South Korea’s 2007 teacher of the year, Sungjin Oh, has a unique connection to Illinois State. Before receiving the award, the high school earth science educator says the University provided him with a professional development opportunity that changed the trajectory of his career for the better.
That learning experience—the Korean Science Teacher Professional Program (KSTPP)—was spearheaded by Do-Yong Park, an associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning. For several years, Park provided the one-month-long workshop for elite science teachers from South Korea so they could collaborate with U.S. university professors and K–12 teachers. The program was hosted at Illinois State and delivered in-depth content expertise, pedagogical skills, and an international cultural experience that helped teachers set up effective and globally minded classrooms.
Oh said KSTPP opened his eyes to a “new horizon” of science teaching: “My approach changed, and I began assessing students’ learning in a more meaningful way.”
He has also embraced opportunities to partner with educators across his country. Oh has been invited to speak on his practices at several education seminars, and South Korean teacher educators regularly seek his collaboration.
“I now see myself as a researcher and a teacher,” he said. “The way I improve my teaching is through study and generating constant discussion with colleagues in schools and at the university level.”
In conjunction with his teacher of the year award, the South Korean government provided Oh with funding for a yearlong sabbatical to the country and institution of his choosing. After several years of planning with Park, he arrived at Illinois State in January 2013.
Park arranged for his colleague to observe and participate in teacher education and K–12 classrooms throughout Central Illinois and in Chicago. Oh said the classroom strategies being applied verified many of his current practices, and he picked up some new ideas, like Park’s semester-long inquiry project.
“The class format allowed for a significant level of research where the teacher candidates could construct their own knowledge over time,” Oh said. He plans to adapt the inquiry-based project with his high school students when he returns home.
The veteran South Korean educator provided valuable insight for Illinois State teacher candidates, as well. Park dedicated class time to allow Oh and the candidates to share perspectives on the similarities and differences of U.S. and East Asian education systems.
“The ultimate goal of educational practice on my side is to develop candidates’ understanding of education in a global context,” Park said. “That way, they can see where they stand in educating the next generation of learners in this country.”
In his work off campus, Oh got the chance to observe unique geological, meteorological, and astrological phenomena firsthand throughout Canada and the U.S. These included such eye-popping sights as the aurora borealis in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories of Canada; The Wave, a rock formation in Coyote Buttes, Utah; and the Grand Canyon. He also visited astrological observatories like the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which operates the Hubble telescope.
“It was powerful to connect my knowledge of these phenomena with actual experience,” he said. “I can now present the greatness of the U.S.’s nature with my students, and I believe I will be able to help them connect to the content like never before.”
When Oh returns to Korea, he will have a platform to share his U.S. journey with a national audience, and his message will include the value of international education. Park believes this message is just as important for educators in the U.S. as it is for those in Korea.
“We are living in a competitive world, and (U.S. educators) are not the only ones who produce the knowledge,” Park said. “In my opinion, we need to know what is going on overseas because there is always something we can learn from our counterparts in other countries.”