teaching, learning and living around the world
I recently did this presentation for some colleagues at CAPERS. Here’s my speech!
EduCorps is my personal passion project. It’s a big part of who I am and what inspires me, so I want to share it with you. I also want to invite you to get involved with EduCorps because I need a lot of ideas/advice/help!
After I graduated from University, I wanted a challenge even bigger than teaching in America. So I moved to Congo with the hope that living in an extremely different environment would push me to grow in ways I never expected. In a series of three stories, I will share with you how this project EduCorps grew. Well really, how I grew.
Mama Godelieve plants a Seed in my Brain
The American School of Kinshasa was like most international schools. It had an expensive tuition and served mainly the expat community. There was a bar up the street owned by Mama Godelieve. Every Friday the teachers would go there for a drink.
Mama Godelieve invited us to visit a Congolese school. And when I first walked into a Congolese classroom I noticed- wow, there’s hardly any STUFF. And the kids came, and I thought, holy cow there’s 60 KIDS in here!! And I was amazed by the teacher at the front of the room. Teaching. with just a chalk board. and 60 kids. I wanted to talk to her! I wanted to know more about what it was like to teach in this context.
The more I got to know local teachers, there were three things that stuck with me.
1) Effective teaching can happen anywhere, and it doesn’t matter how big your building or how much stuff you have inside.
2)Although I believe our profession is essentially the same no matter the context- there was one glaring element that separated The American School from the rest of the schools in Kinshasa and that was- access to good ideas about teaching. At The American School- my colleagues and I attended conferences, studied teaching in college, read books magazines articles blogs… but these teachers didn’t have any of that. They knew teaching as telling and learning as memorizing.
3) But then I thought- even if they DID have access to this plethora of good ideas, the ideas alone wouldn’t work. All of these teaching methodologies are designed for teaching 25 kids, not 60… and in a room with reliable electricity and diverse materials, not a simple chalkboard… We need NEW ideas. I realized, there is HUGE demand for good ideas about teaching effectively in contexts like this.
So this DEMAND for professional development was Mama Godelieve’s seed that is forever rooted in my brain. And I was so inspired by it that after three years in Kinshasa, I quit my job, raised money and moved to Goma to share and create new ideas with local teachers. I wanted this seed to SPROUT!
Before I tell Part 2 which is entitled, “and then I sprouted knowingly into a ridiculous flower,” I want to give you VISUAL sense of my journey and this initial CONNECTION I felt with our fellow teachers in Congo. You have a matching game at your table. As quickly as possible, your TEAM needs to match up VISUAL pairs. The fastest team wins. On your mark, get set… GO!
and then I sprouted Knowingly into a Ridiculous Flower
When I arrived in Goma, I planned on hosting a week long workshop- a space where international and local teachers could share ideas. So my first step was to start working with local teachers. But its important to really consider how ridiculous this was.
Just close your eyes and imagine… in Belgium… A young Congolese teacher, full of bright ideas about teaching… knocking on the door of an international school… she’d say Hodi!!! And the director wouldn’t know to respond with Karibu and they would both think the other one strange, but she’s so inspired she launches into “Jambooo Jina Langu Sara, niko mwalimu minatoka Congo na nikona mawazo kufundisha mzurriii” and the director would say, “I’m sorry, but do you speak English?” It’s weird to think about someone from a foreign country, who doesn’t even speak our language, coming here to work with teachers. This scenario is totally weird, out of place and just plain… ridiculous!
But alas, I wanted to test out this idea of mixing local and international teachers…
So I went to School #1. Knock Knock Knock Hello! I’m a 23 year old American girl and I have some good ideas about teaching. Can I come in and work with your teachers? (How ridiculous.) School #1 said… Come on in, you can learn Swahili quickly and then give co-teaching a shot! I thought… Wow, awesome… this was easier than I thought. When can I start?!
Knock Knock Knock and School #2 said welcome! Ah, you speak Swahili! But do you speak French? No?! Alrighty then, come on in and you can teach the teachers English. … In my head I thought, oh man I don’t want to teach English! It’s irrelevent! They don’t need it to be great teachers so what’s the point?! So I took a deep breath and said, Great! when can I start?
After two months of observing and teaching, I finally worked up the courage to go to School #3, An all girls Catholic school. The best school in all of Goma. Knock knock knock! Catholic Nuns answered the door and said… Good ideas about teaching? From AMERICA?! That’s just FABulous! (Oh man oh man, they love me. This is great, I thought.) Sister Philomene continued, we are so excited for the school community to get to know you… and slowly slowly you can get to know us. How about you start…. in the kitchen! You knoowww, helping the ladies peel potatos and make bishushaaaaa and you can practice your Swahili … (oh god, I knew I was foolish to come here. A foreigner. Young. Idealistic. Who am I to try to change the world?! But it would be nice to know how to cook Congolese food…) Of COURSE I’ll work in the kitchen! When can I start?
But after a year of working in Goma, I felt like I aimed for the moon, missed, and landed among the… sooooo what now? I had developed real partnerships with teachers in two schools, but I had failed at organizing a week long professional development workshop. I felt lost. But at least I’d become an expert in cooking Congolese food. Actually, more like expert assistant cook. Actually not even that, I was an expert in peeling potatoes.
On top of feeling insecure about what I had accomplished, I also felt unsure of concrete strategies for professional development that really worked. I knew that even if I HAD done a one week workshop it would NOT have dramatically change the way anybody taught… I felt like that seed of an idea had sprouted into a weird awkward flower and then died a little bit.
I was wilting, I got propped up to blossom again by those… stick things that prop up tomato plants.
Last school year, I was supported both in school and out of school. I taught in Brooklyn, NY at a public charter school. There, I was coached. Being coached meant that I met with these two women- Jamie and Chantal- on a regular basis.
They were constantly in and out of my classroom and they gave me real feedback. Chantal was finishing her doctorate at Harvard and Jamie starting her doctorate at Columbia- they were both brilliant- But they never once made me feel like I was less than them. They never treated me like I had never heard of this or that method. The whole time it felt like a real partnership- with mutual understanding and mutual respect. Being coached was EMPOWERING. The year I was coached I know that I delivered my personal best teaching to every kid in every lesson, everyday. And that felt great. I felt like one of those tomato plants with those things propping it up- and I was able to grow because I had support all around me.
In terms of professional development, I realized that coaching was the element that I sensed I was missing when I left Goma. Coaching is the key to translating great ideas about teaching in to regular routine practice. And as soon as I realized this, a dream team sprouted. Marcia and Kabahita encouraged me to stick with these ideas, and to keep nurturing and growing that seed of an idea that was planted by Mama Godelieve. Together now, we are in the start-up phase of the official nonprofit called EduCorps.
Our mission is to provide high-quality peer-led teacher development programs and ongoing coaching support for teachers operating in conflict-ridden areas. Starting an organization is hard, so we need TONS of help.
Thanks again for your willingness to listen to what inspires me!
EduCorps is a driving force behind everything I do, annnnd I think it’s pretty much part of my soul at this point.