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Supporting International Teachers

A lead mentor details the need for cultural literacy not just for students, but for teachers too

Just like their students, teachers come from all walks of life. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the school district of Osceola County in Florida. There, the term “new teacher” can mean anyone ranging from a recent graduate, to someone changing careers, to someone relocating from a different country.

“In our first year, the district hired 40 international teachers, and most of them ended up getting picked up at our high need schools,” said Elizabeth Salvato, lead mentor for Osceola County. Elizabeth’s work with new teachers gives her insight and understanding of the unique challenges they experience in developing their technical skills and craft . But she also came to realize that international teachers need a whole different variety of supports.

“They had experience teaching in another country, but it was their first time teaching in the US,” said Elizabeth. “We wanted to help them feel welcome and supported. And we had to bring them along and help them understand American culture, and most importantly, their students.”

Elizabeth and her team worked to help their cadre of international teachers navigate a new culture, a new language, and new norms. “We were able to say to those teachers, ‘Your job is to get to know your students and where they come from and what makes them excited about learning.’”

But cultural understanding is a two-way street.

The group of mentors supporting international teachers needed coaching to attend to a different set of needs, often amplified by the difficulties of second language learning, cultural norms, and identifying values and mindsets that informed their teaching practices. “We also had to work with our mentors,” said Elizabeth. “Some of them didn’t understand the culture of the people they had on their caseload.”

Patience, communication, and openness were vital to helping the mentors in Osceola form a real connection with their international teachers. “We coached them to ask questions like ‘Tell me a little bit about what life was like teaching in your country.’ Just trying to find ways to honor the teachers and their differences,” said Elizabeth. “It was a constant back and forth trying to provide support.”

Supporting International Teachers
School district of Osceola County images

School district of Osceola County images

But all that hard work paid off.

Elizabeth notes that many mentors went above and beyond — helping newly relocated teachers find places to live and developing strong friendships with them. The impact of these meaningful relationships is still being felt throughout the district. “A lot of those teachers, they’re applying for extensions so they can continue to work here,” said Elizabeth. “It’s nice to see their growth, because once they got involved, they soared.”

Just like with students, professional learning for teachers can’t be approached as one-size-fits-most. Everyone has their own individual learning journey. By embracing that and celebrating the assets that each teacher brings, Elizabeth and the mentors in Osceola have a richer school culture for their teachers and ultimately for their students.

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