Student teaching in India offers a variety of lessons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State student Drew DiSario barely had time to unpack before he walked to the front of a classroom of Indian students to teach trigonometry abroad.

“I knew it was going to be my first time teaching in India, so I was going to bring my A game. I was up all night,” he said. “They loved it. I made them strategies for problems I knew they were having.”

A secondary education major, DiSario’s destination in India was Bangalore, a sprawling metropolis in the south-central section of the country that is known as the Silicon Valley of India. With 8.5 million residents, Bangalore is the third-largest city in a country with more than 1.2 billion inhabitants.

DiSario was completing his student teaching in India as part of a student teaching abroad program available through the Penn State College of Education.

“The short-term student teaching abroad option allows students to do both a traditional student teaching placement in Pennsylvania followed by an international placement in one of 16 countries: Australia, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, England, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Turkey or Wales,” said Leila Bradaschia, director of International Programs in the College of Education.

Students spend 12 weeks in Pennsylvania and then travel to their host nation school for five to eight weeks.

DiSario was surprised at how many people live in India. He also had to adjust to a large variety of language barriers.

“They spoke English, but there are some British words that I just don’t know. The way that it comes out of their mouth is so different. It took a little while to understand that,” he said.

“India is broken up into so many different states. Each state had its own language. Even in their own English, there are differences,” he added.

There were differences in the classroom, as well. However, the lessons learned in his College of Education courses at Penn State enabled him to adapt quickly.

He had to. Midway through his first day, his host teacher asked him to circulate throughout the room and check the students’ work in 11th standard (India’s equivalent of grade) trigonometry. Then, at the end of the day, the teacher asked DiSario to teach the next day’s lessons.

His most rewarding experience came later when he was asked to lead small group lessons in algebra. Other teachers came to observe and help instruct groups of three to four students.

Early on in the lesson DiSario observed the other teachers deviating from the lesson scripts he had written. But what first appeared to be a failure morphed into a resounding success.

“They tried what I said, and when it didn’t work for one or two kids they came up with something else on the spot. Even I deviated from what I had planned,” he said. “But we came together and talked about all the different ways to do it. I learned so much in that one lesson.”

The experience in India confirmed DiSario’s love of traveling and teaching. He said it’s something he sees in his future.

“I honestly learned to fall in love with traveling. When you go somewhere you know so little about, it makes you a little uncomfortable. But you can’t ‘not’ learn. When you do that many classes abroad, you’re doubling your chances of learning,” he said.

“The bigger underlying lesson is there are people doing things differently. There are different ways to work. It reminds you that you are part of a bigger picture. You’re teaching because you want to see people being taught, want to see an educated population coming after you.”

And that’s the whole point of student teaching abroad, Bradaschia said.

“They live with host families and teach in a local school to allow them to be immersed in a new culture and look at education and schooling from a different perspective,” she said. “It is a unique opportunity that allows students to see the world in a new and exciting way since they are there as professionals rather than tourists.”

DiSario will graduate from Penn State in May 2013 with a major in secondary education with the mathematics option and a minor in African studies.

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Last Updated April 27, 2013