The Teacher Becomes the Student

Story by Julia Moore, Dialogue of CivilizationsPhoto by Julia Moore

“Will you be our teacher?” 

A little girl had grabbed a book and handed it to me. I looked at her and my face lit up. There are a lot of opportunities to make connections with people from a completely different culture when you’re abroad, but this moment in the classroom was my first. 

When I arrived at St. Anne’s Family Home in Ghana, it was clear that it was a place where community was strong and unwavering. While interacting with the kids, a group of first-grade girls came up to me and pulled me into their classroom. The teacher was not there at the moment, so the students were scattered around the desks haphazardly while they wrote, looked at books or chatted. I talked with them for a bit, but at times I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t had many interactions with young kids at this point in the dialogue, and I didn’t know what to talk to them about. To my relief, though, every time I ran out of words the students would quickly jump in, asking me about my favorite foods and laughing when I told them I loved Jollof and chicken. That’s when the girl approached me and asked if I would be their teacher. I felt honored she had thought of me as being able to be a teacher, especially because I later met her actual teacher, and he seemed extraordinarily passionate and invested in all the students. I took the book and told her that I could not be her teacher, but that I would love to read with her. She smiled and nodded. I held the book open and as we read, everyone from the crowd took turns yelling out the words they knew. Even though it was nothing dramatic, this moment reminded me of the love of learning that can be fostered through education, and how much these kids valued their time in the classroom, even without a teacher. They were so excited to show me how much they knew, and all I could think about was how everything I was feeling at that moment was truly pure and genuine.

The classroom was only the beginning. I taught a hygiene class at St. Monica Girls High School, and this class was rewarding because the students had so many interesting questions; their nervous laughter was overpowered by their curiosity to learn. However, the most meaningful interaction began when we all went outside after classes. Suddenly all the girls were dancing, and unfortunately for me, I am a horrible dancer. I really can’t move my hips separate from my body, and this proved to be quite amusing for everyone. The girls I was with were happy to show me their moves, and I would try my best to imitate them, but most times everyone would just laugh and show me again slower. It’s funny that they thought this would help. At first I was embarrassed; I don’t get embarrassed easily, but they were really laughing and I could not make my moves better no matter how hard I tried. However, looking around me, I realized they weren’t laughing at me because I couldn’t do it; they were just amused by my lack of ability and they wanted so badly for me to learn. It was severely hot outside and I was sweating buckets, but I danced and danced and we laughed until we forgot about the heat and discomfort. 

This was a really unique experience for me because they shared a part of their culture with me outside the classroom and we bonded on a level without words. By the end, I had learned a new array of dance moves; more importantly, I knew everyone around me by name and who was the best dancer. This experience pushed me out of my comfort zone while giving me a chance to grow and experience teaching on my own, even if it was only for an hour. It pushed me from being an outsider who was just visiting, to someone who was hanging out with these girls and communicating with them through a medium that they loved and were sharing with me: dance. And it all started in a classroom.