How do you add value to 30 teaches who have spent most of the last year unemployed or just graduating from high school? Believe me, this was a challenging year, however, thanks to COVID, Zach Neumann had time to finish his Masters Degree, Administration and Personal Development. Part of his thesis was developing a teacher training guide for our Ghanaian Reading Camp Teachers. I’ll let Becki and Zach Neumann tell you more about our training.
What does it mean to train teachers who teach in a culture and in an education system that are significantly different from what we experience in America? It means building respect, building on what is known, and honoring traditions and methods here while teaching new methods. Most of all, it means honoring these people who lay their lives on the line day by day to bring the best education possible to the students they are charged to educate. It means seeing the hope of Christ at work in them and trying to make the hope of Christ visible in what we do and how we do it. Our goal is not simply increased professionalism and technique for teachers. Our goal is to reveal the glory of God at work in and through the very human hands of people who dedicate themselves to children.
For many years I (Becki) have brought teacher training to Ghana. I have focused on child development, positivity, skills for beginning readers, and our reading camp curriculum. This year, however, we have worked to deepen and broaden our training. In a phrase, we wanted to take it to the next level. Enter Zach, who worked to provide a deeper, richer training that will help sustain these dedicated men and women.
Teaching is hard. Very hard. It is one of the most difficult, challenging professions on Earth, no matter where you are. I (Zach) work with teachers in the US, where we have abundant resources, are paid even when school is out during a pandemic, and the practices used in classrooms are modern and based in research. So what do you do when you are not paid during a pandemic? What do you do when you have no resources? How can you grow in your profession if there is no quality professional learning available? You keep on doing what you have been doing, over and over. This is my 11th trip to Ghana to assist with reading camp. This is my first trip where part of the focus is to provide professional learning for the proud, dedicated teachers with whom we work.
During our teacher training, which was roughly one and a half days, I wanted the teachers to experience what it was like to be a student again. We explored several activities and strategies that can be used in any classroom to enhance the students’ learning experience. We modeled Think, Pair, Share. We discussed how memorization is the beginning of learning and how to help students move beyond simple recall to true understanding. The teachers shared why reading is an essential life skill we and explored some ways to increase and support literacy in the classroom, both for reading camp and for their regular classes.
There are two ideas we talked about that I feel truly hit home for this talented group of teachers. The first is when we were talking about how to build and maintain positive relationships with students. Each teacher was able to share ways that he or she currently do and, in the future, will work to have good relationships with their students. It was evident that they care deeply for their students. Some of the ideas presented were familiar while some were quite new but all of the teachers were willing to consider trying something new for the sake of their students because, as we all said at the beginning, being a teacher is all about the students.
The second idea (or ideas) that I believe rang true was the three foundational beliefs for teachers that I share. These are that relationships matter, every student is worthy of love and effort every day, and the teachers are ultimately servant-leaders. They shared what came to mind when they heard the words SERVANT and LEADER separately. And then, we put some thoughts together about what makes a servant-leader: humble, leads, serves, cares, inspires, encourages, sacrifice, listens, focused, and respects. It was a powerful moment when, after these words were written under the title SERVANT LEADER, I then wrote TEACHER in the title. Many of these dear teachers have not seen themselves as leaders and some have not seen themselves as servants but they could all see themselves as servant-leaders. That is how a good teacher begins to become a great teacher.
For me,(Debi), I was an observer on day one, adding comments when appropriate. On the second day of training, I taught from the book Mind in the Making, thanks to The Patterson Foundation. This training has been a true blessing for these teachers who have not been exposed the science behind Executive Function and the seven essential life skills needed to develop children into Self-Directed, Engaged Learners. I so enjoyed watching their eyes grow wide as we played Simon Says and they realized how games like this help their students work on focus and self-control. Teachers are often given educational training but not developmental science.
There were many new teachers this year. Some new teachers had just graduated from high school and had only been teaching for three months. They took copious notes, asked difficult questions, and cried with me as I told them they were the ones to create change that will impact the future of Ghana. I told the starfish story and let them know that if I can impact one life of a teacher or child, that is all that is needed. One impacts one who impacts one, etc., and that is how change happens. God’s blessings on all of the teachers who are embarking on this journey.