My conversations with the teachers from Malawi have been very enlightening. Themes recur when I ask them: “what needs to be done to improve early grade reading instruction in Malawi?” Multiple times, I have heard answers such as: “we should teach reading across the curriculum,” and “we need to develop teaching strategies for diverse learners” and “we must create print-rich learning environments.” In upcoming posts, I will share more of what the teachers are telling me, and what ideas are brewing as they continue their studies. Today, let’s meet another dedicated teacher:
Meet Benjamin David
Benjamin David works at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Blantyre, in the southern region of Malawi. It was here that Benjamin was first trained to be a teacher, graduating eighteen years ago. From there, he went to an elementary school in the middle of the country in Machinga where he worked with young people for twelve years, teaching not just reading, but eight other subjects as well.
In 2009, the TTC in Blantyre called him back and hired him to train young teachers. Like his fellow Malawians in the Lakeland M.Ed. program, Benjamin takes his job very seriously. He says, “In Malawi, learners want to learn, but the teachers do not always have a good approach, or good materials….They don’t know the right techniques to help the students.”
When I asked him what kinds of things he was learning here that will help him with the situation back home, he was quick to reply, “We need to form a group back at home, a task force that can plan projects and workshops. We should begin in an individual TTC, and go from there.” He indicated that discussions about forming teams like this had come up in the Curriculum and Classroom Dynamics class, and had clearly planted a seed.
Strength in numbers, with like-minded colleagues. Teamwork. Always a good thing.
Benjamin pointed out to me that there are only ten Malawian teachers here at Lakeland, learning new things. They are just ten among hundreds of teacher trainers and curriculm planners in Malawi. Benjamin sees that part of his job is to discover which of all the things he is learning can be successfully customized to the context of Malawi and to bring that back to his colleagues at home. He stated, "This is not just a mere change, rather it's a change to be directed towards meaningful input to a Malawian learner."
Benjamin said that the most strange and surprising thing so far was his journey here: the plane ride. The word he used was “weird,” having never traveled anywhere by plane before. He was also greatly impressed by Bookworm Gardens, the children’s reading garden in Sheboygan. He liked how books are available to visitors right there in nature, in a rich, experiential, visual environment that enhances the story. He especially enjoyed hearing Valerie Elzinga, wife of Professor Jeff Elzinga and a teacher in Valders, tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk during the visit.
Benjamin is excited to be at Lakeland. He looks forward to returning home to his work and his family—a wife, three daughters (ages fifteen, seven and two), and a son, age ten—a year from now with new energy and new tools to teach reading. One key, he said, is “to model for learners how to read.” He feels that this has not happened enough in Malawi.
He said, “When things are changing, it is a good thing.”
Benjamin David (far right) at Bookworm Gardens with colleagues,
left to right: Overton Simbeye, Phillip Nachonie `06 and Elias Lyson.