An exchange program between the University of Michigan-Flint and Charles University of Prague, Czech Republic is broadening the way students from both schools view their role as a teacher.
For the past two years, education students in UM-Flint's secondary master of arts with certification (MAC) program, or Detroit Teacher Project, have paired up with masters students at Charles University, connecting with each other through email, Skype, and site visits.
Tereza Kralikova, a graduate student from Prague and part of this unique exchange program, recently spent three weeks in Michigan, conducting research at the Thompson Library and observing MAC-program student teachers in their secondary schools, to gather information for her thesis: How I Am Becoming a Teacher: Searching for a Teacher's Identity.
Her graduate program in Prague focuses on elementary education in varied school settings, whereas the MAC program prepares its students to teach primarily in urban high school environments and addresses a different set of instructional challenges than those encountered in Prague.
"Prague is a very safe place," Tereza said. "We deal more with the way society views teachers than how we view ourselves as teachers. There is a lot of psychological pressure there on how teachers should teach and behave toward children in the classroom."
Many Detroit-area children carry personal hardships with them to school each day in connection with their lives outside of school: low-income homes, inadequate meals, struggling single-parent families, family members serving jail time, lack of supervision and safety concerns, and discipline issues.
While observing UM-Flint MAC graduate students teaching in Detroit, Flint, and the Upper Peninsula, Tereza was surprised to learn how the kids' personal challenges, distractions, and disciplinary problems influence their teacher's approach to daily lessons and setting appropriate classroom standards.
Using a variety of teaching strategies and activities to build a dynamic learning environment is not always possible as MAC student teachers work to establish consistent expectations each day.
"I really admire the graduate students here," she said. "They are dealing with a lot of serious things every day in these schools. They try to develop some kind of discipline with the children. This is something we don't usually deal with so, for me, it was the biggest difference that I saw."
By researching, observing, and drawing comparisons between the cultures and learning environments in Prague and the cities she visited in Michigan, Tereza gained a deeper understanding of the self-awareness segment that is part of becoming a good teacher. She added that she was especially grateful to education chair Mary Jo Finney for her mentorship and coordination with the UM-Flint MAC students during this visit.
"This visit has been extremely beneficial for me," Tereza said. "I think it's really important for a teacher to travel because you can get new ideas and teaching strategies, and you can transfer your experiences to your students."
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