Rebecca McGuire

Nearly 20 percent of all Texas public school students don’t speak fluent English. The challenge for teachers is how to communicate with these students and help them learn. A group of future teachers from the University of North Texas got some practice recently by traveling to Seville, Spain.

The KERA radio story

Rebecca McGuire landed at DFW Airport this week with a better understanding of students who don’t speak a lot of English. McGuire is enrolled at the University of North Texas in its College of Education. She said teaching students in Spain for the past six weeks was humbling.

“I had no clue what was going on the classroom that I was in, some of them, because it was all in Spanish and it wasn’t the Spanish I learned,” McGuire said. “It was a completely different Spanish.”

McGuire, who taught elementary age and special education children, said she had to rely on strategies she’s learned at UNT in order to teach the Spanish students. After reading the book “The Hungry Caterpillar,” she had them color pictures from the book. Then, they said the names of the foods the caterpillar ate in Spanish and English. She said what she learned from her teaching stint in Spain will come in handy when she steps into her own classroom.

“I’m going to be able to say, ‘hey, I know you’re having trouble learning this, I’ve done it before, too,” McGuire said. “You have to create a relationship with your students and me experiencing this is going to allow me to do that honestly and truly understand where they’re coming from.”

Marysia McMillian, who taught first, second and sixth graders in Seville, said the way kids are taught in Spain is very different.

“It was very traditional, very from the textbook and there was a script and you read from the textbook,” McMillian said. “It wasn’t making up lesson plans.”

She said that’s just the kind of teaching they’ve been taught to avoid.

“Being in Texas, in the States, you’re taught no textbook,” she said. “[You’re taught] make up your lesson plans, use your internet resources, use your teacher resources, so that was eye-opening.”

McMillian introduced the children in Seville to her style of teaching. She used videos and other visuals, and a lot of hand signals.

The international student teacher exchange is in its second year. Earlier this semester, a group from Spain came to North Texas to teach in Denton schools. Lisbeth Dixon-Krauss, associate dean for UNT’s education school, said there’s talk of expanding the program to include other countries.

“One of the things that we noticed is that it makes [the teachers] more tolerant when they have children in their classroom that come from a different culture, being able to understand that some of the things that we consider just to be normal practice here is not so with these children,” Dixon-Krause said.

Students McMillian and McGuire say they now feel more prepared to teach children who are still learning to speak English. They’ll be one step closer to putting into practice what they learned when they graduate tonight.

“The Hungry Caterpillar” is one of the books UNT student teacher Rebecca McGuire read to her class in Seville.

The following are questions answered by a couple of the Seville student teachers who taught in the Denton Independent School District earlier this year as part of the exchange program:

Ana Guerrero is a student at the Universidad de Seville. She taught kindergarten at Lee Elementary in Denton.

1.        What did you learn from your student teaching experience in Denton ISD?

I learned about a new culture. This experience has been very useful for me because I have seen how education works in another part of the world and how different it is from all I know. I think looking at how others work can improve your own work, so that is one of the things that I have been able to do thanks to this. Moreover, I have seen how children learn the mother language, English, from kindergarten, which has been very interesting because I have seen many differences and similarities between both languages.

2.        How will this help you in your teaching job in Spain?

Definitely this experience is going to be a good help for improving the bilingual teaching in Spain. Now I am feel more qualified for being a bilingual teacher. In addition, my mentor teacher has taught me new methodologies, books and different resources which I would like to use with my class in Spain.

3.        How is the school system in Spain different?

We have many different things. Some of them are the number of children in class. In Spain we have 27-30 students and here we have 15-17 students, approximately. The structure of the educational system is different. For example, in Spain we start kindergarten with 3 years old and the duration is three years and here kindergarten starts with 5 years old. The teacher education is different too. For instance, in Spain you only can be kindergarten teacher or elementary teacher and here in America you can be both.

 4.        What was the most surprising thing about teaching and/or living in Texas?

 For me, it was the people. Everyone was very friendly and kind with us and I felt Texas as a second home in this short time. Other thing very surprising was the weather, wild weather.

Lucia Dubikova is also a student at the Universidad de Sevilla. She taught second grade at Lee Elementary School in Denton when she visited.

1.       What did you learn from your student teaching experience in Denton ISD?

I saw how it was possible to make children love reading. I really enjoyed the time with my second graders (during reading classes and during reading interventions) seeing how they were learning and getting better.

Also, as the children have different needs, I saw how important it was to pass some individualized time with them. It is amazing when you have to figure out different answers for one simple question, and is also hard to find the correct way to get into their little heads and make them understand things they are learning about.

2.       How will that help you in your teaching job in Spain?

My current experience in Denton school will help me as a “bridge” which I will use as a future teacher here in Spain or in other parts of the world. I am a foreigner in Spain and I think if you have more than one cultural, social and teaching experience, it will be only a positive experience in your future job as an educator. Also this multicultural and multinational experience allows us to see and to know the preconceptions we have about other countries and to erase them.

3.       How is the school system in Spain different?

Here in Spain there are more students per class, the ratio is around 25 children per class. I believe when we are working with children, fewer are better because you can do an individualized work. Also the discipline is not so strict.

4.       What was the most surprising thing about teaching and/or living in Texas?

Throughout my stay, children and all the people in general (were) very nice. … My class and my mentor teacher took care of me … and I appreciated it a lot. And I still do. I miss them terribly.

During my teaching, there were big moments with children, when they were trying to catch some mistakes I did in English and they tried to correct it. It was funny.

5.       Is there anything you will miss about your experience here?

One of the things I will miss for sure is teaching my second graders. I am looking forward to my graduation and I hope I will be teaching hopefully next year.