In from the Outside

Kristal Bivona sees the value in traveling abroad for teacher development

Teacher training and professional development abroad can impact a teaching career forever. Going abroad is more than just another line on the résumé; it’s an opportunity to get up to speed on the living culture of the target language while creating meaningful bonds with international colleagues and replenishing one’s own teaching repertoire. There are opportunities abroad for new teachers and seasoned teachers alike. Language Magazine poked around to bring you the best opportunities abroad for both aspiring teachers and experienced teaching professionals.

For the Aspiring Teacher
The opportunities for aspiring teachers require no teaching experience and are a great fit for recent grads. Some programs will accept current undergraduate and graduate students. Teaching assistantships are an excellent way to get your feet wet as a teacher. Not only will TAs have the guidance of an experienced teacher, they also get trained in classroom management, lesson planning, and many other tasks that come with teaching. A teaching assistantship can benefit aspiring teachers of any subject, but typically TAs abroad work in the English department and serve in English language and culture courses.

A teaching assistantship abroad adds opportunities for cultural exchange, language immersion, travel, and a new world view. It is worthwhile to learn about the education system in another country to critically examine your own. Going with a program also places you in a cohort of peers that can become lifelong friends in addition to the new friends and colleagues you will meet abroad.

Going abroad to work as a teaching assistant is a wiser financial option than taking a gap year or studying abroad because you will earn a living stipend to pay for expenses. Some programs even cover travel to and from the host country.

Here are some exciting options:
A Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) takes recent grads to over 65 countries for an academic year. Assignments vary across countries and across regions within each country. Some Fulbrighters will work in a university with college students, others work with children, while some teach teachers. Within the classroom, experiences vary. Some might teach a couple days a week under the guidance of the professor while colleagues in the same country will give talks and presentations about U.S. and Anglophone culture without being responsible for teaching a course. That said, this program is meant for people who are flexible and comfortable with going with the flow.

Aside from the teaching hours, a key aspect of the Fulbright ETA is what gets done outside of class. Applicants must outline a realistic project that can involve research, community service, or study. Since the mission of the Fulbright program is to foster mutual cultural exchange between the U.S. and other countries, community engagement is important. The Fulbright ETA is for people who crave social interaction, want to sharpen their language skills, hone their teaching skills, and serve the host community.

The Fulbright Commission offers all English Teaching Assistants round-trip transportation, medical coverage, and a monthly stipend to grantees.

The North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain program is a joint effort of the Spanish Ministry of Education and the Spanish embassies to the U.S. and Canada. It offers over 2,000 grants to English and French teaching assistants. As a Language and Culture Assistant, grantees will work in the Spanish K-12 school system alongside a foreign language teacher. Juniors and seniors in college are encouraged to apply along with recent graduates.

Language and Culture Assistants share aspects of their own culture and language while receiving all the benefits of an immersion experience in Spain. There are positions available all over the country and grantees will have the opportunity to work on their language skills in Spanish or a less common language in Spain, such as Catalán. The academic year grant begins in September and ends in June.

Grantees receive a minimum of €700 ($1000) per month along with medical benefits, paid school holidays, and winter and spring breaks. The deadline is just around the corner. See “Source” on page 12 for deadline infornation.

The Teaching Assistant Program in France offers the chance for U.S. citizens between 20- and 30-years-old to work in France for seven months as English teaching assistants. There are about 1,400 grants annually to teach in France and other destinations such as Martinique, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and La Réunion.

Applicants do not need to be French majors or minors, but they must be proficient in French. Grantees are placed in both rural and urban settings throughout France and the overseas departments. Assignments vary depending on the school’s needs, the assistant’s abilities, and the education level to which the assistant is assigned. The assistant will provide a native speaker presence in the classroom, facilitate English-language clubs and conversation groups, and help the teacher with lessons.

The Teaching Assistants Program in France offers a stipend of €780 ($1100) per month.

Aspiring teachers who don’t want to apply to a competitive grant program or can’t spend so much time away from home can still go abroad for teacher training. For the future Spanish teacher, Tía Tula Colegio de Español in Salamanca, Spain offers a two-week intensive teacher certification course for Spanish speakers. Tía Tula accepts both native and non-native Spanish speakers. The fifty-hour course is divided into theoretical courses in pedagogy and practical experience observing and student-teaching language courses on-campus. The course is accredited by the Cervantes Institute, which is a nice addition to any résumé especially since it has centers all over the world. Students who perform well in the course also receive some job search assistance upon completion. For those who can’t get away, Tía Tula offers an online certification course as well.

For the Seasoned Teacher
Revisiting the culture of the target language is important for even experienced language teachers because it affords the opportunity to update the cultural points that come up in the language classroom. For example, using the latest music or movie clip for listening comprehension exercises is more engaging to adolescent and young adult learners than learning the words to a cheesy song from the 80’s, even if it is a classic. Abroad, teachers can get their hands on other media that will be of use in the classroom, such as realia, DVDs that are not for sale back home, and new literature.

Spending time in the target language also gives teachers who have little contact with the target language community at home the opportunity to learn new language themselves. Slang and vocabulary related to technology and globalization are constantly evolving and an immersion experience can even sharpen the vocabularies of native speakers who teach their mother tongue in the U.S.
Many teachers dismiss professional development abroad because of cost. Yes, attending workshops and conferences can be expensive for teachers who lack professional development allowances. While there are teacher exchange boards online and companies that connect teachers for an exchange, there are more structured ways to go abroad as well. Some programs even offer funding and make all the arrangements.

The Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange connects full-time U.S. teachers with colleagues around the world for year-long or semester-long direct exchanges. Fulbright teachers teach, study, conduct research, exchange ideas, and ultimately contribute to finding solutions for shared international concerns. Exchanges benefit international education by creating collaborations across borders and help local communities by bringing in sometimes scarce international resources. Fulbright teachers leave the host country with an understanding of their subjects in a global context.

Eligibility to become a Fulbright teacher varies depending on each participating country’s needs. Some countries want English teachers and some also want teachers who can instruct other subjects. Fulbright teachers must be U.S. citizens and fluent in English.
The Fulbright Teacher Exchange Grant offers round-trip transportation, and teachers usually take a leave of absence with full pay and benefits from their U.S. school to support themselves abroad.

The French American Exchange offers Intensive Summer Programs that give French teachers refresher courses and additional certification in their field. Professional development courses are offered at five different schools around France. Participants can choose to go to Paris, Nice, Tours, Bordeaux, or Aix-en-Provence. Each destination offers different professional development courses. Teachers can choose between two and four-week programs depending on location. While there are no scholarships, the Intensive Summer Programs are an excellent investment in teacher professional development and a good excuse to spend the summer in France.

Kristal Bivona is assistant editor at Language Magazine and a former Fulbright ETA.