St. Theresa School teacher Betsy Kelly discovered camaraderie with educators 2,965 miles away this summer, traveling to Guyana, South America.
“I think what surprised me the most was how successful all of these teachers were with their limited access to professional education,” she said, adding that many began teaching out of high school. “Most of the classrooms we went into they all had great rapport with students. They were so kind, the students obviously wanted to be there. For all of the obstacles they were overcoming, they were all amazing teachers.”
Kelly, who taught kindergarten last year at the Little Rock school after teaching a year at St. Edward School, fundraised about $2,500, with St. Theresa kicking in $500 to travel to Guyana from June 18-July 7 through the nonprofit Limited Resource Teacher Training. The organization sends teachers to various countries to share teaching methods in countries with limited access to professional resources.
“As we are becoming increasingly diverse, we want to know the most culturally relevant practices and skills. We want our teachers to the best teachers they can be with our diverse population,” principal Kristy Dunn said, adding that Kelly will share what she learned with the rest of the faculty and “strategically plan” ways to help their students.
About 18 teachers came from around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Haiti to assist 100 local teachers in eight schools. Working with the national education officer in their region, Kelly and training partner Cate Hambling, of Australia, worked with seven local teachers in three schools in the Mabaruma village.
“We would go in and observe them teaching and then on the weekends we provided professional development catered to their specific needs in their classroom,” Kelly said, emphasizing climates for learning which stemmed from interactive lessons to growth mindset, which is the idea of giving “precise praise for effort,” not just praise for completing a task properly.
“‘I liked that you took the time to think about that question, I can see how you might have got that answer but here’s how we can do it this way,’” Kelly explained of growth mindset. “… We did a lot of talking about interactive lessons so just using things like physical body breaks to get the students moving, involved, sharing with each other. That’s something they didn’t use a lot that we use a lot in the U.S.” including small group work.
Culturally, the local teachers were “very quiet, they’re all very polite,” but soon they opened up and Kelly said she’s still in contact with them and her training partner via WhatsApp, a messaging app.
Kelly, who is Lutheran, will teach art for St. Theresa when school resumes this month and said seeing firsthand the cultural differences in education in Guyana will help her relate better to not only her students, but the parents who are from South or Central America who “might have a different view of education” because of how they were taught in their home country. She hopes to make the LRTT trip next year to Belize.
“I think that it changed my perspective definitely. Just seeing them being so passionate … makes me grateful for the resources we do have. Even though teachers in the U.S. are underappreciated, which is true everywhere, it’s a universal career. We were able to talk to each other about teaching so easily and that was a pretty neat discovery,” she said.
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