Like most Oakdale Joint Unified teachers, Magnolia Transitional Kindergarten Teacher Michelle Jones has been enjoying a little respite from her classroom setting and getting recharged for the 2015-2016 school year.
This year’s summer break however, brought the teaching veteran a new opportunity which has brought her an increased pride and appreciation for what she does as a teacher.
In late June, Jones packed her bags, grabbed her passport and headed for Vietnam for 10 days as a guest educator with the Kinderstar, Vietnam program. Kinderstar serves students ages 18 months to five years. It is the third year CKA (California Kindergarten Association) was invited to share their professional expertise.
Jones, a board member for the California Kindergarten Association, was approached earlier this year by fellow board members and asked to attend.
The tenured teacher described it as a tremendous opportunity to network with teachers from all over California and elsewhere.
“It’s a teacher focused training,” Jones said of the Kinderstar, Vietnam opportunity. “Their system is totally different. They (the teachers) get a Bachelor’s Degree in six months. We focused on showing them how we manage Center Time, not placing students in chairs, with hands on desks and lecture.”
Jones traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam with CKA President Dr. Nancy Cappelloni for the professional development seminars. During the course of the training they worked with close to 100 teachers from the school. For this year’s session, Kinderstar requested guidance in the development of mathematics, specifically geometry and numeracy and movement education.
“Nobody gets a free education there,” Jones stated, “Everybody pays. The people who get an education, is very limited.
“We had 45 in attendance the first day,” she said of the peer group she led. “The second day, 70 teachers showed up. There were just two of us. We taught the whole group. We focused on mathematics, that’s what they requested. We also taught the whole group songs and how to read literature to children. They don’t read books to the children, so that we hit really hard.”
Similar to a primary California classroom, Jones and Cappelloni broke the group into Centers, each leading two of the four breakout centers.
Within the whole group and small group centers the instructors highlighted a variety of things including: two and three dimensional shape building, number formation, shape recognition and design, as well as skill though movement: folk dance, drumming, yoga and gross motor control, coordination and rhythm.
“It just gives you shivers,” Jones stated, recalling the personal and professional experience. “You could see it happening and they would just hug you right off the ground. You could see they were getting it.”
One male teacher, who served as interpreter during her stay, had a special impact on Jones.
“You tell just from visiting his classroom that he loved to teach,” she said. “He later said to me, ‘because of you I am convinced that I am in the right field and I will continue to teach these little people.’”
It was also an eye-opening experience for the local teacher.
“We are so well prepared to actually teach children in a classroom,” Jones said of her personal learning experience, “opposed to six months and no experience at all. Most take it for granted, our free education and special services for alternative learning.
“The availability of education here is incredible. I’m really grateful for where I work. We really service our children. We have a good thing going here. We really do.”
As for the cultural experience, when not in the classroom the number of motor bikes, which filled the streets, was what struck Jones the most.
“There could be 2,000 motor bikes and everyone just goes. I only saw one accident,” she said. “There are no traffic laws. For every thousand motor bikes, I bet there’s one car and they fit whole families on them (bikes).”
As for a return visit, Jones stated she would definitely consider it and would encourage any teacher to go to another country to teach.
“I have a new appreciation for what we do and all we have,” she concluded, “because it’s not common in other countries.”