Teaching Teachers in Haiti

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Dr. Tyra Good, assistant professor of education, knows a thing or two about culturally responsive education. In fact, she teaches it—courses with names like Teaching in Urban Schools, Issues of Poverty and Race in Education, and Diverse Family Community Partnerships.

Still, she’s the first to tell you that she views herself as a student as much as an educator. She had a wake-up call this summer, days before she was to leave for Haiti to take part in an educator training trip through Functional Literacy Ministry Haiti (FLM).

“(FLM board member and part-time university supervisor for Chatham University) Dr. Rhonda Taliaferro asked me if I had gotten my training materials translated. Translated! I hadn’t even thought of that, but of course, they had to be in French or in Haitian Creole,” she says.

With help from her network of friends and associates, Good was able to get the materials translated.

FLM was founded by Dr. Leon Pamphile, a Haitian who moved to the U.S. when he was 17. He received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and taught French in the Pittsburgh Public School District for 32 years. He was aware of the dismal literacy rate in his native country, and wanted to do something about it.

Good applied and was accepted to the program, and joined a team of twelve educators from across the country who arrived in Haiti to provide professional development to teachers from 19 schools across the small island nation. Good’s areas of expertise—partnerships between schools, families and communities—were very much in demand.

“To be a high school teacher in Haiti, you don’t need a college degree or even a certification,” says Good. “So they’re eager to learn not only strategies for classroom management, or how to support students who are excelling or falling behind, but also how they, as educators, can partner with others to create the best outcomes for their students.”

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“Classrooms usually have about 60 students with one teacher,” says Good, noting that that’s about double the size of a U.S. classroom “They sit on long benches, with no space to keep schoolbooks or supplies.”

Good held workshops on how teachers and schools can partner with families and use community resources to support culturally relevant learning. And everyone showed up to hear—not just teachers, but also parents and community members. “Parents brought their kids too!” Good laughs.

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“Even though I knew Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world,” says Good. “I don’t think I understood the extreme level of poverty that I would see. Homemade houses. Smokestacks from families burning garbage, because there’s nowhere to put it. In the U.S., when we take a shower, we let the water run. In some places in Haiti, you couldn’t do that. You pull the string down so a bucket of water can come down on you, you lather up, then you pull the string down again so you can rinse off.”

There were other surprises, too. “In the U.S., we say we put a high value on education, but in Haiti, they take it to another level,” says Good. “I asked the students to tell me something they really liked about school, and one thing they don’t. All they said was ‘I love to study, I love to study, I love to study!’ There’s a real sense that if they study, they can do anything they want to do.”

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In addition to her teaching and research, Good serves as Chatham’s liaison to the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps—a partnership with Propel Schools in which qualified students with an interest in social justice and educational equity can earn an Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Chatham for free and receive guaranteed employment teaching in Propel’s urban schools. “The Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps offers a teaching residency experience that you don’t get in traditional teacher preparation programs,” she says.

Good is currently looking into making FLM and Haiti an option for Chatham students. She envisions a Maymester course, with a week of lectures and speakers about the country’s history, tradition, and culture followed by time spent in the country.

“I feel that it’s so important to get that global experience and perspective before students become full-time educators in the classroom,” she says. “To understand the impact and power you have as an educator, and the reality of educational inequalities. What you can do with technology, and how you can still be creative when you don’t have it.” Students have already expressed interest.

Chatham prepares undergraduate and graduate students for certification in early elementary (N-4), secondary (7-12), and art (K-12) education. In addition, certification in special education (K-12) is available at the graduate level through the Master of Arts in Teaching