Enjoys teaching multiple cultures, worries budget cuts will hurt education
INDIAN TRAIL – For an international educator, Nikki Turner is a bit out of the ordinary. Although a native of England, the first-grade teacher brings just as much – if not more – Latin American culture as she does English heritage to her students at Porter Ridge Elementary.
An army brat, Turner was used to traveling around, spending a good part of her childhood in other countries including Germany. After studying education in England, Turner taught two years at a school in London. But with a history of traveling, Turner wasn’t content to stay in the same place for a long time; she wanted to teach abroad.
Prior to coming to the U.S. in August 2011, Turner spent nearly six years teaching kindergarten and early childhood classes at a school in Mexico City. She immediately fell in love with the Latin American culture.
“I love the warmth of the people and their culture, and I think that’s really enabled me here,” Turner said.
True to her nomadic nature, Turner began to grow restless and was ready for a change. Having visited the U.S. multiple times, she knew she wanted to eventually teach here, but she wasn’t sure when or how. After a mission trip to Honduras opened her eyes to the future, Turner knew she was supposed to teach in the U.S. and turned to the Visiting International Faculty program.
After a Skype interview, Porter Ridge principal Lisa Taylor hired Turner on the spot.
Upon starting her stint teaching in the U.S., Turner felt a barrier between American citizens and foreign cultures.
“I think that if we’re educating small children, we want to show them that everybody needs to be respected regardless of their ethnic origin or their background or wherever they’re from,” she said. “I think this year, I’ve really tried to emphasize that in my classroom.”
Working to give students and their parents an appreciation for global learning has given Turner a sense of fulfillment, and she’s realized she’s made a difference in the lives of her students and at the school as a whole. Turner has worked with teachers and students from other classes to give them a new perspective on international cultures.
Fluent in Spanish, thanks to her six years in Mexico, Turner has served as a translator for the parents of some of the school’s Hispanic students. She’s also brought the Latin American culture to her classroom through celebrating different Mexican holidays, such as El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), El Dia de los Reyes (The Day of the Three Kings, celebrated on Jan. 6) and Mexico’s Independence Day, celebrated on Sept. 16.
Turner’s students have gotten a taste of English culture, too, through tea parties, which they love. Often, as a reward or a celebration of a special holiday, such as Grandparents’ Day, Turner will throw tea parties for her students and their families.
“I love a good cup of tea, but I really didn’t expect it to take off this much,” she said. “But these kids love tea, and one of the things that’s impressed me about children in America is their willingness and open-mindedness to embrace something that’s not their own culture.”
Turner’s biggest concern by far regarding the education system is the laying off of all teacher assistants in the county.
“To me, that just blows my mind, and I’m really, like, dreading it, because (my teacher assistant) is my left and right hand,” she said. “She truly is phenomenal. It’s just disgraceful and … a detriment to the children’s learning.”
Turner, who hopes to stretch her visa out to stay another four years, continued, “If you want education to be valued in the United States, you need to start valuing the people who work with children, and not just the teachers, (but) the teaching assistants and the administration.”