“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ~ William Butler Yeats

These words have inspired me in my teaching since I first heard them quoted by one of my education professors in college. It is easy to think about teaching as just pouring knowledge into students. Educators have specific information they must teach students, usually in preparation for testing. But to think like this removes all of the passion from teaching and learning. It suggests that students are “pails”, capable of holding only finite amounts of knowledge, and that the learner is inactive in their learning. Education is so much more. It is discovery, it is creation, it is analysis, it is problem solving, it is critical thinking. It is the lighting of a fire. My experience as an LRTT fellow both lit my fire and gave me the opportunity to light the fires in others.

The match was struck on my first full day in India at the office of Mantra 4 Change, the non-profit organization that LRTT had partnered with in Bangalore. I got to learn more about Mantra, hear about the school I would be working in, and got to know my team of fellows better. Our meeting with Mantra made the experience real for me. Mantra is an incredible organization—they are focused, organized, and passionate about improving education in India. Each school is assigned a School Transformation Leader or STL. They spend at least two years working in their school, coaching teachers and facilitating training sessions. Our fellowship was only a month long, but our teachers would continue to be supported by Mantra for much longer. By working with Mantra’s vision, my team and I could make a sustainable impact at our schools.

On our second full day in India, we jumped right in. Our STL, Alaka, brought Melissa, my partner teacher, and me to our school. We were welcomed by the headmistress and got to meet our teachers. I had the privilege of working with two incredible teachers: Nazia and Zamrud. I got to observe their teaching a little bit and we had a great conversation about what we hoped to accomplish over the next few weeks. They shared with me their biggest challenge: students were scared to ask questions and participate during class. When I spoke to Melissa, she said that her teachers had a similar concern. We decided that our focus would be on giving our teachers strategies to help them create positive classroom environments that would light their students’ fires for learning.

The next few weeks went by faster than I could have imagined. We observed classes, gave feedback, and facilitated professional development (PD) sessions. Our first PD session focused on incorporating positive praise into the classroom and the second was about the benefits of using group and partner work as a teaching tool. Zamrud tried using a callback to grab the attention of her students and Nazia embraced several new praise strategies! I got to introduce the “Think, Pair, Share” strategy in both of their classrooms as well. It was incredible to watch how a few simple changes increased student engagement and contributed to a positive learning environment.

The true heart of my experience in India was the people I met. So many of them reignited my fire for teaching. Melissa’s smile never faltered. She taught me how to approach every situation, no matter how challenging, with positive energy. Alaka is absolutely brilliant. She taught me so much about the challenges facing Indian teachers and their students. Nazia and Zamrud are doing incredible things in their classrooms. They taught me how important it is for teachers to constantly reflect on and improve their teaching. I cannot imagine how overwhelming it would be to have someone come into my classroom and critique my teaching. But my teachers were open and kind. They always made me feel welcome and were eager to try every strategy we suggested.

I will cherish my time in India for the rest of my life. It has changed me in so many ways. This coming year, I will look for ways to develop myself as a teacher by seeking out professional development, and I will focus on teaching in a way that lights a fire in my students because that is exactly what this experience has done for me. I discovered a new culture. I created new relationships. I analyzed data from pre- and post-fellowship surveys. I helped my teachers solve problems that came up in their classrooms. I thought critically about what education looks like in a limited resource context. My fire, my passion for teaching, has been lit again.

Written by Maggie May Homeier

LRTT Fellow, India

For more information on teaching strategies, see blog.

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