One of my favourite things about reading blogs is that, over time, I really get to know the authors. I hope that my blog’s readers feel like they know me increasingly. With this in mind, I would like to share my story of how my teaching career began. My first teaching post (kind of) was actually in Tanzania (East Africa). I’m delighted to say that I will go back to Tanzania for a holiday next week, ten years after I left. I can’t put into words how excited I am!
In 2004/05, I was in my first year at Huddersfield New College, “studying” for AS Levels. A teacher at college named Mick Callaghan was organising his annual exchange programme in collaboration with Moshi Technical School (a local secondary school in Tanzania). The programme included a three-week visit to Moshi and then, a few months later, we would welcome our exchange partners to our homes in England. Prior to this, I had been to Paris once on a school trip. That was the extent of my overseas travel experience. I begged my parents to let me take part in the exchange but they were hesitant for several reasons. Still, I begged. I remember it vividly. It was the morning of the deadline and I had actually set foot out of the door before they finally agreed. Without exaggerating, I believe that this moment put my life on a whole new trajectory. I didn’t realise at the time what a significant impact this trip would have.
As I describe the events, put yourself in the shoes of a sixteen-year-old kid who’d barely set foot out of Huddersfield. During that three-week trip, I went on safari, stayed with a Masai family in a traditional mud hut, attended classes with very basic facilities and even milked a cow (funny story: when I shared this with my parents via text message, predictive text changed cow to boy). Furthermore, the opportunity to welcome my Tanzanian partner to England was similarly rewarding for both me and my family.
Milking boys aside, what a wonderful opportunity for young people and what a way to open their eyes and minds! I’ll be forever grateful to Mick, my parents, and Huddersfield New College for allowing me this opportunity. Where possible, educational establishments should offer these types of opportunities to students, especially those from less-privileged backgrounds. The school trip had absolutely nothing to do with my studies, but everything to do with learning. Experiences like these are remembered forever and the learning is immeasurable. I wholeheartedly believe that they are justified, with or without curricular links.
What does this have to do with my teaching career?
I loved the experience so much that, a year later (after completing A Levels), I returned to Moshi Technical School to enjoy an academic year as a volunteer maths teacher. This stage between A Levels and university is commonly known as a “gap year”. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in Tanzania and thoroughly enjoyed my year teaching there. I lived on campus with my colleagues, had my own livestock, and continued to explore Tanzania throughout the year.
This confirmed that teaching was the profession for me and I had a deferred teacher training place at university waiting for me when I got home. Teaching in Moshi had its challenges. As an unqualified, inexperienced teacher, I knew nothing of theory, pedagogy or the EAL classroom. Still, I gave it my all. The classrooms included almost enough chairs and a blackboard. Furthermore, some of my students were older than me! Despite the challenges, it was an enriching, mutually-beneficial experience that shaped who I am today both personally and professionally.
Like I said, I’m extremely excited about returning to Moshi after ten years. I’m not going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, laze on a Zanzibar beach or spot wildlife on safari. Been there, done that. As amazing as those experiences were, I don’t need to have them again. I’m really going back to see my friends. As Mick so eloquently states:
“If you’ve seen one zebra, you’ve seen them all. But every person is unique.”
I can’t wait to catch up with my colleagues at Moshi Technical School and even my students (who are adults now). Some of my best Tanzanian friends have got married and had children in the last ten years. There’s so much catching up to do! I also look forward to visiting Moshi Technical School to see my former home. Mostly, I’m looking forward to kicking back with a Safari beer with my old friends, watching the sun set over Kilimanjaro.
As I reflect on this experience, I’m pondering about gap years. Since I teach primary children, I’m actually quite unfamiliar with them as a post-secondary option. Considering the massive impact that mine had on my life, I have a few questions:
- Are students encouraged to take gap years?
- How can we ensure that enriching gap years are accessible to all?
- What mutually-beneficial services could gap year students offer?
- How easy is it for students to defer university places?
If you have answers to any of these questions, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you have a gap year story, I’d love to hear it. How did your teaching career kick off? Just as I enjoy getting to know fellow bloggers, I love getting to know my readers. I always look forward to your comments. If any of my PLN connections are in the Moshi area next week, please let me know.
Confession: I probably will go on a small safari…