2nd Annual SAVA English Teacher Training

It’s that time of year again. The avocados are ripening on the trees, the daily rains are drying up, and the English teachers of the SAVA region are meeting once again for an annual training workshop.

Based on the success of last year’s training in Sambava, the Education Volunteers of the SAVA region were happy to organize and present a similar pedagogy training workshop. Our goal was to share new teaching methods with English teachers and encourage a professional exchange of ideas. We recruited new teachers that did not attend the training last year, but also invited some alumni teachers to further enhance their skills. All together, there were 50 local English teachers in attendance during the 4-day training workshop held in Andapa.

Two teachers getting to know each other during a group activity

Two teachers getting to know each other during a group activity

Prior to this year’s event, I worked very closely with two of my Malagasy counterparts in Andapa and I also collaborated with the other PCVs in the region. Johnny and Deriot, my Malagasy colleagues, were absolutely essential in making this training happen. Johnny has a knack for translating English to Malagasy, so he helped me a lot when we needed to translate radio advertisements and recruitment posters. Deriot is the kind of guy that knows everyone and has connections and solutions all over town. Need 30 mattresses for teachers to sleep on during the training? Deriot can get them. Need to collect cooking materials like pots, plates, spoons, and forks? Deriot’s got your back. Within each of the four Districts in SAVA, the Peace Corps Volunteers living there played an essential role in recruiting teachers, organizing local travel to Andapa, and preparing to facilitate training sessions. This project was truly a team effort.

Me with Johnny (left) and Deriot (right)

Me with Johnny (left) and Deriot (right)

On the first day of the training, the teachers arrived in Andapa throughout the morning and got settled in. The training was held at a local elementary school and we utilized the classrooms for meeting space, a dining room for meals, and sleeping areas. We had a group lunch together and then kicked off the program with a welcome message from the Chef CISCO (superintendent of the school district). After a couple of icebreaker activities to get to know the teachers, our first real session was “The Role of the Teacher and Motivating Students.” This session was facilitated by a Volunteer and his Malagasy counterpart, which is something we encouraged this year in order to give more responsibility to the Malagasy teachers and slowly show them that they are able to organize similar trainings on their own. Some of the teachers told me that they appreciated this first session because it set the tone for why they were attending. Before you can perfect your teaching skills, you have to take a step back and consider what a teacher should be doing and how a teacher can support student growth.

PCV (right at the chalkboard) and English teacher Arnaud (standing left) give a presentation on motivating students

PCV (right at the chalkboard) and English teacher Arnaud (standing left) give a presentation on motivating students

The second day stated off with a session about learning styles and lesson planning techniques, facilitated by Deriot. This session helped teachers prepare for their lessons and introduced the idea that students learn in different ways (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc) and the activities that a teacher uses in a lesson should appeal to these different learning styles. The rest of the sessions that day were new topics that were not covered in last year’s schedule. One session was about giving feedback to students and correcting their errors. The next session, facilitated by another Malagasy teacher, was about gender equitability in the classroom. This is a priority issue for Peace Corps Madagascar across all the different types of work that we do, so it felt right to include some information during our teacher training. I think a handful of the teachers didn’t even realize how they previously treated boys and girls differently in their class, but hopefully now they have a fresh perspective and can make some actionable changes. We wrapped up the day with a session about organizing English clubs and other extracurricular activities. Many of the teachers also take time out of their busy schedule to help with local English clubs, so we shared some new ideas and activities that they could use in that setting. We emphasized the idea that learning a language is something you need to practice and use frequently, so having a vibrant extracurricular program where students can explore English and have fun is very beneficial.

PCV Jade talks about English clubs and extracurricular activities

PCV Jade talks about English clubs and extracurricular activities

The sessions on the third day were facilitated by different PCVs. We started the morning off with two sessions that together covered the basics of how to teach reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. Some teachers don’t feel confident in their own English abilities, whether it’s speaking or writing or whatever, so maybe they don’t give much attention to one or more of these essential language skills in their classroom. We wanted to show them how they could bring these skills back into their classroom. In the afternoon, we offered a session about incorporating malaria education into the English curriculum. Malaria is something that impacts our local community a great deal every year. Students get sick and miss school, teachers get sick, family members get sick and sometimes die from malaria complications. So we wanted to give our English teachers the power to talk about malaria in their classrooms and give students at least one more point of exposure to prevention and treatment information. The final session of the day was about teaching with limited resources, something that every Malagasy teacher is used to. In most cases, teachers in this country get nothing more than a blackboard and chalk to teach with. In this session, we listened to the experience of the teachers more than teaching them from our comparatively minimal experience. It was a great exchange of ideas and I think everyone learned new ways to incorporate inexpensive or free resources. Sometimes we have to be creative and design our own teaching resources.

PCVs Crystal and Trevor lead an exercise to model good listening activities

PCVs Crystal and Trevor lead an exercise to model good listening activities

The fourth and final day of training was about bringing all the new information together and making a plan to move forward. The first morning session was led by a Malagasy teacher and he talked about creating a professional network of teachers to continue sharing experiences and exchanging teaching methods. This is essential if we hope to spread the lessons learned during the training and continue improving the quality of instruction in our region. At one point, teachers from each District met together and discussed the specifics of when they would meet again to share ideas. To wrap up the training, we asked the teachers to recite and sign a pledge that described how they would share the knowledge they gained during the training and reaffirming that they have the ability to enact change without the supervision of a foreigner. Then we gave a certificate of completion to each teacher, posed for many photos with the teachers, and shared one last meal together before teachers started to make their way back to their homes. It was a really great ending to a phenomenal training program. Overall, based on feedback from the teachers and the PCVs involved, it was a successful event and everyone can’t wait to do it again next year!

Teachers work together to create a lesson plan that incorporates malaria education

Teachers work together to create a lesson plan that incorporates malaria education

Throughout this process, and having participated in the first training program last year, I learned so much. I learned about myself and my work ethic, my ability to share a vision with people, and my ability to stay calm and focused in the face of ambiguity and other challenges. I got quite the education in the whole grant process including writing, budgeting, evaluating goals, and reporting results. Maybe most importantly, I learned about finding joy and purpose in my work here. All the stress and frustration and confusion of the past 6 months melted away when I saw how proud and excited these teachers were to hold up their certificate of completion. I knew it was worth it when I heard the teachers reciting their pledge and saw the look on their faces like they deeply believed what they were saying.

Participants recite the "Teacher's Pledge"

Participants recite the “Teacher’s Pledge”

I owe a lot of thanks to many, many people. More than I could properly put down in words here. But I’ll try. A tremendous amount of thanks goes to the generous Americans who donated to our grant and basically funded the entire program. I also worked closely with local school officials and teachers to help spread the word about the training and secure some of the logistics during the event. This project would have also been nothing without the interest, dedication, and participation of the 50 Malagasy teachers that took it upon themselves to improve their careers. As I mentioned before, a huge amount of thanks goes to Johnny and Deriot and the other Malagasy teachers that worked with us. And I really owe a lot to the amazing Peace Corps family that supported us throughout this endeavor. The PCVs in the SAVA region were instrumental in so many ways and it was such a pleasure to work with them. They willingly took on responsibilities to help share the workload. Other PCVs shared ideas for sessions and gave unwavering support throughout the whole process. And finally, thanks to the Peace Corps staff that helped us work through the grant process and helped us realize the full potential of this project. To all, I offer my sincere gratitude and appreciation.

Having a good time with the team of English students that cooked every meal for the training and made sure we were well fed!

Having a good time with the team of English students that cooked every meal for the training and made sure we were well fed!

Me with most of the participants from Andapa. Look at all those big Malagasy smiles!

Me with most of the participants from Andapa. Look at all those big Malagasy smiles!

Most of the SAVA PCVs pose for one of many photos with a proud participant

Most of the SAVA PCVs pose for one of many photos with a proud participant

Advertisements

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

A smattering of stories

In light of the fact that it feels like I haven’t written anything new in quite some time, I thought I’d share some anecdotes from the last month. There are really no connections between these stories. Just a few snapshots of what I’ve been up to lately.

Battle of the Bats

In previous posts, I’ve written about the family of bats that lives in my house. Or am I living in their house? I’m starting to think the latter is true. Until recently, the bats and I were living together in relative harmony. Then our relations took a very sour turn and the bats have been less afraid to mix into my affairs.

First off, they seem to be louder than when I first arrived in Andapa. I don’t know if they are mating, fighting, or doing something else entirely, but the noise has really been stepped up a few notches. Mostly during dusk and night, I can hear them chatting, squeaking, and clawing at the tin roof. Certainly not the most relaxing or calming thing to hear as I try to sleep.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was suddenly and deliberately attacked by a bat on two consecutive nights. In both cases, I was woken up around 3 o’clock in the morning by the loud giggling of the bats and I could also hear the faint noises of wings flapping in the air. Alarmed and nervous, I became fully awake when the bat flew into the mosquito net covering my bed, crawled around a bit as I was yelling and pounding on my mattress, and then flew off again. On the second night in a row when this happened, the bat ended up in my bathroom and I was able to corner it and kill it with my broom. It’s a terrible way to start a day. Needless to say, I wasn’t getting too much sleep and it started to show as I became more irritable in the classroom.

Alas, I am confident that a solution has finally arrived. After voicing my concerns to my counterpart, other school staff, and my supervisor at Peace Corps, we were able to make some great progress in the Battle of the Bats. Just the other day, with the help of my counterpart, Derio, my close friend, Johnny, and the local mason, we worked to patch up almost all of the exterior holes in my house with cement. The idea is simple: don’t let the bats get inside and nest. Once we started to work on the inside of the house, that’s when things started to get interesting. We identified what was likely the main nest of the bats and began to dismantle the brick wall that they were hiding in. One by one, bats began to fly out of the wall to escape the destruction of the nest. Some flew away outside, hopefully never to return. Some made the mistake of flying inside, and this is when the guys used their expert hunting skills to capture most of the foul beasts. They picked the bats up by the back of their necks and posed for photos like they had just won a fishing tournament. Some of the bats were already dead, or in their final hours of life, and they just sort of fell from the roof onto my floor like a wet noodle. In total, we evicted 12 bats from my house. Twelve. I was shocked to actually see how many bats had been living with me. After the dramatic exodus from the house, we cleaned out the nest and continued to patch up holes. We also used some expanding foam to fill in the small cracks and crevices where the bats could wiggle through. It seems to be a good temporary solution as we wait for more funding so that the entire brick wall can be cleaned, rebuilt, and made impenetrable.

I am extremely grateful for the bravery shown by these guys and for the hard work they put in for my wellbeing. Most of this work happened very quickly, as in we had the conversation at 9am and by 10:30am the mason was at my house patching holes. This type of prompt movement is sometimes rare in Madagascar, so I am grateful that my concerns were understood and that the right people were willing to drop everything to help me. It definitely says something when a community mobilizes to help one person, let alone a foreigner living among them. Maybe in their eyes, I’m not very foreign anymore.

 

Derio (left) and Johnny (right) showing off the bats that the caught

Derio (left) and Johnny (right) showing off the live bats that they caught

Thanksgiving in Sambava

This year, I was lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving with some very special people. Thanksgiving seems to be one of the more popular holidays for Peace Corps Volunteers because it’s a good excuse to get together with other Americans and share some delicious food. Our celebration was no exception. I travelled to Sambava, the regional capital of SAVA, to spend the holiday with the six other Volunteers in our region. Plus, Sambava was the only place that we could find an oven to use.

We planned for a pot-luck style meal and even purchased a turkey to cook. The day before the meal, a few of us went shopping for ingredients and began preparing some of the dishes. The turkey came to us already butchered and unfeathered, so I helped clean up the bird and get it ready for the oven. Throughout this chore, a few Malagasy people had wandered over to us and were very curious about what we were doing. I’m not sure if they had never seen a turkey before or if they never expected to see a few vazaha (“foreign person”) handling a bird of that size with such determination. We managed to get the bird in the oven at a decent time and then the rest of the dishes needed to be prepared. Our group spent most of the day cooking and the house smelled wonderful. One of the Volunteers had recently returned from vacation in America and she brought back some ingredients such as brown sugar, marshmallows, and cranberries, which are all things that are very hard to find in Madagascar.

Having an oven was really helpful, but the challenge was in cooking a turkey and then having enough time to cook most of the other dishes in the oven as well. In the late afternoon, when we realized that the turkey was taking longer to cook than anticipated, we had to initiate Plan B to cook the other dishes. This meant a few of us got the food into cooking dishes and then hopped into a taxi going to one of the hotels in Sambava. Luckily, one of our Volunteers lives and works at the hotel and he convinced the owner to let us use their ovens for a while. So I volunteered to transport the dishes to and from the ovens. I can now add the skill of “balancing hot ceramic dishes in my arms while riding in an open taxi on an unpaved road” to my resume.

After we returned from the hotel, everyone was ready to start the meal. In addition to the 6 Volunteers, we were joined by 7 Malagasy friends who wanted to share the holiday with us. Before we ate, we went around the table and each person talked about the things they were thankful for. Our feast was a traditional eating frenzy. In addition to the turkey, we had mashed potatoes, pasta salad, stuffing, cranberry sauce (from the can-my favorite!), sweet potato casserole, eggplant and zucchini casserole, and pumpkin pie. We knew that we had succeeded with the food because everyone was full and none of the Malagasy people ate rice! Being able to eat leftovers the next day was also a pat on the back to our awesome cooking skills.

My Peace Corps extended family enjoying the Thanksgiving feast

My Peace Corps extended family enjoying the Thanksgiving feast

Sex Ed for the PCV

During one of my classes at the lycée (high school) last week, I learned a very valuable lesson about mixing English and Malagasy vocabulary. The following story actually happened and it might be every TEFL teacher’s nightmare.

I was teaching a lesson about imperatives (commands) and I was explaining the difference between when to use “stop + verb-ing” and “don’t + verb”. To put it simply, you use the first formula during the action and the second formula before the action occurs. I noticed that each time I said the word “before”, the students would giggle and snicker. At first, I played it cool and assumed they thought there was something funny about my accent. But the laughter continued. Finally, I asked them what was so funny. They knew I was on to them and that made them laugh even more. So through the laughter, one student at the front of the class whispers to me and says, “vagina”. I quickly made sense of that and realized that the English word “before” sounds an awful lot like the Malagasy slang term for “vagina”. I had just stood in front of about 50 students between 18-20 years old and repeated the slang term for vagina over and over again.

Naturally, this made me laugh as well.

So amidst my embarrassment, we all shared a good hearty giggle together and then sobered up and continued with the lesson. Except this time I wrote the word “before” on the chalkboard and just pointed to it every time I wanted to say it out loud.

Later that day, I retold the story to my counterpart hoping that he could understand my blunder. Before I could even get to the punch line, he knew where the story was headed and laughed harder than I’ve ever heard him laugh before. So much for positive support.

Temperature reading: 1.5 months to departure

The past few weeks since my last post have been remarkably busy and filled with some exciting Peace Corps updates. To help me stay on topic, I’ll share these happenings with you in short bursts. In no particular order:

Received final medical clearance

Officially speaking, I’m healthy! Receiving my final medical clearance is basically the last major checkpoint that I need to pass to keep moving on toward departure. After receiving thorough medical, dental, and vision exams, I have been deemed “fit for service.” Part of the medical evaluations also included getting some vaccinations and booster immunizations, but apparently there is much more of that to look forward to during the Staging process and early parts of Pre-Service Training. As you might imagine, it can be pretty nerve-wracking to go through all these intense exams, make sure the paperwork is filled out just right, submit the paperwork, and just wait. But the wait is finally over, and I can finally let out a huge sigh of relief.

Peace Corps send-off and story slam

This past weekend, I was able to attend a local Peace Corps event in San Diego that really did an amazing job of bringing together Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, those who are preparing to depart for service (that’s me!) , and those considering if they want to start the application process. For me, it was a great opportunity to meet other San Diegans who are getting ready to depart for service within the next few months and also connect with local RPCVs who have served in either my sector (Education) or my region (Madagascar, more broadly Africa). Lots of stories back and forth, nothing that put me off or scared me, but really just learning things that made me more excited to be a part of this experience. A few of the RPCVs got on stage and told some stories from their days of service and shed some light on some of the more day-to-day interactions of a PCV. So it was great to hear stories about what it’s like to get settled into your site after going through training, how to invest yourself in your local community, and funny stories about language barriers.

But I think the biggest takeaway I got from the experience was the overwhelming sense of community among this group of people. I knew two people at the event when I showed up, and I felt like I left with a handful of new friends and supporters. It got me thinking about some of the ways Peace Corps service just inherently changes people. In my experiences so far, RPCVs seem to be outgoing, friendly, grounded, relatable, and curious individuals. And in some ways I see those qualities as being coping mechanisms that they might have developed or strengthened during service in order to work well within their communities. It was more than just being a nice person and a pleasant stranger to meet, I felt like these people really understood each other and could relate to me because they were once in my shoes as a new Volunteer. It doesn’t matter where they served, what sector, or how long ago they served, it was really such a pleasure to get to know a few of them even for an afternoon.

Group photo from send-off event

Group photo from send-off event

Progress with TEFL training

As an Education Volunteer, a major part of my in-country training will include getting TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Not only will this help me be a more prepared teacher during my service, but having this particular certification can be very beneficial for me even after completing my service. So as part of my pre-departure training program, my supervisors in Madagascar have assigned some online projects for us to complete so we are better prepared to begin TEFL training. This includes brief introductory lessons on teaching theory, lesson planning, and student assessment. Most recently I’ve completed a sample lesson plan and learned about building trust with students. It’s been interesting so far because I don’t have any formal classroom experience, but I’m confident I’ll get more comfortable with teaching as I start to get in the Malagasy classroom.

In the coming weeks, I will be focusing more on physically preparing myself for departing. Really getting into the details of packing, moving out of San Diego, getting my other affairs in order, and spending time with friends and family. Hopefully I can keep my head from spinning during this time, sure to be filled with an intense mix of emotions. Here’s to trying!