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Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teaching and international relations part of Turkish-Armenian Summer Teaching Institute at IU

Six weeks wrapping in Bloomington this week, but participants hope for continuing change back home

July 26, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. --A group of 50 teachers -- 25 each from Turkey and Armenia -- are concluding six weeks on the Indiana University Bloomington campus as part of a U.S. Embassy-sponsored program to help the teachers learn new techniques for the classroom and new ideas for diplomacy. The Turkish-Armenian Summer Teaching Institute is a project of the Center for Social Studies and International Education (CSSIE) at Indiana University with the participation of IUPUI'S Center for Urban and Multicultural Education (CUME).

Turkey Armenia Teachers

Teachers from Armenia and Turkey present a 'Project Citizen' project, designed to examine public policy issues, which they can adapt to their own classrooms.

Print-Quality Photo

The focus over the month and a half has been largely on how to help the teachers bring more student-centered learning to their classrooms. All are middle- and high-school English teachers in either Armenia or Turkey. Embedded in the professional development institute is a goal of allowing the educators from the countries with a long history of strained relations to learn about each other.

"We're very careful to not make them feel as if we have a hidden agenda," said CSSIE Director Terry Mason, professor of curriculum and instruction at the IU School of Education. "I suppose we have an agenda, but it's not very hidden. We just hope that they learn to live together, to communicate with one another and to appreciate each other as they develop personal and professional relationships."

The peoples of Turkey and Armenia have a centuries-old conflict. While Turkey recognized the newly independent country of Armenia when it was formed from the collapsed Soviet Union in 1991, it closed its borders with Armenia in 1993. An agreement to establish mutual diplomatic recognition nearly two years ago has not yet led to formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, something U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed for during a visit to Turkey last week.

Within the walls of Indiana University, representatives of the two nations have been more than diplomatic. "We started here as two groups -- a Turkish group and an Armenian group," said Turkish teacher Alper Etyemez. "Now we have turned into a single group. There is no Turkish group or Armenian group; we are all together."

The project came to IU after a successful bid for a project sought by the U.S. Embassies of Turkey and Armenia. The embassies wanted a program that would both show how current approaches to English language teaching can be used to develop critical thinking skills and build tolerance among adolescent students. After getting the project bid, Mason, CSSIE associate director Arlene Benitez, and Rob Helfenbein, associate professor of curriculum studies at the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, traveled to the countries briefly to get a better idea of the teaching environments of the project participants.

"The project intentionally did a geographic distribution of both countries," Helfenbein said. "So even though two teachers are from Turkey, they don't know each other." He added that the distribution has also meant a range of teachers from a range of school types in urban and rural settings and from different cultural settings.

The teachers were selected for their willingness to try new approaches in the classroom and openness to learning about other cultures. Mason said the participants who have come here certainly reflected that.

"It was immediately apparent that we were very lucky to have a group of people that had been screened and well selected to embrace the spirit of the project," he said. "They have endorsed our approach to teaching for the most part and they have been extremely interested in finding out about their counterparts from the other country."

Over the course of the last few weeks, Mason, Helfenbein, Benitez and others have introduced "inquiry based" teaching methods -- teaching that invites students to gain knowledge by exploring a problem or issue. As part of that, the teachers worked on methods of democratic education, including exploring issues in Turkey, Armenia and the United States. A final presentation by groups developing a project through Project Citizen, a program designed to allow students to examine public policy issues in their communities, examined media censorship in Armenia and Turkey, while another explored access issues of the disabled in the U.S, and a third explored the issue of unemployment among college graduates.

The participating teachers said they looked forward to exploring issues and methods through the intensive sessions. "I was really very excited to take part in this program not as an English teacher but as an Armenian person, as a citizen of a country that has got problems, serious problems, with another country, a neighboring country, which is Turkey," said Nune Hovhannisyan. "We must talk. We must exchange our thoughts. We must listen to each other."

The friendship between teachers has grown over the course of projects and activities that have included trips to Connor Prairie and Chicago, a pontoon boat ride on Lake Monroe and a concluding visit to Washington, D.C. later this week. In the evenings, the teachers shared music from their cultures during sessions at the IU dormitory where they stayed. Impromptu volleyball tournaments took place at the courts behind the dorm.

Mason said the collaboration among participants has grown organically as the program has progressed. Several teachers spoke of continuing collaboration with their colleagues from the other country. A new Internet site established through the project will allow for an exchange of lesson plans. This fall, project staff will visit Armenia and Turkey to see some of the teachers' classrooms and evaluate how they may be using the new ideas.

Returning home, the teachers said they now have a better idea about their neighbors, something they hope to share with their students. "Now I know my friends from Armenia," Etyemez said. "On a teacher level, on a 'people' level, we can solve all our problems. So now we've got lots of steps to improve the conditions between Armenia and Turkey, especially between people."

You can hear more from the teachers and see more about the program in a short video at the IU School of Education's YouTube channel.