Global Teachers and a world of difference

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Primary teachers and heads took a five-week trip to Uganda that changed the course of global citizenship lessons

It's Friday, a normal school day. As a visiting teacher you agree to help with some clay modelling with a P5 class. Only, you have to source the clay first.

With the class of 104 pupils and their teacher you visit the nearby clay pit, only to discover the clay is hard and dry.

"I know where we can get wet clay," a pupil declares and he leads you all on a four-mile trek through swampland where, eventually, you dig up the required wet clay. The girls then spread palm leaves on their heads and put the clay on top while the boys carry it back to school in their arms.

It's a bit late now to start the modelling, so a hole is dug, lined with palm leaves and filled with water to keep the clay moist over the weekend.

On the Monday, most of the pupils decide to make models of your digital camera and video recorder because they have never seen these things before.

You are, in fact, in Uganda and these are country children who are not used to technology.

This is just one of myriad fascinating journeys that global teachers undertake, journeys that are physical, personal and professional.

"It's almost sad to say that it took me to go to Uganda to wake up to what life is really about," says Amanda Hampton, a P5 teacher at Westhill Primary in Aberdeenshire, who was the visiting teacher and part of the "search party" for the day from Kahaara Primary in Masindi District.

"Life's about people, not technology. It's about relationships, about connecting to people and talking to them," she says. "What Uganda taught me was all about spirit of community and family and I was struck by how happy the children there were, maybe happier than here (Scotland) though they lack our technological resources."

Miss Hampton was one of a group of nine Aberdeenshire primary teachers and heads who spent five weeks of their summer holidays in Masindi District, Uganda, as part of a global teachers programme run by Link Community Development Scotland.

Now, on a Sunday reunion, they are gathered in Aberdeen to share their experiences and to consider how to apply them in their own schools to inform effective learning in global citizenship.

As the teachers first discuss their experiences, certain themes emerge:

- huge primary schools with up to 1,000 pupils - with maybe only 18 teachers - and large (very large) classes, though P7 classes tend to be small (maybe 12-16 children) as pupils leave to work and help support their families;

- schools being "almost Victorian" with a knowledge-based curriculum not aimed at independent or creative learning, yet deeply committed to learning and teaching and to using the global teachers for much-needed continuing professional development;

- the Aberdeenshire teachers feeling "overwhelmed" by the welcome, the respect and even the "reverence" with which they were treated;

- and how each individual teacher felt that, even in a small way, they had made a difference.

There's a lot of talk of tears (delivered with self-deprecating humour); tears shed over the depth of welcome, the generosity of the people, over the pupils' and parents' sense of gratitude and over final farewells.

"I didn't want to come home," says Miss Hampton. "It was so hard to leave my village, my family."

Her use of "my" is entirely natural and unself-conscious and is quite emblematic of all the teachers' experiences of what seems to have been for each a life-changing summer.

"Uganda will live with me forever," says P6 teacher Fiona McDonald. "It literally consumed me for five weeks. Being immersed in a community, sharing their education, their daily life, their food and their hopes is an experience you couldn't pay for."

The teachers' experiences will feed back into their Scottish school communities through class work, projects, whole-school assemblies, parents' nights and CPD and cluster meetings, as well as to other global teachers through a Glow group.

Like the other global teachers, Miss McDonald is determined not to become a "Uganda bore" and bombard her pupils at New Machar Primary with her experiences.

"The pupils have begun to ask questions and I let their natural curiosity lead them. For example, we're doing a book about a game reserve at the moment and that's led to questions about what animals I saw. So, I can show them my photos and, unlike a web page or book, that gives them a personal link."

She also shares with them parts of the Global Teacher journal she wrote (and which all global teachers were asked to keep) as well as video footage.

"I've brought back a lot of stories and experiences and a bigger passion for children to learn about the world around them and for them to realise how similar they are to Ugandan children," she says.

In Westhill Primary, Amanda Hampton formed a "Global Group" of P4-7 pupils who addressed a whole-school assembly during Children in Need. P7 pupils have exchanged letters with Kahaara Primary pupils while P2s have sent drawings.

"Two weeks before leaving for Uganda, I addressed a whole-school assembly and I've always felt the whole school went with me and that I need to feed back to them all. Our Global Group slogan is `Westhill Goes Global' and we intend to plan a whole raft of activities to embed global citizenship in the curriculum," she says.

The global teachers are quite unanimous in their desire to get their pupils to accept and understand difference and to feel "empathy rather than sympathy" for Ugandan pupils and to feel supportive towards others while feeling supported themselves.

"It's about pupils co-operating with each other, about rights and responsibilities and about respecting while being respected," says Link volunteer and former HMI Alistair Kirkwood, who is helping to lead the Sunday seminar day.

"All these teachers have come away feeling they made a difference in Uganda and now they're focusing on how this will impact on their own learning environments.

"The Link programme has huge potential to change children's learning here as well as in Masindi," he says. "It's about `inter-connectedness', about developing active citizens in Scotland who can see themselves as citizens of the wider world."

The Uganda experience has also boosted the teachers' own confidence and extended their own professional development. "You had to teach with few or no resources or materials and I learned that I could actually teach a class of more than 100 pupils - and teach a good lesson - with virtually nothing. That made me realise I am a good teacher," says Miss Hampton.

For Fiona McDonald, Uganda developed her "sense of management and leadership" which she hopes will feed into her own professional development.

"I feel different now. I have a more realistic outlook on my work and I prioritise more and panic less. When you face huge classes with no resources you learn not to panic; and working in such close-knit communities you learn to value relationships, communication and conversation. I would go back if I could; if I can, I will."

"It's a win-win-win situation," says another seminar day coordinator, Linda Kirkwood, a former secondary head.

"These teachers have changed children's lives in Uganda and in the process their own lives have changed. Now they are changing Scottish children's lives. I think the programme is not only amazing but also genuinely inspiring."

Case study: Diary excerpts of a Global Teacher

Fiona McDonald shares her Global Teacher journal, written while working at Kikuube Primary, Masindi, Uganda:

"Masindi town. What a place. Busy people of all ages, street vendors, men with guns, long ATM queues, two other `muzungus' (white people), and beautiful children. I couldn't resist saying hello and taking their photos, which to their delight I then shared. One girl stood watching us from afar for about 10 minutes. Clearly we were her first muzungus and she was unsure .

"We arrived at school very late and were greeted by the children who'd waited for me the whole afternoon. They sang and danced and clapped and it took all I had not to cry. It was so humbling that my arrival was held in such high order by the pupils and staff .

"Had my first teaching experience this morning in P4. I LOVED IT. And the children seemed to enjoy it too. Afterwards they presented me with an absolute mountain of maize and mangoes that they'd brought knowing I was teaching them in the morning .

"We discussed CPD and I really don't think my time would be effective on positive behaviour management as suggested, as all I saw today was working .

"At games time the two new footballs and netballs arrived. I've never heard such delight in children's play. It was truly palpable. They played and laughed with no fuss or cross words for the full hour-and-a-half. That would never happen in Scotland. Ever .

"Having heard (teacher) Herbert tell (headteacher) Monica this morning that his son and wife are ill with malaria it hit me how daily an occurrence battling with disease in this country is .

"Tuesday will be my final CPD. I am very wary of the volume of my content, and need to think carefully about the `drop in the ocean' theory. I can only make a small ripple in this vast, rigid curriculum .

"Woke to the news that tomorrow and Tuesday were to be strike days. The unions are taking industrial action over pay (pound;50 a month. I can't say I blame them) .

"Monica took the same classes as this morning, while I held the fort at P4. They know me after all, and there was the biggest turnout there. I leapt into action .

"It'll soon be departure day and I'm not ready. Will I have done enough? Will I have made an impact?

"Conducted my model lesson in P3 at 9.30am with all staff in attendance - pressure. Their feedback was positive, however, as were their responses to my feedback. It still amazes me how a little suggestion is so well received as if it's the best answer ever .

"Monica began her head's address. I was gone, quietly weeping. They finished with a surprise of an English song written for me `Farewell Teacher Fiona back to New Machar School'. Talk about opening the floodgates."

Photo: Primary teacher Amanda Hampton on a class expedition with a group from Kahaara Primary

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