The world at home: Michigan teachers ’journey’ to Middle East, Southeast Asia

Andrew Shyrock at the MENA-SEA Teacher Program on March 28th, 2020. Image credit

Andrew Shyrock at the MENA-SEA Teacher Program on March 28th, 2020. Image credit: MENA-SEA Program

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A group of Michigan high school and middle school teachers will meet online this weekend to discuss graphic literature in the Middle East and North Africa and in Southeast Asia.

The select group is part of a teachers fellowship program offered by U-M’s Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies and Center for Southeast Asian Studies. The new 10-month program aims to provide expertise and innovative ways to teach about world cultures and global issues and deepen teachers’ understanding and appreciation of religious and cultural diversity in the Middle East and North Africa and Southeast Asia.

Convening primarily on the Ann Arbor campus since last September and online during the coro rus pandemic, the teachers participate in expert-led workshops, read and discuss assigned literature, attend world-class performances and cultural events by artists, visit houses of worship and museums, and meet with religious leaders and community representatives.

This year’s group of six secondary teachers-who work with students from grades 6 to 12-will meet online this weekend with Palestinian author Leila Abdelrazaq, an artist currently living in Detroit. They will discuss her debut graphic novel "Baddawi,” about a boy raised in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Like thousands of others, his Palestinian family fled their homeland in 1948 after the war, which resulted in the establishment of the state of Israel.

Maya Barzilai, associate professor in U-M’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies, will also discuss how she teaches "Baddawi” and graphic literacy. Her research focuses on 20th-century postwar Hebrew and Yiddish literature, German Jewish thought, translation theory and visual culture.

"This program has given me the opportunity as a teacher to step back into the role of learner, reflect upon my teaching practice, and incorporate the experiences and perspectives of my fellow educators as I think of ways to bring this new knowledge back to my classroom,” said Colleen Kalisieski, an English teacher from All Saints Catholic School in Canton.

In its inaugural year, the fellowship program hopes to build a community of educators who are enriching and revitalizing their teaching together. Each of the nine monthly sessions has a different focus or theme, including genocide, art as protest and religious minorities under colonial rule.

Since March, COVID-19 has disrupted the full range of the program, including in-person, cultural and artistic activities. Nevertheless, academic presentations have continued online.

By the end of the program in late June, the cohort will have had 25 training sessions by scholars, artists and community leaders, and have qualified for 22 State Continuing Education Clock Hours from the Michigan Department of Education.

"All the sessions have been dynamic, thought-provoking and exceptional,” said Amy Perkins, a teacher from Lakeshore High School in Stevensville. "Honestly, I can’t tell you the number of times our Saturday sessions and assigned reading have directly impacted my weekly instruction. It’s also worth noting that the entire experience has energized me intellectually in a way that seems to have affected and inspired my students as well.”

The last session, in April, was dedicated to gender norms. U-M history professor Deirdre de la Cruz addressed gender and power before and since Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

"While listening to [her] fascinating presentation, I had several ’a-ha’ moments that I could apply to my lessons,” said Kiersten Gawronski, an English teacher at Saline High School. "Her presentation on the icons and practices in the Filipino veneration of Mary [mother of Jesus] had direct connections to concepts I address in my World Mythology class.”

By this summer, each member will have created educational resources about both geographic regions based on their year-long experiences. The resources will be d publicly with teachers across the nation via the U.S. Department of Education’s National Resource Centers website.

Each participant will also receive a $1,000 honorarium. The program would have culminated in GEEO (Global Exploration for Educators) trips to Morocco and Bangkok-Hanoi, but due to COVID-19 they have been postponed until July 2021.

"I am the only teacher who teaches my topics at a very small school,” said Kymberli Wregglesworth of Onaway Secondary School. "I am very excited to network and learn with like-minded, dedicated educators and experts in two fast-growing and very important regions of the world.”

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