Baltimore — Four African teachers of English are bringing new strategies to the classroom after completing a training program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Jean-Baptiste Mohamadou Bassirou Sanfo, a teacher and junior high school principal in Burkina Faso, said he plans to conduct workshops on teaching English in large classes, which are common in his country.
“Some students are visual learners; they need to see a picture, for instance,” he said. “There are some who are oral learners. … We as teachers need to consider these preferences in our lesson plans.”
Sanfo and teachers from Cape Verde, Namibia and Senegal were among 26 educators from around the world selected for a three-week professional development program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, (UMBC) in the summer of 2011 after completing online courses in their own countries on English teaching methods.
“In Burkina Faso, we consider the teacher as the center, the one who has the knowledge and is trying to share or pour that knowledge into the students,” Sanfo said. “However, the students matter too.” He encourages teachers to seek feedback from their classes and adapt different strategies “to reach all the students.”
The online training and UMBC program were financed through the State Department’s E-Teacher Scholarship Program. About 650 teachers from 100 countries took the graduate-level online courses though UMBC and the University of Oregon during the 2010–2011 academic year.
Each of the participants in the Baltimore program gave a presentation about teacher training projects to carry out back home.
Rewai Makamani, a lecturer at the Polytechnic of Namibia, said he will be training teachers at his school to implement a new curriculum geared to academics, scientists and business people who need to learn specific English terms associated with their disciplines.
His online English-teaching course was “an eye-opener and a confidence booster,” Makamani said. He came to believe that teachers must shift from “lecturer-student mode” to becoming facilitators or collaborators with students. “It’s not enough to just present terminology,” he said.
Makamani’s workshop for teachers definitely won’t be a top-down class, he said. “They will have to make some contributions themselves.”
Elsa de Jesus Furtado, a secondary school teacher in Cape Verde, said: “The impact of this training was enormous. I feel I am a different teacher now. I feel much more empowered.”
She said she gained ideas on how to “teach without teaching — letting your learners be creative, engaged and involved” through student-centered activities. Furtado plans to show other Cape Verdean English teachers these techniques.
On the last day of the Baltimore program, Ndeye Bineta Mbodj of Senegal was nervous about her presentation. She didn’t need to be. When it was over, she received a congratulatory phone call from the office of Moussa Sakho, Senegal’s minister of technical education and vocational training, who had watched it online. (The presentations were streamed online to other E-Teacher alumni worldwide.)
“If I compare what I was doing before the [online] course and what I am doing now, I ask myself, ‘How could I teach this before?’” said Mbodj, who teaches English at a secondary school and in the medical department of Thies University. “We should not start with assumptions, but that’s exactly what I was doing.”
Mbodj said she used to think that for medical students learning English, “whatever is related to health care will interest them. And that is not what is really happening. Their needs are not just reading texts and some English words. They need to perform the tasks.”
Now she will have students complete projects such as writing a first-aid pamphlet, Mbodj said. She will pass along these techniques in a series of workshops for English teachers.
Mbodj recently applied to teach a class in English at a local company. “I designed the curriculum exactly the way I was taught at the University of Oregon [online course]. There were many other experienced teachers who applied too, but I got it, thanks to that course.”
Find out more about the E-Teacher Scholarship Program on the website of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. U.S. embassies manage the selection and nomination of candidates.