Jordan training and thoughts on education

I spent most of last week at a Fulbright training in Amman, Jordan. All the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants from the entire MENA region (Middle East, North Africa) were brought there for an intense few days of training on language acquisition theories, teaching techniques, and lesson planning. And intense it was!

We had three entire days of trainings, discussions, workshops, and even mock classes that we planned and then presented to the rest of the group. At times I felt like a schoolchild again, sitting all day in class and listening to the teacher. But, despite the occasional desire to take a post-lunch nap, I found my time there to be really valuable both as a Fulbrighter and as an educator in the broader context. I gained some interesting insights on how I can improve my own teaching assignments. I also came away with a little more experience with planning and leading a lesson. My teaching partner and I led the rest in an English-for-work-purposes lesson on job interviews, and we received some valuable feedback from our peers.

We spent the last day of the trip exploring the ruins of Jerash, which was a wonderful way to finish our adventure. Our tour guide provided some fascinating historical context to the city and also to the modern country of Jordan. I’ve spent some in Jordan in the pastβ€”touring, studying, and excavating. I always enjoy visiting. I even got to use some of my rusty Arabic and felt a renewed desire to work on it some more.

My biggest takeaway, though, came from hearing about everyone’s different teaching conditions. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me was to hear of classes with over one hundred students. A class that big is bad enough for lecture-style courses on biology or American history; for a language class, that size is absurd. Honestly, how are students supposed to learn English when sitting on long rows of benches with so many other students and one teacher in the front? Languages are learned through interaction and use, not from taking notes on what the teacher says.

Granted, not all of my colleagues are in situations like these. And I have no doubt that all my fellow Fulbrighters are doing a wonderful job teaching their students. But more than anything, hearing about this made me sad. I’m not familiar with the salaries or reputation of teachers in other countries, but in the United States the teaching profession is not as highly esteemed as it should be. Teachers are expected to infuse future generations with the knowledge, character, and qualities they need to be fully-capable, contributing members of society. They’re often confronted with difficult situations like bullying, students with learning disabilities, and all sorts of flak from kids who are just barely beginning to find their place in the world. And most of them do this terribly difficult, demanding, and supremely important job while receiving little monetary compensation.

Why? How about instead of spending obscene amounts of tax dollars on the military, on politicians’ expensive tastes, or on a pointless wall, we instead wisen up and invest more on our kids’ (and the world’s) future? Raising teacher wages, I propose, would simultaneously raise the competitiveness of getting a teacher job, the amount that future teachers choose to invest in their own education and training, their ability to perform under high-stress situations (due to better training and compensation), and the respect that they are given by the rest of the community. It simply doesn’t make sense to me why the teaching profession so seldom receives the honor it deserves. My understanding is that teachers are respected much more in some other countries, but I have no experience with that.

I’ve decided that I need to learn more about the education systems that exist around the world. I want to better understand how we got to where we are, how much things have improved over the last decades and even centuries, and where we go from here. This is an area I should know more about, and one I commit myself to studying in the near future.