1. The amount of resources you have does not define how great of a teacher you are.
I saw incredible teachers teach lessons without materials. Before leaving I took for granted my insane amount of materials and my ability to find more at the drop of a hat. I have the ability to purchase sentence strips, pencils and birthday pins while the teachers I worked with in Ghana were struggling to teach with one book. I don’t need the perfect bulletin board or another set of counting bears. The teachers in Ghana used sticks and rocks for their math lessons. They allowed the children to write on the walls and the floor with chalk (that display is way better than any bulletin board!), they use their 70+ students as models for lessons, and they sing a song whenever they can to teach a topic. You can be a phenomenal teacher with absolutely nothing, and you can have every resource at hand and fail to inspire and engage a classroom.
The defining factor is not the number of resources but the passion and dedication from the teacher. There is amazing teaching happening in the rural community of Zebilla. The teachers are excited to learn! Throughout all of our PD and coaching sessions they were eager, passionate and thirsty for more knowledge. Their energy is contagious, and I learned so much during our short time there. The teachers in Ghana are working in classrooms without electricity, no furniture, one book for 70+ students, no writing utensils, and sans technology, manipulatives ,or any other professional materials; yet they come to school everyday with a smile on their face, ready to teach. Students come to school with broken pencils, in the rain, through dirt roads and often without shoes. They show up with beautiful smiles, ready to learn. Working with these teachers was truly inspiring. Their passion is the driving force behind their jobs. I left each day at the schools with a renewed sense of gratitude and a reminder of why I love teaching in the first place--the relationships with students. These teachers showed me what true dedication looks like--which brings me to my next point.
2. Dedication looks like teachers showing up in the pouring rain.
One morning, just as we were heading to schools, it started raining cats and dogs (and maybe goats since we’re in Ghana after all). We tried waiting out the rain but it was not letting up so out we ventured out, into the muddy, pothole-covered roads. We were making this trip in a four-wheel-drive pick-up truck and we were still hydroplaning. My teaching partner and I made it to school and walked up to our school of 200+ students and noticed that no teachers had arrived yet. This is a common occurrence because the roads are so bad that it is hard for teachers and students to safely travel them in bad weather. Most teachers come to school on bicycles or motorbikes. Not five minutes had passed before a teacher came down the road on a motor bike in the pouring rain. Then another two teachers came in their ponchos and on the back of a motorbike and finally another teacher came in the pouring rain on his bike. Only four teachers showed up that day and all four teachers were the teachers we were working with. Our teachers showed up for their students with a smile on their face, ready to teach in a building without electricity, without furniture, without materials. They came and they were ready. That’s dedication.
3. Running/hot/safe water, bathrooms, and electricity are all a privilege.
I came home to a home full of items I don’t really need. Every time I’ve turned on the water, opened my mouth in the shower or turned on the tap for a drink since being home I’ve been grateful. I appreciate our plumbing so much more. In Ghana plumbing was a luxury and electricity is not something that is taken for granted. I came home with a renewed sense of appreciation and an ache in my heart for the country I left behind. I thought I was aware of my privilege but after this trip it has become even more evident. Seeing through another’s eye provides insight into different walks of life; it allows for a broader understanding of people different from you and truly shows you what matters in life. Generosity, an enthusiastic handshake, a cheer from your whole class because you gave an answer, a bold and beautiful smile to greet you everywhere you go. Kindness. Compassion. Empathy. Laughter from children who just love a game of tag (or football!).
This trip highlighted these values on a level much deeper than I have ever experienced in America. It opened my eyes and my heart. I’ve never been surrounded by more genuine people. Northern Ghana is beautiful. The smiles I saw were beautiful. It is so important to travel and experience other cultures. There are so many commonalities, even among countries thousands of miles apart. My heart has changed and there is now a piece in the shape of Ghana. It’s hard to put into words but my outlook on life has changed.
4. 23 people from all parts of the world can become a family in less than three weeks.
When you experience something like this, you truly bond with the people you are with. They change with you; they are there through the challenges and successes. We experienced power outages and thunderstorms, braved bumpy dirt roads, took ice cold showers, ate family meals, led PD together, taught at schools together (at times to 200+ children when no teachers had arrived yet). We were in a foreign country together with little access to the outside world. We had to lean on and support each other. We were in this together. I think anytime a group of people with a common passion spend days on end together, that group of people is forever changed.
I am so thankful these amazing people came into my life and I learned so much. I learned about leadership and the boldness it takes to lead a group of teachers in the middle of a foreign country. I learned how to play the game Spades, and many British terms along the way. I learned new strategies and songs, and found out so many fun facts about football! (Not the American kind.) Most of all, I saw confidence and passion in every single fellow and it made me so proud to be on this journey with such a dedicated group of educators. I’m already counting down the days until our reunion!
In summary, Ghanaian teachers have the hearts of heroes. I recently heard a new song and upon hearing the lyrics I immediately thought of the men, women and children in Ghana:
I’ve got the heart of a hero,
The strength of a lion
I’ll march like a soldier
Braver and bolder
I am gonna stand right here with nothing to fear
That faint heartbeat
Ringing in my ear
‘Cause I’ve got the heart of a hero
I am thankful beyond words for this trip and for the ways that it changed me for the better, and I know it won’t be long before I will return."