Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lessons Learned from Teaching in Tanzania - Hamna Shida

It has been more than a month since I have posted anything on this blog. You see, I spent most of May helping to supervise a Study Abroad Program in Arusha, Tanzania. While there was internet available where we stayed, it was not always predictable, and I wanted the twenty-six preservice teachers experiencing teaching and learning in Africa to have the first opportunity to share their impressions with the world.

The thing that made a lasting impression on me was the lack of resources available to teachers and students in Arusha. None of the schools we taught in had whiteboards, let alone SmartBoards. In fact, three or more classrooms might have to share the same blackboard eraser (they call them "dusters"). Students copied down everything the teacher wrote on the blackboard because they did not have any textbooks, and their notes were often all they had when studying for national exams.

I could go on, but this post is not intended to make you feel guilty about the resources you have available in your classroom. (You can feel grateful, if you like.) What was most impressive was how our teachers adapted to the lack of resources. Instead of complaining about what was lacking, they...

Wrote symbols on construction paper that students used to practice laws of logarithms,

Had students model different states of matter by asking them to run around in the courtyard,

And cut out circles that students could use to create a representation of how they spent their day.

But mostly, they tried to find ways to connect with individual students - not easy in classes of 50.

Honestly, I was amazed by these teachers' resourcefulness. (And humbled, given the fit I threw the last time YouTube acted glitchy.)

Please, do not misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should return to "a simpler time" where we abandon textbooks, technology, and other resources that support teaching and learning. If you are a 1-to-1 school, embrace the abundance and make the most of it. Just remember that the essence of teaching is resourcefulness not resources.

One of the Swahili phrases that we picked up while in Africa was hamna shida. This translates to "no problem." Whenever one of the teachers encountered some obstacle to teaching, they would often smile and say, "Hamna shida," and then do what they could given the circumstances. That will be my lasting lesson from teaching in Tanzania - one I hope I can apply to my own practice.

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