PULLMAN – In a typical student-teaching job, Amy Woodcock might have taught a diverse group of American ninth-graders. And she might have taken them on a field trip – but not to an amphitheater built for Nazi rallies.
 
“It is called Thingstätte, located in Heidelberg,” Woodcock recalled of her experience in Germany last year. “It’s real popular now to have picnics on, and hold big events where people create bonfires.”
 
More than 100 WSU College of Education students have done their student teaching overseas. In recent years, they have worked exclusively on U.S. Army or Air Force bases. Seven students are in Germany this fall for the semester of classroom experience required of all teacher education majors.
 
Chris Sodorff, director of field services for the college, will talk about overseas student teaching opportunities at noon Friday, Sept. 30, in Cleveland Hall room 160A. The presentation (originally scheduled for Sept. 23) is open to all.
 
Student diversity, special challenges
WSU student teachers have gone to bases in Okinawa, Japan and the United Kingdom. But most opportunities are in Germany. This semester they are assigned to schools in Ansbach, Bamberg and Heidelberg.
 
Military families come from many economic, ethnic and educational backgrounds. That diversity provides valuable experience for the WSU students, Sodorff said.
 
“Also, they’re dealing with children whose parents are often away at war,” said Sodorff. “That can lead to emotional and behavioral problems. This gives our students a chance to learn strategies for dealing with those classroom issues.”
 
The similarities between the Department of Defense Dependents schools (DoDDs) and stateside schools are obvious on the T&L 415 blog, where student teachers share their experiences. Entries describe teaching the concept of time, explaining linear math and writing lessons for the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” They also reflect on the differences in the overseas classrooms.
 
“Specific to a military base school, I’ve experienced the emotional baggage children have to deal with and ways they cope with their feelings (or sometimes not at all). Structure and fairness are very important to them,” student teacher Eva DiDonato wrote last spring.
 
“My time here has not only opened up my eyes to what I need to do as their teacher, but also how the state of our world is affecting young minds in general,” she wrote. “Being a part of DoDDs is a unique experience that doesn’t compare to any other teaching practicums I’ve had.”
 
Supportive faculty
Unlike student teachers who are assigned to schools in Washington, those on military bases don’t have regular classroom visits from and meetings with WSU supervisors. But Sodorff visits them halfway through the semester and communicates via a blog and email.
Sandy Stellato, a teacher at Bamberg Elementary, said WSU students arrive better prepared than student teachers from other universities.
 
“They are very well versed with standards and curriculum that are similar to ours,” she said. “They are enthusiastic, engaged and willing to do what needs to be done to help the students succeed.”
 
Anabel Muro, who taught at Mark Twain Elementary in Heidelberg in fall 2010, said the teachers there “really embraced the other student interns and me. I was incredibly lucky to be in such a close-knit community.”
 
The student teachers also support one another, both in person and through the blog. That includes sharing tips for travel and daily life, such as: Take advantage of the Army post office and have your next season’s clothes shipped instead of slogging tons of luggage. Buy a Eurail pass before you arrive. And remember … Germans take recycling very seriously.
 
Seeing the world
WSU students who apply for military base teaching go through a campus interview. They’re judged on self-reliance and poise as well as academic skills. Sodorff, who works with faculty to make the final choices, said the urge to do more traveling is a big reason the students apply.
Before Kara McMurray started teaching in Heidelberg last month, she’d gone to London, Cambridge, Wales, Scotland and Paris.
 
“I have plans now to go to Ireland, Greece and Italy and would also like to go to Switzerland and Spain if time and money permit,” she said.
 
The students’ cost of living on military bases is about the same as living in Pullman and sometimes less, said Sodorff. They rent apartments that are set aside for their use. The shared flats can be crowded, but the young teachers don’t spend much time there. Most free days are spent on for excursions outside of the Americanized “bubble” of the military bases.
 
“Being able to travel over weekends was fantastic,” said Woodcock, a Puyallup resident who graduated with her teaching degree in May.
 
The only drawback, she said, was losing the opportunity to make connections in a stateside school that might help her get a job.
 
“However, most employers are impressed with the fact that I student taught abroad, so it kind of evens out,” she said.
For more information, contact the WSU College of Education Field Services Office, 509-335-0925, fieldservices@wsu.edu.
 
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Media contact:
Julie Titone, jtitone@wsu.edu, 509-335-6850