Learning to Teach India through Travel
By Karen Guerrero
The participants in the AIIS-CAORC 2019 faculty development seminar to India.
Karen Guerrero, Assistant Professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University, was a 2019 participant in the AIIS-CAORC Faculty Development Seminar to India. In this essay, she spells out why experiential, immersive learning opportunities are so essential for good teaching.
India changed the way I teach in a way only traveling to a new country can. Exploring off-the-beaten paths full of color, smells, tastes, and sounds not experienced in my everyday American life provided a new outlook to support why I teach. Meeting the teachers, parents, authors, students, businessmen, and other leaders who are making a difference in sustainability through civic engagement provided a lens which I hope will inspire the students I teach. Through the many opportunities CAORC and AIIS provided during the intense and inspirational fellowship in India, I have become an even stronger advocate for teacher travel. And here is why.
Travel allows teachers to…
trade places with the student and become the learner. To support lifelong learning, teachers need to get out of their comfort zone, explore new places, have new experiences, and walk in other peoples’ shoes to truly understand the world in which their students live. In my classes, I teach about India while connecting content and language standards to model effective teaching practices for my pre-service teachers. Though I have read and researched, and investigated and memorized facts and figures, places, and dates to model my lessons, I did not have firsthand experience on which to base my knowledge. Walking through bustling markets in New Delhi, learning how block printing has been passed down from generation to generation in Jaipur, and meeting aspirational performers who design songs through visual language using traditional fables and folklore in Mysore has allowed me to truly learn about people and places in India so that I can share knowledge through my own personal experience.
excitement in teaching and learning through new experiences. Although teachers often go into teaching because they want to make a difference, over the years, politics and lack of support can wear on even the most motivated educators. Travel can be the solution! When I first read about the India seminar, I started connecting what I was doing in the classroom and the possibilities of knowledge, connections, and opportunities I would gain through the invaluable experience. Fortunately, I was accepted and ended up traveling to India with other faculty from across the U.S. to join in an amazing educational adventure! I improved my understanding of what India is doing now to support its people, its environment, and the country’s future. The seminar’s participants quickly became new colleagues, all eager to collaborate and find ways to integrate what we learned into our diverse teaching backgrounds. And I have already made connections for future collaboration and opportunities with the many experts I met across India as a result of this experience.
authentic learning. In classrooms across the country, teachers try to connect concepts to real-world issues. Whether traveling to the local water treatment plant or across the ocean to see how another country addresses sustainability issues, travel is essential to building real-life connections. Working with pre-service teachers, not only do my future teachers need to gain classroom experience, but they also need to experience the community in which they will be teaching, the practical connections to everyday careers, and collaborations where they work with people who have different backgrounds and perspectives. They need personalized experiences that will build knowledge to support their own teaching. By traveling to India and meeting with different experts in sustainability, I was able to learn how to teach global citizenship by talking with everyday people who are making a difference in their community. This new knowledge allows me to take my own students out into the field and meet with everyday people in our community who are making a difference, thereby conveying the value of hands-on experiential learning.
compassion for people. Educators work with students from all over the world and from every walk of life. To teach a student, a teacher must connect with them. Building relationships is critical in supporting learning in the classroom. Part of building connections is understanding the experiences students bring with them. This background knowledge can then be used to build and support new learning. A truly effective teacher sees the value in the knowledge and experience students bring to the classroom. While in India, meeting children who were clothed and fed at a temple before heading off to school made an impact on me as an educator. Listening to the efforts of compassionate volunteers to educate children made an impact on me as an educator. Having children of all ages come up to me to practice their English made an impact on me as an educator.
historical and cultural perspectives to teach in the global, 21st-century classrooms of today. India’s vibrant communities are now engrained in who I am as a result of this fellowship. I was able to meet passionate advocates for change. I spent an afternoon feeding and playing with elephants as a village shared their past and hopes for their future. I was in awe of palaces and temples from long ago that I had only read about in books. I ate dinner with a family that welcomed us into their home and into their hearts. And the colors! Seeing young and old wearing the vibrant colors of India at work and at play in every village and big city was magical! These memories are engrained in my soul and have changed who I am as an educator. This is why teachers must travel! This is why I teach!
The AIIS 2019 faculty development seminar to India was organized with the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) and supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the following U.S. National Resource Centers in South Asian Studies: Columbia University, Cornell University, Syracuse University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, Austin, University of Washington, and University of Wisconsin, Madison.
About the Author
Karen Guerrero is Assistant Professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University.
She was among the 16 faculty participants in the seminar “Exploring Urban Sustainability through India’s Cities,” an intensive capacity-building and curriculum development seminar held in India from January 2–18, 2019.