A dream come true

International English teachers learn at BGSU

by Scott Borgelt

It’s safe to say that the Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) Program at BGSU is not just another professional development program to Kateryna “Kate” Ohbaidze, a teacher from Ukraine.

“For me, it’s like a dream come true,” said Ohbaidze, among the English-language teachers from 19 countries and four continents who are on campus for the six-week program. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX).

This is the fourth year that Dr. Sharon Subreenduth, a professor and co-director of the International Democratic Education Institute in the School of Teaching and Learning, has received the TEA grant totaling $190,000. BGSU is one of only four U.S. institutions chosen to host the global outreach program for secondary school teachers.

In her first week on campus, Ohbaidze was already calling it “an extremely rewarding experience,” specifically citing the two technology workshops that she and the other TEA Fellows had attended. After learning a lot, she noted, in the first of what will be nine such workshops, “I want my school to become more technological,” including students’ ability to use Internet resources, she said.    

The Ukrainian teacher also hopes to learn more about the American educational system—methods and curricula, for example—and if she could apply anything else to her school, where she teaches students ages 11-15.

In Nepal, “English is a must,” Bhattarai said. “Everyone wants to learn English because it is an international language.” But a lack of resources, and of home environments where English is spoken, are obstacles for students, he pointed out.In addition to instructional technology, TEA emphasizes gender dynamics affecting schooling, cross-disciplinary teaching, curriculum development and assessment, and effective strategies in English-language instruction. Field experience in nearby schools is part of the program. So are civic and cultural activities, including trips to a BGSU men’s basketball game and to Toledo, Detroit and Columbus, where the Fellows attended a statewide educational technology conference.

For her students, Ohbaidze maintained, learning English is “crucial” for three reasons—the number of books and websites written in the language; future job opportunities with international companies, which she said are showing increasing interest in Ukraine; and travel, which is growing easier for Ukrainians to European Union-member nations. (And her country’s president recently declared 2016 as the Year of English Language in Ukraine.)

Agreeing with Ohbaidze about the importance of English instruction were two other Fellows, from Nepal, in the Himalayas, and Senegal, on Africa’s west coast. Keshav Prasad Bhattarai teaches teens ages 14-16 in a residential military school in Nepal, where he is also a district chair in the Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association. Edouard Cheikh Faye’s students in Bambey, Senegal, are ages 12-18. To help better familiarize them with English and to encourage them to use it, he founded a tournament called the Bambey English Lovers’ Awards.

In Nepal, “English is a must,” Bhattarai said. “Everyone wants to learn English because it is an international language.” But a lack of resources, and of home environments where English is spoken, are obstacles for students, he pointed out.

In international organizations, and for non-Americans who want to work here, “the language is English,” added Faye, a member of the Association of Teachers of English in Senegal.

The TEA Fellows from Europe, Asia and Africa—South America is represented in the cohort as well—spoke of becoming change agents in their respective nations following their experience at BGSU. “Trying to make change is not an easy task,” however, said Faye. He stressed, as did Bhattarai, the importance of follow-up both with other Fellows and peers at home so the experience doesn’t “fall into nothingness.”

“Once back home, we can make things move forward,” Faye said.

The three Fellows also expressed gratitude for their opportunity to the State Department, IREX, the respective U.S. embassies through which they worked to become participants, and to BGSU. They cited local hospitality in particular, including a greeting from—and photo with—BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey at the basketball game they attended. “It was really such an honor for us,” Ohbaidze said.

The University is known for quality work in other countries thanks to former Fellows, Subreenduth said. They are “ambassadors who play a role globally as agents of transformative, equitable education,” she explained. In addition, she said, they develop professional development connections through TEA, and their presence on campus helps break down stereotypes. Two international educator nights, which bring the Fellows together for conversation with both American and international students, and homestays are also among their activities.

Subreenduth teaches TEA workshops along with a number of BGSU colleagues. Integrated across the workshops is the issue of gender in education, such as examination of how policy and sociocultural practices impact gender equity in the classroom, identification and understanding of gender bias, and consideration of gender to be inclusive of sexuality and “to not become only about girls and boys,” she noted. Two workshops addressing service-learning and gender equity are taking some of them to the YWCA of Toledo’s Teen Outreach Program and others to La Conexiόn, a Wood County nonprofit that works with Latinos and second-language learners. 

Many of the on-campus workshops are being held in 109 Education Building, adjacent to a hallway lined with reminders of the multicultural contingent—flags from their home countries. “The unspoken is just as powerful as the spoken,” Subreenduth said. “For six weeks, this place is transformed.”