International teaching provides life lessons

Recently married, Michelle and Andrew Norby traveled to Senegal to practice the teaching skills they learned at GCU.

Michelle Norby had never traveled overseas, but after she spotted a meeting flyer on campus for international student teaching, she was interested.

She always had wanted to do mission work, and this would be a good start for a math for secondary education major at Grand Canyon University. She asked College of Education Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield for a recommendation.

Critchfield is enthusiastic about GCU students teaching internationally – and GCU’s Global Canyon Educators, which works with international partnerships to place student teachers in English-speaking, Christian schools.

Dr. Meredith Critchfield

“I taught abroad in Kenya, and it changed the course of my life,” Critchfield said. “When you teach in another country, you strip away the fancy teaching strategies you learn in your program of study and just focus on building relationships with children.”

Norby got the job and found herself on the way to Senegal in West Africa.

“I didn’t know Senegal was even a country,” she said. “It was scary.”

But the fear faded soon after landing in Dakar.

“It wasn’t the culture shock I was expecting,” she said. “It is very community driven, and random people are always helping you out. There, you can count on people helping you fix a flat tire. In America, we can be very individualistic.”

She also grew in her faith, relying on the Lord for strength, she said, while navigating the capital city and making new friends in a new place while starting to student teach at Dakar Academy.

The experience was so meaningful to her that the May 2021 GCU graduate is going back. She was scheduled to begin on Aug. 17 as a fulltime math teacher at Dakar Academy. And she brought along her new husband, GCU student Andrew Norby, who will teach physical education at the school while he studies online.

She really wanted to go back to Africa after she finished student teaching, returned to the U.S. and took a job in public schools in Texas. After one semester, she concluded that students valued education more in Senegal, striving to do their best to be able to attend college.

“In America, college is handed to a lot of kids. It was hard to teach in America where kids don’t want to be there,” she said.  “I always knew I wanted to go back. I love everything about it. I love the mission aspect. I love teaching at a Christian school.”

Canyon Global Educators is a growing area at GCU. New faculty leads Dr. Shawna Martino and Amy Schwartz work with partner organizations, such as the Network of International Christian Schools (NICS), to help place students in schools in Senegal, Peru, Bolivia, Germany, Kosovo and Thailand, among others.

“Several students have had the opportunity to go abroad each semester, and every student has come back inspired and forever changed by their experience,” Schwartz said. “Many of these students have received job offers to teach fulltime at their international school placements, and all of them have felt blessed by the opportunity.”

What's so special about teaching abroad is that it requires the teacher to peel back the layers and get to the essence of why we teach -- and that's to make a difference in the life of a child.

Dr. Meredith Critchfield

Norby convinced her fiancé to fly to Senegal to see if he would want to live there, and he loved it. It’s the kind of place where coworkers invite you to experience their village on a weekend.

So after their June wedding, they moved to the country in July and enjoy a trendy apartment, a bustling city and a modern campus. It’s not the Africa she had expected.

The school specializes in teaching the children of missionaries and other international students.

“Families who have to go out and serve in the jungle, we give their children a good level American education,” said Norby, who will teach five math classes.

She recommends international student teaching – if nothing else than to learn about the world and other cultures.

Critchfield says it can add relationship-building skills. A teacher can learn to communicate in new languages or in other ways.

“What’s so special about teaching abroad is that it requires the teacher to peel back the layers and get to the essence of why we teach – and that’s to make a difference in the life of a child.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

More information: College of Education students interested in international student teaching can reach out to [email protected]

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GCU News: Teacher takes alternative pathway to her dream

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