College of Education looks at shorter teaching abroad program

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Article by Amy Skarnulis, The Daily Iowan
Photos contributed by Joe Panganiban

The University of Iowa College of Education may soon offer a shorter, three-week program to education majors who would like to fulfill their student-teaching requirement abroad.

Margaret Crocco, the dean of the education school, said the standard study-abroad program offered to education majors is seven or eight weeks long — roughly half of the 15-week student-teaching period required. She has recently looked into creating a shorter program because the eight-week commitment is a long period of time and quite costly.

"We want to see if there is a way if we might create a shorter term of student teaching or observing in the classroom that would be available in May or June as little as three weeks," Crocco said. "We think it is so important — we want to give people a taste of teaching and living overseas."

Spending some time teaching abroad is beneficial for education majors, Crocco said. Sixty-five students in the college have studied abroad as part of their student-teaching requirement in the last five years.

"It's not common that those numbers are small, because we place a couple hundred people in student teaching each year," she said. "We'd like to see more people get involved."

Mary Heath, a UI Office of Education Services official, said students who teach abroad pay a full semester's tuition. The cost last year for in-state residents was $4,028, $12,139 for nonresidents.

Jennifer O'Hare, a recent graduate from the UI elementary-education program, volunteered at an elementary school in Costa Rica for a few weeks one summer but has never officially studied abroad through the university.

"I think that the more teaching experience that varies from one another, the better," she said. "You will be more prepared when thrown into a new teaching position where the environment may not be familiar."

Crocco said students generally focus on English-speaking countries, and the school has had students teach in Ireland, England, New Zealand, and Australia. However, small number of people have taught in countries with different native languages, including Spain and Switzerland.

"We're placing people in local public schools, so they need to speak the public language," she said.

Based on the feedback from both students and employers, Crocco said, when students put studying abroad on their résumé she feels it's an enhancement to a job application.

"Students who go to another country and teach effectively must be independent, mature people," she said.

A study-abroad expert at Michigan State University agreed with Crocco, noting experience matters when applying for a job.

"The words 'study abroad' on a résumé alone does not help a student get a job," said Linda Gross, an associate director of career services at Michigan State. "What matters is the experience and the skills [they learned while abroad]."

Gross has worked with education majors who have studied abroad at Michigan State University through workshops where she teaches them how to "unpack" their study-abroad experience. A lot of students do not feel what they learned in another country is relevant in America schools, she said.

"One of my favorite questions to ask them is 'how would you bring your study-abroad experience into the classroom [in America]?' " she said. "It's not necessarily going to get them the job alone, it's really how they talk about their entire preparation."

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