Over the past three weeks, 39 teachers and administrators representing 13 countries across the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region have participated in the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC) Pan Regional Teacher Exchange program (PRTE).
“If it were anywhere else in the world we could have passed, but because it is in the United States and we are English language teachers, we knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in touch with the culture we teach,” said Maha Katerji, a participant from Lebanon.
Thanks to special funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), TIEC built a program that integrated English teachers and administrators in an intense professional development and cultural immersion experience in Austin, TX. One of the State Department’s central goals was to build common ground through English instruction and pedagogy and ultimately help teachers and administrators overcome the differences in perspectives that naturally occur, and which may cause friction in a school environment.
The State Department is a strong supporter of English language instruction around the world and was interested in a program that would provide new methodologies and ideas that could be shared in the region. NEA’s goals matched well with TIEC’s approach to teacher training, and a brand new program was built.
“This program is amazing, and we learned a lot of things,” said Mohammad Alnasar, a participant from Jordan. “I love that it includes lessons on techniques that we can practice in our classrooms back home.”
The group of teachers and administrators participated in seminars focused on team-building and collaboration to improve school culture, as well as building leadership skills in the classroom in order to sustain positive, collaborative methodologies.
In addition to researching and learning about effective teaching techniques in an English as a Second Language program (ESL/EFL), participants gained valuable hands-on experience inside classrooms where they team-taught in classrooms across Austin.
“I was particularly excited to welcome this group of diverse and talented educators,” TIEC President and CEO Robin J. Lerner said. “Not only is it a life-changing experience for the teachers and administrators to learn new techniques and approaches at TIEC, but they are building a very powerful and valuable network amongst themselves as professionals in their regions. The greatest benefit of this program, however, may be to the Austin students with whom they interacted in the final week. It’s not everyday a student, or even teacher, in Austin meets someone from Oman, or Lebanon, or Iraq. They have so much to share, as well as learn.”
Included in the program was an on-site residency with schools across Austin. The teachers and administrators visited a total of 14 campuses and educational offices across Austin ranging from Austin High School, Lamar Middle School, The Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA), charter schools, neighborhood middle schools, and the Region 13 service center.
“We find that allowing non-U.S. teachers access to our classrooms is vital in solidifying techniques learned through our programs,” said Dr. Heather Farmakis, Senior Director of Global Learning at TIEC. “It also allows our students here in Austin to experience new cultures and challenge global stereotypes in the process.”
The opportunity to experience classroom life and culture and learn about educational systems in the U.S. is a huge draw for many participants.
“This is not only for my own professional development, but also a cultural exchange,” said Nouha Hammouda, a participant from Algeria.
Beyond the professional development focus, the group experienced many cultural offerings in Austin including swing dancing lessons, local bookshops, and of course, Tex-Mex and live music.
“I like everything about Austin” said Fatima Almeshal, an educator from Bahrain. “I will definitely recommend this city for everyone…The food is great! The tacos, the burritos! I love them!”
The educators are scheduled to stay in Austin from February 11 to March 1.
Click here to view TIEC’s Flickr Album of the program!