Teaching is my passion: An English teacher from Senegal’s story

As told to Lea Gabay

Knock! Knock! Hello world, this is Abdourahmane Fall here from Gandon, a town in the Department of Saint-Louis, which is located in the northern part of Senegal. When you first lay eyes on me, you may think of me as reserved and quiet, but don’t be fooled. I am more than what meets the eye. When I am passionate about something, I give 100% and more. I am unstoppable and care deeply about the world. Some may think that I am just an idealist, but I truly believe that change can happen if all of us work together. I have two great passions in my life: teaching and the environment. Let’s start with my love of teaching.

My passion for teaching
   I knew that I wanted to become a teacher from an early age when I experienced the positive impact that some of my teachers had on my life. It made me realize that teaching is the best way to make a difference in a person’s life. Once my decision was made, I sought out opportunities to gain teaching experience: I  began teaching English courses to young people in my neighborhood as a way to give back to my community. That was then followed by studying for a degree in English at Universite Gaston Berger in Saint Louis and completing a certificate in teaching from FASTEF, a training school for teachers. I didn’t stop there, though. Soon after graduating, my teaching career took off in 2006 when I taught for the first time in Thillé Boubacar, which is in the north of Senegal. I have been teaching for 13years now, and since 2011 I am at a local high school in Gandon."

   To me, being an effective teacher isn’t just limited to imparting knowledge and giving instructions; what matters the most is supporting my students as much as possible by improving my teaching skills and advocating for a better learning environment for them. To this end, I have been involved in a variety of professional development groups and school committees: I have been an active member of my school’s Board of Education and was the Vice President of the local chapter of ATES (Association of Teachers of English in Senegal), and a current member of the Organization Committee of the National Board. I also lead a professional development group for English teachers, and my colleagues and I are in charge of the school’s English club, which allows students to practice their English language skills in a stress-free space.  I even had the chance to participate in a 7-week professional development program called the Teaching Excellence and Achievement (T.E.A) program at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. Finally, I was also selected as a host teacher for the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms ( TGC) to welcome two wonderful women from South Carolina and Chicago. During their stay, I had a chance to  share insights on Senegalese culture and the Senegalese school system.

    Moreover, I see value in providing opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom, to be creative, to develop their critical thinking skills, and to connect across borders. As such, I began three years ago a partnership with an exchange program called Global One to One (www.global1to1.org). Conducted over the course of an academic year, this program consists of handwritten letter exchanges between students, or PeacePals, from the USA and other countries. Its aim is to stimulate curiosity and encourage the Peace Pals to ask questions about each other’s lives. In so doing, they can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Our participation in this program is therefore grounded in the belief that by learning about each other’s life and culture, students discover that they have more in common than they have differences. So, their pen pals become their Peace Pals!

   While I do love teaching, I am also faced with a number of challenges on a daily basis: limited resources and materials, large class sizes, or some students’ indifference to social problems. That said, I try not to see these issues as challenges, for when you love your job, you don’t perceive them as problems that can’t be overcome; this is the way I see things. I also believe that people will eventually open up to change and be more amenable to effecting change in their communities.

I believe in protecting the environment
   The environment is something that I am truly passionate about. My reason for focusing on the environment is that I want to draw people’s attention to the importance of environment in our lives. We are just one element of the environment. Therefore, preserving it means preserving ourselves. Unfortunately, I have witnessed apathy around me in regards to garbage collection. In fact, wherever you go Senegal, the streets are littered with garbage. I am saddened to see that few people care about our environment.

    Yet, that has not stopped me from raising awareness in my classroom about the needfor taking care of the environment. I have encouraged my students to pick up litter, and have had them participate in various campaigns to clean our schools and neighborhoods. One of my greatest accomplishments is to have had students create a garden with the help of plastic bottles. Instead of throwing the bottles on the floor, I showed my students how they can be reused. My hope is that they will one day make their own gardens and spread information about the effects of climate change in their communities.

I know that we still have a long way to go before we see more engagement in the fight to save the environment. As with everything, I am merely planting a seed with  the hope that my students will develop into active global citizen.

   And so, here is my story. Despite all of my years of teaching, I still want to continue to learn and to improve my teaching skills in order to become an agent of change in my community.