"Why don't we see if we can get a few teachers from Australia to workshop some teaching techniques with Khmer teachers as part of a SeeBeyondBorders programme?" suggested Kate one evening as we talked about how we can get Australians and Cambodians to experience something of each other's lives.
Kate had recently returned from East Timor where she was part of a Broken Bay & Parramatta CEO Teach-the-Teacher training programme which runs very successful teacher training programmes in Maths.*
And so the Teach the Teacher programme was born. What this was to mean was beyond our imagination at the time, but we began by floating the idea more widely to see if there would be some interest. Teachers working with Kate seemed keen, and discussions with connections in Cambodia also revealed that while the idea of teacher workshops had been used before, there was an openness to doing it again, perhaps in a different way. So with a lot of help and collaboration, people offered their support and we began to build. We
• developed workshops we thought might be suitable.
• designed a programme to run three days of workshops in two different places.
• designed a resources pack so that the teachers could put into practice everything that they learned in the workshops.
• set about finding teachers who would pay their own way and spend two weeks of their summer holiday running workshops.
We liaised with people in Cambodia to check that the workshops were appropriate and correctly aligned with the curriculum. We learned that providing resources would be essential if the techniques in the workshops were to be used in practice. The shortage of funding for education is chronic.
We talked about how the process would work and invited people to encourage Khmer teachers to come. They were enthusiastic and trusting. They organised for the teachers to be able to travel to the centres where the workshops were to happen; set up sleeping accommodation; organised food and cooks and the means to serve meals; and set up workshop spaces.
We visited Cambodia and talked through the plan. With our partners' help we arranged for the resources to be mass produced in Cambodia including finding a carpenter who would make up 100 sets of wooden shapes. We bought and made up stationery packs for each attendee, bought the resources that would be required in the workshops and drew up a long list of next steps! Materials needed to be translated; translators had to be arranged for each workshop; we needed certificates we could present to the candidates on completion; and we needed them to have an experience to remember.
Arriving with the teachers from Australia, our partners had been busy an had done us proud. We were to have 130 teachers come from some 80 schools supported by at least four organisations. All could be housed, fed and included in a workshop group. It was now up to our teachers. Perhaps the reality of it all did not really sink in until the evening before as we sorted stationery and resources; divided up the teacher groups; the Australians discussed the workshops with the translators; and the Khmer teachers began to arrive having travelled in some cases for eight hours. All were given a meal and a place to stay.
The atmosphere was filled with expectation, a sense of professional pride and a willingness to share the journey. The translators worked like Trojans to understand the concepts and explain them clearly to the audiences and the Khmers, as always, were beautiful - laughing with one another as they played Mother Goose and concentrating hard on how they might apply what they had learned despite the difficulties in their own schools.
Thank you all of you for creating such hallowed ground where we all came together.
There were many highlights:
• The teacher talking to one of the translators saying that he had been a teacher for 15 years and why had no one explained it like this before and how much better he would now be able to explain some of the concepts to his children.
• The lady who had had to go to the forest to collect firewood for her three young children before she could leave them to come to the workshop. How she told us that her leg had been sore but she had managed fine and was happy to have had the chance to come. In fact the ulcer on her leg was so bad that as soon as we saw it she was rushed to the doctor! We only hope her children lit the fires at home and cooked what they had to eat without burning anything!
• The excited chatter after the whole group in Battambang - about 90 of us - had all been to the circus and seen the amazing acrobatic performances from the street kids. One teacher commented that he never knew that Cambodia had such talent.
• Watching the dancers from Ta Hen perform for the teachers under the stars. For many it would have been their first experience of seeing the next generation perform so beautifully, the dances that are such a spectacular visual representation of their county's cultural heritage.
• And then there were the closing ceremonies in each of the two centres where each teacher proudly and serenely came to collect their certificates and photograph together with a rose which they then in turn in their own groups handed back to their Australian teachers amongst tears from us all....
We had a chance not only to be a small part of strengthening the education system, but of boosting morale and purpose amongst the teachers, rekindling their sense of solidarity and inclusion. Many had little or no experience outside their own villages, so coming to the city, meeting their contemporaries and seeing aspects of their cultural identity was a learning experience in itself. We all learned more about what we can do together!
Please can we come again?...
* We acknowledge the generosity of the East Timor Teacher Placement Program (ETTPP) a Catholic Education partnership initiative between the Dioceses of Broken Bay & Parramatta in Sydney Australia, supporting teachers in East Timor. SeeBeyondBorders is grateful to ETTPP for sharing its successful model of ongoing Primary Mathematics Teach-the-Teacher courses, developed & implemented in East Timor since 2007 by volunteer teachers from these dioceses.