Which program did you travel with?
The program was called Limited Resources Teacher Training (LRTT), which brings teachers from all over the world to help teach teachers with limited resources how to succeed as educators. I was one of 30 fellows who traveled to Morogoro, Tanzania for a month. We each worked with a partner and were assigned to 10 teachers – six teachers in a secondary school setting, and four teachers in a primary school. We spent two full Saturdays with them teaching them best practices and classroom strategies, then spent the rest of the time watching them teach lessons during school days and giving them instant feedback and listening to any issues they were having.
What kind of strategies did you teach them?
We focused on the power of yet — believing that all kids can learn, given enough time. The teachers there had a very fixed mindset so we talked with them about having a growth mindset, about saying things like “She’s not doing well yet,” or “She’s hasn’t learned to read yet.” The students were very well-disciplined, but some of them were still struggling.
In the primary school, there were about 120 students in each class. There was almost no student-teacher interaction – mostly lecturing – so we tried to really encourage student engagement. We’d say to the teachers, Why don’t you have them turn and talk to each other about what they just learned? We’d also have the students, if they knew the answer, hold something up, or come up to the board. That way, the teachers could assess how well the students are learning as a whole, and the kids are able to move out of their seats. I think the teachers saw how fun these kind of lessons could be, but I think with 120 kids constantly moving around, it could be overwhelming. We tried to make it easier for them and help them focus on maintaining a positive classroom climate.
It really helped us grow as teachers and focus more on strategy rather than content, especially with the language barrier in Tanzania where Swahili is the primary language. It reminded me that good strategies can be universal, regardless of the content you’re teaching or where you are in the world.
What experiences from the trip really stayed with you?
It was my first time on the continent of Africa, which was really significant personally. I think unfortunately the media has inaccurately portrayed what’s going on in Africa, where you expect to see poverty-stricken villages, but it’s not like that. I saw the most beautiful sunsets and beaches in Zanzibar and Tanzania. I got to visit a safari while I was there; experiencing animals in their natural habitat and how peaceful they were, instead of in a cage or a zoo, was just awesome.
The other thing I noticed that really stuck with me was how important community was to the culture there. All the teachers were very much like a family. They would cook for us, treat us to tea and snacks during the school day, have us come over to their houses at the end of the day. It was so welcoming.
Teaching is a revered profession there, because going to the teachers’ college, what they call post-secondary education, is a really big deal. They took their profession very seriously. The parents didn’t interfere in the schools, because they trusted the teachers, and the students were so well-behaved, even with the limited resources. Because they didn’t have copiers or things like that, the teachers would wait for the students to hand-write their notes from the board, and they would have to draw any diagrams themselves, but everything was immaculate.
It was my first time on the continent of Africa, which was really significant personally. I got to visit a safari while I was there; experiencing animals in their natural habitat and how peaceful they were, instead of in a cage or a zoo, was just awesome.
What kind of qualities do you think teachers around the world share?
I have a real interest in learning about how people educate around the world. I’ve traveled to New Zealand and China for educational purposes too, to work with teachers and students there. I love different cultures and I’m fascinated by the fact that we all have the same brain, but education is rolled out differently around the world. I’m always thinking, what are we doing as Americans and what are other people doing? What works and what doesn’t?
I think all teachers, regardless of where they are, share a love for teaching, but also a love for learning. I’ve found that teachers who are really into their craft continue to be lifelong learners. For example, the other fellows and I focused on improving the strategies in our own teaching before passing them on. It really helped us grow as teachers and focus more on strategy rather than content, especially with the language barrier in Tanzania where Swahili is the primary language. It reminded me that good strategies can be universal, regardless of the content you’re teaching or where you are in the world.