Spending a semester student teaching is pretty standard for Miami University education majors, but six Miami students opted for an experience far out of the ordinary by student teaching in Belmopan, Belize last semester.
Jonathan Bennett, a graduate student at Miami, said his experience gave him a clearer perspective of how other culturesview Americans.
“I taught English secondary, which is the equivalent of second-year high school English in the United States,” Bennett said. “On my first day of teaching, we were having a discussion in class and someone raised their hand and said, ‘Mr. Bennett, why do white people think they’re better than everyone else?’ It was kind of cool seeing what others thought of me and my race.”
While in Belize, the student teachers assumed full responsibility of their respective classes.
“We were responsible for teaching a class for 12 to 14 weeks,” Bennett said. “We had all the duties of being a teacher.”
The student-teachers were also responsible for completing Project Learning Curve (PLC).
“(PLC is) a project that all student teachers have to do to show that we’ve taught students and that they’ve been learning,” Bennett said.
Senior George Helfenstine, a life science and physics education student, traveled with the group to teach science. Helfenstine and Bennett agreed the greatest difficulty of teaching in Belize was the lack of technology in the classrooms.
“It seemed like every time you would try to bring in technology for the classroom the city would shut down the power,” Helfenstine said. “Trying to teach chemistry concepts without the resources to do experiments was another obstacle to maneuver around.”
Bennett voluntarily maintained a blog throughout the experience to share what the group was going through.
Carine Feyten, dean of the School of Education, Health and Society, said student teaching abroad can provide a rich alternative experience from student teaching in the United States.
“We really believe that we need to be preparing teachers for a global world, so we like to give them as many varied perspectives as possible,” Feyten said. “English is the primary language (in Belize) so it makes it easier to teach there, while still being in an environment with different cultures and customs.”
Feyten’s vision was realized by this group’s experience in Belize.
“I learned to appreciate diversity,” Bennett said. “It was the first time for most of us that we were in the minority.”
“One of my favorite parts of the trip was the cultural barrier,” Helfenstine said. “From students speaking Creole, to the lack of understanding of my numerous pop culture references, it was an ever-present but always entertaining hindrance.”
Ellen Hill, director of clinical experiences for the School of Education, Health and Society, is coordinator for the student-teaching abroad program.
“Actually this was the first group to go to Belize,” Hill said. “We have other programs in Europe, Australia, and we’re working on a possible one in China.”
Bennett and Helfenstine enjoyed the experience and said it was beneficial to prepare for a teaching career.
“I was able to set up the class however I wanted … this allowed me to teach in my own style,” Helfenstine said. “As far as the lack of resources goes, if I can teach with nothing then I’m certainly prepared and capable of teaching with all the amenities of a typical U.S. classroom.”