Giving Teachers More Than Supplies

Last December, a few of our development workers attended a teacher's luncheon in El Salvador. The teachers discussed the lack of resources and preparation they are given to do their job. Though they were discouraged by this lack, they were still so eager to give their students a quality educational experience. They looked us straight in the eyes and asked for our help. 

Betsy and Lavinia facilitate a workshop on the Natural Language Approach, which encourages learning a second language within the everyday context.  

In our development efforts, our goal is empowerment. But it is difficult to empower someone who doesn't see (or voice) their need for help. Most people will welcome a handout of school supplies, fewer will endure the more difficult task: humbly asking for help doing a job they are supposed to be qualified to do. When these teachers asked, we answered.  

This month, I was privileged to go and facilitate the first of a series of seminars we are offering a group of rural teachers where we work. They chose the topic: “How to Teach English.” 

As the Principal at the Academy for G.O.D. and having taught a second language at elementary and high school levels, and Lavy at the collegiate level, we related to their struggle. We too are attempting to teach our students a second language, and it’s difficult! But I knew just where to start: becoming a second language learner yourself. Only after that experience can you integrate learning a second language in the classroom in a way that’s engaging and fun for students. 

I gave them information on the Natural Language Approach, which allows language to emerge naturally, by introducing and using vocabulary that is relevant to the speaker. As teachers worked through the material in small groups, one problem arose: one group chose to create a map activity for language learning and their locations on the map are not places any of the youth are familiar with. Simple things like “the supermarket” or “the post office” were simply not places that Salvadoran youth had any context for. As we discussed what would be more natural, one teacher said, “Let’s include markers like ‘the mango tree,’ or ‘the fruit stand by Juan’s house’ or the cow in the field!’ Laughter filled the room. They began to see the possibilities that could exist for their students if only they included more relevant topics in their lessons. 

Classroom materials as simple as pencils, pens, paper and workbooks go along way for teachers who have had to work with nothing.  

As we concluded our seminar, we gifted each teacher an overflowing bag of supplies: workbooks, paper, pencils--enough for their whole (crowded) classrooms! I’ll never forget when the principal of the school told me that he only had one pen. Or when I offered him his bag, and he immediately replied that he was going to share his supplies with a teacher he knew who had been without payment since she began. His smile left an impression on my soul that I will not forget.

The following week, we visited several of the teachers in their classrooms. They were beyond thankful for our help, and their students were excited to practice with native English speakers! (Not too many of those visit this rural area.) 

This wonderful first seminar is just the beginning. We believe that the Lord will help us as we work hard to empower teachers who are not only in need, but humbly admit that need, and do the work required to improve to better serve their students! Thank you to all of you who helped make this trip possible!