Inaugural SAVA English Teacher Training

As an Education Volunteer in Madagascar, my primary assignment is teaching English to secondary school students. Another aspect of my assignment is to help improve the quality of English language instruction overall by working with and training other Malagasy English teachers. During the two years that I will serve in my community, I can personally impact only a small number of people, and then I will leave. But by helping Malagasy teachers improve their own teaching methods, the hope is that they will continue to inspire and teach exponentially more students for many years.

In the spirit of cooperation and professional development, the 4 other Education Volunteers in the SAVA region and myself recently organized a 3-day English teacher training workshop. We recruited 64 English teachers from across the entire region, brought them together in the regional capital city, Sambava, and then worked with them on a variety of education topics. This event was especially significant because we believe it was the first time that only English teachers from the whole region had come together to meet in a professional setting. Usually, English teachers are not singled out as a group and they rarely get to interact with other English teachers from other towns. Needless to say, we were very excited for this opportunity to bring the teachers together.

Teachers listening to a lecture by our Malagasy counterpart, Guyot

Teachers listening to a lecture by our Malagasy counterpart, Guyot

Before the SAVA Teacher Training had begun, I worked for many months with the other Education PCVs to develop, coordinate, and prepare. The long process started last year when another PCV from our area wrote a grant proposal to get funding for the training. When the grant was approved, we could really start working to recruit teachers by making announcements on local radio stations, posting informational flyers, and visiting schools to encourage English teachers to apply. At first, it was challenging to get enough teachers to apply so that we could meet the minimum number of teachers needed according to the grant proposal. After a few weeks of relentless encouragement and advertising, we actually received more applications than anticipated. For example, I got 28 applications from teachers in Andapa and I had a budget that could only accommodate 18 teachers.

Some of the teachers arrive to the training

Some of the teachers arrive to the training

Then, just a few weeks before the event, we coordinated the logistics needed to bring all these teachers together in one place and host them for three days. The workshop took place at the Teacher’s College in Sambava. We facilitated our sessions in the main auditorium and the participants could eat and sleep in a few of the other classrooms. It was our responsibility to coordinate transportation for the teachers to get to Sambava and then return to their respective districts after the training was finished. We also provided all meals during the training, which meant buying food and delegating cooking duties to a team of insanely helpful local university students who are studying English. This entire training event was a massive group effort that was beautifully executed with the help of all the PCVs in the region and one of our Malagasy counterparts, Guyot.

All the Education PCVs of the SAVA region with Guyot

All the Education PCVs of the SAVA region with Guyot

By the time the training was scheduled to begin, we were ready to make the most of our time together and share the experience with our Malagasy colleagues. During the 3-day event, each training session was facilitated by a different Volunteer. The topics were selected based on their relevance to teaching English as a foreign language and also to address a few issues that are affecting the Malagasy education system. We covered topics such as motivating students, classroom management strategies, activities for teaching the four main language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), and lesson planning.

Leading a discussion about lesson planning strategies

Leading a discussion about lesson planning strategies

Our goal was to open a discussion about these topics and talk about new methods that could be used to better support a student-centered approach to learning. All too often in this country, teachers of all subjects will simply write information on the blackboard, make the students copy it down, and then leave. Especially in terms of teaching a foreign language, this method is practically useless because the students get little to no opportunity for using the language skills. We also wanted to emphasize the ideas that a motivated student will retain more information, language teachers should serve as guides during the learning process, and sharing knowledge with other professionals is essential to improving the quality of teaching in this country. During all the sessions, the teachers seemed to be very engaged, curious, and willing to share their experiences. In my opinion, this was the best way to highlight positive behaviors and learn ways to improve existing approaches.

Teachers working together on a small group activity

Teachers working together on a small group activity

One of my favorite parts about the training was the opportunity to meet other English teachers from my own area and also from other parts of the region. During the recruitment phase, I was able to introduce myself to almost all the other English teachers in Andapa and some teachers from surrounding villages. When we all arrived in Sambava, it was a networking goldmine of teachers. I feel more connected to the community of teachers in SAVA than I ever have before. Building on those connections, I’m excited about future opportunities to collaborate with and support other English teachers.

Playing a game of "telephone" to practice listening and speaking

Playing a game of “telephone” to practice listening and speaking

When it was all over, I think the general consensus among the PCVs involved was that the program was a huge success. We all worked our tails off before and during the training, so we were relieved to finish up and celebrate our job well done. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of our group effort by combining American and Malagasy ambition to organize this training. Moving forward, we hope to offer another training workshop again next year and invite other English teachers to help spread the knowledge.

All the participants proudly showing their certificates of completion

All the participants proudly showing their certificates of completion

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A proper school holiday

Each February, schools in Madagascar participate in a nationwide celebration of education. This celebration, called Journée des Écoles (French meaning “School Days”), is intended to recognize the hard work and dedication of students and teachers. Last month, I was lucky enough to be a part of this celebration in Andapa and participate in many events during the 3-day holiday. 

The main gate of the CEG where I teach



On the first day, students at the CEG where I teach worked together to clean the campus and replant some of the gardens. With everyone gathered around the flagpole in the morning, the older students were sent off into the forest to collect wood that would be used for cooking later in the week. The younger students, and I, stayed at the school to clean. Most of the boys brought machetes and sickles from home and they were told to cut the grass on the field across from the campus. At first, I was slightly uncomfortable to be around so many rowdy 6th graders wielding large sharp knives. As they chopped away at the thick grass and got increasingly tired, I felt more at ease. 

Boys cutting grass in front of the CEG



While the boys were cutting grass, some of the girls were cleaning out the classrooms, sweeping the floors, and washing the blackboards. I was impressed with how coordinated their efforts were and how quickly they worked to carry heavy wooden desks out of the classrooms before deep cleaning the inside. The other girls were working in the yard to clean up the existing gardens and also dig holes in places where new gardens were to be built. “Garden” is a very generous way to describe the small patches of dirt in front of the classrooms containing a few large rocks or feeble plants within a thin border of grass. At any rate, the students treated these areas like they were part of the Gardens of Versailles. 

A couple of girls tend to one of the gardens



The festivities continued the following day with athletic competitions between some of the schools. The boys played soccer, pitting the public school students against the private school students. The girls hosted a basketball tournament, also organized between public and private school teams. I attended one of the soccer matches and got to support my public school students as they beat the private school kids. It was really exciting, almost like a campy 90’s movie where the scrappy local team goes up against the fancy and well equipped jocks with nice uniforms. They fought hard and won an honest match, and the bragging rights that go along with it. 

The final day of the celebration included a large meal for all the teachers and school staff in Andapa. It was hosted by the World Wildlife Fund, which has a conservation office in Andapa. Because of their generosity, an entire zebu (a type of domesticated ox that is more tolerant of tropical heat and drought) was purchased and slaughtered to feed all the teachers. That’s how you know a Malagasy party is legitimate: if a whole zebu is sacrificed and butchered for the crowd. The party was a wonderful gesture of appreciation for all the hard work that the educators in my community do. Preparing the meal was also a community effort, which happened to take place in the compound where I live and just steps away from my front door. When I woke up that morning to the faint smell of burning wood, I opened my kitchen window to find about a dozen women already working to start fires and cook the meat in huge iron cauldrons. Some of them were teachers, others were the wives of teachers, but all of them worked together for many hours cooking everything for the meal. I really enjoyed watching them work and talking to a few of the women about what they were doing. All their hard work was not in vain because the food was delicious! 

Some of the women preoaring food on my porch and in my garden



I thoroughly enjoyed my first time participating in Journée des Écoles and celebrating with my school. It was inspiring to know that the entire country supports the idea that schools and teachers should be appreciated and cared for, so much so that they dedicate a specific time every year to do just those things. Sometimes as a foreigner, it’s difficult to feel comfortable and well-adjusted in a new community. But this experience made me proud to be a teacher in Andapa and I really felt like my colleagues consider me to be on equal footing with them.