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Professional Development

Originated by Birmingham MA TEFL/TESL students

March 23, 2009

MASH International...


For five months I’ve been teaching a phonics class in a government primary school in inner city Chennai, India. Many students come from impoverished families living in nearby slums, some are first generation school-goers, and too many are often unable to buy basic school supplies. In part due to their disadvantaged backgrounds, there are many behavioral issues that distract the natural flow of class. Their homeroom teachers use corporeal punishment, in the form of a wooden stick, to discipline the students. We have experimented with a variety of behavior management techniques because obviously, the stick is not permissible in our class. Sometimes our ultimate goal of teaching phonics and reading is often sidelined. However, through diligence we have seen improvements in just eight weeks. When we first began the class, students would look at the word ‘cat’ written on the board and say ‘C-A-T, cat’. They were totally unaware of the actual sounds attached to those letters. Similarly, during our fourth week evaluation, many students looked at the word ‘god’ and only processed the letters, not the sounds and said ‘dog’.

One student in the class, Rajesh, might have been diagnosed with ADD years ago if he were in the US. He is always running around the class, unable to sit still. I have had to remove him from class on several occasions and/or make him sit in time-out. During our first evaluation he was able to do some blending, but could not read any words. By our second evaluation, he was blending almost perfectly and sounding out words. After slowly saying a word a few times he realized he knew the word and a big smile spread across his face and he had an “Ah-ha!” moment.
After class I sit with each student and check his or her writing practice. Rajesh consistently sounds out each word now, suddenly very focused and intent on learning.

Are our language classes and curriculum focused on helping students learn to love the process of learning or do we lose their interest with mundane topics and grammar rules?

A thought or idea in progress
The phonics module will enter an official ‘action research’ phase in the coming year. With limited financial resources, we struggle to build a well-rounded program that will effectively teach students the basics of reading. However, we hope that by actively being involved in the program from start to finish, observing and evaluating as we go, we can develop a solid program to be implemented on a larger scale in the years to come.

As teachers and life-long students of the school of education, we must be involved in formalizing our teaching and our curriculums in conjunction with classroom based research processes. We need to be learning from each other as well as documenting our best practices.

From teacher to teachers
As an AIF Service Corps Fellow for AID India’s English Action Research Team in Chennai, India, I have the opportunity to both observe and teach in urban and rural government schools. Visiting the rural schools is always a pleasure. The one-room classrooms house all levels and the children eagerly follow their teacher’s instructions. Similar to the urban classrooms of Japan and the US, the children often lack respect for their teacher and even for each other. When I first arrived, I found myself sitting in the back of the classroom passively watching as teachers hit the students with wooden sticks to discipline them. As an outsider, I didn’t feel I could intervene into such a culturally based, age-old system of discipline. I’m morally opposed to it and struggle with condoning it by passively sitting back. When I teach, the students know the stick will not be used, but discipline is a significant problem. I wonder how other teachers have approached this issue in other cultural contexts?

Kirsten loves to travel and teach but mostly she is a student wherever she is. She can be reached at

Editor's note:
Kirsten is a good researcher/writer, a strong editor and a tech-savvy teacher. She brings enthusiasm, passion and creativity to work every single day. If you ever have the chance to hire this professional, jump at the chance. Oh yeah - she's great fun and a life-long friend as well.


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Kirsten is my niece, and I'm so glad to learn more details about her work in India. I am so proud of her and of what she is doing!

Kirsten demonstrates a wonderful combination of warmth and compassion with the capability of channelling energy and disciplining students. What a gift she is to Chennai!

Nice going, Kirsten! I'm sure glad there are young people like you going into the teaching field. Your students are very lucky.

Hi Kirsten,

I just wondered if you had had any follow up to your question about intervening with regards to the use of corporal punishment. It must certainly be a challenging issue.

KIRSTEN it had been great reading about your urban as well as rural approach. With the positive treatment even at the rural level

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