Akisha: Using My MAT in Mozambique

akisha-pearmanAkisha Pearman, MAT 38 (2006-07), describes her work, her joys, and her teaching in Mozambique in a program sponsored by the US State Department.  Working around internet connection problems, Akisha sent this post by cellphone through Facebook to reach the blog.

While writing my portfolio the summer after classes ended, a kind reader/editor and former MAT classmate found that I had incorrectly described my degree at SIT as being a Masters in the Art of Teaching.  At first I thought I wrote it by accident but after some thinking I kinda liked the way it sounded.  I do think teaching can be described as an art.  In addition to teaching I am passionate about the art of photography; that magical little rectangle (or square) can tell so many stories and can be used a great conversation piece, subject for analysis and critical thinking, or illustration for grammatical points.  I got to put my two loves for “art” into practice last year in Mozambique as an English Language Fellow for the US State Department.

My Teaching Context

I extended my grant and currently I’m a second fellow teaching at the University of Eduardo Mondlane’s tourism school (Escola Superior de Hotelaria e Turismo  or ESHTI).  The school is located in an old training center for railway workers in the cute little town called Inhambane.  Tourism is the number one industry in the province of Inhambane and because of this ESHTI could have a powerful transformative influence on the development of the tourism industry in Mozambique.  It is only 6 years old so it still has a ways to go, but its presence in Inhambane is well known and respected.  I was actually a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique for two years, so I know the language and the culture pretty well.  I served in a secondary school in different part of the country.  Now I live by the beach…I can’t complain.

My Students
To set the learning scene: Students of all levels in Mozambique struggle with learning the English language.  The challenges here are multilayered, consisting of a lack or scarcity of teacher training and professional development and language learning materials and technology, large class sizes unsuitable for communicative methods, and little time to practice the language.  Most publicly educated primary, secondary and university students get only 1-3 hours of English class per week.  The education system as it exists in Mozambique, because of these challenges, tends to be teacher-centered and non-communicative.  However, as was beautifully illustrated to me as a MAT 38, language is a dynamic, ever-changing entity that implores students to use it in real-life and communicative situations.  It is my belief that students in Mozambique really need to be given situations in which to practice communicating so they can build their grammatical competence and accuracy, as well as the affective competencies and fluency.

Communicating and Learning
My tourism students see the connections of learning English to their future professional life very easily.  All the countries that border Mozambique are English speaking.  If students can communicate effectively, they widen the community with which they can interact in order to develop the tourism industry so it can compete and collaborate internationally with neighboring countries.  Students of tourism need as many chances as they can to explore the English language, how to use it to get things done, and how to navigate intercultural relations.

Integrating Learning
I started the photography club to address this necessity– to practice speaking the language in a non-traditional environment while expressing themselves creatively; perhaps in ways they have never explored before.  At SIT I sometimes doubted why we were learning certain things.  I remember a conversation with Leslie Turpin when she assured me that once I “got out there” and started to teach again, what I learned at SIT would come to life.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated learning theories of how languages are learned in Second Language Acquisition, I loved the soft quietness of sitting in a Council Circle for three hours a week learning to listen and be present, and thoroughly enjoyed the culture investigation experiments of Intercultural Communication for Language Teachers.  It was just that I found them to be disconnected from each other.  In theory, I knew why we were learning them, but I needed to “feel” them come together (as “hippie” as it sounds, I believe it).  It is only now that I am really understanding the value of learning all these subjects.

Teaching as Modeling
During my own learning experiences as a MAT, I saw that if a subject is taught in a holistic manner, there are so many things students and teachers can learn.  English, if taught the same way, changes from a series of rules and structures and becomes a way to describe realities, negotiate meaning, and learn about others.  We explored many areas of language and communication during the club: discussion and pragmatic skills, questioning and answering, describing and analyzing, comparing and contrasting, asking for and giving opinions, reflective practice, showing your personality in a foreign language, laughing in a different language, and learning to find your voice using a foreign language.

Awareness and Learning
My problem now is that I need to figure out a way to facilitate awareness-building activities about this methodology of teaching and learning to teachers here and see if it can be implemented on a larger scale, even in non-language classes.  That’s another thing I learned at SIT:  There is always something else to do and always something more you can learn!

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4 Responses to “Akisha: Using My MAT in Mozambique”

  1. Vando langa Says:

    I agree with you teacher we have a short time to learn English in the school, and i appreciate all what you have done to help us. thanks you are best teacher of English a ever ad. kisses and good luck

  2. Scott Rains Says:

    Ola Professora,

    I stumbled upon your post because I am researching for a seminar I will give in Maputo March 1-3. Not, as my BA in Linguistics might suggest, in ESL but on development, tourism, and disability. I am looking to connect with tourism faculty in Mozambique who can give me a sense of national priorities and what is being taught there. Can you help me get introduced? (Falo Portugues e posso falar com colegas nela.)

    Thanks

  3. matadmissions Says:

    Ola, Scott.

    I have sent your email address to Akisha and asked her to be in touch with you directly.

    Good luck with your presentation!

    Marshall Brewer
    Admissions Counselor
    SIT Graduate Institute

  4. Vando Says:

    Thanks for all, we’ll never forget you. good lock in you new journey

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