By ROB NOVIT email@example.com
For more than 20 years, Claire Hughes has relished her professional work as an educator, most recently as a professor in the School of Education at College of Coastal Georgia and as a researcher.
She focuses on strategies for her students to help them meet the varying needs they will encounter for their elementary-age kids. Specifically, she has studied the issues faced by children who may be gifted, but have difficult-to-detect learning disabilities that impede their progress.
In 2015, Hughes was selected as the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. Last spring she completed a three-month visit to Greece, working with her sponsor, Ioannis Dimakos, a professor at the University of Patras.
"I wanted a global perspective," Hughes said. "We have kids from poverty and disabilities here, those who don't fit into the mainstream. But what happens when you get thrown into a different culture? I was curious what the mainstream looks like in that culture."
As her work progressed in Greece, Hughes realized she would bring back the unexpected.
Like most Americans, she knows that Greece remains in dire financial straits, but she could not have imagined the desperation of its people. The teachers there have been hit hard.
They have minimal water or electricity. There is no money for toilet paper; teachers must bring their own. The buildings are falling down, and few books exist. Many college students remain for up to eight years to earn graduate degrees. They are afraid to leave, as they almost certainly will not find work.
Yet the teachers continue to teach, Hughes said. She is awed that they remain sassy, funny and strong. Struggling refugee children arrive at school, and the teachers keep teaching, despite being extraordinarily stressed.
"How do you stay so tenacious and resilient, even when things are falling apart, when your families can't afford things?" Hughes asked. "Yet with all these terrible things, you can make a difference, even when you're teaching toward a future when the kids may not get jobs ... How can they find that source of stress and still find the sources of happiness?"
That's a major worry in U.S. education as well. Hughes is pleased that CCGA has held steady with its number of education graduates over the past five semesters. Yet nationally, the number of prospective candidates has dropped from six million to four million, Hughes said. It's generally recognized that teachers are most likely to leave in three to five years. Stress issues are a source of ongoing concern and research.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program's role extends beyond the research component. The program was established in 1945, introduced by U.S. Sen. J. Wililam Fulbright. According to its website, "the fundamental principle of international partnership remains at the core of the Fulbright mission."
Hughes is grateful that the foundation reaches out to smaller colleges. Its former participants include 54 Nobel Prize winners, 82 Pulitzer Prize recipients and any number of heads of state and government.
The United States history dates back 240 years, which of course pales in comparison to Greece and its origins that go back as far as 2000 B.C. That extraordinary history can be found everywhere, virtually all of it accessible to a worldwide public and as a source of pride to Greek citizens.
In a way, the teachers in Greece reflect the entire country as its people confront their insurmountable debt and other political issues beyond their control, Hughes said.
"They look back to thousands of years of culture," Hughes said. "They know this shall pass, that 'life is rough, but we will endure.'"
Photo cutline: Claire Hughes, third from left, a CCGA School of Education professor, is pictured at the historic Parthenon in Athens, Greece, during a three-month research trip through a Fulbright Scholarship. She is joined, from left, by her mother, Jami Bailey, and then-CCGA students Jenna McDaniel and Hazel McCausland. Both now first-year teachers, the young women spent a week with Hughes to join her research.