For students in Oregon State University’s Master of Arts in Teaching immersion program, the line between work, school and home can get pretty blurry. The one-year program, offered jointly by OSU’s College of Education and Extended Campus, embeds students in a multiethnic school in Salem or Portland — and many of the student teachers, encouraged by program leaders, choose to live in the communities where they teach. Jean Moule, the program’s coordinator, says she doesn’t know of any other program in the U.S. where you can earn a master’s degree, a teaching license and an ESOL or bilingual endorsement all in one year. And on top of those credentials, the OSU immersion teaching program helps students build up cultural knowledge that makes them uniquely qualified to teach in today’s ethnically and culturally diverse classrooms.
Since its start in 2002, the immersion program has enrolled about 20 students a year. Typically, half of them live in Portland and the other half in Salem. They meet as a class in both cities, usually in a school where some of them teach – although the “cohort” has also been known to meet for class in a coffee shop in Northeast Portland. “The cohort is extremely supportive,” Moule says. “And part of the reason is that, without a physical campus, they have to be. Many of them commute to class together. The group becomes very close-knit.”
The students are able to teach one another through the experiences they bring to class from their host schools. The Salem schools tend to be bilingual, while the Portland ones typically have a prominent African-American population. But Moule says she thinks the skills they develop in their OSU classes and host classrooms are transferable among many different cultures. “Being culturally competent means to me that you get in the learner’s seat and stay there,” she says.
Eric Marsh, a 2006 graduate who did his in-school training at Martin Luther King Jr. school in Northeast Portland, now teaches fourth grade in a Hubbard, Ore., elementary school with a sizable Russian population. At both schools, he says, he has found use for the “cultural lens” he fine-tuned in the immersion program. The children in his class who belong to the Russian Old Believer religious tradition have dietary restrictions on certain days, for example, and Marsh has learned to schedule class parties around those days. This exposure to different ways of experiencing the world is what drew him to the immersion program. “It piqued my interest, teaching in a population I was not part of,” he says. “I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone.”
“It was a wonderful opportunity to stretch my cultural awareness,” Marsh adds, “and it had a lasting effect on me and how I view the world.”