Teacher Training in the Dominican Republic
In 2007 Dr. Meg Petersen, professor of English and director of the Plymouth Writing Project, took a group of Plymouth State graduate students to Santo Domingo for an experiential course in Writing for Cross Cultural Understanding. While there, she saw the potential for cross-cultural exchanges for both Dominican and New Hampshire teachers and decided to start planning for a sabbatical to continue her work.
After applying for and receiving a Fulbright Scholarship in 2008, Meg returned to the Dominican Republic for a year to delve deeper into the possibility of pairing international outreach with the teaching of writing.
Meg, could you talk about your sabbatical experience and explain the focus of your Fulbright Scholarship?
My original goals for my Fulbright involved working with Dominican teachers on the teaching of writing. My eventual aim is to set up institutes that are run by Dominican educators to prepare writing teachers, and to connect that work to my work at Plymouth State, using it to enrich the cultural understanding of New Hampshire teachers through various exchange programs. My goal was to cultivate a group of teacher leaders capable of continuing this work after my return to the United States.
What type of structures have you created to reach these goals?
I have made strong progress toward my goals, but there is much more to be done. Teachers are carrying on some of the work in their classrooms and are planning in-service work with other teachers, but I will be returning to work with them on the founding of a writing project site in Santo Domingo. Right now I am working on establishing the writing programs and preparing the staff to run them. This is difficult because there is really no one down there with the kind of training I have. Everything I am doing with them—the idea of writing as a process—is all new to them.
I also worked to create opportunities for exchange between the two cultures to enable New Hampshire teachers to gain a better understanding of students from this region, and by extension, all students from other cultures.
In the course of my time in the Dominican Republic, I taught two sections of a course for English teachers at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo on the teaching of writing, and a course on writing pedagogy for pre-service teachers at the branch of the university in Hato Mayor. I also worked with a group of teachers at a school in Villa Mella (in the northern part of Santo Domingo) and taught a course in creative writing for Dominican writers and teachers, and a course for teacher leaders in the area of writing.
In addition I did extensive work with the head of the writing program at a local English speaking school completing projects with eighth and eleventh graders.
Could you describe your experience with Dominican educators?
Dominican teacher leaders are very concerned about the state of the educational system in their country and they recognize that writing is key to educational reform. They are aware of the multiple challenges they face. They have learned some strategies for generating writing, using writing in content classes and helping students to navigate a writing process. They are very excited about implementing these techniques in their classrooms, but they still need more work to develop confidence using them.
The Dominican teachers work under much more difficult conditions than American teachers and are much more interested in professional development. They are eager to learn whatever they can. People are very warm and supportive and forgiving of my less than perfect Spanish.
What impact will your sabbatical experience have on the Plymouth State community?
My work with teachers and writers in the Dominican Republic enriches my work with teachers and writers in New Hampshire. Teachers from the Dominican Republic will attend our Plymouth Writing Project summer institutes, and teachers here will maintain contact through technology. I am hoping to arrange internships for our students at an English speaking school in Santo Domingo where they can experience living in another culture and working with English language learners on academic skills.
In addition, I hope to work with the Bagley Center and consult with faculty in related academic departments to create a semester long service and study program for undergraduate PSU students in collaboration with the Community Service Alliance in Santo Domingo.
How has this experience effected you personally, and your teaching practice?
In many ways it feels like a renaissance. Being in unfamiliar surroundings was nourishing for me as a writer. I appreciated the chance to have my children experience living in the Dominican culture and speaking Spanish. It has enriched my life in more ways than I can easily express.
Teaching in another language has made me more sensitive to students who have difficulties with language and has given me insights into how they look at writing. It’s a different kind of position towards text to be worrying about whether you can get it right. Growing out of and beyond that helped me to devise strategies I could use with them. Of course the experience affected me in other ways as well, helping me to think more broadly about every aspect of my work.
How are you planning to continue your work?
Fulbright has funded an additional two months of work. I will have completed one of these before September and hope to return again in January to work on developing the programs I have started. As we are able to set up more exchange programs, I hope to continue my association with the teachers I have worked with there.