This post was completed on June 15, 2013 as an assignment for a professional development course that I am currently enrolled in called, An Introduction to Urban Global Education. The course is hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and an organization that I am in called Teachers Beyond Borders.
Outside of my window is a parking lot bewteen my apartment building and a mall. I am surprised how much traffic this little area gets as people go to the mall and cafes around my apartment building. There are also about 5 mosques within walking and viewing distance. At night, I can see them lit with green lights on top of their cresent towers, I can also hear the Call to Prayer 4 times a day from my apartment. I live in Abu Dhabi, UAE and I am an Elementary ELL Specialist at the American International School here. I serve small groups of English Language Learners in their learning and development of English. One of the best parts of my job is watching student’s language grow as they assimilate into their new learning environment from their respective countries. There are over 70 nationalities represented at my school and we pride ourselves a being THE international school in Abu Dhabi.
In my living community, I am one of only a few Westerners as my apartment is in an area of town that is inhabited by mostly Indian families, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Arabs. It’s been a whirlwind, living in my community. I remember the first night I slept in my apartment and hearing the 4 a.m. Call to Prayer. I swore that I was having nightmares and that ghosts where in my house. I was just off of a 2am arrival flight, alone in my apartment, disconnected from my family and TERRIFIED!
Living and working in Abu Dhabi for the past 10 months has been eye-opening in so many ways. Before coming here, I had spent the summer volunteering for an education organization in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Prior to that, I just graduated from graduate school and had spent 4 years teaching ESL in various schools in the Atlanta Public School system. I was an itenerant ESOL program specialist, so I was responsible for traveling throughout the district and serving schools with small populations of English language learners and no full-time teacher. I was at the Atlanta Public Schools when the cheating scandal of 2009 happened and I know many teachers whose careers have been adversely affected by the outcome of that situation.
Comparatively, I am grateful to see how different education looks in urban schools in the US, non-profit organizations in the Carribean and international schools in the United Arab Emirates. It has truly shaped my opinions of education, poverty, access and opportunity. I look forward to this class allowing me to continue in my acquisition of new lenses that help me develop as an international educator.
This summer I had the opportunity to work with an educational organization in a small town called Cabarete on the outskirts of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. If I reflect honestly on my experience, I’d have to amount it to one word- unexpected. This word sums up my experience because I found myself constantly surprised by unexpected realizations, frustrations, learning curves, feelings of confidence and insecurities, friendships and finally- the unexpected ability that I found within myself to understand and reason through difficulties while in an unknown environment.
Aside from the personal growth that I experienced, here are some of the facts that I learned about the current status life and education in the DR:
- The DR is home to over 8 million people with a per capita GNP of US $2,100.
- The US Embassy in Santo Domingo issues the third largest number of immigrant visas to the United States. In other words, about 1 out of ever 7 Dominicans now lives in the United States.
- 1 out of every 5 poor children entering primary school will complete the 5th grade.
- 85% of poor Dominicans have never completed primary education.
- 40% of all 14 to 17-year-olds still attend primary school.
I also learned that the Dominican Republic’s education system is considered to be the worst in Latin America. That there is an extreme epidemic of xenophobia against Haitians. That children of uneducated mothers (not fathers) have a lowered likelihood of attending school. These facts are dismal but true, and trust me there are more like them. For many children in the Dominican Republic, access to a primary school education is impossible to attain so those who make it to high school and beyond have done what’s nearly impossible for the majority. We’ve all heard that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but I find it remarkable that nobody addresses the suffering economic and educational status of the equally poor in the Dominican Republic. Even more mind blowing is recognizing that the two countries that share island of Hispaniola, also share many ancestral and cultural similarities that are purposely neglected in social and historical accounts of Dominican history!
That being said…
I have a lot of thoughts to work through about my experience in the DR. This is only my first post about my experience. Though I probably will not return to work with the organization that I volunteered with this past summer, I certainly hope to return and serve there. I’ll continue to work through my thoughts and write about them here. As I near my date to move to Abu Dhabi, I plan to immerse myself in education-based literature and prepare for my job. Time permitting, I’ll reflect on some of those readings here too.
Thanks for reading!
It’s no secret that students attending US schools score lower than their peers in countries such as Finland, Korea and China on international aptitude tests. In 2009, students in the United States placed 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math among the 70 countries who took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Currently, there is research underway that is surveying this trend in order to better understand student performances. In an article published earlier this year, Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, stated that U.S educators and policy-makers have traditionally been unreceptive to adopting teaching strategies and practices from top-performing countries. Among other practices, Tucker sites the push to evaluate teacher and school performances based on standardized test scores as one that is uniquely American and “downright bizarre” to many education leaders in high-performing countries. Similar to the “downright bizarre” practice of over-testing students is the more recent practice of blaming teachers (rather than the overall system) for student’s lack of success. In 2010, President Obama suggested that all bad or failing teachers be fired for not fostering student’s success. Read that article in the Politico here.
There is a climate of change happening in schools and education departments across the United States and it appears to be one that includes an over saturation of testing and a whole lot of finger pointing.
While government leaders are busy blaming teachers for student’s scores on tests like the PISA, they are failing to address the larger problem that exists, which includes (among others) a systematic curriculum failure. Rather than (mis)placing their focus on standardized test scores, policy makers and education leaders need to figure out how to adopt a mastery-based approach to teaching and learning. Create a standard guide to instruction that encourages and enables students to develop, create, produce and question more. The most important academic areas for students to master today include science, technology, engineering, mathematics and reading/literacy. Policy makers have already acknowledged that these are the most important content areas for students to learn in order to compete in the globalized, 21st Century. Now they need to reform the curricula that guide these areas of instruction. And yes, creating a common core, national curriculum that mirrors those of high-performing countries would be a step in the right direction. Policy makers could even take things a step further and offer training on best practices, better pay and a bit more respect to teachers. But to continue pointing the finger at teachers while spending more money on shiny new testing programs is a continued step in the wrong direction.
Instead of playing the blame game, lets use our understanding of this issue to push leaders toward adopting mastery-based approaches to teaching along with a more relevant national curriculum that promotes the success of our students.
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
Live fearlessly. Sometimes, during retrospection I think of different chapters in my life and believe that I have done that, lived fearlessly. Other times I feel still and wonder why I have not lived larger. Those times make me sit down to wonder, “what am I afraid of that keeps me from moving closer to what I want?” Considering this question also allows me to answer it and identify my insecurities. I fear-
losing one’s love.
My path to this discovery began a few years ago when I found myself lost after college. I wasn’t sure who I was, where I should go, whether I was worthy of love, or whether I could even make the smallest contribution in someone’s life. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I felt subjected to my fears listed above. Too many fights with friends and him and family members. Too many tears. Too much running. Too much doubt. Too much searching in circles only to find myself where I’d initially begun. It was a hard time and I found myself deeply selfish and self-destructive.
Through intervention and support I began to set foot on the path to find and love me. The path to My Purpose. I am hugely grateful for the people who helped me along that path. Those that listened to me, gave me a tissue, their bed, their heart, a meal, a card, a picture, patience. Many people came to me along that path and positively impacted my life over these last 5 years. To say thank you to them would almost be insulting; they deserve more than that.
Over time, healing took place and allowed me to see the value of people in a way that I had never seen before. I also began to see the value in fearlessness, Ordered Steps and taking risks. It’s scary to step out of one’s comfort area, to change one’s conduct. We all know that destructive behavior is often the most addictive. It takes guts to stop bad habits when you’re not ready, but it’s necessary.
So this being said, today I acknowledge my gratitude and use my life to give thanks for the Village that surrounds me and allows me to be fearless. I consider myself a work in progress, but it feels like I’m on the right track. My faith allows me to believe that I will continue to be surrounded by Good and protected on my journey.
My plan is to take each person who came along my path at some point, as well as Mrs. Nin’s words as I journey on my process of becoming fearless.
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family.”
Former UN General Secretary
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word Cosmopolitan as:
1: having worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing
2: having wide international sophistication : worldly
3: composed of persons, constituents, or elements from all or many parts of the world
If you’re interested in reading the definition for yourself, you can find the it here.
Some related words you may use for cosmopolitan include:
This idea of cosmopolitanism is the foundation for how I’d like to establish my life and classroom in my approach to living and teaching. I want to have an international sophistication that allows me to build a global classroom. While I know this may seem a bit utopian, I hope that I can translate my travel experiences into small learning activities and lessons that will help to build my student’s world-view and promote an inquiry-based and critical way of thinking.
I decided on the name, The Cosmopolitan Educator for my blog because I think it reflects a big part of who I am. I am an Educator with a wide view of how I see people, systems and interactions in the world. I believe that cultures are way more closely-connected than people think. I enjoy learning about cultural anthropology, sociology, linguistics, history, economics, how cultures collide today and what that means for the future of mankind.
Only time will tell the longevity of this blog, but for now I am excited by the idea of researching and writing on global education.
Welcome to my blog!
The creation of this blog has been a long time coming. Over the past four years, I have created a number of blogs only to decide that I ultimately hated them and deleted each one. That was my trend- create, write, over-obsess, hate, delete. I don’t expect this blog to follow that trend though.
During my college years spent trying to pursue a career in journalism, an editor once told me to find my niche. More recently, a teacher I worked with told me to be bold in everything that I do. This blog reflects my life after taking heed to those small pieces of advice, setting some goals and working my butt off to achieve them. I found my niche or as I call it, My Purpose and I am boldly pursuing my dreams and sharing my voice. I have identified some areas where I need to grow. I have also found some areas that I’d like to explore and learn more about. But most of all, I feel like I have found Me!
This blog has been created to document my experiences living and working abroad. Oh yea, I’m moving to the United Arab Emirates in a few months to teach ESOL and Literacy in an international school…It will also take a comparative look at some education practices and policies currently in place around the world. I’m not looking to solve the world’s education woes, but I do want to learn how and what other societies teach their children and look comparatively at how we teach ours. Essentially, I think we (American educators) need to adopt the idea of developing the whole child through teaching that promotes basic/foundational understandings as well as global awareness, community service, inquiry and life-long learning. In addition to sharing my own experiences and some global education perspectives, I also plan to share some of my favorite things on topics such as: Atlanta, Culture, Food, Books, Travel and The Global Classroom.
Until next time, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of my travels from over the years.
God is good, life is great and I’m having FUN!