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SFU celebrates 10 years of teacher education in India

February 28, 2020
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By Jessica Collins

A trip to India in 2013 forever changed Daniel Cooper’s teaching philosophy.

The Burnaby school teacher spent two months in Dharamsala, India as part of the Professional Development Program’s International Teacher Education Module (ITEM). He says engaging with the exiled Tibetan community there, and exploring its views on education, had a tremendous impact on his life and career.

Cooper returned to SFU earlier this month to share his experience at the ITEM India 10th anniversary celebration.

“The greatest gift I received during my time in India was an appreciation of the culturally sustaining teaching practices and philosophies that just permeate throughout the community there.”

Like many students, Cooper says it was ITEM that first attracted him to SFU’s teacher-education program.

“Once I realized I could do one of my teaching placements in India instead of New Westminster, that was a big selling feature for me. I thought working with the Tibetan community would be an incredible learning experience.”

Program Coordinator Sarine Sadhra says ITEM helps students to define who they want to be as teachers, in a context outside of their own experiences.

“We hope the openness, flexibility and appreciation of the culture that students experience while in India will be woven into their future educational practices,” she says. “The conversations we have with students about how to do this are always so thought-provoking and insightful.”

For Cooper, connecting with students through the universal languages of soccer and basketball are some of his fondest memories. But his conversations with local teacher Tsering Youdon affected him most.

“Toward the end of the program, Tsering welcomed me into her home to have dinner with her and her family. Over the course of the meal, she spoke frankly about her experiences and what it was like taking Canadian teachers under her wing. Good naturedly, she poked holes in our assessment methods and the competitive ideology I brought with me. She was critical of the comparative nature of the education I had been brought up with and talked about the potential she saw for looking inward for growth and not looking outward comparatively. Honestly, it’s a

conversation I’ll never forget and one I never would have had without this program. It’s one that I carry through my life and my teaching practice.”

Tragically, Cooper was boarding a plane to India in 2016 when he heard the news of Youdon’s unexpected death.

“I’d only known her for a short while but we stayed in contact and she spent time at my family home when she came to SFU as part of the reciprocal program. She made an undoubtable impact on me and my teaching philosophy.”

To honour her memory, Cooper still thinks about all the ways the Tibetan philosophy of education can be incorporated into teaching practices.

“How can we make our classrooms and schools less competitive, less comparative and more inward-focused?”

He may not have all the answers but Cooper says he never would have considered these questions without the support and guidance from those involved in the program.

“In the end, I just want to celebrate how much ITEM has positively affected me as a person and as a teacher.”

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SFU’s Professional Programs in the Faculty of Education offers ITEM India in partnership with the Sambhota Tibetan Schools’ Society and with support from the Tsengdok Monastery Association.