We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Teaching abroad is a challenging, but rewarding experience and for Unofficial Ambassador Tomoko Ishikawa it is equally both parts. At the Tumekuja School in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Tomoko is thrilled to teach her students mathematics from a one-on-one teaching approach.
Even after a month of teaching and living in Zanzibar I feel that I am still learning and experiencing new things everyday. I am consistently curious and surprised by the Zanzibari living and teaching style.
During my teaching experience at Tumekuja School, I encountered a problem regarding the students’ learning and studying habits and initially struggled to solve the issue. The students’ minimum participation in the class was an issue for me. As I mentioned in the last blog, some non-western cultures tend to prefer hierarchical and collectivist ideas, and from my own personal experiences I consider the culture here in Zanzibar one of them. Students in the classes did not seem to feel comfortable with asking questions; whenever I asked if they understood what was explained on the board, or if they had any questions regarding the lesson materials, almost none or very few responded.
It was hard for me to continue teaching the class because I wanted to make sure that all the students understood what was being taught and could move onto the next lesson. As much as I understood the difference in cultures and the fact that they are not used to being asked to speak in front of the class, as a person whose background is non-western I wanted them to participate. In order to motivate them and make the seventy-minute class more fun I thought to be more engaged with the students since I also come from a non-western background.
To improve the situation, first I talked to Mrs. Bim, a math teacher who had previously taught the same classes as I did and asked her if there were possible solutions. She responded that the situation in the class was the same even when she taught and I had to get used to teaching in a quiet classroom. I decided to ask the same question to the other teachers, but the responses were all the same. Not that I blame the teachers, but I was astonished by the fact that other teachers including Mrs. Bim accepted the lack of an engaged classroom and just continued with the lessons. I tried to come up with a solution and thought what may motivate the student to speak up more. I found that the students might have not realized the importance of expressing their opinions. One day I decided to individually talk to the students, if they understood the materials covered. Some students told me that they are not quite sure what I was teaching and others told me that they don’t understand why they have to raise their hands, etc.
I realized that whether they understood the lessons or not they were shy and chose not raise their hands. I told them the necessity of participating in the class and that’s what they need to do. The day after I talked them, I came into the classroom and started the class. When I asked them questions, I saw a few students raising their hands – which never happened before! It was pleasantly surprised because I actually got to see a change in the student’s mind.
In the beginning my teaching experience was tougher than I expected because of the different culture and different teaching system, but I think because it is challenging, the effort is worth it.