Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Certificates for Everyone, On Me!

First Annual Greater Tazarine English Teacher's Conference 

While taking the final pictures at the teacher's conference, I looked around and realized that I've never been so proud of my Peace Corps service. After two years of discussions over tea, classroom demonstrations, meetings with the Ministry of Education and brainstorming sessions, my counterparts and I were handing out certificates of participation to 13 local teachers. This is only the beginning.

Two years ago I was teaching English classes at the youth center, frustrated by the inconsistent attendance and being asked to 'teach someone English' in just a few weeks so they could pass an exam.  I was a native speaker surrounded by well-trained English teachers; sure I had the upper hand on pronunciation and slang but what do I know about passive voice, modals or the present perfect? What am I doing offering free tutoring to students when they have capable teachers next door? After finishing my classes for the first year, I decided to forgo the unsustainable model and proceed with promoting capacity-building for English teachers.

Mohamed, my amazing tutor and future counterpart, did his best to keep me focused during our Darija (Moroccan Arabic) tutoring sessions, but I always managed to start a discussion on the role of teachers in the high school, the lack of training available for new teachers and stereotypes that teachers face. Public school teachers are sent anywhere in the country after passing their exam and frequently asked to teach a subject they have not been trained in. The French teacher studied economics, the Math teacher majored in English and the Physics teacher has a predilection for Arabic studies. Frequently on strike for inconsistent government policies, teachers are perceived as lazy outsiders in their communities. They earn less than the uneducated owner of the local market and are charged 'outsider' fees. American teachers may be undervalued and underpaid, but no one argues that they are essential to the future of the U.S. or don't earn their meager paycheck.

Mohamed and I started sharing our experiences as teachers, formally and informally. Recognizing my passion for an engaging classroom atmosphere, Mohamed invited me to observe his English class and eventually run activities with the students. After comparing our complementary teaching styles, we discussed the need for this ongoing development in the Zagora province. The public schools of Zagora experience roughly a 70% teacher turnover rate every year; m
any new teachers lack a basic understanding of lesson planning and learning styles and could benefit from further training.
 In addition, veteran teachers lack excitement for their subject matter. Teaching to the baccalaureate exam a lecture-focused pedagogy prevents them from helping students fall in love with funny idiomatic expressions or the quadratic equation.

Originally focused on the Zagora province, Mohamed and I traveled south to gain the approval of the Ministry for a provincial teacher's conference. Several months later we realized that the never-ending red tape, bi-lingual applications and cancelled meetings had gone too far. We could no longer conceivably get Peace Corps grant approval and Ministry approval in the short time remaining before I finished my service. Frustrated from months of arduous meetings and travel between the two sites, we opted for a break. The conference felt daunting for one tired volunteer and a man expecting his first baby - maybe it just wasn't meant to be.

Refreshed from vacation, Mohamed and I met again to re-examine teacher development in Tazarine. Engaging a few other teachers and counterparts in the meeting, it was decided that a local teachers' conference could have the same impact for the community. Four hours of brainstorming workshops, presentations, time, location and pitfalls brought us to a conference at the end of March...less than one month away. Slightly panicked we started making calls, setting meetings and mapping out the conference. My counterparts were impressive - we played equal roles in the planning process and they never missed a meeting or failed to complete their work.

Sunday, March 30th finally arrived and so did the participants. The morning started with three presentations covering the topics of ITC, integrating art in the classroom and the benefits of educational videos for English students and continued with a workshop on icebreakers, energizers and games. Participants and presenters bonded and laughed over a big lunch of chicken, salad, lentils and fruit before heading back to the afternoon sessions. The afternoon commenced with my workshop on the practical classroom uses of Multiple Intelligence theory and ended with another volunteer's enjoyable take on drama activities. Following a brief evaluation, certificate ceremony and the obligatory group picture, the conference came to a close.

While assessing the final to-do list for the conference, I looked around at my counterparts and realized that they were my Peace Corps service. My second year has been dedicated to long nights of discussion and planning at the cafe, helping them locate resources, encouraging their ideas and making them advocates for excellent teaching techniques in the English classroom. My work may be coming to and end, but their work has only just begin. In their presence I am never 'the token female American;' I am a respected colleague and friend. Mohamed O, Mourad, Amin, 
Mohamed E and Said, among others, remind me that the young Moroccan harassing me on the bus is the exception, not the rule. When I leave Morocco in one month, more than anything, I will miss laughing hysterically with my friends. Tbark3la llikum.
They are the best.

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