Martine, Desir, Carline, Jesula, Guerline, Rosena, Vivianne, Carole, Guerline, Junia…familiar names to me now, names I cherish and admire, names that represent people I have come to love. Only a short year ago, these names were as foreign to me as were the people they represented.
I have been working in a school outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti in a town called Ganthier. The school is in its 2nd year of existence and is directed by a Godly man, Jean Claubert Belton, whose goal is to help educate the children of Haiti. The principal of the school, Jean Antoine, met me a year ago with skepticism and a little fear. But, over the past year, we have developed a friendship and a mutual respect for one another as I have with each of the teachers at the school.
I just returned from an 8-day trip to Ganthier where I and a team of 4 teachers spent 5 days with the 11 teachers at Ganthier. In the one year I have been going to Haiti, I have witnessed amazing growth in learning and an increase willingness to take risks and try new things with instruction. Throughout the year I have tried to help teachers understand the importance of interactive teaching where students and teachers talk with another, where students work together in small groups and where students respond individually. You might say, “Well, isn’t this just what teachers and children do?” No, not in Haiti, where rote memorization and recitation are the primary methods of teaching prevalent in most, if not all, third world countries.
When I began working with these teachers, they had no access to books of any kind; they had never read a book aloud to children. There were no puzzles or blocks, manipulatives or toys for the kindergarten children. There was no construction paper or markers, crayons or scissors. Teachers wrote on the board while children copied and recited. No other type of teaching was done.
Now…a year later, it is amazing to see what is going on at Ganthier School. Carole, Junia and Guerline read aloud to their children every day. Their children respond to the reading by drawing and retelling the stories. Jesula is reading aloud to her children and they are responding by writing. Martine is also reading aloud every day. As she works with children in small groups, she asks questions of individual children and is beginning to ask her children “why” questions. Desir is beginning to challenge the thinking of his students by seeking ways to help them problem solve.
During this past week, we witnessed a great awakening among the teachers. For the first time, teachers were asking why. Why is your way better than ours? Why will this help our children? They began asking how. How can we do this with our children? How can we learn more about this technique so we can do more of it with our children? For an educator, that is music to my ears. When teachers question what they do and why they do it, it is the first step to true change. The teachers at Ganthier are truly changing. They are changing because they see the benefit to their children and to themselves.
Teachers have begun seeing beyond their own limitations by thinking ‘outside the box’ and seeing possibilities. Up until now, teachers have only been able to do the same strategy we showed them. They couldn’t grasp how to go beyond those techniques. Last week, we saw something different. They began to think on their own. They began to problem-solve for the first time. When presented with a problem, they took their time, thought about it, and came up with their own solutions. This was a first!! And, we were thrilled!!
Has the year been hard? YES!!! Has the year been full of trials and challenges? YES!!! Has it all been worth it? YES!!!
I believe the best is yet to come. Because the teachers have begun to experience real learning themselves, they will begin to offer these same learning experiences to their children. Once we open the doors for student learning, the possibilities are endless. Can you imagine…children who can read independently, write with power and voice, problem solve and take risks? Can you imagine the change that will occur within a community where children grow up knowing how to examine situations and create solutions to their own problems? Can you imagine a world where all children have the same opportunities as children in America have?
Martine, Desir, Carline, Jesula, Guerline, Rosena, Vivianne, Carole, Guerline, Junia…names that represent teachers I have come to admire and love. Will you help us? Will you be part of a project that has the potential to change the life of a teacher who will then change the life of a child who will then change the life of a community? Get involved with the education program today!
Article Submitted by: Bobbie Solley, Ed.D.