Two 30@30 Specialists Support Teachers’ Associations in Africa
After a record 2020 year – that saw a 3000% increase in our virtual programming – the Specialist Program is celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout 2021. Since 1991, over 800 English Language Specialists – representing the best of America’s educators from all 50 States – have encouraged critical thought and erudition, celebrated their cultural diversity, and showcased their American values and civic engagement strategies to millions of educators and students in 130 countries.
In January we introduced our 30@30 –a group of 30 alumni who have had a profound impact on the Specialist Program as well as the field of English language education. In addition, upon returning to their home states, these leaders have added immense benefit to their local economies, communities, and institutions.
In our March story, Brock Brody describes his work with teachers’ associations in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal and Liz England shares her experience supporting the formation of the Botswana Association of English Teachers.
Brock Brady is no stranger to collaborating with teachers in West Africa, having lived and worked there for seven years between 1980 and 1997. However, two English Language Specialist projects working with TESOL associations in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in 2012, and Dakar, Senegal, in 2013, stand out among his experiences. With his co-facilitator, George Pickering of the British Council, Brady trained West African educators in the skills needed to run successful associations. Brady, Pickering, and the participants were able to establish a great deal of trust and see each other as partners. “It wasn’t so much that we were trying to get something out of them, or that they were trying to get something out of us,” Brady explained. “We just genuinely – English teacher to English teacher – wanted to make things work better.”
Brady’s many leadership roles with TESOL International Association made him the ideal Specialist for these two assignments. “It was an opportunity for us to share the practices that we had learned over time,” he said about Pickering and himself. For Brady, it has been rewarding to see the workshop participants apply those practices over time to build stronger national associations (CINELTA in Côte d’Ivoire and ATES in Senegal).
The learning went two ways, especially regarding cultural differences. Brady recalled one particular instance during a workshop on practical aspects of association management. It covered topics such as marketing, choosing officers, and delegating responsibilities. However, when the topic moved to projecting a budget, the conversation took a turn. “Somebody raised their hand and said, ‘Oh, but we can’t do budgets in West Africa,’” Brady said. When he asked why not, the teacher answered, “Well, there’s always something.” The participants explained that whether there was a wedding in the family, or home repairs, or school fees, it was impossible to plan financially for the future. “Most of the audience spoke up in unison agreeing with the speaker,” Brady remembered. “We had a good laugh and it points out how different cultures have very different notions of what’s difficult and what’s not.”
Brady found a similar openness to sharing among the Senegalese participants. During breaks, Brady was pleased to see the participants collaborating with each other to process what they had just learned. It was an opportunity for Brady and Pickering to take a step back: “They were so willing, so ready to share their successes with each other that we almost weren’t needed…It was really gratifying to see how they had taken responsibility for their own successes and were excited about sharing them with others.”
Brady keeps in touch with the participants every so often and although the conversation usually focuses on how they are doing personally, he has also learned of their successes since they worked together. At an online conference and during a recent trip back to the region, he ran into many of the former participants who had become involved with the Peace Corps or held high level positions in their local TESOL associations. In addition, there’s now a regional pan African English Language Teachers’ Association (ELTA) which came into being last year. “That’s why I’m so proud of these two particular projects,” Brady concluded. “Not for anything I did, but because the participants took the tools we shared and put them to work right away, and then went on to create national English teacher associations which are thriving today. Togo, Benin, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mauritania, Gabon, Cameroon—those are just the associations I’m in contact with now—and they’re all going strong.”
Dr. Lizabeth England arrived in Botswana in June 2015 as the first English Language Specialist in the country. She knew there would be a lot of pressure to get it right. The U.S. Embassy in Gaborone and the Regional English Language Officer in South Africa had asked England to assess how the Embassy could support English teaching in Botswana, and at the same time to help with the formation of the Botswana Association for Teachers of English (BATE). For the latter project, England knew that success would depend on the relationships she built with the Botswanan teachers. “There are extraordinarily gifted, intellectually-driven, and academically competent people in universities in Botswana,” England explained. She was delighted when the expectations of her new colleagues aligned with her own. England has years of experience as a TESOL association leader, but she was not interested in coming in as an all-knowing expert. “There was no sensing, ‘Oh, here comes this American expert who’s going to train us to do these things. No, instead, the feeling was, here is this American expert who’s coming to partner with us in doing what we want to do.’”
While this meant the pressure was off England to have all the answers, initially she needed to encourage some of the educators to take the lead. It seemed some of the participants in the workshops weren’t fully aware of just how competent they were. For example, during meetings, England noticed that she was expected to speak first. It was hard for her to hold back, but after a few awkward silences, the teachers would collaborate on their own and then choose someone to start the meeting. “It was challenging for me, and I think that it surprised them, too,” England said. “It’s probably a little scary when someone goes against your expectations.”
As England got to know the Botswanan teachers better, she learned about some of the challenges they faced, including water shortages and the AIDS/HIV epidemic. “I met no citizen of Botswana who did not have a family member who’d died of AIDS/HIV. Not one.” These aspects of life affected the teachers’ communication style, which presented yet another difficulty. “Being a Specialist in Botswana involved in-depth communications with senior officials and others who found it difficult to address the complexities of their situations,” explained England. She was able to break through these communication barriers to bolster her colleagues and encourage them to see the opportunities available to them for personal and professional development in teaching English. “It was possible to break through their resistance a little bit, even in this very short visit, and to say, ‘Well you could be the President of BATE.’”
Ultimately, England and her colleagues were able to lay the groundwork for the creation of their new association. England remembers the meeting where everything came together, with the participants preparing the required documents, identifying a team of leaders, and sketching out answers to all the questions required to become a TESOL International affiliate. “I’ve done this work in other countries,” said England. ”This one went especially well – they were eager, positive and engaged. I wish I had a video of that meeting: a true model in managing such important work!”