This is not your average graduating class. The 11 students that make up this Faculty of Education cohort are already professional teachers with a combined 25-plus years of classroom teaching time, numerous undergraduate and graduate degrees, and nine languages under their belts.
They’ve also all left their home countries for new lives in Canada.
These Edmontonians comprise the 2014-15 cohort of the Internationally Educated Teachers (IET) project in UAlberta’s Faculty of Education. Created in 2013, this pilot project aims to help professional teachers educated abroad meet Alberta’s provincial requirements for teacher certification.
Education professors Randolph Wimmer and Beth Young designed the project with two primary goals in mind: to assist new immigrant teachers in successfully obtaining teaching positions and to improve the faculty’s overall processes for working with internationally educated teachers.
Well-supported experience yields results
IET project participants are provided with support individually and in their cohort in a specialized seminar. “In many cases, it has been several years since their last classroom experience--as a student or a teacher. The seminar provides a place for the IET participants to openly share their experiences and challenges regarding study at a Canadian university,” explains project coordinator Brent McDonough.
In the seminar, participants also read and discuss research related to the immigrant teacher experience in Canada. They visit local schools to compare Alberta classrooms with the classrooms they experienced in their home countries. They compare approaches to teaching and learning and create a toolkit of strategies to enhance their own practice.
“One of the key underpinnings of this project is the recognition that there is a need for a well-supported experience,” says Wimmer. “We are hoping to ensure that the IETs have a positive, transformative experience at the university, like all students.”
The teachers are also integrated into several of the faculty’s regular course offerings and must complete a nine-week practicum in an Edmonton school.
“I have always loved English literature and linguistics,” says Moroccan-born teacher Nadia Bukar. “My practicum at Sifton Elementary School was a great experience for me. Nothing that we learned in this program was a waste of time. I have new insights into my own life, and learning is never over.”
“This program will allow each of our teachers to be eligible to teach again, something they all thought would not be possible,” says McDonough. “Their passion for teaching, coupled with a goldmine of knowledge and experience, can only serve to enhance our Alberta classrooms.”
Meet the teachers - Shu Jiang
Shu Jiang came to Canada just three years ago with her husband. “In China I was a teacher, and my husband was a dentist,” says Jiang. “We decided to come here, and make a new life. I am so lucky to be graduating this program now--I have received so much support from Brent and from my colleagues. I would not be here without them.”
When Jiang was first accepted into the IET program, she was also seven months pregnant. “I really needed about 48 hours in each day to get everything done,” she says with a laugh.
She did her nine-week placement at Meyonohk School in the Mandarin bilingual program. The experience changed the scope of her goal. “When I was at Meyonohk School, talking with the children and their parents, I realized that I have a responsibility to help my whole community--to teach and to keep the Chinese language alive for all of our children.”
“This [IET] program has been life-changing,” says Ethiopian refugee Bedri Mohammed.
Mohammed’s dream had always been to get an education and teach. “In the very remote place where I was born, there were 300 children in my school--you know, the school was newly opened in the area, and all 300 students were Grade 1. In other words, we were the first generation to attend the modern school in our community… [there] were only two in Grade 8, and only I was able to join university.”
After graduating high school and becoming active on his university campus, Mohammed was kidnapped and detained for several months.
“I escaped to Kenya and was a refugee. When I was in that refugee camp, there were 23,000 of my people there, and I realized that they had no education. So I started a school to teach them to read. I protected myself from persecution in Kenya by dressing like a Muslim, in a long robe, as religious people are not targeted by the police.”
Eventually Mohammed found a contact with the Canadian High Commission in Kenya and made a third home here in Canada as a refugee. Since arriving in Canada, he has had to work at various jobs, including loading and unloading trucks in order to support his wife and four children. “Now, having finished this program, I have returned to my dream, my hope, and have found my confidence again.”
Jimmy Buena is the teacher that we all wish we’d had. Full of enthusiasm and a deep commitment to excellence and to his students, he has an infectious laugh and a love of life.
“I have been a food and beverage server since coming here in 2009,” says Buena. “I have nine years of university teaching experience in the Philippines, where I taught computer programming and mathematics. But in my teaching placement here, they gave me science and religion to teach and also with students with an Individual Program Plan. It was challenging, but with some hard work and dedication and the friendly support of the administrators, teachers, staff, and students at Sister Annata Brockman School, it was a good experience.”
Buena clearly made a positive impression, as he has since been offered a job at the school. “I am so thankful for this opportunity to be a teacher again. This is my passion, and my vocation.”
Feature image: The IET project cohort for 2014-15 with project coordinator Brent McDonough (back row, far left) and professor Randolph Wimmer (back row, right).