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.
Volunteering at the Azrou Center in Morocco and teaching English to the students at the Al-Akhawayn University is how Neethi Vasudevan is choosing to spend her summer. Below is Neethi’s two-week reflection during her time in Ifrane.
It has been about two and a half weeks since I first landed in Morocco and my experience thus far has been nothing short of amazing! Leaving the airport in Casablanca on our four-hour drive to Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane (our home for the six weeks here), I was taken aback by all the greenery and hill like terrains. Having read so much about the high temperatures during the summer months, and being completely prepared to deal with a dry and extremely hot climate, I was stunned by how much cooler and greener it was than I expected. It was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.
Fast forward to five days later. It was mine and Alessandra’s first day at the Azrou Center. During our previous meeting with the center’s supervisor Mr. Mehdi, we had been told that our only job for the first day was to administer the placement test. We were expected to grade all the tests and then place the students into their corresponding levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. We had gone through the test the previous night, marking each question, coming up with a rough idea of what could be expected of the students for each level. By doing so, we were able to create a scoring rubric which allowed us to place each student in their corresponding levels based on whatever score they had gotten.
Entering the classroom that first day was a surreal experience. The very second we entered the room along with Mr. Mehdi the classroom became very quiet. He quickly introduced us to the class, explained the rules for the test, wished us good luck and left us to begin our job. By the end of that day, we had corrected thirty tests. We had sixteen beginners, ten intermediates and four students in advanced. Meeting with Mr. Mehdi, we arranged for each class to be 90 minutes long, with the first class beginning at 10:30 in the morning and the last at 4:30 pm. The number of students per class seemed pretty manageable and I was very happy with how our first day had gone. Having come up with at least two to three days worth of lesson plans and ideas for each level, I was confident that we would be completely fine for our first day of teaching.
Filled with nervousness and excitement, we left for the Azrou Center the next morning. It was our first day of teaching and I was anxious for it to go well. Entering the classroom, we faced the first group of students we would teach and began going through materials we thought would be just a simple review for each of them. By the end of the day, I had realized we had overestimated the prior knowledge of English of many of our students, especially those in the beginner level. Although I had expected there to be some sort of a language barrier, I had not expected it to be so difficult to get through to them. As we were teaching we were constantly met with a silent classroom and many blank stares. Classroom activities that were meant to be interactive and fun ended up with one of us talking to fill the awkward silence and the other encouraging the other students (besides the one or two that were already talking) to jump in with their thoughts.
Leaving the center that evening we decided to regroup and re-plan most of the lessons for the week. I realized that many of students did not participate mainly because of two reasons: 1) they weren’t used to interactive classes and 2) they were afraid their answer might be wrong. Keeping that in mind we attempted to come up with some games and reading activities to encourage the students to participate in class and make the class more interactive.
Now, almost halfway through our second week of teaching English at the Azrou Center, it seems like many of the students have begun breaking out of their shell. I am no longer getting a standard answer of “Yes teacher” or “Yes miss” if I ask them if they understand something. More and more students have begun asking questions both during and after class. Some have even asked me to plan some lessons around writing or speaking. They seem to get excited at the thought of getting into groups to discuss something, or standing in front of the class to present something or write answers on the board.
While there are still a few students who have yet to get accustomed to being in an interactive classroom, I am very happy and excited at the progress I have seen in the students in just a week and a half. With only three and a half more weeks left, I can only hope I am able to make as much as a difference in their lives as they are making in mine.