Sunday, January 20, 2008
Amaty Literacy Festival
This was a fun two days. Teachers from five locations in Central Asia were in attendance, some coming in on delayed flights and others after their bus was hung up at the border. Conference coordinator Maura Martin had requested that we bring coffee for the start of the conference. Coffee? Isn’t that a staple found on aisle six? Not here, here they have instant Nescafe. The Starbucks was was well received by the traveling teachers.
These teachers are risk takers by nature – they leave the security of home and their local grocery stores to travel to places I can’t even spell to teach children to speak English and study math, science and cultural studies all at the same time. Since it takes a kid an average of seven years to master English alone, this seems equivalent to keeping six balls in the air simultaneously, a remarkable feat of mental multitasking. I don’t know how they do it.
This area is growing so fast and the demand for English language schools is so great that one of the schools has gone from a population of 5 to 50 since September. I was humbled to be there talking to them about poetry and performance. We spoke in the cafeteria which had universal acoustic challenges of all cafeterias, and then in classrooms alive with student artwork.
In one hallway display, 9 year olds had colored in all the continents of the world in different colors, followed by a page where each drew a picture of their home country’s flag (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and places all over) followed by another sheet where the students listed their homeland’s best food, music and native dance. At dinner we tried to guess what the native dance of the US might possibly be. Square dancing? Clogging? Break dancing?
The teachers were uniformly and enthusiastically involved and wrote like crazy in all of our workshops. In the picture above the teachers had written a group poem about the skeletal system and then performed it with much bravado, the culmination being when the gym teacher dropped to the ground to demonstrate what a person would be without a skeleton – a blob!
The finale of the two days was a poetry slam demonstration where 7 teachers read with humor and pathos. Everyone applauded the poets and wanted to hang the judges, of course. And there was lots of laughter and good spirit spilling out everywhere. Many thanks to Maura, Russ and Dan for making it all happen.
What I will remember are the intense and friendly eyes of the teachers. Probing. Smiling. People you would want to go to dinner with. People you could entrust your children to for learning. I’m so glad we came.