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Pakistanis thrive in Colorado

Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune

Rafia Karim works with Lauren Price, a student at Chappelow Magnet School in Evans, during class. Karim was one of 38 teachers from Pakistan chosen to teach in America for seven weeks.

By SHERRIE PEIF
The Greeley Tribune

GREELEY (AP) – Ask any teacher in Greeley, Weld County or even Colorado what it’s like to teach, and they’ll likely tell you schools are underfunded, with limited resources and in need of technology. The pay is bad, the hours are long and the class sizes are too big.

It’s the truth compared with most states. Colorado is fifth from last in the country for funding K-12 education, and most Weld schools are in the bottom Colorado districts in funding.

But talk to 18 teachers from Pakistan, who have been in Greeley, and they’ll tell you something different about Greeley-Evans School District 6, where they’ve been helping as part of the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program at the University of Northern Colorado.

“There is a big difference with strategies between our country and here,” said Irum Butt, who is doing her field experience at Chappelow K-8 Magnet School. “You have so much technology here. Half our teaching energy is wasted in just getting ready to teach.”

Of course, it’s all relative.

In Pakistan, class sizes can be as large as 120, some schools have no heat or electricity, students pay for all of their own books and other school equipment, and Internet is limited to the school’s principal.

Rafia Abdulkarim said the best thing about U.S. schools was their warmth.

“It is very open at my area,” she said, “a very cold area.”

TEA began bringing teachers to the United States from other countries in 2006 to develop their expertise in their subject areas, promote and improve secondary education around the world and enhance their knowledge of the United States.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of State worked with the U.S. Educational Foundation in Pakistan to create a separate program for Pakistan educators. UNC and the University of California, Chico are the only two universities hosting the teachers.

The Pakistani teachers attend classes at UNC and apply what they learn in classrooms around the area. They also take part in several community events and activities, and this year, they are providing community service for seniors at the Greeley Place.

Butt said she was overwhelmed at the amount of technology and small class sizes the teachers have.

“These Promethium boards are amazing,” she said. “We only have white boards, and only a few. Many classrooms still only have green boards.”

Promethium boards are large interactive, touch screens that connect to a computer. They replace chalkboards and dry-erase boards. Most District 6 classrooms have them.

She has learned new ways to teach her students and change the image of Americans in Pakistan.

Butt brought audio recorded questions from her students about the United States. Linda Cleres, a seventh-grade teacher at Chappelow who is Butt’s host teacher, had her students record the answers.

Butt said the answers Cleres’ students had were interesting.

“What comes to your mind when you hear the word Pakistan? They wanted to know,” Butt said. “Most of the students thought it was part of Iraq or Afghanistan. Most didn’t realize Pakistan was its own country.”

Butt, too, had to answer some tough questions about her country, which included putting to rest the myth that they worship cows and goats. Butt explained that feed animals in Pakistan are similar to cats and dogs here. Children get attached to them as they are raised. But they are still raised for meat.

Mostly, the women said they learned new ways to teach and engage their students – even small things such as decorations – that they hope they can use in the future when they return home.

“I hate to say it this way, but our rooms in Pakistan are like a torture cell,” Butt said. “We can’t put things on our walls and make the rooms inviting. The teachers rotate rooms, not the students, and the next teacher might not like what I put on the walls, so they are just bare.”

There was one thing Butt and Abdulkarim said was identical between the two countries.

“I feel the spirit of the passion is the same for the teachers,” Butt said. “We all have a passion for teaching.”

Abdulkarim said everything else is long-range.

“But we can take and modify and create a difference,” she said. “We can create a vision that in the future we can have this for the others who come after us. We can make a change in the life of our students.”

Everyone connected to the program said the best experience of all was creating positive images.

“Having them here has been amazing,” Cleres said. “It has opened the eyes of my students to a whole other part of the world.”

“They have a real person from Pakistan that has stood before them. They know her name. They’ve looked into her eyes, and they know her,” she said.

“Just the things I came here with,” Butt said. “I have already changed them to positive.”

“We have deconstructed the stereotypes,” Abdulkarim said. “Mixing with people, you realize we are all humans with feelings.”

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