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International Experiences Benefit Pre-Service Teachers

Caitlin Haugen, Executive Director of Global Teacher Education, takes a look at research showing that international experiences help prospective teachers find jobs and succeed in the classroom.

By Caitlin Haugen

International experiences are extremely beneficial to future educators. Fred Carter, Director of Teacher Services at Western Kentucky University (WKU), illustrates why.

In the spring of 2009, two groups of students graduated from WKU's teacher certification program—those who had participated in an international student teaching program and those who had not. Twenty percent of graduates in the latter group were employed as teachers that fall. And the graduates with experience abroad? Fully 100% of them were employed in teaching positions.

Carter reported this eye-opening finding at NAFSA's Colloquium on Internationalizing Teacher Education—one of several specialized colloquia that focuses on internationalizing curricula in key disciplines. This year's colloquium for teacher educators convened last week, and explored international experiential learning opportunities for pre-service teachers, such as student teaching abroad or short-term study trips.

Rigid course requirements coupled with state certification requirements often make these experiences difficult to incorporate into traditional teacher preparation programs. Throw in financial considerations and risk management issues, and colleges of education face serious challenges to providing sustainable international programs for their students. To address this challenge, NAFSA brought together over 80 deans, faculty, and professionals in the teacher preparation space to discuss how to make these experiences a reality. Attendees discussed how to create programs on their campuses and how to partner with third-party providers such as Educators Abroad or the Consortium for Overseas Teaching (COST) to facilitate experiences abroad.

Why should future teachers go abroad? In addition to improving their employment prospects, international experiences help educators develop key skills. Laura Stachowski presented research on former participants of the Cultural Immersions Projects, which she directs at Indiana University. During their student teaching placements in nearly 20 countries, former participants reported that they developed leadership, public speaking, cross-cultural communication, and problem-solving skills. They also felt they were more confident in their role as teachers as a result of their international experience. Other research supports these findings, but colloquium participants called for more studies on the effects of these experiences. Next year's colloquium will focus on assessment.

Current research supports that pre-service teachers begin to develop global competency skills when they are exposed to other cultures and provided meaningful personal and professional experiences abroad. These skills are crucial to educators in our classrooms. In 2008, 20% of students in American K-12 schools spoke a language other than English at home, and minorities are projected to make up 55% of the population by 2050. In the U.S., 22% of jobs were tied to international trade in 2009. Our students, however, rarely study foreign languages and know little about world affairs.

Globally competent teachers have the potential to develop their students' worldviews, and teach them skills that will make them more competitive in today's workforce. They are more sensitive to the needs of diverse learners, able to teach them how to navigate an increasingly globalized society. Carter, a former principal, noted that teachers who can address diversity in their classrooms are in high demand. As an administrator, he actively sought candidates with previous international experience.

Experiences abroad, however, are only one way pre-service teachers can develop their global competency skills. Colleges of education all over the United States are working to internationalize their teacher preparation programs using a variety of different strategies, often in support of campuswide internationalization goals. The colloquium provides a strong support network for professionals in teacher preparation interested in internationalizing their programs, and NAFSA provides a wealth of relevant information on its website—including detailed reports and resources from past colloquia. Global Teacher Education, the website I manage, also supports efforts to promote internationalization in colleges of education by providing resources and connecting interested and committed educators.

All of these efforts are important as we work to provide beneficial international experiences to our future educators that can facilitate their global competency development so they may better meet the needs of the next generation of learners in this country.

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