Translating culture

Shannon Erickson 225x195
Shannon Erickson brings real-life experience to the classroom.

Shannon Erickson believes that attending class and completing homework isn’t enough to become a great educator – in order to truly grow and succeed as a teacher, experiencing different peoples and cultures is necessary.

That’s why Erickson, a senior elementary and special education major, places such an emphasis on travelling the world. By learning abroad and translating these lessons to her classroom, Erickson believes she can better educate her students at Puente De Hozho Elementary School.

“It’s definitely my passion to travel and learn about other cultures,” Erickson says. “I do it because I think experiencing different cultures could benefit anyone, especially a teacher. A teacher can present the entire world in their classroom.”

Gaining experience, helping children

Puente De Hozho Elementary School is a bilingual magnet school in Flagstaff. Here, students learn either English and Spanish or English and Navajo, becoming bilingual in the process. Erickson works with a fourth-grade class comprised of mostly Spanish-speaking students. This is where her experiences abroad provide her the most benefit.

“I like multicultural classrooms filled with people from completely different backgrounds,” Erickson says. “Right now, I have students from America, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, and they all speak Spanish.”

At the beginning of her time at Northern Arizona University, Erickson was placed in a cohort of 23 other education majors. The group took the same courses together, and now, she teaches with some of them as well.  

“The members of our cohort have a chance to observe and learn from our mentors, but we also get to practice teaching techniques ourselves,” Erickson says. “We’re going to graduate with more than 1,000 hours in a classroom. It really prepares you for becoming a teacher.”

Mentors and role models

These student teachers from Northern Arizona University are paired with full-time faculty at each school to receive mentoring and guidance. Erickson’s mentoring teacher, Flor Lazano, is also a professor of Bilingual-Multicultural Education at the university.

One of Erickson’s long-term goals is to be able to fluently talk with students who know a different language, which makes Lazano a perfect mentor. Erickson explains how Lazano’s success in learning another language later in life inspired her to do the same.

“She’s my role model,” Erickson says. “Despite spending most of her life speaking only Spanish, she worked hard and can speak English fluently. I want to be just like her.”

As she completes her last semester of student teaching, Erickson is grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside eight educators during her time at the university. Erickson notes that despite their differences, each has provided her something valuable and unique to add to her lesson plans.

Cultural exchange

When not educating younger students in the classroom, Erickson works with older ones as a member of the International Club and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Additionally, she’s part of the International Friends Program (iFriends), which enables her to exchange cultures with her peers from around the world. For Erickson, this interaction is a natural extension of both her traveling and teaching.

“In iFriends, I’m matched up with international students who decide to enroll here,” Erickson says. “We hang out so they don’t feel like they’re alone in their new surroundings. It’s cool because I learn from them as I show them around Flagstaff and introduce them to new people.”

Erickson says these opportunities for world experience and cultural engagement have created an invaluable foundation for her path going forward as a multicultural educator, and provided her the confidence she needs to succeed at wherever life takes her.

“I feel like I have a lot of experience that will translate well wherever I end up,” Erickson says. “All of the international students and programs I’m in are teaching me about other cultures and how to be culturally sensitive. There are many benefits from being exposed to all that diversity.”