If you haven’t read part 1 of Jeff Zanger’s story, please read it first. In his previous post, Jeff Zanger shared a very personal story about his life and the death of his son Easton. In this post, Jeff continues his personal JRNEY that takes him all over the world to become the global educator he is today.
My Global Learning journey really started when I received a scholarship from Down Country, a local group founded to “promote positive awareness for individuals with disabilities/exceptional abilities in the Tri-State area and to facilitate the education/specialized training of teachers, therapists, administrators, doctors, nurses, support staff, families, and rural residents working with differently abled/exceptionally gifted people within the Tri-State rural community.” The scholarship provides $2000 a year for five years for families, educators, and medical professionals to go to national or international conferences. I attended the National Down Syndrome Conference in 2015. We were on the way to Phoenix when my wife and I decided that I was going to return to the classroom and she was going to return to her career as an RN. I was amazed by the overwhelming passion, knowledge, and possibilities at the NDSC.
I brought my new perspective and passion to “open students’ eyes” to diversity as I transitioned back to the classroom. I chose to bring in speakers from some of the religions we discussed in World History class so my predominantly Catholic students would be exposed to “a real person” that happened to be a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim. Their response to the speakers told me that I was on the right track.
I chose to attend the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference the last three years so I could best take advantage of the iPads every student in my classes had. Each ISTE conference has opened new doors to the world. I began to use Mystery Skype and Virtual Field Trips in my classroom in 2016. The students loved meeting students in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, and around the U.S. They begged for more. They learned about poverty first-hand when we talked to Jairus at Cheery School in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Geography had been my least favorite subject to teach at Payson. I loved to travel and experience new cultures, but the textbook was so dry and boring, and I couldn’t find a way to engage the students. It became my favorite subject because I could use technology to expose my students to so many people and cultures directly. We could interact with, and learn about the real world outside of our bubble in the Midwestern US.
ISTE 2017 provided another turn on my Global Learning journey. I learned about JDO Foundation and Level Up Village there. I was so excited to find one-to-one connections across the world and implemented both that year. My 7th graders connected with a class in Zimbabwe through LUV. We struggled mightily with technology issues, but my students learned a real-world lesson. We had an assignment to provide a video response due on a Friday. As I scrolled Twitter Thursday night, I saw that Zimbabwe had a coup. I told my students the next morning that their partners would not post their responses. It had nothing to do with being unprepared or tech issues. Their president was overthrown. Perspectives changed that day. My students followed the global news that week very closely, probably for the first time in their lives. They truly appreciated the peace that existed in our country as a result of LUV.
JDO connected me with two teachers, Vesna and Robertina, and their classes in Glina, Croatia. We talked about the curriculum and ways to connect our students. I told Robertina that my 8th-grade curriculum ended with the civil war. We discussed comparing the civil wars of our countries. Then, it hit me. She was talking about the Balkans War in the 1990s. I remembered that war. It occurred when I was just out of college. I remembered Yugoslavia blowing up and splintering into rival factions - just another casualty of the “good guys” beating the evil Communists. I remembered reports of Christians fighting Muslims, Croats fighting Serbs, Bosnia, Kosovo, reports of ethnic cleansing. All of these reports were vague because I knew almost nothing about that part of the world, and I graduated college with a History minor! I remembered the heated debate over the U.S. helping the UN to intervene.
Now, I was going to give my students the opportunity to talk to Croatians. I told my students that the only thing my generation was taught about Eastern Europe was to fear Communism. We didn’t think of them as people, we thought of them as Communists, and the Communists were a threat to nuke us at any time.
After our first Skype, my students said, “They are just like us. They play sports and Fortnite, they are on Instagram and SnapChat, and they dab.” I just smiled. That was the goal, for my students to understand that people are just people. My 6th graders had the same experience, then my 7th graders were connected to a class in Sweden, and they discovered the same thing. They spoke to Muslims for the first time during their Skype. My students’ worldview expanded when they realized that not everyone in the world celebrated the 4th of July and Christmas. They were amazed that kids their age spoke five languages and laughed when we told them we only knew English.
2018 added another sharp turn in my personal Global Learning journey. After the loss of Easton, both my wife and I curled up in a ball to protect ourselves from feeling that pain again. She shut down physically and emotionally for a while, I drowned myself in work. My wife went on a medical mission trip to Haiti in the spring of 2016 as a way to honor Easton’s memory. She fell in love with the country and its people. After the mission trip, Shannon asked me to consider adopting from Haiti. My first reaction was “NO WAY!” But, I told her I would consider it, and we started the long process. I didn’t think my heart was capable of opening up to love another child again because opening up to love meant opening up to pain. Shannon and I went on a trip to work at an orphanage in Haiti in December 2017, and I connected immediately with many of the children. That 5-day trip showed me that I could be a father again. We got the call in April 2018 that we were matched with 10-year-old twin girls. We then went on a two-week bonding trip in June. The experience of Port Au Prince was mind-blowing.
So much poverty.
So much beauty.
So much need.
So much love.
The Haitian people we encountered in our two visits proved to be so patient, resilient, caring, and loving. The children were well cared for but desperately yearned to belong somewhere. They love their nannies and friends, but they want a family. I took hundreds of pictures in those two stays and shared all of them with my students. I explained what it looked like when people live on less than $2 a day. I talked about how little the children had in possessions, but every time we gave them something (fruit, candy, toys), they immediately shared that gift with their friends. I told my students that my family would provide our new twin girls with more material possessions than they have ever had, but those girls will share just as much with us. They will share purity and love. They will remind us to slow down. My wife and I will strive to protect the amazing spirit of Haiti in them.
Two weeks after leaving Haiti, I attended ISTE2018 in Chicago and was introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN. I am trying to use them to enhance my lessons about Global Learning further. My students choose topics dealing with Gender Equality, Poverty, Hunger, Life on Land and Life Below Water, Reducing Inequality, Peace and Justice. They are identifying issues in our school, city, state, and country. Then, we are going to compare our local issues with the local issues in Glina, Croatia and Malmo, Sweden. My students are going to discuss gender equality with a Muslim girl who lives in Sweden, but only because war forced her family to leave their homeland of Syria. They are going to discuss the impact of inequality and war with Croatian children whose parents endured the Balkans War. We will discuss inequality with children whose parents left their homeland to move to a foreign land. We will discuss global issues with students in Europe with families from across the globe. That is Global Learning.
So, I will be flying to Rome in 10 days to meet with teachers from many countries, to discuss students and global issues. Last summer, I had the opportunity to meet with educators from England, Croatia, Italy, and Spain in Chicago. We talked and ate and laughed. We discussed food, meal sizes, how cold the air conditioning is, and students. It was great to hear the perspectives of educators from around Europe. This time, I look forward to sharing perspectives again in Rome and widening my perspective yet again.
I’m intrigued to see which direction my Global Learning journey will go next.
Jeff has since returned from Rome and is ready to continue applying what he is learned on his global jrney with his students.
Jeff Zanger is the proud husband of Shannon and the dad to Logan, Addison, Morgan, Easton, Djouna and Katia. He is an educator of 22 years, currently teaching Social Studies at the junior high after being a high school teacher and elementary principal. Jeff’s current passions include expanding perspectives through Global Education and helping students find and pursue their passion. Connect with him on Twitter @Educ8_zanger.