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Education alumna pursues teaching career abroad

June 28, 2010
Soon after entering Whitworth's education program, Sarah Douglas, '09, began inquiring about student teaching overseas, realizing it would be the ideal gateway to a full-time international teaching position. With help from the School of Education's professors and staff, Douglas has spent the last nine months teaching English at Marianas High School, in Saipan.

During an average day of student-teaching, Douglas observed another teacher's class, had a period to plan curriculum, and taught two 80-minute block classes. After she had concluded her student-teaching last December, the school hired her as a full-time teacher and an occasional substitute teacher.

Douglas, originally from Bozeman, Mont., says she's had many memorable experiences in Saipan, including participating in the school's 30th annual Culture Day, during which the school's population – comprising about 14 ethnicities – and nearly 150 Japanese students from their sister school performed drum and martial arts routines and cultural dances.

During the ceremonies, Douglas also learned how to make large huts made only out of natural materials called utts (pronounced oots).

"Students weave the branches of coconut fronds to make the walls and roofs, and make their own rope from the bark of different trees," she says. "I will never forget watching students carry machetes around campus, scaling coconut trees, and hacking off the fronds in full view of teachers and administration."

Outside of class, Douglas has also had many memorable experiences, including snorkeling, enjoying the authentic cuisine, running on the beach, exploring the island's beaches with friends, and belonging to the island's enormous group of Ultimate Frisbee players.

"I have also found a wonderful church here that has become my family away from home, and last week I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean," she says. "That was a wonderful experience."

Despite such moments, Douglas has also faced many challenges in her teaching. English is the second, third, or fourth language for some of her students. Saipan's culture is very family-oriented, and once school is out for the day, students' top priorities are caring for their siblings or children rather than devoting time to their studies. Allowing for more time to study in the classroom has helped improve her students' once-failing grades, she says.

Douglas says her students are taught to obey and respect authority and elders. However, their culture is generally wary of outsiders, as Saipan has for centuries been governed by other countries – namely Spain, Germany, Japan, and now the U.S. The culture's suspicion of outsiders sometimes makes Douglas wonder whether her students take her seriously. Her hope is that she has inspired at least one student.

While at Whitworth, Douglas served as a small-group leader in Baldwin-Jenkins Hall and was involved in various activities with local schools and her church, Shiloh Hills Fellowship. She made an impression on her professors, as well.

"Sarah has a passion for English, but more important, she has a passion for students to love learning," says Ann Teberg, associate professor of education and director of student-teaching. "While learning about teaching styles, strategies, and assessments, Sarah focused on how students would benefit from her instruction rather than on just the methods for teaching. She keeps the larger goal in mind when crafting her lessons. She knows the progression of skills necessary for students to be successful."

Douglas mentions several Whitworth professors who have positively influenced her life and education.

"English professors Leonard Oakland, Doug Sugano, and Laura Bloxham have given me such a passion for good literature and good writing," she says. "My education professors -- Linda Buff, Randy Michaelis, and Margo Long -- have fueled a passion for education and good practices of teaching. And other professors, such as Mike Ingram, Kathy Storm, and Betty Williams, have pushed me toward a lifelong striving for education and excellence."

This summer, Douglas will leave Saipan to teach at Moscow International School. She has wanted to move to Russia for some time and hopes to live there for at least one year. She also plans to return to Saipan one day, either to live or just to visit.

You can follow Douglas' experiences in Saipan at

Student-Teaching Abroad

Douglas is the third student at Whitworth in recent years to student-teach abroad. In addition, two current elementary education students are considering teaching in Germany, Teberg says.

"Many of our students have traveled internationally on mission trips or with family before they ever came to Whitworth," says Randy Michaelis, professor and chair of undergraduate teacher education. "The idea of spending a part of their adult lives working and serving in another country comes from them, not from us. They are asking us for these opportunities. International placements obviously take more work, but we believe that the payoff for our students and programs is worth the extra effort."

Whitworth has been providing intercultural venues and experiences for its students every Jan Term since 1985. Student-teaching and teaching abroad are both natural extensions of the School of Education's work to prepare culturally competent teachers to work and thrive in a highly diverse world, Michaelis says.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,700 students, offers 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.