The Cultural Exchange Teacher program of the United States State Department has been in existence since 1967, where teachers from diverse countries like the Philippines, Ghana, Mexico, and China have the privilege and opportunities to experience professional and personal growth and development in various areas of teaching specialization – including mathematics, science, English, and special education.
I am a cultural exchange teacher who is experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to teach in the United States under the State Department Cultural Exchange Teacher Program. Currently, I teach in Clark County School District (CCSD) in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I serve in a middle school special education program.
Teaching as a Cultural Exchange Teacher
It has been three years since I first began teaching in the United States. My very first year teaching as part of the cultural teacher exchange program began during the COVID-19 pandemic. I experienced a different type of professional training and development on classroom management and culturally responsive pedagogy than my cultural exchange teaching colleagues before me. The training was exclusively online because of the pandemic. After the initial training, I still felt inadequate – not yet confident in handling the various issues and challenges that teachers face daily inside the classroom. With the training and classroom experiences I had in my first year of teaching, I felt the need to improve professionally and personally to support not only my students in my classroom but the students in my school community in general.
During my first year of teaching, I was immersed in different professional training and seminars. From classroom management culturally responsive teaching and to Individual Education Program writing. These professional developments were routinely given to a new teachers. It helps me to understand the school policies and procedures and be ready for the day-to-day demands and requirements of teaching as a cultural exchange teacher.
During my second year of teaching, I signed up for nearly every training and learning seminar could find. I was eager to learn more ways to improve my teaching. I was desperately looking for a mentor that would be willing to support me in my capacity and growth as a teacher.
Now that I am in my third year of teaching in Nevada, the yearning for career growth and development as a teacher remains as I continuously seek to improve my personal and professional life as an educator
Being a cultural exchange teacher in the United States is both a privilege and a challenge. It is a privilege to develop and advance in the profession. It is also a challenge to navigate the responsibilities and expectations of teaching without the guidance and support of a mentor. In this regard, I offer the following recommendations about the kind of mentoring support system that cultural exchange teachers need.
Provide Annual Investment and Funding at the State and District Levels
Annual investment and funding at the state and district level specifically for the support of cultural exchange teachers is needed to address the unique cultural and professional needs of cultural exchange teachers. States must design and implement a mentoring program specifically targeting the needs of their cultural exchange teachers both culturally and pedagogically. Districts could collaborate with one another to identify the unique needs of cultural exchange teachers and how best to address these needs in specific teaching specialization areas.
Intentionally Design and Implement Mentoring Programs, Specifically for Cultural Exchange Teachers
Districts should design and implement a mentor support system specifically for cultural exchange teachers. This mentorship system needs to be reviewed periodically to identify areas of success and opportunities for improvement. Ongoing assessment and feedback are needed to identify the effectiveness and sustainability of mentorship support system programs in districts and schools where cultural exchange teachers are employed. Active collaboration and mentorship between cultural exchange teachers and administrators must be planned, reviewed, and evaluated so that new cultural exchange teachers are effectively supported within the ongoing systems of support.
Clearly Define Teachers’ Professional Duties and Responsibilities
Cultural exchange teachers need to clearly understand the professional responsibilities and duties that they are expected to fulfill. Often, exchange teachers are learning the cultures of the schools to which they have been assigned and do not fully comprehend the expectations of their assignments. Mentoring programs could help identify and address the issues and challenges that they face professionally.
Mentoring programs are needed to address the needs of cultural exchange teachers in the United States. Teaching learners from diverse cultural backgrounds requires preparation, readiness, and confidence to face the myriad of issues and challenges that present themselves. From language barriers, community involvement, and family engagement to diverse cultural norms and expectations, cultural exchange teachers must adapt, grow, and evolve to be effective in the American classroom – and we need mentors to support us to do so.
Developing and implementing a statewide policy on mentoring programs for cultural exchange teachers is needed. These mentoring policies and programs for cultural exchange teachers will serve as a road map for them to continually receive ongoing mentoring programs from the state level to the district level and up to the school building. Being a new cultural exchange teacher in the United States needs preparation and readiness before school and classroom immersion will take place. Such concrete and sustainable preparation will happen when a state or a school district has sound policies to guide and mentor cultural exchange teachers.
Lauro C. Esquilona III, Ph.D.,BCSE, is a Special Education Teacher and a Student Council Co-adviser in Clark County School District, and a cultural exchange teacher from the Philippines. He is a Teach Plus Nevada Teaching Policy Fellow Alumnus and a Teach Plus Senior Research Fellow.