Rachel Gunderson '12 with her second graders
Carrie Roberts '12, left,
and Gunderson with their
host mom, Agnes
Student teachers get an education in Ghana
Carrie Roberts ’12 and Rachel Gunderson ’12 knew they were in for an adventure when they signed up to complete a portion of their student teaching requirement abroad. What they didn’t expect was the evolving combination of rustic and modern lifestyles they encountered in the West African nation of Ghana.
“We kept thinking, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ It was a big adjustment for us,” says Roberts, who is from Manitowoc, Wis. “About the seventh week of our nine-week visit, I finally felt like I was getting it, and then I didn’t want to go home.”
The pair lived together in a multi-unit home. A reserve water tank situated above their room made their bathroom unique within the building, as it always had running water. Electrical power was inconsistent, despite the fact that they lived in a suburb of the capital city of Accra, with a metropolitan population of roughly 4 million.
“I knew since my freshman year that I wanted to go abroad,” Roberts says, “but with all the education classes I had to take for my major, I didn’t have time to go. So when I found out we could student-teach abroad, I was all over that.”
The living conditions were only the beginning of the revelations the women encountered. Some aspects of Ghanaian education differed from their expectations. For example, rather than having badly behaved students stay in from recess or serve a detention, corporal punishment is the accepted form of discipline in Ghana’s schools.
“You can never prepare yourself for that, especially in that type of setting,” says Gunderson, who is from Chippewa Falls, Wis. She adds that a dried-out stick was the preferred implement. “We had a lot of conversations about it with the teachers, and they were as puzzled by why we wouldn’t do that as we were puzzled by why they do.”
Roberts left for Africa thinking she eventually would like to teach at the middle-school level but changed her mind after the joy she experienced with 40 kindergarteners in Ghana.
“The kids were a little nervous when I first came into the classroom because I was someone very different. [My] being white was very exciting to them,” she says. “But soon, they were all over me. We taught them the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance, and they wanted to do it every recess.”
Gunderson was surprised by how inexperienced her students were with rural settings. “Our students came from the villages, but they were very much city kids,” she says. “We went to a farm for a field trip, and they were terrified by the animals. Growing up in Wisconsin, I would say: ‘It’s just a pig. What are you freaking out about?’ ”
Gunderson taught a class of 25 second graders and relished pushing them beyond their comfort zone. She found a surprising lack of the collaborative work common in the U.S., and used group work as a reward for her class.
Coincidentally, both women completed the remainder of their student-teaching requirement at Aldo Leopold Community School in Green Bay upon returning home.
“I knew that if I chose to study abroad, it would be a long semester,” Gunderson says. “So when I heard about the option of student-teaching half a semester [at Aldo Leopold], I thought, ‘I can do that.’ It was a great experience.”