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.