Teachers keep pace with change

Sahaya Mary, who was awarded the Fulbright Teacher Distinguished Awards in Teaching last year, details her experience in the US absorbing cross-cultural interactions and teaching workshops and seminars.

There are several challenges that a teacher faces today. The ever-changing content and scenario require teachers to embark on a continuous endeavour to enhance their knowledge, skill and attitude.

The Fulbright Scholarship grants and funding offer a wide range of avenues for higher education and professional development. Of these, the Fulbright Teacher Exchange programme and the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program offer opportunities for ‘teachers/teaching leaders/educators’ to have cross cultural experiences in the US. 

In the year 2011-12, seven teachers were selected for the Teacher Exchange programme and four for the Distinguished Awards in Teaching programme. Both courses reflect the priority given by the pioneering organisation to in-service training and professional development which trains and exposes teachers to the emergent trends in education.

While many of the Fulbright programmes are jointly funded by the US and India, the ‘Distinguished Awards in teaching’ programme is fully sponsored by the US Department of State. It brings educators from eight countries, who are granted four months of professional development training in a US university. The 2011 batch had twenty teachers from eight countries, out of which four were from India.

The applications are called in the months of August-September, every year. While the ‘Teacher Exchange Programme’ is open to those working in middle school and high school, the ‘Distinguished Awards in Teaching’ is open to all teachers from elementary to university.

Educators with a job requirement of 50 per cent workload assigned to classroom teaching qualify for this opportunity. The applications can be downloaded from the ‘US India education Foundation –USIEF’ website. (http://www.usief.org.in)

The timeline of applying for the grant begins in August every year. Shortlisted candidates are called for an interview at the Fulbright House in New Delhi. On being selected, they are fully prepared through orientation and mail support by the USIEF Team and leave for Washington DC in mid-August the ensuing year. The team of selected candidates from the other countries meet there and are given an intensive orientation for the four-month grant. The 2011 team was based at the University of Maryland College Park from August to December 2011.

Grantees are given the opportunity to audit any two courses of their choice at the university, visit US schools and research their chosen project proposal   under the guidance of a mentor.

The design of the programme offers excellent avenues for experiencing world-class academic study, cross-cultural interactions, invitations by faculty to universities to address foreign students, social get togethers and sight-seeing trips .

The Department of Education at the University of Maryland has an International Initiatives Division to enhance cross-cultural dialogue in education for global understanding and progress. The grant also funds participation in Professional development Conferences anywhere in the US and a ‘Post Programme Alumni Grant’ allows grantees to organise professional development interventions in their home countries as a follow up to their research project.

Many forums for discussion and dialogue are arranged at the university. The ‘Brown Bag’ seminars organises short seminars and presentations. The   vast, rich library resources are a  goldmine for the intellect. There are several seminars arranged by the grants team — ranging from spirituality to technology tools. The grantees have the unique opportunity to interact with teachers from other countries. This cross-cultural experience is a tremendous training space in inter-personal skills and mutual understanding.

While there are many avenues at home, this programme offers teachers a sabbatical — a dedicated period for focus and study in a congenial and professional environment, supplemented by rich resources and supportive faculty to guide and mentor. In addition, the school visits offer a wealth of practical experience and insights into   prevalent policies and pedagogical practices. The programme design is a fine blend of theory and practice, study and research and cross-cultural professional conference.

Aspirants need to have completed five years of accomplished teaching experience with value-added approaches to creativity and innovation, particularly with community connections. The core consideration of the applications is the project proposal which addresses a need or problem in one’s work environment. Superior evaluations, excellent communication and interpersonal skills are desirable.

The experience is life changing professionally and personally as it deepens a teacher’s understanding and broadens thinking.

True to the common saying among the grantees who have tasted the experience, “A Fulbrighter is a Fulbrighter for Life.”

(The writer is Headmistress at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Bangalore.)

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