American and Salvadoran Educators Unite to Bring Global Perspectives to their Communities
Unlikely allies, Hudak Hendrix and Jose Douglas Martinez share a passion for globalizing education to broaden the horizons of students and educators in El Salvador. Hendrix grew up on a farm in the southeastern United States. His life was deeply rooted in his local community of Cobbtown, Georgia. In 2009, he was elected mayor and continued to teach history at the local high school.
Martinez grew up in San Salvador during El Salvador’s Civil War. He became an English teacher in his urban neighborhood while still working on his undergraduate degree, and then taught at a public secondary school for several years. “Many of my students were gang members, even if they didn’t share it publicly,” he says. “Their parents worked in markets and in informal jobs. Many of the students helped their parents by selling things. A lot of them couldn’t afford the school uniforms.”
The two men’s lives began to follow parallel tracks when they were both selected to participate in international teacher training programs. In 2010, Hendrix, as part of the International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP), traveled to Indonesia for two weeks, where he was hosted by a local teacher and learned about the country’s education system. Martinez, as part of the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA), studied teaching methodologies at Claremont Graduate University in California in 2011. Both Hendrix and Martinez found their careers and world views altered by these international experiences.
“When you are in the same place for many years, you believe what you are doing is right,” Martinez said, “but when I was with people from many backgrounds on the TEA Program, I saw many new perspectives.” He co-taught in a California classroom, took education classes with other TEA Fellows, and participated in local civic and cultural activities. Upon returning to El Salvador, Martinez incorporated these experiences into his English lessons.
Martinez also learned that the United States and El Salvador share common education challenges and visited one California school troubled by gang violence that reminded him of his school in San Salvador. “I saw that there were dangerous places in the United States too. They had some students who were gang members too, but there were also many giving people who were willing to share what they knew.”
“The United States has many good things about education that we can apply in El Salvador, even if we don’t have enough resources,” he added. “We can apply them with what we have.”
Hendrix also found his perspectives permanently changed by his international experience. “Even though I tried to go back to Georgia and resume my life before my trip to Indonesia, I was forever changed by this experience and knew that I would have to find some way to pursue a career abroad.” Ultimately, he resigned from his mayoral position in Georgia to pursue a teaching position in the San Benito enclave of San Salvador.
Upon arriving in El Salvador, Hendrix found that his new students share many similarities with his former students in Georgia. “Teenagers have specific commonalities throughout the world. Many are fascinated with popular culture and all are trying to establish their identities. Most really want to learn and receive approval from adults but are torn by myriad influences that compete for their attention.” In pursuing a new path in San Salvador, Hendrix did not abandon his roots in Cobbtown: he uses Facebook and Skype to share his insights from El Salvador with people in his hometown, and did a presentation for the local Lion’s Club where he answered questions about teaching internationally.
Hendrix leveraged the international network of TEA and ILEP alumni to connect with Martinez. The two have since collaborated to use their teaching experiences as a springboard to promote a global perspective among their students and colleagues. When Martinez assumed a new job training over 180 pre-service teachers at El Salvador’s only public university, he enlisted Hendrix to speak with these aspiring educators. One of the most important lessons Hendrix and Martinez try to impart to their colleagues in both El Salvador and the U.S. is that teachers can be committed to their local communities while exposing students to the wider world. “Teachers have to be a model for students about how to make a difference,” Martinez says. “You have to show them that you can change the world by changing your local surroundings and I have to start by being an example.”
The International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP) and the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA) are funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and implemented by IREX.