Thursday, May 16, 2002

Cape Elizabeth teachers travel to learn

Published in the Current

Several Cape Elizabeth teachers, and one principal, will be taking short overseas trips over the summer or early next school year, to learn more about other cultures and educational systems. They expect it will benefit their students as well as their teaching.

High school world history and government teacher, Heather Sanborn, will depart first, leaving for China in early July for a 20-day trip through eight of that country’s major cities, including Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The trip is run by the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, in Northampton, Mass., and Sanborn and 19 other New England teachers will have much of their way paid by the Freeman Foundation. The rest of her costs will be paid by the high school and other funds, including possibly the high school parents association, she said.

The trip is the culmination of several workshops Sanborn has attended, learning about Asian culture and politics. “I’ve actually done some stuff, but now I actually get to go and experience it,” she said.

In addition to her trip, which will include sightseeing, visits to schools, lectures and discussions on a wide range of issues, Sanborn will get books and other curricular material to enhance her students’classroom learning.

Sanborn said the trip also will benefit her by broadening her own personal experience. She spent eight weeks in the former East Germany shortly after reunification, and uses that first-hand knowledge to help her students.

“Non-European travel is something that’s really important for me to bring to the classroom,” Sanborn said, pointing out that much of world history covers non-European regions, cultures and religions.

She plans to expand her own and her students’ appreciation of Chinese art and literature. “I hope to also bring back a better understanding of Chinese language and writing styles,” Sanborn said.

But, she emphasized, the true value of her trip remains unknown. “The key is what you actually experience,” Sanborn said.

Middle school Spanish teacher, Lydia Schildt, is taking a longer journey. She will attend the Spanish School at the Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont for six weeks this summer, and will spend the next academic year living and studying in Madrid, Spain.

Her experience with the language and cultures she teaches has so far been in Spanish-speaking South America, rather than Spain itself. So she now teaches Mexican songs, or Guatemalan rhymes, to her students.

She plans to return with a new library of cultural material to share with the middle school students.

She plans to live with a family for a part of her time in Spain, to learn more about the culture, and also is uncertain of the specifics of what she will learn. “When I get back, I’ll tell you,” Schildt said.

Middle School French teacher, Suzanne Janelle, and Pond Cove School Principal Tom Eismeier will be traveling to Japan on separate trips—Janelle in October and Eismeier in November—through the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program.

Each trip will involve about 200 people, who will be broken up into groups of 20 to visit schools around the country, meet with government officials and learn about local schools.

Japan has a centrally administered national education system, Eismeier said, which is very different from the American system of local control.

After a week in Tokyo, they will head to different areas of the country and spend a couple of days with a family and visit schools, meeting with administrators and teachers.

“You get to know that school and that district for a while,” Eismeier said. The groups will then return to Tokyo and report back to the rest of the participants on what they saw and learned.

Eismeier will look at Japanese examples of studying teaching methods. Pond Cove teachers have been using an adapted version of Japanese techniques, including intensive review, teaching observation and revision. Eismeier wants to see firsthand how Japanese teachers undertake the process.

Some differences between U.S. and Japanese schools Eismeier will explore include the longer school year (nearly 300 days in Japan and 175 in Maine), larger classes (35-40 Japanese students, compared to around 20 in Cape), and the high social status of teachers in Japan, as compared with status in America.

He also will gather questions from students, parents and teachers in Cape Elizabeth, and try to get as many of them answered as he can during the trip.

Janelle will explore foreign language education. “I’m very interested in languages and how we teach languages,” she said. She plans to observe language classes and compare assessment and teaching methods with her own practices.

Japanese students begin learning foreign languages earlier than U.S. students typically do, Janelle said. But Janelle will start late, and will take a Japanese class at USM this summer to help her prepare for the trip.

“It’s really good for me as a language teacher to place myself in a student role,” she said.

When she comes back, she expects to help put together a middle school event focusing on Japan, as well as conferring with teaching colleagues about what she saw.

“The most exciting part of this program is that we’ll actually go to the schools and be in the classroom,” Janelle said.