Students, schools alike benefit from cultural exchange teacher program
As a cultural exchange teacher, I asked my students to reflect on their learning experiences in our classroom at the end of the last school year. One of my students said, “Thank you Mr. E for guiding me and [for always] believing in me. I hope I can see you again someday.”
I came to the United States at the height of the pandemic in December 2020. It seems as though it was a long time ago. It was at this time that nearly every school in the country was engaging in a measure of remote online/virtual instruction. As I began my teaching assignment, I was immersed in diverse online training, seminars and cohort group discussions in preparation for online teaching and future face-to-face classroom instruction.
As a new cultural exchange teacher, I participated in professional learning and seminars that included culturally responsive teaching, restorative justice, classroom management, technology and best teaching practices. Fast forward and I am now in my third year as a cultural exchange teacher. My students have benefited greatly from my leadership and learning and, as I introduce my cultural and ethnic background to them through our daily classroom discussions and lessons, I have shared my native language, traditions, cultural foods, sports, music, history and costumes. My students have gained a wealth of knowledge, understanding and appreciation for my Filipino culture.
Being a cultural exchange teacher is a unique opportunity not only for me, but also for my students and their families. We have engaged in countless cross-cultural experiences and have explored and been exposed to a myriad of cultures that are present in American society. The diversity of teachers that my students engage with prepares them to embrace and understand the intersectionality of cultures they encounter and are a part of as American citizens.
Through classroom discussions and lessons, I give my students an opportunity to share ideas, insights and beliefs that they may have about other cultures, practices and values. It is through social games, debates and discussions in our classroom that my students discover the differences, similarities and uniqueness of the culture we explore. It is through the day-to-day learning experiences that I design for my students, that they continually unearth the diversity of cultures that exist.
The cultural exchange teacher program in the United States can serve as a long-term solution to address teaching shortages, attrition and cultural stereotypes and misunderstandings currently present in the educational landscape of American schools.
I offer three ideas as to how the program can address these issues and challenges:
Competency. All aspiring cultural exchange teacher participants are required to meet the minimum requirements to be admitted to the program. Requirements include teaching licenses from their home country, an undergraduate degree in education and area of specialization such as science, math, physical education, English language and special education, and minimum of three years of teaching experience.
Some, if not all, cultural exchange teachers far exceed these requirements as many have two professional licenses, a master’s or doctorate degree, and supervisory and administrative experiences from their home country.
Connection. The United States is a multicultural and diverse society. The cultural exchange teacher program serves as an opportunity for communities, schools, families and students to learn more about assimilation and integration as teachers work in diverse communities.
The genuine and authentic connection that cultural exchange teachers establish and develop foster lasting knowledge and relationships for them teachers and the communities they serve within. The program strengthens the multicultural ties and tapestries woven in American society.
School sustainability. As school districts continue to invest in professional learning and development, cultural exchange teachers become more competent as classroom managers, curriculum designers and evaluators in the school communities. It is time to revisit the existing policies for cultural exchange teachers as an opportunity to address teaching staff shortages, attrition and cultural stereotypes and misunderstandings.
As I reflect on how my students see me, I realize how much of an impact I have had as a cultural exchange teacher in America. My only goal when I made the decision to teach in the United States was to develop myself personally and professionally. Now, I recognize the different ways in which my students and I have grown — and the immeasurable potential of the cultural teacher exchange program to impact and change teachers and students’ lives.
Lauro C. Esquilona III, Ph.D., is a special education teacher and a student council co-adviser in Clark County School District. He is also a cultural exchange teacher from the Philippines. He is a Teach Plus Nevada Teaching Policy Fellowship alumnus, a Teach Plus Senior Research Fellow and is board certified in special education from the National Association of Special Education Teachers.