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Thursday, August 8, 2013

What You Are Thinking...

Your Thinking Makes You What Your Are

A young Nursery teacher (children ages 4-5) told me yesterday that what makes a great teacher is to be crazy about what you are doing--TEACHING!  It is not just a profession, using my words, it must be your passion!  To explicate, she said, "Your thinking makes you what you are!" something she learned in the early childhood education program at Luteete Teacher's College here in Kampala.  

If you love to teach, you become a good teacher.  Let me delve into that further:  if you love to teach, you are happy when you are around children, they sense it and are their happiest ---and best behavior.  You have begun relationship building.  

The concept of emotional thought, an understanding of the brain's processing, speaks to this phenomenon.  If we are happy, rested, at ease, full of joy, we are more likely to be attentive to others, acutely sensorily aware, creative, responsive to others, problem-solvers--- all things that make us pleasant to be around. 

On the other hand, if we are filled with fear, anger, stress, our frontal cortex shuts down and we risk being disengaged, unthinking, inattentive, disorganized and unresponsive.  

If you love to teach, you prepare so that children's time is well-spent.  If you love to teach, you want to know what each child needs and you work hard until you can facilitate their learning through discovery.  

If you love to teach, you continuously teach and reflect, teach and reflect to learn what is working, what methods are not, and how to improve in your teaching practice--- and not just once, when you begin your career, but everyday, lifelong.  

From a personal slant, as she said those words, I was struck by the many emotions I have experienced since I arrived in Uganda:  joy, anticipation, awe and wonder, fear, frustration, annoyance, disappointment.  I think that when I step into a teaching/observing/learning mode, I regulate my emotion and give to the children or students, but inside, I know this is false reflection.  I want to only share joy with the teachers and children I meet.  The only way I can overcome the negative feelings is by building a stronger faith in God's love for me.  That is a lifelong task:  with every new experience, a new understanding can occur if we let it.  

I was reminded of the biblical guidance of Paul:  "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.  These things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.  Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4: 8-9).

I forget who wrote that the West can learn from Africa how to live with religious diversity.  I am amazed not at the conflict here, but the peace, if not mutual respect.   It tickled me that this same Muslim woman sang with the children --- and taught me-- a new song:

J is for Jesus
and O is for others
And Y Y Y is for 
And the word is JOY! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

LOVING Children?

That same wise, young headmaster told me, "A great teacher is one loves children!" I thought to myself, "Ho hum, here is the indiscriminate line we tell students never to use in a job interview."  But, aha!  He did just what we encourage students to do:  He went on to put that concept in concrete terms. 

He delineated:  "A great teacher is effective in observing and matching children's needs to her teaching methods because she truly wants to know each child and how she might best help them!  She is the one who feels with them, plays with them, eats with them!"

When I introduce the concepts of teaching, I share with students that my nearly 40 years has led me to perceive teaching is four essential components:    Knowledge, 
Art and 
What this headmaster helped me see is that what has impressed me with the good teachers over the past week and what has disappointed me in the less than good is the presence or absence of passion---deep commitment to children and teaching/learning.  
The young teacher in her second year in the field whom I observed the second day was filled with passion to transform lives--- and the children felt it, believed in through her positive affect--- her smile, her expressive voice, her laughter, the way she engaged the children's experiences in her teaching, the way she sang and danced and played with them!  She asked them questions that challenged them to think creatively.  

I have only seen one or two teachers who used physical punishment with the children:  slapping their head over a mistake.  I try to put this in a cultural context:  many teachers learned this humiliation from their own childhood experiences---perhaps some even learned it from mission schools of the past century!  

But the tentative hypothesis I am at today---after a mere 7 days in the country---is that the good teachers, perhaps the great teachers, did not NEED to resort to physical punishment!  They had built relationships with the children which EXUDED respect and they offered experiences that were interesting and developmentally appropriate to the child!  

I invite my student teachers to ask themselves how much they enjoy being with children?  My observations so far have lent support for my theory:  if teachers are passionate about inspiring children to great things, the children will sense it and will respond wi attentiveness, their own explosion of joy:  my favorite sound continues to be the laughter of children within a school classroom!

Teaching or Inspiring?

A wise primary school headmaster I met yesterday told me, "Teaching is about touching children's lives. If you are a great teacher, you may transform their lives and inspire them to do greater things!" Conversely, he warned, "If we do badly, we help to create a bad society."
I visited the Uganda School for the Deaf* yesterday where about 219 children with hearing impairments are taught with 193 of them staying overnight in the dormitories. Most of the children have been referred by doctors, while some by teachers, neighbors but the children come from as far away as Kenya, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. One of the teachers took me on a tour and I remain unused to the stark conditions: no electricity in the classrooms, many children, the 3-5 year old classroom without toys but just wooden tables, benches and chalkboard. I met a young man from Germany who volunteered for the past year, through a German government grant program, to help in the classroom and with games after school---he is returning home tomorrow and will continue his instruction in deaf education.
Otherwise, there were outdoor toys. I was impressed to see an active knitting, weaving and crocheting program for deaf/blind children and fabric dying and a bakery. The headmaster, of sixteen years, has seen many children grow through the program, pass their entrance exams and then graduate from secondary school. However, he offered that few had been able to obtain a job.
As I walked towards the exit of the grounds, I asked my teacher-guide what drew him to work at the school? He responded: "But I must help!" Noblese oblige: those who can, give. I wonder whom or what inspired this young man to build a better world citizenry? I wonder whom each of us is inspiring or has inspired to build a compassionate society? How do we do that? Well, aha! Those are some of the things I had fun learning about while conducting the research for my dissertation!!!
* Of course, it is distressing to see children pulled out of their peer groups for education. I have seen a couple of examples of children with special needs included in the classroom. Hopefully, these young learners will grow into teachers who have the capacity to teach well in an inclusive setting.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

81, 74, 60, 75, 67, 47,  50:   The numbers of children in each grade in the Police Barracks Children's Government School kindergarten through Grade 6 in Kampala.  Yes, there is only one teacher per classroom and no, they have no teaching materials.  This alone defines why so many parents, about half, struggle to pay school fees for their child to attend a private school.

The preschool program is in  one room about 10'x 12' and has no play materials, only wooden benches with half tables and 40 children ages 3-4 years.  Chalkboards, exercise books and pencils are the teachers' only tools. 

Police officers at recruited throughout the country and many come to Kampala for the academy and then work.  Their children come to e school adjacent to the barracks and often stay there through their primary school years.  The nice piece was that they could go home, right next door, during their recess break and check in with their family!

Yet again, I found teachers with an inner strength and passion for their work.  I found them to display positive affect with the children even though the guidance method of humiliation is infrequently used in the classroom as children guess wrong answers.  

I saw another couple  of great examples of teaching "in relationship" with the children.  In one class during their English lesson, the teacher was teaching the concept of "both" and "and".  Theology friends, you'll understand I was expecting a great discussion about the complexity of God's ways, but, no, this was a grammar lesson!

Without a textbook, the teacher used the children's family to make story exercises---she asked them for a sibling's name and what he or she liked to play.  She then created the example:  "Christine is singing.  Davis is singing.  Both Christine and Davis are signing."  The children were so eager to talk about their family and so attentive to the lesson!

In another class, the 7th graders were preparing for their secondary school entrance exams.  The teacher was going over sample exam questions many students had missed.  She introduced the reasons for flying the Ugandan flag at half-mast, a national day of mourning.  She told them Uganda flew the flag at half mast after September 11, 2011.  She then asked me to talk bout what it was like for me to experience the falling of the twin towers.  This was Antonio D'amasio's "emotional thought" in action:  with an emotionally laden story, they learned a new concept.  Beautifully, the teacher later rehearsed the ideas when talking about the need for countries to work in unity and cooperation for peace, not war.  We need to be friends and care when each other faces injustice or horror.  

I had so much fun in her class!  I also learned that the River Nile was named through cultural disconnect--- a frequent occurrence in world history!  Europeans came to Uganda in the first place seeking the source of the River.  Once found,  they asked the native people for the name of the river.  The natives replied, "Ni-le, Ni-le" which means, "I don't know, I don't know" in the Baganda language!  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I made it to Uganda!  After 28 hours of travel time I arrived in Kampala last night and into my room by midnight.  This morning I was fortunate to visit the Peace Nursery and Primary School in the Makarere neighborhood--you may have heard of Makarere University which we drove through this afternoon--established in 1922 with over 60,000 students today.

It is a primary school with 14 teachers from preschool through grade 4 and is funded partly by tuition and donations.  the classrooms had few supplies--- pencils had to be sharpened by the teacher  with a razor blade and each child had their name on a pencil.  All the posters were hand made by the  teachers. I saw no paint, paper, art materials, building blocks, dramatic play.

However, the children were delightful to be with--- they talked with me during their recess and I learned they mostly had at least two siblings, love to play soccer, volleyball and baseball in their free time and have aspirations to be doctors, lawyers, pilots and a rock star!

One teacher I observed reminded me of how important it is to establish meaningful relationships and offer challenging experiences.  The kids clearly knew she enjoyed being with them and put passion into her teaching of them.  She helped them believe learning is important.  She was talking with them about road transport.  Her questions included:  Name at least four methods of road transport.  Which ones are common in our community?  What causes road accidents?  How can you help prevent road accidents?  She went beyond the knowledge and comprehension questions to levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation!  I was impressed!

Obviously, I am struck by the contrast in classroom materials from ours in the US to here in Uganda. How much of what we have do we truly need AND how can teachers teach through relationships and experiences when they have no tools?

I'm not successful trying to load my photos from today.  I'll have to add them through Facebook!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

About to... 

Teach in Uganda

Almost a year ago I was invited by Teach and Tour Sojourners to volunteer to teach child development in Uganda at secular colleges.  The trip is nearly upon me:  I will leave the USA on July 29th and return to Palm Springs on August 18th.  I invite you to travel with me and share my experiences so I will try to post to this blog every day to keep you involved with me! 

I learned just yesterday what the teaching I will actually be doing:  
* You will give one-hour talks, in a public lecture format, to 4 teacher training institutions.  These are students preparing to be teachers.*  Additionally, you will give lessons to several smaller classes in these institutions, on various days of the week.  * You will give 40 minutes talks to primary school teachers in 16 primary schools.*  You will give lessons to primary schools kids in 6 primary schools.*  You will give lessons to nursery and preschool teachers in 6 schools.

I also received an invitation yesterday to bring supplies and mementos to the students, teachers and children.  I have asked friends to help me collect the supplies and I am so grateful to those who are helping me--- being away from home in the desert, I couldn't do this without you! If you can help in anyway, please contact me!
We would like to request you to carry as many textbooks as you can.  Students have limited access to the internet.  Additionally, the program would like to request you to carry some logo items or merchandize.  These can be T-shirts, caps, pens, mugs, tote bags, or anything that bears your school's name.  It can be a banner or flag.
Also, if you have written any manuscript or book, we request you to carry a copy for the program's keepsake.  Lastly, if you happen to be aware of any used laptop(s) available anywhere, please do carry it for our program or for a small college whose students do a lot of online education.  Also, if you think of anything you would like to donate to our program, even from your home, please do so.
More information about the program itself is available through:

Teach and Tour Sojourners (TATS)
Anita Kabikire, Universities Program Director
6 Nekambuza Road, Suite 1, Kampala, Uganda, East Africa

I am excited and very much looking forward to a life-changing experience!  I will appreciate your prayers that I facilitate learning in developmentally appropriate ways:  I will strive to EDIFY and ENCOURAGE in ways that will meet each child, student and teacher's individual needs and to represent America as a compassionate nation--- which I still believe we are.... 

Monday, December 17, 2012

I was prepared In Kid's Word on Sunday that questions might come up about the Connecticut shooting.  I didn't know if parents had shared it or wanted to share it with their children so I opened divergently:  "Are there any things you' d like to talk about?"  Here's the first and only question from one often pensive child:

"How do we know God is with us?"   (Teaching children IS rocket science...)

I clarified with the child to be clear the question was whether God was present in our lives generally.  I turned the question to the other children.  "How do you know God is present in your life?"  Their responses could challenge those of doctoral theologians:

*So many people that I trust and respect come to church (tradition);
*Things have happened in my mom's life and my life that couldn't be just science (experience);
* The bible tells us God is, God loves, and God is here (scripture);
* The world is too beautiful and amazing for it to be science alone (reason);

That comment led to a child initiated discussion of whether they believed in the fundamentalist creation story or science (the rendition of the "Big Bang Theory" should've been caught on tape) and they all concurred they believe, using their words, in both the truth of "God and science."

I shared with them that they had just "nailed" John Wesley's quadrilateral though I'm a little nervous about how popular he is with Episcopalians today!  

God was present in our discussion today.  My only part was in facilitating the taking of turns to speak as everyone wanted to contribute.  As we closed, I offered if they believe God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, they should not be afraid of asking hard questions.  God will always be a part of the answer.

I also asked if it were especially hard to see God's presence when bad things happen to which I heard a sounding, "Yes!"  We closed with the key message of Advent:  Waiting with Hope.

It was amazing how we talked around the issue without any child mentioning the Connecticut shooting at all!  God is present --- in our most challenging moments.