spring 2013 semester marks the first iteration of ILEP here at ASU, which was selected by the U.S. Department of State as one of five host universities in the nation, and it has since received the Provost's Award for "Excellence in Diversity.”

The 15 teachers selected to participate come from eight countries, all of them with a minimum of five years teaching experience in secondary classrooms. Each participant went through a competitive admissions process that included personality and performance reviews, essays, interviews and tests.

An English and social studies teacher at the International Thebes American College in Cairo, Egypt, Asmaa Saleh recalls rushing to make it to the embassy before close. “We got there, I handed in my file before they closed the admission window, and the security guard was laughing and said, ‘Good luck dear!’”

Saleh’s goal is to “go back to Egypt loaded with new ideas and strategies to apply and spread among my peer teachers.” She hopes to be the “key for the door to technology” within her community.

For Samba Diallo, an English teacher at Lycee Cherif Samsidine Aidara de Velingara in Velingara, Senegal, being accepted to the ILEP was the fulfillment of a dream to study at ASU. In 2000 Diallo was accepted to the university as an undergraduate, but was unable to procure adequate funding. Then, in 2012, he heard about ILEP from a teacher advisor in a workshop he was taking. He applied, was accepted and, out of the five host universities in the United States, was selected to be a participant at ASU.

Enthused by Diallo’s story of perseverance, Barsam said: “It shows that there is a global interest in ASU and this program is a great vehicle to allow teachers, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, to study here.”

Diallo believes that to truly make a difference through teaching, “you have to make students think, and you must foster their interests.” One way he hopes to do that is by reaching them through technology, something that he says his students back home are already “addicted” to, but that isn’t fully utilized in the classroom.

As part of ILEP’s requirements, the fellows spend the semester observing two classes at ASU, completing 90 hours of teaching at a school in the Phoenix Union High School District alongside an American partner teacher, and taking two specialized classes that are designated specifically for ILEP participants – one, a methods course for teaching in the secondary classroom, and the other, a course in education technology.

Barsam says the multifaceted program “helps them integrate teaching methods they learn here back home. ... The goal is to show them different pedagogical styles and blend them with what they’re learning in their methods class.”

Chemistry teacher Anuthra Sirisena already has been preparing to implement what she has learned when she returns to SM Chung Hwa Tenom Secondary School in Sabah, Malaysia.

“I have drafted a few programs and activities I will be carrying out back home,” she says. “I want to be seen as an agent of change and I’m hoping that more teachers will be convinced to try out new approaches and best practices around the world.”

In supplement to their rigorous coursework, the fellows have been on several group cultural outings around the state. So far, they have visited the Ghost Town of Jerome, the Dolly Steamboat at Canyon Lake, Piestewa Peak, the Heard Museum and Monument Valley. The group has even had a chance to mingle with Cronkite’s Humphrey Fellows at a recent Harlem Globetrotters basketball game.

Similar to the ILEP program, Cronkite’s Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program also hosts up to 15 fellows for an intensive, 10-month academic study and professional experience in journalism. In early April, both the Humphrey’s fellows and the ILEP fellows met again to discuss globalization and international cooperation with students and faculty at Yavapai College in central Arizona.

B. William Silcock, associate professor of journalism, is the director of Cronkite Global Initiatives and curator of the Humphrey Fellowship Program at ASU. He believes the chance for the two groups to intermingle is invaluable.

“As the Humphrey Fellows and the ILEP teachers share insights on issues ranging from news coverage of terrorism to comparing educational experiences, barriers of prejudice and stereotypes are broken and new bonds of friendship and professional exchanges are built," he said.

When asked about her experience so far, Sirisena said the program has given her “the feeling of being born again. I thought I knew enough to be a good teacher, but being here and exploring countless possibilities has awakened me from my deep slumber. I feel like a new person with a new set of DNA codes.”

Saleh is equally grateful. “Not everybody gets this chance,” she says. “And, more importantly, not everybody has a team like the one at ASU.”