Teachers supporting teachers is one of the most powerful forms of professional learning that exists in education. In my twenty-sixth year of teaching I was able to witness first hand the heart of teaching when I spent six weeks working with educators in Sierra Leone as a delegate from ETFO (in partnership with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation). Despite the country being just over a decade past their horrific civil war, the aftermath of that human tragedy lives on in the daily lives of every citizen of that country. My work focused on helping teachers develop peaceful classrooms and schools. Little did I know how much my life was going to be impacted by my experience with those amazingly courageous individuals.
When I arrived in Sierra Leone, I was instantly overwhelmed by the overcrowded classrooms (up to 100 students to one teacher), no professional resources or curriculum and nonexistent basic supplies for students. My initial thoughts were ‘”How could anyone teach in these conditions?” But what I was most taken back with, was the level of commitment, professionalism, courage and absolute pure desire to turn their country around through education. A quote from the Sierra Leone Teachers Union states “We Educate To Liberate”. There was no complaining, no frustration and no giving up. Despite extremely low wages (or not being paid at all), horrendous working conditions, daily struggles for their basic needs, these teachers‘ only desire was to learn and improve their teaching.
I have been humbled by both the dedication and resiliency of the teachers in Sierra Leone. I have become a better teacher and global citizen as a result of my work with these everyday heroes. I think about my friends and colleagues in Sierra Leone and take courage from them every morning prior to starting my day.