Saturday, February 9, 2013

Experiences of a Fulbright Scholar

Experiences of a Fulbright Scholar
Karel Zdarek

My experience at CCNY

When I agreed to share my experience on this blog I had no idea that it would be difficult to start. The observation Despite the fact I have been to the US and NYC numerous times and even lived in the US (rural area of PA) for a year, I wouldn’t have imagined I would experience a cultural shock. I do not know whether to ascribe it to actually living in New York, or living specifically here in Harlem, being exposed to a completely new educational environment. Probably, all that and also having plenty of time to observe and think about it.

I see many opportunities here – for myself personally and for anyone who sets his mind to achieve anything conceivable. I’ve had a great opportunity to participate in some of the classes in the Educational Theatre department; through the CCNY professors I was able to meet other people from my field of study (Drama in education, ESL/EFL). I’ve had a wonderful experience being involved in the process of working with middle school kids putting up the Jungle Book show. I’ve made a few friends and even had an opportunity to experience a Thanksgiving dinner with American family (thanks Lauren!). I had all the time and resources to work on my papers and thesis. My experience as a student has been and continues to be enriching and fulfilling and I’m grateful for that.

I like, I’ve noticed, I wonder (mostly observations from CCNY)
I like, how teachers and students seem to have closer, tighter and more open relationship.
I like how much more open the students are in sharing their opinions, feelings, concerns and ideas.
I like how confident the students are in expressing their opinions, ideas, concerns and questions.
I like how tolerant and patient the students are with those who are sharing at the moment.
I like the scaffolding the professors provide by means of detailed syllabus, detailed task description, by providing examples or patterns to follow and by offering helping hand if needed (even over the phone).
I’ve noticed (besides the above observations) the conversational turn taking occurs at much faster rate compared to what I’m used to or I have experienced elsewhere in the USA. I wonder why? Is it the faster pace of everything? Is it the comfort limits in the presence of silence in conversations? Is it the joy that derives of rapid conversation?
I like how the discourse turn taking seems to be flowing on the positive waves of acknowledgement “yes, and.” (As opposed to Czech “well, but…no”).
I’ve noticed children and students are praised a lot and often. (As most Czechs, I have experience with the opposite extreme – being praised for outstanding achievement and significant progress) I wonder if excessive praise doesn’t gradually decrease its effect and eventually lose its motivating power. I wonder to what extent lack of praise results in diminished self-confidence.
I have noticed the students here and back home have the similar concerns about their future jobs as teachers: finding a job, being equipped with enough teaching techniques, lesson planning and how time consuming it will be, managing a class and handling difficult kids.
I have noticed there is one magic powerful word that is used often – ownership. I understand it as the fact that we (as teachers) present something to the children, let them add their bit to it and let them believe it’s theirs. As a result the students will feel greater responsibility for the process, be more motivated and engaged. I’m stealing this!
I’ve noticed the prescribed structure for reflection and feedback works well. I like it and I wonder if I can steal that too.

I also have to admit I have concerns about the life outside the campus. I’m saddened by obvious social inequity and other issues (all systemic - health care, education, etc.) to which I don’t see an answer. However, I do see an answer for myself as an individual. As a teacher I can make a difference in my immediate environment. I can spark up interest, open eyes and help realize my students’ potential. I have the privilege to educate – educate in the original sense of the word ex ducere.

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