Sudan: Teacher Workshop

This is the long-awaited post about the Teacher Workshop that I was a part of during our trip. I’m sorry it has been so delayed in getting posted. I think the more I thought about our time in Yei, the harder (rather than easier) it became to really put into words all that we have seen and embraced.

While in Sudan my task was to work with Anna Evans and provide a week-long workshop for teachers in Yei. Prior to our trip we had very little direction for how to prepare for that. We did know that we could expect around 20 teachers. We were told that we should bring “modules” for Math, English, and Christian Education. We had no idea what grade level the teachers would be, what kind of curriculum (if any) they were utilizing, what the English language skills of the teachers would be, or what kind of facility we would be teaching in. It was frustrating (Americans really want direction, plans and order). We went online and were able to track down some information that was helpful. We also were able to find some people who had been to Yei and contacted them. They were tremendously helpful and encouraging about things we might encounter.

When we arrived at the designated location (in the local church building, which we could easily walk to from where we were staying) early Monday morning we found we had 18 teachers (16 men, 2 women) from 10 local schools. All taught in the primary grades. The system used in Yei is based on the Ugandan curriculum. They progress from P1-P7 and then move on to a secondary level school (equivalent, more or less, to a US high school). We were thrilled to find that we could teach in English (although we did have some amusing misunderstandings due to pronunciation or cultural differences).

So, what did we do? Well, the week included:

  • Introduction of Learning Styles (Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences)
  • Ideas for using Cooperative Learning in a Classroom
  • Practice using Math Manipulatives (including manipulatives made from local materials…like sticks and bottle caps)
  • Instruction for how to teach some specific math concepts (deriving geometry formulae, generating pie charts, teaching fractions)
  • Ideas for how to teach science (demontrations, hands-on activities, etc.)
  • Instruction for developing lesson plans for the curriculum they use
  • Classroom management and discipline
  • Qualities of a Good Teacher.

But to get a real feel for what happened that week, I think I’ll just tell some stories. They’re more interesting than reading the outline of our notes anyway.

First of all, we had no idea what expectations the teachers had. So early on, Anna and I decided that we would implement a time at the end of each day to get feedback from the teachers about what we had covered that day and what would be helpful to them for us to cover later in the week. The combination of having a plan but being willing to be flexible and change the plan to accommodate their needs worked really well. One humorous result of asking for their “expectations” on the first day was that we got a long list of requests that they were hoping we would give to them… including bicycles, etc. Basically, their idea of “expectations” and our idea of that word were two different things.

While we weren’t able to give them bicycles, we did bring many supplies to share with them. One of the first things we gave each teacher was an inflatable globe. They worked hard to blow them up and had a great time finding Yei, Philadelphia, and other locations on the globe. For a few, it was the first time they had seen the world represented as a sphere. Others were desperately trying to locate all 7 continents. One teacher finally burst out “Where is the 7th continent??” The elusive Antarctica was pointed out.

We also gave them cards, special dice, and other materials to play math games. The most quiet of the group suddenly became the competitors! As they played the games they became more at ease and we had many moments filled with laughter. They used colored pencils and markers to draw maps of their schools. Some of the maps included important details like “mango tree” or “chickens.”

We brought rulers, scissors, protractors, compasses, tote bags, balloons, and much more. But perhaps one of the most interesting responses was for the magnifying glasses we brought. Immediately they started to look at their skin (“Oh, I see the holes”) or their clothes or papers. But when I described how the magnifying glass could focus the sun to such a degree that we could ignite paper or grass, their eyes grew as wide as any middle schooler in the US. We went outside and they worked to be the first one to ignite their little pile of grass or twigs. I thought for sure we would start a fire that would burn down Yei. Mercifully, we did not start any bonfires, but much to their delight they did succeed in getting some small flames. They then proceeded to walk through fields to look at bugs, grass, seeds, even goat hair with their new tool.

magnifying glasses

Looking at grass with magnifying glass

Most of the teachers did not have a watch. Apparently it is a very high position in the classroom for one student to be the official timekeeper. So, we had our timekeeper (who used Anna’s watch). He diligently let us know when we were coming up to a break for tea or lunch by silently moving out of his seat and going to the large drum near the door of the room and banging it. His insistent banging on the drum at the end of lunch called everyone back from their conversations.

One topic the teachers asked us to teach them (because they had to teach it to their own classes very shortly) was “pie charts.” I would never in a million years have planned to teach about pie charts, but that was one thing they needed. So, we taught them how to read and construct pie charts. They used their new protractors and compasses as they worked to master this new skill. Finally, at the end of the entire session, we asked if there were any other questions. “Can you tell me what the word “pie” is? Is it Latin or English?” Something that we completely take for granted was perplexing to them! We explained what a pie was in English and how we cut the pieces and what the shapes look like so that they could understand that the chart looked the same as the food.

These people became our friends. They are not so different from us. Not really. They are smart and funny and have many responsibilities. The teachers in our group were also Christians. The main difference was just our circumstances. They struggle with the same issues in their schools: student motivation, boy-girl relationships, classroom discipline, tardy students, sharing limited resources with other teachers, low pay (compared to other professions in the town) and time-consuming lesson plans. They also share the same rewards we find in teaching: respect, satisfaction that they are building the future of their country by teaching, and the value of colleague relationships.

But the circumstances that they are teaching under truly are remarkable. We (Anna and I) felt like we had absolutely no right to ever complain again about ANYTHING related to teaching in the US. They each have 40-70 students in a classroom. Many times they have 8 years olds in the same group as 16 year olds. Many students have experienced horrific violence. Many are orphans living with others. Some students have been in the military. A school of 560 has 13 teachers… and that is a really good school. All ten of the schools we worked with each have only one copy (and not the newest version) of the Ugandan Curriculum. This means each teacher must hand-copy the material into their own notebook so that they know what to teach each week. Most classrooms do not have textbooks for the students, only the teacher has a copy. Many classrooms do not have desks or stools. Yet, in spite of all these obstacles, these teachers know the high call that they are answering. Even though some of them are not trained to be teachers (and some haven’t even finished secondary school yet), they are training up the next generation. New Sudan is rebuilding; for peace to hold new leaders will need to be developed. The children in those schools will become those leaders. So much needs to be done in New Sudan, but they don’t want other people to always be doing it for them. They want to do it themselves, they just need to learn how. Education is critical for them. It is the most asked for gift–money to go to school. You see, in New Sudan, like many places in Africa and around the world, there is no free public education. School fees must be paid in order to attend. One teacher told us of how she had grown tomatoes to sell so that she could pay to go to school when she was a child.

Our week came to an end with a formal closing ceremony. We presented certificates to the participants and they read to us a letter or thanks. We prayed for each other and spoke words of encouragement and thanks. It was hard to believe that so much had transpired in just 5 days. I’m sure that we learned just as much as they did. God was truly faithful to us, and to them, in orchestrating the entire week. Anna and I were very different, but our skills and strengths complemented each other. The materials we brought worked seamlessly not only with the topics we had been prepared to teach, but also for the ones that we taught “off the cuff” when being flexible with the curriculum.

It was such a blessing to be with these brothers and sisters who are teaching in the schools of Yei. We are grateful for Justo, the EPC Education Coordinator, for organizing the workshop. We are also mindful that it was not just Anna and me, or even the 8-person team, who took the trip to Yei. It was all of our church, family, and friends who made it prayerfully and financially possible for the people of Sudan to be ministered to. We were just your ambassadors. So, thank you (and you all know who you are!) for the privilege of representing you.

Special thanks to Coury Deeb, our terrific team photographer, for all but the magnifying glass and inflatable globe photos.

3 thoughts on “Sudan: Teacher Workshop

  1. Hannah Faith

    I love the pictures of the teachers with the magnifying glasses!

    (remember when we used to explode cockroaches during the lunch hour at school in Molokai! – that’s what this reminds me of!)

    Sounds like you had a memorable time and were able to help these teachers out some (pie charts!!).

  2. Karyn Post author

    Yes, magnifying glasses are great fun. But the best activity is to put a tiny scrap of paper inside a soap bubble on a piece of glass, and then focus sunlight through the magnifying glass onto the paper inside the bubble… you get a smoke-filled bubble. Much better than cockroaches or ants.

    Ah, Molokai… my memory of stupid magnifying tricks there was the student who vandalized school property by burning their own initials into a wood picnic table. No trouble tracking down that culprit!

  3. Erik Larsen

    Hi. Wondering if I can get some names of interested parties in helping develop a refugee outreach to Sudanese in the Portland Maine area among the evangelical churches and one PCA that I know of. Can someone help? Thanks.

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