Brazilian teachers soak up life, lessons in New Orleans

Dillard University welcomed a group of 24 public school teachers from Brazil this summer for an intensive English language study program and received a dose of global awareness in return.

As part of a new collaboration between the U.S. and Brazilian governments and historically black colleges and universities in the United States, the teachers are spending six weeks taking classes to improve their reading, writing and speaking abilities, then taking their sharpened English skills back to their students.

The teachers were warned to give Americans more personal space and told that Americans are not as outwardly friendly as Brazilians but found a warm welcome in New Orleans.

“People say hello and are easy to talk to,” visiting teacher Elisangela Martin said.

New Orleans’ celebration of Carnival and the rich music and food felt immediately familiar, she said.

Josuel Querioz said he was thrilled at the opportunity to see live music several nights a week without paying the steep ticket prices he’d face back home.

In terms of higher education, Queiroz noted that despite Brazil’s large population of people of African descent, there isn’t any equivalent to the American network of historically black college and universities. He said he would like to see more equitable education opportunities given to Afro-Brazilians.

The teachers studied methodology and made presentations in local classrooms. On their visits to elementary schools, Martin said they saw many of the same teaching challenges they experience in Brazil.

Bleiser Lima nodded in agreement, saying that for the most part, the behavior issues they face with their students are no different.

Andreia Caldiera also smiled and nodded, saying “All over the world they are the same.”

They said they were impressed with the students’ knowledge of Brazil and their genuine interest in learning more, though they added that the reigning misconception was always that they speak Spanish rather than Portuguese.

Voicing a familiar complaint, the visitors said teaching is an underpaid, underappreciated profession in Brazil, and one that was struggling to attract new recruits.

“People don’t want to be teachers anymore,” Martin said. “It’s a problem.”

All three of the teachers work at multiple schools or have second jobs.

On a teacher’s salary, Lima said, the program was a welcome opportunity.

The teachers’ program at Dillard is a continuation of a joint agreement between the HBCU Alliance and the Brazilian government geared toward college students, an initiative created by the countries’ presidents with a commitment to send more than 100,000 Brazilian students abroad.

In January, Dillard participated in a pilot program to bring 12 undergraduate students from Brazil to New Orleans.

Dr. Kimya Dawson-Smith, director of Dillard’s Center for Intensive English Language, said that the program was a resounding success. She said one student told her he had begun to dream in English.

Five of the students will return to Dillard in the fall to spend the next year continuing their education along with 28 new students from Brazil, Dawson-Smith said.

As the Brazilian students and teachers are given the opportunity improve their English language abilities, Dawson-Smith said in return they bring global awareness to Dillard and a step toward her goal of internationalizing the campus.

“It opens our eyes to what is happening in other countries,” she said.