Overseas teaching enlightens ’11 grad

Overseas teaching enlightens ’11 grad

May MTSU graduate Heather Baker enjoyed an “absolutely amazing and eye-opening” 2½-month teaching experience to finish her undergraduate degree in family and consumer science from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences.

Heather Baker, at center wearing glasses, joins Victoria Girls’ High School students in the African Women Society to visit a museum in Grahamstown, South Africa. Baker graduated in May after her teaching experience. (photo submitted)

As a participant in the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching program, Baker taught consumer studies and life orientation at Victoria Girls’ High School in Grahamstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.

“Professionally, COST schools are different,” Baker said. “They met my values in places where schools here didn’t. I have a new idea of where I want to be. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to go somewhere that different and not be changed.”

Baker sent class “Reflections” to Dr. Sandra Poirier, an associate professor of family and consumer sciences in the Department of Human Sciences at MTSU, during her time in South Africa.

“At the end of my last placement in the U.S., I wondered if I had chosen the wrong profession,” Baker wrote. “Teaching at the school I was at just wasn’t what I thought it would be. It didn’t feel real, tangible, true. I spent the majority of my time under stress, planning and researching and trying to fit the mold that was in place at the school. I just never felt completely at home there. Something was off, and I couldn’t seem to figure out what it was.”

Heather Baker rides in a boat heading for Seal Island near Cape Town, South Africa, during a brief vacation from her duties with the Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching program. Baker taught consumer studies and life orientation at Victoria Girls’ High School in Grahamstown before earning her bachelor’s degree from MTSU in May 2011. (photo submitted)

“After spending 10 weeks at VG (Victoria Girls’), observing and engaging the atmosphere, I am rejuvenated,” she continued. “My passion for teaching is rekindled. Perhaps it is the lack of available resources that unites the students and staff; perhaps it is an overall cultural attitude toward learning new things; perhaps it is the open-mindedness of the teachers; perhaps all three. Whatever the cause, my job here (South Africa) gave me what I had been lacking in the U.S.

“I really connected with the students in my classes, and, as a result, I knew how to go about teaching them what they needed to know, and I could sense when they understood or didn’t understand or were extra-interested or not interested at all. I really connected with the staff as well; on a professional level, I could see eye-to-eye with many of them, and on a personal level, I feel like I will always have a few friends at VG in Grahamstown, South Africa.

“… If the mission of the COST program is to enhance understanding, to build character, to grow as an individual, a human being and a teacher, then, mission accomplished.”

Poirier said she believes the experience has “changed (Baker’s) life forever. She will never see the world again through the same lens. Her perspective of teaching and learning has changed, and she will want to seek other opportunities to help build on this wonderful experience that MTSU provided her this semester.”

The work provided a happy ending for Baker’s final year of college, who is from Chapmansboro, Tenn. Her father, Donald “Donnie” Baker, died in an August 2010 auto accident. The daughter of Angela Baker of Chapmansboro, Heather Baker said she is unsure of her future plans.

— Randy Weiler, randy.weiler@