Day Six: Friday, March 11th
Today marked our first day presenting to classes at Al-Montanabi High School with Houria. We met with and presented to four classes that morning, while also observing a few more student presentations as well. Once again, we were impressed with the level of engagement that the students demonstrate in classes. Today we observed a wide variety of language levels - as Houria had a variety of classes today, with diverse class dynamics that seem to be directly tied to whether they are in the Math/Science track or the Humanities track...While classes were interesting and lively today, perhaps the greatest learning for us came by means of local culture and cuisine today! After classes, we took a bit of rest time to explore the neighborhood in which we were staying, visiting the local grocery store, a pharmacy, and dropping by a cafe around the corner... then for lunch, we joined Houria and her mother at their home for a delicious and plentiful feast of couscous. In a presentation earlier that day at Al-Montanabi, one of the students claimed that on Fridays, all Moroccans were eating couscous in their homes for lunch. I remembered snickering a bit at such a broad generalization, but when we asked the class how many students eat couscous on Fridays, we were a bit taken aback when every single student in the room raised their hands indicating that perhaps the student was right - that all Moroccans, generally speaking, eat couscous on Fridays. :-) Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed visiting Houria's home, sitting in her beautiful and typically Moroccan living room, and dining, Moroccan-style around her table as we shared one very large dish of couscous, complete with piled-on meat and vegetables. When we had eaten to the point of lethargy, Houria's mother insisted that we all lie down on their couches and relax while digesting for awhile - of course we obliged. :-)
That afternoon, we went on two outings - one to the museum of modern art - which was featuring an exposition on sculptures and then a large gallery and collection of modern Moroccan art. After an hour long tour through the museum, we then walked to the Rabat train station in order to purchase ourselves train tickets for the weekend to travel south to Marrakech.
Later this evening, while Tricia and Kit went out to eat, I returned to Houria's house where she graciously allowed me to use her laundry machine. Although a rather routine and menial task, as a mother of four children currently, laundry plays a large role in my daily life and weekly survival routine. There is something so real and simple, beautiful and moving, to me when it comes to the trivial tasks in life, so it was a joy to me to get to hang out with Houria and her mother as we washed clothes in their kitchen and then went up to the rooftop late at night and pinned all of my clothes up onto their roof-top clotheslines by the light of the flashlight feature of my smartphone.
Day Seven: Saturday, March 12th
Although today was Saturday, and in the U.S. you would be hard-pressed to find a public school with its doors wide open and its seats full of students... however, here in Morocco, students often attend school on Saturdays. We taught classes for the first four hours today, 8am-12pm, then we quickly transferred ourselves to the Rabat Train Station to travel to Marrakech in order to see a bit more of the country and experience another city. The train ride was well over four hours, and it was nice to watch the countryside roll by as the landscapes changed from lush and green to arid and dry as we traveled further and further south. Once in Marrakech, we were impressed by the city's vibrant beauty and intense nightlife in the main square and markets! We had quite the misadventure this evening as Kit and I were separated for about 45 minutes from Houria and Tricia after a slight communication error with a taxi driver and then getting swept away into a bustling crowd of traveling Moroccans and international tourists... When we did reconvene, we transferred immediately to a large complex: Chez Ali for a cultural dinner, show, and celebration. While there, we observed various bands that represented diverse regions and cultures from different places throughout Morocco, as well as Arabian horse-riding expositions and an impressive fireworks display following a show of belly dancing, singing, fire throwing, and camel riding. All in all, it was a feast for the eyes and a lot to digest. A truly unique experience.
Day Eight: Sunday, March 13th
Today we spent a full day in Marrakech exploring the city, visiting the ruins of a castle (palais), shopping for goods in their famous Souk (where I was able - with Houria's help - to barter for a Moroccan rug made in the Atlas mountains), and visiting the main square by day time, which was a completely different experience altogether. At the close of our time in Marrakech, we returned to our hotel and went to the train station to depart. However, when we reached the train station, we realized that we were not going to make it home by train tonight - for the trains had been cancelled all day long in order to support the government-encouraged protest about the Western Sahara and its importance as a part of Morocco. As it turned out, the trains had been transporting (free of charge) protesters to Rabat all day long to support the protest. Realizing we were not getting on a train, we arranged for a private transport and rented a van to take our small group home to Rabat for the night. We arrived home quite late, tired, and road-weary, but happy to have experienced Marrakech!
Moments of Note: During classes on Saturday, I was able to deliver letters to our classes from my students back home in Buffalo, WY. It was fun to describe my home state and my school to the students. And it was an incredible experience to share my students' letters with the students in Houria's classes. As I had previously told my students back home - they have a lot more in common with the high school students in Morocco than they have differences. Watching our Sale students read through the letters, visit, and begin drafting responses just made me all that much more aware of just how alike our students are, half-way across the world from each other.
Moroccan Schools - from public IB schools, to the University Mohamed V, to our host high school in Sale
Day Four: Wednesday, March 9th
Today our cohort began the day with a rather inspirational visit to the International Baccalaureate School Abi Dar Alghiffari where we toured their high school, met with their principal, teachers, and students, and sat in on a half-dozen classes in different subject areas to get a feel for what education is like in one of the highest performing public schools in the Rabat region of Morocco. As a foreign language educator, I was especially interested in the presentation of English teacher, Khalid Said, as he gave us a unique look into his classroom and teaching methods. I felt right at home as I watched his lessons using music, movement, and interactive play to teach students English. Much of what he does in his classroom is what I have been taught over the years using quantum learning strategies to do in my own lessons/curriculum. We then had a chance to meet and mingle with his students for awhile and observe a lesson on interpretive communication in English. I had been wondering what made Morocco's world languages programs so strong, but when observing a teacher like him, it was clear that schools in Morocco are no stranger to innovative and creative language teaching strategies!
After a brief lunch and time to reflect about the morning, we were transported to University Mohamed V-Agdal where we participated in an International Seminar with University Professors, students, and educators regarding curriculum development, pedagogy, and ICT integration in Global Education. To be honest, I was a bit jaded about the symposium, and frustrated that we were spending so much time sitting in a hot room listening to college kids present about educational theory when they were yet to enter the classrooms themselves, or had barely just begun, for the most part. However, after a couple of weeks to reflect, I am grateful that we had the opportunity to listen to those passionate young Moroccan future educators discuss and debate what seems to be cutting edge instructional topics for them. It made me realize, above all, that the U.S. is really ahead of the game in terms of normalizing educational strategies and best practices in our public education system - well out her in Wyoming for sure at least. It felt to me that Morocco might be on the verge of a big shift in educational philosophy - there seems to be a serious amount of tension between the traditional and the progressive for public education reform in Morocco. Those young men and women were so passionate about introducing new technologies and strategies to the classroom - so it gave me a lot of hope for them, and confidence in myself that I work in a school district that has long ago indoctrinated so many solutions to the problems facing Moroccan public schools today!
Day Five: Thursday, March 10th
Today we began our program with a visit to the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchanges (Fulbright Commission as well). We were received by MACECE officials and engaged in dialogue about what we had seen so far in Morocco, and educated about cultural exchanges between Morocco and the United States. We learned a great deal more during this meeting about the various regions of Morocco and what we should expect while out doing our field work in our host schools.
Later in the day, our cohort split up to travel to our host communities and host schools. Because my host school was a mere 15 minute drive from Rabat, my partner-teachers, Kit Harrison & Tricia Kapps and I, all simply transferred to another cheaper hotel in Rabat. By 2pm, however, we were already in our host school, meeting and greeting students, answering questions, getting to know the staff, and observing four engaging classes filled with student presentations in English regarding Moroccan culture. Our host teacher is a lovely woman, Houria Kherdi, who is dynamic and engaging, and so very welcoming to everyone. She runs an orderly and engaged classroom with class sizes at an average of 38 students. She works with very limited resources and/or access to technology or teaching tools, yet her students are excelling. All in all, watching her teach four classes today was inspiring for me - as I hope that I can inspire the same love of learning languages within my own students back home! We finished school at 6pm today, and then met up with two other teachers who were staying in Rabat as well in order to go out to eat at a local Moroccan restaurant.
Moments of note: Observing Houria's classes was definitely the highlight of my trip up to this point. Her students were shy, but curious, confident yet reserved. They epitomized a lovely dynamic of the traditional educational system juxtaposed in a media-rich globalized society. One defining moment for me today was when Houria asked her classes how many students had ever even met an American - only about five students had. That surprised me because I had made all sorts of assumptions about how often Americans travel to places like Morocco - and figured that the students had certainly met Americans before. Realizing that Sale was a rather isolated and homogeneous community (much like my own back home, only in different ways), I began to understand the rich classroom dynamics even more. A few more points to note are that the students in Sale all walk to school - there is no public transportation for them. A large percentage of these students are from police or military families where their fathers serve their country or city. Also, students are very respectful in their classes - never blurting out, challenging authority, or moving from their seats. I am sure I will discuss these traits quite a bit more as I progress, but for now, I am still just in awe of their respectful and engaged demeanor in the classroom.
Okay... So.... I may or may not have let all of my thoughts sit on the back-burner and sizzle during our two-week fellowship. While not ideal, no one should be altogether surprised by my silence. I have always been one to reflect deeply without necessarily sharing my feelings. My family and friends who know me well know that I struggle sometimes to get my words out when they are entangled in intense emotions. That is probably why the ex-boyfriends of my past insisted that I was "hard to read." Therefore, blogging as I go along is not really ideal for me personally. However, I have now had three full days of normalcy to decompress my feelings and sort my thoughts. So from here forth, I intend to write blog entries in retrospect, beginning with today. :)
So let's talk about my first few days in Morocco - learning and exploring with the whole cohort:
I arrived in Morocco on Sunday, March 6th, with a cohort of fourteen other adventurous and hungry teachers, ready to learn and grow together. We checked into our Rabat Hotel - The Golden Tulip and had enough time to rest and re-group before going out together with our host IREX leader, Kendra, and our in-country consultant, Meriem. We ate at a local restaurant Le Dhou which was an old-world restored ship - a pretty cool intro to the city of Rabat. While there, we experienced our first "Moroccan Tea Reception" (of many to come) and got to know each other a bit more as Meriem taught us useful Moroccan Arabic phrases that would later turn out to be much more useful than I realized at the moment!
Moments of Note: Although we spent only limited time outside and in public today in Rabat - I was struck by how many young (and old) Moroccans were out and about along the river walk this evening. There was a feeling of calm, peaceful - yet playful - familiarity in the air. At some points, I felt my difference as a blonde American tourist walking along, but for the most part, people only glanced over with calm curiosity, and every place we went was filled with smiles and warm invitations.
Day Two: Monday, March 7th - Today was a long day of learning about Morocco's rich cultural heritage, history, and geography. Perhaps the most intriguing presentation of the day was Meriem Lahrizi's training session on the development of Morocco's education system. For the afternoon, we met with the president of the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English (MATE) and were able to ask questions pertaining to language education in Morocco, which we quickly learned is much more advanced and developed than world language education in the U.S. For the afternoon, we were able to visit the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) to see the Moroccan Teacher Education/Certification Programs and Process in action. While there we participated in a panel discussion with teacher trainers and trainees. It was inspiring to listen to their concerns and questions and the several student presentations about current topics in public and private education in Morocco. We concluded our day with a very long and culturally immersive Moroccan dinner at the restaurant Dar Naji where we enjoyed Bastilla, Tagines, Tea, and a variety of tea-pouring demonstrations and stories.
Moments of Note: There were so many ah-ha moments today and precious nuggets of information about foreign language education that play in directly to my research inquiry for this fellowship. There were several points about the education that surprised me today - for one, teachers in Morocco cannot choose where they work. They are assigned to a school, usually very far from their home, and some spend decades working their way back to the town/city that they wish to spend their lives. Also, there is a dichotomy and competitive relationship between education in the public and private sectors. Furthermore, schools on whole throughout Morocco are still modeling the French system and ruled over by an Education Ministry that seems deeply rooted in tradition - which seems difficult when the very nature of education is progressive and dynamic.
Day Three: Tuesday, March 8th - Today's training session focused on Education in Morocco - especially with regard to language education and the structure of the high school system - using streams/tracking for students. My earlier blog entry was actually completed on this day, but now that I reflect back, I have quite a bit to say about what we learned -- High schools in Morocco are designed in the French tradition - with three official years, the common core year, and two IB years where students focus on one stream or another: Math & Science or Humanities. There seems to be a heavy push for students to enter into the field of Math & Science, with a particular focus on engineering, though the very term "engineering" seems to have a different implication than it does in the United States. In the late morning, we visited the U.S. Embassy where our U.S. representative discussed Morocco's education system with a much different perspective than we had previously been exposed. We learned that while foreign language education in Morocco is leaps and bounds beyond our systems back home, Moroccan students still score quite low when compared with schools world-wide. Currently, the U.S. is promoting literacy programs, focusing on first-language literacy, which is grounded in good practice based on my understanding of ESL education in the U.S. After a lunch out at a restaurant together, we moved on to visit a public high school : Moulay Youssef High School where we had a school tour, met with the admin and teachers and students and enjoyed a tea reception once again. For the afternoon, we visited the beautiful, winding streets, of the Rabat Kasbah of the Udayas which was a beautiful and tranquil experience. Following the visit to the Kasbah, a small group of us wandered off to experience the old Medina of Rabat to experience the local wares and handicrafts and practice our limited language skills.
Moments of Note: Today was full of ah-ha moments and a very lovely school visit. At the school today, we had very limited time to interact with students, but we certainly enjoyed the chance to visit with kids, take pictures, and see classes first-hand, even we couldn't always understand the content while observing. Today I deepened my understanding of language education systems in Morocco and worked toward garnering more evidence for my research goals as well.
In December, I learned that my TGC field experience placement would be Morocco. Immediately, I began researching the country, its culture, customs, and educational system. In February, I attended a Global Education Symposium in Washington DC in order to prepare myself for my field experience as well as to celebrate the close of our online class and a successful fellowship thus far.
My field experience assigned dates are March5-March 19. As I am writing this update today, I have actually already begun my field experience. Today is day three in Morocco. Thus far, the field experience has included two dinners, a lunch with a supervisor from the Morocco Association of the Teachers of English (MATE), a visit to a teacher training center (Ecole Normale Superieure), a student teacher forum, and three classes taught by our in country local guide, Meriem Lahrizi.
I look forward to the next few days as we will visit local schools, meet other teachers and students, and begin visiting culturally relevant and historical sites around the capital city of Rabat.
So far, I have had the opportunity to learn about a dozen useful phrases in Moroccan Arabic and a few opportunities to use my limited French language skills.
Later today we will visit the US Embassy and visit a local school...
That's all for now...