When we embarked on the mission of developing a relationship with our neighborhood school, we never expected what a challenge it would be to meet the actual needs of the teachers here in Rwanda. Raphaëlle and I have been tutoring the students at Kigali Harvest School for a few months, and after seeing our work and our “different” approaches to teaching, the director of the school, Esperance, asked us to do some Teacher Training over the holiday break (their “summer” break). I absolutely agreed, knowing both that it would take up much of my time and that I would learn so much in the process. I planned to use my personal experiences when planning our Edify Rwanda teacher training program.
At first, the teachers were a little apprehensive. I could tell they were simply used to sitting through trainings, taking brief notes, and leaving. My first attempt to have them “Think, Pair, Share” with their colleagues didn’t equate to very much activity. However, when they realized I was relentless in having them actually “do” what I was teaching them, they gave it their best effort.
I quickly learned that the teachers in these schools are not much different than the students. They have been trained to just sit and absorb instead of actually interacting with the information or talking with one another. A quick partner chat turned into 15 minutes of solid discussion, which I did not discourage. Everything had to be written down, and they were a little anxious to share aloud to the group.
I was a little worried about how much information was actually making it through to them. I would say something in English, Raphaëlle would translate to French, and then eventually someone would reinterpret in Kinyarwanda. So you can imagine how my hour-long training turned into three! All along the way, I asked for feedback and modeled what I actually wanted them to learn. Teachers were not sure how many of these strategies they could actually implement, as the government curriculum is so immense and time consuming already (a complaint I have heard many times over here…). But I insisted that if they would just change their methodology, they would actually save time, as children would learn faster and deeper.
Just as I was beginning to lose hope and rethink my strategy for the next 6 weeks of training, I gained the nugget I had been waiting for. They got it. They actually understood me, and they understood by doing.
I enthusiastically told the teachers that the 4th grade students would be coming in to work with them. I modeled for the teachers how to ask the students what they know about their topic, and what they want to know. While I was modeling how this would look, one teacher said, “But what if we don’t know the answers that the students want to know?” I explained that this activity was focused on the students’ knowledge, and not the teachers. I simply wanted them to ask, and then listen to see what they could learn.
By the end, I was unable to make them stop when time was up. They were engaging the students in meaningful talk, asking serious questions, completing it all in English, calling in students using the equity sticks I gave them, and enjoying all of it. Once again, I had underestimated them. While debriefing, one teacher showed that he really had gotten it. He said, “Almost everything the students wanted to know, is what I have to teach anyway. It’s already in the curriculum! Also, I was able to clear up misconceptions and I have a ton of ideas of what I would teach next on this topic!” This teacher’s topic was frogs, and he was baffled to find out that one 4th grader believed that frogs ate humans!
One low-cost, Christian school in Rwanda is one step closer to providing a quality education, by meeting the actual needs of their students. The teachers really seemed to understand that if they learned better by doing, why wouldn’t the kids? The teachers truly put James 1:19 into action: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” The teachers learned how important it is to actually listen to your students, as hard and time-consuming as that may be at times.