Undergraduate Magazine: A World-Class Experience
Students in UA’s overseas teaching program road-test their educational theories not only in an unfamiliar classroom, but an unfamiliar country as well.
By Suzanne Dowling
Alana Smith had high expectations for her student teaching experience in Ireland, but she had no idea that it would change the course of her career.
Although she is currently attending graduate school, “I really miss Ireland, and I’d like to move back one day to teach on a full-time basis,” says Smith, who graduated from UA in 2009. “Ireland is the most beautiful place I can imagine. I think that most people there are so used to the scenery that they take it for granted, but I was in absolute awe. I can tear up right now thinking about how much I miss it.”
The Irish education system also offers a few benefits. “Overall the system seems to be much more relaxed than in America,” Smith says. “Full-time teachers only teach 20 hours a week and class length is 35 minutes, as opposed to 90 minutes here on the block schedule.” Smith’s Ireland experience is just one example of the possibilities available through the University’s partnership with the COST (Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching) program.
COST arranges student teaching experiences that develop the professional skills associated with teaching, and also gives future teachers a chance to deepen their understanding of international and domestic affairs. The program is based at UA, but it places students from universities all over the United States.
“Since 2000 we have coordinated placements for more than 800 student teachers from the 15 COST universities,” says Yolandia Eubanks, director of field experiences and COST in UA’s College of Education. “One of the most rewarding experiences is seeing the maturity and compassion in our students when they return. They come back with a desire to share their experience with their future students.”
COST participants agree that their overseas teaching experience sets them apart from other candidates for teaching jobs.
“There are not enough opportunities in most education programs to provide you with specialized experience or learning how to set yourself apart,” says recent UA graduate Jessica Jackson. “The University of Alabama gives us that opportunity through programs such as COST. My goal is to be employed by the Department of Defense Schools overseas, so this opportunity allows my resume to stand out a bit more to prospective employers.” Like Smith, she was so enchanted with her overseas experience that she is in the process of getting certified to return to South Africa to teach. “Teaching in South Africa was an experience that I have wanted most of my life, but I never expected it to change my life in so many ways,” she says.
Students also point out that teaching in countries that have different approaches to learning will be helpful in their careers.
“As a teacher, the opportunity to learn about a completely different curriculum and different ways of teaching was very appealing to me. I did so many differentiated lesson plans, for all different types of students, that I think I’m really ready for any classroom setting,” says UA’s Maddie Long, who taught in England this past spring semester. Jackson, who floated from classroom to classroom, adds that she appreciated the opportunity to stretch herself by teaching subjects that she otherwise would not have tackled, such as drama, technology and life orientation.
In addition to the valuable classroom experience COST provides, another benefit is the opportunity to travel to nearby countries and explore different cultures.
“That’s one of the reasons I chose to go to England—because there were so many travel opportunities around there,” says Long, who traveled to six countries during her semester abroad, often with fellow COST students. “I’ve learned to be around people of different backgrounds, lifestyles and opinions, and that has taught me to be more open-minded about things.”
As for Smith, her willingness to pursue new experiences may have changed not just her career plans, but her life—for good.
“St. Patrick’s day in Ireland was unforgettable,” says Smith. “I was in Dublin the weekend that Ireland won the rugby Six Nations Championship, which is a really big deal there, and the celebrations were everywhere. Watching the very close ending of the game made me realize how much I associate myself with Ireland now. It was my team out there.”