Tuesday, March 15, 2011

English Teaching and Learning in the Middle East: Part 2

I am on the plane heading back to the States after spending two weeks in the Middle East learning about English needs in this part of the world and sharing the Reading Horizons program with English teachers and administrators. I wanted to document my experiences while they are fresh on my mind and before I head off to my next destination in a couple of days. I learned much about education in the Middle East and specific English learning needs after visiting several schools and talking with students, English teachers, and administrators.

One of the things I value most about traveling, especially traveling abroad, is the opportunity it affords me to meet individuals of various cultural backgrounds who have amazing life stories to share. I am often inspired by the life experiences of those I meet. I likewise value the opportunity I have to share Reading Horizons strategies and watching teachers' reactions to what the program has to offer.

A few highlights of my experience include the following:

  • Visiting classrooms in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, and visiting with students about their experiences with and feelings about learning English.

  • Visiting with a principal at a school who had very limited time. He apologized and said he only had 15 minutes before he had to head to a meeting—BUT, he said, “If I like what I see, I’ll give you 45 minutes.” And he did.

  • Watching people smile as they experience the Reading Horizons program first-hand.

  • Hearing an English teacher from Iran say that she has been looking for a program like Reading Horizons all her life.

  • Listening to Dr. Neil Anderson’s presentation on reading fluency at TESOL Arabia and hearing him put in a plug for Reading Horizons in his presentation.

  • Seeing individuals return to the Reading Horizons booth—sometimes two, three, or four times—with additional colleagues to see the Reading Horizons demo.

  • Hearing a teacher say that the one-hour Reading Horizons presentation he attended, though it was short, was the best workshop he’s ever been to out of the forty or fifty workshops he’s attended in the last four or five years he’s been teaching English in the United Arab Emirates.

  • Seeing the light bulbs go off in teachers’ heads when they learn new strategies for teaching English and hearing them say, “This could really work!” and “This is what my students need!”
  • Meeting a couple from Egypt at TESOL Arabia who sell English books and seeing their great interest in Reading Horizons because they want to improve their own English. Also, I enjoyed receiving a simple, sweet email message from them saying they were very happy to meet me.

  • Witnessing true gratitude for the Reading Horizons program on a personal level. An English teacher was fighting to hold back the tears as she expressed her concern for her son who is in second grade and is struggling with reading. She expressed her feelings of desperation to help him as the schools do not know what to do for him. She also expressed that people say to her, "You're an English teacher. Why can't you help your son yourself?" I saw a look of relief come over her face as she learned what the Reading Horizons program has to offer and to have finally found a resource to help her son.

  • Seeing the managing director of Knowledge Hub, the company that distributes Reading Horizons in the Middle East, very enthusiastic about distributing the Reading Horizons program. After one particular demo I did at the TESOL Arabia booth, she gave me a big hug and thanked me because an individual she was anxious to expose the program to watched the demo with great interest and was really, really impressed. He asked her to contact him to set up a time to meet.

  • Being able to forget myself a little bit and the realities of the hustle and bustle I experience at home in my day-to-day life.  

  • Witnessing first-hand the positive reactions of people who see the program for the first time, and with that, seeing first-hand all the hard work of Reading Horizons employees paying off. I feel grateful to be able to work for a company that collectively and individually shares a vision of helping students learn how to read and learn English. Their passion shows in their work.

  • Being reminded of the sacrifices English teachers around the world make in order to make a difference. I had the pleasure of visiting with an English teacher from Afghanistan who serves as the Head of the English department for the school he works for in the United Arab Emirates. He shared heart-wrenching experiences of the realities of life as an English teacher who wanted to make a difference back home in Afghanistan. He said in Afghanistan, he would teach English for three hours straight with students coming to class with hand grenades and weapons in hand (hundreds of them). Some students would have tears in their eyes as they sat in his class because they wanted to learn English so badly. He was threatened, which is why he had to move to the United Arab Emirates. He has a family, and he needed to protect them. But he hopes to go back to Afghanistan to teach his people again using American methods. He loves the Reading Horizons program. He attended a two-hour workshop I conducted, and he brought four or five of his English teachers with him. At the Reading Horizons booth at the TESOL Arabia conference, he was practicing decoding a word on the software. It was the Digraph Blends lesson, and he chose to decode the word “shrapnel”. “We have this at home,” he said very matter of factly.
  • Being reminded of how much I love my job.

(See my other blog post about my experiences in the Middle East here.)

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