May 7, 2010 — Perhaps second to the commencement ceremony itself, the most exciting moment in transitioning from graduate school into the professional world is the moment one realizes that all of the studying has paid off.
For two University of Virginia roommates, that moment happened at an international job fair in February.
Savanna Kuisle and Diane West, roommates and students in the Curry School of Education's teacher education program, both hoped to teach abroad after completing their master of teaching degrees. They applied and were accepted by Search Associates, an international job placement agency.
The agency held its international job fair in Cambridge, Mass., in February, providing an opportunity for prospective teachers to meet and be interviewed by headmasters from schools worldwide. During their interviews, Kuisle and West were surprised by how easy it was to field questions.
"I was amazed at how prepared I was for my interview and how confident I felt while I was talking with headmasters from all over the world," said Kuisle, whose hometown is Boulder, Colo. "I was able to back up all of my answers with specific strategies taught in Curry classes and with experiences from my various field placements and student teaching."
West, a Newport News resident, reflected on her first interview at the job fair.
"After a few minutes ... I realized that Curry had more than prepared me for what schools are looking for in new classroom teachers," she said. "I was able to discuss methods, best practices, current research and my own personal experiences from student teaching with ease."
Not surprisingly, after such strong interviews, both students were offered multiple placements around the world, including at schools in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Hungary, Jordan and Bangladesh.
It is rare that roommates are offered international placements at the same school. So Kuisle and West jumped at the chance to experience their first year of teaching together. They will both be teaching at the American International School of Dhaka in Bangladesh.
The first-year teaching experience at the school is designed as an internship to aid in the transition from being a student teaching in the United States to a full-time teacher abroad. Both Kuisle and West will receive structured support as they progress through the year.
"I like the idea of working at AISD because it is a highly reputable school among the international community and has a well-developed support system for new teachers," West said. "I am thrilled about the resources this school will offer me, from technology to traveling to gaining insight from experienced teachers who can share their experience."
West's official title will be high school English intern and she will be working with a variety of levels of English classrooms. Her hope is to get to experience the 11th- and 12th-grade International Baccalaureate programs for English.
Kuisel will work in eighth-grade language arts, eighth-grade social studies and seventh-grade humanities classrooms. "At the beginning of the year, I will have just a partial load of classes and work more closely with a mentor teacher. As the year progresses, I will slowly take on more classes and responsibilities," she said.
Both graduates received one-year contracts. However, the school has mentioned the possibility of offering full-time, two-year contracts at the end of the internships if positions are available and the women would like to stay.
"There is also another international teaching fair in Bangkok, Thailand, next February that I may attend in order to see what other opportunities are out there," Kuisle said.
While both Kuisel and West are looking forward to their opportunities to teach in Bangladesh, their first priority is teaching itself.
West brought with her to Curry firsthand experience of the positive impact a teacher can make. "A very special high school English teacher helped me to develop my passion for English literature," West said. "I saw him transform students who hated poetry into poets themselves. When I came to college, I saw that I could take my passion for English literature and use it to help other young people develop theirs, just as my high school teacher had done for me."
Kuisel said she found her niche at Curry. "I love the quirkiness and the unpredictability of middle schoolers," she said. "I love that no two days are ever the same. And I love making meaningful connections with students and perhaps even changing their lives."
Kuisel and West view their roles as teachers as much bigger than simply delivering content to their students.
"My goals in teaching have grown and changed with my experiences in the Curry School," West said. "To be a teacher is to be a role model for young people. Many of my teachers and professors have shown me light and hope in matters that have nothing to do with their subject, and I desire to do the same for my future students."
Kuisel's perspective is similar: "Even though my specialty area is social studies, my goals in teaching really do not revolve around the content; rather my goals are focused on my students. I believe that teachers have a duty to meet the needs of all students, whatever their needs – whether academic, social, or emotional. I want to create a classroom environment where my students feel respected, supported, and that they are a critical component of the community.
"At the end of the day, teaching is about the students themselves and not how many historical facts they memorized."
In a typical year, about 40 percent of Curry's teacher education graduates begin their teaching careers in Virginia with nearly 40 percent teaching out of state. Almost 10 percent teach abroad, with the rest choosing not to teach immediately following graduation.