My name is Tammy Whitaker and I am a 8th grade math teacher in McKinney, Texas but my heart has been captured by the dark continent since 2005 when I took my first trip to Rwanda. I have since visited Rwanda 3 additional times over the last 5 years, bringing my family in 2007.
In the summer of 2009, another teacher and friend, Karen Hendrix, and I went to south central Africa for a couple of weeks. Specifically, we visited Rwanda and northern Uganda. Our primary purpose was to visit schools and teachers to investigate the feasibility of providing strategic mentoring to the teachers in these war torn and poverty stricken areas. We visited a couple of schools in Rwanda and a few schools in northern Uganda (in Gulu, home of the “Invisible Children”) and all the teachers we spoke with were very excited about the possibilities of being partnered with a teacher from the U.S. who teaches similar subjects/grade levels. These mentor teachers would communicate via email with the partnered African teacher to provide teaching strategies and practical ideas/lessons that could be used in the classroom. Teachers in Africa normally don’t get training for teaching but are instead taught content only. We thought it would be beneficial for the U.S. teachers to share what they learn through their own professional development.
We didn’t plan on discovering a recent development that has become the largest obstacle for education in these two countries. While many countries have previously taught in French in the public education system and also speaking their own native languages, some are now required by their respective governments to convert to teaching in English only. This poses a larger problem than anticipated since many of the teachers struggle with their own mastery of the English language. Naturally, our discussion focused largely on how the teachers here in the U.S. could support these African teachers as they transition to all English as well as our sharing some ESL resources. This idea is still in the baby stage and we’re not sure how this will proceed from here but we have dozens of email addresses from African teachers and already a few U.S. teachers interested in mentoring them.
At the end of the school year May 2009, we also had taken donations at our middle school of school supplies that we ended up bringing with us in 2 large suitcases, weighing 50 pounds each. Our students were very excited about helping out and many wrote letters to their African counterparts, reaching out with compassion and friendship. In turn, we brought home a large stack of letters written by students in Rwanda and Uganda to be given to the students at our school. We hope this will help our students see that the world might not be as big as they thought and they really enjoy the idea of having “friends” in Africa. The African students feel similarly, loving the thought of having good friends in America. While Karen and I continue to teach 7th graders in Texas, we look forward to this opportunity to connect teachers in America with teachers in Africa so that both can be the better because of the experience.