Program helps put internationally educated teachers in Alberta classrooms

Lanie Luarca brought with her a dozen years of teaching experience in her native Philippines and in Dubai, UAE, when she relocated with her family to Canada in 2016. An assessment by Alberta Education showed significant upgrading would be required for her to become licensed to teach in the province so she settled into working in a daycare centre. She says she liked the job, but her desire to return to teaching persisted.

“Whenever I sat down on my break, I was thinking about wanting to teach math again,” Luarca says. “I kept imagining myself being in the class teaching the subject I love to teach.”

A co-worker told Luarca about an educational opportunity that could help put her back in the classroom and now, five years later, her dream of teaching in Canada is closer to realization with her completion of the Faculty of Education’s Internationally Educated Teacher Bridging Program. The full-time cohort-based diploma program comprises 15 credits of coursework—including courses on law and ethics, and Indigenous history and culture that align with the Teaching Quality Standard, as well as literacy and curriculum—and nine weeks of field experience to prepare foreign-trained teachers for the context of Alberta classrooms.

Though she wasn’t immediately admitted to the IET program because she required more course credits than the program provided, Luarca says the program administrators supported her from the first email, helping her identify the courses she’d need from Athabasca University to qualify for IET. She says their availability and willingness to help every step of the way gave her hope.

“I never felt alone,” Luarca says.

Dedication in the face of challenges

Lucy De Fabrizio, international program director in the Faculty of Education, says students who enter the IET program face obstacles that may take years to negotiate, which shows how committed they are to the profession of education.

“By the time they come to us, they’ve gone through numerous hurdles to get here,” De Fabrizio says. “For many it entails everything from language testing to making sure they meet requirements for our program and for teacher certification. For some it may entail a long process of getting documents—transcripts from their home countries, letters from where they taught, having them translated—one of the biggest challenges is just getting everything together to do that. We’re there to help people who don’t know about the process.”

Once enrolled, IET students attend most of their classes with other Education undergraduates, but they also meet for a weekly seminar led by Elementary Education professor Anna Kirova, herself an immigrant to Canada, where they share their experiences, reflect on their learning and talk their way through issues they’re encountering.

“It’s really important that before we place them in a classroom that they feel as prepared as possible,” says Roberta Baril, the Faculty’s field experience team lead. “It’s a risk for them, it’s a very vulnerable thing, so the seminar is a very safe space for them to ask difficult questions and to set them up for success.”

Doudou Zhang, who completed the IET program in 2020, says the seminars were a key part of getting her ready to return to the classroom after a four-year break from teaching.

“I never feel like I’m really done preparing, but the IET program boosted my confidence,” Zhang says. “One day in the seminar, they invited students from previous years to share their experiences, and I realized lots of people were like us, not just in the cohort but in other programs — students in their 30s and 40s pursuing their dream of being a teacher — and that made me feel like it wasn’t just me struggling to reach my dream and if I tried really hard I could do well.”

Enriching classroom conversations and the field

For Luarca, who did her field placement at a junior high school in Devon, and Zhang, who teaches at a small school 30 minutes outside Slave Lake, having a course on Indigenous history and culture was both eye-opening and invaluable in preparing them to support all students. Luarca says learning new teaching methodologies and becoming familiar with new educational technologies will further enable her to meet students where they are to create a more inclusive learning environment.

But it’s not just the participants who benefit from the IET program. Student advisor Catherine Smythe, who has been with the program since it launched in 2013, says Alberta classrooms are better places for having experienced educators from around the world contributing to the learning going on.

“They are already teachers, they’ve already had careers, some in very interesting places,” Smythe says. “They bring a richness to conversations in the classes they take, and they are a great addition to our teacher population.”

“We think of it in terms of, they are the context of Alberta,” De Fabrizio adds. “They are Albertans and their children are in schools. So we really try to focus on the strengths they bring to the program, to our BEd students learning more about their experiences and perspectives, and the strengths they bring to the field.”

Feature image: Internationally educated teachers bring diverse experiences and perspectives to their interactions with preservice teachers and to Alberta classrooms (photo: Laura Sou).