Student teaching abroad in Switzerland expands perspectives of Aggie preservice teachers

Anna Sauvageau '08, now a teacher in Spring ISD, teaches a lesson to students at the International School of Lucerne in Switzerland. Credit: Anna Sauvageau '08
Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: March 15, 2009

Last spring, Anna Sauvageau '08, an early childhood education major, stepped out of the box—or country —to student teach in Switzerland.

Anna was one of four education students to make the overseas trip. She and three middle school education majors, Ashley Broll, Megan Malnar and Andrea Smith, were the first Aggies to student teach at the International School of Lucerne in Switzerland, says Dennie Smith, head of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture.

“I wanted to know the different kinds of teaching methods out in the world,” Anna says. “I served as an ambassador in everything I did, so I kept in mind how my actions would be reflected back on the college. My school and community knew we were Aggies and expected great things from us, and I think we succeeded!”

Anna taught early childhood classes and rotated through the pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade classes at the international school, which was structured similar to American classrooms. Class began at 9 a.m., ended at 3:30 p.m. and was sectioned in 40-minute periods. Her students stayed in one class for most of the day, leaving only to go to German, music, swimming, P.E., lunch or recess.

The four girls taught all subjects, from math and science to units of inquiry and reading. With limited resources to teach her lessons, Anna had to be innovative.

“My students were inquirers,” she says. “They loved to ask questions about things they didn’t understand.”

Ashley, who had visited Switzerland the year before on a study abroad trip, had similar experiences in
her classroom.

“The small sense of community allowed us to know these wonderful people on a deeper level,” she says.  “Switzerland was a place to be inspired, not just by the landscape but by the outstanding people we discovered along the way.”

Ashley, who rotated teaching second- and third-graders and fourth- and fifth-graders with fellow Aggie middle school education majors Megan and Andrea, wouldn’t change anything about her experiences abroad.

“This experience was a rejuvenation of our passion for teaching,” Ashley says. “We went to school every day and did our best to educate the students in our classroom, which is no different than all the other student teachers scattered across Texas. I can only hope that this program continues to grow and more students have the opportunity to develop their skills in an international atmosphere.”

The girls did admit that although there were many similarities between Swiss and American classrooms, the Swiss approach to teaching was different. The Swiss implement an inquiry method, eliminate grades and do not adhere to a list of objectives such as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Instead, teachers mold their curriculum around a list of essential characteristics that builds a lifelong love of learning, Andrea says.

Megan says she enjoyed how her students felt the classroom was their classroom rather than the teacher’s classroom.

“I developed a love for the school and the students and saw an incredible new way of teaching children,” she adds. “I saw that seeking out and teaching each child individually makes a phenomenal difference.”

The girls, who have since graduated, began their new teaching jobs in fall 2008.

“Studying and living abroad changed my life for the better,” Andrea says. “The best way that we served was by example. All of our ideas, strategies and comments further reflected our education and capabilities. By doing our best, we were able to repay all of those that helped us get to where we were.”

And, if given the opportunity, each of them would gladly step out of the country for another chance to teach abroad.