A Teacher’s Journey: Teaching in America and Transmitting Cultural Values to Students

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In the dynamic world of education, Sue Gayle Devaras-Marticio, armed with a physics background and extensive teaching experience in the Philippines, embarks on a transformative international teaching adventure at IDEA San Juan – IDEA Public Schools in Texas. With her wealth of experience and a genuine passion for teaching, Sue serves as an inspirational role model for fellow international educators.

GeoVisions proudly celebrates the journeys of international educators through the Teaching Beyond Borders article series by award-winning journalist Saleha Soadat. Through interviews with the educators and those they have impacted, Soadat threads together engaging articles that unveil the inspirational narratives behind these educators’ lives and what brought them on their international journey.

A Lifelong Pursuit of Knowledge

Sue was born into a small, educated family in the picturesque archipelago known as the Pearl of the East: the Philippines. The second child in her family, she was fortunate to have parents who placed a strong emphasis on their children’s education. After completing her high school education, Sue embarked on her academic journey by enrolling at the prestigious Philippine Normal University (PNU), where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics. Her passion for learning and her dedication to her studies prompted her to pursue further education, so she applied for admission to the University of the Philippines Cebu, where she successfully earned a Master’s degree in Natural Sciences. It was during this time that her deep-seated love for learning about our natural world propelled her towards a career in teaching. Specializing in physics, she wholeheartedly embraced teaching as her chosen path, driven by her unwavering commitment to education.

Sue commenced her teaching career in 2003 and soon became a full-time physics teacher. This was a challenging decision, as she had to find a balance between teaching, her own ongoing studies, and her personal life. Always focused on the ultimate goal of education, Sue’s priorities during this time were crystal clear. “I am a mother of two children, and alongside my own education, I also have the responsibility of nurturing and educating my children.”

Despite all of these competing elements in her life, upon completing her Master’s degree Sue took the ultimate step in her pursuit of higher learning: enrolling as a PhD student in the field of Physics at the University of the Philippines Open University, where she is currently a diligent and dedicated student.

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Taking the Educational Journey International

With a background of teaching in 20 different schools and collaborating with the Philippine Department of Education in the public school system, Sue accumulated a wealth of experience. In 2015 she became aware of the BridgeUSA J-1 visa cultural exchange program for Teachers, leading her to make the decision to embark on her journey to the United States as an international educator. This was a new and crucial phase in her professional life. “My journey towards teaching in America began when my children had grown up to a certain extent and had shouldered some of their own responsibilities.” However, it would still be several years before this dream became a reality for her, and even then there was one more major hurdle to overcome. “My efforts for this journey bore fruit when the world had fallen silent due to the coronavirus pandemic. The global outbreak of this disease made my trip exceptionally challenging.”

Sue arrived in the United States in January 2020 and currently teaches at IDEA San Juan Schools in Texas. She takes great pleasure in teaching her students and utilizes this platform to share her culture and knowledge with them. Sue’s teaching philosophy and style revolve around fostering an engaging and supportive learning environment. She places a strong emphasis on nurturing her students’ curiosity and actively encourages their participation in the learning process. Sue also provides students with opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills in real-life scenarios while promoting open expression of their thoughts and opinions.

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Immediate Impact on the Community

Maricela Gaona, the principal of IDEA San Juan Schools, beamed about Sue’s extensive teaching experience and what an impact she’s had on the school, bringing her international perspective and unwavering passion for teaching to the predominantly Hispanic student population. “Ms. Sue has made a substantial contribution by successfully teaching challenging subjects such as physics, while simultaneously cultivating a safe and engaging learning environment. She is incredibly sociable and frequently delights our students by sharing traditional Filipino cuisine.”

Her engaging and nurturing teaching approach not only fosters a deep connection with her students but also allows her to share her own culture and knowledge with them. It’s clear that Sue’s impact on students and the local community is profound, highlighting how a dedication to education and cultural enrichment can profoundly affect the lives of others.

Principal Gaona described the multiple cultural day celebrations by international instructors like Sue on her campus and the substantial benefits they have on the community. “This practice exposes our students to a wide array of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives, which holds tremendous value for our young learners.”

In my conversation with Principal Gaona, she highlighted the role of international instructors in fostering a more diverse and inclusive environment. “Their presence has initiated crucial conversations among our students, enabling them to gain direct insights into various languages and cultural topics from their teachers. This experience helps students develop a heightened awareness of the significance of global knowledge and cultural respect.”

Universal Education Values

Sue firmly believes that when it comes to lesson planning, her approach centers around simplifying intricate concepts and ensuring students grasp the material thoroughly. “My primary goal is to ensure that students have a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. I place great emphasis on nurturing friendly relationships with my students and catering to their unique needs.”

Sue’s extensive experience underscores the importance of flexible education that can adapt to the specific requirements of each class. She emphasizes that it’s crucial for teaching to be accommodating rather than coercive, always considering the optimal method for each group of students. Based on her experience, embracing new approaches and ideas has demonstrated substantial enhancements in the teaching process.

Teaching in the US education system presented Sue with particular challenges, such as adapting to a different culture and curriculum. Moreover, the abrupt shift to online distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic was a notable challenge. Sue reminisces, “I missed the physical presence of my students in the classroom and had to adjust to the online system. Becoming an international teacher has been a demanding yet ultimately rewarding journey. I aspire to continue making a positive impact on the lives of my students.”

Sue’s colleague, Cassandra Serda-Cavazos, an educator with 7 years of experience at IDEA San Juan Schools, attests to the profound influence of “Ms. Sue” in terms of her effectiveness as an international teacher. “I have frequently heard Ms. Sue encourage students to maintain their self-confidence and pursue their dreams,” she remarks. “Her teaching methodology serves as a model for me.” Furthermore, according to Cassandra, when Sue joined the school’s teaching staff, she introduced valuable insights into Philippine culture, even incorporating her extensive knowledge of physics into cultural lessons.

The cultural exchange program has not only influenced Sue’s professional life, but also fostered personal growth. This eye-opening experience equipped her with the skills to teach in diverse environments and spurred her to create educational settings adaptable to any culture. Her experience in the United States has reinforced her belief in the transformative power of hard work. And with several years of experience teaching in the U.S., Sue now reflects on the contrast between the U.S. education system and the one in the Philippines. She underscores that the U.S. system prioritizes equity, diversity, and special education, offering students greater independence and privileges. A notable example she provides is that if a teacher is late in class, students are allowed to leave. This shift in student treatment has had a profound impact on Sue’s teaching approach and mindset.

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A Never-Ending Odyssey

Sue remains enthusiastically committed to her future, fully convinced that she can harness the insights gained from this journey to the fullest. Throughout our conversation, she underscored the significance of adapting to varying teaching methods and maintaining a relentless commitment to improvement and teaching competence. For her, this journey has been an immersive tapestry of learning experiences, challenges, and personal growth, undoubtedly standing as one of the most cherished chapters in her life. She firmly believes that education is an ongoing process, and with unwavering dedication and effort, she can facilitate the best possible educational experiences for students in her home country.

Sue Gayle Devaras-Marticio has had the kind of journey that few have the tenacity, passion, and determination to realize. And yet it is exactly due to her indefatigable efforts that she has had such a rich and rewarding experience. Harnessing these experiences to share her knowledge and cultural insights with American educators while forging new relationships and continuing her PhD program is laudable in its own right. But it is her focus on the individual needs of students that says the most about the kind of educator that Sue is. “Students in the United States and the Philippines have differing educational needs, grounded in their respective cultural contexts. Embracing change and adapting to new circumstances can propel individuals forward in their personal and professional journeys. It certainly has in mine.”

Sue’s journey underscores the paramount importance of commitment and perseverance in the realm of global education and teaching. She exemplifies qualities such as adaptability, student engagement, and an unwavering commitment to self-improvement, all of which are crucial in delivering the finest educational experience. Sue’s influence also shines a spotlight on the cultural diversity among her students and underscores the significance of global awareness and cultural appreciation. She stands as a living testament to these principles, inspiring others to realize that with determination and unceasing effort, they too can leave an indelible mark in the field of education, sharing cultural and educational values with others.