By Sara Espinoza (Instructional Coach, NCA Matagalpa)
What words and images come to your mind when you think of “teacher”? Traditionally, especially here in Nicaragua, many jump to an image of someone in front of a group: talking, speaking with authority (maybe reprimanding), talking some more, writing a little, and continuing to talk. To become a teacher under this model means that, upon receiving your title, you should behave as an incontrovertible expert imparting your knowledge to the lesser qualified. Ya tú sabes. . .You already know.
But anyone involved in 21st century education recognizes that this model is no longer adequate in preparing students for their futures. The internet can impart “knowledge” 24-7, but how will students use that information? 21st century teachers must become listeners and questioners as much as talkers... learners as much as experts. To truly prepare their students, they have to model critical thinking, problem solving, application, engagement, and reflection. They cannot presume to already know. And because it hasn’t been their experience, there are few teachers in Nicaragua that are prepared to tackle this new model of teaching.
How can we change this? It is interesting that many schools, (and departments of education), attempt to teach by modeling the antithesis of the change they want to implement: more workshops, more talking. Ya tú sabes.
Nicaragua Christian Academy, as one body manifested on three campuses, has taken some bold steps to impact education in Nicaragua. One of its boldest moves has been to invest in experiences in order to train teachers, sending teachers to schools in other countries, other contexts, in order to engage, reflect, and apply new learning. Most recently, a group of seven visited four schools in the Dominican Republic to observe in classrooms, share in forums with other educators, and then evaluate the possibilities for learning with their students back home. They saw obstacles similar to their own and the results of differing approaches. They questioned everything from societal norms to classroom procedures, demographics to discipleship. The theme was “Constructing a Culture of Critical Thinking”, but the learning was so much broader and deeper than a simple theme. A favorite quote from the trip became, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do, and I understand.” These teachers and administrators were not just talking about effective education; they were experiencing it. . .walking the talk.
Some might find this kind of investment frivolous. Why not spend that money on more infrastructure, more textbooks, more technology? Our association director, Nathan Boersma, views it this way: "A well-trained teacher is the most lasting gift and most transformational investment that can be made in education." But, aside from being incredibly productive in transforming a teacher’s methodology, there are other fruits from this kind of investment. Most notably, our teachers begin to believe that we believe in them, and they initiate change where it really has to start, in the classroom. A few transforming quotes from members of the trip:
“An UNFORGETTABLE experience, from the moment we began our expedition en the airport in Nicaragua, one could sense the climate of continuous learning that would set our course. . .The contrast of visiting schools, some with good resources and other without, made me think that, truly, we don’t accomplish things just with resources, but we are the resources that God has given to do the work.” - Annel Flores, sub-director, NCA Matagalpa
“This experience has left deep prints on me. It is impressive to recognize that, in your eyes, we are a priority and can experience your commitment to empower and equip us to confront new challenges. I want to express my commitment and desire to being an agent of change and transformation for God’s kingdom (in my school).” - Blanca Lopez, English teacher, NCA Nejapa
“They see us as the most valuable resources. . .There are no limits, only those that we put on ourselves.” - Marlyn Perez, Spanish teacher, NCA International
“My thoughts revolve around how to apply and share what I’ve learned with my colleagues. That is the challenge that I have, for which I ask my Lord to give me wisdom.” - William Salazar, sub-director, NCA Nejapa
“I am grateful to God to serve at NCA. I believe that we are on the right path, but we can continue learning and growing much more.” - Freddy Matamoros, Science teacher, NCA Matagalpa
“This trip surpassed my expectations by 1000%, THANK YOU.” - Rebeca Flores, Spanish teacher, NCA International
In the Dominican Republic, there is a seemingly innocuous phrase that is commonly used as a space-filler: “Ya tú sabes”. As our Nicaraguan group caught on to this euphemism and started using it to inject humor in our conversations, the irony was hard to miss. It was as if the more we said it, the more we realized how much we don’t know and how much we don’t want to pass that attitude on to our students. At NCA, we are trying to “walk the talk”, celebrating our teachers with great hope for the culture of critical thinking that they will instill in future generations.
Published on November 11, 2015. Written by Sara Espinoza. Photos by Sara Espinoza.