By Deanna Koller, Rowan University
Like every pre-service teacher, I have been asked the inevitable question, “So why do you want to teach?” And frankly, I was never quite sure of what to say. Yes, I love kids. But shouldn’t every teacher? (Side note: If your answer is no, please consider a different career path). I definitely felt a strong draw towards teaching, but I also enjoyed cooking, fitness, math, reading, etc. How I could be sure teaching was my calling? In an environment where teachers are constantly put down and criticized, why was I still so determined to become an educator? As I tried to articulate my exact reasons, I was fortunate enough to come across the opportunity to travel to India and teach in several villages. I signed up immediately.
Eager for my trip, I went through workbooks and my previous lesson plans to try and plan out what I would teach. So many ideas went through my head. Ironically, all were thrown out the window when I entered my first classroom in India. I was placed in a group with five teenage girls and told to teach. No paper and pencils. No manipulatives. No interpreter. If ever there was a time to think on my feet, this was it.
So I told them about the United States and taught them English words. In exchange, they told me about living at an Indian school and patiently instructed me on how to speak Hindi. On my second day in the classroom, one of the girls greeted me with a science textbook and asked if I would listen to her read about electric conductors. Later, a boy came up to me and showed me a picture of human cheek cells he had drawn and labeled. “Is this for a project?” I asked him. “No,” he responded. “I drew it during free time for fun.” The dedication these students showed towards learning was incredible. As I traveled to different schools, I was met with the same enthusiasm for learning. Although classes lacked the chalkboards and basic supplies we are so accustomed to in many schools in the United States, students kept coming back to learn. Like most teachers, I have occasionally grumbled when a chair goes missing or the heat is turned too low in a classroom. But these students? They had no chairs to sit on. They had no heat, or even classroom doors and windows to keep out the winter chill. Yet, they still asked me to give them math problems, read books, and describe what beaches looked like.
Once I returned back home, I experienced reverse culture shock within the classroom. While the opportunity to learn is so highly valued in India, I noticed that seemingly many students here cannot wait until the last bell rings. Our classrooms are can be filled with the latest technology for learning, yet some students would still rather play on their iPhones. We try to show new ways of thinking, but students in today’s classrooms seem more concerned about what will appear on their tests. Of course, not all students are bored with school; many students still enter the classroom willing to learn and participate. However, I have personally noticed an increasing number of students disengaged from school. It is concerning to me.
Teaching in India has helped determine why I want to teach. Yes, I love kids. Yes, I want students to learn and succeed. But I also want to help students develop a love for learning. I have seen this devotion to learning in India and it is truly inspiring and refreshing. By fostering this love in our students, we as teachers have the ability to make our students lifelong learners. We need to spur our students’ curiosity and make them understand that learning is a right that has not been granted to all. I want my students to come to school because they want to, not because they are required to. By renewing a love for learning in our classrooms, we can create a strong and positive learning community similar to the one I experienced in India.