Monday, September 20, 2010

book ends

Today began with an earthquake and ended with a coming of age celebration that had all the rich tapestry of a ceremony befitting the Middle Ages with the warmth and generosity that is such a part of this region.

Somewhere in the middle I managed to go with two other colleagues to watch a methods class at the ped U. We were ushered in by the dean, an elderly and delightful man who when asked about his ideas for the future simply shook his head. He was open to new ideas but had clearly come to terms with where he was in life and the prospects of change in a region that is on the one hand anchored in an ancient history and on the other is being catapulted into the future.

The methods class was interesting from a variety of perspectives. The teacher, for some glitch in logistics, ended up with two classes in one. She also was a bit unprepared for the prospects of visitors and took the fall back approach of doing review. The method under review was "arts and crafts" across the disciplines. She asked a series of questions such as how can you use arts and crafts in chemistry, mathematics, ecology etc. The students all stood for recitation some speaking so quickly that they clearly were worried they would forget something. The students had great ideas and were largely attentive except for the usual pose of flirts in the back row who were busy exchanging emails and texts.

As this progressed I kept thinking what is this class about anyway. It can't be arts and crafts for real and then it dawned on me. This class was about how to make materials to teach your subject matter because in fact, besides a often outdated text book that is all the teacher will have. The most interesting aspect of this process was the level of subject integration. Students were whizzing along the curriculum and giving good comments and good ideas on all sorts of ways to create manipulative materials that young people could use. They even went on to detail how to use bottles and jars. At one point the instructor said.. 'don't throw anything away even a stone can help you teach some mathematics".

Naturally, at the end of the class there was time to ask questions of an American teacher and they were about as I expected. Once again when I asked why they wanted to teach most of them responded with "I had a great teacher in school and i want to be like him or her" Then the conversation shifted quickly to life in America. What did my students wear to class? What was the relationship between me and my students? Did my students go to school on Saturday and did they live at home? Were they as smart as my students? I answered as best as I could with the usual levels of good humor and will spilling out from the students. Just before I left there was a pause and I had a moment while gathering my things to look out over their bright and energetic faces and I thought if ever there is salvation for us all it is in these young people who for some unknown reason have decided to become teachers. I could not help but be optimistic about this country's future.

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