Jul122010

FAST TRAIN Fast-Tracks Teaching in International Classrooms

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By Jennifer Edgerly

Student Jake Layman talks with a classmate in the classroom portion of the FAST TRAIN program. Photo by Lori A. Wilson

While most teachers and students are enjoying a break from the classroom this summer, more than 140 students from Mason’s FAST TRAIN program have arrived on campus for an intensive summer school session.

Attending class for seven hours a day, these students are prepared to complete the first leg of their course work, which involves rigorous classroom instruction.

The Foreign Affairs Spouses Teacher Training Program, or FAST TRAIN, began in the fall of 1990 as a collaboration among the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Overseas Schools, the Virginia Department of Education and George Mason University.

While the collaboration stemmed from an interest in training Foreign Service spouses to become teachers, the program has since expanded and is open to anyone seeking licensure and graduate professional development in an international setting.

FAST TRAIN has a history of targeting critical-need and high-demand areas in education. It offers programs in elementary education, English as a second language (ESL), learning support/special education and International Baccalaureate (IB) graduate education.

Instructor Arvinder Johri makes a point with student Alexandra Vrem-Ydstie. Photo by Lori A. Wilson

Currently, there are approximately 200 students enrolled in FAST TRAIN; about 80 percent of them live overseas.

“With such a large percentage of our students currently living and working overseas, we try to make our program as convenient as possible by offering many courses online,” says Jennifer Coarts, administrative coordinator for FAST TRAIN programs.

“Students really enjoy coming to campus during the summer to meet their fellow students face-to-face. They develop a strong bond during the five weeks they spend here, which is helpful when they interact online later.”

Along with the summer classroom component, each course within the program requires that students spend 20 hours in the field observing and working in a K-12 school during the fall or spring semesters.

So what makes students want to enroll in such a demanding program? According to FAST TRAIN staff members, one reason students are drawn to the program is the prestige and wide acceptance of a teaching license from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Virginia education standards are extremely high, and because of that, Virginia education programs and the educators who come out of those programs are very well respected,” says Coarts.

“Currently, Virginia has a reciprocal license agreement with 46 states and two territories, so FAST TRAIN graduates are qualified to teach in a variety of settings throughout the United States and abroad.”

Coarts also notes that the FAST TRAIN program is the only one of its kind in the country that is approved by the state to offer licensure upon successful completion of required courses and international teaching experience. Other programs require students to reside in the state and teach within the state in order to apply for a teaching license.

Another reason students choose FAST TRAIN is because Mason is one of only six universities in the world recognized by the International Baccalaureate to train teachers to be IB curriculum instructors. Many international schools follow the IB curriculum because it provides a rigorous, high-quality education that is followed by schools in different parts of the world.

Megan Mosier, a second year elementary education student in FAST TRAIN, says, “The FAST TRAIN Program was recommended to me by the director of an international school. I selected the program because it offered flexible courses that fit my lifestyle and worked for my family.”

In just 20 years, FAST TRAIN has graduated more than 1,200 alumni who live on six different continents and work in more than 75 schools worldwide.

Students who enroll in the FAST TRAIN program are also able to complete additional courses leading to a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction.

For more information on the FAST TRAIN program, see the website, fasttrain.gmu.edu.

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