Louise – Madagascar
What keeps you motivated? Learning new skills. In Madagascar the teachers’ challenge is how to teach XYZ when you have absolutely no resources, 60 to 100+ students in class, and when you can barely understand the target language yourself. To help them deal with this you have to use your imagination.
Worst teaching moment (in your current teaching situation)? When I first arrived in Madagascar I made the mistake that so many outsiders make: I’m an experienced native speaker and I know my stuff, and therefore my workshops will be useful. The Malagasy, being so polite, would smile and thank me, even though I now realise most of the ideas were inappropriate and impractical. With time you learn to tell the ‘polite feedback’ from the real thing.
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Best teaching moment (in your current teaching situation)? There’s a point about half-way through the first morning of the workshop when you start to feel a buzz in the room: the teachers start to sit up, they become more active and then they start contributing ideas and analysing how the activities work. That’s when you know it’s working, when they’re excited to be there. I’ve seen teachers walk 60 km followed by 48 hours in a bus just to get to a three-day workshop and then cheer at the idea of doing it again in a few months.
Biggest challenge you face (in your current teaching situation)? There is a huge discrepancy between what gets decided in offices in the capital city and the reality on the ground. Trying to help teachers bridge that gap is hard enough, but in Madagascar it can be difficult to get people fired up. Teachers here tend to be very risk-averse, so getting them to try new things when what they want is a quick fix can be hard.
What have you learned from your students? A broken photocopier won’t kill you! I’ve realised how many of us EFL teachers think we’re God’s gift when the truth is that if we had to teach under the same conditions we would flounder from the get go. I’ve had to revaluate my skills and use my imagination.
What’s next? I want to continue working with rural teachers for another year, at least, doing follow-up workshops and getting to more parts of the country.
Top tip for teachers? Good resources are like money: great to have but they can also make you lazy and overly dependent. Next time you open your course book, think about how you would do the lesson with no student books and no handouts. And what about if you had 60 students in the class with seating designed for 30? You may never be in that situation, but using your imagination will keep you on your toes.
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