Oklahoma State Department of Education program brings different kind of foreign investment to state

Desa Dawson.

Kicking off the 2014 school year, public schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa boasted a few new faces amongst its staff. Several certified teachers from Spain began their American-based teaching careers thanks to a three year visa program that aims to bring more bilingual teachers, specifically Spanish speakers, to serve the districts’ students. In Oklahoma City, 31 percent of the student population is English language learners, while in Tulsa the figure is near 20 percent.

Assistance in connecting those teachers in Spain with districts in Oklahoma came through a partnership between the Oklahoma State Department of Education and foreign embassies and academies. Overseeing much of this cooperation is the OSDE’s Desa Dawson, director of the world language education program. Dawson elaborated on her office’s efforts at promoting a different kind of foreign investment in Oklahoma.

What is the exchange program between Oklahoma and schools in Spain and France?

“The students who come to Oklahoma from Spain and France are involved in school partnership exchanges where the students can experience our educational programs while visiting our state. In return our students do the same with their partner schools in France and Spain.

“Some students from the schools in France choose to study specific aspects of our culture, history and education such as fashion, Native American tribes, race relations, math instruction. Others simply come to experience our way of life, and our students do the same in France.

“Our school partnerships with Spain are just beginning. The two Tulsa immersion schools’ students even attend classes in France and Spain along with the students there, and their counterparts travel to Oklahoma to attend school here for weeks at a time.”

Why is it necessary to bring teachers from Spain, with the memoranda of understanding with the embassy and Académie d’Amiens, to Oklahoma?

“Due to a critical shortage of teachers here in Oklahoma, we have been fortunate to utilize teachers from France and Spain to accomplish our desire to give Oklahoma students a beneficial international experience in culture and language.

“Our nation has promoted visiting guest teacher programs for a number of years to take advantage of transnational educational offerings for students and support global competency.

“These programs take place more often at the university level, but are now being seen in PK-12 schools too.”

How does one go about searching out teachers who are fluent in Spanish and English?

“The visiting guest teacher program has been offered by the Embassy of Spain in recent years and now is well established with an interview system to select teachers to meet the needs of school districts in the U.S.

“Representatives from both Tulsa and Oklahoma City public school districts went to Madrid, Spain to interview prospective applicants to the program after candidates were pre-selected by officials there for the specific positions that were needed. We have an education advisor from Spain assigned to Oklahoma and Texas who visited with the two districts prior to last year’s selection process. That same person then oversees the teacher orientation process in Spain prior to the departure and visits with the teachers in the school setting when they are assigned to positions in Oklahoma.”

Why is having these teachers, and MOU like the one that brought them here, important to Oklahoma in economic terms? What practical impact does it have on the state?

“Oklahoma is utilizing these teachers in two different ways at present. The first is to internationalize our curriculum to some extent by learning about other counties and sharing educational methods and expertise. Preparing students to enter into an international workforce is of utmost importance.

“The second benefit is to utilize the language skills of these educators to serve our English language learners as well as to bolster our language immersion programs. The only additional cost is for the J-1 Visa expense for each candidate. The visiting guest teachers are paid the same as Oklahoma teachers with similar education and experience.”

Why is the teaching and learning of languages other than English important to a landlocked state like Oklahoma?

“With the technological advances of today, no state is landlocked anymore! We cannot afford to be left behind in a world that is evolving ever more rapidly. The changes that have been made in language instruction reflect how we interact in the world today. Ultimately, it’s a long term investment in Oklahoma.

“We used to teach students to read and interpret the literature of other cultures in order to understand them. We now must teach students to communicate with the people face-to-face and concentrate on the listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in a culturally authentic perspective. This is vital in order to conduct business, settle diplomatic issues, solve problems and advance civilization for peace and prosperity while carefully avoiding misinterpretation. This requires much more time and expertise as well as finding opportunities to interact.

“We welcome these teachers and the unique experience they bring to our students with open arms.”