Training for International Teachers
This paper begins by exploring the recent increase in international schools around the world, and the advantages and benefits that teachers may gain by teaching in an international school. Next, the paper illustrates the lessons and experiences of international teachers, so as to lead the way to the basic components that should be included as training for international teachers. The paper explains the need for a teachers "acclimatizing" in a foreign country, and gives basic advice on how this is done. The need for assimilating into the school as an institution, and the need to take into consideration specific factors about the students comprising a classroom in an international school are explained. Finally, the paper examines the possibility of adjusting domestic classrooms so as to give them the advantages found in international classrooms.
Keywords: Cultural Awareness; Culture Shock; Ethnocentrism; Ethnographic Approach; Intellectual Imperialism; International School
The Growth of International Teaching
In 2007, an article in The International Educator announced that, "…there has never been a better time to be seeking an international school teaching position almost anywhere in the world" (Broman, 2007, p. 1). According to the author, there has been a significant increase in the number of international schools around the world. In 2007, around 20 new international schools opened in the Gulf region, and international schools in nations of the former Soviet Union have seen rapid growth as well as strengthening reputations (Broman, 2007, p. 1, 33). However, the fastest growing region for new international schools is China. Broman writes,
…no region has grown in the number and size of its international schools like China. Ten years ago you could count these schools on one hand; now one can barely keep up with the new schools (2007, p. 33).
Thus, there are several regions of the world where international schools have rapidly increased over the last decade. It is interesting, and most likely correlated, that these regions are those in which market economies have seen the highest growth. The global market has created a need for international teachers, and demand is at this time higher than the supply. In fact, the phenomenal growth has caused intense competition among international schools that are struggling to fill all their teaching positions. Many of these schools have developed a policy of year-round recruitment to meet their demand for teachers (Broman, 2007, p. 33).
Year-round recruitment may be necessary in part because less than two percent of all US, UK and Canadian teachers are even aware of the possibility of teaching in international schools ("The Benefits of International Teaching," 2009, p. 8). Yet there are many benefits to being an international teacher. For example, in many countries a foreign teacher's salary is tax free, and in most countries teachers make enough extra that they can save at least $5,000 — though in some countries savings can reach $30,000 annually. Additionally, most international schools supply teachers with housing, or the school offers a housing allowance in addition to the salary. International schools also provide full health insurance coverage, travel expenses, home leave compensation and sometimes even retirement plans ("The Benefits of International Teaching," 2009, p. 8).
The International Teaching Experience
But that's just the monetary side. Teachers consider many other rewards when deciding to teach in an international school, and some of these rewards have little or nothing to do with money. For some teachers, simply understanding a foreign land and culture, and growing from the experience is a reward in itself. As Melek (2008) observes about her teaching experience in Egypt, "There is something about being in a place in which you are not a tourist. You don't just adapt to it, you inhabit it" (p. 10). Wigford (2007) points out that learning a new language is an important benefit to international teaching (p. 2). He cites a study that gives still other good reasons for international teaching. According to that study,
… a full 100 percent of the respondents say that working in an international school has enriched them as a person, with 57 percent having worked for five or more years in the system. … Sixty-nine percent of teachers say that their overseas teaching experience has significantly enhanced their overall teaching skills (Wigford, 2007, p. 2).
Auger and Overby (2005), who taught in a China-based program, believe international teaching improved their teaching skills. They note that they "had the opportunity to reflect on the nature of our profession and the content of our discipline and to rediscover some of the joys of teaching which are ofttimes lost in the hectic academic and administrative environments in most U.S. universities" (p. 244). Melek makes this same point about feeling "renewed" in her teaching experience (2008, p. 10), while Shatz (2000) writes, "Teaching in Hong Kong forced me to re-examine every aspect of my pedagogy and, as a consequence of the self-reflection, made me a better teacher" (p. 141). Because so many educators mention this same beneficial aspect of teaching internationally, it seems likely that international teaching really does offer teachers new perspectives on their profession as teachers.
Obstacles Present Training Opportunities
International teachers' experiences also create opportunities for analyzing and developing specific training for future international teachers. Shatz observes that some of the difficulties or obstacles of international teaching require that teachers "reconsider and modify course content, instructional strategies, and pedagogical beliefs." Some of the obstacles that Shatz briefly mentions are "cultural shock, limited resources, language and communication barriers, and classroom cultural differences" (2000, p. 141). Once again, international teachers tend to point out the same observations, in this case many of the same obstacles or difficulties, and this indicates that there are specific areas where teachers could be better trained and prepared for teaching in an international environment.
Related to this, Rothwell (2005) observes that there are four general areas in which international teachers need preparation and training so as to be competent and prepared for an international setting:
- Recognised academic competence (which is up to date).
- Operational competence as a teacher of adults.
- A transformatory and democratic approach to education.
- An ethnographic approach to peoples and cultures (p. 315).
Rothwell also notes that an "ethnographic approach" means the teacher should seek the students' thoughts "as a source of information to help to improve local contextualisation," which should help the international teacher "avoid the dangers of 'intellectual imperialism'" (2005, p. 315). The term "intellectual imperialism" is, in various guises, essentially an inherent cultural blindness from having been socialized and trained in one's own specific culture. This tendency to think in a specific mode and pattern is one of the critical areas for international teachers to be prepared. Other international teachers refer to this same inability to see outside one's own culture as "ethnocentrism", though "intellectual imperialism" more specifically points out the propensity to do this through academics. For example, American textbooks are distinctly "American," in that an American point of view is often presented with primacy over points of view outside the U.S. This can put even well-educated Americans at a disadvantage, since the educated citizens of other nations often see clearly the American point of view even as they have their own points of view. Thus, foreigners can often see "in" to America, but Americans cannot see "out." This concept also relates back to the other side of international teaching, which is the idea of creating within America's high school and college classrooms a stronger awareness, appreciation, understanding and respect for the many nations and cultures beyond America's borders. In other words, bringing an international teaching viewpoint into America's classrooms could help Americans to operate more effectively in the current era of globalization.
Rothwell points out some areas where international teachers may be culturally unaware; situations where the teacher should endeavor to recognize cultural differences. Rothwell's examples include an understanding about when to give gifts, what to give as a gift, standard rules about social relationships, rules about time, the way meetings are conducted and norms of punctuality. These examples are simply the most obvious outward manifestations of cultural differences, which make a good starting point for discovery, but cultural differences are often much more subtle. Rothwell cites other experts who insist that "intercultural social skills training" should be a central part of "cultural sensitisation." The reason experts emphasize a need for "cultural sensitisation" is that such training helps prevent a teacher's "insensitive communication of values and assumptions" which may be accepted and valued in Western Europe or the U.S., but may not be accepted or valued in other parts of the world. He gets to the heart of international teacher training when he writes, "perhaps what we need is a succinct model of good university teaching which powerfully conveys the main requirements for good teaching virtually anywhere and which includes a built-in respect for diversity and otherness" (2005, p. 316).
Recommendations for International Teacher Training
Sanders and Stewart make an important observation about universities in relation to international teachers. They note that out of the top 50 U.S. colleges and universities that train teachers, "only a handful require any coursework in non-Western history for their students preparing to teach history" (2004, p. 201). If these universities do not take an international perspective on basic fields such as history, then of course they offer even...
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