More than half of the 75 final-year education students at the University of Prince Edward Island will do their practice teaching off-island this year – in some cases, way off the island – thanks to the university’s specialization programs in international and indigenous teaching.
Students in the specialist programs do practicums in Africa, Asia, Latin America, New Zealand and Europe, says Miles Turnbull, dean of the faculty of education. “The international practicum gives students an opportunity to live and teach within another culture. It opens up employability after graduation, especially in these times when the market is tight in Canada.”
UPEI, for example, has four practice teaching spots in China through AKD International, which operates 10 Canadian-curriculum, K-12 schools in China and has plans to expand its network. Previously, the university had an informal arrangement with only one of the Chinese schools that teaches the New Brunswick curriculum, located in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. AKD says it hopes to recruit more UPEI graduates to teach in their schools following their practicums there.
UPEI education grad Melanie Murray, who did her international practicum in Shenzhen last spring, calls her six-week practice-teaching stint with kindergarten and Grade 1 students a life-changing experience. “I never planned to teach abroad after graduation, but when I got back home to PEI, I found I really missed China. I’ve been doing some substitute teaching this fall but now I’m headed back to teach high school at the Shenzhen Concord College of Sino-Canada.”
Typically, student teachers pay for their own flights abroad, but after arrival they are given accommodation, meals and spending allowances. The students raise their travel money as a group through various fundraising events, from spaghetti suppers to car washes.
Course work for UPEI’s two-year education program features globalization issues and extensive preparation for international teaching – including a mandatory 22 weeks of practice teaching in the classroom compared with 12 weeks in Ontario.
And while many of the graduates do end up teaching around the world, “there’s a growing need for more teachers with an international specialization here in Canada, too,” says Dr. Turnbull. “There’s a changing demographic in classrooms across Canada because of immigration, so there’s a need for teachers who know how to teach those from different cultures.”