Feb 5, 2016

Little Pen Pals: A Teacher Collaboration Story.

I know some awesome teachers. 

One of those incredible teachers lives in New York and spends her days teaching little minds. (A job I envy! My pre-school assistant days many years ago were fabulous.) 

My friend Jennie and I decided to have a pen-pal program with her little people and my big people to give American students and Rwandan students a chance to ask each other questions and create a platform for curiosity and understanding. Her school's culture theme this year is Africa and lucky us...I live in Africa. 

Around Christmas I received my first batch of letters from the little souls, describing their Christmas holiday traditions ("We eat a big dinner" and "We have a Christmas tree with lights") and asking questions of my students ("Do you celebrate Fourth of July?") The hand written letters accompanied by drawings are sweet and show my friend's dedicated teaching. 

As things would have it, nothing in Africa really goes as planned. The english club I helped to start at my university is defunct (nothing can be sustained if students don't care about it themselves) and I knew any random students I could muster up would not have the english skill set to read questions and reply. So I wrote back myself. 

Last week the students received a care package containing a Rwandan flag and a traditional cloth doll. I answered their questions, ("We don't celebrate American Independence Day, but we have our own rwandan national holidays, etc.") Perhaps these items, a show and tell from Africa, could be more sincere of an exchange than letters from students? I don't know, but it was the best I could do in my weird educational arena here in Rwanda. 

Seeing photos of the little dudes playing in New York with a doll I bought at a market in Kigali made my heart all warm and squishy. Seeing the Rwandan flag hoisted by an American preschooler made me feel that perhaps if we start international exchanges early, than we can create a generation of curious and open souls, and combat misunderstanding of Africa in general, (that it is a poor and/or dangerous place - which is in general not true). 

One of the lesser discussed benefits of fellowships like mine is the exchange that happens with people back home. That perhaps Americans and educators/students in America, more specifically, can benefit just as directly from my being in Rwanda as a Rwandan student or educator. There are benefits on both sides of the ocean. 

I love knowing so many great teachers around the world. Collaboration is one of the best ways to be a successful educator; no one can be great at this job alone. We need each other for facilitation of ideas, support, and implementation of activities like this one, however small. I believe teaching to be an incredibly noble (and often thankless or misunderstood) profession, one that extends back into my family for generations. This little activity gave me great satisfaction and joy. As I hope it did for our little friends in New York! 

Thanks for playing teacher with me, Jennie. You da best. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

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