The South Sudanese Refugee Teachers’ Conference was a success. There were approximately 35 teachers from four different schools. From my view, there were some standout moments. The first being the training on trauma. These teachers were not aware they have lived through trauma. They were not aware that their students have also lived through trauma. Nor were they aware of how it effects behavior and brain chemistry. I believe just the knowledge delivered by Glen was empowering to them. There was hope planted, and understanding that maybe some of what they are experiencing can begin to heal.
The trauma training went hand in hand with the devotional time. Reading the story of Joseph from the perspective of a refugee certainly opened my own eyes. I believe the teachers also saw themselves in that story, as well as the need for forgiveness, in order to reconcile with their brothers in South Sudan. It was our starting place each morning and it set the foundation for the rest of the conference. It must’ve resonated with them, because when the offer of forgiveness was given, 17 of them asked for it. It was life changing for them.
Another standout for me, was the corporal punishment training. Once the realization that trauma affects them, the teachers could see how hitting children with sticks, or punishing them in other physical ways, might add to the effects. I could see their wheels turning. We had great discussion of specific instances and how they could handle it without hitting children. The facilitator did a marvelous job of explaining why a student might act in certain ways, and what can be done to look beyond behavior to hurts from their lives.
The group work we did with teachers was also much needed. Having 100 students or more in one classroom with one teacher is an intimidating situation for even a veteran teacher, but for a new teacher with no training, it is near impossible. Learning strategies to make the students the center of instruction caused the teachers to think outside the box of traditional methods. Active vs. passive activities were discussed and practiced. One facilitator led role play groups, and it changed the way the teachers thought about their lessons. When we divided up into cooperative learning groups, so that everyone got to give input in some way, I could see the light bulbs go on. They like the idea of rearranging the desks into a democratic U to put the students in closer proximity to the teacher, and to allow for more interaction between students, but how to do it with 100 students continues to be a challenge. One teacher tried it and quickly said his students loved it, but that the spacing was an issue even with his 70 students.
Another highlight from the conference was the discussion about curriculum. The facilitators from Uganda hit on the topic several different times. In the main session about how to use curriculum, it was discovered that many of the teachers didn’t have any. Not only that, but those who did have it didn’t seem to know how to use it properly. Therefore, many of the learning standards/objectives that are required to be taught in Uganda are not getting the instructional time they need. The very real problems of being in a refugee environment were clear in this session. The gaps where more teacher training is needed also were obvious. It rang true that this project is an ongoing one, and will require numerous trainings to continue to progress forward. The teachers are willing and able to come for more training. They already asked for another conference in the end-of-conference surveys we collected.
Faces lit up on the day we brought teacher resources to Hope Primary School. They all loved the puppets, but they were especially popular with the teachers’ kids. The math activities were well received, as were the reading books. We laughed about how phonics are different in different versions of English. We trained them on how to use what we brought. In addition, we gave them crayons, pens and pencils for their students, planning notebooks and teacher bags for themselves, and a set of curriculum for the school. It was Christmas in May, and there were smiles all around.
One of the stand out things about this conference to me, was the comradery between the facilitators. We went into this training not knowing how to co-teach with strangers. We had a schedule and topics, but we had never had the chance to talk through our plans and activities for each session or even meet some of the others presenting. The facilitator team turned out to be an international training force with years of experience in numerous careers and countries. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Each person had their own contribution to make. Each session had a place in the overall picture of the conference. There were cultural norms we knew nothing about…but someone was there who knew exactly how to address those. We had some strategies that they hadn’t seen before. The ebb and flow was smooth enough you might think God was involved. 😉 How do you teach with total strangers? You don’t…you make them family and then everything else is easy.
For our first refugee teachers’ conference, we did well. It felt a bit like getting a four-year degree, in four days. So many things to teach and to learn as we barely scratched the surface of some of these topics. What came out of the conference is the need for more in-depth training in several areas, as well as an ongoing presence in the camp to help the teachers make the shifts they want to make. Please pray for our next training…that it would be clear when, and what the in-depth topic should be. Also pray for funding for more resources for the teachers, and that there would be someone to be there on a day to day basis to help them walk out what they are creating there. Of the four schools represented, only one is a part of our Greater Hope Initiative. Pray the others would see the value in partnership and join us for ongoing teacher support.