This summer I had the extraordinary privilege of visiting India and Nepal. What amazing views and observations I was able to experience. During my visit, I had the opportunity to speak with students, teachers, and other residents about their schools and education system. I also read the country's daily newspapers that included the latest education news and other related stories.
I confess that before my trip, I was feeling a bit down in the dumps about my teaching schedule as it indicated a change from my previous one. My schedule includes teaching four different courses which meet in three different classrooms that are shared with four other teachers. The bottom line is that I don't have a place to call my own: I can't hang posters, create a reading corner, choose furniture, or place books and materials in warm, welcoming places. I must respectfully share wall space, a desk, filing cabinets, and storage bins with the other teachers who will also use the rooms. To top it off, the high enrollment of two of my classes meets in a room that unfortunately can only fit about 12 desks.
While on this incredible journey, I climbed steep hills and trudged through mud roads, to observe countless school children learning literacy skills under the harshest conditions. In the brutally hot weather, coupled with heavy monsoon rains, the kids show up to school dressed in uniforms to get an education. They attend class in schools that have no air conditioning, filtered water, computers, or adequate bathrooms. As I mingled with the teachers and students, I realized that my problems with my schedule and classroom space are not insurmountable. With the right perspective, I can help all of my students to make their "180" in reading and writing skills. I am amazed that the students in these developing countries can acquire literacy skills, not only in the local language of their region but also in their country's national language (Hindi), as well as English! What an asset.
One thing I learned from my interaction with the students and their teachers was that despite the geography, the world of possible for all students hinges on one crucial factor--dedicated teachers. Teachers that are legacy-motivated and not mere hirelings; they are the ones who open the doors for their students.
Classrooms often include a wide spectrum of students. It is clear to me that despite working conditions and politics, it is the teacher that has the power to navigate the road to deliver literacy for all learners. It is the teacher that can remove barriers to learning for students where a world of possible is not clearly seen. This includes students with significant cognitive impairments, students who have unsuccessful school experiences, and students who come from literacy-deficient homes. As educators, we must firmly remind ourselves that reading is a non-negotiable asset that all our students should achieve and carry throughout their lifetimes.
As the sun rises on the new school year, I am fine-tuning my approach to literacy and education. Although I share three classrooms with other teachers and teach some classes that are maxed to the limit, I realize that the power to change lives lies with me, and not my working conditions.
So join me with the quest and passion to move our students forward. This means forgetting about what some of us may not have (Smartboards, reading corners, furniture, our own classroom, parental support, etc.) and remember what we do have -- a strong desire to see all of our students as strong and confident readers ready to take on the challenges of the world wherever that may be.