A Different Cup of TEA
They came from four continents to the center of North America. Twenty-one teachers from 12 countries, educators who came to learn from the faculty at the University of North Dakota College of Education and Human Development.
UND was one of just four universities in the nation chosen by the U.S. State Department to participate in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) program last fall. Designed to introduce and familiarize these teachers with the U.S. educational system, the six-week program has produced benefits beyond that.
“There have been a lot of cross-cultural experiences with teachers and students, as well as with the TEA students,” said Donna Pearson, an assistant professor with UND’s Teaching and Learning Department, which garnered the TEA grant.
“I feel that I was born again,” said Roman Kuzembayev, who teaches students in grades 5-11 in Kazakhstan. “I will share what I learned at UND with my fellow teachers, and I found a lot of pen-friends for my students here.”
During their time at UND, the TEA teachers lived on the same floor in Brannon Hall.
“That brought a greater sense of collegiality,” Pearson said. They also ate on campus and met and mingled with UND students.
While UND’s Teaching and Learning Department headed up the program, it had a lot of help from others on campus, including faculty advising, arts and sciences, language, and math. TEA participants also spent 12 half-days with mentor teachers in Grand Forks schools.
“They really enjoyed going to school,” Pearson said.
They were paired with mentors who teach the same grade levels. Wendy López Muñoz of Guatemala was paired with Laura Wendt, who teaches English at Grand Forks Central High School.
“The whole experience made me appreciate my job, my country, and the world,” said Muñoz. “This experience opened my mind into different ways of teaching a language.”
“My students absolutely loved her and were sad to see her go,” said Wendt. “She gave my students a different perspective on the material we were covering in class. We’re reading a novel that deals with the consequences of apathy as well as what it means to think and act for yourself. She was able to take that novel and add her own touch. That’s so important, especially at the high school level.”
Muñoz was even able to step in and teach the class when Wendt was sick.
“I knew from our first meeting that Wendy was a fluent English speaker and an excellent teacher,” Wendt said. “As much as I didn't want to miss a day while she was here at Central, I felt very comfortable letting her lead the lesson. I think it was a great experience for the class.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is an understanding that around the globe, we’re not all that different.
“I have known that is possible, but now realize people of different countries can understand each other if they want it,” said Luydmila Gorzhuy, a teacher from Kazakhstan. “I like our collaboration.”