The kids were just sitting there….listening to the teacher. 5-year-olds, sitting in a circle without fidgeting, playing with their neighbors, or talking over the teacher. I had never seen a more focused, attentive group of kindergartners in my life than when I observed this Nepali classroom.

When I taught kindergarten in the U.S., my co-teachers and I had a bag of tricks we would constantly have to pull from to get the kids to focus. Praise one student for his or her good behavior to motivate others to do the same (“I like how Tommy is sitting”). Pause until the students realize you’re waiting on them (“I’m going to wait until everyone is ready”). However, pulling from this bag of behavior management tricks always used precious classroom time and interrupted the flow of the lesson.

This Nepali kindergarten teacher, on the other hand, wasn’t using class time to get her students’ attention back – she never lost their attention in the first place! As a result, she could spend class time doing something that feels more and more foreign to U.S. teachers: she could actually teach.

_MG_4332This particular Nepali school is clearly doing something right. Maybe this attentiveness comes from the meditation they practice regularly in school. Or maybe it’s the fact that moral education, a type of character development, is one of the founding principles of the school and even part of the curriculum at the elementary level. Perhaps it is tied to the Nepali culture, or some mix of all these factors. No matter the cause, it is clear that U.S. teachers have something they can learn here. But unfortunately, many “Teach Abroad” programs only focus on how much teachers in developing countries need training from Westerners, not what Westerners might learn from them.

Now I’m not saying every school in Nepal has students this attentive, nor am I saying that Nepali teachers wouldn’t benefit from collaborating with Western teachers. But I am saying that it is arrogant of us and disempowering to the country to assume that we have nothing to learn from them. That’s why it is so important that teach abroad programs take the “Two-Way” approach: the expectation of professional growth must be mutual.

_MG_5219Teach abroad programs advertise “eye-opening” and “life-changing” experiences, but often don’t implement specific program activities for the volunteers to learn from local professionals in a formal setting. What TIEs with Teachers aims to do differently is provide structured opportunities for both groups to listen to and learn from each other. Both groups will observe each other teach and provide feedback, both groups will lead professional development trainings, and both groups will participate in co-planning sessions and discussion groups to share their teaching insight.

I encourage development workers in any field to take the “Two-Way” approach. You might be surprised at how much you grow professionally.

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