Cross-cultural education

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Alejandro Maldonado explains an exercise to students in a Guyer High School physical education class on Monday.
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Exchange program offers rich lessons for Spanish student teachers and their pupils

Balls float through the air from one student to another during a team-building activity in a morning physical education class at Guyer High School.

Throughout the 90-minute class, students pace up and down the gym floor participating in agility exercises and activities that challenge them to use math. They listen for instructions about various activities.

Guyer staff members typically conduct the class, but on this particular morning, two student teachers from Spain are leading it.

Since Feb. 9, four students from Spain’s University of Seville have gotten firsthand experience teaching classes in the United States.

The quartet is one young woman, who’s teaching second-grade science and math classes at Hawk Elementary School, and three young men, who are student teachers in P.E. classes at Guyer and Denton High School.

Their work as student teachers is part of a pilot exchange program between the University of Seville and the University of North Texas.

“I’ve never been in America, and this was an opportunity I can’t refuse,” said 22-year-old Pedro Martinez of Cadiz, Spain. “I think that it has been good.”

Lisbeth Dixon-Krauss, associate dean for teacher education at UNT, said the exchange is something she hopes becomes an annual program.

“We’re going to try to expand this program,” she said.

Dixon-Krauss said UNT has wanted to start an exchange program for students in teacher education, but it wasn’t until a doctoral student from Seville came to UNT that the agreement was set up.

While in Denton, the student teachers from Seville also are taking education courses at UNT, including English as a second language.

Each student is matched with an educator from a Denton school who serves as a mentor, and they are also the houseguests of educators from Denton schools and UNT.

The two goals for the exchange program are to learn about another culture and understand how education works in a different culture, Dixon-Krauss said.

Robert Bostic, the Denton school district’s assistant superintendent for academic programs, said the exchange has benefited both UNT and Denton schools. It’s a rich educational and community experience for the student teachers, and the schoolchildren and their student teachers are exposed to a new culture, he said.

Though fluent in English, the student teachers said the Texas vernacular was among the top of the list in cultural differences. English spoken here is unlike what they learned back in Spain, they say. They had to get used to people using words like “y’all” and “sweetie.”

Andrea Alejo, 26, said she’s glad to gain classroom experience in the United States. She had the choice to work in a school or organization; she decided to participate in the exchange program because she wanted to do something different for her professional practice.

She wanted to learn more about the American system and improve both her English and her teaching strategies, she said.

“It’s been amazing,” she said, adding that the Hawk Elementary students are quiet and well behaved.

She said she’s taught the water cycle so many times since she’s been in Denton that she now knows it backward and forward.

The biggest difference she noticed between education in the U.S. and in Spain is that here, students don’t use books, while in Spain books are used as the main resource.

She calls her time in Denton “a peaceful time” and “a pleasure.” Alejo said she’s amazed by all the new concepts that she’s learned.

“The kids are so loving,” she said, adding that she “hug attacks” them because she is a hugger.

Martinez, Alejandro Maldonado, 21, from Seville and Guillermo Dominguez, 24, of Cadiz are teaching P.E. at Denton and Guyer high schools. All agree that the school facilities in Denton are a lot different from school buildings back home.

David Henderson, a coach and P.E. instructor at Guyer, said he’s seen a different side of P.E. classes and his students since Dominguez arrived. He said students responded to Dominguez quickly and respect him.

Henderson said Dominguez’s style of teaching is different for him because the student teacher uses more group and team-building exercises. Henderson said he was more used to P.E. being individualized.

“It slows down the pace of everything, but it also helps those kids who are not as athletic or fast-speed … to bond with those kids who … have the ability to do great things, so I’ve seen a different side of P.E. that I’ve never experienced,” Henderson said. “I will implement some of that into my program.”

The students agree that after graduation, it will be difficult to find a job in Spain. Some are considering looking for jobs in the United States. Dominguez said he is considering looking for work in Germany.

The University of Seville students are slated to return home Saturday, according to Denton school officials. As part of the exchange, four UNT students will visit Spain later this spring.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com.


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