Shannon Erickson believes that attending class
and completing homework isn’t enough to become a great educator – in order to
truly grow and succeed as a teacher, experiencing different peoples and
cultures is necessary.
That’s why Erickson, a senior elementary and
special education major, places such an emphasis on travelling the world. By learning
abroad and translating these lessons to her classroom, Erickson believes she
can better educate her students at Puente De Hozho Elementary School.
“It’s definitely my passion to travel and learn
about other cultures,” Erickson says. “I do it because I think experiencing
different cultures could benefit anyone, especially a teacher. A teacher can present
the entire world in their classroom.”
Gaining experience, helping children
Puente De Hozho Elementary School is a bilingual
magnet school in Flagstaff. Here, students learn either English and Spanish or
English and Navajo, becoming bilingual in the process. Erickson works with a
fourth-grade class comprised of mostly Spanish-speaking students. This is where
her experiences abroad provide her the most benefit.
“I like multicultural classrooms filled with
people from completely different backgrounds,” Erickson says. “Right now, I
have students from America, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, and they all speak
At the beginning of her time at Northern Arizona
University, Erickson was placed in a cohort of 23 other education majors. The
group took the same courses together, and now, she teaches with some of them as
“The members of our cohort have a chance to
observe and learn from our mentors, but we also get to practice teaching techniques
ourselves,” Erickson says. “We’re going to graduate with more than 1,000 hours
in a classroom. It really prepares you for becoming a teacher.”
Mentors and role models
These student teachers from Northern Arizona
University are paired with full-time faculty at each school to receive
mentoring and guidance. Erickson’s mentoring teacher, Flor Lazano, is also a
professor of Bilingual-Multicultural Education at the university.
One of Erickson’s long-term goals is to be able
to fluently talk with students who know a different language, which makes
Lazano a perfect mentor. Erickson explains how Lazano’s success in learning another
language later in life inspired her to do the same.
“She’s my role model,” Erickson says. “Despite
spending most of her life speaking only Spanish, she worked hard and can speak
English fluently. I want to be just like her.”
As she completes her last semester of student
teaching, Erickson is grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside
eight educators during her time at the university. Erickson notes that despite
their differences, each has provided her something valuable and unique to add
to her lesson plans.
When not educating younger students in the
classroom, Erickson works with older ones as a member of the International
Club and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Additionally, she’s part of the International
Friends Program (iFriends), which enables her to exchange cultures with her
peers from around the world. For Erickson, this interaction is a natural
extension of both her traveling and teaching.
“In iFriends, I’m matched up with international
students who decide to enroll here,” Erickson says. “We hang out so they don’t
feel like they’re alone in their new surroundings. It’s cool because I learn
from them as I show them around Flagstaff and introduce them to new people.”
Erickson says these opportunities for world
experience and cultural engagement have created an invaluable foundation for
her path going forward as a multicultural educator, and provided her the
confidence she needs to succeed at wherever life takes her.
“I feel like I have a lot of experience that
will translate well wherever I end up,” Erickson says. “All of the
international students and programs I’m in are teaching me about other cultures
and how to be culturally sensitive. There are many benefits from being exposed
to all that diversity.”