Doane Students Educate Students, Teachers in Panama

Doane student working with students in Panama

After attending culturally diverse elementary schools and traveling to Thailand last year for an education interterm, it was no surprise that Doane College junior Kara Maize and senior Audrey Andrews jumped at the opportunity to teach English to elementary students in Panama last summer.

But when the two elementary education and Spanish majors heard they were invited to return to Panama to demonstrate their innovative teaching methods to professionals in Panamanian Education, they were a little shocked.

The women, who are both receiving endorsements in English Language Learners (ELL), traveled to Panama City, Panama last June and July, a trip that more than satisfied the student teaching requirement for their majors. Most ELL education students complete their student teaching in the United States, where they are more familiar with the cultural norms and education styles, said Linda Kalbach, assistant professor of education and coordinator of service Learning at Doane.

So when the time came to teach English to 7-year-olds in a completely different culture, Andrews and Maize hit a few snags.

While they are both Spanish majors, neither is completely fluent in the language yet, and a different country's dialect and culture is best learned after months of immersion-a luxury Andrews and Maize didn't have.

"We can get by," Andrews said of the language barrier. "It might be the long way around."

But it was through these barriers that the two discovered dynamic teaching techniques that would be more effective for their audience.

They quickly realized that the English assignments from a textbook alone wouldn't be the best way for them to teach the young Panamanian pupils. Through trial and error, they discovered the recipe for effective education between language teachers and young students was more interaction through games, song and dance.

"A lot of the stuff we made up as we went," Andrews said. "Some of the songs I made up were quite ridiculous."

Ridiculous maybe, but it worked. They were able to reach children without fully understanding their language or culture.  And their methods, supplemented with the textbooks, seemed to be even more effective than those of teachers native to the culture.

And, it landed them an opportunity as undergrad students to speak to professionals at an international conference Saturday in Panama City.

The audience ranged from early childhood teachers to college professors. The presentation encouraged more interaction with students at all levels of education. Andrews and Maize used audience participation to demonstrate their teaching methods in a sort of simulated classroom.

"It will be intimidating because we're not professionals, but we are telling professionals how to teach," Andrews said before the presentation.

But the professors in Doane's education department aren't worried.

"There's no question that Audrey and Kara were ready to teach, and that doesn't just happen," Kalbach said.

Kalbach accompanied the women on the trip, which was subsidized by several departments at Doane, including Academic Affairs and the President's Office.

"An experience that culminates with a formal presentation is the perfect educational opportunity," Doane College President Jonathan Brand said. "How could we not find a way to get them back to Panama for this presentation?"

The presentation underscored the education department's commitment to cultural awareness, said Lyn Forester, chairwoman of the Education Division.

"This will make them very marketable because they have experienced a similar cultural immersion as the ESL students they will serve," Forester said.

The women agreed that the experience allowed them to better understand the needs of their students so they can develop more effective teaching methods.

"You come back and you know where the kids are coming from," Maize said.  "After being in a school in Latin America, you're more familiar with the cultural differences."

The women are the first Doane students to present abroad at an international conference.


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