By Karen Angelo
As a high school teacher from the central Asian country of Uzbekistan traveling to the United States for the first time, Feruza Erkulova wondered what Americans were really like.
After all, her perceptions were shaped by the American films she watched, which she says portrayed people as unfriendly. However, once she arrived at UMass Lowell to participate in a six-week intensive education and cultural experience, her fears evaporated.
“American people are very helpful with big hearts,” says Erkulova. “Most of all, I liked their manners and how they behave in public places. Even though people may not know you, they look at you and smile, as if you are close friends.”
Erkulova is one of 21 international teachers who arrived on campus in January to participate in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA). It provides the educators with opportunities to develop expertise in their subject areas, enhance their teaching skills and increase knowledge about the United States.
A.J. Angulo, a professor in UMass Lowell’s School of Education, received a $205,508 grant from the U.S. State Department to fund the program.
“This exciting global-education program introduces these teachers to methods and ideas that they can integrate into their classrooms, but it also opens all of our minds and hearts to each country’s distinctive differences and similarities,” he said. “We all have something to learn from each other.”
At a poster session on campus, the teachers looked like the who’s who of the United Nations. Wearing their traditional dress, they represented their countries of Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Estonia, Ghana, India, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Mongolia, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
“I am very happy and lucky to participate in this program to learn from UMass Lowell faculty and teachers from all over the world,” says Erkulova.
The teachers took professional development workshops taught by UMass Lowell faculty, learned about American history by traveling to Boston and New York City and participated in field experiences in the Andover and Chelmsford school districts. Biology teacher Lawrence Ajayi Oguntoye from Nigeria, who teaches classes of more than 65 students, learned useful teaching strategies from his experience at Chelmsford High School.
“The movement of students from one laboratory or classroom to another for lessons, while the teacher remains, is worthy of emulation,” he says. “I learned how technology can enhance the learning process in science and how managing by objective can solve common problems through the democratic process of regular staff meetings at the end of the day.”
He carefully observed the interactions between teachers and students: “Students here are guided to use their intuition, and teachers treat students as part of their family by meeting their needs for proper guidance and counseling. I would like to emulate this approach at home in Nigeria.”
During the six-week program, the long-term goal is to build lasting, meaningful relationships around the world — one teacher at a time.
“This program is a welcome gesture from the American Government to assist the world in breaking the poverty level through education,” says Oguntoye, whose students often come to school hungry. “It helps to foster world peace and give other nations the belief that the American government wishes every human being on earth well and cares for the peaceful coexistence of all.”