Thursday, February 25, 2016

Working at Senegal's Ministry of Education and as a Fulbright ETA.

Nearing the halfway point of my Fulbright fellowship, and it has been quite the ride!  I never expected to grow so much professionally, and to enjoy Dakar as much as I do.  That said, the blog posts have been lacking but I hope to truly describe working here at Senegal's Ministry of Education, with various Senegalese English language professionals, and being a Fulbright ETA in general.

As I've mentioned before, I've been sent to work and collaborate with the Bureau Technique Pour l'Enseignement de l'Anglais (the Office of English Teaching) at Senegal's Ministry of Education.  Ultimately, this office provides professional development support to current English teachers throughout the country -- working closely with pedagogical advisors in different regions and with English teaching cells in Dakar.  It's a very unique experience as a Fulbright ETA as I'm the first one to be posted here at the Ministry, and I can already see how this is a great place (and partnership) for future Fulbright ETAs to develop and flourish.

Ngouye, my boss and English Language Teaching Technical Advisor to the Minister of Education, and Aminata, Assistant Technical Advisor, are two wonderful women (where I jokingly call them my "Senegalese aunts") and colleagues.  They themselves were English teachers in the past, served as pedagogical advisors for English teaching cells, and have lived abroad in Anglophone countries.  I'm learning so much from them and how the Senegalese education system works, particularly in relation to English teaching.

With Ngouye and Aminata after the Access Graduation at FASTEF, the teacher training college.

First arriving in mid-October, I didn't know what to expect.  Ngouye and I had been in contact via e-mail prior to my arrival, and she mentioned that the first couple of months would be pretty dead since the school year will just be starting, and professional development sessions do not kick in until well after that.  I often forget that in countries like Senegal, the importance of meeting people and maintaining those connections is paramount.  So I did just that -- meeting people from all ranks in the Ministry of Education, English teachers, teacher trainers, folks at the U.S. Embassy, and the like.

I met Israel, Master's candidate in International Education Policy from Harvard, by chance.  Through this, he invited me to meet Mr. Amadou Mahtar M'Bow at his lovely residence.  He was the first Minister of Education in Senegal and was a former director-general of UNESCO. Very accomplished, and he had a true fascination for the Philippines and the Filipino people! 

And the view from the office isn't too shabby.  Downtown Dakar, also known as "Plateau."  And look at all those English language resources -- even if they might be a bit dusty.  =)

While I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso and was exposed to the French education system in a Western African country, no two countries are the same.  So I insisted that we did classroom observations so I could get a better idea of the realities of the English classroom, and could help me understand what the professional development needs of the teachers are.  We even created a type of classroom observation feedback sheet to guide our observations and provide valuable feedback to teachers.  And, truth be told, it was a way for me to learn from fellow language teachers (even if in a different context) because I, too, plan to continue teaching after the Fulbright.

One of the teachers I observed was Mr. Guèye.  What a fun teacher who truly cares about his students!  They're all engaged and it was such a pleasure to watch. 

I realized that language teaching and learning is the same regardless of where you go in the world -- the only difference being the language taught and the context.  In that same vein, I've been fortunate to be able to use my Master in Education from Notre Dame, particularly what we've learned and practiced in our foreign language education classes (merci, Lori!).  CLT!  Integrating the four skills with culture!  Rubrics and grading!  Classroom management!  Assessment!  The list goes on, and it's been great to incorporate what I've learned and used in the past with the work I've been doing here.

Collaboration is huge, and one of our first projects of the school year (November 2015) was to get together motivated English teachers in Dakar for a day-long professional development session on classroom management and CLT teaching strategies, hosted by the Yavuz Selim Turkish schools with an expert from Oxford University.  It was a comprehensive presentation, but also made me realize that the sessions we'll be giving need to not only meet the needs of our teachers, but also need to remain cognizant of their context.

This was after the classroom management and CLT teaching strategies presentation by an expert at Oxford University.  We invited select English teachers from throughout Dakar to attend and afterward, disseminate the information to their respective schools and teaching cells. 

Perhaps one of the biggest parts of this job -- and in line with the Bureau d'Anglais' overall objectives -- is to provide professional development support to existing English teaching pedagogical cells, especially in Dakar.  It's where I've been able to meet a variety of English teachers, hear their needs, and find ways we can use both of our expertise to further the English language teaching field in Senegal, and to make our students better English communicators/speakers.  Maybe it's different outside of Dakar, but I was impressed with how organized the pedagogical cells were, and how democratic it was in deciding professional development topics for each month.  Everyone has their say, and it makes professional development much more meaningful.  So far, I've given presentations on assessment, project-based learning, teaching writing, and the like -- with many more planned until the end of the school year.  It's been wonderful, and the learning is definitely mutually inclusive.

This is after a co-presentation at the biggest English teaching cell in Dakar with over 100+ English teachers!  Aminata was doing a dissemination presentation from our "Teaching Writing" one at the ATES National Convention. 

The English teachers at Cours Sainte-Marie de Hann, a very reputable and beautiful private school in Dakar, invited me to come and present on Project-Based Learning. Of course, there were certificates!

The U.S. Embassy Dakar has many outreach activities to promote the learning of English and American cultures/values.  Every Wednesday, Michelle and I lead the conversation clubs and film discussions.  It's part of what makes me miss the classroom, in that we have candid discussions on a variety of set topics with university students and English language professionals who come to the U.S. Embassy to participate and use the (many) resources at the Information Resource Center (IRC; think Embassy library).  Keeping in line with professional development, we've also helped facilitate bi-weekly webinars with current English teachers that are hosted by the State Department and are broadcast all around the world.  We're all always learning!  The Embassy also has this great initiative with different schools throughout Senegal called the Access program, which caters to economically disadvantaged students that would like to further improve their English but perhaps lack the resources to do so.  Thanks to Ngouye, I've been invited a few times to give cultural enhancement activities on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Black History Month.

One of the Access cultural enrichment presentations I gave was on Thanksgiving.  And what do ya' know -- someone decided to throw a random turkey into my room.  Oh, Senegal...

One of the greatest strengths of the English teaching world here in Senegal is their English teachers' association, aptly named "ATES" or Association of Teachers of English in Senegal.  I haven't seen anything quite like it in West Africa, just by the association's sheer number of members and structural organization.  It really is a model organization for other countries wanting to start an English teacher's association and continually find ways to improve and enhance the teaching of English.  The current president, Sadibou, saw that I had this blog and asked that I guide them to start theirs.  You can check it out here.

Their pinnacle event is their ATES National Convention, which takes place in a different part of the country every year.  Hundreds of English teachers from around the country participate.  This past year, it was held in December in Kaolack (central region of Dakar), and was a great experience for us Fulbright ETAs and English Language Fellows -- especially since we came from all corners of the country for this.  Michelle and I were able to collaborate and play a big role in the convention.  We led the pre-convention workshop on "Teaching Writing in English Language Classrooms" for about 150 teachers, which has highly successful and engaging.  I was also able to give my own workshop on "Project-Based Learning through Assessment, Culture & Student Engagement," though it was cut short due to time constraints.  Overall, a really wonderful experience and gave us the right footing to continue our respective work in our cities.

Perhaps one of the most epic selfies: Michelle and I with our 150 participants during our Pre-Convention Workshop on "Teaching Writing in English Language Classrooms." Couldn't have asked for a better co-presenter! 

Michelle and I in action. Photo credit goes to the U.S. Embassy Dakar RELO's Office! 

With most of the Fulbright ETAs and English Language Fellows in Senegal.  We clean up nice, with Senegalese outfits to boot! 

In addition to the Pre-Convention Workshop, the following day was filled with workshops which participants could attend.  Mine was on "Project-Based Learning through Assessment, Culture & Student Engagement."  Lots of fun, but definitely tons of work preparing - especially when it's both a presentation and a workshop. 

Whew!  If you've stayed with me until now, bravo!  I look forward to many other events ahead, such as the Bureau d'Anglais' week of professional development sessions in the central region of Senegal, working with the English teachers' association in Guinea-Bissau, and potentially, a mid-year retreat/seminar in South Africa.  I love it when working, professional development, and travel can come together!