Community awareness is an essential component of teaching.
“Teachers are community workers. Effective teaching requires ethical leadership and cultural literacies,” Dr. Jennice McCafferty-Wright said.
“This is especially true when we engage with the newest members of our community and those who have fled exploited and war-torn homelands.”
Wright is an assistant professor in the department of childhood education and family studies at Missouri State University. She teaches courses that help students become educators.
To help her students develop teaching skills and community awareness, Wright incorporated a service-learning practicum into her course, Methods of Teaching Social Studies in Elementary Schools.
Making a lifelong difference
The English Language Institute at Missouri State provides free English classes for adult refugees from Afghanistan. While the parents are in class, Wright’s students engage with the parents’ children.
A few evenings a week, the students provide a safe learning environment for the children to learn through play.
The students follow the children’s lead. They engage with the children in English to help them learn the language, and express interest in the children’s cultures and home languages, Dari or Pashto.
The students’ efforts have a profound impact on the children and their families.
“Some of the mothers of these young children are preliterate. The Taliban did not permit them to learn to read or write in their home languages when they were younger,” Wright said.
“Now, they live in a country where literacy is an essential requirement for providing for their families. The skills learned in their English classes are essential to their families’ survival in the United States.”
Molding to the community’s needs
Through service-learning, the students develop a deeper understanding of their course material.
Students can connect course topics, such as teaching for global understanding and civic engagement, to their practicum experience.
By working with children who are refugees, the students learn valuable skills that will help them teach students from all backgrounds.
“The students practice strategies for working with children who are English Language Learners,” Wright said.
“They also support the development of vocabulary that will help the children engage with social studies and other school subjects.”
It is crucial that teacher candidates learn how to adapt their teaching approach to meet their students’ needs, especially those from vulnerable communities.
“In a perfect world, there would be no need for teachers to know how to support victims of manmade crises,” Wright said.
“But we must teach both for the world in which we live and the more perfect world our students have the potential to create.”
Wright plans to incorporate the practicum in future courses to continue serving the community and helping her students become well-rounded educators.