First Time at JBFC: Sharing Knowledge

April 2, 2013 2:11 pm Published by

This is the second in a series of blogs written by a Deerfield Academy (MA) teacher about her first trip to JBFC in Tanzania. Click here to read the first one.

A lot of our free time in the last 24 hours has been spent talking amongst ourselves about what we can do here as teachers: given the resources available, the national exam, the cultural expectations…what can we provide as suggestions/ideas that will be sensitive and useful? It seems that the biggest interest among teachers–and expressed by the head teacher– is learning different teaching methodologies.  We’re supposed to give a Teacher Development Seminar on Saturday morning, so we spent an hour talking with the head teacher this morning, another hour and a half observing classes and talking to teachers, and we’ve written a short questionnaire for teachers so that we have a sense of what their greatest pride and challenges are- then we’ll have 24 hours to design our seminar…

The seminar was a really, really interesting cross-cultural experience. Ben, one of our former PCVs (peace corps volunteers), did a beautiful job welcoming the teachers, thanking them for having us and opening their classrooms to us, and emphasizing that we did not have all the answers and did not see ourselves as experts, but hoped to learn from each other.  We started with some “getting to know you” talk and then initiated a

conversation about their perceptions of the American school system. Some of their comments and my observations:

– “In America, students are educated to be free; in Tanzania, students are educated to be safe.”
– “In Tanzania, there are three national enemies: disease, ignorance, lack of food.” (That turned out to be a political or government slogan but, nonetheless, it made me wonder what we would say our national enemies are in the U.S.!)
– The 18 teachers were, on average, quite young: in their 20s, I would say.
– Even though we were working really hard to be affirming, to present ourselves as collaborators and not trainers disseminating information, and to encourage discussion, the teachers were very quiet; conversation was slow in developing.
– Several  male teachers volunteered long responses to the question “why did you become a teacher?” and were passionate about educating young people to help the nation / make change / improve the country.
– Several of the teachers mentioned the influence of a pastor or early experience teaching Sunday School.
– Several female teachers talked about their love for children and wanting to be with them.

We spent about three hours together in classrooms, first in a big group of 25, then in three smaller groups, and our main goal was to help teachers think about two things: how to transmit information more efficiently than writing passages from the textbook on the board and having students copy down those notes, and how to know that students had understood what had been taught.  We tried to elicit suggestions and didn’t have much more to offer than what was said, but maybe were successful in affirming the good work they are doing in difficult circumstances. 

This is a series of blogs written by Julia Rivellino-Lyons, a history teacher from Deerfield Academy in Massachussetts, describing some of her experiences from her first visit to JBFC’s campus in Tanzania. Julia is part of a team of five teachers from Deerfield who are spending their two-week Spring Break learning about JBFC and helping train JBFC teachers. 

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This post was written by Mainsprings