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What it Takes…

Holly Liebl

My most recent experience teaching in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal for two months, this past summer was compiled of revelations, humility, cultural exposures, and memorable interactions with educational officials and local Nepalese. I’ve met an incredible and hospitable people who have shown me the values of life, one another, and education. I did not meet one student, despite their impoverished conditions, who hasn’t understood the lengths of what an education could do for them, their families and their future. Education isn’t an easy process, especially when students are not reaching their potentials through engagement, discovery, and accommodated learning that must be implemented to meet their needs. Not every student learns the same way, but every student is capable of learning.

Perhaps it was when I worked with a very young, energetic second grader; a recent arrival from the village, whose insatiable eagerness to learn revealed to me a newfound power of education, despite the cultural and language gap that both of us shared. Initially perceived and treated as an immature nuisance to the class by his peers and teachers, this young boy craved attention. When I began to re-direct that attention to utilizing him within the classroom, allowing him to participate in whole group activities, and giving him the equal chance to learn, I witnessed in him a desire to learn, less focused on misbehaving and more focused on pleasing his teacher and meeting the standards of his surrounding peers. It was through these continuous interactions that Joshep and I had established a friendly and appreciative rapport.

Although the Level Two students, well, all level students in government-sponsored school systems contain students of all different ages and learning levels, learning styles and interests, from all different backgrounds, were culminated into overcrowded classrooms with remotely bare minimal resources, the truth of the matter was very obvious: educators have challenging tasks that lie before them. These tasks cannot be tackled with very little to no preparation and lesson planning, constant feedback provided to their young audiences’ work and ideas, and absolutely requires the educator to step out of their comfort zone in a way that serves the furthering education of such young minds. Without these strategies and implementations in American schools, teachers will, undeniably, serve only half a loaf to the innovative, differentiated, and various-skilled students before them.There must be a passion that the educator exhibits, whether they are perceived as such or some strange outlier of the typical faculty and staff populations. In a world where technology has had unfathomable advancements across the globe, young minds have to believe that there is a place for them in the future, in our ever-connected international community, and as the future becomes even more competitive, seeking specialized and exclusive skills from every viable applicant, it is imperative that as young minds in the classrooms, they are encouraged to “think outside of the box”, become innovative in their own approaches to problem-solving and hypotheses, and understanding past and future events beyond what is delivered in a direct-instruction lecture. We, as educators, must shape and guide these skills and abilities, and build up the students’ confidences and competencies to create future leaders, mentors, and ambassadors in our ever-connected global society.

While having a blank slate curriculum for my volunteer Level Twelve students who would file into the third-level lecture room, I was a little uncertain of where to begin. Hundreds of questions consumed my mind of what I should teach, what would be of interest to my students who would head home or off to work after they finished my hour session. What had their experience been with education? How will I address the various levels of English learning, listening, speaking, reading, and writing? There were initial awkward silences, understandably so, between me and my Level Twelves. Some days the attendance soared at 30+, other days as low as two, but nevertheless, my students knew there was always something new, something they could take away, something they could work on outside of the classroom. At least eight of my students who frequently attended were proficient; at least half of those eight were close to being advanced English learners. A commonality amongst the class understood how English was beginning to form a strong priority throughout Nepal and that they, as future leaders of their country, could implement their skills in their jobs, interactions with ever-present tourists, and fulfill projected future aspirations of serving as international businessmen/women.

It was these very students that conveyed an uncontainable enthusiasm when we talked about the Book Bus coming to Kitini School. The Book Bus is a mobile library created through a U.S./Nepal Embassy partnership to encourage literacy incentives in rural areas of Nepal. With a focus on climate change, the Book Bus engaged students through different programs of documentaries, libraries of various genres to select, coloring lessons, taking students outside of the classroom to dig up Nepali earth, flowers, and understand the importance of caring for the native flora of their communities. Different posters and displays of animal kingdoms, native populations, plant life and geological activity and study excited my students indubitably. What a fantastic incentive! Students were reading books in Nepali, some in English, learning new ideas, seeing new things, exposed to the diversities of the world, even the exclusive histories and cultural locale of Nepal!

Nepal, despite its third-world status and struggling living conditions throughout, is emerging and seeks to find a greater role in geo-political relations and economic partnerships that will build the country and help it to grow to sustainable measures. This is no easy undertaking, but as English continues to be the official language of international business and commerce, as my young adult students very clearly articulated, the priorities of effective teaching methods, competent English-speaking teachers, and a strong national priority in building educational foundations nationwide are more crucial now than ever.

With all being said, coming to Nepal with an understanding of these projected missions and governmental priorities was extremely heartwarming to an American educator. Communities across the world are not as different as many perceive. The education of a child, the forever learning of an adult can prove to have flourishing results for the future of that individual and country. However, not sure what was to be expected or how strong of a role I would serve in my new community and school, I was ready for anything. Our orientation week proved helpful to give us a glimpse of cultural idiosyncrasies, beliefs, practices as many traditional communities may contrast the more liberal American education. It was important for us to realize that many classrooms may be overpopulated, students were grouped in classes that rarely addressed learning difficulties or levels, and that resources were minimal, if non-existent. Coming from an American school where it is easy to distress over a copier that has broken down temporarily, or Internet that can be slow and trying on certain days was no match, no true comparison really, to the bare minimal resources that were available in the classrooms. This challenged all of us, including me, to step outside of our comfort zone, using songs, singing in what may be sub-par quality voices, drawing pictures, providing paper and stories and activities to show the students that I wasn’t there to teach right from a lesson book that had English errors published throughout. As an American educator teaching World Cultures, what served in my favor was that my own course in the United States doesn’t have a textbook, but is dependent on current updates, international events and affairs, and I use books as a supplement to my research, imparted to my classes.

Getting students up and moving and interacting as a routine start to the lesson of the day proved rewarding. In fact, it was incredibly edifying to hear how well each word was better enunciated the following day. Without a class consumed with direct instruction and empowering students to become advocates of their own learning, not only was it transitioning students from repetitive learning styles, but it made them excited to learn. Yes, there were obvious language barriers and some days were better than others; by using songs, rhymes, and pictures, any teacher will observe a natural curiosity and effort put forth by these eager learners to try. The more they try, the more efficient they will become. Albeit it was a more different transition for teachers as it commanded them to step outside of their comfort zone, but I found it equally rewarding that my co-teachers may not have been fully confident to run class entirely different than before, but their assistance and observations of the excitement of learning, the different strategies implemented for different kinds of learning exposed them to a differentiated types of education. The more I developed rapport with my fellow faculty and administrators, the more I came to know them personally and my life was forever touched.

I’ve never witnessed a kind of faculty camaraderie as I have in Nepal. In fact, the more I observed how they looked after one another and exchanged a genuine “Namaskar”/”Namaste” made me deeply wish I had something so strong back in my American school. It was an enlightening contrast to bullying, competitive and judgmental qualities that American educators can exhibit all too often. Most are all too willing to tell you what they really think of you, whether it is to raise you up or to put you down; so many become very overprotective of their performance in the classroom. But what I’ve come to realize is there is power behind collaborating with fellow professionals, sharing both successes and struggles, exposing new ideas, and modeling effective teaching strategies that will work with determination and example. The students must always be our focus. It is their future that lies in our hands as we live to serve the community through the power of education. As the world continues to shape and transition in such astronomical ways, we, too, must transition as educators to meet the needs of our future leaders and ambassadors no matter what country it is in which we live and teach.

An educator is a lifelong learner. Learning can never stop. Education is the gateway to innovation, progress, peace. As my Level Four students, co-teacher and I read through a story about a jackal and a camel, we asked our students to re-write the ending of the story. How would they change the course of the jackal and the camel? What creative ending would they devise? What avenues would they take to keep the jackal alive? Would they make the protagonists friends? As I read through their new endings, I realized something so powerful; as they created their new endings, they reached depths of imagination, innovation, and made a story personal to their lives. They changed the morals of the lesson, the interactions of the characters fulfilled new roles, new dialogue and what I realized at that moment was that the more creative and differentiated we can be as teachers, no matter what country, what classroom, what students sit before us, they, too, will follow and will meet, sometimes exceed, their potentials and will never look back.

(Ms. Holly Liebl, a Fulbright-Hays Scholar and a 10-year educator focuses on teaching Social Studies in the United States and has recently embarked on a two-month journey in Nepal through WorldTeach, volunteering to teach English to various levels of students in the Kathmandu Valley. She has traveled to southern Africa, Nepal, and continues to pursue English-focused teaching experiences and collaboration in other regions of the world, including China in 2015.Her passion culminates both education as a lifelong learner and global educator and traveling to various cultures around the world, working to bridge the gaps of international communities between her students and colleagues in the United States and students and faculty in foreign locales.)

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