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Ag-Ed Students Get International Teaching Experience in Mexico

Kalea Taylor couldn’t help but be a little nervous when she stepped in front of a classroom of students who didn’t speak the same language as her, but by the time she finished teaching her lesson those jitters had turned to joy.

“I absolutely loved the experience. It was the highlight of my year,” said Taylor, a senior majoring in agricultural education at the UA.

Taylor was one of eight students who recently traveled south of border for an international teaching experience as part of their Instructional Materials Development class, taught by Edward Franklin, an associate professor of agricultural education.

The students traveled to Imuris, Mexico, about an hour south of Nogales, where they presented demonstrations to about 160 high school and junior high students at Centro de Bachillerato Technologico on how to create, in a bucket or bottle, a simple hydroponic system for growing plants in water without soil.

Besides being challenged to teach a new concept to a group of teenagers, the UA students had to figure out how to communicate with students who spoke mainly Spanish, which meant using a lot of non-verbal cues and working with translators.

It was an important challenge, the students say.

“Being in a different culture was an amazing experience,” Taylor said. “In general, the hands-on teaching helps us realize the barriers we have to overcome as teachers – language, cultural differences, different types of learning.”

Tricia Schooler, another senior who went on the trip, agreed with her classmate.

“We as teachers need to get to know our students’ backgrounds and cultures,” Schooler said. “It was very rewarding.”

Throughout the semester, Franklin’s students are tasked with “microteaching” short lessons on agriculture in Tucson-area high schools. The activity helps them prepare for the spring semester, when they will become student teachers in agricultural education programs across the state.

This is the first year Franklin has supplemented the microteaching experience with an international teaching opportunity in an effort to expose his students to a different culture. In addition to engaging with Spanish-speaking students, the UA students also got to take in a local dance performance and meet with the Imuris mayor and cultural director during their visit.

Franklin said he hopes to offer the trip again next year.

“This was an opportunity to give the kids a taste of culture,” he said. “It’s an international experience, and we’re hoping to make it a regular part of the program.”

Photo, courtesy of Edward Franklin, shows UA student Elizabeth Skornik in front of her hydroponics display board.