Teaching in a school with limited or no prior training to use the national curriculum, where the salary is not guaranteed, there is no electricity, the internet, classroom books, and to which students carry a load of complex needs beyond education can be challenging. When Giewee Hammond held the two-day teacher training, she asked those teachers to do, even more, namely to take more time with their students.
“I wanted them (teachers) to show patience toward the students as they taught,” Giewee said.
To encourage patience, Giewee realized that it was important to demonstrate it. “So I gave them time to vent. They took time and discussed the way their community views them,” Giewee explained. “I want to improve not punish the teachers.”
The teachers told her of the relentless criticism from the Liberian media and public in general that teachers are not serious or well-educated, and that they are more interested in getting children to pass tests than learn content. Furthermore, school administrators seem eager to find reasons to cut teacher salaries.
Giewee responded by asking them to tell her how she can support the teachers’ professional development. Through Wahjay-STEM – a new non-profit Giewee founded in the United States with an NGO based in Liberia – teachers will receive ongoing technical assistance as they implement reformed science and math curriculum in two schools in Buchanan City, Liberia.
Giewee visited in September in part to train lead teachers from each of the demonstration schools. The training included observing Giewee during a three-day class with students where she encouraged timid students to speak up.
“The teachers had personal challenges waiting for an answer when they ask the class a question,” Giewee said. “They will instead just give the answer or force a reply.”
Giewee was excited to see how one of the young teachers in training worked with students as they learned how to apply their engineering and science lessons to assemble the robots. “I loved her way. When the kids surrounded the table to see the robot, she (the teacher) would let them lead and step back.”
Giewee, a Data Scientist in the United States, trained the teachers to provide a class on robotics that helps students understand how their math and science education ties to career paths and real-world applications. The training included how to calibrate the central processing unit (CPU), how to build motor controls, computer programming, and other topics.
The teachers will train their colleagues and have committed to Wahjay-STEM to provide reports and share where they need support and further professional development.