Beverly Feldkamp teaches Social Studies and Latin at Saginaw Valley Lutheran High School. This past March, she had an opportunity to travel to Ghana. The following is an interview with her by Michigan In Touch Editorial Manager Debby Fall.
When you think back to your teaching opportunity in Ghana, what images come to mind?
God is Love Chop Shop, 1,600 girls lined up for morning assembly, fish head soup, Pastor Joseph Bart-Plange of St. John Lutheran Church, the Door of No Return at Cape Coast Castle—these are just a few of the of images that come to mind when asked about my experiences in Ghana. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Ghana, West Africa for two weeks with twelve other teachers as part of an IREX program called Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC).
What is IREX/Teachers for Global Classrooms?
This program for middle and high school teachers is sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is also connected with the Fulbright program. The goal is to help teachers become better global educators and bring the world to their classrooms and their classrooms to the world. This happens through online education, collaboration among teachers, a Washington, D.C. symposium, and international travel.
How did you become part of TGC?
I became part of the program through a Social Studies ListServe to which I subscribe. The program received over 400 applicants and only seventy were chosen to participate in this yearlong program that culminates with an international teaching experience.
How are you planning to implement this teaching experience into your everyday classroom?
I am excited to put into practice many of the elements of this experience. I have learned from other teachers and will “steal” some of their ideas as well as continue to refine the unit I developed on World Hunger. Since I teach Global Issues, a global focus education is already happening. However, I see a great advantage to connecting my students to other students around the world and am working on something with Archbishop Porter School and maybe St. John’s Lutheran school in Takoradi. My biggest goal is to make sure my students understand that people are people all over the world with the same needs and desires, just in very different circumstances.
Were you able to share your faith in word and deed?
One of the most interesting aspects of my work in Ghana was the element of faith. Ghana was a British colony, and the earliest schools were started as “mission” schools more than a century ago. Although the government has taken over these schools as “public” schools, the religious element is still very evident. There are Anglican, Wesleyan, Presbyterian and Catholic schools that are now government schools. The school in which I worked—Archbishop Porter Secondary School for Girls in Takoradi—has deep Catholic roots. Mass is celebrated every day, and on Mondays all 1600 girls meet for assembly, devotions and instruction. An entry from my blog illustrates this point:
“We were on the veranda with the headmistress looking down. The assembly began with prayer and some instructions in English (the use of quite versus quiet) so that they should stand in line quietly and straighten their rows. Then some character development: girls of character walk briskly and with sense of purpose … the assembly continued with 1,600 girls singing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’… same words, slightly different but beautiful melody. Many were amazed I could sing it without a hymnal. How awesome to reiterate through song that the same Jesus is the friend to an about-to- be grandmother from a small Lutheran high school in Saginaw, Mich. and a fifteen year old Ghanaian girl hundreds of miles away from home at a “public” Catholic boarding school in Takoradi, Ghana, West Africa.”
The government-printed textbooks include values with the subject matter. For example, an economic textbook had a lesson in trusting God on a page facing a lesson on inflation. I taught a lesson on world religions and was freely able to talk about my faith. I was asked by my sponsoring teacher to pray before meals and before we began one of our sightseeing journeys. Evidence of the deep faith of many Ghanaians was everywhere, even in the names of stores such as “God is Love Chop Shop” and “In His Time” market.
How were you personally enriched by the trip?
The trip had a great impact on me as I once again realized the privilege and responsibility I have living in America and working at Valley Lutheran. First, I realized that people are people all over the world. Ghana is very different culturally and economically, yet the people are people of deep faith, and the teenagers with whom I worked are the same social beings (without all the social media) who want to learn and do well as do most of my students. I think the travel to a developing country showed me the blessings that God has bestowed upon me and our country, and I need to do more to fulfill some of my responsibility to be a blessing. I have “adopted” a boy from Ghana through Compassion International as I did with a little girl from Haiti on my return from there in 2002. I think I was most enriched by the contact with people. To see teachers who have so little and yet have a passion for teaching and forging relationships with their students and who want to learn how to do what they do better, drives me to continue to seek ways to improve my teaching and daily interactions.
I enjoy the opportunity to become involved in a program such as this because, after 34 years of teaching in the same place, my teaching needs refreshing and renewing. I returned reenergized and excited to begin a new year with my students. I want them to share in this idea of privilege, blessing, and responsibility as well.
Would you recommend this program to other teachers and if so, where would they begin?
I have been blessed to become involved in many professional growth opportunities because of the support of my principal and school. Much of this growth has also involved travel. I found out about this program through other connections I have in the Social Studies field, being a teacher consultant for Michigan Geographic Alliance. The TCG program has a rigorous application process including recommendations, essays, implementation ideas for the classroom, and principal approval since the international teaching experience may involve travel during the school year as mine did. The website for the TGC program http://irex.org/project/teachers-global-classrooms-program-tgc contains more information. There are many similar programs such as that sponsored by the Korea Society and Asia Society that allow for global participation as well. I highly recommend that other teachers seek out and take advantage of these growth opportunities. I look forward to sharing global resources, educational resources, teacher lesson plans and other links as my webpage unfolds.