by Claire Miller
On any given day, people who pass by Jorge David Perez Iriarte's first and second grade classroom in Xalapa, Mexico, can hear him teaching his students through song.
He believes his students learn well when they can come together as a group, whether they're singing a song he taught them or working in groups to understand the material.
"I think the kids learn better when they feel like teammates, like they're part of a family," Perez explained. "I love working with kids and seeing their faces when they learn something new."
He took that same spirit with him to Cary Reynolds Elementary School in Doraville, Ga., where he spent a week in May in Courtney Roberts' second grade classroom, learning from her teaching methods and sharing his experiences and strategies with Roberts and her students.
Perez visited Cary Reynolds with four other teachers from Mexico – Elizabeth del Carmen Tapia Blasquez, Marco Aurelio Martinez Sanchez, Jose Ignacio Ortiz Reyes and Xochitl Moctezuma Hernandez – as part of an exchange program in the College of Education's Department of Early Childhood Education.
COE Assistant Professor Laura Meyers helped place these teachers in different classrooms at Cary Reynolds, offering them a window into the U.S. school system and the chance to observe how their American counterparts teach lessons.
"Authentic professional and personal experiences such as immersing yourself in another culture or conversing with and exchanging ideas with educators from around the globe are truly beneficial in broadening your perspectives both in and out of the classroom," Meyers said.
Meyers also designed the program to be an exchange – teachers from different countries learning what works well in each other's classrooms and inspiring each other to try new strategies.
"That approach was key for me," she said. "One of my main goals was to create an exchange of information, ideas, questions and observations, and what better way to do that than to allow both U.S. and Mexican educators to learn from each other?"
The week Perez spent at Cary Reynolds in May was his third visit to the U.S., and each time he comes to Atlanta he finds new teaching ideas to try and shares lessons that work well in his classroom with Atlanta teachers. It's these conversations that make his trips worthwhile.
"When I visited one of the U.S. teachers who came to my school, I was amazed because she used a game she saw in my classroom. That's the beauty of these exchanges," he said.
For Roberts (B.S.E. '09), Perez's visit to her classroom – in addition to her study abroad trip to Mexico when she was a student in the Early Childhood Education program – gave her a clearer picture of what it's like to teach and work in the Mexican school system.
"Not every country's school system is the same, and to be able to speak and learn from someone with the firsthand knowledge about a country most of your students are from gives you great insight," she said. "I gained more knowledge about the school system my students are accustomed to."
For more information about international initiatives, visit http://education.gsu.edu/international/6143.html.