By Kelly Dwyer Exec. Director Teach a Teacher
Over the past two weeks Teach a Teacher has made the strides and the kind of sense that we were hoping to achieve from the program. Laura Landstrom, originally educated at the University of Texas, Austin and current teacher at the District of Columbia Public Schools, soon to be IB coordinator at her school, has been the type of volunteer we are hoping to attract over and over again, through Teach a Teacher. You will soon be able to read her blog entry here at the TeachaTeacher blog from her Point of View.
However, for some time I have let this important entry slip.
Why is this effort of Teach a Teacher so important?
Living in Peru has created a new found value for our own educations. With all of its flaws in informing us that Columbus was a “good guy” who discovered “America” and writing 50 times “I will not…” we recognize that even former education and its evolution through the years in the states, taught us critical thinking skills and how to continue learning throughout our lives. It seems every day Mac and I share a story where there is a realization of missing pieces in the Peruvian education.
The other day an employee told me he needed to kill a honey bee because it contributed to the Black Sooty Scale on the citrus leaves! When you smell a skunk it is because it peed. All snakes are poisonous and dangerous when no snake in this area is either of the two. The process of educating and re-educating many times over how to square a building or how electricity is not actually magic are common every day topics. And while we are on the topic of chickens, a common belief is they won’t lay eggs without a rooster, or at least if they do, the eggs will explode when you cook them.
Laura has reminded several teachers in the Callejon de Huaylas how reading is actually thinking and how we must model that thinking to our students. I remind her, myself and the teachers that all these skills and knowledge do not assimilate in a teaching practice overnight and my objective is to bring more volunteers to provide more and more ideas and skills for their own teaching tool chests.
Any elementary educator reading this blog entry, is sure to recognize this scenario (but hopefully it is not your brightest student in the third grade):
My neighbor Carlitos is a third grader at a local public school and identified as the brightest and highest achieving student in his class. Anai, his sister, is now a first grader. The first time they sat in my house and read the story, Chicken Little , I became critically aware of this particular missing piece in their education.
I asked the basic inference, prediction and character questions that any teacher or informed parent would ask. “Why does Pollito Chiquito think the sky is falling? What is your opinion of Pollito Chiquito and his friends that follow him in his quest to inform the king? What is the foxes plan and what eventually happened to all the fowl and Pollito Chiquito? …why didn’t they arrive at their destination and inform the king?”
The answers were arduously drawn out and without much related and appropriate thought. Pollito Chiquito was just being nice and wanted to inform the king. His friends joined him because they wanted to. And most disheartening of all, neither of them after much coaching and rewording of the questions was able to infer that the fox had tricked and eaten the fowl.
These answers came from country kids, who know foxes and whose mother, when I pointed out a beautiful eagle overhead, replied, “He’ll eat your chickens!” Remember, this is a third grader that does an hour and a half to two hours of homework every night and was selected by his teacher to represent the 4 sections of third graders in a match of wits in a regional contest.
In a small group reading session with the same book and outcome, a teacher who practices Balanced Literacy instruction would conclude that this very intelligent student needed work on inferences and predictions.
His teacher did indeed attend one of Laura’s sessions. So there is hope for her now using some of these teaching skills and promoting greater comprehension in her class. Carlitos’ education is enhanced in his proximity to me and his mother’s interest in education. I continue to work on their skills in reading and urge their mother to shut off the cable and borrow more books!
I am nearly certain Laura will share that she has learned and had many take-aways as well from this experience. She did an expert job in communicating that reading is thinking and how a teacher must model and involve the students in that thinking process.
I thank each teacher that showed earnest interest in learning these new skills and came out after a day of teaching to learn the basics of Balanced Literacy from Laura. Teachers are the heart and soul of education and disprove time and again the world over that, you are “only interested in a paycheck and time-off.”
Laura laughed and shared, while reminiscing over our professional experiences, “It shows the irony of our and so many other educational institutions that a “teacher,” is the lowest rung in the hierarchy of education’.
It is so often a top-down directed institution, where the TOP has literally no experience in a classroom or even educational theory. Unfortunately it has become our job to educate across the field, up to the top and back down again. Teachers are the relentless force that has driven true progress and enlightenment yesterday, today and tomorrow. Keep it up. It is terribly important that everyone know the importance of the honey bee.
And for those of you living in “Developed Countries” with “Developed Education Systems,” there is still time to get out and volunteer before the sky falls.
“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.”
― Carl Sagan
Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to Teachers in some of the poorest areas in Peru. Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and at teachateacher on Facebook.
Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit and feeds our chickens almost every day. A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally. We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.