World Teacher’s Day: Making a Difference

On a hot summer day in the middle of September, in the town of Al Marj in west Bekaa, Rodaina, a young and energetic teacher at Al Marj Middle School described challenges to education faced by teachers today. As the new school year approaches, she and her colleagues will be receiving new students, including Lebanese children and Syrian children who fled the conflict in Syria. “I think reading is an important skill, that needs to be fostered quite early,” she said.

She and other colleagues are part of a training network set up by IQRA’ Association, which means read in Arabic. IQRA’ is a Lebanese non-profit, non-sectarian and non-political organization whose mission is to encourage a lifetime reading habit among children and youth.

As many of her colleagues, Rodaina is actively engaged in training fellow-teachers in the context of school-based teacher professional development activities. “Teachers are more open to be trained by fellow-colleagues”, she added, “because, if we want teachers to adopt educational innovations, they have to feel they can master them”.  And there is indeed no one better to inspire and support teachers than fellow colleagues who, in their turn, went through a training process that helped them attain the needed competencies.

On the occasion of UN World Teachers’ Day (WTD, 5 October), and inspired by examples like Rodaina’s work in Lebanese schools, it is  fair to evoke the huge expectations for teachers, as well as the need to support their efforts in educating learners by appropriate working conditions and status. As stated in the message of UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova, on the occasion of the 2012 WTD: “On this day, we call for teachers to receive supportive environments, adequate quality training as well as ‘safeguards’ for teachers’ rights and responsibilities…We expect a lot from teachers – they, in turn, are right to expect as much from us. This World Teachers’ Day is an opportunity for all to take a stand”.

In the Al Marj Middle School, one can observe how everyone (school, parents, community) can take a stand for teachers in the context of some innovative school projects, such as the ones IQRA is carrying out to foster reading, as a basic competence for improving learning.  One can notice how teachers themselves can become innovative in turning their school into learner-friendly and enabling environments while using local resources and a lot of imagination. The classes are well organised for interactive learning and full of colorful working stations that provide easy access to learning resources. Many of the learning resources, such as toys, booklets, games and drawings, were produced by the teachers themselves (sometimes with the help of students and parents) who used local fabrics and other non-expensive components, such as paper, leaves, wood, and clay.

UNESCO Office in Beirut, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD) and education NGOs, such as IQRA’ Association  which means read in Arabic,  is carrying out a series of activities in support of improving teachers’ education and training and working conditions. With the support of UNESCO, teachers in Lebanon are trained in modern approaches, such as the “whole-school approach” and in methods to improve learning, such as accelerated learning for out-of-school children. As shown in many studies, schools become enabling learning environments if they are organized as learning communities, within which headmasters, teachers and students work together towards common goals in close cooperation with the families and the broader public.  Learners are motivated by clear goals and by appropriate support for their different learning styles and learning interests. This is, among others, what teachers like Rodaina, try to put in place: a pleasant and safe learning environment, where children can learn in groups, from one another by being able to capitalize on their strengths, while also coping constructively with their difficulties . “Our philosophy is that all children can learn, given they receive the right support” concludes Rodaina – and noticing her enthusiasm, as well as the impressive work reflected in the way the classroom have been prepared for the new school year, we fully trust her.

Happy Teachers Day! – and how wonderful would it be that we think every day of how to support  teachers in their very special work.