BOOK REVIEW: Teaching in a distant classroom

(For those of you in education, you’ll understand the 3 month hiatus = end of the Spring semester + recovering from the year = resurface mid-June!)

I was quite excited when I saw Michael Romanowski and Teri McCarthy’s new book Teaching in a Distant Classroom: Crossing Borders for Global Transformation (Intervarsity).  I supervise international TESOL practicums during the summer and have been looking for a book like this for quite sometime.  I had high enough hopes that it would be suitable for my students to read that I assigned it to them before I had actually read it.  I’ve now finished, and am delighted to report that it’s even better than I’d hoped!

One of the most frequent misunderstandings I encounter with people hoping to teach overseas is that they don’t really take the actual task of teaching very seriously.  Some assume they can  use “teaching English” 1) as a mask to do “real ministry”, 2) a way to travel and see the world, or 3) an easy way to get a visa into a closed country.  Romanowski and McCarthy quickly and clearly dispel these myths on page 1 of chapter 1:

Often when Christians decide to go outside their homeland to teach…friends and family ask, “If you can’t talk about Jesus in the classroom over there, how on earth are you going to be a missionary?”  For the missions-minded North American evangelical, it’s a legitimate question.  But the question is not what is troubling.  What is more disturbing is the common response, “Oh I’m going as a teacher to get into the country so that I can do my real job of evangelism.”

So begins their case for competent, well-trained, serious professionals – especially among Christians.  They assert that “teaching should flow out of a Christians’ sense of calling” – not “merely moonlighting.”  They provide a variety of charts (one of my favorite parts of a book!) such as:

  • motives for teaching overseas (non-religious and Christian)
  • worldview influences and teaching
  • various educational models/methods
  • my favorite chart goes quite in depth comparing culturally responsive teachers with Jesus’ teaching.

Other interesting components of the book include a plethora of personal perspectives from people who have taught abroad, helpful websites, movie recommendations and a variety reflective questions for the reader.  On top of this, the entire book repeatedly explores how committed faith and excellence in teaching integrate.

For the Christian overseas teacher, Teaching in a distant classroom is a thorough, honest, and challenging introduction to teaching abroad.  I’m completely thrilled for my students to read this as they complete their practicums as it synthesizes so much of what they have studied in their coursework.  I’m excited to hear their responses.  I’ll be highly recommending the book to every TESOL practicum supervisor I know, plus to the many others who contact me regarding teaching abroad.  It is a realistic, practical, and wise guide for those heading down the path of teaching in a distant classroom.


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