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Thoughts from a fifth-year Cultural Exchange Teacher

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After teaching in the United States for five years, VIF Cultural Exchange Teacher Leonora Tumang has experienced many challenges, surprises and rewards. Leonora, who is from the Phillipines, discusses her experiences incorporating global education, articulating the importance of helping students grow into globally competent members of society. 

Where did you teach while in the U.S. with VIF? For how long?

I first taught as an early childhood resource teacher at Tuckaseegee Elementary School in Charlotte, N.C. from October 2010 to June 2011, then as an EC CORE 1 teacher at Ashley Elementary School in Winston-Salem, N.C. from August 2011 to June 2015.

What was most challenging for you when you taught here?

When I was given 16 exceptional children, including students with a range of intellectual, learning and physical disabilities. Now I can say I have overcome some of the initial trials and my waiting was worth it!

Was there a particular global activity, lesson or event you did with your students or in your school that worked well and that you particularly enjoyed? 

One December, VIF teachers were asked by our principal to decorate our hallway with information about how Christmas is celebrated in our respective countries. Mine was called “Christmas in the Philippines.” Students from other classes dropped by my classroom and asked for details about the pictures I had posted. It was all about Philippine Christmas food lanterns, family gatherings, gift giving, evening mass and more. My students even requested me to bring them to the Philippines for a field trip!

Every final quarter in our social studies class there is a unit that is about culture. Objectives include explaining how artistic expressions of diverse cultures contribute to the community and exemplifying respect and appropriate social skills needed for working with diverse groups. I have an interactive board activity in which students can learn about various cultures of the world, such as North and South America, Europe and Asia. In their culminating activity, I allowed them to choose the country they like, describe in one or two sentences what they learned from that country in terms of its culture and then color it. This is a guided activity. My students are happy to learn about food, clothing, music, simple greetings like “hello” in different language and specific cultural dances.                     

How is working in the U.S. different than working in your home country?

Working in the United States is different than working in my home country in terms of:

  • The students: Students in my country are more obedient and quiet around their teachers. Here, students are very vocal when it comes to what they feel and/or think. They are also very competitive. Students from my country and the United States are both sweet and loving kids.
  • The workplace: Schools in my country are surrounded by high concrete fences with guards on the gate who inspect every student, including visitors and parents, for security purposes. Schools in the U.S. usually do not have fences and guards.
  • The classrooms: Classrooms in my country have a large number of students per class, with one regular classroom having 40 to 60 students. In the U.S., I teach 15 to 20 students in class. Most classrooms in my country still use blackboards and/or whiteboards. Active/Promethean boards are found only in the Philippine schools for the rich, while they are what most public schools are now using in the U.S.
  • Subjects taught: In the Philippines, a teacher from elementary to high school teaches the subject of his or her expertise. If your major is math, then you only teach math to all of your classes. In the U.S., an elementary teacher teaches all the academic subjects: reading, language arts, science, social studies and writing.     
  • Class schedules: Students in my country can have either a morning schedule from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. or an afternoon session from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Both sessions include the daily academic subjects of Filipino, English, math, science, social studies and values education. Twice a week, these students study special subjects such as home economics, computer, music, arts and physical education. Where I am teaching in the U.S., our students come to school and eat breakfast from 7:50 a.m. to 8:20 a.m., and classes start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 2:50 p.m. Their daily academic subjects include reading, language arts, math, social studies and science. Their twice a week special classes include music, visual art, physical education, computer and dance.

Why do you think global education is important for students in the U.S.?

Global education is important in order to begin the process of raising better and more knowledgeable youth that are better equipped to communicate, understand and help the rest of the world.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a teacher considering teaching in the U.S. with VIF?

There is no good and bad culture — they are just different.

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