Teachable Moments

September 19, 2012

I'm a professor of English as a second language at Holyoke Community College. I had a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant at Irkutsk State Linguistic University, in Siberia, Russia. While I was in Siberia, I received an email asking if I would be interested to work with English language teachers in central Asia, so last year in 2009 I wound up going to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia.

I gave workshops and presentations, we focused a lot on materials, development on the youth of literature and primary sources, on developing learner centered classrooms instead of teacher centered classroom. When I presented I used learner centered classroom techniques. The very first presentation I gave was what they called a "Chai Chat", but it was about 150 people from the city of Tashkent to come on a weekly basis to practice  their English. I had this enthusiastic crowd. I had them singing songs and I had them jumping up and down with rhythm of English. But then there were also cultural enrichment aspects. When I got to Tajikistan almost immediately they flew me in a helicopter into the high Pamir.It was so powerful for me to go up into those mountains and to look across the Panj river at Afghanistan and stand at the bridge when the Afghan merchants came across on Saturday for the Afghan market. And then in Russia the Embassy sent me to an area of Russia that is very unusual. It's called Kalmykia. Its in the southern part of Russia. The people there are of Mongolian heritage and they arrived there 400 years ago. And so it was like arriving in a Tibetan Buddhist place in European Russia it was a wonderful combination of cultural enrichment and professional networking.

And I think the more experience I have with different cultures then the more I understand the immigrant experience that my students have. And I love teaching and I love the active classroom and I love to engage. And I also feel that it is an exchange the students are not just learning from me but I am also learning from them. And having different points of view is a wonderful thing in the classroom and it creates enthusiasm, it creates deeper thinking. Communicating this allows people to think of diversity as a positive and maybe in the long run that helps create a more peaceful world.