Teacher Ed Candidates Learn and Grow in Costa Rica

by Kelsey Luffman ('13)

August 13, 2013
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In the MNU teacher education department, we do more than teach about teaching – we 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 demographics – from 1998 to 2008, the number of English Language Learner (ELL) students in the US grew by over 50%. That’s why Ramona Stowe, 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 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 current career, Dana says the language training she received in Costa Rica was invaluable.

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“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,” Dana 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 a ELL student,” Chelsea 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 Dr. Linda Alexander explains, the experience also prompts student teachers to develop as individuals.

“Being on your own in a foreign country just makes you personally grow,” Alexander says. “Our student teachers get to put to good use the things they’re learning in our classrooms.”

Such cultural understanding does not go unnoticed as teacher candidates move into the workforce. According to Alexander, schools seek candidates who have taught abroad. 

“Many of the employers that come to our job fair love our students who have had international experience,” Alexander says. “Our employers really see it as an asset to have worked in those diverse settings.”

Finally, though ELL teaching experience, personal growth, and added rèsume appeal are 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.

Summer 2012 participant Ashford Collins-Johnson (‘12) now works as a sixth grade language arts teacher at Santa Fe Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kan. As Ashford, along with his fellow graduates of the MNU education program, look forward to a promising future making a difference in the lives of students, he says that 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, but live how Christ wants us to live,” Ashford says.

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