Student Teaching Experience: Costa Rica

 
By Kelsey (Luffman, '13) Beck

CostaRicaWFThe School of Education at MNU does more than teach about teaching—they push aspiring educators to get in the classroom, learn experientially and make a difference in the lives of students.

One opportunity for teacher candidates to do just that is MNU’s student teaching experience in Costa Rica. In this program, participants complete five weeks of student teaching at an international school, earn additional academic credit by taking a Spanish course and explore the breathtaking beauty of the Costa Rican landscape.

MNU is one of only two universities in the state of Kansas to offer an international student teaching opportunity. One key reason why MNU does so is to equip teacher candidates for the ongoing shift in student demographic. From 1998 to 2008, the number of English Language Learner (ELL) students in the U.S. grew by more than 50 percent. That’s why Ramona Stowe, PhD, coordinator for MNU’s ESOL program, says cross-cultural experience is increasingly important for aspiring teachers.

“As our teacher candidates transition into their first teaching positions, they will be walking into classrooms that may have a very diverse student population,” Stowe says.

Dana John (’12), who participated in the program in fall 2012, is now working as a special education paraeducator at Junction Elementary School in Kansas City, Kan. As she applies the skills she gained at MNU to her new career, Dana says the language training she received in Costa Rica was invaluable.

CostaRicaKids“Even though I understood how students learn a new language, I was able to see it in action better than I would have in the States,” John says. Another fall 2012 participant, Chelsea Bebermeyer (’12), adds that teaching in a Spanish-speaking country will help her relate to ELL students in her own classroom.

“I truly understand what it feels like to be an ELL student,” Bebermeyer says. “It helped me to empathize with these students, and I gained insight that will be beneficial for years to come.”

But ELL teaching methods aren’t the only thing participants gain from international student teaching. As Professor of Education Linda (Kirby, ’84) Alexander, PhD, explains, the experience also prompts student teachers to develop as individuals. “Being on your own in a foreign country makes you personally grow,” Alexander says. “Our student teachers put to good use the things they’re learning in our classrooms.”

Such cultural understanding is beneficial as teacher candidates move into the workforce. According to Alexander, schools seek candidates who have taught abroad.

“Employers who come to our job fair love our students’ international experience,” Alexander says. “Our employers see it as an asset to have worked in those diverse settings.”

Although ELL teaching experience, personal growth and added résumé appeal are great reasons to student teach abroad, the program’s ultimate purpose is the same as MNU’s purpose—to serve God and others with passion and purpose.

CostaRicaVolSummer 2012 participant Ashford Collins-Johnson (’12) now works as a sixth grade language arts teacher at Santa Fe Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kan. He says teaching in Costa Rica taught him how to live out his God-given calling.

“It's allowed me to become not just a better teacher, but someone that sees these opportunities to not just preach about how Christ wants us to live," Collins-Johnson says.

MNU’s Costa Rica program is offered every semester to student teachers. To learn more about innovative education at MNU, visit our education program page.

To discover more global opportunities at MNU, visit our student life page.