Seeing teaching in a whole new way
Ten months ago, with the help and support of my family, friends, instructors, and career counselors, I and four of my Queen’s Ed’10 classmates – Desirey Webdale, Andra McCron, MA’09, Chiara (Bitondo) Vittoria, Artsci’09, and Heather Giroux, Artsci’09 – went to teach in Tanzania. After 17 hours of travel and three flight changes, while lugging (with swollen arms from pre-departure vaccines) a carry-on bag of 250 school notebooks, and three bags of pens, we arrived in Africa.
The “alternative practicum”, as it is called, is undoubtedly unique to Queen’s. It is a three-week program that provides Faculty of Education students with opportunities to gain experience outside the traditional classroom. Students can stay in Canada or travel abroad for this.
The alternative practicum project is meant to align with a program focus and Queen’s offers courses related to all dimensions of education, from how to work with exceptional learners to how best to support at-risk-youth. Since my program focus course dealt with the latter, I chose to complete my alternative practicum abroad with Peace House Africa, an NGO committed to creating a sustainable future for AIDS orphans and vulnerable youth in Arusha, Tanzania. Kyle Acres, Ed’95, who now lives in Kinburn, ON, taught there for several years and paved the way for more Queen’s Education grads to follow in his footsteps.
Every alternative practicum assignment is different. Our goal was to assist with professional development and community building. Tanzania’s education system often teaches rote memorization skills and teacher-centred methodologies, as opposed to the student-centred, critical thinking that is widely used in Canadian schools. My classmates and I would be collaborating with several teachers in Tanzania to help them develop a more balanced and hands-on, critical-thinking, student-focused curriculum.
We also assisted students with community building. In only its third year, Peace House Africa is still under development. One of our responsibilities was to build up the positive, communal atmosphere that was already in place. We played team-building games with students, including one called “the Human Knot.”
Standing in a circle, group members reach across and shake hands while hanging on to another person’s hand. The objective is for the group to try to unravel the “human knot” without letting go of each other’s hands. This activity encourages positive communication, leadership, problem solving, and teamwork skills.
I’m writing this to share the uniqueness of the Queen’s teacher-education program. Unlike most other universities, Queen’s encourages education students to apply their learned theory in some very different practical ways.
By encouraging students to explore education outside the traditional classroom, the program encourages them to think outside the proverbial box. Doing so showed me that my skills could be applied in many different ways in some surprising and different environments.
Furthermore, the Faculty of Education is deeply committed to supporting its alumni. After graduation I received a job offer abroad. Unsure about whether or not to accept, I contacted the faculty’s Career Services office. The support and advice that I received from Faculty staff there was beyond my expectations. Although I was no longer a student, staff directed me to appropriate resources and contacts, and helped me make my decision. Their help proved to me that the Faculty of Education’s alternative practicum program and Career Services are second to none.
The knowledge, critical thinking skills, and practice that I acquired during my time at Queen’s and abroad reflect the same standard of excellence that I now value in my own classroom. In Kiswahili asante sana means thank you. So I say, Asante sana Queen’s!
Diane Biacora also taught from August to December 2010 at a school in the Dominican Republic. She is now teaching at Pope John Paul II secondary school in Scarborough, ON.