Running Head: HUMAN DIVERSITY PROJECT 1 Human Diversity Project Whitney R. York Murray State University
HUMAN DIVERSITY PROJECT 2 One of the most educationally profound experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of participating in was the Belize student teaching experience. After years of studying education and attending, observing, and teaching in schools in Illinois and Kentucky, making the transition to a school in Central America was certainly an eye opening experience. We are very much accustomed to our own culture and education system and often participate in it without question about whether the basis for the entire system is effective or has the potential to change. This experience taught me that not only is our system unique, and of course somewhat flawed, but there is a great deal more that goes into a school system than the curriculum and the teachers. Through more careful examination of the community and culture, school system itself, and my classroom experience I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how this experience continues to affect me as a teacher almost two years later. Belize is a small country located in Central America bordered by Mexico and Guatemala. Rich in Mayan culture and a former British colony the culture of Belize is extremely varied. Although the official language is English, many residents speak Spanish, Kriole, or a mix of languages. The local economy is dominated by agriculture and tourism due in large part to the climate and various historical and natural sites. It took a little while for me to fully understand just how different the school system of Belize was due in large part to the industries located in the country. We prepare students for all types of jobs from doctors, to lawyers, to farmers, to mechanics. Belize however, tends to focus students in tracks based on their interests in future careers. Even the curriculum is extremely different from ours in similar subjects to reflect the need for focus on local industries. Overall though, education is considered extremely important to Belizeans and they have a great deal to be proud of.
HUMAN DIVERSITY PROJECT 3 I had the privilege of working with two teachers in the business department of Corozal Community College, the equivalent of our high school grades. Here, students are organized into four forms or grade levels. Forms one and two offer students a general curriculum in areas one would expect: English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Spanish, Technology, PE, Life Skills, and Home Economics or Music. Forms three and four are then specialized based on students interests or future goals. There are three options: general, academic, and business. From what I gathered the general curriculum is the most basic, academic is focused on students who are looking to pursue further education, and business is for students interested in the business world in some capacity. Students stay with their class or form for the entire year. So for instance the 3B2 class is one of the business ‘homerooms’ in the 3rd form, and those 20-‐30 students will be together the entire year for every class of their day. Besides the organization of classes, the other glaring difference between their school system and ours was the organization of teachers and their schedules. I taught in the business department so I will use that area as an example. There were five specific business teachers responsible for teaching overall sixteen classes. A teacher usually focused on one or two of the classes but might teach to both the 3rd and 4th form. Their schedules varied from day to day, sometimes teaching classes for one period and sometimes for two, or about 80 minutes. In between teaching, teachers had wide gaps of time for planning, grading, and work. By wide gaps, I mean that some days teachers had only two or three class periods to teach and spend the rest of the day working. For me the biggest shocker was the fact that teachers don’t have their own classroom. Instead the 3B2 class had it’s own classroom, and teachers traveled to the different classes as
HUMAN DIVERSITY PROJECT 4 their schedule required. In their ‘off’ time, all the teachers occupied one large room overflowing with desks. Homerooms or classes of students were solely responsible for maintaining their classroom throughout the day, which involved cleaning the boards off, sweeping, straightening desks, and locking the room when they left the classroom. Overall it was quite a different organizational system than anything I had the chance to work with in Kentucky. The stark differences in our educational system continued inside the classroom, after I hiked over to the building I was teaching in. The only materials I had to teach with were a textbook and a chalkboard. Day one I observed both of my ‘supervising’ teachers in their classroom, and by day two I was teaching alone. Students were more than respectful and compliant with my instructions and extremely attentive to the material they were learning. Perhaps the hardest roadblock in the classroom was the fact that although student spoke English they could also speak a mix and variety of other languages, which they used frequently in their informal conversations. I of course, had no clue as to what they were saying and immediately my classroom management education had to kick in to manage these new situations. Overall, most students seemed motivated to do well in their classes and had some sort of career goal in mind for when they finished school. So how did this experience affect my current teaching practices and views on education? There are still times when I’m teaching when I flash back to that month long experience and remember the lessons I learned. First and foremost, quite possibly the biggest shock to me was the lack of materials and the methods that teachers had to present materials. In Kentucky an overhead projector would be outdated, but in Belize I just kept breaking piece after piece of chalk. During my student teaching placement at Murray High
HUMAN DIVERSITY PROJECT 5 School I solely taught computer classes. My classroom had 30 computers; I had a projector, SMART Slate, and the latest software to monitor student computers. Needless to say it was quite an adjustment for me to have to focus more on what I was saying, learn to write quickly, and use the limited poster paper to make models and examples. I also still reflect a great deal on the culture that their educational system was born out of. In America I don’t feel that we really look enough at the needs for our society and communities. Even now we continue to standardize education across large areas when the needs for certain occupations vary greatly from region to region. In Belize that focus was clear and straightforward, and students simply didn’t take classes that weren’t going to be useful to their futures. In addition it was evident that their culture valued education greatly and both students and teachers took pride in the work they were doing. I’m not sure I can even narrow down specific things that this experience taught me as it was such an intense overall experience. However, broadly what being thrown into a classroom in a foreign country taught me was that the premise of education is the same no matter where you go. A community’s children need skills and knowledge in order to ‘succeed’, and more importantly become productive members of the society. If the adult members of the community don’t take the responsibility for creating an environment in which these children can achieve these goals then the entire community has failed. Do we take enough responsibility for the education of all students in our community? Do we meet the needs of all students? We don’t need to be ranked number one to achieve these goals, as Belize proves, but we do need collective understanding and drive to make the system as effective as it can be.