Eighty-nine instructors from 25 different countries came to America as part of a teacher exchange program in 2010. Filipina Asther Reyes was one of them. She came to the States to share her Filipino culture and tradition by teaching science in the classroom.
After living and working in North Carolina for five years, Reyes is now an eighth grade science instructor at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Arthur, Texas, where her mission is to improve how the subject is taught. She admits it's sometimes a challenge.
"Coming to the United States as an exchange program teacher, I have seen how science is changing globally," she said. "We want to be able to achieve that here, but it's a struggle for my students."
The University of Texas at Arlington's Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Science Education online program has proved a perfect fit for Reyes as she works toward her career objectives.
"It took me a year, and it wasn't easy — I almost wanted to give up," she said of her search for the right M.Ed. program. "Even with the convenience of the time and affordability UTA has given me, the program has never sacrificed any of the quality that I was always wanting to pursue.
While some K-12 teachers pursue a graduate degree in hopes of stepping into an administrative position, Reyes has different ambitions. She chose UTA's Curriculum & Instruction program because she never intends to leave the classroom.
"I don't want to be in leadership," she said. "I want to focus more on science content, its development and ways to help learners. When I read through UTA's courses, I saw how they were going to help me develop my curriculum."
Reyes has been completely satisfied with UTA's coursework and its easy transferability from the digital sphere into a real live classroom.
Building on a World of Experience
Reyes first began teaching in the summer of 2000, after receiving her diploma at the end of 1999. She worked in Asia and the Middle East before coming to the United States.
Though she had experience teaching in different cultures, she knew that she needed to take time to acculturate to the American way of instruction and the attitudes her students had toward learning.
"I struggled my first year as a teacher trying to understand testing and the culture," she said. "Science in Asia is something that we love to do, but we lack the resources that you have here in United States. It's amazing what kids can do if somebody inspires their interest and creates a passion in them to do it."
The biggest culture shock Reyes experienced during her first years teaching in America was the mindset students had toward science, given the tremendous potential at their fingertips.
"Some students would take for granted the basic opportunity that they had right in front of them because they didn't see it," she said.
"Kids think science is something for nerdy students, but it's not. They need someone to see their potential and show them the amazing things they can accomplish
Once Reyes gained a better understanding of where her students were coming from, she received many accolades for her ability to open up their minds and establish a real desire to learn. Hers was a model classroom in North Carolina in her first year of teaching there, because of her leadership in improving instructional strategies and efforts to raise student achievement.
"I received an award as part of grant-funded initiative from the Teacher Incentive Fund of the Department of Education, which is designed to improve student performance," she said.
Reyes knew she was capable of doing a good job of teaching in the science classroom when she came to Texas, but she was driven to learn how she could do even better for her students and for the community of science educators around the world.
Starting Local, Thinking Global
Although Reyes is only three classes into her online M.Ed. program at UTA, she has already found ways to use the new strategies she has learned, and promote science education.
"In the first class that I had [EDUC 5309: Advanced Teaching Models for Diverse Learners], I saw how scientific inquiry was being pursued as an endeavor across all educational levels from elementary to high school, and that is very, very important," she said. "We are lagging behind in scientific research simply because there's not much interest from the lower level going into high school. Students do not pursue STEM courses at the university because of that issue."
Reyes came to understand the importance of implementing research-based studies in the classroom setting during her second class, EDUC 5394: Understanding and Designing Classroom Research.
"As teachers in the 21st century, it's important that we are all aware of how research could be used in the entire field of scientific education," she said. "When you know that what you're teaching is research-based and research-supported, you are not only meeting your own personal expectations, you are also able to see how it impacts the development of your students."
Reyes has already adapted research projects from her online UTA courses for use in her own classroom, because she believes this type of learning experience is key for students in the critical age group she teaches. She also recognizes the global impact of scientific inquiry. New breakthroughs in science may come from the current generation of science students, and from nurturing their interest in the subject.
The gravity of this responsibility is not lost on Reyes:
"I'm not only delivering the science lesson, but I am also seeing how it will help my students grow as both science students and as future leaders of this society and the global community."Learn more about UTA's Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Science Education online program.
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