WBU professor learns much about education, culture at Oxford

PLAINVIEW – Jo Beth DeSoto traveled to England to share her wisdom with scholars in like fields. She came back with valuable knowledge about education and a few valuable lessons about international travel: Bring good walking shoes. Bring warm clothes. Don’t take a shower in the morning.

DeSoto, associate professor of education at Wayland Baptist University, returned Saturday from a week in England, where she participated in the Oxford Round Table, a scholarly assembly attended by invitation only. This year’s Round Table dealt with teaching English as a second language and teaching multiple languages. DeSoto received an invitation to attend after submitting an abstract for a paper on teaching students to read who are non-English speakers and in special education. Specializing in special education at WBU, DeSoto had a unique perspective on the language issue during the Round Table.

One of 60 professors from around the world who attended the Round Table, DeSoto said she learned much on the professional level about bilingual education and specific strategies for teaching multiple languages, as well as textbooks and other resources that are helpful in the field. She did say, however, that she was a bit intimidated.

“I felt like I was really small compared to these people,” DeSoto said. “Most of them spoke several languages and had several doctorates.”

DeSoto said she felt confident in her subject area, though, and said the connections made on the trip were invaluable for her as well as the university. Since the Round Table group represented 46 different countries, many of them gave her good tips on recruiting students from their regions.

The Round Table format featured daily presentations by participants, followed by discussion and debate among the group. At times, DeSoto noted, the other scholars could be harsh on the presenter, but the exchange of ideas and resources was valuable in future writing and research as well as in classroom application.

DeSoto said she was surprised to see the difference in how each country handles educational issues.

“Special education is not viewed the same in other countries,” she noted. “We make a lot of concessions here for students who have learning difficulties. In other countries, they often just take them out of the education system and teach them a trade.”

Culturally, the trip was just as educational for DeSoto, though she had made a trip to Oxford four years ago for another conference. She learned that stereotypes of her homeland were still rampant, with most participants shocked that Texans can live with rattlesnakes and other critters nearby. They were also surprised to see a woman teaching at a Baptist school, believing Baptists only allow men to teach.

DeSoto learned that England is not a sunny, tropical vacation spot… at least not in March. The temperature stayed between 10 and 20 degrees all week, she noted, with snow on the ground and overcast skies for the most part. That made for some challenges.

“They walk everywhere at Oxford, and the entire campus covers 45 square miles. We had a 45-minute walk every day from the place we slept to the meeting hall on campus, in the snow and cold,” she said, adding it didn’t get much better inside. “They keep all the buildings about 50 degrees because it’s too expensive to heat those old castles. I wore several layers and a coat all day long, and I learned not to take a shower in the morning because the room was just too cold.”

DeSoto said she was glad to be able to see the students in session while at Oxford, though the view was quite different from the American university tradition.

“The men wear suits and ties to class and the girls wear dresses or skirts. There were no piercings, tattoos, midriffs showing or anything,” she noted. “The students tell you they are ‘reading’ a certain subject because that’s what they do – a lot of reading and independent work – then they meet with their professors once or twice a week and discuss the reading. There are some lectures but not as many.”

DeSoto is preparing a presentation for the Wayland faculty to share what she learned at Oxford. Her original article will be printed in an upcoming edition of the Oxford Journal and a copy will be in the Wayland library. She said she’d like to return for another Round Table in the future if possible and appreciated the opportunity.

“Talk about being in the middle of the world of academia,” she mused. “It’s really an honor to be there, and it was a feather in Wayland’s cap for me to be there representing the university.”