International students are not new at MLC, but Coral Cady is certainly the first WELS teacher from Vietnam to join our master’s program.
A 1985 graduate of DMLC, she taught at California Lutheran High School for one year and St. Paul-New Ulm MN for 13 years. Then her life changed drastically, as she took a two-year leave of absence to teach at Sekolah Pelita Harapan (School of Light and Hope) in Jakarta, Indonesia, pursuing her childhood dream of being a missionary.
Although getting acclimated to the weather, food, culture, and language wasn’t easy, the people of Indonesia captured her heart: “At the end of my first year I met children from an orphanage and I fell in love! These children were pulled from Ambon (the capital city of Maluku, an island on the eastern part of Indonesia), where there had been fierce fighting between Christians and Muslims. Their parents were looking for a place that would provide safety, school, and other physical necessities until the fighting was over. These kids were traumatized, as many of them witnessed the death of family members or friends and some of the boys actually had to fight in the war. I started my work with them by bringing books to teach them English. It wasn't long before I began staying overnight with them at the orphanage and becoming a part of their family.”
At the end of her second year, St. Paul’s asked her to return, and she did so happily. But the call of those Ambonese orphans was too much, and after one year in the States, she returned to to Sekolah Pelita Harapan, where she taught another eight years.
“What the young people of Ambon taught me and gave to me is immeasurable,” she says. By 2010, however, almost all of them had moved on to university, so Coral decided to move on as well, this time to a new school in Hanoi, Vietnam: Concordia International School, where she will teach PreK-2 phy ed and PreK-7 music next year.
With a new country, a new life, and a slightly lighter schedule, Coral decided it was time to pursue her master’s. She chose the M.S. Ed. program at Martin Luther College, focusing on the Instruction emphasis.
She admits that at first she was hesitant. Could she do this from 8,000 miles away? Would the online connection be accessible? Would she get the materials she required in hot and humid Hanoi?
After a few kinks—the books for her first classes, for instance, did not arrive on time—she is now online, on board, and on fire. Professor Gene Pfeifer’s course, Improving Instructional Methodology, inspired her. “It extended my understanding of how best to reach my students by addressing their unique qualities. I loved the instant feedback and the interaction with other WELS teachers. It was stimulating to communicate through posted responses; I think we all learned from everyone's experience and expertise.
“I was able to take many of the things I learned and immediately implement them in my own classroom,” she adds. “I saw the effectiveness of organizing units with authentic tasks, practicing and promoting higher order thinking skills.”
She also appreciated the flexibility. “Doing this course online allowed me to work at times when it fit into my schedule. Because I live overseas, it was a huge plus to find all of my resources online. Although I did my best to complete all assignments on time, I was granted an extension when one was needed. That flexibility was greatly appreciated.”
Coral understands why some teachers may be hesitant about plunging into a program. “I remember very well the pressures of teaching in a WELS school,” she says. “Often we are stretched very thin, covering many different duties. We can get a bit bogged down in the day-to-day activities and forget how important it is to work on the craft of teaching and further our own knowledge as teachers.”
But Coral does not want to forget. She wants to work on her craft, increase her knowledge, and become the best teacher she can be. “The master’s program whetted my appetite for learning again. It reminded me of important truths about children and how best to help them as learners.”