Natelee with a student

Natelee with a student

This is part of the World Education Blog’s #TeacherTuesday project in which they share interviews with  teachers from around the world. Stay tuned for the next interview which features a teacher who ran secret schools during the Taliban’s era in order to make sure girls could continue their education. You will find these interviews posted under the Global Issues in Education category. Continue the conversation by asking questions or leaving comments on Twitter to @EFAReport.

This is the second interview with Natelee, who teaches on the Bay islands, Honduras.

I still remember my first experience as a young teacher. I was 19 when I started teaching at a preschool. I was working in a bilingual private school and I was amazed by the learning pace and products of the students. I believe that everything hinges on the presence of intelligent, passionate, caring and sensitive teachers working day to day in country’s classrooms. We also have to find way to motivate and appreciate them. As a young teacher I realized early that I had to keep upgrading myself, which is why I attended self-development classes. I am hyperactive!!

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EIB Teacher Training Program

During my third year of teaching, I realized that one of students was an autistic child. I wanted to ensure that I cater to his needs, so I had to get training to try my best to make my class dynamic. Sometimes we have limited resources, however that did not detour me from changing the décor in my class every month, I also invited speakers to come speak to my class. I brought in people (police, firefighters and dive masters) as a way to complement the curriculum. As the years went by, so did my need to do more, so I got myself certified as a teaching instructor and did a lot of traveling to help me better understand why intercultural education is important in a multicultural context. Building a solid relationship with parents was a way for me to motivate them about getting more involved with their kids learning. By integrating all those elements into my teaching style, I feel like I’ve become a better teacher. The kids that I taught in 1st grade are now in the 9th grade, and it’s so nice when I see them, I can say I did something!

Children writing in Natelee's class.

Children writing in Natelee’s class.

My teaching style is based on the teachers I had in school because they saw I was hyperactive so instead of bashing me, they helped find ways to respond to me and to integrate it into their teaching. It was important to have teachers who understood and saw my potential. Those teachers helped shape the way I teach and learn. For that I am thankful. And most importantly my mother and grandmother are teachers, as was my father. Teaching is in the family!

In Honduras there are 9 indigenous groups (Miskitu, Tawakha, Lenca, Tolupan, Maya-Chorti, Garifuna, Nahao, Pech, Negro de Habla Ingles) and 7 languages. Two groups have lost their language and became fragmented. One of those languages (lenca) is almost extinct, there is now a process of revitalization to try and keep that language alive.

As a result of the historic and cultural background in the Bay Islands, English is the main language of instruction. On mainland Honduras, Spanish is the main language of instruction.

The English speakers on the Bay islands are descended from Grand Cayman and Jamaica and we speak English. The others speak Spanish or Garifuna language. The Garifuna people have lived in Honduras for the past 216 years and have become very important for the cultural framework. They live in the North eastern sector of the island and we are trying to revitalize their language. When people don’t know how to read or write, that’s how a language becomes extinct.

Some of the children who are impoverished are black minority people. Their first language is English and their second language is Spanish. There are attempts to help them, this is done by developing volunteer programmes where people send or donate materials, books, pencils, colours, rulers, backpacks, uniforms.

Language definitely has an impact on how children learn and how they perceive themselves as being part of the teaching-learning process. As a young child growing up in the Bay Islands, there were many times in school when we were not allowed to speak English. (Bay Islanders are English speakers living in a Spanish country). To not be taught in your mother tongue, leaves a gap, and makes you feel that your language is not important. Over the years you tend to develop certain humps.

Natelee on a fieldtrip with her students.

Natelee on a fieldtrip with her students.

The first thing teachers need to do if teaching in a multilingual classroom is to keep an open mind. They need to be stay focused and motivated and not to let the system itself get the best of them. They need to build a strong relationship, integrating parents, the community, teachers in the school community and the students. They must strive to use a learner-centered approach, which places the child at the centre of the process. If we find ourselves in a multilingual classroom, it is vital that we bear in mind that our approach must be multicultural, multilingual and needs multi models to reach all students. We must teach the majority language speakers to speak the minority language and the minority language to speak the majority language, which builds on the principles of inclusion.

In classes with children who speak different languages, I tend to use a lot of visual cues. I divide the class into groups, those who don’t speak the majority language, those who are beginners, and those who are advanced.

Children need their early education to be in their mother tongue but then should be exposed to other languages at grade 3,4,5. When they’re taught in their mother tongue, they can better understand the context and the world, in turn developing a better understanding of the culture around them, and of what’s happening in their surroundings. I also think that they should be exposed to other languages, which aids in developing global learners. Our educational system must strive to enable us not disable us. It should help ground students in an ever-changing and globalized world.

So by teaching students other languages, we open the gateway for them to interact with others, to become global leaders and to embrace diversity. Just because you speak a different language, doesn’t mean you’re less important than others etc… It also promotes a cultural sensitivity.

Over the years there have been a number of dropouts in our system, this in part is due to fact that students feel lost in the classrooms. Sometimes it’s because their learning style is not catered to, and others it’s because the language at school is not their first language.

The General Direction for Intercultural Multilingual Education (DIGEIM) is to ensure that indigenous and afrodescendent people are a part of the agenda; lobbying with representatives of the various ethnic groups to integrate the cultural elements into the curricular framework. Inclusion is at the forefront of education, and we’re not excluding their cultural content from entering into the curriculum.

The majority of materials are in Spanish, however part of my work at the DIGEIM is development; create allies to lobby for resources, to be printed. As well as ensure that teachers being allocated to communities where children who speak minority languages, have been trained adequately.

Children who spoke the minority languages were not getting the best teachers ten years ago. But there have been training programmes for intercultural bilingual teachers since 2003 in Honduras, and those teachers are now certified to teach with a focus on diversity. The DIGEIM provides training once or twice a year, to get feedback, to see that assessments and evaluations are being done, and that they’re culturally focused.

There are cultural differences that we need to be incorporate in our teaching as well. The arts and crafts are different, the astronomy and traditions, and there are religious and spiritual differences. Some chant, some are more evangelistic, some rain dances, or drum, and appreciate connections with the earth and the ground. Those are big differences and need to be appreciated. We integrate that into the arts and crafts classes, and into maths and science and music.

Last year at the Lunsford Johnson School, the teachers worked with the students to make instruments, using coconuts, wood and boxes. By using the elements around them, they become aware of their variety of resources around them, as well as the creative value. Some of them use coconut shells as a drum. Some used an empty metal can and attached a piece of cloth and bound it with tape, and used a mix of water and flour around the edges. Very fun and very culturally focused. Sometimes you don’t have money to buy expensive stuff, but teachers are taught to use all elements. It’s amazing what you can do when you teach outside the box, and how that can affect big changes.

In maths instead of using counters, we used to invite them to use almond seeds, rocks, or shells and leaves of the coconut palm.

In science kids are exposed to the natural environment. We help them understand the coral, and how do their part to educate others about pollution. We have had a problem recently with lionfish. We want them to consume our lionfish so they don’t kill other fish on the coral. They learn about how sand comes about. Learning about fishing and consumption. And we focus on recycling. We are happy to have the RMP collaborating with us.

I traveled to Chile to specialize in indigenous law and I took out a certification in special education. Those trainings helped me to understand the learning styles; by identifying my own style, and why different methods are important. I also did a lot of training on natural resources which helped me integrate those concepts into my teaching. I learnt how to teach ESL or EFL students.

In Honduras, regular training courses prepare teachers to teach only in Spanish. If you want to specialize in other subjects, you go to university level. In the govt. programme there are sub-programmes catering to the development of minority languages. But not every teacher learns that. The majority do not have training or skills to teach in multilingual classrooms.

The Ministry of Education has declared that 2014 is the ‘Year of inclusion’ ‘el Año de la inclusion’. In our country they’ve realized the need to prepare every teacher to create an inclusive classroom, embracing learning styles and cultural baggage of the children they will come in contact with. Whether it’s due to economy or a result of the internal migratory movement- people move around. There’s not just one particular group of students in one school, they’re all interacting and you have to be sensitive to their needs.

There are some adults who went to the public school system and now they can’t read Spanish well due to the system that was used in the public schools. There are many cases of that. The elderly English speakers also most of them do not speak Spanish.

Finally, it’s essential that to teach students in the language of their thoughts. Some children won’t be able to read or write because they’ve been taught in a language they don’t understand. They’ve been pushed beyond the limit, and they simply don’t understand. However if we teach from the heart with sensitivity and a focus on diversity, we will serve as change agents whose sole goal is that their students become lifetime learners, proud of their cultural identity and respectful of others.

Challenge

Continue the conversation with Natelee by asking her questions or sending her comments on Twitter. Tweet to @EFAReport.

What kind of cultural and language struggles do students face in your area?

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