From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger Sandra Bornstein. Sandra is a licensed Colorado teacher who has worked in the US and abroad. While living in India, she fulfilled three passions – a desire to travel, a zeal for writing, and a love of teaching. Sandra’s Indian adventure became the backdrop for her book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir. She hosts a blog that focuses on education, family, and travel. Sandra also promotes authors via interviews and book reviews on her website. You can hear more from Sandra on Twitter or on Facebook

In 2010, I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted a teaching position at an international private boarding school in Bangalore, India. With considerable apprehension, I left behind my position teaching Intro to Education classes at a Colorado community college to teach fifth grade in a Third World country. My world was turned upside down as I coped with culture shock, loneliness, and learning a new British/Indian curriculum. 

In India, I was able to apply my American training and experience to meet the needs of my students. I also infused different aspects of my American background into the established primary program. Since I was unable to travel with many books or materials, I relied on a terribly slow Internet connection for supplementary American resources.

Since my experience was limited to just one international school, I cannot say unequivocally that all private schools in India follow the same protocols. I did learn that most Indian teachers received similar or inferior training to my Indian colleagues. Even though a high percentage of Indian children are simultaneously learning two or more languages, few teachers were aware of any second language learning theories or methods. English was taught without any attempt to differentiate instruction. Upon realizing this, I immediately understood why so many of my students struggled with basic reading and writing skills.

The situation was further exacerbated by an emphasis on teaching writing via a series of grammar exercises. Very little time was spent actually writing. To create a more balanced approach, I provided writing prompts a few times a week. However, I quickly learned that if the students were not given a specific topic, they would become bewildered. A “free write” was too far outside their comfort zone. On a more formal level, I introduced my class, as well as the entire primary school to Ruth Culham’s 6 Traits Plus 1 writing program. Disappointingly, both my students and fellow teachers balked. I learned that change could be a slow process.

It was a challenge teaching one novel to a multicultural class of diverse learners. Once again, I used my American training to introduce educational tools such as graphic organizers and rubrics. It took many weeks for my students to learn the ins and outs of participating in literature circles. It was exciting to see the class master these unfamiliar skills.

But at the same time I questioned whether I was going too far.

“I toyed with the idea of taking the easy way out. If I simply followed the team, I would have minimal prep time and would grade grammar worksheets and simple one-line answers instead of meticulously grading actual writing. Taking such a shortcut would disrupt my forward motion and eliminate any hope of making significant improvements. I couldn’t forget that I was hired for my expertise and that the school was paying a premium for my education.” (May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir pages 158-9)

My international experience allowed me to reset my compass. I adapted to a foreign culture and simultaneously shared my American background. I encourage individuals reading this guest blog to reexamine their life to determine if now is the right time to step outside of their comfort zone.

Thank you Sandra for sharing your experience and inspiring us to take that step out of our comfort zones. Though I’ve never moved to another country, my visits to Qatar, Lebanon, Germany and, most recently, Guam, have opened my eyes — and heart! — to our bigger world. I look forward to reading your memoir.

No Responses to “From the Office of the Future of Reading”

  1. E.S. Ivy

    What a neat experience! I know what you mean that you *could* take the easy way out, but then you wouldn’t find it as interesting. Bravo for rising to the challenge!