Michael Berino (ACE 19) has expanded his teaching and learning by spending the past nine months in Senegal. Thanks to a prestigious grant he received from The Fulbright Program, he has worked with the Office of English Teaching at Senegal's Ministry of Education, assisting in professional development for English teachers throughout the country as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) & Teacher Trainer. This blog post is the first in a series of reflections on the tie-ins between his Fulbright experiences and the three pillars of his formation as an ACE Teaching Fellow. Here, he discusses the vocation of education and teaching as a whole.
Stepping off the plane, the October heat and humidity assaulted all of my senses. Sure, I was nervous and anxious, but also excited to be back on the African continent. A few years ago, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a medium-sized village in Burkina Faso and now I was coming to Dakar, Senegal; what many West Africans see as the “New York” or “Paris” of West Africa. I made it to the big city!
After staying at my ACE school in Mississippi for a third year, I decided to embark on a new adventure that involved foreign language teacher training, and applied to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program for the 2015-2016 school year. By the grace of God, things worked out and I found myself working at Senegal’s Ministry of Education, specifically at the Bureau d’Anglais (Office of English Teaching). This office is the Minister of Education’s English teaching arm, and is tasked with providing continued professional development to English teachers throughout the country. With French as the official language and several other local languages spoken, this was no easy task.
A majority of folks coming into the Fulbright ETA program have either just graduated college or have been out for a year or two, and are normally placed in elementary schools, middle/high schools, and universities as, the program name suggests, teaching assistants. But a new initiative to foster closer ties between the U.S. Embassy’s Regional English Language Office (RELO) and the Ministry of Education’s Bureau d’Anglais opened up a new position for a Fulbright ETA with an advanced degree and some teaching experience. They often say that an advanced degree means nothing if it cannot be put to good use. Fortunately for me, my Fulbright ETA experience has put my M.Ed. to good use (thanks, Notre Dame/ACE!), and I’ve grown so much professionally and personally because of it.
As a foreign language teacher now training and working with English teachers in Senegal, a few lessons come to mind:
Take the time to build and develop (professional) relationships. Some of the most beautiful things about Senegal are the sense of community and value in relationships that everyone possesses. As a “time-is-money” American, I arrived in October thinking I would head straight to work. Boy, was I wrong! I found myself meeting person after person, and even had trouble remembering everyone’s name! But what seemed like “extra work” proved to help me immensely during my grant, particularly as I continually found myself collaborating with English teachers, teacher trainers, and Ministry of Education staff.
Sharing is caring. If you were/are a foreign language teacher in the ACE program and had the opportunity to take part in Lori Crawford-Dixon’s informative foreign language teaching classes, you’ll know that Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is the most preferred foreign language teaching approach. After all, a language is best learned when we live and immerse ourselves in it, and the CLT approach advocates for this. And during professional development presentations and workshops, I found myself not only sharing what I’ve learned in my grad school classes but also some best teaching practices when I taught French to my students in Mississippi and when I taught English in Burkina Faso and Haiti.
Know the context and the people you’re working with. I distinctly remember giving one of my first professional development presentations on “projects” and “project-based learning.” I loved doing these with my French students in Mississippi, and knew it would be something great to share. At the end of my rather long presentation, an English teacher raised his hand and said, “This all sounds great, but how does this work in the Senegalese context? We have few resources and our classes can be anywhere from 70-90 students.” …I was stumped. But it made me realize that if I was going to give effective teacher training presentations, I needed to be cognizant of the context and the teachers I was working with to ensure they would be able to concretely use these strategies in their classrooms.
In the words of Doc Doyle (and most professors during my time at Notre Dame), “coach, model, then fade.” One of the most satisfying things as a teacher (and teacher trainer, at that) is to see your students manipulate and grapple with the skills they’ve been taught in your classes, and use it meaningfully in real-world contexts. With a foreign language, this is what we want: our students to use their newly acquired language skills in authentic, real-world situations and interact with those different from themselves. And whether I was working with students studying English after school or making sure there were interactive workshops for my English teachers, it was necessary that I “faded” into the background so they would feel confident to work autonomously.
We are always “lifelong learners.” Without a doubt, this was the motto of our ACE 19 foreign language teachers group! And it rings true to being in the classroom or working with teachers. The learning that happened during these presentations and workshops was, to my surprise, mutually inclusive. I found myself taking notes after hearing about best teaching practices from my Senegalese English teachers and look forward to applying them to when I get back to the classroom! Next stop: teaching at an international school in Dubai.
As I come to the end of this incredible, nine-month Fulbright grant, I am thankful for the opportunity to be sent to Senegal but realize that this is just one stepping stone in my journey as a foreign language teacher and teacher trainer. And as I think back to when I first arrived, I know that I will always be learning and sharing my knowledge and experiences with my future students and teaching colleagues.