America is the land of opportunities, as they say, the land where the dreams come true. I happened to see it with my own eyes, when people of different nationalities, cultures and religions are trying to realize their dream of becoming the full right educated citizens of their country.
In March of 2012 I participated in a seminar for professional development, organized by the US State Department for the English language teachers. This seminar was organized within the framework of the English Fellow Program in order to promote the exchange of experiences and creative ideas between the teachers of English.
This year the representatives of 34 countries were gathered in one group of 44 people. They were from Algeria, Argentina, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Venezuela, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Mozambique, Moldova, Nepal, Oman, Palestine, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, China, Brazil, Rwanda, Romania, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay, the Philippines, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Togo. The program sought to unite the English language teachers, so that they would exchange their methods and get to know the educational system of the USA. The seminar's goal was also to make the teachers from different countries acquire an international experience, and learn about other cultures.
Our visit to America started with Washington DC. Washington is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The magnificent capital of the United States is situated on the East Coast of North America, only 50 kilometers away from the Atlantic Ocean. It seemed that the organizers of the program picked Washington as our first destination on purpose. Washington is the center of political, cultural, and scientific life of the country. A lot of important government agencies and famous sites are located there. If you want to know more about history of the United States, if you want to study its riddles, you have to start with Washington. This was exactly what we did.
We spent the first couple of days at the Georgetown University, which is one of the largest international research centers. This is a leading university, with some of the best professors, and the quality of scientific research in the world. A leading university must have first of all the best and the brightest professors, authoritative in their respective fields. Georgetown University has more than 650 professors, among who is the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a popular author and linguist Debora Tannen, and many others. Many of those professors are considered the leading specialists in the US and in the whole world.
We visited lectures of some of the leading professors, and then analyzed their teaching methods and approaches, as well as their evaluation, grading and control systems.
The rest of our days in Washington DC were spent in the American schools. The first one was in Washington itself. It was called the Lab School of Washington. It was not an ordinary school. This was a special school for kids with psychological difficulties which inhibited their learning. Such inhibitions included dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and so on. The school's principal Alexander Friem was convinced that all of the students there were very creative persons. All they needed was special approach and a lot of patience, and everything would pay off. The founder of the school Sally L. Smith is a true legend in the educational circles. She thought of this idea of opening a special school for the kids with learning disabilities when she discovered that her son had psychological trouble reading, writing, and doing math. When she studied this problem on a deeper level, she found out there were many kids around with similar disabilities. Sally was persistent enough to start a special school geared to the needs of such kids. This school is now popular not only in the US but in many other countries as well.
When I was in this school I realized that any child can learn a lot of things. The key here is to find a right approach, to help a child to open up and realize his or her capabilities. The school's staff helps in realizing this task. Among the faculty members there were not only teachers of various school subjects but also a work therapy specialist, a speech therapist, a psychotherapist, and a performing arts director. The performing arts director Shaun Miskell was the most impressive. He told us, "We included all kinds of arts in our program, such as sculpture, drama, dancing, drawing, etc. When we work on a play, we don't just learn our roles. We also work on our speech, talk about politics, discuss our costumes. Children learn math, science and other subjects as part of drama. We put a special emphasis on Shakespeare. We think that Shakespeare is the basis of everything in a theater. Our children, even the smallest ones, love, understand and accept his plays."
We spent half a day in the school, attending classes and talking to children. In the classrooms, which abounded with various technical and methodical aids, the students drew pictures, did carpentry work, learned history. The school's theater was preparing a Shakespeare play.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of students without their parents' consent. But the brightness in the eyes of those kids engraved in my memory. I could tell that those kids wanted to be like everyone else, they wanted to think fast and react adequately to the challenges of the outside world. The results of the teaching methods in this school far surpassed any expectations. The testimony to this was the room full of pictures of the school's graduates who advanced in life.
This was a wonderful school. It was big, clean, bright, well equipped, and had good history behind it. The main treasure of the school is its teachers, the professionals of the highest degree who devote their lives to these children.
The second school we visited was called Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. This was a school for education and social adaptation of the adult immigrants. They did not only study English there, they also learned various trades. We spent several hours in the classrooms, observing the educational process. I was surprised by the very warm and friendly atmosphere in the school. The students were highly motivated to learn, and the teachers, on their part, did what they could to support and encourage their students while evaluating their work.
Interestingly, the students of this school came from different countries, with very limited means, and very limited knowledge of the English language and of their rights in the new country. Apparently, they work hard to support themselves and their families. But I saw such a spirit in them, such a desire to improve their lives that I did not have any doubts that the students who went through his school will succeed in their new life in America.
The last day we visited an elementary state school for the children of the immigrants. Again, I was surprised to find a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The teachers were wise and patient and the students were absorbed in studies.
After Washington DC our multi-national group spent a week in the wonderful city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We took part in an annual conference for the English language teachers called TESOL.
Philadelphia is a magical place with rich and interesting history. This was the place where the Constitution of the United States was accepted, the place where the Liberty Bell, the symbol of American independence, is located. The big and beautiful Convention Center where our conference took place was also located in the city. I noticed that the old part and the new part of Philadelphia are organically intertwined. The skyscrapers and the old historical buildings present a harmonious and beautiful ensemble.
This was a very eventful week full of meetings with some of the best English teachers in the world. The conference started quite early, at 7:30 am, and lasted until late in the evening. We had enough time for discussions, exchange of information, and even for getting to know each other.
I discovered so many new things in the US. The education system in American universities where the students not only get knowledge but also perfect themselves is truly exemplary. I loved the schools where at the center is the person of a student. The program prepared for us by our hosts was also great. It included visits to the museums, exhibitions, art galleries, and other things which helped to improve our cultural level. However, my main acquisition in America was meeting new people. I found so many good, kind and hearty people in the United States. For me, just like it was for Antoine de Saint Exupery, the true luxury is the luxury of human fellowship. I met people of different cultures and nationalities, and it made me richer culturally. Now I can say that I carry with me the particles of the cultures I encountered during my visit. I tried to understand and accept many things which seemed paradoxical or strange to me before.
We, the teachers, share the same interests, problems and hopes, despite the fact that we live in different countries. During my visit to America I realized once more that the exchange of ideas and experiences between colleagues is crucial. It enriches all of us, and helps us all to advance in our development.
By Zuryat Murtazova.