By Steven Krolak, special to IU Southeast
In an ideal world, K-12 teachers would be trained in predictable, structured situations, like classrooms with state-of-the-art computers and student-teaching placements in local schools, supplemented by professional development opportunities like conferences, seminars, and workshops that keep them at the leading edge of their profession.
But in the real world, teaching happens where it can, when it can, and how it can. In areas of conflict and disruption, classrooms are haphazard, and professional development for teachers is nearly nonexistent.
In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, the 2019 coronavirus pandemic and a military coup in 2021 hit classrooms hard. Instruction hangs by a thread.
Determined to assist their struggling colleagues, 17 Burmese teacher trainers gathered in neighboring Thailand this past summer for a unique two-week intensive professional development program developed by the IU Bloomington School of Education’s Office of Global & International Engagement (GIE), which had acquired funding for the effort. The GIE collaborated with the National Institute for Development Administration (NIDA), the country’s premier leadership training center.
Dr. Donna Albrecht, IU Southeast’s director of graduate studies in education, was one of four IU faculty members invited to teach, alongside four NIDA faculty colleagues.
Courses focused on areas of acute need, as identified in teacher surveys, including technology integration in instruction, online pedagogy, STEM instruction and assessment, and teaching English through content, or content-based instruction (CBI).
Albrecht shared her CBI expertise. In this method, a topic of interest is chosen—Albrecht selected American history—and participants engage in related readings, discussions, and exercises, all in English.
Accepted as a powerful tool for learning language, content-based instruction is a staple of Albrecht’s work as director of IU Southeast’s New Neighbors Education Center, where she provides professional development for educators working with culturally and linguistically diverse students and families.
Participants were also exposed to a range of discourse and identity development strategies in teaching multilingual individuals, learned about inquiry-based teaching, and explored lesson planning strategies like backward design.
Other exercises afforded practice in teaching language collaboratively using listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Participants were also introduced to online tools for asynchronous and synchronous instruction.
A storytelling exercise gave participants a chance to share their own experiences, which painted a vivid picture of sacrifice and dedication.
“The teaching situation in Burma is challenging due to access to the students and infrastructure, such as steady internet connectivity,” Albrecht said. “The teachers and teacher trainers are often not able to meet with their students and must use devices such as laptops and phones to conduct synchronous and asynchronous lessons. Teachers and students sometimes must seek higher ground in the hills of the jungle to reach connectivity.”
At the end of the workshop, the participants received NIDA graduate credits and a certificate that validates their expertise and will help them transfer to degree programs.
But the program’s impact is sure to be larger. Program leaders estimate that the participants will train up to 100 additional teachers, who will in turn provide education to more than a thousand Burmese youth.
“The 2021 military coup in Burma has created an urgent need for educators to support their teachers,” said program organizer and group leader Faridah Pawan, who developed and sought funding the for program. Pawan is also a professor in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology, director of GIE, and academic director of the IU ASEAN Gateway.
“Technology and e-learning are critical lifelines for the educators, as well as knowledge of the English language, to help them gain access to and distribute information,” Pawan said in an article for IU Bloomington’s website.
For Albrecht, who previously spent 20 years teaching in the Middle East, mostly in international schools, the experience affirmed her lifelong dedication to education as a tool of international development.
“This experience made me realize again how much the field of education is a mission and a calling,” Albrecht said. “These teachers sacrifice for their students and persevere through hardships to work for a better tomorrow.”
Albrecht’s broader understanding of education and its role in transforming lives and empowering students ultimately benefits her students at IU Southeast. The world of Burmese teacher trainers, with its many uncertainties, may seem far and foreign. But the task is the same. So are the dedication and resilience required. And in this sense, all teachers are one.
It’s a point that Albrecht hopes to bring home.
“I will use my experiences in Thailand with the Burmese teachers to influence my students on the importance of perseverance, standing strong for our beliefs in the education system, and working for a stronger future for society and our country,” Albrecht said.
This article incorporates material from the article, “Program helps expand teacher resources, reach in Myanmar and Thailand,” by Catherine Winkler. The Teacher Professional Development Program for Burmese Teacher Trainers in Non-State Education Programs was made possible by grants from the Maris M. Proffitt and Mary Higgins Proffitt Endowment, the Martha and H.A.R. Tilaar Faculty Support Fund for the Study of Global Issues of Women’s Empowerment and Education in the Asia-Pacific Region, and the IU Office of the Vice President for International Affairs.