The nineteen year old headmaster – with a second level qualification – leads me to our shelter from the morning sun. We sit in the shade of a pine tree, around a locally-produced wooden table and chairs. I am warmly greeted by the other members of staff, a man in his late-teens and an eighteen year old mother nursing her baby boy, as I take a sit at the rather delicately-placed table. The school – a cobbled concoction of mud, concrete and bricks – sits almost apologetically beside some eavesdropping cows and goats. This was my first experience of being a ‘teacher-trainer’ last week.
In some ways to describe the school as basic would be an overstatement – basics such as pens and notebooks were more a luxury than a necessity. The methods and styles of teaching that were employed failed to engage the students or to challenge their intellectual capacities, further than mere repetition. In other words, the situation looked rather dire.
However, (while trying to avoid romanticism or hyperbole) what school lacked in facilities and educational expertise it more than substituted with heart and motivation to learn. When I first watched the teachers, I saw a watered down version of the rote-learning, teacher-lead, mind-numbingly boring and repetitive education that characterized my youth and early distaste for educational pursuit. It was, to put it bluntly, difficult to watch. I saw the students sit passive and zobified, expected to do little except repeat phrases until pronunciation and meaning were lost in the process.
However, when I introduced the creative, student-centered, exciting, engaging and varied education that I strive for in my professional life, then I could almost see the Loony Tunes light-bulb appear above the ‘student-teachers’ heads. They were so quick to adapt and apply new skills that it was a tragedy to acknowledge that all that stood between them and this knowledge was basic training. The rewards gained so quickly on all sides are too fantastic and far-reaching that cynicism quickly dissolves into the ether.
In a mere four days I was able to introduce the skills and concepts that it will take them a lifetime to master. There is a long road ahead but fortunately they now have the skills to see them through as I move on to my next set of student-teachers.