Professional Experience and Development through TEA
*Keshav Prasad Bhattarai
Undoubtedly, America continues to be dreamland for most of us. The first European Settlers might have similar mesmerizing experience upon their arrival on a ‘City upon a hill” as we TEA Fellows from almost nineteen countries had upon our first step on this great nation. Here, I share my comprehensive TEA experience regarding how it’s helped in my own professional development.
Many people (including Nepalese) have come to the US, got a good job and settled well in various professions of their choice. However, I assume only a few have got an opportunity of experiencing the American way of living like we are doing here now. It’s an incredibly amazing experiencing the real American life, enjoying the home stay with them, shopping at the Macy’s, driving off on the Hamer, visiting new places and making adventure on the top of Empire State and Rock Feller, exploring round of statue of Liberty and Elis Island, taking night light view of Niagara and so on. What’s more, the real knowledge of the US classroom experiences, being familiar with the classroom practices and technologies and attending the sessions of high level dignitaries, professors and technology instructors at the Bowling Green State University, can never be compared with any kind of materialistic advances and achievements for the teachers like us. It is not only from the sessions that we have attended but also from the assimilation and integration of 72 experts from 37 countries, their knowledge of culture, geography, political issues and issues of gender in different perspectives.
Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA) is the ground base platform that has presently made these all advances and achievement possible on our hands. It is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, and implemented by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX). The program provides secondary school teachers from Europe, South and Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Near East and the Western Hemisphere with unique opportunities to develop expertise in their subject areas, enhance their teaching skills, and increase their knowledge about the United States and United States’ classrooms practices. This program mainly includes a kind of customized professional development courses at a U.S. university in the areas of teaching methods and instructional technology as well as involves Fellows with the opportunity to participate in a practical field experience at a U.S. secondary school.
My wonderful experience of knowledge commenced with the “Welcome Workshop” at Renaissance Washington Hotel, 1143 New Hampshire Avenue NW Washington, D. C. 20037 from January 26th -29th , 2016. After a short welcome speech of Mr. Michael Kuban, Senior Program Officer, Teacher Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, different workshops began and continued for three days. The workshops mainly included Program Overview and Expectations, International Education Poster Fair Presentation, Foundations of the U.S. Education Systems, Gender and Education Session and Cross-Cultural Communication and Education by high level of IREX Dignitaries and Professors. On the fourth day of our US stay, on completion of the workshops, after lunch, we departed to our real destination for Host University Experience to Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. It was a flight trip to Washington D. C. to Detroit, Michigan State and two hours’ drive from Detroit to Bowling Green Down Town.
Real trial with new excitement and curiosity started on beautiful morning of 31st January, 2016 on fertile land of knowledge, Bowling Green State University in room no 109, the ground floor of Education Building. Bowling Green experience proved to be a real fun and source of knowledge blossomed with the new buds of the spring through the root of Bowling Green professors, experts forming a sole stem of Dr. Sharon Subreenduth, Director of International Democratic Ed Institute, Professor, Teacher Education and spread in the veins of nineteen branches of experts who hail from 19 different countries. It cannot be described in words what and how much knowledge we gained solely from Bowling Green State University, but to hit the bull’s eyes, we spent 46 hours for General Cross Disciplinary Workshop leading by Dr, Subreenduth except her debriefing and reflection, 27 hours for Technology Classes led by Savilla Banister and supported by Mark, Lan and Rebecca, 45 hours for English and World Language Workshops with various dignitaries like Dr. Thomas, Burke, Murnen, and Clark. More over the unforgettable touch of expertise we experience in Krishna Han, P.hD. who spent his invaluable 11 hours’ time involving us on very impressive workshop on Cultural Communication/ multicultural Team Building and Orientation. It is not the matter of hours but the matter of knowledge and sharing of experience with the U.S. experts who were really quite different than that of the experts I have ever seen in my country up to now. To make it sense, I don’t mean to say that there are not the experts in my country as talented and knowledgeable as they are in the US, but I must assert the bitter fact that the friendly behavior and the noble attachment with the partner learners or even with the student-learners seems lacking in our teaching and learning context whereas this was so apparent here which I felt to be followed or learned by many of us. I found the statement of Laxmi Prasad Devkota, ‘phaleko hango kahile chhara, nanuhi raheko’ be true in the American land and I proudly say it is my simply the best learning here.
The most important part of this program that I found is the field experience. Field experience is meant for visiting to any one of US High School, usually assigned by the Host University and working at least eight days there. The total 56 hours engagement in the fieldwork program at school proved to be full of full of excitement that helped gain a deeper understanding of the US education system, classroom practices, materials and technologies used, syllabus and course books and many more. To me, it’s only about learning from the US classroom, but is also equally beneficial for our self-reflection, exchange of our classroom experience and practices with them. I was personally assigned to work with Mrs. Heather Smietansky, Senior English Teacher of Toledo School for the Arts. In its truest sense, it was a great opportunity to understand the real experience of US classroom practices, students, their work, whole school, seat arrangement and student teacher relationship. Actually, I wanted to know have knowledge about the content of the US high school curriculum to gain insights about what US high school curriculum concentrates on and how teachers deliver the content inside the classroom. The technological advances inside the classroom seemed to be far beyond my imagination in my own classroom context back home. Mrs. Smietansky’s teaching of a novel, ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ for Ninth grader was way different than that of how Nepalese teachers teach in their classroom contexts, which is substantially based on lectures, rote-learning, and teacher-centered. I felt so proud of myself to teach the first class to the students in the US School. I was astounded by their appreciation toward the way I taught them and they requested for few more classes so that they could gain some knowledge about my country, language, education, and the foremost thing, the culture of Nepal. I had a chance to take three classes and I realized it was hard for Mrs. Smietansky to re-schedule her calendar in case I took more classes than I was supposed to due to the students’ impassioned plea. One great learning was that the violation of the strict schedule for teachers in the US is considered a professional weakness.
Some other things that I experienced are: attending different types of formal and informal meetings and gatherings with the experts and scholars of different fields, that started the second day at the host BGSU with the Welcome Dinner at Simpson Park Gardens, and continued time and again in different forms. Sometimes it was named as Dinner with US Partner Teachers and TEA Fellows, Service Learning Workshop in the community, Lunch with Partner IREX Teacher Workday and sometimes it was a kind of Cultural Activity in Toledo, presentation of Tri-fold information in different places, participating in OETC Conference at Columbus, Photo Journaling Activity at Perrysburg and International Educator Night at BGSU and Perrysburg Junior High school and visiting to historically important forts and museums.
What’s more- gaining useful knowledge from every step of our interaction, observation and involvement in every micro event with professors, teachers, , and even with our own partner participants from 19 countries in our specific group, were no less worthy than to compare with any academic certificates in a hard copy. We could gain every valuable thing in our every footstep either from Bowling Green to Toledo, or to Erie and Niagara and to the top of Empire State Building. So it was almost the worthiest program I have ever been through in my life that I cannot compare with any achievement I have ever received.
This opportunity for me is, in the words Jennifer Gibson, Branch Chief, Teacher Exchange Branch, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, “testament to your dedicated service to secondary education and is international recognition for your excellence as a teacher, and in the words of Desiree Williamson, Senior Program Officer, Education program Division IREX, “…that your outstanding record of teacher leadership, excellent application and interview, and your TOFEL score have led to a fellowship award for the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA). However, I can diligently and proudly say that it is NELTA that helped extend my personal identity to broaden professional horizons as an ELT expert due to which I have been able to grab the opportunity of TEA and many more opportunities of international connection and professional links as an ELT practitioner. NELTA has, in fact, proved to be a professional platform and networking opportunity with like-minded professionals from across the globe where every English teacher can shape their professional height through the connection of world English Practitioners. It has provided us with international exposure, link and resources that is fundamental to all English Language Teachers and Practitioners. So, what I believe is regular attachment and selfless volunteer with NELTA could help a professional like me to develop professional career and find the link of international exposure for all English Teachers with professionals from across the globe.
(*Keshav Prasad Bhattarai, chair of NELTA Sunsari Branch and Central Committee Member teaches at Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Dharan. Recently, he received Teaching Excellence Award (TEA) for his visit to the US for a six-week intensive teacher training at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, USA).