Why do I have to choose between the things that I love? Teaching, traveling, connecting, exploring, and researching. I don't feel like I fall on the typical teaching track. I dream of expanding beyond the borders of Duluth, of Minnesota, to other countries. I dream of observing other education systems, teaching in a different language, and meeting students worldwide.
The education field is rich and vast. There are many age levels, specialties, communities, demographics, languages, and platforms to work with. Teachers can work in a classroom, in the woods, in a van, in the city, in a small town, and in every space in between. So why can't I find my path? Why can't I seek out positions that don't make me choose?
The beginning of the dream
For three years, I've dreamed of teaching English abroad. My dedication and passion for both Spanish and education are fervent. Last year, I caught a glimpse of this dream by virtually co-teaching English to students across Latin America. During this internship, I met other undergraduate students from around the United States and participated in a cultural exchange with learners from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and more.
Although the lessons and discussions were over Zoom, I still built connections with students through games, jokes, and conversations about each other's cultures. I also partnered with co-teachers from Alaska, Washington, and Minnesota. Before our lessons, we briefly talked about our studies, hobbies, and career dreams. This platform brought together students and teachers who all held one common interest.
This position challenged me to practice different communication styles and strategies to connect with students. Most importantly, the students and teachers received equal treatment. Especially in the Spanish discussions, students were open to asking and answering questions and contributing to discussions in their native language.
The "cultural exchange" model of teaching centers on the exchange of language. I will seek opportunities founded on this idea when searching for teaching jobs. Language and culture are strongly related and dependent on one another. If I were to pursue a position in a non-Spanish-speaking country, I wouldn't build as deep of a connection with learners and their respective cultures.
Why I want to teach abroad
Whenever I am abroad, I feel like the best version of myself. I am the outsider; I no longer fit in with the rest of the crowd. I am away from my peers, family, teachers, and communities-- the people who have shaped me into the person I am today. By stepping into an unfamiliar space, I enter a state of disequilibrium. I no longer know what is right, so I must decide by observing foreign values, traditions, and languages.
What might be considered burdensome is simply different and misunderstood. I must adapt to the blissful existence of the locals instead of requiring their accommodations. A fixed mindset makes me see what I want to see. With a growth mindset, I will see everything without a filter.
The cycle of disequilibrium, accommodation, and assimilation (shoutout to Jean Piaget) repeats with every new experience abroad and in every classroom. One of the pillars of effective teaching practice is reflective, flexible instruction to students. Regardless of the environment, age, and demographic, teachers must adapt the curriculum to be relatable and familiar to students and their experiences.
When teaching abroad, I will live in a different environment and community: factors I hope to integrate into my instruction. Instead of learning about other communities through pictures and books, I will acquaint the cultural intricacies through in-person observation and interaction.
Teaching abroad will push me to expand my teaching style, just like every undergraduate placement I've had. Whenever I return to the U.S., I would have practiced skills teaching English to non-native speakers. I can apply these experiences to American students of diverse backgrounds. Learning about their home community and culture to construct relatable English lessons is imperative.
Where do I go from here?
Teaching abroad will be in the back of my mind as I start my career. Thankfully, diverse opportunities are open when I decide to take the leap. Hopefully, I will pursue an abroad position in the next few years.
This dream is an integral step in my professional development as a teacher. Regardless of what lies ahead, I will always hold travel and study abroad close to my heart.
Previous post: Lessons from a future teacher
Before student teaching begins, I would like to share some of my main takeaways from the past three years volunteering in the field of early childhood education.
Take action. Start the conversation. Be the change.
Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.