Instructor Marlowe Irvine, left, with students in B.C.’s only teacher-upgrading program for immigrant teachers.

Teaching immigrant teachers

March 6, 2008

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By Terry Lavender

When Yamei Wang came to British Columbia six years ago, she wanted to do what she had done in China — teach.                  

But not only did she have to learn how to survive in a foreign culture, she found teaching in China very different from teaching in Canada. “As a newcomer, I thought I could never start my teaching career here in Canada. There were too many problems, such language issues, different curriculums, different schooling systems. I had eight years of teaching experience in Tianjin, but I still needed the confidence to launch my career in British Columbia.”

Wang found that confidence through SFU’s 10-month Professional Qualification Program and is now a full-time math and physics teacher in Richmond.

The program began in 2001 and enrols 24 students a year, with prospective teachers coming from Africa, Eastern Europe, South and East Asia and Latin America. It’s the only teacher-upgrading program catering to immigrant teachers in B.C. They get practical B.C. classroom experience — a prerequisite for the B.C. College of Teachers’ approval to teach in the province’s public school system. But more than that, they get an introduction to cultural differences and even accent-reduction training.

“It’s not just learning to teach,” says instructor Marlowe Irvine, “it’s learning to teach in a different style, particularly a more student-centred style than they were used to.” Many of the countries from which the prospective teachers come, he says, have a more rigid curriculum “where if it’s April 4 you’re doing this lesson, as opposed to B.C.’s method: ‘Here are 96 learning outcomes, make sure you cover some of them at some point in the year.’ They have a lot of trouble with that flexibility.”

Irvine says there’s stiff competition to get into the program. Eighty potential applicants turned up at a recent information session at the Surrey campus. Those who do enter the program, he says, tend to get teaching jobs. Of last year’s class, 18 finished the program and 17 are working as teachers.

Wang believes the program’s success is because of instructors like Irvine, Ada Glustein and Doreen Kennedy. “They were willing to help all the time, they had great patience, they did care about every student, they shared their teaching experience with us and they gave us suggestions for dealing with problems. It is those amazing people who made this course easier.”
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